Date: December 21, 2007
Author(s): Rob Williams
If you’re on the lookout for a DDR3 motherboard, the P5E3 Deluxe proves to be a superb choice. It’s one of the most feature-packed offerings on the market, with it’s passive cooling, on-board WiFi, high energy efficiency and even a remote control – all while being a solid overclocker as well.
Intel’s latest enthusiast chipset has been available in the marketplace for just over two months, so it’s at this point when your choices between motherboards can become complicated. At launch, ASUS did the honors of offering three different boards, but that number has since jumped up to seven. The model we are taking a look at today was one of the original three, but it still retains it’s title as being the king of their line-up.
ASUS divides their motherboards into various groups, with the “Deluxe” normally being the higher-end consumer motherboard. They are not designed for extreme overclocking, but rather for consumers who are looking for a feature-rich offering. There are two different versions of this particular board, but the only difference is that the one we are taking a look at today features on-board Draft N WiFi. If this doesn’t appeal to you, the original Deluxe will suit you fine.
One of the biggest features that Intel’s X38 chipset brought to the table is dual PCI-E 16x slots. This means that Crossfire will work well with no bandwidth bottleneck. I don’t have sufficient GPUs here, so I have to fore-go that testing on this board. Also here is native 45nm processor and DDR3-1333 support.
ASUS has pushed beyond those specs with a recent BIOS update that allows native 1600MHz support, catering to the likes of the Intel QX9770 which we will see launch early next year. It also offers the ability to overclock your memory to DDR3-1800 speeds, although that’s a feature that would have been available anyway, since it involves overclocking.
ASUS haven’t changed their “Deluxe” packaging in a while, but it does the job its set out to do. Information is plastered all over, including the fact that this is a “Lifestyle” board – one that’s catered to the digital lifestyle.
Taking a look at the board itself, we can see… what? Two massive stickers? That’s right, ASUS doesn’t want you to forget anything. The light-blue sticker tells us about the boards ExpressGate on-board Linux feature, while the other discusses their EPU, or Energy Processing Unit. ASUS set out to make the P5E3 more energy efficient, and they claim that at full load, it will prove 7% more efficient than other comparable offerings.
As far as the layout is concerned, I am quite pleased with the P5E3. It’s one of the few boards where I can’t find a real fault. For those who like to keep their case as clean as possible, you will be happy to see four side-mounted S-ATA ports, and another two for additional drives. I also appreciate the abundance of 3-pin fan connectors – two at the bottom, two near the DIMM slots, another near the back panel and another for the CPU fan.
The only real gripe I might mention is that the fan connector in beside the WiFi card and heat sink is awkward to get to once everything is installed.
Offering more copper than your penny bank, the P5E3 is designed to be completely passively cooled. If you want to delve into overclocking, they include two small fans that can be strapped to certain parts of the heat sink. During testing, however, I didn’t find this necessary. Your experiences may be different.
The side-mounted S-ATA ports will be useful for those who value cleanliness in their cases. Though useful, I do find these slightly more troublesome to use than the top-mounted ports, since once the board is installed, you can’t see what you are aiming for. For those still using IDE hardware, there is a port here for you.
Moving up we find our DDR2 DIMM slots as well as the 24-pin motherboard power and also a floppy-drive connection.
In addition to our dual PCI-E 16x slots, there is a spare PCI-E 4x in case you need to plug in a third GPU. For your sound cards or other peripherals, there are two PCI and two PCI-E 1x slots also available.
It makes the board top-heavy, but that much copper looks great. The board costs more than $300, and it shows.
There is no shortage of connectors on the side-panel – adding to the feature-richness. Six USB 2.0 ports are found, in addition to dual e-SATA, one Firewire, two LAN, audio ports and S/PDIF, a keyboard PS/2 connection and also our WiFi card. To help increase the signal, two antennas are required.
In our pile of swag we have the manuals and driver CD-Rom, the two WiFi antennas, two heat sink fans, media remote control, Q-Connector (makes plugging in the ATX cables easier) and a variety of IDE and S-ATA cables. The I/O back panel is even high-quality… it has a foam feel to it. Does this matter? Of course not, but it helps adds some value to the product.
