Date: May 26, 2008
Author(s): Rob Williams
Intel’s P45 is due out next month, but the boards are already rolling in. Our first look is at ASUS’ P5Q Deluxe, a DDR2 offering that’s feature-packed and comes in at a great price. Features include a layman’s RAID tool, updated Splashtop, lots of connectivity, a great layout and more.
Intel’s latest mid-range chipset might not be due out for another few weeks, but that hasn’t stopped both ASUS and Gigabyte from sending out early samples. The first board to hit our labs was ASUS’ P5Q Deluxe, a DDR2 offering.
What is Intel’s P45 all about, and should you care? As with many of Intel’s products lately, P45 is more of an evolutionary upgrade rather than a revolutionary one, but the benefits it offers can be well worth getting excited over.
While P35 and X38/48 were based on a 90nm process, P45 is based on 65nm. This will equate to (hopefully) better overall efficiency, and in the tests with this board, it seems like benefits can really be seen.
Other features include the upgrade to a 1600FSB, which right now has little value, as previous generation chipsets have had no problem hitting 400MHz FSB and beyond, nor do many people want the $1,500 QX9770 which is currently the only 1600MHz FSB CPU (aside from the Skulltrail QX9775). As time rolls on, however, Intel may re-release their 45nm mid-range products to support the higher FSB, so it will make sense to have them natively supported.
Also new is the ICH10 Southbridge, but right now, not much information is given as to the changes. In our I/O tests, the performance remained the same, but rumor has it that a few insignificant features were removed to keep power consumption down. Lastly, PCI-E 2.0 has been implemented, to mimic what we’ve seen from the past few months with X38.
At official launch, ASUS will release four P45-based boards, all of which are quite similar to one another. One is designed more for a workstation (P5Q-WS), while the other will be for budget-conscious consumers (P5Q-E). Then we have the P5Q and P5Q3 Deluxe, which are both similar in feature-sets, but use DDR2 or DDR3, respectively.
ASUS’ “Deluxe” boards have never been known as anything but feature-packed, and these new boards are no exception. Besides the usual combination of solid design and great looks, the P5Q introduces a few things worthy of note.
First and foremost, their EPU engine has been upgraded to be able to control even more of the voltage regulation on the board, for optimum power efficiency. This is paired with a new 16-phase power solution, which is argued to be more of an 8-phase solution underneath. I am not familiar enough with power schemes to verify this, but 16-phase does seem a little overboard.
The benefits of adding more phases is that it increases the stability of the power delivery, and in essence should also increase the overclocking-ability. However, as we’ll see later, the so-called 16-phase setup didn’t do much for us there.
As I mentioned in my DeviceVM Splashtop article a few weeks ago, going forward, ASUS will be including the embedded Linux environment on all of their motherboards. This is a huge win for Linux, and goes to show just how confident ASUS is in DeviceVM’s technology. So with this new roll out, an upgraded version has been pre-installed here, which improves on the original that we first saw on the P5E3 Deluxe late last year.
“Drive Xpert” is another major feature addition. It’s essentially a layman’s RAID setup, which is only a good thing. Because the instructions and terms used are presented in a manner that anyone can understand, it’s very easy to setup.
Overall, ASUS has one packed board on their hands, and from what I understand, the P5Q is set to retail for around $220. If true, it’s going to be a relative bargain.
ASUS doesn’t change the overall look of their boards too often, which I’m fine with since I tend to be drawn to darker colors. The layouts also remain quite similar… another thing I don’t have much of a beef with.
Eight S-ATA ports are available for the taking, but their layout is a little interesting. In order to deliver a perfect setup for anyone, the primary ports are laid out three different ways, depending on your preference. This might be an inconvenience if you plan on using every single port, but this method still allows you to route each cable a different way, which could prove easier in the end.
The orange ports to the left are designed for use with the Drive Xpert feature, although if no RAID setup is desired, then they can be configured for regular S-ATA use.
Going with the tried and true honeybee color scheme, the DDR2 DIMM ports are free and clear of any CPU cooler you’d plan to use, and are also kept far enough away from the top PCI-E port, where a massive GPU could be installed.
Triple PCI-E 2.0 slots are used here, either for dual or tri-GPU setups. For tri-GPU, cards utilizing single-slot coolers would need to be used, due to port spacing. For dual-GPUs, two dual-slot coolers could be used without issue. Besides those, there are two PCI-E 1x and also two PCI for your classic add-on cards.
Normally only seen on very high-end boards, the P5Q includes both a power and reset button right on the board in order to make out-of-chassis testing a breeze. I appreciate the fact that they are located right at the bottom, out of the way.
The Southbridge chipset is simple, featuring small thick fins for reasonable heat dissipation. The Southbridge never tends to get that hot, so advanced coolers are not necessary, even for overclocking. The EPU chip that the cover here exclaims is found up top, right beside the CPU socket.
Continuing with the blue theme, the Northbridge and PWM heatsinks feature many fins and two long heat pipes.
Below, you can see the 16 phases used, scattered around the CPU socket. These look nice, but their overall use is still questionable. Even with a very high-end processor, 8 phases seems to be a reasonable number. Until it’s proven that 12 phases or more can actually improve anything, there’s little reason to get excited over this.
