A look at Asus’ P7P55D and Gigabyte’s GA-P55-UD4P motherboards

Intel’s Lynnfield-based Core i5 and i7 processors arrived in style last week, boasting phenomenal performance, frugal power consumption, and affordable prices starting at just $200. Ostensibly targeted at “mainstream” audiences, these first examples of Nehalem trickle-down have many of us pondering system upgrades. Lynnfield CPUs won’t drop into existing LGA1366 or LGA775 sockets, though, so upgraders will have to seek out new motherboards with 1156-pin Land Grid Arrays and Intel’s latest P55 Express chipset.

We looked at a trio of P55 mobos from The Big Three in our chipset launch coverage, but we were unable to come up with a solid recommendation because the Asus and Gigabyte entries carried suggested retail prices of $229 and $250, respectively. That’s a heck of a lot to pay for a mid-range processor platform at a time when motherboards have next to no real impact on application or gaming performance. The only upgrades you seem to get over more vanilla models are gimmicky extras that are rarely truly useful, extra SATA and GigE ports that few actually need, and the spoils of a power-phase pissing match between manufacturers, which I suspect may only benefit the most hardcore of liquid-nitrogen-fueled extreme overclockers.

But really, it’s the exceptional quality of more affordable mid-range motherboards that makes higher-end variants look a little ostentatious. I’ve been testing two examples of the breed in Asus’ P7P55D and Gigabyte’s GA-P55-UD4P. Each has much to offer, but with a few quirks and caveats attached. Keep reading to see if either might be right for the Lynnfield system you’ve been piecing together in your head.

Asus’ P7P55D motherboard
Subtract Deluxe, er, ness

Manufacturer Asus
Model P7P55D
Price (Street)
Availability Now

We’ve already covered the P7P55D’s Deluxe cousin, which is currently selling for over $220 online. This standard model costs $70 less at just $150, so you save a lot. The real question is, what do you lose?

A few board layers, for starters. The Deluxe’s PCB stacks eight layers and an en vogue two ounces of copper, while the standard model must make do with four floors and one ounce of the conductive stuff. Those differences shouldn’t matter when running at stock speeds, but we’ll have to see whether it affects the P7P55D’s overclocking potential. At least Asus has used fancy electrical components and solid-state capacitors throughout this vanilla model.

Asus also gives you all the essentials in terms of peripherals and connectivity, but little more. The relative lack of auxiliary chips, ports, and other extraneous hardware makes for a clean layout that beautifully illustrates the simple elegance of Intel’s Lynnfield/PCH tag team. The fact that the layout feels this spacious even with a dramatically oversized PCH heatsink is even more impressive. Not having a north bridge chip really does free up a lot of real estate.

There’s an abstractness to the P7P55D’s heatsinks that gives the board a little more aesthetic flair than one might otherwise expect from a basic model. The layers of blue are nicely understated, but they pop nicely off the dark backdrop.

14 power phases ring the P7P55D’s CPU socket, five fewer than on the Deluxe. 12 of those phases are dedicated to the processor core with the remaining two assigned to the CPU’s uncore elements. Of course, you won’t need that many power phases active at all times. The board can dynamically scale the number of power phases it’s using based on the system load. Asus also employs a microcontroller to monitor power-phase temperatures and balance the load accordingly, ideally resulting in more stable voltage delivery and lower system temperatures.

There’s plenty of clearance around the P7P55D’s socket, and the funky single-tab DIMM slots allow memory modules to be removed even with longer graphics cards installed. These slots don’t hold memory sticks quite as securely as standard ones, though. If you’re trunking your system to a LAN party, you might want to check to make sure your RAM is seated properly before powering things up.

Asus bucks the trend toward edge-mounted SATA ports by mounting the P7P55D’s face up on the board. This makes for easier cable routing in extremely tight cases that put the hard drive cage right next to the motherboard tray. However, it also has some clearance consequences. Longer, double-wide graphics cards installed in the secondary x16 slot can compromise access to two Serial ATA ports. Of course, that still leaves you with five connected to the P55 PCH.

Longer graphics cards should have no problem extending over the board’s low-profile chipset cooler. What the heatsink lacks in height it more than makes up for in sheer area. The cooler is mostly for show, though; the chipset’s TDP rating is just 4.7W, so it hardly requires aggressive cooling.

Without a north bridge to worry about, the P7P55D easily accommodates seven expansion slots, including a pair of PCIe x16 slots. The top slot gets a full 16 lanes of PCIe 2.0 from the CPU, while the second slot harnesses four of the not-quite-second-gen PCI Express lanes built into the PCH. Intel labels the P55’s eight PCI Express lanes as 2.0, but they only signal at 2.5GT/s—gen-one speed. That’s still plenty of bandwidth for Gigabit Ethernet and most reasonable auxiliary storage configurations. However, it might be a hindrance to CrossFire configurations.

Nvidia won’t endorse even full-bandwidth x16/x4 configurations for SLI, so this full-bandwidth x16, half-bandwidth x4 setup definitely isn’t fit for certification. However, the company stamps such slot configs on P55 boards with the “PhysX Ready” label, which means you can dedicate one GeForce to graphics and have another one in the lower-bandwidth slot taking care of PhysX computations.