This is a great-looking offering from ASUS. While being a far-stretch from a budget board, the P5E3 Deluxe WiFi includes everything you need and even a few things that you don’t. Can we expect the same from the BIOS? The next page bares all.
Despite not being designed for overclockers specifically, we will find out that there is a bit of everything for everyone in the BIOS. The first page of the BIOS is your one-stop-shop to configure hard-drives. It’s under “SATA Configuration” that you are able to configure your drives for S-ATA, RAID or AHCI. I personally appreciate the “System Information” section, because it gives quick information regarding the system frequencies and settings.
It doesn’t take too long before you hit the overclocking page. Here are numerous overclocking and tweaking-related options that should appease even the hardcore overclocker. Full control is given over various clocks and frequencies, and the memory can be configured any way you like.
The voltage allowances are where ASUS boards normally shine, but here the overall top-end have been lowered to be more consumer friendly. The P5E3 is not designed for the hardcore overclocker. That job is left up to the Maximus Extreme, a board we will be taking a look at soon.
That said, the voltages are still far from weak, with many of the top-end settings still being unsafe for most people, and should only be used if you really know what you are doing.
In the advanced tab we will find CPU and FSB information, and also various CPU functionality options. I disable C1E support prior to any testing to assure that the stock clock speed is constantly kept. Note that the CPU listed in the screenshot is not the one used for this review.
Also under the advanced tab we can configure on-board devices. If there is anything you don’t want to use, you can disable it here so that your OS of choice will not pick up on them.
The final screen of real importance is of course the system status. Here, temperatures are relayed, and if any are too high, they will be highlighted red. Voltages are also reported so that you can make sure your PSU is keeping in check.
The last screen allows you to do a few things. First is the ability to save your overclocking profile. There’s a choice of two slots, so it’s rather barren. I’d much rather see five slots available. Here you can also enable or disable ExpressGate and also flash your BIOS (via a thumb drive or other FAT32 media and also a CD-Rom).
What’s this ExpressGate in which I speak? More on that next.
The most unique feature of the P5E3 Deluxe is the fact that it contains an embedded Linux, thanks to the folks at Splashtop. Essentially, there is a chip on the motherboard that contains a pre-configured version of Linux that will allow you to boot up your PC and be able to surf the web within seconds.
While the overall usefulness can be argued, it’s a technology that’s bound to catch on, especially with media-specific motherboards and notebooks. Take this one scenario. You thought you were finished with your PC, so you shut it down… and suddenly curse yourself for forgetting you needed to look up a piece of info online.
No problem. Boot back up, enter the Splashtop environment and load up the browser and have a go. Instead of waiting for a few minutes for the PC to boot itself back up, you could be in the Splashtop browser within 15 seconds of turning on the machine. That’s where Splashtop will be most useful.
How does the process work? After booting up the machine, you will be greeted with this screen:
From here, you will be able to forgo the Splashtop environment and continue booting, or go straight into the BIOS setup. By default, the computer will continue to boot if nothing is touched for ten seconds. If you do want to head into the embedded environment, you can click on Enter OS, Web or Skype to be brought in.
If ever there were a lightweight Linux, Splashtop might be it. It’s well-secured, so you will not even be able to hit up a terminal, or install anything, or even save anything. It’s a small OS that’s designed to allow people to get online quicker and talk to their Skype contacts (even with a Mic!).
Nothing is really complicated here. If the distro doesn’t set up your peripherals to your liking, there are a few minor tweaking options. The highest resolution available is only 1440×1050, but again, this doesn’t matter, since the purpose of the OS is specific.
Once booted in, you might be able to hop online right away, but if not (like me), you will need to go into the network configuration and un-check the LAN port that you are connected to and re-click it for it to configure itself. If under a DHCP connection, this will be simple. If you are not, then setup is a little more time-consuming, but I am sure you are well aware of that.
It goes without saying that Express Gate is more of a technology demo than anything, because most people who purchase the board are not going to stick with a minimum OS. However, it does show us what’s to come, and the future looks good. If implemented on a notebook computer, for example, the battery-life should be far extended due to the fact that many components are not being pushed to the fullest degree – especially the hard-drive.
