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ASUS P5E3 Premium WiFi-AP @n

Date: May 8, 2008
Author(s): Rob Williams

X48 is new, but there are many boards already begging for your dollars. We are taking a look at the most robust of them all, the P5E3 Premium, which includes built-in WiFi, a great board design and fantastic overclocking abilities. It would almost be a perfect board if it weren’t for the $375 price tag.



Introduction, ASUS P5E3 Premium Features


Although Intel never issued a press release to properly launch their X48 chipset, there are numerous motherboards available at popular e-tailers from the likes of ASUS, DFI, Gigabyte, MSI and of course, Intel themselves. We’ve had X48 boards in-house for a while now, so there is no better time to relay our experiences and post some reviews!

The first board to arrive was the P5E3 Premium WiFi-AP @n from ASUS, an upgrade of sorts to their P5E3 Deluxe. The main difference is the chipset, however, so overall, both are near-identical in almost all regards.

From time to time, companies may choose to release a product that serves the sole purpose of keeping the flow of releases constant, regardless of how revolutionary it is. That’s what X48 is, essentially. For those unaware, the difference between X38 and X48 is that the latter officially supports processors with a 1600MHz FSB. At this point in time, the Core 2 Extreme QX9770 is the only LGA775 desktop processor to fit that description.

You might think that there has to be more to it than that, but there isn’t. Even the same Intel chipset drivers can be applied to either X38 or X48, as nothing changes except that small profile. Overall, it’s a speed bump, and since most people have reached 400MHz and beyond already, the jump doesn’t feel all that exciting.

What this should mean, however, is that X48 motherboards will contain the highest binned chipsets to come out of Santa Clara, which could result in better overall overclocks. However, X38 wasn’t too much of a lightweight, with people reaching speeds in excess of 2000MHz. Regardless, it’s here, it’s the ‘best’ and it perfectly fits the QX9700. That’s all you need to know.

ASUS P5E3 Premium Features

Like the P5E3 Deluxe before it, the Premium is designed for those who value features over overclocking. In some regards, it could almost be considered a luxury board, given the feature set and $375 US price tag. At that price, it costs around $50 more than the X38-based P5E3 Deluxe. It’s the Porsche of motherboards, no question.

Keeping in mind that the Premium’s lone upgrade is the simple chipset upgrade, I can already not recommend this particular model, unless you really want native 1600MHz FSB support for your brand-new QX9770.

 

 

Of all the X38/X48 boards available, this is one of the most robust. It has a fantastic layout, offers efficient and passive cooling, offers lots of connectivity and even support for three GPUs in Crossfire mode. One of the largest benefits of the board is the included 802.11n WiFi – a huge bonus for some. It means you don’t need a separate add-in card, and keeps things all-in-one.

Regarding the design, I have no immediate complaints. I am a fan of the colors ASUS choose to use, and though a simple thing, it looks fantastic once installed into a killer rig. I love darker colors, so it works. I am not a fan of the blue heatsink guards, however. The silver ones used on the Deluxe version of the board look far better. But ASUS had to differentiate the two somehow.

Time for a quick trip around the board to see all that’s offered!


Board Layout & Design

One growing trend in motherboard design is the inclusion of horizontally mounted S-ATA ports, allowing you to plug the drives in on the side instead of from the top-down. This is beneficial as it allows you to better keep your cables tidy, plus, it looks better.

 

 

Like the Deluxe version of the board, this one also uses DDR3 memory. Because of the X48 chipset, the native speed supported is DDR3-1600, which would perfectly match the QX9770 or any overclocked CPU to 400MHz FSB speeds.

 

 

Unlike ASUS’ other gaming-oriented gaming motherboards, this one includes a lone PCI-E 1x slot, due to the onboard WiFi card hogging the top spot. I don’t think this will affect too many people though, and even if it does, all PCI-E 1x cards can be plugged into an unused PCI-E 16x without issue.

Crossfire is natively supported and can be set up using two or three GPUs. For legacy support, dual PCI slots are included. Other connectivity options line the bottom, such as USB connectors for your chassis.

 

 

As mentioned earlier, the Premium, like most higher-end motherboards, is passively cooled with the help of a lot of copper. This results in a heavy board, but an efficient one.

