Asus' P7P55D Deluxe motherboard
Like, Xtreme Design, dude
As I sit here writing this article ahead of Lynnfield's official unveiling, I can't help but be amused that Asus' P7P55D Deluxe is already for saleand listed as in stockat several online retailers. The board is currently running around $225, which is quite expensive given the ostensibly mid-range chipset. But then this is also a Deluxe, and just one of a whole collection of P55-based motherboards coming from Asus. Among those are a vanilla version of the P7P55D, an even more exotic flavor, and some love for the microATX crowd.
Today, the Deluxe is in the spotlight, and it looks very much the part. Users will only see the board briefly unless they're running case windows, which is a shame, because it's quite a looker. Asus has embraced the more muted tones that have come to typify modern motherboard design, and there's a sophistication to the Deluxe's palette.
The Deluxe looks surprisingly bare, which I suspect has a lot to do with the lack of a discrete north bridge chip hogging the middle of the landscape. Don't be deceived by appearances, though. Asus has packed quite a lot onto this board, and into it. There are eight layers in total, with a full two ounces of copper between them, as is de rigueur on enthusiast-oriented motherboards these days. You'll find fancy electrical components throughout, as well. In case you were wondering, some of these attributes fall under a new version of StackCool, which itself is a part of Asus' new Xtreme Design marketing initiative. You know, because nothing says fresh like yet another example of Xtreme branding.
But I digress.
Many of the Deluxe's electrical components can be found ringing the new Lynnfield LGA1156 socket. The board employs a 16+3 power phase design that uses a so-called T.Probe microcontroller to balance loads across available phases. Asus says spreading the load can help to lower motherboard temperatures and deliver more stable power to the CPU. The Deluxe also scales its power phases dynamically with the system load to reduce power consumption.
Asus covers some of the Deluxe's voltage regulation circuitry with abstractly ornate heatsinks that do a good job of staying out of the way. This leaves plenty of clearance around the socket for larger coolers, although you might run into problems with taller aftermarket DIMMs. Speaking of memory, the Deluxe has a MemOK! feature that starts up RAM in stages, allowing you to change the timings, voltage, and frequency at POST if a module's SPD settings are incorrect. That's a neat feature if you're struggling with off-brand DIMMs, but I have to wonder how many of those make it into high-end motherboards like this one.
The DIMM slots themselves add a new twist: tabless retention on one side. The missing tabs allow modules to slide in easily, even when longer graphics cards butt up against the slots.
Just below the DIMM slots sits a low-profile heatsink that has more square footage than my first dorm room. The size seems to be more about providing a big billboard for graphics than expanding the heatsink's surface area. If Asus was really serious about lowering chipset temperatures, it probably would have left the heatsink's underlying fins exposed to more airflow.
Of course, the chipset cooler's footprint matters little, because it's otherwise unobtrusive. The heatsink won't interfere with longer graphics cards, and neither will the edge-mounted SATA ports hooked up to the P55. One of the three auxiliary SATA ports powered by various onboard JMicron controllers will be blocked by a third double-wide graphics card, though.
The gaping hole left by the P55's assimilated north bridge component leaves room for a total of seven expansion slots. Only the top two are hooked up to the Lynnfield processor, but the board is SLI-certified for two-way configs. The third x16 slot gets four lanes of connectivity from the PCH.
We also find new retention tabs on the x16 slots. These are supposed to be easier to reach in tightly packed multi-GPU configurations, but the Deluxe's excellent slot spacing is actually a more effective solution on that front. I suppose the new tabs would come in handy if you were running a third graphics card alongside a double-wide multi-GPU duo.
Asus tucks the usual power and reset buttons just under the slot stack. You won't find a POST code display, though. Instead, the Deluxe has LEDs located throughout the board that light up next to components causing POST problems.
There are a couple of surprises to be found in the port cluster, which features a handy CMOS reset switch in just about the best place you could put it. Digital S/PDIF output is offered in two flavors, both driven by a Via VT2020 audio codec. The VT2020 supports Blu-ray playback, which is nice, but it can't encode DTS or Dolby Digital Live bitstreams on the fly.
External Serial ATA connectivity is conspicuously absent from the port cluster. However, the box contains a PCI back plate adapter that can link any internal SATA port with the outside world.
Instead, Asus throws in a little overclocking remote for those who are somehow unsatisfied with BIOS- and Windows-based overclocking controls. I'd rather have eSATA, thanks.
I'd also like to have the Express Gate instant-on OS back on an onboard flash chip. With the P7P55D Deluxe, Express Gate has to be installed on a hard drive, which kills some of its appeal. The OS itself is largely unchanged, too; Express Gate still lacks the sort of stability testing and recovery applications that would make it really useful to enthusiasts, overclockers, and even the average PC user.
Fortunately, the P7P55D Deluxe's BIOS is as good as you'd expect from a high-end Asus motherboard. The layout is excellent, and you can manually key in most voltages, timings, and clock speeds. Only the most extreme overclockers are likely to exceed the Deluxe's voltage ceilings, and even then, you can flip onboard switches to inject a few extra millivolts into the CPU, its integrated memory controller, and the DIMM slots. Heck, it's even possible to toggle between defining a target voltage or specifying a desired increment above the default.
Unlike the other boards in this round-up, the Deluxe doesn't offer per-channel memory timing controls, just one set for both. The board's fan speed options are also painfully thin: three arbitrary presets for the CPU and system fan header with no ability to further tweak temperature triggers or fan behavior.
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