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Final Thoughts: Budget AM3 + Unlocked Phenom

Since the release of the AMD 8-series chipsets a myriad of new affordable AMD AM3 motherboards have become available. Although the chipsets themselves don't offer anything new over the previous generation, the inclusion of SATA 6Gb/s support is certainly welcome. The chipsets arrival has also given motherboard makers an excuse to update their AM3 lineup and include other new features such as USB 3.0.

Both SATA 6Gb/s and even USB 3.0 are not required by most right now, but they could prove to be valuable features in the months to come. We should add, getting those features is not guaranteed on every 8-series chipset motherboard, as was the case with the Asrock 880GMH/USB3 that lacks SATA 6Gb/s support.

Just like in this round-up, you will find most motherboard manufacturers choosing between the AMD SB850 south bridge chip and the older and less feature-rich SB710 used by the Asrock board.

On the other hand, the Asrock 880GMH/USB3 is the most affordable motherboard in our comparison, using the microATX form factor and also featuring Radeon HD 4250 integrated graphics, an important addition for those that do not require an add-in 3D graphics card.

In terms of features, it was the Gigabyte 870A-UD3 that truly impressed us. For a mere $10 extra, this motherboard is on a league of its own and to be honest the 870A-UD3 feature set does not reflect that of a $100 motherboard, rather we would expect to pay $150+ for a board of this caliber.

Performance-wise, we didn't see any significant differences between boards, so you can call it a draw. All boards were very stable and didn't present us a problem to unlock the Phenom II X2 555 extra cores or to overclock this chip. In this last regard, we saw a slight advantage from the MSI board.

For some time now, the strength of the AM3 platform has lied on their full compatibility with every new AMD CPU release. Users that bought their mainboards two years ago get the option to upgrade to a much faster processor as a plug-in replacement. In contrast, Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad users must replace a handful of components if they want to go with a Core i5 or Core i7 CPU.

The fact that all three AM3 motherboards we tested today are priced under $100, can support the latest AMD Phenom II X6 processors, as well upcoming USB 3.0 devices is astonishing. But as impressive as that sounds, what makes them even more attractive options is the value offered by the possibility of coupling together with a Phenom II X2 555 and unlock its two extra cores.

The Phenom II X2 555 was the standout processor in its respective price range in both of our recently published budget CPU round-ups, however neither article explored how the Phenom II X2 555 performed once the extra cores were unlocked, we simply discussed the possibility.

Now with the hard facts on hand, we can attest how the $100 Phenom II X2 555 processor can be turned into a Phenom II X4 955 with total ease. On the gaming front, the unlocked Phenom II X2 555 matched the Phenom II X6 1090T, a $300 processor. Then we had our budget CPU and motherboard combo matching and even beating the Core i5 750 in more serious tasks such as video encoding.

Those looking to purchase a budget AM3 motherboard should focus on features and price as this is what sets these boards apart. Other important attributes such as performance and overclocking were very similar on all three motherboards and we feel consumers cannot go wrong here, particularly with the manufacturers featured in this article.