We saw a lot of performance numbers today and they all lead me to the same conclusions.
The Intel P55 chipset offers enough bells and whistles for mainstream users looking to use a single video card and technologies that are mainstream today. The chipset is just not designed to take full advantage of next generation high bandwidth goodies like SATA 6G and USB 3.0 without heavy modification to the motherboard design. ASUS and GIGABYTE are known for pushing the envelope as far as they can, but when it comes to P55 they pushed the envelope off the table. It is not like they didn't give it a good try or skipped critical steps, P55 was just never designed to be used in this manner.
SATA 6G will one day aid in giving all users a more enjoyable computing experience. It will provide a much higher ceiling for hard drive manufacturers to aim towards and since the HDD is the slowest product in our computers, the additional bandwidth, when properly utilized, will make everything better. Right now there is only one single SATA 6G hard drive on the market and it is a platter based drive that sees little to no benefit with the increase in bandwidth. Seagate has a long history of firsts to market, but the Barracuda XT is going to be another footnote on the timeline; unfortunately that is all it will ever be, a footnote.
For early adopters, all is not lost as long as you can wait just a few more weeks. GIGABYTE has already released an X58 solution with both USB 3.0 and SATA 6G! The new GA-X58-UD7 is already in Sean's test lab and I have another sample on the way to test SATA 6G products with in 2010. In my opinion USB 3.0 and SATA 6G can only be used seamlessly on X58 motherboards and they are more of a novelty on P55.
When it comes to hard drives that take advantage of SATA 6G, you are going to have to wait a little longer. We already know that solid state drives with a new Marvel controller will be on display at CES. Their ship dates have yet to be announced, but they are coming and coming soon. Indilinx also has a SATA 6G SSD controller on the way, but it is sounding like a Q2 product at the soonest, though a few may be on display at CES as well. Until we see these next generation solid state drives available, there is little need to buy a motherboard based solely on SATA 6G.
USB 3.0 on the other hand is another matter. If you frequently transfer data to an external hard drive USB 3.0 is the way to go. As long as you are only using a single video card, P55 boards look pretty attractive when it comes to a low cost solution to get started right away. USB 3.0 doesn't have the little issues that make eSATA a pain and USB 3.0 can truly be called seamless.
When it really comes down to it, if you are looking for a P55 motherboard with USB 3.0 and SATA 6G the ASUS solution works a little better since you do not have to play with the BIOS on most of their boards (the P7P55D-E and P7P55D-E LX being the two exceptions). GIGABYTE did give us our first look at SATA 6G RAID, but the firmware will need to mature a little more. Still, when dealing with 2TB drives it is a good idea to run a pair in RAID 1 if you are keeping sensitive files on the drive and the only option for that is with the GIGABYTE P55A motherboards.
As for our testing today and how the workarounds use the additional bandwidth, I would have to call our tests inconclusive. Once we start to see SSDs with SATA 6G we can reevaluate both boards and see if an SSD is able to perform better with ASUS' wider data path and be limited by GIGABYTE's switching solution. As for right now, both of the motherboards give us enough bandwidth to use a Seagate Barracuda XT to its fullest.
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