The P7P55D’s port cluster is perhaps best described as complete. All the usual bases have been covered, including digital audio output, FireWire, and eSATA. Unfortunately, the eSATA port isn’t of the USB-powered hybrid variety we’ve seen on some other P55 mobos. I’m also not crazy about the Via VT1828S audio codec sitting behind the board’s array of audio jacks. Sure, it supports Blu-ray playback, but it can’t encode multi-channel digital audio on the fly, forcing surround-sound gamers to use the board’s analog audio outputs.

As far as I can tell, the vanilla P7P55D’s BIOS is just as well-equipped for tweaking and overclocking as that of its Deluxe counterpart. Both offer ample ranges and granularity for clock speed and voltage controls, a wealth of memory timing options, integrated flashing utilities, support for multiple configuration profiles, and a well-organized, easy-to-use interface that Asus has been carefully massaging for years.

Considering how long it’s been developing motherboard BIOSes, you’d think Asus would have a few more tricks up its sleeve on the fan control front. Apparently not. The CPU and system fan headers can be toggled between three pre-defined fan speed profiles, but that’s about it. I’d like to see options that define minimum fan speeds and target temperatures in addition to some control over how aggressively fan voltages increase in response to rising temperatures. Asus is apparently working to bring better fan speed controls to its motherboard BIOSes, and we saw a hint of their efforts with the 785G-based M4A785TD-V EVO. No such luck with Asus’ current crop of P55 offerings, though.

Gigabyte’s GA-P55-UD4P motherboard
Sensibly stacked

Manufacturer Gigabyte
Model GA-P55-UD6
Price (MSRP)
Availability Now

With a street price hovering around $250, the Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 we looked at during our P55 launch coverage is decidedly not a mid-range motherboard. The $170 GA-P55-UD4P is certainly more reasonably priced, even if it does run $20 more than Asus’ P7P55D. Fortunately, the extra $20 hasn’t been frittered away on gaudy lighting effects, questionable accessories, or other wasteful avenues. Instead, Gigabyte has beefed up the UD4P’s hardware, which ultimately makes for a more versatile board.

Like the P7P55D, however, the board itself isn’t quite as fancy as more indulgent models. There are only four board layers, down from eight on the UD6. Gigabyte still squeezes in two-ounce copper layers, though. It also litters the board with high-quality electrical components, such as ferrite-core chokes, low RDS(on) MOSFETs, and solid-state capacitors.

Just looking at the UD4P, you might think the board had traditional north and south bridge chipset components. The P55 PCH is actually in the lower right-hand corner, as we just saw with the P7P55D. What looks like a north bridge cooler is acting as an additional heatsink for the board’s power regulation circuitry. This extra chunk of aluminum crowds the layout a little, and it could conflict with larger aftermarket heatsinks that fan out from the socket. So could the DIMM slots, which are quite close to the socket.

Gigabyte has a good thing going with its new toned-down approach to color palettes. The trademark turquoisey blue board works well with the white and light blue accents and darker heatsinks. However, none of the four sets of “racing stripes” actually match, let alone point in a consistent direction. A couple of white stripes down the middle of the board would look much racier, I think.

The UD4P has eight power phases running to the processor, which is fewer than the less expensive Asus board. I wouldn’t spend too much time counting phases, though. MSI’s mid-range P55-GD65 is a six-phase design, yet it easily overclocked to a 200MHz base clock speed and auto-piloted a Core i5-750 to 3.34GHz on just 1.352V. One doesn’t necessarily need loads of power phases, even when engaged in spirited overclocking.

Since you won’t need all eight phases while idling or even performing basic tasks, the Gigabyte board dynamically scales the number in use. However, unlike the P7P55D, there’s no apparent provision to juggle lower loads between different phase blocks.

Edge-mounted SATA connectors make an appearance on the UD4P. They’re set back a little, too, which provides just a smidgen of extra clearance for hard drive cages that might be in close proximity in smaller enclosures. At least none of the eight ports will be obscured by longer graphics cards. The low-profile PCH cooler shouldn’t be a problem, either.

Gigabyte manages to squeeze in seven expansion slots, but the top x1 is of dubious value. Right behind it sits the board’s hood ornament auxiliary power circuitry heatsink, limiting compatibility with longer cards. Shorter ones, too: my stubby PCIe x1 Gigabit Ethernet card won’t even fit into the slot.

The UD4P’s pair of PCIe x16 slots is far more promising. Both stem from the Lynnfield CPU, which means you get either a full 16 lanes of bandwidth to one slot or eight lanes to each of them. CrossFire support is a given, of course, and this board is also SLI-certified.

One could easily be forgiven for mistaking the UD4P’s port cluster for one from an extravagant, high-end unit. The spread is deliciously packed with goodness, including pairs of S/PDIF outputs, FireWire connectors, GigE jacks, and eSATA ports. Those external Serial ATA ports don’t have built-in USB power, which is a shame, but the port cluster does have a whopping ten standard USB ports.

