Core i7 is here and Intel is going to be pushing this as the new enthusiast processor platform. We have already taken a look at two of their three models released to the market, the Core i7 920 and Core i7 965. Both have proven themselves to be a very impressive processor and are quite easily capable of taking over where Core 2 leaves off.
With this new CPU comes a totally new chipset. Now, normally Intel releases a new chipset with their processors; it's a tradition and normally it's not needed as their new CPUs will run on the older boards with a BIOS update. However, Core i7 changes all this since it's now working on the same premise that made K8 popular, that being an on-CPU memory controller. Because of that, a totally new platform arrives; Intel X58 Express.
X58 works with the new Quick Path Interconnect that Intel now uses to connect the CPU and memory to the Northbridge on the board. With a high speed bus that's said to be able to transmit at 4.8GHz (or 6.4GHz on the Extreme Edition), Intel really has listened to what works.
Today we have ASUS' first X58 retail offering in the form of the P6T Deluxe, equipped with just about everything you could want. It's aimed at a very picky crowd; enthusiast and high-end users. So how does it fair? - Let's have a look.
Specifications of the ASUS P6T Deluxe
Supports Intel Core i7 900 Series LGA1366
Intel X58 Express Chipset
Intel X58 IO Hub Northbridge
Intel ICH10R Southbridge
DMI @ 2GB/s
6 DDR3 SDRAM 240pin DIMM Sockets
Supports Single/Dual for Triple Channel Memmory
Supports up to 12GB Total Memory (6x 2GB)
Quick Path Interconnect
3 PCI Express x16
1 PCI Express x4 Universal
1 Parallel ATA port supporting 2 IDE Drives
6 Serial ATA ports
2 SAS Ports
1 e.SATA port
2 Gigabit Ethernet Port
1 PS2 Keyboard/Mouse Port
14 USB 2.0 Ports (6 rear accessible, 8 via expansion bracket)
6 Stereo Audio Ports
1 RCA SPDIF Port
1 Toslink SPDIF Port
1 e.SATA Port
2 RJ45 Ethernet Ports
2 Firewire ports (1 rear accessible, 1 via expansion bracket)
The Box and What's Inside
Package and Contents
As we normally do here at TweakTown, we are starting off with the package and the contents. ASUS continues to use a blue background with their Intel based motherboards, but this time it's a lighter shade than the Core 2 Duo boards. Since the Core i7 is a new series of processor, the X58 board gets a new number system; this now being the 6 series from ASUS. On the front there is the company and board model logos along with the usual graphics to show the CPU and chipset support.
The P6T Deluxe has a flap that opens up with a lot more marketing info on the board, which includes the OC Palm and the EPU 6 engine power saving system that the board supports.
On the back of the box ASUS has done a fantastic job with extra information. In fact, they have even put the same spec list that is on their website on the bottom right portion of the box, which means there is no need to go to the website to look up the specs as they're right on the box. At the top right ASUS has given a full colour photo of the board, so there are no surprises as to what you're buying.
The board comes with a single user manual that explains the full workings and specifications of the ASUS motherboard; this includes the correct installation of the CPU, graphics card and memory, driver installing, software included and the BIOS setup. All in all it is a very comprehensive manual from ASUS. The DVD included has drivers and software for both Vista and XP in 32-bit and 64-bit variants.
Inside the Box - Continued
Moving along to the cable bundle, ASUS has a huge array here. There are a total of six SATA data cables included and considering the board has only six SATA ports, this means you don't have to buy any extra cables if you want to run all of the ports from day one. Along with those, you get a single IDE cable with two-drive support. You may have noticed two weird looking yellow SATA-ish looking cables as well. These are actually SAS sables; one end has a SATA port connector while the other has a combo SAS/Power port that connects to the drive (SAS uses a different port on the back of the drive for connection, so standard SATA cables won't connect to a SAS drive).
