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EVGA P55 FTW

Date: December 21, 2009
Author(s): Rob Williams

It’s been a while since I last took a look at a motherboard that I knew I wanted in my own machine, but EVGA’s P55 FTW ended that drought. The board lacks S-ATA and USB 3.0, but it has everything else, from great aesthetics and design to impressive overclocking, along with a handful of useful features not often found on the competition’s boards.



Introduction

In our review of Intel’s DP55WG late last month, I mentioned that we’d be working to get a better mixture of motherboard vendors on the site, since we do tend to take a look at many offerings from ASUS and Gigabyte (in our defence, most of these are sent without us knowing first), and to help us keep that promise, we have a board from EVGA we’ve put through its paces.

When I asked EVGA for this particular board, I admit I didn’t know much about it, except that it was popular. So when I received it, and felt a heavy box, I immediately thought, “This board is going to be expensive.” You see, I have been trying to focus more on boards in the $150 – $200 range, because I am increasingly finding that to be the sweet spot lately. Not to mention, there’s only so many people who want to spend upwards of $300 on a board. And yes, I really did jump to conclusions on the price based on the weight of the box alone.

Before I tore the board out of its box, I hit up a popular e-tailer to get an idea on its exact pricing. Sure enough… upwards of $300. Then I began looking over the board, and I could start to understand why it may be worth more than $200, based on its design, and accessories. It wasn’t until long after the testing was completed that I realized I had the pricing all wrong. This board wasn’t $300 at all, but rather $230… much better. It turns out that I originally was looking at the “200” version of the board, which is much more expensive.

It’s not all too often that I’m impressed with a motherboard before even installing it, but this is one of the rarer exceptions. At first glance, the P55 FTW looks like pure quality, and it even “feels” like quality, with everything from the packaging, the board, to the anti-static individual packages for each included accessory.

Closer Look at EVGA’s P55 FTW

If I had to form an overall opinion on a motherboard based on looks alone, I’d have to give the P55 FTW high marks right off the bat. I’m a sucker for dark color schemes, and this board hits all the right marks. It’s pure black, with a little bit of gray mixed in. The only other color found is the blue on the capacitors, and the varying colors on the ATX and USB connectors.

Compared to most motherboards I’ve dealt with in recent months, this one is special in a few ways. First, you’ll notice that there are not one, but two sets of ATX chassis connectors (where you plug your power and reset buttons into), along with a few buttons and an interesting screen in the middle (this is an LED that pulses EVGA’s logo, whether the PC is turned on or not).

Of all that’s interesting here, I’d have to argue that what stands out is the fact that the board includes not one, but two 8-Pin motherboard connectors, along with an option to plug in a Molex connector as well. If overclocking isn’t important to you, these aren’t needed, but it’s clear that EVGA is anxious to cater to a particular crowd.

There’s not too much to be surprised about at the board’s bottom right-hand corner, except for the double ATX chassis connectors. At first, I was stumped as to the reason behind this, but it became obvious quick, and I’ll touch on that in a moment. Also here is a highly-appreciated BIOS readout (BIOS error codes are found in the included manual), along with 3x USB 2.0 internal headers and 1x FireWire.

EVGA offers three different versions of the P55 FTW, and this one (non-“200” and non-“Classified”) is the least-expensive of the bunch, and where that becomes noticeable is with the cutting back on the number of ports, such as S-ATA. While many boards have been offering eight as of late, this one offers six.

At the top right-hand corner of the board we see the 4x DIMM slots as we’d expect, along with a couple of fan connectors. Though somewhat difficult to see, there are a handful of LEDs directly above the DIMM slots which each correspond to a specific component on the motherboard. If a problem arises with any, the LED will light up to let you know.

Continued Tour of the Board

Many mid-range and higher motherboards today normally include at least 7 PCI/PCI-E slots, but this one again scales things back to just six, which for most people will still be fine. Of these, three are of the PCI-E 16x form-factor, meaning they’re perfectly suitable for multi-GPU, while two others are legacy PCI slots, with the one on the absolute top being PCI-E 1x.

EVGA designed this board in such a way that a dual-GPU + PhysX dedicated card configuration could be used. If you take that route with dual-slot cards, both legacy PCI slots will be wiped out. You will retain the PCI slot at the bottom if you use a modest card, like a 9600/9800 GT, however. But anything higher than that will likely be equipped with a dual-slot cooler, and unless you plan to cool it with a water-block that doesn’t protrude further outward than a single-slot cooler, the PCI slot is going to be covered.

