As we all know (by now), DFI is a manufacturer known for stuffing in as many overclocking options as they can in their motherboards. They became famous on the back of the nForce 4 LANParty boards. These were some of the best boards for AMD overclocking that you could buy. DFI has continued this mindset and still offer some of the most "tweakable" boards out.
So, what of the P55? DFI has finally released its own P55 based board. This is the LANParty DK P55-T3eH9; a board that could possibly allow you to push a Core i5 or Core i7 800 to its maximum potential. The new DK P55-T3eH9 offers many of DFI's trademark features like Digital PWM, Sintered HeatPipes, CMOS Reloaded and of course their Genie BIOS.
At just 184.99 USD from Newegg, can the DFI LANParty DK P55-T3eH9 give you the performance edge to push your Lynnfield CPU to its best? Well, let's take a look and find out.
The Box and What's Inside
Package and Contents
The box that the DFI LANParty DK P55-T3eH9 comes in is a little bit of a departure from the usual DFI boards that we have seen. In fact, it is downright understated. They have gone with a sleek, clean look with a glossy black box and very little of the usual gaudy hard sell. There are a couple of things to take note of, though. The first is the Creative Labs Sound Blaster X-Fi logo and the BIOS Secure Logo. We will be covering these in more detail later.
The back of the box is also unusually clean with only a few of the nicer highlights of the T3eH9 shown off.
After you get the outer cover off, we find the usual white LANParty box underneath. Inside that DFI has stuffed in the usual amount of goodies. One thing we have always liked about DFI is that on their high-end products they go the extra step and provide high-quality cables and components. It says a lot about them to include rounded PATA and floppy cables and good SATA cables. DFI has also provided two GPU bridges for your SLI or Crossfire setup.
As you have heard me say before, the ATX motherboard layout is pretty much the same no matter who you buy from. Yes, there are going to be minor differences in the number of slots, the placement of the front panel headers and your PATA and SATA ports. Still, for the most part, if you have seen one ATX motherboard, you have seen them all. At least that was until the P55.
Why did the P55 make things different? Well, that is easy to explain. You see, as most of you know, the P55 is not much more than a peripheral bridge. Yes, that is putting it in extremely simplistic terms, but there you have it. There is no link to RAM and no link to GPUs (or indeed to PCI-e Gen 2.0 slots). This means it can be smaller and also run cooler. The need for a large heatsink to keep it cool is gone, as is the requirement of putting it close to the CPU and RAM slots.
Before this was done, due to tracing issues moving the Northbridge to a different spot on the board would have made the tracing too complex and caused stability issues. Now that restriction is gone; motherboard makers finally have more freedom to move things around and improve their designs.
DFI has chosen to clean up the area around the top of the CPU. On many boards above the CPU socket there's another heatsink or it is cluttered up with more power regulators and capacitors. Thankfully this is not the case on the T3eH9.
The rest of the upper portion of the T3eH9 is pretty much the same as other motherboards out in the ATX form factor.
Moving down to the lower half of the board, we see a move back to the usual. DFI has done a good job of making sure you have enough room between your PCI-e 2.0 slots, but they still leave slots that will become useless on the board. To me this is a waste of board real-estate and in most cases (especially in the case of high-end boards) should not be included at all. DFI has again used a 4-pin floppy power connector for the extra PCI-e power. Fortunately this time they put it in a more convenient location. You may still have an issue here depending on the type of PCI-e x1 card you use, but it is better than having it right next to a PCI-e x16 slot.
DFI has included the usual on-board power and reset buttons. They also continue with their 90 degree angled SATA ports. The USB headers have been clustered here in a rough square to make them more accessible to cases with front and top mounted USB ports.
We also see the now vary familiar diagnostic LED dropped onto the board.
The I/O area is also more of the same with the very large exception of a small button and a mini-USB port. This port is something else, it is part of the BIOS secure system and when connected can enable you to flash the T3eH9's BIOS even if you cannot get the board to POST properly. It is a pretty impressive feature.