Looking at the full version of the image, you can see the EPU chip located right below the socket.
In way of connectivity, the back panel includes six USB ports, a PS/2 for your legacy keyboard or mouse, S/PDIF audio ports, two LAN, one Firewire and one e-SATA. These along with the 7.1 audio help make this board one heck of an attractive offering.
In way of accessories, a back panel protector is included, which is padded in the back for smooth motherboard installation, along with a motherboard connection that will allow you two more USB ports and also a small Firewire (dissimilar to the one found on the back panel).
Aside from those, the usual cables that are to be expected are here, in addition to ASUS’ Q-Connector, which makes ATX cable installation a simple task. A heatsink fan is included also, but I still don’t understand its use, since it doesn’t properly fit anywhere on the board.
On the next page, we’ll take a brief look at the BIOS, and then move right into some results.
I’ve been a fan of the BIOS’ that ASUS’ choose to use on their boards for a while now. They are straight-forward and I find them far more intuitive than what Gigabyte uses for their boards. Everything here is in plain English and easy to follow.
As you would expect, the P5Q offers a BIOS that’s plenty ready for overclocking. Not just overclocking, but overclocking gurus, because a lot of the options here require a keen understanding to properly alter.
Voltage ranges are as follows:
As always, the voltage allowances are ridiculous and should never be topped out unless you are really aware of what you are doing, or live in the Arctic. Or a combination of the two.
One new option here is “MEM. OC Charger”, which, according to ASUS “is able to optimize memory settings – based on memory frequencies – resulting in better signal quality”. I admit that I haven’t had a chance to test this feature, as I don’t currently have a recent kit of DDR2 that overclocks to what’s considered “killer” heights, but I have a feeling this is a feature that won’t prove that important to overclockers. Even after being told three times, I still don’t understand what the feature is set out to do, or how it would help things.
The rest of the BIOS doesn’t differ much from what we are used to, so I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
Time for some benchmarking. Right after we explain our testing methodology, of course.
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.
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.
On the next page, we’ll kick off our results with 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 a popular benchmarking suite that emulates real-world scenarios and stresses the machine the way it should be… by emulating tasks that people actually perform on a day to day basis.
SYSmark, from Bapco is 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 completed.
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.
All of the boards performed well, with the exception of the lowly Intel board. Our P5Q board consistently received higher scores than the rest (we re-ran the entire three-run suite three times over to verify) – a good sign.
For our video-conversion 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.
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.
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.
Like our results in the SYSmark test, scores shouldn’t vary too much between motherboards, and we can see that to be the case here. The P5Q received a slightly lower-than-normal score in our Lightroom test, but kept in line with the others in the 3DS Max and DivX tests.
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.
Again, the differences are incredibly small here, and differed on each run, so neither board can be declared an actual winner. This, as always, is a good thing.
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. For DDR2, the P5Q proved a wee bit faster than the Rampage Formula.
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 a portion of the “Our Mutual Friend” 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.
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. It doesn’t matter the chipset or motherboard, all three of our offerings here delivered great results.
When I first received the P5Q, I expected amazing things with overclocking, but was surprised when I found this board didn’t keep up to the X38 and X48 boards I’ve been toying with lately. There could be a few reasons for this. One, I might have a less-than-perfect board, which is actually a good thing.
Another reason might be that P45 is not designed with the hardcore enthusiast in mind like X38 did, so 500MHz overclocks might not be all that popular. Until I am able to benchmark the Gigabyte board (when it gets here), I’ll be unable to conclude on that.
With the E8400, I was not able to go beyond 475MHz, regardless of voltages. I found this odd, though, because up to 475MHz, I didn’t have to touch voltages whatsoever. Everything was set to auto, except for the memory and CPU, which I manually set in order to keep benchmarking results accurate from board to board.
So, Northbridge at “Auto” was fine all the way up to 475MHz, but nothing after that point helped me out in the least. I traveled upwards in small increments, all the way up to 1.70v, but nothing improved stability. Talk about a hard-limit! The Northbridge was not the only voltage I altered, but it was the primary.
This was a huge contrast to what I’ve been used to. Most of the X38/X48 boards could hit 500MHz with reasonable Northbridge voltages.. but not here. So for the “ultimate” in overclocking, X38/X48 may still be the best bet.
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.
Our power consumption tests is where things got interesting. We knew that P45 was more energy efficient, but these differences are nothing short of substantial. We saw an average of 33W less at full load when compared to the other boards, and 13W less at idle.
Here’s where things are complicated. Is Intel’s P45 to thank for this, or does ASUS’ EPU technology also play a part? I queried ASUS about this on more than one occasion, but never received a response, so I’m somewhat in the dark.
We are still awaiting shipment of our Gigabyte P45 board, but once it arrives, we will be able to better figure out what’s causing the power improvements. It could be that Gigabyte’s DES might prove even more efficient than ASUS’ EPU… hard to say until we can pit them head to head.
