Date: June 4, 2007
Author(s): Rob Williams
Intel’s P35 chipset was only just released, but ASUS already has seven motherboards which utilize it. We are taking a look at one of their top models, the P5K3 Deluxe. This board utilizes DDR3 memory and has WiFi capabilities built-in. It also turns out to be a great overclocker.
Intel last month released their highly anticipated chipsets, P35 and G33. Both bring a few new things to the enthusiast table, which we laid out in our article from last month. In general, the P35 was a modest upgrade from the P965, allowing a little more flexibility. Of the upgraded features, my personal favorite would be the fact that you can disable SATA ports not in use, which gives you the ability to turn a drive invisible and undetectable by your operating system.
Not surprisingly, the key feature to garner a lot of attention is DDR3 support, and it’s no surprise. It’s not often we are greeted to a new memory architecture, especially so soon after DDR2 seemed to just catch on. It’s well known that DDR3 is not going to change the computing landscape, but it is faster and could be worthwhile to bandwidth hungry users.
On the day P35 was announced, so were many motherboards utilizing the chipset. Of these were ASUS’ own P5K Deluxe and P5K3 Deluxe, both of which utilize the ASUS WiFi-AP feature as well. We received our boards late, which is why our performance benchmarks are also late. We will be now covering all of the details between P35 and previous chipsets in this article. In this particular review, we will be evaluating the performance and feature-set of the P5K3, but will be taking a look at the P5K in the near future.
The P5K3 Deluxe is targeted for enthusiasts and regular consumers alike, but moreso to the enthusiast thanks to its $250 price tag. Besides the P35 chipset, it has an impressive feature-set, including a technology they call “Super Memspeed”, which they claim to increase memory performance up to 90.6%. Although it’s difficult to find proper documentation regarding the technology, it appears it has more to do with overclocking than simply installing DDR3 and being done with it.
In preparation for Intel’s upcoming Penryn architecture, the board natively supports 1333FSB, although you can stick to 1066FSB with a current-gen processor. Of course, the Core architecture is well known for being the best overclockers available, so 1333FSB should prove no problem even before Penryn. Thanks to this, if you have a pair of DDR3-1333 memory, you could run it with a 1:1 ratio.
We will touch a lot more on P5K3 specific features as we pass by over them, and also elaborate on the ASUS software that adds a slew of benefits to your PC. Before we go into that, lets take a look the board itself.
As is the usual from ASUS, the box for the P5K3 is packed with relevant information. They give a prime spot to their Memspeed technology, although here the estimated figure is a little lower than it is on their own website. The board is also Vista supported, but we have not begun testing the board on that OS thanks to lack of demand. In the future when Vista becomes a more common OS, we will shift our focus there.
Included in the pile is the board manual, WiFi-AP manual and the driver disc. Also here is the I/O shield, S-ATA cables, IDE cables, Q-Connector, WiFi antennae and also a heatsink fan. Throughout tests, I found little use for this, although it would have made more sense for them to include two, since there is more than one spot on the board to place it.
You may look at the board and have your eyes immediately drawn to the large passive cooler. It’s far from small. There are benefits here, alongside burdens. It’s large, but no CPU cooler should have a problem fitting in. There is sufficient room on all sides, and I’m sure ASUS made sure this was the case. The benefits of the cooler are obvious… silence.
You can see more of what I am talking about in this picture.
The DDR3 slots have a Halloween theme going on, but they look good. If color is what sells you a board, then this board would sell well. Beside these slots are the IDE and 24-Pin motherboard connector.
Here is the Winbond W83627DHG chipset which handles much of the I/O for the motherboard, including PS/2 peripherals, printer, joystick, et cetera. It is also responsible for passing along the boards temperatures to you.
The P5K3 is not light on features, with 3 PCI and 2 PCI-E 16x slots available. There are two PCI-E 4x slots as well, if you can find a use for them. This board is completely compatible with ATI Crossfire, so if you have a dual GPU setup in mind, this board should perform well. I do not have any compatible ATI cards, so I will be unable to test that feature specifically.
The southbridge receives fanless treatment. The BIOS battery is located right beside this, with all of the boards S-ATA ports on the opposite side.