Another "nice touch" is the inclusion of the X-Fi based audio CODEC. This should help to enhance the audio quality of any gaming session without the need to drop even more money on a high-quality sound card.
Over all the T3eH9 has made some good departures from the normal ATX design, with the most evident changes in the upper half of the board around the CPU.
BIOS and Overclocking
The BIOS on the DFI LANParty DK P55-T3eH9 follows the same lines as the rest of DFI's boards, with one thing that is a little different being the CMOS Reloaded menu. Normally you have a listing of the banks available for you to save to or load from, but this is not visible in the T3eH9 until you open the Genie BIOS option.
Another item that is odd is that when you save current settings we did not see an option to save to a particular bank and all banks remained the same (one single one describing a 166MHz BClk and the rest listed as blank).
Other than a few extra features like BIOS Genie and CMOS Reloaded, the DFI implementation of the Award BIOS is pretty standard.
As with the DFI GF9400, I ran into the now familiar problem with resetting the BIOS on the T3eH9. I had to completely power down the board (remove the PSU connectors) and pull the battery. This was the only way the BIOS would reset. The DFI BIOS is very hardy, but at times this can become a real inconvenience.
Here things get very interesting. BIOS secure, as we mention above, is a method for flashing the BIOS on the LP DK P55-T3eH9 no matter what the state of the current BIOS. You do not even have to have it powered on for this flash to work.
There is a little bit of a setup, though. To run this you need a second system. We used an MSI Wind 200 running Windows 7. The first thing you have to do is plug in the included USB cable. This will open up the "install new driver" dialog, but will fail because Windows 7 does not have the needed drivers.
The good news is that the needed drivers are on the Drivers and Utilities CD-ROM; the bad news is that the CD-ROM auto run feature will not work on a non-DFI board. So you will have to manually install them.
After you install both serial converters (yes, there are two; A and B), you will need to install the application. It is found in Utilities\SPI_Link. From there it is pretty simple to flash your motherboard in the event of an epic fail.
Overclocking the LANParty DK P55-T3eH9 was not the treat I was expecting. I was unable to get even close to the max OC that I have run on the i5 750 that I have been using. It is capable of running at 4.3-4.4 stable, yet on the T3eH9 we only saw 4.214GHz; this was at 210x20. There was (oddly enough) no direct option for turning turbo mode on or off. This could be the reason that my higher overclocks failed as the turbo mode on the Core i5 and i7 can cause instabilities during overclocking when left on.
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 i5 750 (2.66GHz)
Memory: 4GB Kingston KHX12800D3T1K3/6GX (Supplied by Kingston)
Hard Disk: Kingston SSD Now M (Intel X25-M 80GB SSD) (Supplied by Kingston)
Graphics Card: Zotac GTX 280 AMP! Edition 1GB (Supplied by Zotac)
Cooling: Cooler Master Hyper 212 (with an extra fan) (Supplied by Cooler Master)
Operating System: Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate RC-1
Drivers: Intel INF 188.8.131.527, ForceWare 190.38
When I first opened the T3eH9 I liked the layout. However, once I started building the system I began to dislike how close the heatsink between the CPU and the top PCI-e slot is. When a GPU is installed it is very close; I kept checking to make sure nothing was touching. Fortunately there is still plenty of room, but it does not look that way at first sight.
Another issue I ran into is the placement of the 4-pin floppy cable. I am still not sure why DFI likes to use these over the more traditional 4-pin Molex connector. DFI does say that you might not need it, but in the same sentence cautions that the board might not be stable if you do not.
One other side note on the system is that it did not like to recognize the amount of memory consistently. On some boots it would see all 4GB, while on others it would only see 3.25GB. I was never able to resolve that issue.
Synthetic Tests - Part I
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
Interestingly the synthetic memory performance of the T3eH9 was not as good as we would have thought. This could be related to the issues we had with memory recognition in the BIOS, but is more likely due to tracing and / or skew issues with the BIOS. We are sure that DFI will address this in future BIOS releases.
