Asus P67 Sneak Peak
We are all too aware of Intel's intention to phase out LGA1156 in favour of a new platform. I suppose in some ways it would be understandable to see the demise of the enthusiast 1366 platform; after all it has been around since the final quarter of 2008. Strangely it is its simplified sibling that faces the chopping board of hardware demise at the ripe age of 14 months. Why might you ask? The simple answer is that the changes in architecture justify it - and on that bombshell, you'll eventually stop screaming with frustration and finally accept it. However, with any change in socket design, the processor forms only one piece of the puzzle...
Two weeks ago we were able to spare a couple of hours from our busy schedules to attend an Asus Seminar in London. Here we were educated about Asus' upcoming innovations and how they tie in with the upcoming Intel processors, codenamed Sandy Bridge.
As some of you may have noticed, this article was originally published the day after the Asus Seminar, but was subsequently taken down due to a shift in NDA dates. As our friendly competitors in Europe still hadn't attended their respective seminars, Asus had asked all british websites to pull the plug on their publications. Thankfully the NDA lift is finally here and we are excited to show you what we saw in a secret underground bunker somewhere in the west end...
New Platform vs Asus Market Strategies
As you would know by now, Asus offers a wide range of motherboard products that cater for the entire spectrum of audiences. The year of 2010 has seen a wide range of LGA1156 gear, from the value H55/H57 subset, to the upper mid range PRO/DELUXE suffixes. R&D has also been caught stretching their legs with overclock focused Republic of Gamers editions (think Maximus) as well as the all new durable (The Ultimate Force) Sabertooth series of motherboards.
Indeed it seems that Asus have been busy beavers this year but as always there is no room for complacency. As the Tawan based firm's representatives proudly showcased their new innovations, it became clear that R&D have been flexing their muscles with true gusto behind the scenes.
In short, expect it to be business as usual with Asus. If you have a good understanding of their existing LGA1156 product portfolio, you will most certainly have a clear understanding of what's to come.
Fancy a photoshoot of the new motherboard range? Read on...
I suppose I have already spelt out what to expect from Asus with the new LGA1155 boards, but regardless there is nothing wrong with a couple of photographs.
The Mainstream - P8P67 & P8P67 Deluxe
Upon launch you can expect two "conventional" motherboards, known as the P8P67 and P8P67 Deluxe. Make no mistake however as these boards are generously specified and boast a number of features which we will reveal leater on the article. As you can imagine, the vanilla and (perhaps) deluxe P8P67s is likely to present itself in the sub £100 market.
The Enthusiast's Battle Axe - Maximus IV Extreme
You will all know by now that we do like our Republic of Gamers Motherboards. More will be told soon but to summarise, the Maximus IV Extreme implements everything that made the RE3E and CH4E successful, plus a little more.
The Hoff - TUF Sabertooth P67
The Sabertooth P67, like the rest sports the fundamentals of any TUF product. Featuring a stab vest, your computer will be safe and sound in the event that it decides to fall foul of a dangerous individual in London's Camberwell district.
Clearly there is a common pattern of development across the entire product family. Some of these "mod-cons" are available across the entire range but there are also a number of specific additions for select equipment as well. You would be a fool to not read on...
Dual Intelligent Processors 2
As the name suggests, this is a natural progression from our recently published article on Dual Intelligent Processors. It might be worth reading it first before attempting to digest the following!
EPU and Digi+ VRM
Digi+ VRM is expected to bring a whole new level of energy optimisation and system stability to the table. Falling under the EPU side of DIP, some of its key features are as follows -
1) Active VRM Signal Optimisation - In essence, power signals are transmitted as a frequency. The concept follows that if a stand alone microchip (independent of the CPU) can actively adjust this frequency depending on system loading, it can be tweaked in a manner that system voltages remain consistent and in turn potentially higher levels of efficiency and stability can be obtained.
2) Enhanced Load Line Calibration - Nobody likes Vdrop/Vdroop when overclocking processors. Without LLC, many boards force the end users to raise assigned voltages well above the required amount for the desired effect. Likewise, it sometimes follows that a fully enabled LLC function results in mild overvoltage. Digi+ VRM solves the problem by offering intermediate options, which can be configured within BIOS or Software.
3) VRM Duty Control - Lets face it, temperatures often have a direct impact on stability. Depending on VRM temperature, Duty Control will adjust power phase loading accordingly. Once again, this occurs on the fly and is powered by a dedicated microchip and (presumably) a rather sophisticated set of algorithms to make it all happen.