Located here is the JMicron JMB363 and Realtek RTL8110SC chipsets. The former is responsible for two of the boards S-ATA ports (I am assuming the two black ones) while the latter is for the ethernet ports. There is another small chipset found here, the ADI SoundMAX ADI1998B, which delivers 7.1 high-definition sound.
From left to right we have a PS/2 keyboard port, two USB 2.0 ports, S/PDIF port, optical S/PDIF port, NIC, two more USB 2.0, firewire, two eSATA, NIC, two more USB 2.0, sound ports and finally, the wireless connector port. I appreciate the fact that ASUS was not stingy with the USB ports. Combine these six with the two on your case, and you have 8 (or more) USB 2.0 ports to work with.
With regards to the layout, I don’t really have any complaints to speak of. I was wary of the large copper cooler at first, but it didn’t prove a problem. Even though it’s directly beside the DIMM slots, I was still able to hook up my Corsair Dominator Airflow fan. It’s all a tight squeeze, but no components were touching each other.
If you have a long video card, such as the 8800GTX, it will come within millimeters of the southern tip of the DIMM slots. Because of this, I had to install my Airflow fan prior to installing the GPU. Though a tight squeeze, neither component was touching the other.
The only “issue” I encountered are specific to my case (Antec P182) specifically. Because of the way the PSU cables route up through into the case, it was difficult plugging the ATX connectors to the board. If you have the same case, you will be fine if you move those cables out of your way.
Although the P5K3 is suited as a lifestyle board, the BIOS is feature-packed. I won’t cover every possible screen, but will the most important ones. Such as the first one, which most everyone here is used to.
This screen is a subsection of the first, which shows you general system information, such as clock speed.
The Advanced menu is where most of the fun will be had.
There is a surprising amount of overclocking options, which was nice to see. Even nicer was the fact that you can manage everything on the same page, which saves time.
In addition to the typical CAS-tRCD-tRP-tRAS, you can configure five additional secondary timings. Oddly absent is tRC, which most P35 boards seem to be lacking also. I assume this to be directly involved with DDR3 memory more than the chipset.
Towards the bottom of the list you can see all of the voltage options.
The ranges are as follows:
Under the CPU configuration, you can alter a few simple options.
Onboard device configuration allows you to disable any on-board features you will not be using.
The following screen should be of no surprise to anyone. You can monitor your temps and fan speeds.
Here you can disable boot nags.
The final tab is one of the most interesting, because you can both save overclocking profiles and perform a BIOS flash if you have the ROM file on a thumb drive.
No complaints about the BIOS. It provides all of the options I was personally looking for, and can’t think of anything that was left out. The biggest thing to point out is the fact that all of the overclocking options are found on one page… that is a big time saver.
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. No Windows Updates are applied for the sake of efficiency, unless one is required for a piece of hardware on the computer. Prior to testing, these conditions are met:
The testing rig used for todays benchmarking is as follows:
The ASUS P5K3 is the first DDR3 board we have used, therefore we will not have any comparisons to other P35 boards in this article. You can expect near-future comparisons, however. Here are the memory speeds used on each platform:
It’s important to note that the DDR3 is running faster, although with lower timings. Both settings listed above is what we consider standard for each platform. Not many will purchase DDR3 memory to run at DDR3-800. DDR3-1066 at 6-6-6 proved to be our sweet spot given the voltage. We didn’t want to lower into the 7-7-7 territory, and we believe most good DDR3 kits will handle those speeds/timing set well.
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 with various methods, but most notably 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.
Taking a look at the overall graph, we can see that the P5K3 performed exceptionally, though the eVGA came quite close to matching its score. The XBX2 fell quite a bit behind.
The individual test results can give us a deeper look at where each board failed, or performed well. Regarding 3D tests, all of the motherboards performed quite well to one another. When performing personal renders with 3DS Max, I found that this was always the case. Throughout the three different boards, not one had an advantage.
Although the XBX2 had a lower overall score, it blew past the other two boards in the productivity set. In fact, it performed better than both of the other boards in the VideoCreation test as well, and matched up well with the P5K3 in the E-Learning. Why its overall score showed the opposite, I have no idea. The P5K3 performed well throughout all tests though, although even with its faster memory, it did not walk away a clear winner.
