Date: May 3, 2010
Author(s): Rob Williams
Intel may have launched its X58 chipset nearly a year-and-a-half ago, but board vendors continue to come out with new product as technologies improve. This past winter, ASUS released the P6X58D Premium, a high-end offering that boasts support for both SATA 3.0 and USB 3.0, and one that just begs to be pushed hard with overclocking.
Late last fall, as both SATA 3.0 and USB 3.0 products were ramping up in production, a couple of motherboard vendors decided to take the opportunity to usher in the new technologies in style. What resulted was Gigabyte’s X58A-UD7 and ASUS’ P6X58D Premium. If you’re familiar with either company’s naming schemes, the model names alone will tell you that we’re dealing with a high-end product.
ASUS’ board is the lesser-expensive of the two, at $300. Gigabyte’s is $350, which owes its thanks to the built-in Northbridge water block. The fairer comparison would be Gigabyte’s X58A-UD5 at $290 which is almost the exact same board but lacks that feature. That model happens to be the one driving my primary PC and so far I’m very pleased with it.
As a high-end model, the P6X58D Premium includes pretty much everything you need, and most likely a bit more on top for good measure. While the board does tout great overclocking, and even “extreme” overclocking, like all Premium models this one is designed to be the ultimate all-around board. If you’re what you’d consider a hardcore overclocker, ASUS’ Rampage or Maximus boards might better suit you.
Although the P6X58D came to market a couple of months prior to Gulftown, Intel’s six-core processor architecture, ASUS touted full support upon its release. While all of the benchmarks in this article stick to benchmarking with the Core i7-965 as normal, we opted to use the Core i7-980X for the sake of overclocking.
Right off the bat, I have to say that I love the look of this board, and it’s as though ASUS pinged me for tips on a color scheme (it didn’t) because it pretty much aligns perfectly with my tastes. Of course, color means absolutely nothing if the product doesn’t deliver, but when the aesthetics are nice, it’s a sweet bonus.
Aside from looking good, though, the board features a smart layout as we’d expect, with heatsinks that offer a good blend of efficiency and size. You shouldn’t have any trouble installing a huge CPU cooler here (although true beasts like this could pose a potential issue for the RAM slots… but that’s not the fault of the board).
Speaking of RAM slots, here we can see the six included on the board. One thing you might notice is that for some reason, ASUS didn’t opt for the newer design of the tabs, as we saw with many of its launch P55 motherboards. It’s certainly not a big issue, but it’s an oddity nonetheless (given that this board came out around the same time as the company’s P55 models).
For PCI expansion, ASUS has included three x16 slots for triple-GPU capabilities, a single x1 slot and also two legacy PCI slots for any audio cards or other components you may have hanging around. At this end of the board you can also see the on-board power and reset buttons. Towards the right-hand side of the photo, you can also see two SATA ports. The location of these could be considered good or bad, since it really depends on your personal needs.
The other six SATA ports are found in the bottom right-hand corner of the board as you’d expect, and thankfully, all are vertically-mounted. If you’ve ever built a PC with these, chances are good you’d never want to go back to the old-school positioning. The two additional ports found at the bottom of the board don’t use vertical positioning, as that method would be useless for most chassis models.
Again following the latest motherboard trends, the P6X58D not surprisingly is replete with power phases. These are placed in a 16+2 fashion, with the 2 being dedicated to the memory and QPI bus. Generally speaking, the more phases, the better the stability (there is a point of diminishing returns, however), which is key for hardcore overclocks.
As a higher-end board, it’s no surprise to see the back I/O panel to be chock full with pretty well every popular peripheral port connector. For those sticking to PS/2 peripherals, you’re all set here, and for new-school, there are two USB 3.0 ports for the taking (which are backwards-compatible with USB 1.0 and 2.0). In addition to these, there are 4x USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire, dual LAN ports and of course the audio. Next to the two PS/2 ports is a very small CMOS reset button (it’s small so you don’t accidentally hit it).
In addition to the manual and driver CD, ASUS packs in a heatsink fan, should you want to use it (you likely won’t need to, even with overclocking), 6x SATA connectors, an internal bracket that opens up two more USB ports and an eSATA port, and also a 3-way SLI bridge and CrossFireX bridge. If you’re thinking of going with a 3-way GPU configuration, it’s important that your chassis supports it as well, as when installed, the bottom GPU will in most likeliness require a few inches past the bottom of the board.
And there we have it. There’s nothing much in the way of bling on this board, which isn’t entirely typical of ASUS. In the past we’ve taken a look at Deluxe and Premium boards that have included various accessories, but here, there’s nothing. There doesn’t really need to be, though, and at $300, I am quite certain it’s less expensive than the aforementioned boards were at the time of their release.
