Date: June 14, 2007
Author(s): Rob Williams
With the launch of Intel’s P35 chipset, ASUS promptly released seven boards for you to choose from. A few weeks ago we had taken a look at the P5K3 and were left very impressed. Given the fact that the P5K is strikingly similar in specs, we hope to be left as equally impressed.
Last week we had taken a look at the latest high-end board from ASUS, the P5K3, and were left quite impressed. It’s not an inexpensive board, but the feature-set well made up for the extra few dollars they are asking you to spend. While the P5K3 is a DDR3 board, the P5K is a near spitting-image, minus that DDR3 support. Thanks to that fact, we don’t expect much difference in our testing results, except where memory bandwidth plays a large role.
For the uninitiated, the P5K is based on Intel’s latest P35 chipset, which we explained last month. What it offers over the previous P965 chipset is a wee bit more flexibility for motherboard manufacturers, since they now can offer upwards of 12 USB 2.0 ports, 1x eSATA port and my personal favorite, the S-ATA port disable. That allows you to disable any installed hard drive, so that you can deem it invisible.
Board-specific features include the usual array of ASUS-provided software, built-in WiFi, unique BIOS features and full Windows Vista support. One touted feature is the fact that memory speed can be increased up to 75% on the P5K. From looking closer, it appears this is justified by the fact that you can run DDR2-1066 speeds natively, while most other boards run DDR2-800. This is not a big deal. If your memory can run at DDR2-1066 speeds, it doesn’t need a special feature to have it work.
The P5K is part of ASUS’ Ai Lifestyle series, meaning it offers features not only for enthusiasts, but regular consumers who want a feature packed board, such as one with a good on-board audio chipset. Ai software is also included, which allows you to perform a variety of tasks within Windows, which we will touch on later in the review. Before we move forward, let’s take a look at the board itself.
The P5K box is strikingly similar to the P5K3, not surprisingly. The front lifts up so that you can read a slew of info before ultimately taking the board out of the box.
ASUS does not skimp on included accessories and that’s a benefit that comes with their higher-end boards. You will find four S-ATA cables, one IDE and one floppy, the WiFi adapter, Q-Connector (used for managing the ATX cables better), I/O guard, expansion for 1x FireWire and 2x USB, manuals for both the board itself and the WiFi functionality and finally, the software.
One thing I failed to point out in last weeks review of the P5K3 is that the WiFi adapter is quite unique. It’s a simple white ring that can ‘clip’ to the top of your case, because the bottom is magnetized. Simple, but useful.
The only real difference between the P5K and P5K3 is that the latter has a slightly more elaborate copper heatsink. I am unsure why there is a difference in coolers at all, since not much changes specs-wise. It could be for them to easier differentiate the two boards, but the DIMM slots are different colors, so that might very well blow that theory.
It’s easier to explain with pictures, so here they are:
Let’s now take a quick trip around the board. First stop, the south bridge which is passively cooled. Heat travels along the heat pipe and dissipates off the same fins that the northbridge use.
To the left of the PCI slots are three chipsets. Realtek’s RTL81100SC (LAN), JMicron (S-ATA) and ADI SoundMAX ADI1998B (7.1 High-Definition audio).
For slots, we have two PCI-E 16x which can be used for two video cards in Crossfire, 2x PCI-E 1x and 3 classic PCI slots. PCI is not a technology that will die off soon, so it’s good to see three slots available. Also at the bottom of the board you can find the IEEE1394 and dual USB 2.0 connectors.
While the P5K3 had a Halloween-esque DIMM slot theme, the P5K stuck to bumblebee. Also here is an IDE and 24-Pin motherboard power connector.
Found above 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 copper heatsink spreads across the PWM, northbridge and finally the south bridge. They were kind enough to leave sufficient room around the socket for larger CPU coolers. The top heatsink might come close, but even the largest coolers should not hit it.
Here’s a closer look at the top heatsink, which is one of my only complaints about the boards layout. The only problem is that it’s a different style than the other heatsink, much thicker fins, while on the P5K3, it matches all around. It’s all aesthetic, but geeks like nice looking motherboards.
Finally, we have a full range of connectors to choose from. These include a PS/2 Keyboard, 6x USB 2.0, SPDIF, 2x eSATA, FireWire, 2x LAN, Audio and finally, the WiFi card.
I am pleased overall with the board and it’s layout, nothing will be compromised during installation. The only real gripe I have is that the top heatsink is different than the other two. The board should use the same exact style heatsinks as the P5K3, because they should prove more efficient overall.