I’m not a huge fan of integrated motherboard audio, but I have to give Gigabyte props for using Realtek’s ALC889A codec. It’s the only codec that can do on-the-fly Dolby Digital Live encoding, which is great for anyone with a compatible receiver or speakers. We’ll see how the ALC889A and UD4P fare when we measure analog audio signal quality in a moment.

Although they use very different interfaces and even different color schemes, the Asus and Gigabyte BIOSes we’ve seen on this first batch of P55 motherboards have been nearly equivalent in terms of their overclocking and tweaking options, overall feature sets, and general usability. You can tease out little differences here and there, such as Gigabyte’s nifty settings summary screen and its support for per-channel memory timings, but it’s really hard to find fault with either’s approach. That is until we get to automatic fan speed control, which amounts to an on/off switch for only the UD4P’s processor fan. I know I gripe about this a lot, but it’s ridiculous; a BIOS that offers millivolt granularity for a whopping eight different system voltages shouldn’t be saddled with stone-age fan speed controls.

At least Gigabyte has BIOS backups covered. The UD4P’s secondary BIOS chip can be a real life-saver should you corrupt the original with a bad flash or some other disaster.

The devil’s in the details

This wouldn’t be TR motherboard coverage without a painstakingly detailed assessment of each board’s BIOS options and specifications. These details don’t exactly lend themselves to eloquent prose, but you should be able to find what you need in the tables below.

Asus P7P55D Gigabyte GA-P55-UD4P
Clock speeds Base: 80-500MHz in 1MHz increments

DRAM: 800,1066,1333MHz

PCIe: 100-200MHz in 1MHz increments

QPI: 4270, 4800MHz

Base: 100-1200MHz in 1MHz increments
PCIe: 90-150MHz in 1MHz increments
Multipliers CPU: 9X-21X in 1X increments CPU: 9X-20X in 1X increments

DRAM 6,8,10X

QPI: X23, X36

Voltages CPU: 0.85-1.7V in 0.00625V increments

CPU PLL: 1.5-2.1V in 0.1V increments
IMC: 1.1-1.9V in 0.00625V increments

DRAM: 1.5-2.55V in 0.0125V increments

PCH: 1.05-1.15V in 0.1V increments

DRAM data A/B: 0.395-0.630X in 0.005X increments

CPU: 0.5-1.9V in 0.00625V increments

CPU PLL: 1.6-2.12V in 0.02V increments
QPI/VTT: 1.05-1.99V in 0.02V increments

DRAM: 1.3-2.6V in 0.02V increments

PCH: 0.95-2.0V in 0.02V increments

DRAM data A/B: 0.53-1.21V in 0.01V increments

DRAM address A/B: 0.72-1.24V in 0.01V increments

DRAM termination: 0.53-1.21V in 0.02V increments

Fan speed control CPU, system CPU
Asus P7P55D Gigabyte GA-P55-UD4P
CPU support LGA1156-based Core i5, i7 series processors LGA1156-based Core i5, i7 series processors
Chipset Intel P55 Express Intel P55 Express
Interconnect DMI (2GB/s) DMI (2GB/s)
Expansion slots 2 PCI Express x16 (x16/x4*)

2 PCI Express x1

3 32-bit/33MHz PCI

2 PCI Express x16 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)

3 PCI Express x1

2 32-bit/33MHz PCI

Memory 4 240-pin DIMM sockets

Maximum of 16GB of DDR3-800/1066/1333 SDRAM

4 240-pin DIMM sockets

Maximum of 16GB of DDR3-800/1066/1333 SDRAM

Storage I/O Floppy disk

1 channel ATA/133 via JMicron JMB363

6 channels 300MB/s Serial ATA with RAID 0, 1, 10, 5 support

1 channel 300MB/s Serial ATA via JMicron JMB363

Floppy disk

1 channel ATA/133 via Gigabyte GSATA2

6 channels 300MB/s Serial ATA with RAID 0, 1, 10, 5 support

2 channels 300MB/s Serial ATA via Gigabyte GSATA2 with RAID 0, 1 support

Audio 8-channel HD audio via Via VT1828S codec 8-channel HD audio via Realtek ALC889A codec
Ports 1 PS/2 keyboard

1 PS/2 mouse

8 USB 2.0 with headers for 6 more

1 RJ45 10/100/1000 via Realtek RTL8112L
1 eSATA via JMicron JMB363
1 1394a FireWire via Via VT6308P with header for 1 more

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 digital S/PDIF out (TOS-Link)

1 PS/2 keyboard/mouse

10 USB 2.0 with headers for 4 more
2 RJ45 10/100/1000 via 2 Realtek RTL8111D

2 eSATA via JMicron JMB362 with RAID 0, 1 support

2 1394a FireWire via Texas Instruments TSB43AB23 with header for 1 more

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 digital S/PDIF out (TOS-Link)

1 digital S/PDIF out (RCA)

Our testing methods

We’ve narrowed our focus on motherboards today, and the testing conducted reflects that approach. If you’d like to see Lynnfield’s application and gaming performance against competing processor platforms, hit up our coverage of the CPU. For a closer inspection of the P55’s performance implications, we have an in-depth chipset review.