On the next page we’ll take a look through the BIOS, and then we’ll move onto a look at our benchmark results.
As far as BIOSes go, I’ve always been a fan of ASUS’. The reason boils down to ease of use mostly, as any BIOS today will generally offer you very similar functionality. But when using a BIOS on a board like the Rampage II Extreme, and then one like this one, it’s easy to spot the differences.
There is nothing wrong with this BIOS here, but I sure wouldn’t mind seeing the BIOSes ASUS puts on its high-end boards on its regular boards, because they are generally even easier to use, and faster to respond. As one quick example, in a standard ASUS BIOS (and possibly others), going into the Hardware Monitor screen takes up to three seconds, while in the BIOS on the company’s higher-end boards, there’s no delay at all.
Part of the reason for that could be that when overclocking, it’s even more important to eye temperatures, or it could also be due to the fact that the information gets loaded automatically in the background any time you enter the BIOS. Or both.
Either way, we’re not likely to see a Rampage or Maximus BIOS on a “standard” board for a while, as that’s likely considered a premium feature in itself (I recommend checking out the BIOS page from our RIIE review to understand partly what I’m getting at).
Since BIOS screenshots are pretty self-explanatory, I’ll let them do the talking:
At Techgage, we strive to make sure our results are as accurate as possible. Our testing is rigorous and time-consuming, 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 offer thoughts or suggest changes, please feel free to shoot us an e-mail or post in our forums.
The table below lists our machine’s hardware, which remains unchanged throughout all testing, with the exception of the motherboard. Each board used for the sake of comparison is also listed here, along with the BIOS version used. In addition, each one of the URLs in this table can be clicked to view the respective review of that product, or if a review doesn’t exist, you will be led to the product on the manufacturer’s website.
Intel Core i7 Extreme 965 – Quad-Core, 3.2GHz, 1.25v
ASUS P6T Deluxe – X58-based, 0804 BIOS (11/04/08)
ASUS P6X58D Premium – X58-based, 0808 BIOS (04/09/10)
ASUS Rampage II Extreme – X58-based, 0705 BIOS (11/21/08)
EVGA X58 SLI – X58-based, SZ21 BIOS (03/04/09)
Gigabyte EX58-UD4P – X58-based, F6 BIOS (02/26/09)
Gigabyte EX58-UD5 – X58-based, F4b BIOS (11/14/08)
Intel DX58SO – X58-based, 2786 BIOS (11/12/08)
OCZ Gold 3x2GB – DDR3-1333 7-7-7-20-1T, 1.60v
Palit Radeon HD 4870 512MB (Catalyst 8.10)
When preparing our testbeds for any type of performance testing, we follow these guidelines:
To aide with the goal of keeping accurate and repeatable results, we alter certain services in Windows Vista from starting up at boot. This is due to the fact that these services have the tendency to start up in the background without notice, potentially causing slightly inaccurate results. Disabling “Windows Search” turns off the OS’ indexing which can at times utilize the hard drive and memory more than we’d like.
When benchmarking a graphics card or processor, performance is expected to scale in a certain manner, but that’s not the case with motherboards. Since motherboards tend to only be as fast as the hardware installed on them, we don’t run an exhaustive collection of benchmarks for the sake of avoiding redundancy. For the most part, one motherboard with an equal chipset to another should offer close to equal performance.
Our primary goal with motherboard-related benchmarking is to see if one motherboard is lacking in a certain area when compared to the rest. These discrepancies, if they exist, are usually caused by lackluster components on the board itself, which is why higher-end motherboards tend to see slightly better results than the more budget-oriented offerings.
To properly test the performance of a motherboard, we run a small collection of system-specific tools, such as SYSmark 2007, Sandra and HD Tune Pro. We then run real-world benchmarks using popular multi-media applications, such as Adobe Lightroom. To see how a board stacks up in the gaming arena, we benchmark using both Call of Duty: World at War and Half-Life 2: Episode Two.
We strongly feel that there is such thing as too many benchmarks when it comes to a motherboard review, so we keep things light, while still being able to offer definitive performance data.
In an attempt to offer “real-world” results, we do not utilize timedemos in any of our reviews. Each game in our test suite is benchmarked manually, with the minimum and average frames-per-second (FPS) captured with the help of FRAPS 2.9.6.
To deliver the best overall results, each title we use is exhaustively explored in order to find the best possible level in terms of intensiveness and replayability. Once a level is chosen, we play through repeatedly to find the best possible route and then in our official benchmarking, we stick to that route as close as possible. Since we are not robots and the game can throw in minor twists with each run, no run can be identical to the pixel.
