ASUS has always been at the forefront when it comes to new technologies. Lynnfield is no exception. At Computex we were lucky enough to see just how well this new technology would work and from there the birth of the new Lynnfield processor and P55 chipset has already caused a stir in the hardware community. Not only is it looking like Core 2 will finally be leaving the stage after its long service, but a newer and better product will be taking its place.
We already took a bit of a look at today's board on display in a preview article some time ago, however, today we have Lynnfield processors on hand to fully get the grasp of what's on offer.
On show for you today we have the P7P55D Deluxe board aimed at the mainstream segment. Hitting the shelves at $219.99 USD over at Newegg, Nehalem architecture now becomes more affordable and with plenty of style to boot.
The Box and What's Inside
Package and Contents
ASUS has gone for the traditional blue box design that they now put all their Intel based boards in. On the front it's very plain. What you can notice is that ASUS doesn't actually have the chipset logo or the processor logos on this board yet, which means there would be some name changes.
On the back of the box ASUS has put a few marketing bits and pieces. However, alot of the space is taken up by the colour photo of the board and a full spec listing of the board's features and supported functions. This is a big plus as you'll know full well what you are getting.
For a Deluxe board ASUS has gone a bit lighter on the additional documentation. The user manual that is included for the board is well up to the usual ASUS standard, very large and thick with explanations of the hardware and software included on the single DVD which has Windows XP and Vista drivers for both 32-bit and 64-bit OS's.
The accessories are also pretty light, only what you need. There are a total of six SATA data cables as well as one IDE cable. ASUS also includes EZ-Connectors to help you connect the case panel switches as well as an SLI bridge cable. Lastly, there is a USB/FireWire PCI cover bracket expansion port.
Last on the accessories list is the Turbo-V Evo controller. This allows you to adjust BLCK, voltages and ratios with just the click of a button.
Now it's to the board itself. ASUS uses a full ATX standard for the P7P55D Deluxe. A black PCB colour scheme with blue and white slots are the theme. The layout, well, as normal ASUS does a fantastic job here.
The 24-pin ATX power connector is located behind the four DDR memory slots along with a MemOK button. The 4/8 pin combo connector is located right at the top of the board just above the heat-pipe assembly that cools the Mosfets.
ASUS has introduced into this series its 16+3 power delivery. The 16 phases deliver voltage to the CPU vcore, while the extra three phases supply voltage to the uncore and the integrated memory controller. These Mosfets are cooled by a heatpipe assembly.
The P55 chipset is Intel's first single chip solution. Since the memory controller is integrated into the CPU there is no need for a separate Northbridge. The P55 single chip is cooled by a passive cooler.
ASUS places its connectors down on the bottom section of the board. The top most connector is the single IDE port which is controlled by a JMB368 PCIe SATA/PATA chip. The SATA ports this chip runs on the board are labelled SATA_E1 to E3. The light blue SATA ports on the edge of the board are controlled by the P55 chipset and support all RAID formats.
The rear I/O ports on the board are pretty standard. There are two PS/2 ports, USB and network along with six audio connectors. A CMOS reset button is included in case you do overclock your system to a point it will not reboot on its own. Unfortunately there are no eSATA ports on this board.
Lastly it's onto the expansion slots, but first a bit of info on the P55 chipset. P55 is actually a cut down version of the X58 and ICH10R integrated into a single chip design. Where the X58 comes with 32 lanes for PCI Express channels for graphics expansion, the P55 is limited to 16. However, these can be set as a single x16 slot or two x8 slots for SLI or Crossfire. That's right, the P55 supports SLI and Crossfire; the same as the X58 which provides the board manufacturers a licence to the boards for SLI.
The ASUS P7P55D Deluxe is equipped with three PCI Express x16 slots. The top two are designed for graphics cards which can be split into a 16/1 or 8/8 configuration. The third slot is designed for a spare graphics card for PhysX or a RAID controller card.
Two PCI x1 slots sit between the two x16 slots for graphics cards which is rather stupid. If you use a two slot card like a GTX285, you will lose access to these expansion slots.
Lastly, there are two PCI legacy slots.
BIOS and Overclocking
ASUS continues to use the AWARD 6 BIOS in the grey background which I like to call the tab menu background. ASUS has used this BIOS design for most of its boards since the Pentium 3 days. I remember first getting acquainted with this BIOS with an ASUS P3B-F motherboard, my second ASUS board I ever owned.
Under the A.I. Tweaker menu are the primary overclocking features including BCLK, QPI, memory ratios, CPU ratios if you have an unlocked CPU and various other bus options.
On some of the past boards it's been a bit of a guessing game understanding what each voltage and BUS option does. ASUS has simplified this with simple names and explanations of what each does on the right side of the screen when it's selected.
Under the Advanced tab the CPU Configuration sub menu gives you access to a few extra features of the CPU such as being able to enable HT on i7 based processors as well as enable and disable cores on the CPU.
