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We now have a much better picture of the Lynnfield motherboard market, and if one thing is abundantly clear, it's that you certainly don't need to spend more than $200 to jump onto LGA1156. Unless you actually need a ninth internal Serial ATA port, a third PCI Express x16 slot, or loads of layers and power phases that may ultimately help only with extreme overclocking, there's little reason to spring for a high-end P55 board.

So a mid-range motherboard it is, then. But which one?

The answer isn't so easy, I'm afraid. I had hoped that a clear winner would emerge from this bunch. None really dominated, though. That may be a testament to just how closely matched Asus, Gigabyte, and MSI are these days. Looks like we're going to have to get picky.

As the cheapest of the lot at $150 online, the P7P55D has an instant advantage over its rivals. The board's layout is also excellent, and the feature set checks all the important boxes. Asus even has a notable performance edge, albeit only with P55 SATA burst speeds.

Unfortunately, the limited bandwidth of the P7P55D's secondary x16 slot should be of concern to anyone contemplating running a CrossFire config. And that's the only multi-GPU choice, because SLI isn't supported. FireWire performance isn't particularly impressive, either, and neither is the Via audio codec. Then there's the idle power consumption, which is higher than other P55 boards.

The Via codec's shortcomings are only highlighted by the excellent ALC889A offered by the GA-P55-UD4P. Gigabyte serves up more internal and external SATA ports, a second GigE option, more and faster FireWire, and the ability to support dual-x8 CrossFire and SLI setups. Plus, with its DES software running, the UD4P is more power-efficient under load than any other P55 board we've tested. It's not bad at idle, either.

Of course, the Gigabyte board does cost $20 more than the Asus. It has its share of problems, too, including slow SATA burst speeds, lousy BIOS-level fan speed controls, and an x1 slot with very limited clearance for expansion cards. I'm also a little bummed that the UD4P doesn't have hybrid eSATA/USB ports like the more expensive UD6 model.

Or, I suppose, like the $155 MSI P55-GD65. The GD65 feels every bit as good as the Asus and Gigabyte offerings, and I'm impressed with its low idle power consumption. However, I'm also not thrilled with the board's slower FireWire and USB performance, or the fact that MSI skimped out on the ALC889A's optional real-time DDL encoding feature.

This might sound like a cop out, but which board is best depends entirely on your needs. If you're only going to run a single graphics card, the P7P55D is a solid platform for a Lynnfield build. Just pick up a discrete sound card if you have decent speakers. Looking to run CrossFire, SLI, or a hybrid eSATA/USB drive? Get the P55-GD65 and deal with the quirks knowing you saved some cash. And if you have a DDL-compatible receiver or speakers and want more of everything—SATA, USB, Firewire, and even copper—pick up a UD4P. It does cost a little more, but some folks will squeeze plenty of value from the extra perks.

In the end, then, all three are TR Recommended—just to different users, and for different reasons. We're all building different Lynnfield systems in our heads, after all.TR

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