Each game and setting combination is tested twice, and if there is a discrepancy between the initial results, the testing is repeated until we see results we are confident with.
The two games we currently use for our motherboard reviews are listed below, with direct screenshots of the game’s setting screens and explanations of why we chose what we did.
The Call of Duty series of war-shooters are without question some of the most gorgeous on the PC (and consoles), but what’s great is the fact that the games are also highly optimized, so no one has to max out their machine’s specs in order to play it. Since that’s the case, the in-game options are maxed out in all regards.
It might have been four-years-ago that we were able to play the first installment of the Half-Life 2 series, but it’s held up well with its new releases and engine upgrades. This is one title that thrives on both a fast CPU and GPU, and though it’s demanding at times, most any recent computer should be able to play the game with close to maxed-out detail settings, aside from the Anti-Aliasing.
In the case of very-recent mid-range cards, the game will run fine all the way up to 2560×1600 with maxed-out detail, minus Anti-Aliasing. All of our tested resolutions use identical settings, with 4xAA and 8xAF.
Synthetic benchmarks have typically been favored for performance testing, but the results they provide can be fairly abstract, and the methods they use to assign their scores can be dubious at times. By contrast, real-world application benchmarks provide performance metrics that apply directly to real-world usage, and we endeavor to apply both in our performance comparisons.
SYSmark 2007 Preview from BAPCo is a special case, because its synthetic scores are derived from tests in real-world applications. However, we still believe that synthetic benchmarking scores are best used to directly compare the performance of one piece of hardware to another, and not for developing an impression of real-world performance expectations. SYSmark is more useful than most synthetic benchmarking programs in our opinion, because its tests emulate tasks that people actually perform, in actual software programs that they are likely to use.
The benchmark is hands-free, using scripts to execute all of the real-world scenarios identically, such as video editing in Sony Vegas and image manipulation in Adobe Photoshop. At the conclusion of the suite of tests, five scores are delivered: an E-learning score, a Video Creation score, a Productivity score, and a 3D Performance score, as well as an aggregated ‘Overall’ score. These scores can still be fairly abstract, and are most useful for direct comparisons between test systems.
A quick note on methodology: SYSmark 2007 requires a clean install of Windows Vista 32-bit to run optimally. Before any testing is conducted, the hard drive is first wiped clean, and then a fresh Windows installation is conducted, then lastly, the necessary hardware drivers are installed. The ‘Three Iterations’ test suite is run, with the ‘Conditioning Run’ setting enabled. Then the results from the three runs are averaged and rounded up or down to the next whole number.
It’s very difficult to see differences in performance from a motherboard standpoint with SYSmark, but generally, very boards will lag very far behind. As far as the P6X58D is concerned, it’s top-rate.
When it comes to video transcoding, one of the best offerings on the market is TMPGEnc Xpress. Although a bit pricey, the software offers an incredible amount of flexibility and customization, not to mention superb format support. From the get go, you can output to DivX, DVD, Video-CD, Super Video-CD, HDV, QuickTime, MPEG, and more. It even goes as far as to include support for Blu-ray video!
There are a few reasons why we choose to use TMPGEnc for our tests. The first relates to the reasons laid out above. The sheer ease of use and flexibility is appreciated. Beyond that, the application does us a huge favor by tracking the encoding time, so that we can actually look away while an encode is taking place and not be afraid that we’ll miss the final encoding time. Believe it or not, not all transcoding applications work like this.
For our test, we take a 0.99GB high-quality DivX H.264 AVI video of Half-Life 2: Episode Two gameplay with stereo audio and transcode it to the same resolution of 720p (1280×720), but lower the bitrate in order to attain a modest filesize. Since the QX9770 we are using for testing supports the SSE4 instruction set, we enable it in the DivX control panel, which improves both the encoding time and quality.
Photo manipulation benchmarks are more relevant than ever, given the proliferation of high-end digital photography hardware. For this benchmark, we test the system’s handling of RAW photo data using Adobe Lightroom, an excellent RAW photo editor and organizer that’s easy to use and looks fantastic.
For our testing, we take 100 RAW files (in Nikon’s .NEF file format) which have a 10-megapixel resolution, and export them as JPEG files in 1000×669 resolution, similar to most of the photos we use here on the website. Such a result could also be easily distributed online or saved as a low-resolution backup. This test involves not only scaling of the image itself, but encoding in a different image format. The test is timed indirectly using a stopwatch, and times are accurate to within +/- 0.25 seconds.