 

 

 

 

I still dislike the blue color, but overall it’s a fantastic-looking cooler. Almost too good to install, perhaps.

 

 

 

 

On the side is a keyboard PS/2, six USB ports, two e-SATA, S/PDIF outputs, Firewire, dual LAN, audio ports and of course, the WiFi connectors.

 

 

The P5E3 Premium sticks to it’s feature-packed nature with included accessories. There are so many accessories included, that it’s actually difficult to fit all back into the box, if for some reason it needs to go there.

Besides the usual, the board includes the dual WiFi connectors, two because of the 802.11n technology, two chipset coolers, Q-Connector (makes it easier for chassis connections) and also an add-in port for Firewire and USB. Installing that on top of your chassis USB ports would allow you up to 10 USB ports… likely to be more than enough.

 

 

Of all the accessories included, the chipset coolers make no sense to me. I couldn’t find a way to actually connect those to the chipset heatsink, and to me, it’s pointless to include them. Even with big overclocks, the massive cooler keeps rather cool overall, so even if they did fit, they’d have little use.


Checking out the BIOS

Though not touted as an overclocking board, the P5E3 Premium is filled to the brim with such options in the BIOS. To some, it might even prove overwhelming. I’ll admit that I don’t care about overclocking to the extent that I’ll spend hours in front of the PC tweaking all the various options, but it’s nice to know that they are there, for those who are passionate about it.

The skies the limit, as they say. The options feel almost endless, and the voltage allowances are asinine as usual, allowing upwards of 1.7000V for the CPU, 2.78V for the CPU PLL and another 2.78V for the DDR3 (stock is 1.5v). Truly, ASUS expects people to overclock with this board, whether they brag about the capabilities or not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One benefit that their gaming and enthusiast motherboards have over this one is the loading of the hardware monitoring page. For some reason, this page loads slow on all of the P5E boards I’ve used in the past, which can be frustrating sometimes. On the Maximus Extreme, for example, it loads instantaneously, which would be nice here (especially if you want to quickly check temps to make sure the CPU heatsink is on right).

 

 

This page also lacks a lot of what I’d like to see, such as current voltages for secondary components, such as the northbridge, DRAM, CPU PLL and et cetera. I believe ASUS deliberately omits these because it’s not so much an overclocking-focused board, but having them included would have been nice.

Most BIOS’ are not that different from board to board, and most screens are there to allow you to alter mundane things, such as enabling a floppy drive. For those interested, I’ll finish off this page with a slew of screenshots taken from around the BIOS.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the next page, we’ll take care of our testing methodology, and following that, testing!


Test Machine Specs & Methodology

At Techgage, we strive to make sure our results are as accurate as possible. Our testing is rigorous, and sometimes exhaustive, but we feel the effort is worth it. In an attempt to leave no question unanswered, this page contains not only our testbed specifications, but also a fully-detailed look at how we conduct our testing.

If there is a bit of information that we’ve omitted, or you wish to throw off recommendations or suggest changes, please feel free to shoot us an e-mail or post in our forums.

When preparing our testbeds for any type of performance testing, we follow these guidelines:

No hardware during our performance reviews is changed during testing, except for the product-type being reviewed, of course. Our current configuration is as follows:

For our testing, we use Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit. We chose to stick to a 64-bit Windows because throughout the past year of usage, we find it to be much more stable than the 32-bit counterpart.

Once we set up our OS’, nothing changes unless we revamp our entire methodology, which doesn’t happen too often.

Gaming

In an attempt to deliver accurate results, games that we test with are played through manually, with the average FPS recorded with the help of FRAPS 2.9.4. In our personal tests, we have found that manually benchmarking games is the best way to deliver accurate results, since time demos rely heavily on the CPU.

In order to deliver the best results, each title we choose is explored to find the best possible level for our benchmarking. Once a level is chosen, we play through in order to find the best route, and then in future runs, we stick to that route as close as possible. We are not robots, so we cannot make sure that each run is identical, but they will never be far off from each other. As we see in our results, scaling is good, so we are confident that our methodology is a good one.