I am looking forward to seeing how Splashtop will update their embedded Linux and also to see who else will be implementing it into their own motherboards. For even more information, you can head on over to the official site.
Throughout all of our benchmarks regardless of what we are reviewing, testing is done in a clean and stand-alone version of Windows XP Professional with SP2. The exception is SYSmark 2007 Preview and PCMark Vantage, which are tested under Windows Vista. Prior to testing, these conditions are met:
The testing rig used for today’s benchmarking is as follows:
Please note that for our DDR3 motherboards, we use DDR3-1333 speeds with 7-7-7-20 timings, and for our DDR2 boards we use DDR2-1066 5-5-5-15. Also note that these results are the same as those found in our Maximus Formula review from October, as the boards were tested at the same time. This is why the QX6850 is being used in place of the QX9650.
SYSmark is an industry leading system benchmarking tool, which is completely automated but utilizes real-world tests. It installs common applications such as Microsoft Word and Excel, Photoshop CS2, 3DS Max, SketchUp! among others.
SYSmark grades the performance of the system by how well it could handle different operations. Systems with more than one core will benefit in the tests, since there is a lot of multi-tasking throughout. Once the test is completed, it will provide you with an overall score, in addition to showing areas where the computer excelled.
Perhaps that “feature-rich” attitude of the P5E3 pays off. It scored two points higher than the Gigabyte DQ6 and three points higher than it’s little brother, the Maximus Formula.
The P5E3 did well in all tests, but fell slightly behind the DQ6 in the productivity test. With scores these close, however, any fluctuation in the CPU frequency during some test could be the result of the point difference. All boards performed exceptionally.
Futuremark has long offered benchmarking tools to enthusiasts that allow them to gage their systems worth. There is a lot of skepticism revolving around the importance of the overall scores, but we enjoy running them because it’s a quick fix to see differences between platforms. Real world benchmarks are by far more important, and we will cover those on the next few pages.
3D Mark 2006 tests your system in a similar manner that 01, 03 and 05 do, except this updated version actually does bottleneck on your GPU. The faster the GPU, the better the score. Multi-core processors also help greatly improve your scores here.
Once again, our P5E3 kicked the others to the curb – albeit not by much.
Futuremark recently launched their latest PCMark version, called Vantage. It’s not a simple upgrade, but rather a completely revamped benchmark that competes with the likes of SYSmark 2007. The good thing about Vantage though, is that I don’t have to put up with random errors and have to start the test over, like I do with SYSmark.
PCMark Vantage consists of eight different scores, with PCMark Suite being the primary. All of the secondary results are included here as well, though, to get a better idea of which board excels where.
The reign has fallen thanks to the Maximus Formula and our PCMark Vantage tests. I am unsure why the Maximus Formula performed so well, but such is life with Futuremark.
Nothing can prove the performance of a PC better than real-world benchmarks. The only downside to real-world tests is that it’s difficult to compare to a friends computer, unless they happen to have the same software and media files that you are encoding/converting. We can show direct differences though, since we run the exact same tests on each board.
To test video encoding capabilities, we ripped our “Lamb of God – Killadelphia” concert DVD and then used Nero Recode to convert it into something that can be burned on a normal sized DVD. The direct DVD rip is 7.7GB, and Recode compresses it into a 4.5GB frame.
A matter of 2 seconds doesn’t mean too much, but the robust P5E3 still reigned supreme.
3D Model rendering is a big business, so a capable processor and motherboard is required to have rendering completed on time. Cinebench R10 is a recent update to Cinebench 9, which renders a high-resolution motorcycle. It scales well with extra cores and higher frequencies, so it’s a benchmark we’d hate to be without.
It’s not too surprising to see such close scores here, as it’s more the CPU that is the important factor. Each board also selects slightly different FSB speeds as well (despite 333MHz being chosen), so those few extra megahertz might play a role in achieving a higher overall score.
Different motherboards use different chipsets for SATA controllers, so these tests are a good way to see how one board will compare to another. The first test is synthetic, using HD Tach RW/3, while the File Compression is real world, which involves compressing a 4GB folder (4,809 files) using 7-Zip.