ASUS provides a single PCI expansion cover bracket which has two USB 2.0 ports on it along with a single 4-pin FireWire port. Along with this is a Vortec air cooler. This is used if you plan to move to water cooling on your board; it'll help keep the Mosfets cool. Since the air from the CPU fan has been eliminated when a liquid cooling setup is used, an alternate source of air is needed to blow over the heat-pipe and this baby does the job nicely.
This is one of the more interesting things we have seen and ASUS calls it the OC Palm. What this baby does is everything; well, almost. It's an overclocking tool that allows you to monitor in real time as well as manipulate FSB speed, voltages, CPU multipliers and pretty much anything you can do in the BIOS. To overclock and monitor the CPU, you can do it on this little colour display. It connects to the PC via a spare USB port and gives you readouts on everything that's going on with your overclock.
Now that we have taken care of the package, let's move on to the fun part; the board itself. ASUS has manufactured the board on a full sized ATX 30x24cm PCB. In fact, thanks to the larger heatsink and six memory slots, you won't find Core i7 boards being made on anything but this sized PCB. It seems to be the norm for today's PC's. Anyhow, enough rambling.
When it comes to the placement and location of connectors, ASUS is amongst the top designers out there. The 24-pin ATX power connector gets its normal position on the right hand side of the board, just behind the six DDR3 memory slots. These are coloured red and black. The 8-pin power connector sits behind the PS/2 / USB combo tower port that's right beside the heat-pipe assembly.
A note you should be aware of; when we setup our test board, we inserted all of the DDR3 modules (three in total) into the black slots. The board refused to post so we moved all of them to the orange/red slots and the board posted. We then put more modules into the black slots to see if the board was damaged, but it posted fine with the extra memory. It seems this board has a particular preference as to where the modules need to go when using only one bank.
Further down the board on the right hand side, the single IDE port controlled by a PCIe Marvell PATA/SATA controller chip is rotated on its side to keep the cable clutter down to a minimum. Just below this are six SATA ports, also on their sides and two more behind the SATA towers. There are four red ones and two orange ones on their sides with more red ports behind the side mounted red ports. These red SATA ports are controlled by the ICH10R Southbridge and support the usual Matrix Storage system and RAID arrays. The two orange ports are SAS ports and yes, you can plug SAS or SATA drives into them. SAS controllers are backwards compatible with SATA drives, but SAS drives will not work on SATA ports.
On the bottom of the board ASUS has two toggle switches; one for power on and one for reset. This means you can setup your system outside of a normal case, if you so desire or if you want to test the board and memory before it goes into the case. Overall, this is a very well designed board that's obviously had a lot of thought go into it.
Since the Core i7 CPU has grown in size, so has the heatsink. However, the PCBs have remained the same; this can't bode well for the CPU area, me thinks. Well, ASUS has done a good job here nonetheless. While it does look a bit cramped, we managed to get the Intel cooler in without a problem. We will have to see how well larger heatsinks fit as we get one, but for now the stock unit will have to suffice.
Turning our attention to the rear I/O ports, ASUS has a fantastic layout and design. Of note here, there is only one PS/2 port, but it has a half purple and half green colour scheme. This is a dual purpose port; if you have a PS/2 mouse, you can run it off the PS/2 port and run the keyboard off the USB, or vice versa. If you have both a PS/2 keyboard and mouse, you're stuffed here; time to pick up a USB mouse/keyboard.
Digital audio is handled by either the Toslink or RCA S/PDIF port. Other digital connections include the FireWire port and also an eSATA port that runs off the same chip which controls the IDE port on the motherboard.
It's now time to take a look at the boards expansion layout. X58 is a far more flexible chipset than any of Intel's previous chipsets, mostly because it's the only chipset on the market to support both SLI and Crossfire. The board is equipped with three PCIe x16 slots; a blue slot, a white slot and a black slot. The Northbridge supports 32 PCI Express lanes, so you can have the following setups; either two full speed x16 slots or one full speed x16 slot and two x8 slots. ASUS has gone for the latter setup to allow for 3-way SLI, if you so desire it. If you prefer to run quad SLI, you'll need two 9800GX2's plugged into the blue and white slot. This then runs the two slots at full speed x16 mode, which is needed for quad SLI or quad Crossfire setups.