No motherboard review is complete without a thorough look at the BIOS, so let’s hop right in.
The P5K’s BIOS is identical to the P5K3’s, so we have referenced all our info from that review. The only difference is that the P5K allows you to set 1T or 2T timings, while that’s not a possibility with DDR3 memory.
Although the P5K 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:
For comparison purposes, we have pitted the P5K against the ASUS P5K3, which uses a P35 chipset, the eVGA 680i which uses a 680i SLI chipset and also the Intel XBX2, which uses the 975X chipset. The P5K3 is a DDR3 board, so it’s important to note that it wouldn’t be a surprise to see it dominate in the charts, thanks to it’s faster memory speed. We have included it because it’s still a relevant comparison. The memory speeds used are as follows:
2T was used for the DDR2 settings because of the Intel XBX2’s inability to use 1T.
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.
The P5K matched up perfectly with the 680i, but the extra oomph from the DDR3 memory on the P5K3 helped it push ahead. Intel’s XBX2 blew past all of them, though.
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.
Similar to the overall tests, the eVGA 680i and ASUS P5K matched up, while the XBX2 took the lead with the P5K3 trailing slightly behind.
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.
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.
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.
P35 is looking good, as both the P5K and P5K3 stayed well ahead of the other boards here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The P5K performed quite well throughout all of our real-world tests. It fell a little short with our last test, however, being a full 40 seconds behind the XBX2, but staying well ahead of the 680i.
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.
No board had an immediate advantage, but the DDR3 speeds of the P5K3 helped it achieve the top spot in each one of the tests. You might have noticed that the STALKER results proved identical between the P5K and P5K3, and yes, that was not a typo.
That wraps up the performance testing, but before we move into our conclusions, we will take a quick look at the WiFi capabilities of the board as well as the included software.
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.
When we had taken a look at the P5K3 board last week, we were not sure whether it was the new Intel P35 chipset that was helping it top out each chart, or if it was the fact that the DDR3 memory was faster. After benchmarking with this board, I think it’s safe to say that it was a combination of both.
Throughout most of the tests, namely gaming, both P35 boards performed exceptionally. However, while both boards topped out most of the charts, the P5K3 always inched past the P5K, which I assume to be thanks to the faster memory frequency. Even though the DDR3 had more loose timings, the extra frequency is all that mattered.
But, even compared to the XBX2 and eVGA 680i boards, which ran components at the same speeds as the P5K, they seemed to be no competition. In some cases, the XBX2 proved the better board for certain multi-media tests, but the P5K picked up the slack elsewhere.
As far as overclocking goes, this board hit a comfortable 475 – 480 FSB, just like it’s bigger brother, the P5K3. It didn’t come too close to the P5N-E’s staggering 495 – 500 FSB, but it’s a healthy serving regardless.
Performance aside, the P5K also has a nice feature-set. It’s Crossfire ready and includes a good supply of PCI slots for your audio cards, PhysX or other add-ins. However, if you are planning to use dual GPU that happen to also have dual slot coolers, then it will deem two of the PCI slots unusable. To prevent this, ASUS could have shifted the useless PCI-E 1x slots in the place of the two PCI slots that you will be wiping out. I don’t know a single person that has ever used a PCI-E 1x slot.
Other than that fact, the board layout is great, with the exception of that ugly top copper heatsink, which doesn’t match the others on the board. “Damn you are picky”, you say? Yes I am. This board doesn’t have that many faults that I can find, so I had to mention something.
The included WiFi card is another large bonus, as it works very well. Throughout my testing, I have found it to be more reliable than previous WiFi cards I have used. The BIOS is yet another quality showing from ASUS. One thing I love about their BIOS’ is that they allow you to flash using a ROM file on your thumb drive, as well as allow you to save and restore overclocking profiles that way as well. It seems so simple, but is so helpful at the same time.
Compared to the P5K3, the P5K retails for around $30 – $40 less, but essentially offers the exact same performance. The P5K3 only has an obvious advantage because the stock memory was running at a higher frequency. That said, $225 is well worth the cost of this board if you are looking for one that’s feature-rich. There is a non-deluxe version of the board available for $150 on average, but it lacks WiFi, a PCI-E 1x slot, two S-ATA ports among other things. I am also unsure whether you could expect the same performance as seen in this review. In the end, I’d easily opt for the Deluxe version because it’s complete.
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