Friday, July 16, 2010

Asus P7P55D Deluxe Motherboard and U3S6 Add-on Card Review

Is it computer upgrade time? Some of you may have realized, especially in our current economy, that upgrading your computer is cheaper than buying a new one. After all, you already have most of the components, such as the case, power supply, DVD burner, and hard drive. Upgrading your processor and motherboard can give you a big boost in performance, depending on how old your current processor is.

One thing to keep in mind when upgrading is quality and compatibility. You don't want the motherboard to have compatibility issues with your other components. And you also want the motherboard to be one that will last for years. One company that has a great reputation for both quality and compatibility is ASUS. Up for review is the ASUS P7P55D Deluxe. The reference components used comprises of:

Intel Core i3 540 processor
P7P55D Deluxe motherboard
Corsair XMS3 DDR3-1600 2GBx2 Dual-Channel memory kit
Powercolor HD5450 video card
Western Digital Raptor 74GB HDD
Asus U3S6 USB 3.0 and SATA 3.0 add-on card
Silverstone Decathlon 1000W power supply.

Not only is the ASUS P7P55D Deluxe a high quality and highly compatible motherboard, it is also loaded in features. These features include:
1) Auto Tuning
3) Mem Ok!
4) VRM
5) T-Probe
6) EPU
7) Q Design

Auto tuning - This is a unique feature that is actually hardware driven, using the TurboV EVO chip. To get all the performance that you can from your processor, many individuals will turn to overclocking. ASUS has one of the best, if not the best, method of overclocking. When it comes to overclocking, it can be complicated if you want to the max overclock you can, involving multipliers, voltages, timings, etc. And once you find correct stable settings for your processor, you also need stable settings for your memory. But that does not mean that the other components such as video card, will be able to handle the overclock. ASUS like other motherboard manufacturers, have overclock utilities so that beginners can have some fun overclocking. ASUS takes a much better approach. It actually involves a hardware chip on the motherboard that not only monitors the settings of the motherboard and memory to get a stable overclock, it also checks your other components to make sure they won't have any problems with your overclock settings and cause an unstable overclock. That way you know that your overclock settings actually will be stable if it passes the Auto Tuning checks. You enter the Auto Tuning through the TurboV Evo App.

QLED are the status LED's that show if a component has a problem such as seating.

MemOK! adjusts the memory settings. To save some cash many of us may purchase cheap memory. Cheap memory however can have compatibility issues. MemOK! will check compatibility of the memory. If there are issues, it can adjust the settings so that the memory can at least be used. With other manufacturers, you would be off to the store to buy new memory.

VRM is a switching phase power design (16 + 3 phase).

T-Probe is a unique temperature monitoring per phase. Typically loads are dispersed evenly in the phases. Often times there are hot spots in the phases. T-Probe can distribute the load based on the temperature.

EPU can change your fan profiles with multiple fan users, as well as power settings.

Q Design is a user friendly slot design. For example, memory slots typically have two retaining clips that you push to release the memory sticks, but the P7P55D Deluxe only has one per card. The video card slots also have simple push down retaining clip without any kind of locking mechanism, which can break or be difficult to get at to get unlocked if you need to get your card out.

Aside from features, the board has some great quality and features. ASUS includes anti-static resistors next to the in/out connectors to protect against static discharge when connecting external devices. There is also back plating on the board for additional cooling.

The board also comes with quite a bit. The packaging is first rate, and the manuals are easy to read. The performance was good too. I highly DO NOT recommend doing this, but I was able to overclock it to 3.7GHz on the stock cooler. Again, overclocking on the stock cooler is dangerous for your processor but it can be done when monitored carefully, and you can get some good performance. The Intel Core i3 is a great overclocker! Part of the performance comes from the motherboard being a solid and stable board. But a huge chunk of the performance is from just how good this chip is, giving a big bang for the buck. Lets take a look at the benchmarks below.

The TurboV EDO worked well, with multiple options. Easy mode allowed for just the changing of the BCLK frequency. Manual allowed for the changing of BCLK Frequency, CPU Voltage, IMC Voltage, and DRAM Bus Voltage. You could also save your changes in multiple custom personalized profiles. A separate mode involved the Turbo Key, which is a wired remote that connects to your motherboard. I will talk a bit more about it later, but it has 3 buttons for overclock settings that you can select from your profiles mentioned above. I was able to achieve a 3.7GHz overclock fairly easily by just increasing the CPU voltage to 1.2V in addition to increasing the BCLK frequency to 160MHz. I could have gone higher, but did not want to risk it on a stock cooler. And after all, this review is on what you can do performance-wise on a tight budget. This Core i3 just seemed to like to go fast, and this P7P55D Deluxe seemed more than willing to oblige.