When overclocking on the ASUS board we did a reasonably good job. While we only see 2488MHz above, this was when Speedstep was working. We left the CPU multiplier at 22x so our actual speed was 3.4GHz using the 155MHz BCLK.
You can see the validation here.
As all overclocking results are dependent on the hardware you use, your results may vary. Results of our overclocking tests are included in the performance section with the stock scores.
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 Comments
Processor: Intel Core i7 870
Memory: 2GB Kingston KHX12800D3T1K3/3GX (Supplied by Kingston)
Hard Disk:Intel X25-M 80GB SSD (Supplied by Intel)
Graphics Card: GIGABYTE Geforce GTX285 1GB (Supplied by GIGABYTE)
Cooling: Cooler Master Hyper 212 (with an extra fan) (Supplied by Cooler Master)
Operating System: Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate RTM x64
Drivers: Intel INF 22.214.171.1247, ForceWare 190.38
Setting up my first LGA 1156 motherboard was completely painless. The ASUS board detected the CPU and memory straight off. We updated to the latest BIOS from ASUS to get the most up to date performance enhancements, if any, from ASUS and loaded a fresh copy of Windows 7 Ultimate x64.
There were no issues during testing what so ever; this board set up and ran perfectly from the get go.
Synthetic Tests - Part I
As with any system, you will want to see a combination of synthetic testing and real-world. Synthetics give you a static, easily repeatable testing method that can be compared across multiple platforms. For our synthetic tests we use SiSoft Sandra, Futuremark's 3DMark Vantage and PCMark Vantage, CINEBENCH as well as HyperPi. Each of these covers a different aspect of performance or a different angle of a certain type of performance.
Memory is a big part of current system performance. In most systems slow or flakey memory performance will impact almost every type of application you run.
To test memory we use a combination of SiSoft Sandra and HyperPi 0.99.
Version and / or Patch Used: 2009 SP3c
Developer Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.net
Product Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.net
Buy It Here
Using SiSoft Sandra, at stock memory performance is quite good. While it's not quite up there with triple channel memory from the i7 9xx series CPUs, the fact that the memory controller is on the CPU helps eliminate a lot of the memory lag that the older Northbridge memory controller based chipsets suffered. When we overclocked the CPU we saw a healthy jump in performance.
Version and / or Patch Used: 0.99
Developer Homepage: www.virgilioborges.com.br
Product Homepage: www.virgilioborges.com.br
Download It Here
HyperPi is a front end for SuperPi that allows for multiple concurrent instances of SuperPi to be run on each core recognized by the system. It is very dependent on CPU to memory to HDD speed. The faster these components, the faster it is able to figure out the number Pi to the selected length.
For our testing we use the 32M run. This means that each of the cores on the Core i7 870 along with the Hyper Threaded units is trying to calculate the number Pi out to 32 million decimal places. Each "run" is a comparative to ensure accuracy and any stability or performance issues in the loop mentioned above will cause errors in calculation.
Synthetic Tests - Part II
Disk Drive Controller
The system drive controller is an important part of system performance. In most modern boards your drive controller will run off of the PCI-e bus. The PCI-e bus performance can be affected by poor trace layout as well as many other design choices that show up on different boards.
For testing we used SiSoft's Sandra.
Using a single chip design helps Intel keep all the buses in check. This is in fact the fastest we have seen any Intel storage controller work. With the SSD running the show, everything is quite fast.
Synthetic Tests - Part III
Overall System Performance and Gaming
Here is where we dig out the FutureMark tests.
Version and / or Patch Used: 126.96.36.199
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/
Product Homepage: www.futuremark.com
Buy It Here
For overall system performance we use PCMark Vantage. This is run in both x86 and x64 mode to give the best indication of performance.
In terms of overall (general usage), ASUS has a very well optimised system. The i7 870 performance is quite solid considering its memory controller has been stripped down to dual channel rather than triple like its bigger brother. But none the less, the performance is impressive and with overclocking we get even more gains in performance.
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.1
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/
Product Homepage: www.futuremark.com
Buy It Here
For synthetic gaming tests we used the industry standard and overlockers bragging tool 3DMark Vantage. This is a test that strives to mimic the impact modern games have on a system. FutureMark went a long way to change from the early days of graphics driven tests to a broader approach including physics, AI and more advanced graphics simulations.
3DMark Vantage uses the DX10 API in addition to having support for PhysX. Due to the PhysX support and our use of an NVIDIA GPU, we run with PhysX enabled and disabled to give you the best indication of real system performance. For testing we use the Performance test run.
Synthetic gaming all runs well; 3DMark Vantage gives us a good result, especially when we start to overclock the CPU.
CINEBENCH R10 x64
Version and / or Patch Used: R10
Developer Homepage: http://www.maxon.net/
Product Homepage: www.maxon.net
Download It Here
CINEBENCH is a synthetic rendering tool developed by Maxon. Maxon is the same company that developed Cinema4D, another industry leading 3D animation application.