We’ve tested the Asus and Gigabyte boards against each other and a handful of others based on the P55 chipset. Keep an eye on MSI’s P55-GD65, which sits right between the P7P55D and GA-P55-UD4P on the price ladder.

Note that our X58-based system is only running its memory at 1066MHz—the fastest speed allowed by our Core i7-920 engineering sample. The platform’s third memory channel should easily make up the difference, but the results are only there for reference, anyway.

All tests were run at least three times, and their results were averaged.

Processor Intel Core i5-750 2.67GHz Intel Core i7-920 ES 2.67GHz
CPU/chipset link DMI QPI
Motherboard Asus P7P55D Asus P7P55D Deluxe Gigabyte GA-P55-UD4P Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 MSI P55-GD65 Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD5
Bios revision 0606 0504 F3 F3 100 F3
North bridge Intel P55 Express Intel P55 Express Intel P55 Express Intel P55 Express Intel P55 Express Intel X58 Express
South bridge Intel ICH10R
Chipset drivers Chipset: 9.1.1.1015

AHCI: 8.9.0.1023

Chipset: 9.1.1.1015

AHCI: 8.9.0.1023

Chipset: 9.1.1.1015

AHCI: 8.9.0.1023

Chipset: 9.1.1.1015

AHCI: 8.9.0.1023

Chipset: 9.1.1.1015

AHCI: 8.9.0.1023

Chipset: 9.1.1.1015

AHCI: 8.9.0.1023

Memory size 4GB (2 DIMMs) 4GB (2 DIMMs) 4GB (2 DIMMs) 4GB (2 DIMMs) 4GB (2 DIMMs) 6GB (3 DIMMs)
Memory type OCZ OCZ3P1866LV4GK DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz OCZ OCZ3P1866LV4GK DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz OCZ OCZ3P1866LV4GK DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz OCZ OCZ3P1866LV4GK DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz OCZ OCZ3P1866LV4GK DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz OCZ OCZ3G1600LV6GK DDR3 SDRAM at 1066MHz
CAS latency (CL) 7 7 7 7 7 7
RAS to CAS delay (tRCD) 7 7 7 7 7 7
RAS precharge (tRP) 7 7 7 7 7 7
Cycle time (tRAS) 20 20 20 20 20 20
Command rate 1T 1T 1T 1T 1T 1T
Audio codec Via VT1828S with 6.0.1.7300 drivers Via VT2020 with 6.0.1.7300 drivers Realtek ALC889A with 2.31 drivers Realtek ALC889A with 2.31 drivers Realtek ALC889 with 2.31 drivers Realtek ALC889A with 2.31 drivers
Graphics Nvidia GeForce GTX 260 896MB with ForceWare 190.62 drivers
Hard drive Western Digital Raptor X 150GB
OS Windows 7 Ultimate RTM x64

Our test systems were powered by a PC Power & Cooling Silencer 750W power supply unit.

We’d like to thank Western Digital for sending Raptor WD1500ADFD hard drives for our test rigs.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

The test systems’ Windows desktop was set at 1280×1024 in 32-bit color at an 85Hz screen refresh rate. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests.

All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.

Memory performance

Lynnfield’s on-die memory controller largely evens the playing field for P55 boards. However, each manufacturer has the freedom to tune the CPU’s integrated memory controller, and that can lead to small but consistent bandwidth and latency differences.

Make that minuscule differences, at least for memory bandwidth. We see virtually no difference in Stream rates between all five Lynnfield motherboards. Scores in CPU-Z’s latency test are pretty tight, too, with less than a nanosecond separating the P55 pack. That’s what you get with a common CPU, memory speed, and timings. No wonder application and game performance doesn’t vary much from one motherboard to the next.

Power consumption

Of course, performance is only one part of the equation for a modern PC. Power consumption counts for a lot these days, and that’s an area where motherboards can really set themselves apart. We’ve measured total system power consumption, sans monitors and speakers, at the wall outlet with a Watts Up Pro power meter. Readings were taken at idle and under a load consisting of a Cinebench render alongside the rthdribl HDR lighting demo. Windows 7’s “Balanced” performance profile, which uses CPU power management features, was enabled for this all of our other tests.

Power consumption has become a hot topic among motherboard makers of late, and each board has a few different configuration options tied to BIOS switches and additional Windows software. MSI takes the simplest approach: either enable active power-phase switching (APS in the graphs below) or leave it off. With Gigabyte, you can run with or without Dynamic Energy Saver software installed. The Dynamic Energy Saver software didn’t work right with the UD5 BIOS revision we used for testing, though. Asus offers three options: an Xtreme Phase mode that’s enabled by default, an Xtreme-less normal operation mode, and a third mode calibrated by EPU software for Windows.

When idling, none can match MSI’s P55-GD65 with its power-saving voodoo enabled. The fact that you don’t have to fuss with Windows software to get the lowest power draw of the lot is a nice bonus, too. The UD4P draws about four more watts depending on whether DES is running; the software actually raised power consumption slightly at idle.

