When Intel launched the Lynnfield CPU and the P55 chipset, it was just as the specifications for SATA 3.0 and USB 3.0 were being finalized. Too much was in the works to change the chipset and to integrate SATA 3.0 and USB 3.0 (not that we can do that yet anyway). This left Intel behind in terms of getting SATA 3.0 to the market. Companies like ASUS, GIGABYTE and MSI were forced to work with Marvell and NEC to bring this to the table. However, in almost all cases you ended up with a pair of SATA 3.0 ports and a pair of USB 3.0 ports. With AMD based boards (at least at the 890 level) you can get up to six SATA 3.0 ports for your HDD enjoyment.
The pairing of two and two (SATA 3.0 and USB 3.0) is what you normally get with Intel and their products; at least that is until ASRock dropped the P55 Extreme4 on the market. This board boasts four SATA 3.0 ports and four USB 3.0 ports (two on the back and two on the front). This is in addition to a few other nice features that we are sure will come in handy; items like THX audio, eSATA 3.0, OC DNA and mounting holes to fit both 1156 and 775 coolers.
You get all of this for only $149.99 at NewEgg.com. Sounds like quite a deal, right? Well, we are sure going to find out.
The Box and What's Inside
Package and Contents
The P55 Extreme4's box was a little different than what we are used to from most mainstream motherboards. For starters, it is rotated 90 Degrees so that all of the information is in portrait rather than landscape. This is reminiscent of the ASUS high-end products (the ROG line in particular). Of course, since ASRock is still under the control of ASUS (for the most part), this is not surprising.
Along the bottom of the box are some attention grabbers. They are intended to get you to pick up the P55 Extreme4 and drop it into your shopping cart. The sad part is that unless you are in one of the computer markets in Hong Kong, Taiwan, or China, you are unlikely to see the P55 Extreme4 on the shelf.
One interesting item is the reference to using your iPhone or iPod as a game controller. We found this very interesting as there was nothing inside the box or even on the drivers/utilities DVD that indicated this was included with the P55 Extreme4.
The back of the box is sort of a compilation of everything that is presented on the front along with some additional information that could sway a potential buyer.
Now, inside the box we found some great things. There is the typical fare of SATA cables, an SLI bridge, and the usual manuals for "quick" installation. It was another nice part that really caught our attention.
ASRock has included a front mounted (inside a 3.5-inch bay) bracket with two USB 3.0 ports on it. These ports plug directly into the motherboard and do not take up the two that exist on the back I/O panel. This is a nice touch and something that will come in handy when more USB 3.0 devices get out on the shelves.
The P55 Extreme4 is an interesting motherboard. Its layout is fairly clean given the sheer amount of items that are sandwiched onto it. ASRock appears to have listened to customer wants for the mid-range market segment and included a PATA and Floppy port in addition to SATA. You get a very nice mix of new and legacy technology for some great flexibility.
On the upper half of the board we find one of the highlights of the P55 Extreme4; that is the bank of four SATA 3.0 ports. They are hanging out up by the RAM slots and the 24-pin power connector.
The CPU socket area is clean and has a nice touch certain to make many upgraders happy. This is the dual mounting system that ASRock uses. You can reuse that high-end socket 775 cooler that you own on this board without too much of a problem. The dual heatsinks here are great for keeping the power regulation components cool under pressure, but are very reminiscent of another manufacturers color scheme (but that is competition).
The 4-pin 12V Aux power port is stuck in the open space between the two coolers on the board. It is not hard to get to if your fingers are not overly fat. This shot shows us something interesting, though; looking at the profile of the cooler you can see that it was built with a heatpipe in mind, but one is not used here. This may or may not be a good decision. On the one hand keeping them separate lets each one cool on its own without any extra overhead. On the other, well, if the air flow is setup right then a heatpipe can assist in keeping things cool. I guess we will find out later when we put the board to our tests.
Looking to the bottom of the P55 Extreme4, it is pretty clear that ASRock has set this board up to have a great mix of technology for flexibility. There are three PCIe x1 slots mixed in with two PCIe x16 slots (that will run at x8 when combined for SLI or Crossfire). Below this are two PCI 2.0 slots for older devices. If you look at the bottom edge of the board you will see the single Floppy port. Right next to this is an odd sized port (light blue); this is for the USB 3.0 front bracket.
Looking at the opposite side, we find the six SATA II ports along with the diagnostic LEDs, the board mounted power and Reset switches and a 90 degree angled PATA port. It really is a great combination of options.
The ports on the rear I/O are nothing fancy, although the extra two USB 3.0 ports along with the front panel USB 3.0 ports is a nice touch.
In general the P55 Extreme4 is well laid out considering all the stuff that is packed onto it. We will have to see if all the extra tracing, power and other demands from this design and layout will hinder its performance.