The lack of depth-of-field in this photo is terrible, but underneath the bottom slot, you can see four buttons. The left-most “switch”, to the right of the internal speaker, is for switching to the second or BIOS and back. The two round buttons are for power and reset, while the small red button is to clear the BIOS in the event of an overclock gone way wrong.

During a meeting I had a couple of months ago with EVGA, one thing that was pointed out to me was that the company looks at many different ways to improve a motherboard, and not just take the road of simple bling additions. One thing mentioned that I wouldn’t likely have noticed otherwise is the different filter cap layout inside of the socket. I looked around at different P55 boards here, and sure enough, the internal caps are different than the others. EVGA claims that these help provide even cleaner power to the CPU, and it’s probably up to you to decide whether or not its solution is better than the others.

Aside from the socket modifications, EVGA has prepped this board with a 12+2 power phase design, with the 2 being dedicated to the processor’s internal memory controller. And of course, who can miss the interesting heatsink design, which like the rest of the board, is pure black and looks great.

So far in our trip around the board, we’ve seen slightly less S-ATA ports than we’ve seen recently on other P55 boards, and also one less PCI-E slot. The back I/O panel continues this tradition, with just six USB 2.0 ports, compared to 8 – 10 on other boards. To be fair, this isn’t going to be considered a lacking feature for most people, and when USB ports are added by way of the chassis (and more if you add in other front panels/accessories), I’m willing to bet there will be few complaints.

Also on the back panel we see a PS/2 keyboard, 2x eSATA, 1x FireWire, 2x LAN, 8-channel audio (in and out S/PDIF) and another CMOS reset button.

There’s been a fair bit up to this point that helps EVGA stand out from the crowd, but the ECP (EVGA Control Panel) is easily the most noticeable. Quite simply, this is a front-panel module that can be installed into a floppy bay with a little bit of work (unfortunately, no mounting bracket is included), or simply used when the board is outside of a chassis.

This panel has a few duplicate buttons (yet another CMOS reset!), but it has a couple of unique abilities at the same time. First, the three blue buttons. When each one is pushed, ~0.1V will be added to the CPU voltage, so ~0.3V total if all are pushed in. According to the BIOS, pushing all three increased the voltage closer to 0.2V, but this all likely depends on your particular configuration, and the amount of voltage that’s already being applied.

In order to allow overclockers the ultimate in control, there’s also “PCIE Disable” switches which do exactly as you’d expect. Each switch corresponds to a particular PCI-E slot, and if overclockers want to increase their chances of ultra-high clocks, then any of the slots can be disabled on the fly (it could be assumed that most wouldn’t want to disable their primary, for the sake of having video).

All of the board’s included accessories are laid out below, with the two cables to the absolute right-hand side of the photo being related to this ECP. For basic control, the thick cable has to be used (it looks like a thinner floppy IDE cable), while for PCI-E control, the red/black one must also be used. The larger of the two cables plugs directly into the second ATX chassis connector on the board.

Along with those two cables, EVGA includes six S-ATA, an internal PCI bracket for additional USB and FireWire functionality, two 4-Pin Molex to 2x S-ATA power adapters, the back I/O protector, and of course, the manual and driver DVD.

As a whole, I’m quite impressed with the board from an aesthetics, design and packaging standpoint. I’ve been impressed with these things from EVGA in the past, but this board kicks things up a notch. When even the packaging is taken into consideration, you know that a company takes things seriously. Though not pictured, EVGA packages each individual accessory into its own anti-static bag, which is silver on one side, with EVGA’s branding, and see-thru on the other. Yes, this is simple, and for the most part, non-important, but it sure does look good and instill a feeling of quality.

Then there’s the board itself, which includes quite a few minor features that aren’t typically seen on other boards, and it’s quite noticeable. Companies such as ASUS and Gigabyte always have a scroll’s worth of features that their boards include, but most of them are either software or hardware (as in a chip on the board) based. EVGA would rather talk about the features that most people can relate to, and actually see, or even touch, in the case of the ECP 2.

So, the important question… does the BIOS deliver like the rest of the board does?

Look at the BIOS

Like many other motherboard vendors, EVGA uses a completely recognizable AMI BIOS. I’ve come to prefer alternate styles, such as the one found on ASUS’ boards, as I find them less clunky (top-mounted menu, as opposed to this), but this still gets the job done. Interestingly, even though EVGA has an obvious like for overclocking, the respective menu is found at the absolute end of the list.