Trailing the UD4P by nearly 10 watts, we find the P7P55D, which consumes even more power in XtremePhase mode. But what about under load?

The UD4P’s DES mode really shines under load, sucking eight fewer watts than the GD65 that leads the rest of the field. Asus fares better here, but mostly because the meat of the field is much more tightly packed.

We tested with Asus’ EPU software in auto mode, but there’s also a medium setting that results in a slightly higher 102W idle power consumption while pulling just 221W under load. Those numbers still lie behind the Gigabyte board’s, but they represent a notable improvement.

Motherboard peripheral performance

To provide a closer look at the peripheral performance you can expect from the motherboards we’ve tested today, we’ve compiled Ethernet, Serial ATA, USB, FireWire, and audio performance results below.

HD Tach FireWire performance
Read burst

speed (MB/s)

Average read

speed (MB/s)

Average write

speed (MB/s)

CPU utilization

(%)

Asus P7P55D 33.0 30.0 21.8 1.0
Asus P7P55D Deluxe 41.6 37.3 28.5 2.0
Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD5 30.5 28.8 17.2 1.0
Gigabyte GA-P55-UD4P 40.9 35.5 25.4 2.0
Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 40.9 35.6 25.6 2.0
MSI P55-GD65 31.8 28.6 18.7 3.3

Despite using the very same FireWire silicon as its Deluxe brethren, the P7P55D’s FireWire performance isn’t up to par. The MSI board also uses a Via chip, but it’s a different model, and obviously not a faster one.

HD Tach USB performance
Read burst

speed (MB/s)

Average read

speed (MB/s)

Average write

speed (MB/s)

CPU utilization

(%)

Asus P7P55D 35.1 34.4 33.8 3.3
Asus P7P55D Deluxe 35.1 34.5 33.7 2.7
Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD5 33.9 32.5 28.7 1.3
Gigabyte GA-P55-UD4P 35.6 34.2 32.2 5.0
Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 35.7 34.1 32.3 4.3
MSI P66-GD65 32.0 29.0 24.2 9.3

Most of the P55 boards are locked in a dead heat here, but the MSI is a little slower than its Asus and Gigabyte counterparts.

HD Tach Serial ATA performance
Read burst

speed (MB/s)

Average read

speed (MB/s)

Average write

speed (MB/s)

Random access time (ms) CPU utilization

(%)

Asus P7P55D (P55) 252.7 110.5 110.1 7.1 2.3
Asus P7P55D (JMB363) 182.0 110.4 81.0 7.1 3.3
Asus P7P55D Deluxe (P55) 254.0 110.5 109.6 7.2 3.0
Asus P7P55D Deluxe (JMB363) 176.3 110.5 80.5 7.1 6.0
Asus P7P55D Deluxe (JMB322) 146.9 110.5 81.1 7.1 3.7
Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD5 (ICH10R) 253.6 110.5 111.0 7.1 1.3
Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD5 (GSATA) 145.6 110.5 81.5 7.1 2.0
Gigabyte GA-P55-UD4P (P55) 198.4 109.3 111.3 7.4 6.3
Gigabyte GA-P55-UD4P (GSATA) 191.1 110.5 81.0 7.1 4.0
Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 (P55) 212.8 108.0 108.3 7.3 5.0
Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 (GSATA) 181.9 110.5 81.2 7.0 4.3
MSI P55-GD65 (P55) 205.1 106.7 109.6 7.4 6.3
MSI P55-GD65 (JMB363) 163.8 108.5 76.2 7.2 7.0

You’re better off using P55-bound Serial ATA ports over ones tied to JMicron or GSATA (otherwise known as Silicon Image) controllers. Interestingly, though, the Gigabyte and MSI boards have lower P55 burst speeds than the Asus models.

NTttcp Ethernet performance
Throughput (MBps) CPU utilization (%)
Asus P7P55D 944.8 5.9
Asus P7P55D Deluxe (RTL8111D) 941.3 6.1
Asus P7P55D Deluxe (RTL8110) 712.5 6.2
Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD5 (1) 940.8 2.4
Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD5 (2) 941.5 2.3
Gigabyte GA-P55-UD4P (1) 947.9 5.3
Gigabyte GA-P55-UD4P (2) 945.8 5.4
Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 (1) 935.3 4.7
Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 (2) 941.2 4.7
MSI P66-GD65 (1) 938.9 9.0
MSI P66-GD65 (2) 941.5 5.3

The P7P55D and UD4P both have solid Gigabyte Ethernet implementations, the Gigabyte board just has two of ’em. So does the GD65, which offers similar throughput and CPU utilization.

RightMark Audio Analyzer audio quality
Overall score Frequency response Noise level Dynamic range THD THD + Noise IMD + Noise Stereo Crosstalk IMD at 10kHz
Asus P7P55D 4 5 4 4 5 3 4 5 4
Asus P7P55D Deluxe 4 5 4 4 5 3 4 4 4
Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD5 5 5 5 5 5 4 5 4 5
Gigabyte GA-P55-UD4P 5 5 5 5 5 4 5 5 5
Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 5 5 5 5 5 4 5 5 5
MSI P66-GD65 5 5 5 5 5 3 5 5 5

All hail the crab, king of audio codecs. The Gigabyte and MSI boards all use Realtek codec chips, and they score better in RightMark’s signal quality tests than the Asus models, which tap Via codecs. Of course, you’re better off with a discrete sound card if you’re really picky about analog audio quality.