Autodesk’s 3ds Max is without question an industry standard when it comes to 3D modeling and animation, with DreamWorks, BioWare and Blizzard Entertainment being a few of its notable users. It’s a multi-threaded application that’s designed to be right at home on multi-core and multi-processor workstations or render farms, so it easily tasks even the biggest system we can currently throw at it.
For our testing, we use two project files that are designed to last long enough to find any weakness in our setup and also allows us to find a result that’s easily comparable between both motherboards and processors. The first project is a dog model included on recent 3ds Max DVD’s, which we infused with some Techgage flavor.
Our second project is a Bathroom scene that makes heavy use of ray tracing. Like the dog model, this one is also included with the application’s sample files DVD. The dog is rendered at a 1400×1050 resolution, while the Bathroom is rendered as 1080p (1920×1080).
The differences as usual are exceptionally minor… a good thing.
While application performance shouldn’t vary much between motherboards, one area where we can see greater differences is with synthetic benchmarks – at least with those that test both the storage and memory bandwidth/latency. Even still, if differences are seen, you are very unlikely to notice the difference in real-world usage, unless the performance hit is significant, which we’ve not found on any board we’ve tested in the past.
To test the storage I/O, we use a tool that we’ve been using for a number of years, HD Tune. The developer released a “Pro” version not long ago, so that’s what we are using for all of our storage-related benchmarking. The drive being tested is a secondary, installed into the first available Slave port, and is not the drive with the OS installed. To avoid potential latency, the drive is tested once Vista is idle for at least five minutes, and CPU usage remains stable at >1%.
It’s safe to say that for the most part, differences seen in I/O tests is minimal, as this graph shows. All winners and no losers, which is what we’d hope to see.
Yet another classic tool from our toolbox, SiSoftware’s Sandra is one of the ultimate benchmarking sidekicks around, allowing us to test almost every-single component in our PC, from CPU to GPU to memory to storage. In the case of our motherboard reviews, we stick with the memory bandwidth and latency tests, since its an area where some differences could very-well be seen.
As mentioned above, the results here don’t represent real-world performance, and if one motherboard sees the memory 4ns slower, the chances of you noticing the hit in real usage is highly unlikely, if not impossible. If any scenario would be effected, it would be processes that last the course of a few hours, not a few minutes.
Like most of our tests here, the results shown above are quite minimal, with the largest differences being around 500MB/s. That’s not too significant when dealing with 20,000MB/s+, and given that no realistic desktop scenario will ever touch that kind of bandwidth (at least today), it’s safe to say all the boards perform near-identically.
While some popular game franchises are struggling to keep themselves healthy, Call of Duty doesn’t have much to worry about. This is Treyarch’s third go at a game in the series, and a first for one that’s featured on the PC. All worries leading up to this title were all for naught, though, as Treyarch delivered on all promises.
To help keep things fresh, CoD: World at War focuses on battles not exhaustively explored in previous WWII-inspired games. These include battles which take place in the Pacific region, Russia and Berlin, and variety is definitely something this game pulls off well, so it’s unlikely you’ll be off your toes until the end of the game.
For our testing, we use a level called “Relentless”, as it’s easily one of the most intensive levels in the game. It features tanks, a large forest environment and even a few explosions. This level depicts the Battle of Peleliu, where American soldiers advance to capture an airstrip from the Japanese. It’s a level that’s both exciting to play and one that can bring even high-end systems to their knees.
The original Half-Life 2 might have first seen the light of day close to four years ago, but it’s still arguably one of the greatest-looking games ever seen on the PC. Follow-up versions, including Episode One and Episode Two, do well to put the Source Engine upgrades to full use. While playing, it’s hard to believe that the game is based on a four+ year old engine, but it still looks great and runs well on almost any GPU purchased over the past few years.
Like Call of Duty, Half-Life 2: Episode Two runs well on modest hardware, but a recent mid-range graphics card is recommended if you wish to play at higher than 1680×1050 or would like to top out the available options, including anti-aliasing and very high texture settings.
As we’d expect, no motherboard is really going to improve gaming a great deal, and that’s a good thing. The same for the most part goes for the CPU, although even that will affect things far greater than most motherboards will.
Before tackling our overclocking results, let’s first clear up what we consider to be a real overclock and how we go about achieving it. If you regularly read our processor reviews, you may already be aware that I personally don’t care for an unstable overclock. It might look good on paper, but if it’s not stable, then it won’t be used. Very few people purchase a new piece of equipment for the sole purpose of finding the maximum overclock, which is why we focus on finding what’s stable and usable.