Because performance between motherboards shouldn’t vary by much to begin with, we choose to run a single game for our tests, along with Futuremark’s 3DMark Vantage.

Half Life 2: Episode Two

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On the next page, we’ll kick off our results with SYSmark 2007 Preview.


SYSmark 2007 Preview

There is no better way to evaluate a system and its components than to run a suite of real-world benchmarks. To begin our testing, we will use two popular benchmarking suites that emulate real-world scenarios and stress the machine the way it should be… by emulating tasks that people actually perform on a day to day basis.

Both SYSmark and PCMark are hands-free, using scripts to execute all of the real-world scenarios, such as video editing and image manipulation. Each one of these suites output easy-to-understand scores once the tests are completed, giving us a no-nonsense measure of seeing which areas our computer excels in.

SYSmark 2007 Preview

SYSmark, from Bapco, is a comprehensive benchmarking application that emulates real-world scenarios by installing popular applications that many people use every day, such as Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, Sony Vegas and many others.

SYSmark grades the overall performance of your system based off of different criteria, but mostly it will depend on how fast it could complete certain tasks and handle multi-tasking. Once the suite is completed, five scores will be delivered, one being the overall. We dedicate an OS and hard drive to this test in order to keep the environment as clean as possible.

 

 

 

 

As expected, all boards performed similarly. Some excelled in different areas, but all rounded up to offer the same overall performance, when stretched across a slew of different tasks. Oddly enough, the Intel board scored much lower than the others. We are looking into why this is the case, but the entire test was run more than once (once even after a complete re-installation) and the scores stuck.


Multi-Media: DivX, Adobe Lightroom & 3DS Max 9

DivX 6.7

One area where Intel’s 45nm processors excel is with multi-media encoders that utilize the SSE4 instruction set. Beginning with DivX 6.6.0, the set is fully supported and will make a huge difference when using the “Experimental Full Search” algorithm to encode.

When using DivX 6.6.0+, you will notice that the “Experimental Full Search” is left at Disabled by default. This, as we found out, is a good thing since it does indeed take longer overall. If you are a media enthusiast who cares a lot about quality and doesn’t mind the extra wait, then the Experimental Full Search is the route to take. The end result may vary depending on certain factors, such as original video codec, original video quality and video length.

For our testing, we are using a 0.99GB high-quality DivX .AVI of Half-Life 2: Episode Two gameplay. The video is just under 4 minutes in length and is in 720p resolution, which equates to a video bit rate of ~45Mbps, not dissimilar to standard 720p movies. We converted the video two different ways.

 

 

First, we encoded the video at the same resolution but a lower quality, so as to achieve a far more acceptable file size (~150MB). The second method is encoding of the same video, but to a 480×272 resolution, similar to what some mobile devices use.

 

 

 

Adobe Lightroom 1.4

Years ago, you’d have to fork over a roll of Benjamin’s in order to get a piece of great technology, but that’s not the case anymore. For a modest fee, you can set yourself up with some absolutely killer hardware. Luckily, one area where that’s definitely the case is with digital cameras. It’s cheaper than ever to own a Digital-SLR, which is the reason why they are growing in popularity so quickly. As a result, RAW photo editing is also becoming more popular, hence the topic of our next benchmark.

 

 

Adobe Lightroom is an excellent RAW photo editor/organizer that’s easy to use and looks fantastic. For our test, we take 100 RAW files (Nikon .NEF) which are 10 Megapixel in resolution and then export them as JPEGs in 1000×669 resolution… a result that could be easily passed around online or saved elsewhere on your machine as a low-resolution backup.

 

 

 

3DS Max 9

As an industry-leading 3D graphics application, Autodesk’s 3DS Max is one of our more important benchmarks. If there are people who will benefit from faster CPUs with lots of cores, it’s designers of 3D models, environments and animators. Some of these projects are so comprehensive that they can take days to render. At this time, the application does not support SSE4 and will likely not in the future due to irrelevant instructions.

 

 

For our test, we are taking a dragon model which is included with the application, Dragon_Character_Rig.max, and rendering it to 1080p resolution (1920×1080). For a second test, we render the same model, but all 60 frames, to a 490×270 resolution .AVI.