Just above the blue PCIe x16 slot is a Universal PCIe slot with a x4 link speed. This slot is connected to the ICH10R's PCIe lanes, so they are only 1.1 compliant. However, they allow for a x4 or even a x8 PCIe RAID controller or dual band Ethernet controller. Unfortunately, an extra GPU in here is impossible since the slot is too close to the heatsink for the Northbridge. To cap off the expansion slots, there are two PCI legacy slots for older sound cards or TV tuners.
As for additional components, there is quite a few. First off, since the ICH10R is IDE-less, a Marvell 88ES6111 PCIe based single PATA and Single SATA controller chip handles this. The IDE port is routed to the single red slot we mentioned earlier, where the SATA port is routed to the eSATA port on the rear I/O. The SATA port supports IDE and AHCI mode, so it's hot swappable.
To give the board its SAS ports, a Marvell 88ES6320 2-port SAS controller using a PCIe link is also supplied. The FireWire is handled by a VIA VT6308 2-port PCI based IEEE1394a controller and the dual Gigabit Ethernet is handled by two Marvell 88ES8056 PCIe LAN controllers.
BIOS and Overclocking
Now we take a closer look at the BIOS. ASUS uses its trademarked Award Tab BIOS, as we like to refer to it as. Its appearance and colour scheme is identical to the reference BIOS Intel uses for its own desktop boards, but ASUS has a lot more tweaking options under its hood.
The AI Tweaker tab has all the overclocking options, apart from actual control of the CPU ratio. This has to be done in the Advanced tab under the CPU Control Sub menu. Also from here, you can set the boot-up VID rather than having to rely on the default VID the CPU is set for.
BCLK Frequency: 100 - 500Mhz in 1MHz Increments
PCIE Frequency: 100 - 200Mhz in 1MHz Increments
UCLK Frequency: 1600 - 5600MHz in Various Increments
QPI Frequency: 4800/5866/6400Mhz
CPU Voltage: 0.85v to 2.1v in 0.00625v increments
CPU PLL Voltage: 1.8v to 2.5v in 0.02v increments
QPI/DRAM Voltage: 1.2 - 1.9v in 0.02v increments
IOH Voltage: 1.1 - 1.7v in 0.02v increments
IOH PCIE Voltage: 1.5 - 2.76v in 0.02v Increments
ICH Voltage: 1.1 - 1.7v in 0.02v increments
ICH PCIE Voltage: 1.5 - 2.76v in 0.02v Increments
DRAM Bus Voltage: 1.5 - 2.46v in 0.02v Increments
While we are getting quite used to overclocking on the Phenom and Core 2 platforms, Core i7 is a whole new kettle of fish. With limited time to really get the hang of it, our experience involved quite a bit of trial and error.
Where our GIGABYTE EX58-UD5 reference board would not even go 1MHz BCLK above standard without looping endlessly in a power on/power off state (a few users out there know of this drama), the ASUS board actually managed what we consider to be a good start. By its nature the QPI bus is highly clocked and even slight changes can cause a lot of crosstalk and noise. And with Intel's strict voltage tolerances for the Core i7 memory controller (1.65v max), it's looking like overclocking might be a bit of a no go.
However, we are glad to report that we were extremely impressed; we managed to clock up from the stock BCLK of 133MHz to an impressive 200MHz, this by lowering the QPI and UNCORE ratios down as well as increasing the CPU PLL voltage, I/O hub voltage and QPI/DRAM Voltage. 200MHz was then stable during all our tests. This isn't a bad start at all.