The TPU aspects of DIP remain very much the same as before. Regardless it remains to be as impressive as ever.
As before it is possible to access all aspects of DIP from the centralised AI Suite II application. Our previous testing indicated that the program wasn't particularly costly in terms of memory utilisation however both we and Asus sympathise with those who fully disagree to installing software for features such as these.
With the P67 series it is possible to acccess the vast m
ajority of DIP related features directly from BIOS. Even still, for those who are too frightened to enter BIOS may also enable these features via flick switches on the PCB itself.
In a nutshell, BT GO! bares similarities with the existing RC Bluetooth concept. The facility allows the end user to sync their smartphone (Symbian, Android, Windows Mobile, iOS) with the P67 series Bluetooth Adapter in order to -
- File Share
- Internet Share
- Auto Overclock
- Control Windows Media Player
- Power Down / Restart System
Feature packed doesn't even begin to describe these boards. Let's continue...
A New BIOS
The Asus P67 range finally brings conventional desktops into the new millenium with EFI BIOS technology. For the end user, the key difference in the new format is its GUI based interface.
However there is a big difference between this BIOS and other EFI implementations. The entire P67 range offers an Easy (left) and Advanced (right) mode for BIOS users. The former consolidates all important information into a single page and allows the end user to manipulate a number of useful parameters such as power saving modes and boot priority (that's right, no more F8 tapping). The advanced mode shares a near identical layout to the Asus BIOS' of the past. Regardless, even those who have not as yet played with a system BIOS will find the menus intuitive and very self descriptive.
On a similar note, ROG based motherboards will also feature a BIOS Print Screen feature. As you can imagine this makes it considerably easier to share BIOS parameters with others. Infact, as reviewers it also makes our lives considerably easier!
Overclocking with Asus and Sandy Bridge - Gifts & Curses...
The Maximus IV Extreme on demo offered a wealth of system tweaking parameters. Whether you are looking to push memory upwards of 2000MHz or simply push your processor for all its worth, there will surely be something for you.
Two of the most noteworthy options are as above.
Previously, the LGA1156 and 1366 platforms have offered DDR3 frequencies up to 1333 and 1600MHz at their base clock frequencies. This has changed significantly with LGA1155 where frequencies as high as DDR3-2133 are natively supported. Next up is the ability to manipulate individual core multipliers on this K series Sandy Bridge processor.
Many of us believe that "good things" happen for a reason, and god almighty there is most certainly a reason for some of the above features.
There is only so much that we can disclose, but at this point it is known that there will be Intel Dual/Quad processors that are fully multiplier unlocked, while the vast majority will be (partially or entirely) locked down. Very well, this may sound as though it is business as usual but it really isn't. While we were unable to confirm this for ourselves, we were informed that overclocking the Base Clock Frequency of the new Sandy Bridge processors is a rather fruitless endeavour. Quantatively it was said that we could expect these processors to reach their limits at just 115MHz (15% above their BCLK of 100MHz). Clearly the tables have turned; the emphasis of multiplier overclocking is here.
This may not be such a bad thing as for all we know, Intel may do an "AMD" by making one in three processors multiplier unlocked. Sadly one thing we do know is that the overclocking ball has landed squarely in Intel's court. How much will the end user have to spend for the priveledge of overclocking? Only time will tell...
The Maximus IV Extreme
Now that we have covered some of the features found on all P67 boards, it is now time to discuss some of the perks of the new Republic of Gamers flavour. Without singing you all to sleep, I shall briefly outline some of its key innovations
The Culling of Legacy Devices
So you actively use legacy devices? Seriously, go away. The new Maximus IV Extreme is aimed squarely at those who care about current generation interfaces USB 3.0 (that's right, 8xUSB3.0), e-SATA and Bluetooth. Ultimately the "gamers" audience who will be buying this product will care more about being able to install all the latest peripherals. Consider it as a better way to utilise motherboard real estate.
That said, one antique interface has escaped; PS/2. As the ROG series caters for overclockers, it makes perfect sense to keep the trusty interface that will never fail you in BIOS.
Enhanced Memory and GPU Detection
The M4E's BIOS offers a greater level of GPU and memory detection in order to find non operative equipment before running those all important benchmarks. Time saved, greater convenience.
ROG Connect Enhanced and iPhone iDirect Application
For those who are unaware, ROG Connect was introduced as a remote system tweaking (last mile overclocking) and diagnostics tool. The system leverages the USB interface to link your ROG powered machine to any other laptop/desktop. Consider it the vehicle engine remapping tool of the computing world.
