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Three Core 2 motherboards from Asus


Comparing the P5B, P5N32-SLI, and P5W DH
— 12:08 AM on August 24, 2006

JUST OVER A YEAR has passed since we last reviewed an LGA775-based motherboard here at TR. Interest in the platform just wasn't there, but that's changed since Intel released its Core 2 processors. With Conroe the undisputed king of performance—and more importantly performance per watt—enthusiasts are finally looking at LGA775 motherboards. There are plenty to choose from, too, but only a select few are compatible with Intel's new chips.

Asus is in the enviable position of having a trio of high-end enthusiast boards primed for the Core 2. More impressively, each board brings something unique to the table. The P5B Deluxe Wifi-AP Edition, for example, is Asus's first stab at Intel's new P965 Express chipset. The P5W DH Deluxe relies on an older 975X Express chipset, but it boasts a suite of new "Digital Home" accessories in addition to CrossFire support. For those who prefer their multi-GPU graphics tinted green, there's the P5N32-SLI SE Deluxe, which leverages Nvidia's nForce4 SLI X16 chipset for what may be the fastest desktop graphics platform around.

Which of Asus's new Core 2 boards is right for your Conroe build? Is the LGA775 platform even ready for the fickle tastes of enthusiasts migrating from familiar Athlon 64 territory? Read on to find out.


Board specs
The first stop on our tour of Asus's Core 2 offerings is a comparison of their spec sheets. Here we get a quick glimpse at what each board has to offer before diving into the details.

P5B Deluxe Wifi-AP Edition P5N32-SLI SE Deluxe P5W DH Deluxe
CPU supportLGA775-based Celeron, Pentium 4/D, Core 2 processorsLGA775-based Celeron, Pentium 4/D, Core 2 processorsLGA775-based Celeron, Pentium 4/D, Core 2 processors
North bridgeIntel P965Nvidia nForce4 SLI X16 SPPIntel 975X
South bridgeIntel ICH8RNvidia nForce4 SLI X16 MCPIntel ICH7R
InterconnectDMI (2GB/s)HyperTransport (8GB/sec)DMI (2GB/s)
Expansion slots2 PCI Express x16
1 PCI Express x1
3 32-bit/33MHz
2 PCI Express x16
1 PCI Express x4
2 PCI Express x1
2 32-bit/33MHz
2 PCI Express x16
2 PCI Express x1
3 32-bit/33MHz
Memory4 240-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 8 GB of DDR2-533/667/800 SDRAM
4 240-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 8 GB of DDR2-400/533/667/800 SDRAM
4 240-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 8 GB of DDR2-400/533/667/800 SDRAM
Storage I/OFloppy disk
1 channel ATA/133 via
JMicron JMB363
6 channels Serial ATA with RAID 0, 1, 10, 5 support
2 channels Serial ATA with RAID 0, 1 support via
JMicron JMB363
Floppy disk
2 channels ATA/133
4 channels Serial ATA with RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 support
2 channels Serial ATA with RAID 0, 1 support via SiIicon Image SiI 3132
Floppy disk
1 channel ATA/133
1 channel ATA/133 via JMicron JMB363
3 channels Serial ATA with RAID 0, 1, 10, 5 support
2 channels Serial ATA with RAID 0, 1 support via Silicon Image SiI 4723
3 channels Serial ATA with RAID 0, 1 support via JMB363
Audio8-channel HD audio via ICH8R and Analog Devices AD1988B codec8-channel audio via nForce4 SLI X16 MCP and Realtek ALC850 codec8-channel HD audio via ICH7R and Realtek ALC882M codec
Ports1 PS/2 keyboard
1 PS/2 mouse
1 serial
4
USB 2.0 with headers for 4 more
1 1394a Firewire via Texas Instruments TSB43AB22A with header for 1 more
1 eSATA via JMicron JMB363
1 RJ45 10/100/1000 via Marvell 88E8001
1 RJ45 10/100/1000 via Marvell 88E8056
1 802.11g Wi-Fi via Realtek RTL8187L


1 analog front out
1 analog bass/center out
1 analog rear out
1 analog surround out
1 analog line in
1 analog mic in
1 TOS-Link digital S/PDIF output
1 coaxial digital S/PDIF output
1 PS/2 keyboard
1 PS/2 mouse
1 parallel
4
USB 2.0 with headers for 6 more
Headers for 2 1394a Firewire via Texas Instruments TSB43AB22A
1 eSATA via Silicon Image SiI 3132
2 RJ45 10/100/1000