BIOS and Overclocking
The P55 Extrerme4 follows the basic AMI BIOS layout with a few extras thrown in by ASRock. The setup is laid out in a tab-like format with the major headings along the top.
Most overclockers and even a few regular users will be hanging out in the OC Tweaker page (and sub-pages). Here is where the majority of the performance tweaks and settings are found. It is also where the EZ overclocking tools are located.
The CPU EZ OC Settings are simple to use; pick the speed you want to run at, then hit Enter. From there the system will set what it thinks are the proper voltages for that speed and the CPU you are using.
At the bottom of the OC Tweaker page are slots to save your favorite overclocks.
There are also a few more tweaks available on the CPU settings sub-menu under the Advanced tab.
The chipset and storage configuration is also handled on the Advanced page, along with the controls for the USB devices on the board.
The Hardware Monitor page gives you quick access to what is going on with the P55 Extreme4 and also lets you set up different profiles for the fan headers on the board.
Overclocking the P55 Extreme4 was the work of a few settings changed in the BIOS. All I did was to use the CPU EZ OC setting and crank it up to 4GHz. From there I worked backwards to my final OC of 180x22 for a 3.953GHz clock. I left the voltages the same as were set for the 4GHz clock without any side effects. With how easy it was to reach 3.95GHz, I am sure that with more tweaking and playing I would be able to get quite a bit more out of the P55 Extreme4.
You can see the validation for the ASRock P55 Extreme4 here.
The included overclocking software with the ASRock P55 Extreme4 is called OC Tuner. It is not as polished as most of the other software packages available on the market. It even looks like it is not all the way finished. The graphics are cartoonish at best, while the functionality of the software leaves a little to be desired. It is not that the software does not work; it is that it takes some getting used to. We played with it for a little bit, but found it was much easier to work within the BIOS.
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
Building a system these days is not that hard; you may run into a few issues with clearance (GPU, heatsink etc.), but for the most part things are pretty simple. The P55 Extreme4 was like that. The hardware was no trouble getting in place while the installation of the OS was a snap. Oddly, though, there was no Windows 7 driver for the LAN chip. We had to wait until we ran the driver installer to get all of that going. Once we did, things moved right along.
As we talked about when we looked at the box, ASRock has listed quite a bundle. When we took the time to look at things, it was not as great as it seemed. Much of it was trial versions of software or very light free versions. It was not overly impressive to be honest. There was also nothing about how to get the software to use your iPhone as a game controller.
There was some free software that ASRock did include. One piece of software that you may want to install is the IES (Intelligent Energy Saver). This software is capable of dynamically controlling the power in use by switching back the power phases. It can help reduce the power draw at idle state while still allowing for full power when you need it.
Another piece of software that while interesting, might only be of use to a few people; that is the Instant Boot software. This piece of software allows you to put the system into an advanced sleep state so that when you hit the power button it instantly awakens for fast usage. Personally, I do not like to do this as I have seen many applications that will fail upon a resume like this.
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 Everest Ultimate, 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, Everest and HyperPi 0.99.
Version and / or Patch Used: 2010c 1626
Developer Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.net
Product Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.net
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The memory performance on the P55 Extreme4 is very good. It is much better than the AMD 870 + Phenom II X6 combination, even at the same memory speeds and timings.
Version and / or Patch Used: 5.30.1983
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.
Everest gives us a little glimpse into why we get the much better memory performance. The latencies here are better than what we are used to seeing with AMD CPUs. It also looks like Intel just has a much faster read and copy speed than AMD can produce right now.
Version and / or Patch Used: 0.99
Developer Homepage: www.virgilioborges.com.br
Product Homepage: www.virgilioborges.com.br
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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 four physical and four logical cores for the i7 and the four physical cores of the i5 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.
The HyperPi performance the P55 Extreme4 shows us is great. We are seeing the benefit of the much faster memory speeds you get from the P55 + Intel Core i7.
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 use Sisoft's Sandra and Everest.
Here we find a rather disturbing trend. The HDD speed found on the P55 Extreme4 is not as good as what we saw on the 870 Extreme3. It also drops off somewhat during our overclocking testing. This is a little bothersome and something certainly to be aware of.
Everest backs up our findings with Sandra, including the tendency to drop in performance when overclocked.
Synthetic Tests - Part III
Here is where we dig out the FutureMark tests.
Version and / or Patch Used: 18.104.22.168
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 P55 Extreme4 has no problems with PCMark Vantage. Even with the rather slow HDD performance we saw earlier, the numbers here are quite good.
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. As we are no longer using an NVIDIA GPU for testing (at least until we can get a GTX 4xx card) you will only see the CPU based PhysX results in the scores. For testing we use the Performance test run.
Again, the P55 Extreme4 shows us that it is a fast and capable motherboard. The combination of the P55 Extreme4, Intel Core i7 875K and the ASUS EAH5870 V2 is excellent.