 

 

Between all three of our tests here, neither board performed that different. This is reassuring, as we can see it doesn’t take a $375US board to get the performance you deserve. The Intel board was the weakest link overall, similar to our SYSmark tests.


System: HD Tach RW/3 & Sandra Memory Tests

HD Tach R/W 3

Simpli Software’s HD Tach RW is a superb storage benchmarking tool, that’s now free for everyone to use. It’s great for benchmarking removable storage or internal storage, such as hard drives, which is what we use it for here. Since we are testing a hard drive with an OS installed, we run read tests only, as write tests would overwrite important information.

 

 

Differences so small, it almost hurts to contemplate them.

SiSoftware Sandra XII

Sandra has been in my virtual toolbox for quite some time, and the reason is simply the fact that it includes many different types of synthetic benchmarks and makes for a great all-in-one. The two tests we will be focusing on is the Arithmetic and Multi-Media, however, as they are both CPU-specific.

In the Arithmetic test, the application stresses the CPU to find the maximum ALU instructions per second and floating point operations per second, in millions. In the Multi-Media test, a similar stress is executed to find the maximum int and float instructions per second.

 

 

 

 

Surprisingly, memory is one area where differences are seen between boards. In this case, both the P5E3 Premium and Maximus Extreme excel, in both bandwidth and latency. The other boards hover around the same. Overall though, these differences are all rather small and would show little difference in real-world tests (as we’ve seen).


Gaming: Half-Life 2: Episode Two & Futuremark 3DMark Vantage

Half-Life 2: Episode Two

If there is one game in our line-up that most everyone has played at some point, it would be Half-Life 2. The most recent release is Episode Two, a game that took far too long to see the light of day. But despite that, it proved to be worth the wait as it delivered more of what fans loved.

We are using the Silo level for our testing, which is a level most people who haven’t even played the game know about, thanks to Valves inclusion of it in their Episode Two trailers during the year before its release. During our gameplay, we shoot down a total of three Striders (their locations are identical with each run, since we are running a saved game file) and a barn is blown to smithereens.

 

 

Overall it’s a great level, but the Strider’s minions can prove a pain in the rear at times – most notably when they headbutt you. Nothing a little flying log won’t solve, however! This levels graphics consist mostly of open fields and trees, although there is a few explosions in the process as well, such as when you blow the Striders apart with the help of the Magnusson Device.

Settings: High graphic settings are used throughout all three resolutions, with 4x AA and 8xAF.

 

 

Like our other real-world tests, the differences seen are minimal.

Futuremark 3DMark Vantage

3DMark Vantage is the latest benchmarking tool released from Futuremark, effectively making most computers cry. It doesn’t matter how high-end your machine is, this is one test that will not run smoothly, and it might be a while before we come together with components that can storm through the test like many machines are doing with 3DMark 06 now.

 

 

Once again, the differences are absolutely minimal. Regardless of the board, gaming on X48 (or X38) will prove a great experience.


SplashTop Embedded Linux

Note: All text on this page was borrowed from our P5E3 Deluxe review, as the information hasn’t changed at all. The P5E3 series of boards remain the only on the market that we’re aware of that feature this technology.

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.


Overclocking & Power Consumption

As mentioned earlier in the review, the P5E3 Premium features a rich BIOS, filled to the brim with overclocking potential. Considering it’s not a board catered to overclockers, it’s impressive just how much ASUS managed to fit in here. That’s only a good thing. Those who have no desire to turn all the dials don’t have to, but those who do want to will not be held back.

I mean ‘not held back’ literally. Using the Core 2 Duo E8400, I managed to hit 500MHz FSB with absolute ease. In order to achieve that figure, I bumped the northbridge to 1.55v, while all others were left at defaults. Although I haven’t done long-term testing on this setting, four hours of SP2004 passed without error, along with a 3DMark Vantage triple run.

Pushing even further though, I found 525MHz to be attainable, although due to time constraints, I haven’t been able to find if it’s truly stable. This was only achieved by bumping the NB voltage to 1.57v.

 

 

Using the same Quad-Core QX9650 that we used during testing, I couldn’t go beyond 470MHz FSB. That was stable, however. Going higher wasn’t. Moving to the Dual-Core took the virtual cover off the pot though, as I hit 540MHz with ease, though obviously not stable. This board has huge overclocking ability… it’s just up to you to find its sweet spot.