But regardless of what’s causing the improvements, we saw a clear drop in overall power draw, and that’s all that matters. Hopefully boards that don’t feature EPU but do contain a P45 chipset will deliver similar results.
As I touched on in the intro, one of the biggest new features on the P5Q is “Drive Xpert”. Essentially, Drive Xpert is a RAID setup, but is designed to be easy to setup and maintain. If you are already familiar with setting up a RAID, then this will be nothing but a dumbed-down version.
The great thing about Drive Xpert is that it can be set up either in Windows or inside of the Splashtop Linux environment on the motherboard itself. The latter would be ideal if you plan to run your OS off of the RAID. If you plan to have a primary drive and use RAID just for your data, you may prefer to set up in Windows.
There are three types of setups here. “Normal” would set up the S-ATA drives without RAID, so they’d act as normal ports. “EZ Backup” is essentially RAID 1, while “Super Speed” is RAID 0.
I didn’t have enough hard drives to test out Super Speed (since I needed to retain the data on the drives I did have), but with one blank drive I was able to test out the EZ Backup feature. I chose to do this in Windows so grabbing screenshots would be easier, but the setup in Splashtop is quite similar. Before you do anything, though, you’ll need to go into the BIOS and choose which mode you want to use, so that it can activate the ports accordingly on boot.
To test, I put in one of our benchmarking drives to be duplicated to another blank drive that I had lying around, which happened to be the exact same make and model. After setting up the “EZ Backup” in Windows, a small systray icon will notify you that the RAID is rebuilding. Once it stays a solid color, it means that both drives are then identical and will be kept identical.
Once this was finished, I switched off the RAID and set the drive up as a regular drive, and as you can see in the screenshot, both drives are kept pretty much identical. The difference in overall usage likely has to do with the fact that the C: was my main drive, so it was being written to during boot. E: also didn’t have a proper boot record written, which might affect the space as well.
The installation and setup overall was quite simple though, and I’m not a man who enjoys messing around with RAIDs. If I was using a motherboard that had this feature though, I’d happily take advantage of it.
As mentioned earlier, the Splashtop Linux environment has been updated for the P5Q-series, although other boards that follow suit will also include it. For a far more in-depth look, please refer to my article from a few weeks ago, which tackles all aspects of the environment.
For those unfamiliar, Splashtop is a built-in version of Linux that’s accessible within 10 seconds after boot. This is to save people from waiting for a Windows/Linux boot, in order to accomplish something simple, fast.
Once in, you can surf the web, chat on Pidgin (MSN, AIM, Google Chat), talk and chat on Skype, and look at photos. New on the P5Q is the ability to update the embedded environment, but I’m currently unsure of how updates will be had. I am assuming that ASUS will host the latest versions on their site, but DeviceVM may very-well host them as well, depending on how different each version needs to be from board to board.
The overall usefulness of Splashtop is debated, but it’s a nice feature to have for those times you just need to boot up quick to find out a bit of information. It uses a little less power and is much faster. Thanks to ASUS’ sudden dedication to the tool, we should only see its feature set and usefulness improve.
Intel’s P45 chipset isn’t yet available on the market, but I think there is a reason to get excited… and I’m not sure if it should be for the obvious one. P45 is a solid chipset from what we can see, but we’ll know more once we get to stress another offering. Gigabyte’s board should have been here already, so really, we should be testing it in the days to come. Then we will be better able to get a good feel for what P45 offers.
What’s to be excited over is what the motherboard manufacturers are doing. When Intel releases a new chipset, especially lately, it doesn’t seem that too much changes except for some numbers… numbers that aren’t that much more impressive in the end. What is good is the increased power efficiency.
The decrease in power draw that we saw on the previous page is a rather big deal. 33W is a big deal, especially when you use your computer often. That could very well mean a few bucks saved on your power bill each month. It all adds up.
ASUS made the P5Q interesting because of the added features, such as the Drive Xpert. Granted, it’s a simple RAID feature, but it’s made extremely easy to deal with, making it an attractive option for those who hate dealing RAID.
It’s also great to see the Splashtop desktop updated, although again, it’s usefulness will be limited. I firmly believe it has its use, but it’s not something I’d personally use all that often… primarily because I never shut down my main PC. You might be in a different situation, however.
I found overclocking to be a little disappointing, but 475MHz isn’t horrible (460MHz with the QX9650). Plus, this is a motherboard that’s supposed to be released at around the $220 price point, so I feel what it does offer, makes the board a very appealing choice.
It’s argued that nothing that exciting is happening in the hardware industry lately, and in most cases, that’s absolutely true. But while things might not be blowing us off our feet, technology is constantly improving, and it all adds up. This P5Q is to retail for just over $200, but is truly packed in terms of features and performance. The board doesn’t give us a reason to upgrade, but for a new build, you really do get a lot for your money.
This is the first P45 board I’ve laid my grubby hands on, but I’m impressed, therefore I’ll award it an Editor’s Choice award, based on everything we’ve looked at and the tentative price. As it stands, this is the board I’d choose to use in my personal machine, which says a lot. I don’t need insane overclocks, but I do appreciate a nice feature-set and a well-designed board.
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