Overclocking has become an obvious focus for a lot of motherboard vendors over the past few years, and it’s easily reflected by simply taking a look at the BIOS. More than ever, the sheer amount of control offered to end-users is incredible, and in the case for most users, it’s total overkill. But that being the case, it’s not a bad thing. The control is there for those who want it. If you don’t, it can be ignored.

Compared to any of the P55 boards I’ve taken a look at recently, and possibly compared to any board I’ve ever looked at, the BIOS on the P55 FTW is exhaustive with its options. Most settings will appeal to overclockers only, but to see such incredible control on a ~$200 board is fantastic, even if most people will never touch even 5% of what’s available here.

One area where EVGA’s BIOS excels is with the fan control. In the “Hardware Health” section, you are able to configure your fans on a per-header basis. You first need to alter various thresholds, and then manually enter the percentage of top speed that you’d like to use at that respective threshold. This is a little more advanced than most people may like, but as you can see in the shots below, the default settings are sensible (but if you have a high RPM fan, you may want to lower some of the values).

I’ll let the screenshots speak for themselves, but I think it goes without saying, EVGA has easily offered one of the most robust BIOSes on the market, if not the most.

Test System & Methodology

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.

Test System

The table below lists the hardware for our current motherboard-testing machine, which remains unchanged throughout all testing, with the exception of the motherboard. Each motherboard 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.

Component
Intel LGA1156 Test System
ProcessorsIntel Core i7-870 – Quad-Core, 2.93GHz, ~1.25v
Motherboard
ASUS P7P55D Pro – P55-based, 0606 BIOS (09/08/09)
ASUS P7P55D-E Pro – P55-based, 0501 BIOS (11/27/09)
EVGA P55 FTW – P55-based, A39 BIOS (10/26/09)
Gigabyte P55-UD5 – P55-based, F3 BIOS (08/01/09)
Gigabyte P55A-UD4P – P55-based, F4 BIOS (11/09/09)
Intel DP55WG – P55-based, 3878 BIOS (10/28/09)
Memory
Corsair XMS3 DHX 2x2GB – DDR3-1333 7-7-7-20-2T, 1.65v
Graphics
Sapphire Radeon HD 4890 1GB (Catalyst 9.9)
Audio
On-Board Audio
Storage
Intel X-25M 80GB SSD
Seagate Barracuda 500GB 7200.11
Power Supply
Corsair HX1000W
Chassis
SilverStone TJ10 Full-Tower
Display
Gateway XHD3000 30″
Cooling
Intel Stock LGA1156 Cooler
Thermalright MUX-120 (Overclocking)
Et cetera
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit

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

Because it gives a more realistic interpretation of motherboard/CPU performance, we leave all of the power-related options in the BIOS to their default selection. This means that for Intel boards, SpeedStep is left in tact, and Cool’n’Quiet for AMD-based boards.


Our Windows 7 Desktop for Motherboard-Testing

To aide with the goal of keeping accurate and repeatable results, we alter certain services in Windows 7 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.

Application Benchmarks

To help test out the real performance benefits of a given processor, we run a large collection of both real-world and synthetic benchmarks, including 3ds Max 2010, Adobe Lightroom 2.5, ATTO, PCMark Vantage, Sandra 2009, WinRAR and more.

Our ultimate goal is always to find out which processor excels in a given scenario and why. Running all of the applications in our carefully-chosen suite can help better give us answers to those questions. Aside from application data, we also run two common games to see how performance scales there, including Call of Duty: World at War and Crysis Warhead. For a synthetic point-of-view, we also use Futuremark’s 3DMark Vantage.

Game Benchmarks

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 2.9.9.

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.

Call of Duty: World at War

Crysis Warhead

Although the screenshots reflect a 1680×1050 resolution, we also test using 2560×1600.

System: SYSmark 2007 Preview

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 7 64-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.

Like most of the motherboard benchmarks we run, the results don’t vary too much from board to board, which is a good thing. If a board happened to score far below what the others do, then we’d see a problem. The P55 FTW experiences no such thing.

System: PCMark Vantage

Futuremark is no stranger to most any enthusiast out there, as the company’s benchmarks have been used to gauge our PC’s worth for many years. Although the company’s 3DMark Vantage (which we also use for testing) is arguably more popular than PCMark Vantage, the latter is a great tool to measure a system’s overall performance across many different scenarios.

Unlike SYSmark, PCMark is more of a synthetic benchmark, as very little is seen to the user during the run. However, each test tackles a specific and common scenario that’s typical of many computer users – enthusiasts and regular users alike – such as photo manipulation, gaming, music conversion, productivity, et cetera.