Overclocking

Although it’s still early days, Lynnfield appears to be a willing overclocker. You have two options with the boards we’re looking at today: kick it old-school by cranking base clock speeds or use trendy new auto-overclocking features that seem to be all the rage. We’ve tested both, and I’ll start with the retro approach.

To probe each board’s base clock speed limits, we dialed back the CPU and memory multipliers to take them out of the equation. Next, we ramped up the base clock speed, testing for stability along the way with a combined Prime95/rthdribl load.

The P7P55D cruised up to 210MHz without so much as a whimper, but it hit the wall at 220MHz. Not even reasonably aggressive voltage tweaking would coax the board to post at 220MHz, let alone boot into Windows. 210MHz is still quite impressive considering that we started at 133, though.

We had much the same luck with the UD4P, which also stalled at 220MHz after effortlessly sauntering up to 210MHz. Again, we tried applying extra voltages all around, to no avail. Relaxing memory timings and fiddling with QPI link speeds didn’t help, either.

Next, we turned over control to the motherboards to see how far they might like to push our Core i5-750 CPU. Gigabyte handles auto-overclocking with its Smart QuickBoost software, which chooses an appropriate clock speed based on data the company has gathered when overclocking samples of the same CPU. The most aggressive Twin Turbo mode selected a base clock speed of 160MHz, good for 3.2GHz for the processor core.

Or 3.36GHz with Turbo Boost in action, as it is here. The board was perfectly stable at this speed, and according to CPU-Z, the processor required only 1.2V. That’s not bad for auto-pilot.

Asus has a much more iterative approach to automatic overclocking that actually steps through different clock speeds and tests for stability. This feature can be invoked through the BIOS or optional Windows software, and Asus has updated both since our look at the P7P55D Deluxe last week.

The latest BIOS’s auto-overclocking tool works much better than the earlier iteration we used. It settled on a 159MHz base clock, good for 3.35GHz at 1.328V.

Asus’ TurboV Windows software was arguably more effective, honing in on a 157MHz base clock that resulted in a slightly slower 3.3GHz core, but on only 1.256V. Both configurations were stable under load.

In theory, I prefer Asus’ iterative approach to automatic overclocking. There’s something to be said for automating the trial and error that one usually has to endure when testing a new system’s limits. However, it’s still a time-consuming project that lasted long enough that I just walked away after a while. Gigabyte’s software took a single click and reboot, and it ended up with the highest clock speed (just barely) and the lowest core voltage, all without sacrificing stability.

Seasoned PC enthusiasts are likely to use these auto-overclocking schemes to establish a launch point for further, hands-on fine tuning. Gigabyte’s software looks like it might be the best option for that sort of task, if only because it’s much quicker than waiting for the Asus board to do its thing.

Conclusions

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.

Comments closed
    • zazo007
    • 10 years ago

    I’d like to know why bit-tech.com review of the MSI P55-gd65 has came up with so much higher USB performance… or is there a problem with this one?

    §[< http://www.bit-tech.net/hardware/motherboards/2009/09/11/msi-p55-gd65-review/7<]§

    • motigez
    • 10 years ago

    major differences were captured between the platforms with raw performance metrics,
    would be nice to have meningfull user performance, for example PcMark score measuremants on the different chipsets, (in adition to the HD tach tests)

    thanks,
    Motigez

    • Jambe
    • 10 years ago

    I seriously don’t give half a sh** what the board looks like. I just want all the adapters to fit comfortably. I don’t get how $170 boards qualify as “mainstream” — do average computers have $170 motherboards? I mean /[

      • Freon
      • 10 years ago

      Just give it a bit more time. LGA1156 is new and it will take time for prices to come down.

      • glynor
      • 10 years ago

      I don’t know… The P55M-UD2 looks like a nice board, and I’m sure they’re planning on doing a Micro-ATX P55 roundup in a few weeks or so, but… I’m not completely sold on all the Micro-ATX hype that is going around lately.

      There is certainly a time and a place to make the compromises necessary to fit into a Micro ATX (or even iTX) form-factor. However, for at least my first Lynnfield PC, I’m upgrading a regular, large mid-tower sized system, and in that case a Micro-ATX board probably wouldn’t be my first choice (because why not have the flexibility of a board with more slots on it, if case size isn’t a major factor). So, while I too would like to see a review of the Micro ATX boards from various vendors, I’m glad they stuck with the standard ATX boards for the first review.

      Either way, the Gigabyte boards are segmented mostly by features. The BIOS and most overclocking features are going to be standard across the line (power phases excepted, but that’s mostly marketing anyway unless you are a very high-end overclocker on LN2 or phase-change systems).