Version and / or Patch Used: 5.02.1789
Developer Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
Product Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
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Everest Ultimate is a suite of tests and utilities that can be used for system diagnostics and testing. For our purposes here we use their memory bandwidth test and see what the theoretical performance is.
Again we see memory performance running a little less than what we would expect of the Core i5 750 on a P55.
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 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.
With HyperPi we have offsetting results. While at stock speeds the T3eH9 does not perform as well as we would have liked, when we push it the board comes to life and gives us some excellent results for the clock we had.
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 and Everest
The SATA controller on the DFI is very good and gives us results at the upper end of what you can expect from an Intel X-25 SSD.
Synthetic Tests - Part III
Overall System Performance and Gaming
Here is where we dig out the FutureMark tests.
Version and / or Patch Used: 184.108.40.206
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.
The T3eH9 gives a very good showing here; this could be due to the excellent SATA controller on the board as many of the tests in the PCMark Suite rely on fast HDD speeds.
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.
Under our synthetic gaming tests the DFI T3eH9 does well, but does not manage to outperform the ASRock P55 we put it up against.
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 systems ability to process OpenGL information.
CINEBENCH R10 gives us results similar to HyperPi; we see the T3eH9 underperform at stock speeds, but manage to jump into the lead once we push the CPU.
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 that any problems between parts can 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
With LightWave 3D the T3eH9 does not show its stuff until we overclock it. But once we do, the performance improvement is pretty impressive for the speed.
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 and 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 2 hours in length. This is transcoded to a single Xvid AVI at 100% quality.
The T3eH9 shows off its much faster SATA controller again with AutoGK as it consistently gives us better transcoding times.
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.
We have always maintained that the GPU is now the center of attention when it comes to high-resolution gaming. Yes, you can get a smoother "feel" to a game with a better board, but that is more to do with the behind the scenes parts of gaming. Things like AI, positional audio and in some cases software physics are usually all handled by the motherboard and not the GPU (although this is changing). However, these aspects of the game do not affect frame rates much at all. You might see a difference of 1-2 FPS between different systems while one system may feel much smoother and therefore seem faster.
We see this again in our testing of the T3eH9. With the GTX 285 from ZOTAC in there it is more than fast enough to run almost any game you want to throw at it and with the settings maxed out. However, we saw minor stutters and the AI seemed sluggish in Far Cry 2. These stutters were annoying, but as you can see from the numbers, you would never know it unless you were playing the game.
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).
Well color me impressed. The T3eH9 is quite energy efficient when sitting idle. It sips a surprisingly low 94 Watts when not in use. Once you start playing it quickly jumps up into the realm of average and matches what we have come to expect from P55 boards.
When overclocked, we again see the same thing between idle and load power usage.
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.
The DFI T3eH9 does a fair job of keeping the P55 chipset cool. I do not think you would have to worry about overheating with this board.
Okay, we have to say that for a DFI LANParty board we were a little disappointed with the results that we saw from the DK P55-T3eH9. While we admit we did not get to spend a large amount of time on overclocking, we still feel that as an "Overclock Edition" DFI board we should have been able to get a much higher clock than we did.
On the other end, we also saw performance below what we have come to expect from a Lynnfield/P55 system at stock speeds. Still, all is not bad with the T3eH9; the SATA controller is one of the fastest that we have worked with recently and was able to really show off the speed of the Intel X-25 we use. We also like the upgraded audio CODEC. Too many boards are okay with dumping a simple Realtek or SoundMax chip on the board and being done with it. We like a little better sound from our boards and were happy to see DFI make this extra effort.
The great accessory bundle is another plus in the T3eH9's favor and does a lot to add value to it. There are some things we would like to see DFI change on future boards, such as the 4-pin floppy power connector for PCI-e power and maybe make the BIOS a little more user friendly, but in the end the T3eH9 is a decent board for the price and one that does have potential for some excellent performance once you push it beyond stock speeds
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