The main problem right now with PCMark is its inability (at least for us) to produce an overall score when being run under Windows 7. Even when run in compatibility mode (which is required by 3DMark), the application will crash during the Memories test, despite that particular test executing fine when run as its own suite. So, no overall score is produced, but the seven individual scores are.

While SYSmark uses modest numbers for their scoring, ranging in the hundreds, Futuremark opts for much higher scores with their entire suite, with the lowest being the TV and Movies, ranging around the 6,000 mark. On the high-end, our Intel SSD is capable of pushing the test’s HDD scenario well beyond 20,000.

As we’d expect, the boards here flip/flop their strengths and weaknesses here, although neither could be considered bad in any scenario. A difference of less than 5% in a given scenario isn’t going to be easy to recognize in a real-world test.

Multi-Media: Adobe Lightroom, 3ds Max 2010, TMPGEnc XPress

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 3ds Max 2010

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. This is rendered at an 1100×825 resolution.

TMPGEnc Xpress 4.5

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 bit rate in order to attain a modest file size. This test also utilizes the SSE instruction sets, either SSE2 or SSE4, depending on what the chip supports.

Once again, with results so close, it’s hard to pick a board out of the pile and declare it a winner.

Storage & Memory: ATTO, 7-Zip, Sandra

In the world of benchmarking, there seem to be many tools that can accomplish the same thing as a hundred others, and where storage is concerned, that couldn’t be more true. Although we’ve used HD Tune Pro, HD Tach and others in the past, we’ve opted to begin using ATTO, as it’s incredibly lightweight (at less than 100KB), yet offers a fair amount of flexibility.

For our run with ATTO, we leave all options at default, except the Queue Depth, which is increased to the max value of 10. It’s also important to note that we’re benchmarking the OS drive, which happens to be Intel’s X25-M 80GB (Gen 1).

7-Zip

Thinking back about a decade ago, archiving applications were kind of scarce. Well, the free ones were. Applications such as WinRAR and WinZIP have been available for a while, but a free solution is going to appeal to a far greater audience, especially if you don’t need or want the extra features that come included with the aforementioned options.

While 7-Zip may not be the most robust archiver out there, in looks or in features, it’s free, and offers a great amount of functionality and performance given that fact. For our test with 7-Zip, we take a 4GB folder littered with just over 5,000 files and archive it to our secondary drive, the mechanical Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 500GB.

SiSoftware Sandra 2009 SP4

Like Futuremark, SiSoftware is another company that needs no introduction. As far back as I can remember using Windows, I was using Sandra to check up on my machine, and to stress it. Over time, the company has added in numerous ways to benchmark your PC, and there’s pretty much nothing it can’t tackle. The company even recently added in GPGPU benchmarking, so they’re really on top of things.

There’s nothing out of the ordinary here with any of the results, although it seems rather clear that when dealing with SSDs, the storage performance can vary quite a bit from board to board and situation to situation.

Gaming: CoD: World at War, Crysis Warhead, 3DMark Vantage

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.

Crysis Warhead

As PC enthusiasts, we tend to be drawn to games that offer spectacular graphics… titles that help reaffirm your belief that shelling out lots of cash for that high-end monitor and PC was well worth it. But it’s rare when a game comes along that is so visually-demanding, it’s unable to run fully maxed out on even the highest-end systems on the market. In the case of the original Crysis, it’s easy to see that’s what Crytek was going for.

Funny enough, even though Crysis was released close to a year ago, the game today still has difficulty running at 2560×1600 with full detail settings – and that’s even with overlooking the use of anti-aliasing! Luckily, Warhead is better optimized and will run smoother on almost any GPU, despite looking just as gorgeous as its predecessor, as you can see in the screenshot below.

The game includes four basic profiles to help you adjust the settings based on how good your system is. These include Entry, Mainstream, Gamer and Enthusiast – the latter of which is for the biggest of systems out there, unless you have a sweet graphics card and are only running 1680×1050. We run our tests at the Gamer setting as it’s very demanding on any current GPU and is a proper baseline of the level of detail that hardcore gamers would demand from the game.

Futuremark 3DMark Vantage

Although we generally shun automated gaming benchmarks, we do like to run at least one to see how our GPUs scale when used in a ‘timedemo’-type scenario. Futuremark’s 3DMark Vantage is without question the best such test on the market, and it’s a joy to use, and watch. The folks at Futuremark are experts in what they do, and they really know how to push that hardware of yours to its limit.