ROG Connect on the new Maximus 4 now covers greater component integration; it has been updated to incorporate graphics card (Core, Memory, Shader) overclocking as well as GPU core voltage manipulation. The feature is expected to work with multiple vendors, however there is no guarantee that a custom design from another manufacturer will be compatible.
Further, Asus have finally brought iPhone/iPad compatibility for remote bluetooth overclocking - the application is known as iDirect. The application is expected to be very responsive and just as effective as the Android, Windows and Symbian equivalents.
Asus ROG Connect and RC Bluetooth/iDirect does not have worthy competition. While other remote overclocking tools exist, there are few that link with a dedicated processing unit such as iROG. The end result is that the end user can seemlessly overclock remotely without causing interruption to on going applications - that's right, CPU utilisation is 0% while changing overclock parameters. The only exception to this is the iDirect application which requires a small driver to pass operation calls; even so we witnessed processor utilisation peaking at a mere 1-2% during the action.
Revamped Sound & Network Capability
From a sound perspective, Asus are answering the needs of many of today's gamers. While previous Creative X-Fi adaptations have been incorporated in ROG boards, a headphone amplifier has been implemented. This is expected to greatly improve sound quality.
Here's the interesting part however. Asus are introducing a Network Processing Unit, which will improve packet and bandwidth control and also offload resources from the processor. It was said during the seminar that gamers could see significantly better ping times in a given game server when compared to another user with the same internet connection.
TUF Sabertooth P67
TUF motherboards are known for their durability and resilience. They may not be the most flamboyant but they have proven themselves to be highly robust and the ideal choice for power user and workstation purposes. However it is some of these traits that tend to form the basis of a true overclocker as shown from our review of the Sabertooth X58. With this in mind, we remain forever intrigued by this new class of Asus motherboard.
What is "Military Grade"?
First of all, we would really like to stress that TUF is no gimmick. The grade of components on the Sabertooth series are such that they are able to sustain ambient temperatures of -40c to 85c and are able to operate within a range of -10c to 60c (versus n/a to 50c with other Asus equipment). Believe us in that very few motherboards available today are built and tested to such a standard.
Like the ROG series, the Sabertooth P67 implements alloy rather than ferrite chokes. This offers improved efficiency across the entire loading range and far superior inductance with greater levels of current over ferrite material. This means that the chokes can tolerate significantly higher levels of current (40A vs 30A). It is also claimed that the TUF series Solid Capacitors sported greater impedence than others and thus generates less heat. Despite this, they are also capable of withstanding temperatures of up to 85c, which is 25c greater than non solid (Tantalum) equivalents.
Durability is all too important in a system component that forms the base platform of a computer. While Asus don't market TUF boards as the solution for overclockers, it comes to no surprise that the implementation of high quality components often results in excellent system tweaking ability anyway. The critically acclaimed TUF Sabretooth X58 is a testament to that.
Before we conclude, it would probably be a good idea to explain the big black shroud that covers the new Sabertooth motherboard. No it isnt really a stab vest and no it isn't just excessive packaging material. The plastic cover is known as a "vest" and exists to protect the motherboard from external components that disappate considerably more heat. Furthermore, its design is supposed to influence a "down draft" of air, which proves to be most efficient according to Asus' internal studies.
Yowza. Let's wrap this one up.
I suppose there isn't much more that can be said at this stage as we are unable to confirm anything pertaining to performance and general capability. What we can tell you is that Asus' P67 range shows great promise for everyone. You can expect to purchase a LGA1155 motherboard for very reasonable money and still enjoy a number of notable features. Likewise, even the performance crazed lunatics and stability freaks have something available for them - at a premium of course.
A major caveat with the new platform will be the CPU product lineup, which has not been confirmed yet. If we were to guess that the Sandy bridge Lineup will sport processors ranging from 2.60GHz to 3.40GHz, this could mean that BCLK overclocking could be limited to as little as 300-500MHz. Assuming the worst, then bang per buck overclockers better pray hard for a budget multiplier unlocked unit.
Regardless, we genuinely hope that this article has helped kindle some additional interest in the new platform as we feel it has much to offer. Moreover, we also hope that other manufacturers take this article as an open invitation to show us their latest innovations as we are keen to see some healthy competition. At least when considering all photographs and leaked details of P67 boards by competitors, it really does appear as though the consumer will have many high quality products to choose from at launch. Without doubt, we are looking forward to assessing these products to make the decision process easier for you all.
An exciting few months lie ahead. Until then, do stay tuned to our forums.