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.
Although old, 3D Mark 2001 proves a good benchmark to evaluate your systems overall performance. In 2000, this benchmark really stressed whatever GPU you owned, but today the GPU hardly comes into the equation. What does help you achieve a higher score is faster CPU and memory frequencies.
Thanks to the faster memory, the P5K3 lead the pack here.
3D Mark 2006 tests your system in a similar manner that 2001 does, 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, the P5K3 delivered a slightly higher score than the others. Although it’s small, it’s an interesting increase given the fact that the only real difference was the motherboard. It could also be thanks to the faster memory, and even though it has far more loose timings than what we would see on DDR2, it still is mighty fast.
PC Mark is somewhat similar to SYSmark, which we discussed on the previous page. The difference is that PC Mark focuses more on synthetic benchmarking schemes, such as disk access and multi-tasking. Very little of the entire test will be seen by you though, as it all goes on behind the scenes.
I guess it is not so much of a surprise that the P5K3 took the top spot once again. I am unsure whether this is thanks to the P35 chipset or DDR3 frequencies, but I will understand this more once I acquire a second P35 DDR3 board.
With these synthetic benchmarks out of the way, lets move onward to some real-world multi-media tests.
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.
It’s not surprising to see the P5K3 and eVGA board so close in the results, but the XBX2 fell far behind. On that board, I ran the test twice with a reboot in between to verify the result.
Similar to our video encoding test, we originally ripped a solid FLAC file from our “Tiesto – Elements of Life” album. From there, we decompressed it using flac -d and then compressed it into a 320Kbits MP3 using lame -b 320. FLAC 1.1.2 and LAME 3.97b2 were used for testing.
The P5K3 fell slightly behind with our decode tests, but gained speed for our encoding tests. In the end, the results are incredibly close all around.
As mentioned earlier, I have performed numerous tests using 3DS Max 9 on multiple motherboards, to find that the end performance results hardly differed at all. My tests consisted of a 3200×2400 render, in addition to an export of 100 frames at 640×480. With both tests, the results were either exact or one second different.
Cinebench is used to evaluate a systems performance for this kind of scenario, by rendering a high-resolution image. This test relies heavily on CPU power, but even so, the results vary quite a bit in multi-threaded mode. Again, the P5K3 board gave us a higher score than the others.
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.
I don’t think it needs to be said, but the P5K3 once again outperformed the other two boards we used during testing. The File Compression test was the most impressive, as it proved about 5% faster than the Intel XBX2.
No motherboard review is complete without gaming tests, so lets get right on it.
To pit these boards against some popular games, we chose to use Half-Life 2: Episode 1, 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 2.4GHz Intel E6600 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 options. The only options changed was to NFS: Carbon in order to select “High” detail. Results were tabulated with the help of FRAPS 2.8.2. Each play through lasted between three and five minutes, depending on the level chosen.
For Half-Life 2: Episode 1, I chose my favorite level, ep1_c17_02a. The level starts you off in a dimly lit hallway and you need to make it through to the roof where an airship is trying to gun you down. It’s a fun level, and really shows off HDR.
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.
Throughout all of our gaming tests, the P5K3 performed better overall. The only game to show a somewhat significant difference would be the NFS: Carbon test, which proved 7FPS faster than the XBX2.
Before moving on to conclusions, lets test out other features of the board.
One of the main selling points of this board is the fact that it includes a WiFi card. Not only this, but it can act as an access point, should you find yourself with that particular need.
Once the driver is installed, you have an immediate choice of creating an access point, or simply connecting to one.
If you are attempting to connect to an Ad-hoc, you will need to specify it here.
The software quickly picked up on the appropriate network.
If you have a basic network, you can simply type in your security key here. I hate the fact that it forces you to input it twice… there is no need.
The following screen asks for specific info, but if you are behind a DHCP connection, you should be fine to leave it alone.
After I was connected to my network, I pinged the router to gather ping times. Happily, throughout all of my pings, it was <1ms always.