The company first started out as MadOnion and released a GPU-benchmarking tool called XLR8R, which was soon replaced with 3DMark 99. Since that time, we’ve seen seven different versions of the software, including two major updates (3DMark 99 Max, 3DMark 2001 SE). With each new release, the graphics get better, the capabilities get better and the sudden hit of ambition to get down and dirty with overclocking comes at you fast.

Similar to a real game, 3DMark Vantage offers many configuration options, although many (including us) prefer to stick to the profiles which include Performance, High and Extreme. Depending on which one you choose, the graphic options are tweaked accordingly, as well as the resolution. As you’d expect, the better the profile, the more intensive the test.

Performance is the stock mode that most use when benchmarking, but it only uses a resolution of 1280×1024, which isn’t representative of today’s gamers. Extreme is more appropriate, as it runs at 1920×1200 and does well to push any single or multi-GPU configuration currently on the market – and will do so for some time to come.

Like the vast majority of our benchmarks throughout this review, neither motherboard totally overcomes the other in terms of performance, and gaming isn’t much different.

Overclocking EVGA’s P55 FTW

Before we get into our overclocking results, allow me to clarify how we do things. In order to declare an overclock as “stable”, we stress it as hard as possible for a certain period of time, both with CPU-related tests and also GPU-related, to conclude on what we’ll be confident is 100% stability throughout all possible computing scenarios.

For the sake of CPU stress-testing, we use LinX. Compared to other popular CPU stress-testers, LinX’s tests are far more gruelling, and proof of that is seen by the fact that it manages to heat the CPU up to 20°C hotter than competing applications, like SP2004. Generally, if the CPU survives the first half-hour of this stress, there’s a good chance that it’s mostly stable.

If the CPU stress passes without error, then GPU stress-testing begins, in order to assure a system-wide stable overclock. To test for this, 3DMark Vantage’s Extreme test is used, with the increased resolution of 2560×1600, looped nine times. If this passes, some time is dedicated to real-world game testing, to make sure that gaming is just as stable as it would be if the CPU were at stock. If both these CPU and GPU tests pass without issue, we can confidently declare a stable overclock.

Overclocking with EVGA’s P55 FTW

For some reason, when I took a look at EVGA’s X58 SLI board earlier this year, I seemed to be the only one on planet earth who had a rough time overclocking it. Similar to Intel boards, I just couldn’t reach a stable overclock very easily, no matter how modest. So for that reason, I was a bit skeptical about jumping into overclocking on this board, but fortunately, my experience from the X58 SLI didn’t carry over into this one.

While I’m not a novice overclocker, I’m not one who takes things ultra-seriously, either. So, I don’t exhaust all of the options in the BIOS in order to maximize the overclock, primarily due to time and lack of reason. Also, since I tend to battle with higher-than-normal room temperatures (something that plagues me all too often), I can’t seem to reach an impressive top-end overclock lately. Normally, 3.7 – 3.8GHz is generally were my max stable clock lays.

One thing I noticed about overclocking with this board is that the Turbo is not included into the equation, as it is with recent ASUS and Gigabyte boards I’ve looked at. On those other boards, even though the Core i7-870’s default multiplier is 22x, its Turbo multiplier is 24x, and that’s what the boards use when choosing a manual bus speed.

Since that’s not the case here, the multiplier is always 22x, which simply means you need to have a higher bus speed. This isn’t likely to affect your desired CPU frequency, but if you are an extreme OC’er, it may (I am uncertain of how high the bus speed can typically go on P55 boards, but my experience has ranged between 190 – 210MHz for stable operation).

Due to time constraints, I wasn’t able to dedicate as much time to overclocking the board as I’d like, but without too much effort, I was able to hit 4.20GHz moderately stable (7 passes of LinX, then fail). I’m certain that with more caressing, that can become even more stable, and higher clocks could even be reached. To hit 4.2GHz with such ease though is impressive, and if you don’t ever plan to go that high, hitting whatever clock you have your sights on should prove even easier.

To report our overclock, I normally show a CPU-Z screenshot above, and if you aren’t familiar with “E-LEET”, then you might immediately think that’s what is up there. But rather, this is EVGA’s overclocking tool, which mimics the aforementioned CPU-Z. The tabs up top allow the usual overclocking options, for those who prefer to do things in software. I am not one of those people, however, so I stuck to the BIOS for all of the overclocking I did with this board. EVGA’s tool is nice, but when you are toying around with potentially unstable clocks, the quicker method is dealing with the BIOS, not booting up into Windows each time.