Important Editor Note: Our maximum overclocking result is the best result we managed in our limited time of testing the motherboard. Due to time constraints we weren't able to tweak the motherboard to the absolute maximum and find the highest possible FSB, as this could take days to find properly. We do however spend at least a few hours overclocking every motherboard to try and find the highest possible overclock in that time frame. You may or may not be able to overclock higher if you spend more time tweaking, or as new BIOS updates are released. "Burn-in" time might also come into play if you believe in that.
Test System Setup and Memory Performance
Processor: Intel Core i7 Extreme 965 @ 3.2GHz (24x133MHz)
Memory: 3x 2GB DDR3-1600 Corsair Tri Channel (Supplied by Corsair)
Hard Disk: Intel SSD X25-M80GB (Supplied by Intel)
Graphics Card: GIGABYTE 9800GX2 (Supplied by GIGABYTE)
Cooling: Intel Stock Cooler
Operating System: Microsoft Windows Vista x64
Drivers: Intel INF 18.104.22.1687, Forceware 175.16
Now we begin testing the platform out. Today we are starting a whole new database of results. We will be comparing the ASUS board to the reference GIGABYTE EX58-UD5 motherboard. Unfortunately, at this stage the GIGABYTE board did not overclock. Hopefully we will see improvements made with the help of a new BIOS. However, we didn't have any overclocking comparisons.
For our stock clock speeds we ran the memory at 1333MHz with the CPU at its default clock speed of 3.2GHz.
Overclocking tests on the ASUS were done with a 17x multiplier along with a BCLK of 200 MHz which increased our memory to 1600MHz. We clocked the QPI back down to help keep the system stable.
EVEREST Ultimate Edition
Version and / or Patch Used: 2006
Developer Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
Product Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
Buy It Here
EVEREST Ultimate Edition is an industry leading system diagnostics and benchmarking solution for enthusiasts PC users, based on the award-winning EVEREST Technology. During system optimizations and tweaking it provides essential system and overclock information, advanced hardware monitoring and diagnostics capabilities to check the effects of the applied settings. CPU, FPU and memory benchmarks are available to measure the actual system performance and compare it to previous states or other systems.
First off, it's memory performance. At stock speeds both boards perform identically. It's unlikely we will see any differences in memory performance amongst Core i7 boards because of the on-die nature of the memory controller.
When we push the CPU and board higher on the ASUS, we see memory performance jump quite a bit thanks to the increased bus clocks and higher QPI/DRAM ratio.
Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage
Version and / or Patch Used: Unpatched
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/benchmarks/pcmark-vantage//
Buy It Here
PCMark Vantage is the first objective hardware performance benchmark for PCs running 32 and 64 bit versions of Microsoft Windows Vista. PCMark Vantage is perfectly suited for benchmarking any type of Microsoft Windows Vista PC from multimedia home entertainment systems and laptops to dedicated workstations and high-end gaming rigs. Regardless of whether the benchmarker is an artist or an IT Professional, PCMark Vantage shows the user where their system soars or falls flat, and how to get the most performance possible out of their hardware. PCMark Vantage is easy enough for even the most casual enthusiast to use yet supports in-depth, professional industry grade testing.
Under PCMark Vantage we see that the stock performance is identical across the two boards. When we overclock the system by even a little, Core i7 really appreciates it.
Benchmarks - SYSmark 2007 Preview
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.04
Developer Homepage: http://www.bapco.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.bapco.com/products/sysmark2007preview/>
SYSmark 2007 Preview is the latest version of the premier performance metric that measures and compares PC performance based on real world applications.
SYSmark 2007 Preview extends the SYSmark family, which has been widely accepted by IT Managers, PC OEMs, press and analysts worldwide to support Windows Vista.
SYSmark 2007 Preview allows users to directly compare platforms based on Windows Vista to those based on Windows XP Professional and Home.
The new release also incorporates numerous new features and enhancements such as an improved GUI allowing streamlined start-up and run along with a heads-up-display (HUD) and automated error reporting.
SYSmark 2007 Preview is an application-based benchmark that reflects usage patterns of business users in the areas of Video creation, E-learning, 3D Modeling and Office Productivity. This new release includes a robust and refreshed set of applications.