As a quick test of the networks performance, I copied over a ripped DVD from my primary computer (Linux) to the Windows one, via SAMBA. Though I did not allow the transfer to finish, it never decreased below 1.4Mb/s, which has been the norm for me with other wireless cards as well.
Compared to a wired connection, it’s quite slow. So copying over files from one PC to another will be a chore, as you can see in the picture above. If streaming video is in your game plan, then you should be ok as long as it’s not high-definition content.
To test those capabilities, I used the same DVD rip as earlier, and streamed it from my Linux PC to the Windows rig. I let the entire concert play, and there wasn’t a single hint of lag. This is not surprising, since DVD bandwidth is quite low (>400Kb/s).
However, high-definition content will most certainly cause a problem, since it requires far more available bandwidth… between 1.3MB/s and 1.8MB/s for content encoded to 720p. I performed two tests here, using a 3:10 long Team Fortress 2 trailer that weighs in at 260MB.
I first tried to play it on my Linux machine running it from the Windows machine, and also running the video on my Windows machine with the file on the router. Both instances proved very unreliable, and were laggy within seconds of the video starting.
This is not uncommon with wireless networks though, and I’ve never had one perform better than this. Draft N might change that up a bit though. But as it stands, streaming high-definition content is a big no-no, but streaming anything else is fine.
In addition to normal software that’s included with most motherboards, the ASUS AI boards includes the AI Suite which consists of various tools, which we will touch on here. This suite combines a few different tools into one, most notably an overclocking tool. This makes overclocking in Windows a breeze, and saves from having to constantly reboot. Reboots will be necessary if you are attempting a substantial overclock however.
The following image is the primary screen you will be dealing with. You can see that the motherboard has already lowered my CPU clocks multiplier in order to save a little bit of power.
Among overclocking abilities, you can also put the computer into quick sleep mode using AI Nap, change the power saving mode with AI Gear 2, and change overclocked settings on the fly. AI Nap essentially doubles as a sleep mode, putting the computer into a deep sleep state, requiring only the tap of a key to come back out of it.
AI Suite is a great tool for those who enjoy tweaking, but enthusiast overclockers will definitely want to stick to the BIOS for the majority of their overclocks.
Since this is the first P35 board I’ve had the chance to really spend some time with, I wasn’t able to offer great comparisons. There will be more P35 board reviews in the near future however, so stay tuned. After spending the past two weeks with this board, I have to say I am impressed.
Aside from the DDR3 “benefits”, this board is packed. It offers plenty of overclocking ability, has a solid cooling system and is rock solid in the performance department.
I have no immediate complaints about the boards layout, although I do wish the copper cooler was not so close to the DIMM slots. If you have ram with a fat heatsink, it will likely touch this pipe. That by itself shouldn’t cause any problems, but I’d rather never see that happen. I also have to wonder why the two PCI-E 4x slots are on the top.
As it stands, if you use two dual slot GPU cards, you only have one PCI slot to deal with. If those PCI-E 4x slots were a little lower, you’d be able to save at least two. Why is it the PCI-E 4x slots always have plenty of room, when they are the most likely to go unused?
Other than that, the layout is fine. Some might consider the 6 S-ATA ports to be a little skimpy, but those will likely be few. That’s enough for four hard drives and two CD-roms, or a combination of the both. They are positioned well… out of the way and within reach of all the drives.
As far as overclocking goes, this board also performed well in that regard also. I managed a stable DDR3-1500 8-8-8 overclock with the Kingston DDR3-1375 kit, and also a 3.6GHz overclock with the E6600, although that was not 100% stable. For FSB, this board seemed quite stable up to 475FSB. If you are not afraid of voltage, you should have no problem achieving some nice overclocks with this board.
For the $250 price tag, this board offers quite a bit to the consumer. As I mentioned, I did not have another board for comparison, but I was very impressed with my experience. The P5K3 Deluxe packs in great functionality, many useful software and BIOS features, WiFi built-in and a lot of overclocking headroom. If you are in the market for a P35 DDR3 board, I wouldn’t hesitate recommending this one. I am going to award the P5K3 Deluxe WiFi-AP an eight out of ten alongside our Editors Choice award.
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