1 analog front out
1 analog bass/center out
1 analog rear out
1 analog surround out
1 analog line in
1 analog mic in
1 TOS-Link digital S/PDIF output
1 coaxial digital S/PDIF output
1 PS/2 keyboard
1 PS/2 mouse
1 serial
4
USB 2.0 with headers for 4 more
1 1394a Firewire via Texas Instruments TSB43AB22A with header for 1 more
1 eSATA via JMicron JMB363
1 RJ45 10/100/1000 via Marvell 88E8053
1 RJ45 10/100/1000 via Marvell 88E8053
1 802.11g Wi-Fi via Realtek RTL8187L


1 analog front out
1 analog bass/center out
1 analog rear out
1 analog surround out
1 analog line in
1 analog mic in
1 TOS-Link digital S/PDIF output
1 coaxial digital S/PDIF output
BIOSAMIAMIAMI
Bus speedsFSB: 100-650MHz in 1MHz increments
DRAM: 533,667,800,889,1067MHz
PCI-E: 90-150MHz in 1MHz increments
FSB: 266-400MHz in 0.25MHz increments
DRAM: 10-400MHz in 0.25MHz increments
PCI-E: 100-123.4375MHz in 1.5625MHz increments
FSB: 100-450MHz in 1MHz increments
DRAM: 400,533,667,711,800,889,1067MHz
PCI-E: 90-150MHz in 1MHz increments
Bus multipliersCPU: 6x-10x (with Core 2 Duo E6700)LDT: 1x-5xNA
VoltagesCPU: auto, 1.225-1.7 in 0.025V increments
DDR: auto, 1.8-2.45V in 0.05V increments
FSB termination: auto, 1.2-1.45V in 0.05V increments
North bridge: auto, 1.25-1.55V in 0.1V increments
South
bridge: auto, 1.5-1.8V in 0.1V increments
ICH: auto, 1.057,1.215V
CPU: auto, 1.225-1.7 in 0.025V increments
DDR: auto, 1.85-2.4V in 0.05V increments

FSB termination: auto, 1.215-1.45V in 0.1V increments
North bridge: auto, 1.4-1.6V in 0.1V increments
South bridge
: auto, 1.5-1.6V in 0.1V increments
CPU: auto, 1.2-1.7 in 0.0125V increments
DDR: auto, 1.8-2.4V in 0.05V increments
FSB termination: auto, 1.2-1.45V in 0.1V increments
MCH: auto, 1.55-1.85V in 0.1V increments
ICH: auto, 1.05-1.2V in 0.15V increments
MonitoringVoltage, fan status, and temperature monitoringVoltage, fan status, and temperature monitoringVoltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring
Fan speed controlCPU, systemCPU, systemCPU, system

The most important thing to take away from the spec sheets is that these boards are based on different core logic chipsets; the P5B and P5W tap Intel's respective P965 and 975X core logic, while the P5N32-SLI employs Nvidia's nForce4 SLI X16. Chipsets include the memory controller on the Core 2 platform, so they can have more of an impact on application performance than we've seen with Athlon 64 systems. Core logic also defines a basic motherboard feature set, which manufacturers then expand with various auxiliary peripheral chips.

Nvidia's nForce4 SLI X16 is certainly the most complete chipset of the bunch, integrating support for SLI and enough PCI Express lanes for two full-bandwidth x16 slots. The nForce4 also packs a Gigabit Ethernet controller, two ATA channels, and four Serial ATA RAID ports, so the P5N32-SLI is relatively light on auxiliary peripheral chips. You don't get support for High Definition Audio, though.

Intel's 975X chipset does support High Definition Audio, and it boasts compatibility with ATI's CrossFire GPU teaming scheme. The chipset's ICH7R south bridge also sports four Serial ATA RAID channels, although on the P5W DH, it's a little more complicated than that. More on that in a moment.

The starkest difference between the 975X and nForce4 is the former's lack of integrated Gigabit Ethernet. Intel has yet to include GigE in any of its south bridge chips, and the ICH7R is no exception. That forces Asus to turn to third-party controllers to fill out the P5W DH's networking suite, and they've done well to choose a couple of PCI Express chips from Marvell.

While the 975X Express and nForce4 SLI X16 chipsets have been around for a while, the P5B Deluxe's P965 Express chipset is all new. That affords it certain luxuries, like six Serial ATA RAID ports via its ICH8R south bridge, but it also takes away a few conveniences. Intel has decided to do away with old-fashioned "parallel" ATA ports on the ICH8R, forcing Asus to employ a JMicron storage controller to take care of ATA support. Intel hasn't integrated GigE into the ICH8R, either, sending Asus shopping over at Marvell once again. This time they're apparently on more of a budget, because the P5B Deluxe's secondary GigE chip is a pokey PCI-based model.