In my tests, this board is incredibly fussy with voltages. While 500MHz FSB was stable with 1.55v, it wasn’t at all with 1.59v or 1.51v. This becomes even more true going higher. You will need to spend some time changing the NB voltage value and seeing where it gets you. It may vary from CPU to CPU, but it’s a given that a Dual-Core will allow you to hit the highest possible FSB on the board.

So while I don’t have a conclusive figure, I do know 500MHz was stable during my tests, and the board’s very willing to go higher.

Power Consumption

To capture power consumption, we use a Kill-A-Watt which is plugged directly into the wall, with our PC plugged into it. The monitor and speakers are plugged into a different socket, so our figures here show what our entire PC draw is and nothing else.

Please note that these figures include the Corsair Nautilus 500 water-cooling system, as it feeds off of our computers power. Only one hard drive is plugged in during this testing, and the lone accessory used is a RAM fan. The network adapters are enabled, but no LAN cable is plugged in.

We test grab figures while the machine is idle, and also when the machine is utilizing half of the CPU (QX9650). We then continue to let the 50% CPU usage continue while we load up 3DMark Vantage, to grab a realistic from normal usage. In this case, it would assume playing a game that happens to utilize the CPU well.

 

 

The boards all performed well here. The P5E3, even with it’s WiFi adapter, didn’t manage to suck down extra power when compared to the other boards. The beefiest board looks to be Gigabyte’s X48T-DQ6, but all perform too close to one another to actually have a winner.


Final Thoughts


As I mentioned on the first page, it doesn’t make sense to outright recommend this board because it costs $375 US on average. If it had a specific reason to be that expensive, it would be one thing. But the fact is, this board includes the X48 chipset as opposed to X38, so that 1600MHz FSB ‘native’ ability costs you a cool fifty bucks. P5E3 Premium, indeed.

On the other hand, it’s impossible to not like this board. It’s feature-packed as mentioned, very overclockable, proves to be efficient and looks great at the same time. The fact that it includes WiFi is a huge bonus as well, especially since it follows the 802.11n standard.

But nothing seen here isn’t found on the P5E3 Deluxe, for a much more reasonable $325. Not that $325 isn’t a lot for a motherboard either, but it’s far easier to deal with than $375.

So you want a QX9770, does that make the Premium board worthwhile? If for whatever reason you don’t like overclocking at all, or even thinking about it, then the board might be for you. However, there’s no reason to be afraid. I ‘m pretty confident that plugging a QX9770 into a P5E3 Deluxe would boot up just the same. It’s a 400MHz FSB processor, so the board would have no choice but to default to that.

 

 

There’s just no way to sugar-coat this. A $50 premium is far too high given what the board offers over the Deluxe, which is support on paper for 400MHz FSB, a feature that affects only those who plan on picking up the QX9770 processor. For those who are overclocking, what does it matter what’s natively supported? The point of overclocking is to push hardware beyond the rated spec.

What you can take from this is that the P5E3 Deluxe is a fantastic board. In fact, I liked it so much, that when I reviewed it in December, I awarded it with an Editor’s Choice award. All things considered, the board we looked at today is no different, except that it supports a 1600MHz FSB and contains a blue heatsink guard.

Part of the premium is not ASUS’ fault, as I’m sure the X48 chipset costs a premium to acquire, but no other X48 board comes close to this price. MSI, Gigabyte and DFI all offer their boards at $300 or less. Even ASUS’ own Rampage Formula (which we will be reviewing soon) costs $300.

That aside, one feature I didn’t get into that ASUS talks a lot about is the EPU, a chip based on the motherboard that aides in better power consumption. Part of the job is handled by software, but for some reason the AiSuite would not run in our Vista 64-bit, so I was unable to test it for this article. I am inquiring with ASUS as to why this is the case, as it should work.

Overall, the P5E3 Premium is a great board rich with features, but the price holds it back from being highly recommended. It’s the most expensive of all X48 boards, but shouldn’t be if ASUS hopes to have it compete.

 

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