CINEBENCH R10 tests your systems ability to render across a single and multiple CPU cores. It also tests your system's ability to process OpenGL information.
With eight threads to play with, the i7 870 managed to chug thru the rendering stages quite impressively.
Real-World Tests Part I
Real-world testing allows us to see how well a product will perform when used in the same manner as it would be in your house or office. It is an important side to performance testing as it can uncover hidden glitches in the way a product performs.
It is especially true when testing a mainboard. There are so many components of a board that have to interact, so any problems between parts can often cause a failure of the whole.
For real-world testing we use some common applications and functions. We test with LightWave 3D for rendering performance, AutoGK for transcoding from DVD to AVI and two games for gaming testing.
Rendering of 3D animation is a system intensive endeavor. You need a good CPU, memory and HDD speed to get good rendering times. For our testing we use LightWave 3D. This software from Newtek is an industry standard and has several pre-loaded scenes for us to use.
Version and / or Patch Used: 9.6
Developer Homepage: http://www.newtek.com
Product Homepage: http://www.newtek.com/lightwave/
Buy It Here
in real world rendering the see that the i7 870 managed to put some impressive scores on the table.
Version and / or Patch Used: 2.55
Developer Homepage: http://www.autogk.me.uk/
Product Homepage: http://www.autogk.me.uk/
Download It Here
AutoGK stands for Auto Gordian Knot; it is a suite of transcoding tools that are compiled into an easy to install and use utility. It allows you to transcode non-protected DVDs and other media to Xvid or DivX format. For our testing purposes we use a non-DRM restricted movie that is roughly two hours in length. This is transcoded to a single Xvid AVI at 100% quality.
We find similarly impressive transcoding performance in AutoGK.
Real-World Tests Part II
Here we have our real gaming tests. Each of the games we choose uses multiple cores and GPUs. They are able to stress the system through use of good AI. Both have decent positional audio that adds impact to the sound subsystem of the board. We ran each game through the level or parts listed and recorded frames per second using FRAPS. This brings the whole game into play.
Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0
Timedemo or Level Used: From Ship Entry until third Spirit Journey
Developer Homepage: http://www.505games.co.uk
Product Homepage: http://cryostasis-game.com
Buy It Here
Cryostasis : Sleep of Reason is an interesting game. It is heavy on PhysX so to play it properly you will really want an NVIDIA GPU. However, with that aside, it can be immersive. Imagine Myst with guns and monsters.
One of the cool concepts is the spirit journeys. These allow you to enter the past of lost souls. You have to change their past to change your future. Each one makes for a nice diversion and requires you to think about what you are doing and how it will affect the outcome of the game. The settings we used are shown below.
Far Cry 2
Version and / or Patch Used: V1.00
Timedemo or Level Used: Clearing the Safe house through to the Rescue
Developer Homepage: http://www.ubi.com
Product Homepage: http://farcry.us.ubi.com
Buy It Here
Far Cry 2 is a large sandbox style game. There are no levels here, so as you move about the island you are on you do not have to wait for the "loading" sign to go away. It is mission driven so each mission is what you would normally think of as the next "level".
In the game you take the role of a mercenary who has been sent to kill the Jackal. Unfortunately your malaria kicks in and you end up being found by him. Long story short, you become the errand boy for a local militia leader and run all over the island doing his bidding. The settings we used for testing are shown below.
In both our real world gaming tests we see that the performance is quite impressive to say the least. The i7 870 platform is a gem and the ASUS board is a perfect example of this engineering.
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).
Power usage of the new platform is quite good considering that the CPU managed to jump into turbo mode and overclock itself if needed.
As a new measure, we are now monitoring the heat generation from the key components on the motherboard; 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.
Heat generated is extremely good, too. Compared to the X58 boards the P55 runs alot cooler.
Intel is truly moving in the right direction with Lynnfield. It's been quite some time since Nehalem was released and Core i7 9xx has proven without a doubt to be the fastest processor on the market. While we don't really want to have to say it, Core i7 is how AMD's K10 should have been. Yes, AMD did put the memory controller on the CPU a lot earlier than Intel, but Intel did it better. Bandwidth results truly prove AMD can't keep up with Nehalem processors, no matter what.
Lynnfield processors are without a doubt the answer to the mainstream for Intel. Core 2 has served its purpose and now it's time to move them to the back burner and let the Core i5 and Core i7 8xx series take up the lime light and flourish.
Our first ASUS P55 motherboard we have been able to test has left us with an extremely pleasant taste in our mouths. The P7P55D not only has alot of features for a mainstream board along with quite a good variety of tweaking and overclocking options, but this truly a hardcore board aimed for the mainstream market. With a pretty reasonable price tag of just $219.99 USD over at Newegg, depending on what CPU you want, a Core i5 will set you back $200 or an i7 870 for a hefty $550; it's clearly much cheaper to setup a hardcore Lynnfield system.