Cinebench R11. x64
Version and / or Patch Used: R11.5 x64
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 R11.5 tests your systems ability to render across a single and multiple CPU cores. It also tests your systems ability to process OpenGL information.
At stock speeds the P55 Extreme4 falls into place just behind the 870 based motherboard we tested with our new configuration. It is not by much, but it is still behind. Granted, when we overclocked the CPU, things changed.
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/
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The P55 Extreme4's lower than expected HDD performance hurt us here. We see performance that is 38 seconds slower than the 870 based board. We were able to turn things around with an almost 1GHz overclock, but even then our margin is only 18 seconds.
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 2 hours in length. This is transcoded to a single Xvid AVI at 100% quality.
Our AutoGK testing shows that more threads is better. Here we find that the two extra threads and better memory performance can even overcome the slow HDD performance of the P55 Extreme4. We see good transcoding times at both stock speeds and, of course, when overclocked.
Real-World Tests Part II
Here we have our real gaming tests. Each of the games we chose 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 frame per second using FRAPS. This brings the whole game into play.
*** A word on gaming as a motherboard test; ***
Despite the fact that most games are very GPU limited, we are still noticing HDD and even audio creating issues in gaming performance. Because of this you may see differences in the number of frames rendered per second between different boards. Usually the difference is very small but occasionally, because of bad tracing, poor memory or HDD performance this difference is significant. The issues are often more prevalent in older versions of DirectX but can still pop up in DX10 and 11.
Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 (DX9)
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0
Timedemo or Level Used: First combat until the school is cleared
Developer Homepage: http://www.infinityward.com
Product Homepage: http://modernwarfare2.infinityward.com
Most of you know about the game Modern Warfare 2; it caused quite a bit of controversy in the latter half of 2009. The game is a first person shooter with a heavy combat emphasis. It follows the events in the first Modern Warfare very closely and brings back several characters from the original.
As with most games in the Call of Duty franchise, it features a heavy AI load. This is not because of a complex AI routine, but more due to the sheer number of enemies in any given combat situation. It is also our single DX9 based game in our testing suite. Settings are shown below.
With a performance delta of 4 FPS, we really cannot call a clear winner. We can say that the 870 Extreme3 had a higher minimum FPS, but you would never know it if you had the systems side by side. Even using the average frame rates, the scores are far too close to call a clear winner.
Far Cry 2 (DX10)
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
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. Settings we used for testing are shown below.
Using our normal minimum frame rate scale, the boards here are very evenly matched. However, when focusing on the average frame rates we see that the Intel based P55 Extreme4 is way out in the lead. Of course, Far Cry 2 is a game that is designed for Intel based CPUs, so that could be part of the reason for the large lead.
Battlefield Bad Company 2 (DX11)
Version and / or Patch Used: V1.00
Timedemo or Level Used: From washing up on the beach to the mine fields.
Developer Homepage: http://www.ea.com/
Product Homepage: http://badcompany2.ea.com/
Battlefield Bad Company is another sequel and also another game "franchise". Bad Company 2 is also our DX11 shooter game. The game follows a fictitious B company team on a mission to recover a Japanese defector. This puts you back in World War II (at least for the beginning of the game), while the multi-player game is centered on much more modern combat. For our testing we used the single player mode. Settings are shown below.
For Bad Company 2 we find the P55 Extreme4 dropping behind again. However, we also have to note that it is only a 5 FPS difference between the top and bottom. This would more than likely not be noticeable in real usage. It makes it difficult to call a real winner here.
The ASRock P55 Extreme4 is capable of giving you good solid gaming performance. It is not going to be the fastest board out there. There is just something that seems to slow it down when it comes to a few of the more demanding titles. It could be the HDD performance, or it could be the extra demands on the PCIe bus from the additional SATA 3.0 and USB 3.0 controllers. Still, you can expect decent gaming performance from this board without stuttering or any type of audio issues.
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 consumption on the ASRock P55 Extreme4 is good. It is not over the top like we expected (with the extra USB 3.0 and SATA 3.0 controllers to feed).
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.
Although it is not by much, the P55 Extreme does generate less heat than our other competitor.
The P55 Extreme4 is a nice board. It combines some great technologies into one package. You have everything from PATA/Floppy to four port RAID for SATA 3.0. The option for a second pair of USB 3.0 ports is also a handy little feature.
While all of this is great, there were a few items that just did not sit well. The advertised software bundle was a little disappointing as much of it was only trial software. We also would have liked to have seen much better HDD and gaming performance. Still, the P55 Extreme4 is suited to both the consumer desktop market and could even fit into the workstation market. The four SATA 3.0 ports could be a great setup for A/V work or even as an output for 3D projects.
Plus, with its $149.99 price tag at NewEgg.com, it would be a steal for the gamer or prosumers looking for the most bag for their buck.
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