      The P55-UD3 or UD3R would both probably be very good board choices for an ATX board at the lower end, IF SLI support (and hobbled Crossfire) isn’t important for you at all. The UD3 line boards all have:

      1 – 16x PCIe 2.0 slot
      1 – 4x PCIe slot (16x physical)
      No dual LAN
      No SLI Cert
      Realtek ALC888 instead of 889a (which is the one that does the Dolby Digital encoding)
      And neither of the two I listed have the TPM chip (the UD3P does if you really want it)

      While I’m not running dual video cards in my P55 box now, it is nice to retain the ability to add in a second (relatively cheap) copy of your card down the road and give it a second wind performance-wise. If this doesn’t matter to you, the UD3 series boards would be a very good choice. The main differences between the UD3 and the UD3R are:

      1. the UD3R has 2 eSATA ports and the UD3 doesn’t.
      2. the UD3R has 4 PCI slots and 1 PCIe 1x slot (plus the second physical 16x slot), while the UD3 has 3 PCI slots and 2 PCIe 1x slots

      But otherwise, you can USE this review to determine the best choice, based on what features you need, because otherwise the boards are very similar.

        • MadManOriginal
        • 10 years ago

        I think you may have forgotten that the UD3b[

          • glynor
          • 10 years ago

          The PCH supports RAID on both the vanilla UD3 and the UD3R. I don’t think that’s what the R stands for in this case.

          Here’s the specs list from Gigabyte for the UD3:

          l[

      • glynor
      • 10 years ago

      I will say this, though… When they do a MicroATX roundup, I hope they manage to include the P55M-UD2 rather than just the P55M-UD4.

      Crossfire/SLI support certainly seems less important to me in a SFF box, except for maybe a high-end HTPC machine if you like to game. But even then, current gen cards can push 1080p on just about everything without breaking a sweat, and next-gen cards are coming soon from AMD… So I’m not sure how relevant that is even in the HTPC market.

      The P55M-UD2 board looks like the board to beat in the MicroATX form factor space. I’d like to see it up against the comparable boards from MSI and ASUS.

        • MadManOriginal
        • 10 years ago

        The UD2 does look like a good choice. I’m glad they ran that second PCIe slot off the southbridge, it means to chance of compromise, not that it’s likely to matter i[

    • UltimateImperative
    • 10 years ago

    Since RightMark Audio Analyzer does actual measurements, could you post those for the audio stuff? The graphs would be extra-nice, but just THD+N, IMD+N and S/N would be nice; maybe Crosstalk and Frequency response too.

    One reason: I don’t know what RightMark means by “5” or “4” or “3” or whatever “Excellent” or “Okay” rating they give.

    But for S/N, for instance, I know that getting a room to below 38 dB SPL ambient is hard (especially with a high-end videocard in it). I also know that bookshelf/multimedia, unless they are crazy-sensitive kliptshes with horns and a big amp pushing them, pretty much won’t ever get over 120 dB SPL, and even then, that’s overly optimistic. 120 – 38 = 82, so as long as the sound card’s S/N is greater than that, there simply is no way I can hear the noise from my sound card over the room’s natural noise, even if I crank the volume on a pair of efficient speakers playing silence. (Of course I’ll hear my amp’s noise).

    • sparkman
    • 10 years ago

    Correction needed:

    On page #2, the model number listed at the top is the GA-P55-UD6 even though its the GA-P55-UD4P being reviewed.

    • Contingency
    • 10 years ago

    My P7P55D arrives next week, so I may be able to field questions not addressed in the review.

      • SomeOtherGeek
      • 10 years ago

      Like why is it going to your house and not mine?

    • swaaye
    • 10 years ago

    Can anyone tell me whether or not Gigabyte has fixed their ultra-slow USB boot speed yet? They are one of the few mobo makers that runs the ports at 1.1 speed for booting……

    • glynor
    • 10 years ago

    I have to say… I love my GA-P55-UD4P board. I got it on Newegg with a $15 combo discount with a i5-750 CPU, that brought the price down to a little more reasonable level.

    It is annoying that that heatsink blocks the top 1x PCIe slot, but there are two other 1x slots on the board, and I doubt that I’ll ever end up using 3 separate 1x PCIe cards on this board. I can’t even imagine what I’d use them for! The nice thing about the positioning of this slot is that it moves the primary x16 slot down a notch, which is just enough to get it out of the way of the hard drive cage in my case. It also moves the graphics card down and completely out of the way of the DIMM slots, which is very nice.

    The CPU socket area and DIMM slots are maybe slightly crowded, but no more than other similar boards I’ve used, and it is actually laid out pretty well once you use it. My Noctua NH-U12P SE2 fits just fine. Another thing to note about the DIMM slots is that the primary channel slots are on the RIGHT of the two pairs. That means if you only use 2 DIMMs (which is probably most people), the far leftmost slot will be empty. If I had that one populated, I would have had to use standard height DIMMs (rather than the big ones with coolers) in order to fit it under my Noctua cooler, but they would fit. Either way, I’m using 2x2GB DIMMs, so it isn’t an issue and everything fits fine.

    One thing they didn’t mention in the above review… The dual LAN ports do support Teaming, if you have a switch/router that can handle that feature, which is very nice if you are going to use it to serve large media files on a network.