The Auto Tuning feature of the TurboV EDO gave me mixed feelings. It was very cool the way that it worked. Once you started the feature, it would check the stability of your components as it slowly increased the BCLK. It would get to a point where the overclock was not stable and the computer would reboot. Then it would restart the computer and keep going until it found a setting that was stable. And all of this was done in the Windows environment so you could see what it was doing. With my system, I saw it go from 3.3GHz to 3.4GHz and up. But then when it was done, it stopped at 3.13GHz....??? It appeared stable at 3.3GHZ, and it also appeared stable at 3.4GHz. But it set the overclock to 3.13GHz. I did notice that the Auto Tuning only changed the BCLK. So it is a pretty safe overclocking tool. If you are a first time overclocker and want to try it out, I would recommend getting your feet wet with the Auto Tuning. Once you are more comfortable doing it, the TurboV EDO has the tool to take your overclock even further.

Going back to the TurboV remote, it is very simple to use. There are buttons are in three sections. The first is power, followed by Turbo Key, and EPU. The power button does just that, and will turn off your system. The Turbo Keys consist of A, B and C, for three different overclock profiles to choose from as I briefly mentioned above, and + and - buttons to increase or decrease the bus speed. The last section of buttons is for EPU, and consists of Manual Mode and Auto Mode. The Manual Mode changes the setting of your overclock. For example, I was in High Performance Mode when I did my overclock testing and saved my three profiles. I saved them as 3.28GHz, 3.5GHz, and 3.7GHz. So, if I load my B profile which is set at 3.5GHz in High Performance mode, it will change if I change my EPU settings. The EPU has settings of, starting with the most power hungry and working down, it goes in order Turbo, High Performance, Medium Power Saving, and Max Power Saving. So my Turbo buttons B profile is 3.5GHz using EPU High Performance Mode, but if I change to Turbo the speed increases to 3.62GHz, and down to 3.45GHz for Medium Power Saving, and 3.39GHz for Max Power Saving.

You will want to be aware of these settings when you are searching for a stable overclock. o if you are looking for the max stable overclock you can get, and using the TurboV EVO, I would make sure you are in the Turbo mode. If you get your max stable overclock and not realizing you are in Medium Power Savings mode, you will be stuck in that mode or lower. Going up to High Performance or Turbo modes will increase the speed and now you will no longer be stable. But try it out and play around with it. It was fun for me.

One thing I also liked about the P7P55D Deluxe is it's upgradability. Some of you may be familiar with this board and questioning that statement. After all, this was introduced last year and it does not have SATA 3.0 or USB 3.0 built in. I understand that, but with the amount of time this board has been on the market, it is a real bargain for around $180 when it originally went for at least $250. I have even seen it for around $150 with rebate. That is a lot of motherboard for the price. Something else about the board is it has three PCI Express 2.0 slots. This is unique to some of the budget USB 3.0 and SATA 3.0 boards, which only has two PCI Express 2.0 slots. Many of you may be saying that you don't need three graphics cards. The problem, is that the embedded chip that makes the USB 3.0 or SATA 3.0 possible uses data lanes of that second PCI Express slot. So, bottom line is that you can have SLI or CrossfireX using 2 video cards, but only if you do not want USB 3.0 or SATA 3.0.

The P7P55D Deluxe can do it all. Yes, thanks to the help of Asus's U3S6 add-on card which retails for $30, you can now have USB 3.0 and SATA 3.0. With the use of the third PCIe slot for the U3S6 add-on card, you get all the bandwidth you need for USB 3.0 or SATA 3.0, and do not lose any of the bandwidth from the first two slots running SLI or CrossfireX. The P7P55D Deluxe comes with an extra set of 2 USB and one eSata connectors, and when connected to the U3S6 as I did, the eSata is a SATA 3.0 connection.

If you can't tell, I really like this motherboard. So much so that it has earned our Stereowise Plus Editor's Choice Award! Congrats Asus!! Their included features on this board, including the TurboV remote, and the ease of use has done it for us. And keep in mind this is from last year. I would love to see how they are doing on their new 2010 models. Or even better, with how well they do with motherboards, I would love to see how they do with graphics cards!! Maybe they will surprise me with an HD5830 or GTX 465 card to review. Either way, keep up the great work. Having used their products before, I'm glad to see their reputation continues. For more info and complete specs, check out their website and