Once again, the varying differences are quite minimal, which is a good thing overall. It seems no matter which board of the three you choose, you will have fairly equal performance all around the board [no pun]. Of course, gaming is the deciding factor for some, so we will be jumping into that next.
To pit these boards against some popular games, we chose to use Half-Life 2: Episode Two, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Need for Speed: Carbon. Each game offers its own flare to our benchmarking reviews for different reasons. HL2 is great simply because it’s one of the most popular games of all time, while STALKER has a wide open world to render and AI to churn. NFS: Carbon is included because racing games really enjoy powerful systems to push high FPS when you are driving at 200MPH.
As a reminder, we are running a 3.0GHz Intel QX6850 along with an ASUS 8800GTX, which we choose because of its power and ability to rid out the GPU as being a bottleneck. All of the games were run on 1280×1024 using default settings, in addition to 2560×1600 (1600×1200 for NFS) with maxed out settings and reasonable AA. Results were tabulated with the help of FRAPS 2.9.2. Each play through lasted between three and five minutes, depending on the level chosen.
For Half-Life 2: Episode Two, I will be using a saved game that takes place near the end of the game, the Silo mission. Each playthrough lasts about five minutes and varies very slightly. This is a great mission to use because it has a ton of action, lots of AI and you get to knock Striders down!
In S.T.A.L.K.E.R., I chose a run-through with the thumb drive mission, which occurs near the beginning of the game. Through it, there are many people who die and you get to leave with a thumb drive. Does it get much better?
In our NFS: Carbon test, we played through the first normal race when choosing one through the Quick Race mode. Two choices of car are given, an upcoming Chevrolet Camaro and a Koenigsegg CCX. I think it’s obvious which one I chose.
We’ll wrap the review up with overclocking and our final thoughts on the next page.
The P5E3 Deluxe WiFi is easily one of the most robust X38 offerings available and will do well to please anyone who manages to get their paws on it. The higher premium hurts a bit, but when taking into consideration how feature-packed this board is, the price is made easier to stomach. Not to mention that the DDR3 memory that the board requires will likely cost as much as the board itself, if not more.
The board has not just a few, but many redeeming features. One of the more obvious would be the ExpressGate embedded Linux feature, but that will be more of an acquired taste than anything – one that not too many people will be too interested to dabble with. But it’s cool-factor is evident and we can only hope that Splashtop continues to regularly update the OS.
From a layout standpoint, this board is near-pristine… a total rarity. Everything is in a convenient location and the fan connectors are plentiful. During installation, there was nothing that struck me as odd, although the fan connector beside the north bridge and WiFi card can be a little tricky to get to once everything is installed. That gripe is so minor, it’s almost non-existent.
While not necessarily new, it’s nice to have the board passively cooled, thanks to the heaps of copper. As mentioned earlier, two chipset fans are included if overclocking is in the cards, but I didn’t personally find much of a difference in overall overclocking ability with or without them.
Speaking of overclocking, how did the P5E3 perform? How does 460FSB with a Quad-Core sound?
I didn’t test out the overclocking ability with a Dual-Core, but chances are that would result in ~470 – 475MHz on the FSB. There is no question in my mind that anyone who has intentions of purchasing this board also has plans to throw a Quad-Core processor in there. I don’t know too many who would purchase a $700 motherboard/RAM combo… to chuck a Dual-Core in there. The same overclock was achieved on two P5E3 Deluxe motherboards, so I am confident that’s the maximum most people will see.
It goes without saying that I recommend this board to anyone who wants a feature-rich offering, but of course it’s not for everyone. The biggest issue here is total cost, and not just for the motherboard itself. Cheap DDR3 2GB kits retail for $300, while 4GB DDR2 kits can be had for half that. It’s a tough situation and totally depends on whether or not you want to have the “latest and greatest” or save money and stick with another solid board, such as the Maximus Formula.
If I were personally building a DDR3 PC, this is the board I’d choose due to the feature-set and stability. For the hardcore overclockers, the Maximus Extreme would be a better choice as it includes better cooling, water-cooling for the north bridge and more features to cater to the OC’ing enthusiast. We will have a review of that board shortly.
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