Power Consumption, Final Thoughts

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. Both AMD and Intel have worked hard to develop efficient chips, and that’s evident with each new launch. The CPUs are getting faster, and use less power, and hopefully things will stay that way.

To help see what kind of wattage a given processor draws 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, LinX is run with 2560MB memory usage for a total of five minutes. During that run, the highest point the wattage reaches on the meter is captured and becomes our “Max Load”.

I’m not sure how I can begin to figure this one out. Despite the fact that EVGA’s board is more robust overall in terms of “bling” (namely, the external ECP 2 and also the pulsating EVGA “heart”), it proved to be the best for idle power consumption by a rather fair amount, while at load, it nearly matches the barebones Intel DP55WG. This is is a fantastic showing for EVGA, especially since it’s the others who tout improved power efficiency like there’s no tomorrow.

Final Thoughts

In talking to a representative at one of the largest motherboard vendors earlier this year (will remain nameless), something interesting snuck up in the discussion. For the enthusiast space, ASUS and Gigabyte are the biggest competitors, but who I talked to at one of these companies didn’t consider the other to be their biggest threat. Rather, it was noted that their biggest threat was EVGA. This surprised me, but after taking a look at this board, I’m having an easier time putting it all together.For a company that hasn’t been producing motherboards for near as long as the others, EVGA sure has come a long way in the past couple of years. Hands down, the P55 FTW is best P55 motherboard I’ve reviewed to date, and if I were to go out right now and pick out such a board for a personal LGA1156 rig, this is the one I’d pick up. From all perspectives, it’s quality, and despite that quality, it’s priced right.

Current pricing on the P55 FTW puts this board at $230 before a mail-in-rebate, and between $185 – $210 after the fact. Before a MIR, this board is a bit more expensive than all of the previous P55 boards I’ve taken a look at since the platform’s launch, but despite that, I feel that the premium is worth it, as the extra care EVGA has taken shines through in numerous ways.

Most important, the board has a common-sense design, and I couldn’t find a problem with component placing, nor had an issue with installation. To improve the general design further, EVGA took extra steps to set its board apart. First, the board includes not just one, but two 8-Pin motherboard connectors, for those with power supplies that happen to include two. There’s also the optional Molex on-board power connector. These, along with the 12+2 power phase solution and modified socket show that EVGA cares a lot about clean power delivery, especially when overclocking is concerned.

The power solution aside, EVGA includes other features that enthusiasts will enjoy, such as the LED BIOS code readout, the on-board power and reset buttons, not one, but a total of two locations for a CMOS clear button (three with the ECP 2), and even a dual-BIOS, just in case something happens to go wrong with one of them. For overclockers, the most notable feature is the ECP 2, which not only allows you to increase voltage to the CPU on the fly, but even disable PCI-E ports. These are features I’d never expect to see on a ~$200 offering.

Of course, if aesthetics matter to you, then chances are the board will continue to impress. If I could design my own motherboard, I’d choose similar colors as EVGA did here, because it looks great overall, and it really makes you want to use a chassis with a window, especially since the EVGA pulsating logo in the middle adds to the overall cool-factor.

Along with all this, the BIOS is incredibly robust, and so is the performance. While I tend to gravitate more towards boards around the $150 – $175 area for personal machines, this board impressed me enough to not care quite as much about the extra cost, because everything from the performance to the design to the presentation is top-rate. I never expected to ever be impressed by simple packaging, but I was here.

The downsides to this board are few, but if you’re someone who has more than 6 hard drives / ODDs to deal with, then the limited number here will be an issue. For USB, even though there are only 6 on the back panel, I can’t see that as being a problem for many, as four more can be added by way of your chassis’ front panel and also the add-in accessory EVGA includes.

Another downside that stands out is going to affect very few, and that’s if you have three dual-slot GPUs installed, you will rid out all of the slots except a single PCI-E x1. If you happen to be interested in taking the dual-GPU + PhysX card route, it’s recommended you use a modest card for PhysX, such as a 9600 GT or 9800 GT, which both use single-slot coolers.

There’s also the omission of S-ATA 3.0 (Gbit/s) and USB 3.0, so if those technologies are important to you (probably not at this point in time), then you might want to keep it in mind. Both features can be added in later with an add-in card, though, so if it either technology becomes necessary to you in the future, you’re not going to be out of luck.

When all said and done, this board impressed me a lot more than I was expecting. As I mentioned, if I were in the market to pick up a P55 board, this would be that one. That speaks for itself.


EVGA P55 FTW

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