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Five flavors of Intel's P35 Express compared


Motherboards from Abit, Asus, Gigabyte, and MSI
— 12:00 AM on June 26, 2007

WHEN WE FIRST REVIEWED Intel's P35 Express back in May, we called the chipset a solid successor to the P965. That might not sound like an enthusiastic endorsement, but the P965 Express has been a fantastic platform for mainstream users and enthusiasts alike, leaving the P35 with rather large shoes to fill. Part of what made the P965 so successful was the wave of motherboards based on it that offered competitive performance, loads of overclocking potential, CrossFire multi-GPU support, and thoughtful onboard extras while consuming relatively little power and operating largely in silence. Those boards came with relatively affordable price tags, too, making the P965 the darling of the enthusiast community.

To find out if the first P35 Express boards are up to the lofty standards set by their predecessors, we've rounded up five examples from Abit, Asus, Gigabyte, and MSI. Each board puts a unique spin on the P35, whether it's with support for DDR3 memory, elegant heatpipe cooling, extensive fan-control and hardware-monitoring options, integrated Wi-Fi, or flexible eSATA support. The question, of course, is whether any of them can put together the mix of performance, features, and affordability that made the best P965 boards such standouts.

Join us as we subject the Abit IP35 Pro, Asus P5K and P5K3 Deluxe, Gigabyte GA-P35-DQ6, and MSI P35 Platinum to a punishing gauntlet of tests in Windows Vista x64 to determine which boards measure up, which fall short, and whether one stands out as the pick of the litter.


The basics
We covered the P35 Express in great depth in our initial review of the chipset, so I suggest starting there if you're unfamiliar with Intel's latest core logic. For most folks, the chipset's native support for 1333MHz front-side bus speeds (that's 267MHz of "free" overclocking headroom if you're using a CPU designed for a 1066MHz front-side bus) and upcoming 45nm Penryn processors are its most laudable attributes. However, the P35 is also the first chipset to support DDR3 memory, and that makes it rather special—even if DDR3 price premiums keep the new memory type out of reach for most enthusiasts.

Fortunately, the P35 also works with DDR2 memory, which is as affordable as it's ever been. Motherboard manufacturers are eager to pair the P35 with DDR2, too; all of the boards we'll be looking at today are mid-range to high-end enthusiast offerings, but just one—Asus' P5K3 Deluxe—is designed with DDR3 in mind.

Of course, there are plenty of differences between these boards besides their choice of memory. We've highlighted some of the more notable ones below so we can jump into a quick comparison before examining each board in more detail.

Abit IP35 Pro Asus P5K3 Deluxe Asus P5K Deluxe Gigabyte GA-P35-DQ6 MSI P35 Platinum
Chipset Intel P35 Express Intel P35 Express Intel P35 Express Intel P35 Express Intel P35 Express
Expansion slots 2 PCI Express x16
1 PCI Express x1
3 32-bit/33MHz PCI
2 PCI Express x16
2 PCI Express x1
3 32-bit/33MHz PCI
2 PCI Express x16
2 PCI Express x1
3 32-bit/33MHz PCI
2 PCI Express x16
3 PCI Express x1
2 32-bit/33MHz PCI
2 PCI Express x16
2 PCI Express x1
2 32-bit/33MHz PCI
Auxiliary storage JMicron JMB363 ATA/eSATA JMicron JMB363 ATA/eSATA JMicron JMB363 ATA/eSATA Gigabyte GSATA ATA/SATA Marvell 88SE6111 ATA/SATA
Networking 2 x Realtek RTL8110SC 1 Realtek RTL8169
1 Marvell 88E8056
1 Realtek RTL8187L Wi-Fi
1 Realtek RTL8169
1 Marvell 88E8056
1 Realtek RTL8187L Wi-Fi
Realtek RTL8111B Realtek RTL8111B
Audio Realtek ALC888 Analog Devices AD1988B Analog Devices AD1988B Realtek ALC889A Realtek ALC888
Firewire Texas Instruments TSB43AB22A Agere FW322 Agere FW322 Texas Instruments TSB43AB23 VIA VT6308P

All five use the same P35 Express chipset complemented by Intel's new ICH9R south bridge. The chipset itself offers support for CrossFire setups in an x16/x4 configuration, and all the boards we'll be looking at sport a pair of physical PCI Express x16 slots to complete the multi-GPU package. There is some disagreement over how the remaining expansion slots should be doled out, though.

With six Serial ATA ports in the ICH9R south bridge, these boards aren't exactly crying out for more SATA connectivity. However, the ICH9R's lack of an IDE controller all but requires an auxiliary storage controller to provide "parallel" ATA support. Most auxiliary ATA controllers now pack a couple of extra SATA ports, which mobo makers use to provide additional internal SATA ports or external Serial ATA plugs.

While all of these boards feature auxiliary storage controllers, only the Asus P5K and P5K3 Deluxe provide onboard 802.11g Wi-Fi. Dipping into the wireless world hasn't come at the expense of Gigabit Ethernet, either; both Asus boards feature GigE chips by Marvell and Realtek. However, we should note that the Realtek RTL8169 rides the short PCI bus, so its throughput will be lower than that of PCIe-based GigE chips. That's rather damning for the IP35 Pro's networking potential, since it features two RTL8110SC chips that are also bound to the PCI Bus. Fortunately, the Realtek RTL8111B networking controllers found on the Gigabyte GA-P35-DQ6 and MSI P35 Platinum are PCIe chips.

Audio is another important consideration when looking at onboard peripherals, and today we're treated with a selection of codec chips from Analog Devices and Realtek. We generally prefer the former, if only because Realtek's EAX implementation leaves much to be desired. However, Vista doesn't support EAX, making the crab's shortcomings on that front less of an issue if you're going to be running Microsoft's latest operating system.