SYSmark is our first semi-real world benchmark and we see that stock clocks are nearly identical. However, the performance improves with overclocking by quite a bit.
Benchmarks - Adobe Premiere Elements 4.0
Adobe Premiere Elements 4.0
Version and / or Patch Used: 4.0
Developer Homepage: http://www.adobe.com
Product Homepage: http://www.adobe.com/products/premiereel/
Buy It Here
Our test with Adobe Premiere Elements 2.0 is performed with a raw two hour AVI file. It is then compressed into DivX format using the latest version codec. We measure the time it takes to encode and then record CPU usage.
Moving along to real world benchmarks and at stock speeds we see both platforms giving identical results. The performance increase when we ramp up the clock speeds is easily seen here as well.
Benchmarks - 3DMark Vantage
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.01
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmarkvantage/
Buy It Here
3DMark Vantage is the new industry standard PC gaming performance benchmark from Futuremark, newly designed for Windows Vista and DirectX10. It includes two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, and support for the latest hardware.
3DMark Vantage is based on a completely new rendering engine, developed specifically to take full advantage of DirectX10, the new graphics API from Microsoft.
Into the synthetic gaming and we see that the ASUS and GIGABYTE boards are equal at stock speeds. When ASUS clocks up the CPU we see that the results push forward, but it's not as big an increase as we've seen in the other benchmarks.
Benchmarks - Crysis
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.2.1
Timedemo or Level Used: Custom Timedemo
Developer Homepage: http://www.crytek.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.ea.com/crysis/
Buy It Here
From the makers of Far Cry, Crysis offers FPS fans the best-looking, most highly-evolving gameplay, requiring the player to use adaptive tactics and total customization of weapons and armor to survive in dynamic, hostile environments including Zero-G.
Real time editing, bump mapping, dynamic lights, network system, integrated physics system, shaders, shadows and a dynamic music system are just some of the state of-the-art features the CryENGINE 2 offers. The CryENGINE 2 comes complete with all of its internal tools and also includes the CryENGINE 2 Sandbox world editing system.
Lastly, our gaming benchmark is Crysis which puts quite a bit of stress on the system. Here ASUS manages to get the win, but only when overclocked.
Power Usage and Heat Tests
We are now able to find out what kind of power is being used by our test system and the associated graphics cards installed. Keep in mind; it tests the complete system (minus LCD monitor, which is plugged directly into an AC wall socket).
There are a few important notes to remember though; while our maximum power is taken in 3DMark Vantage at the same exact point, we have seen in particular tests the power being drawn as much as 10% more. We test at the exact same stage every time; therefore tests should be very consistent and accurate.
The other thing to remember is that our test system is bare minimum - only a 7,200RPM SATA-II single hard drive is used without CD-ROM or many cooling fans.
So while the system might draw 400 watts in our test system, placing it into your own PC with a number of other items, the draw is going to be higher.
Now it's onto power usage and we see that ASUS has a slightly lower overall power requirement. This is likely due to having 16 phases on the CPU and two phases for the QPI/DRAM.
As a new measure, we are now monitoring the heat generation from the key components on the motherboards, this being the Northbridge, Southbridge (if it contains one) as well as the Mosfets around the CPU. The results are recorded at idle and load during the power consumption tests.
ASUS has a great design for its heat-pipe; it managed to keep the temps slightly lower than the GIGABYTE board.
While the performance of Core i7 compared to the Core 2 processor has already been proven, it's still too soon to say if Core i7 will take off like a screaming rocket or if it will take some time before it's adopted. Core i7 is also one of those processors that requires a degree in rocket science to overclock; similar to Phenom. There are too many buses and dividers making this system work, but it's still too soon to say if Core i7 has topped out in bus clocking or if it will go harder.
On that note, we have to give the ASUS board a huge rap; it's extremely feature rich, has a reasonable overclock on offer at this early stage and with CrossfireX and SLI graphics support, there is something here for everyone.
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