To help find the maximum stable overclock on any given motherboard, we focus on sticking to the simpler voltages, such as the ones for the Northbridge and CPU, and also the DIMM if it’s required. We try to work within safe limits, because anything too high is going to only kill your hardware faster. Luckily, all computer components nowadays are designed to handle some abuse, so you never need a lot of voltage to get anywhere.
With Core i7, more factors can come into play with overclocking, but we focus on increasing the Base Clock first and foremost, just like we focus on the Front-Side Bus on Core 2 motherboards. Our goal is to keep voltages are low as possible while reaching the highest stable overclock. Areas where we will increase voltage if needed is the CPU, Northbridge and QPI.
As mentioned on the intro page, although we benchmarked with our Core i7-965 for the performance results, we popped in the Core i7-980X for the sake of overclocking since it’s newer, and overclocks a lot better than our early-silicon i7-965 does. When I overclock, I usually try to go as far as I can without touching the voltage, but for the sake of this article, I wanted to fore go that idea and just see how far I could go while not going overboard on the voltage.
After a fair amount of tinkering, I found the sweet spot to be around 1.36V for the voltage (ASUS’ tuner software states 1.38750V, but CPU-Z shows the more likely value to be 1.36V) which allowed a fully stable 4.14GHz overclock. At that clock speed, it’s nearly 100MHz more than what we saw with Gigabyte’s X58A-UD5, which we used for the sake of benchmarking the Core i7-980X in our launch article.
The P6X58D Premium’s sole purpose might not be for overclocking, but as evidenced here, it can push a six-core CPU to a fully stable 4.14GHz overclock, so I’d consider that impressive. I have doubts that many people would even want to go much past this, but if you do want to spend the time with tweaking, you could likely get it even higher.
It goes without saying that power efficiency is at the forefront of many consumers’ minds today, and for good reason. Whether you are trying to save money or the environment – or both – it’s good to know just how much effort certain vendors are putting into their products to help them excel in this area. ASUS and Gigabyte are two that immediately come to mind that have put a lot of R&D into this, and I’m sure with their leadership, power consumption will consistently get better.
To help see what kind of wattage a given motherboard eats on average, we use a Kill-A-Watt that’s plugged into a power bar that’s in turn plugged into one of the wall sockets, with the test system plugged directly into that. The monitor and other components are plugged into the other socket and is not connected to the Kill-A-Watt. For our system specifications, please refer to our methodology page.
To test, the computer is first boot up and left to sit at idle for five minutes, at which point the current wattage is recorded if stable. To test for full CPU load, eight instances of SP2004 are run using the Small FFT test, one for each thread. For our last test, four of those instances are closed while an “Extreme” run of 3DMark Vantage is performed, which would mimic usage of a game that makes heavy use of the CPU.
For the most part, no X58 motherboard dominates the rest where power consumption is concerned, except perhaps Intel’s DX58SO. Sadly, that’s due to the lack of features rather than impressive power efficiency. Overall, the P6X58D sides pretty much alongside the P6T Deluxe (a fairly similar board in terms of goals and features).
As impressive as any $300 motherboard might be, it’s always difficult as a reviewer to outright recommend one based on the cost alone. After all, there are many X58 offerings out there that cost much less, and still include USB and SATA 3.0. So what exactly does the P6X58D Premium offer over all the rest?
It’s certainly not just one thing, but many small things that when combined deliver a very refined end product. ASUS has numerous technologies that it packs into its higher-end boards, both hardware and software-based, and most of them are actually very useful, and not just there for marketing reasons.
MemOK! is an example of this. That’s a feature that allows you to push a button on the motherboard that will put memory settings to a failsafe mode in order for the PC to boot up. So if you have a kit that for some reason doesn’t agree with your board, it should boot up with MemOK! (unfortunately I haven’t had the opportunity to use this feature as all of our memory kits agree with the board just fine).
A lot of what goes into the premium gets pushed towards the overclocking aspect. While maybe not the first board hardcore overclockers would rush to, the P6X58D Premium is very capable of achieving huge overclocks. Our particular sample managed to push our Core i7-980X to 4.14GHz with modest voltage (8 hours LinX stable). Again, this is an area where there are many reasons for the effectiveness of overclocking, from the phase layout and underlying design to the very robust and sometimes exhaustive BIOS.
In addition to all this, the board includes more than enough peripheral connectivity, a nearly-perfect board layout and screams “complete”, despite the lack of interesting add-ons that ASUS has become known for. If you’re looking to dive deep into X58 and want one of the best boards out there, the P6X58D Premium is well worth a look. If you’re not quite gung-ho on spending $300 on a motherboard, there are alternatives out there to choose from, even from ASUS itself.
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