    I have my Core i5-750 sitting at 4GHz stable (20 hours Prime95) right now at ~1.36v (200×20, Turbo disabled). I’m still playing with getting the best results though… It seems like if you turn Turbo on, you always go up one multiplier 100% of the time. But with a 21x multiplier, I can’t get the CPU stable above 4GHz as easily without pumping more voltage into it than I’d like for long-term usage.

    All-in-all, I’m VERY pleased.

    • Voldenuit
    • 10 years ago

    Still sounds like too many compromises are being asked for in the three mid-range contenders. First is the price. $150 is still near the higher end of midrange motehrboards, and a good 785 motherboard will go for a lot less.

    The PCIE arrangement of the ASUS P7P55D is just ridiculous, and totally unacceptable. And the 3 PCI slots are just a waste of space.

    The VRM heatsink of the Gigabyte UD4P is also egregiously bad since it blocks the first PCIE slot. And it does cost $20 more than its competitors.

    Lastly, we have the poor firewire and USB performance of the MSI board, which is not a deal killer but still not ideal.

    And let’s not forget the poor fan control across the board.

    I contend that none of these boards deserve a TR Recommended award. Let’s save that coveted prize for the next generation of boards, shall we?

    • Ragnar Dan
    • 10 years ago

    Good and succinct review.

    I’m becoming tempted, but will wait some more. And I’m still troubled by Lynnfields being a bit too pricey compared to Bloomfields, considering there are cheaper X58 mobos, now.

    • reactorfuel
    • 10 years ago

    In terms of design, it seems like manufacturers have taken one step forward and two steps back. The motherboard world is finally moving away from fluorescent International Safety Orange and Toxic Avenger Green, and that’s great. Unfortunately, they’ve chosen to distinguish their products with pointless heatsinks and ludicrous numbers of power phases, instead. At least ugly colors don’t block PCI express slots, crowd out your cooler, or drive up the price of the board.

    • shank15217
    • 10 years ago

    Its hilarious to see motherboard makers trying to differentiate their products with silly custom designed heat sinks and funny psudo-technical acronyms. With more subsystem functions going to the processors the Lynnfield main board feature set is as dry as its ever been. Good job Intel, you’ve managed to make the most boring platform ever, soo many colors of blue I just cant choose.

    • FuturePastNow
    • 10 years ago

    I wish Gigabyte didn’t waste board space on a giant, useless, fake “northbridge” heatsink. Not to mention blocking an x1 slot with it.

    • indeego
    • 10 years ago

    Street price is around $135g{<.<}g

    • DancinJack
    • 10 years ago

    I just built a computer for a friend with the i5 and this P55-UD4P. It went very smoothly. Very nice board for a great price. The only issue we had was with the ram. We had a 4GiB kit from G.Skill and it wouldn’t boot with the memory in the first and third slots(closest to socket). Switched them to 2 and 4 and everything worked fine.

    • tay
    • 10 years ago

    Did you do any stability and compatibility testing? Any P55 boards that you recommend?

    • MadManOriginal
    • 10 years ago

    Argh, pet peeve apoplexy! q[< solid-state capacitors<]q No, they aren't solid-state. Anyhow, good review. One question I have is how boards that use the CPU's PCIe lanes for both 16x lanes split up the lanes when the second slot is populated by something other than a graphics card. Is the only alternative to 16x/0x (unpopulated second slot) 8x/8x? Not that 16x or 8x on the first slot makes a huge difference but it's something I'd like to know and haven't seen mentioned in any reviews. Also you might want to try running a test or two with the power-saving features DES and APU enabled and disabled. I know that on a Gigabyte P45 board I had with DES that benchmarks were consistently slower so I think the small power savings actually comes from some kind of simplistic underclocking or agressive CPU power state management rather than any real benefit from power phase count switching.

      • Dissonance
      • 10 years ago

      We did run the power consumption tests with EPU/DES/APS enabled and disabled. I also ensure that the specific power saving configurations used don’t artificially cap processor clock speeds. The EPU/DES/APS numbers you see are with the CPU running at full tilt.

        • MadManOriginal
        • 10 years ago

        Yes I saw you ran the power consumption tests both ways but not any regular benchmarks as far as I can tell. When I observed this out the processor speed appeared to be normal and yet benchmarks were consistently lower even if not by much. This was with Gigabyte’s Windows DES utility, there are a few settings in there that I’d have to look up but one of them which actually gave notable power savings caused the hit to performance. If you want to investigate this and know which settings let me know by PM. Maybe the power savings systems have improved since then but I was suggesting run regular benchmarks with it on and off just to see. Not necessarily a full suite but just one or two to make sure.

    • Skrying
    • 10 years ago

    Nice. Glad to see reviews of the lower priced boards.

    Any chance we’ll see reviews the mATX P55 boards soon? Those are the really interesting ones.

      • Dissonance
      • 10 years ago

      microATX coverage is coming just as soon as I clear some other interesting products from my plate.

        • UberGerbil
        • 10 years ago

        The longer you wait, the more you’ll have to cover 😉

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This