Asus P7P55D EVO P55 Motherboard Preview Page: 1
A New Breed
 
P55 (code name Ibex Peak) is just around the corner but thanks to our friends at Asus, they have given us a sneak preview of their P7P55D 'EVO' motherboard based on Intels LGA1156 socket designed for Intel Lynnfield Processors or Core i5 to you and me. As the socket type suggests, Core i5 will need a different socket type and will not work with current X58 motherboards as the architecture is quite different from Core i7 as we will see later in the review. I'm not sure this is the best move for Intel as it will inevitably prevent cross platform upgrading but we will reserve judgement on performance until we put the new processors and chipset through their paces.
 
Intel have been busying themselves with a new line up of CPU's to complement the already successful Intel Core i7. These new processors will be called Intel Core i5 (mid-level) and Core i3 (entry level) for the desktop using the 45nm process. This is in addition of  the mobile revision of the Core i7 (Clarksfield). This is not to say that the Pentium (basic) and Celeron (value) brands will be finally brushed aside nor will the Atom processor which will still be used for netbooks and smartphones, rather the 'Core' name will be reserved for the best Intel currently has to offer.
 
Missing from P55 is the QPI bus (Quick Path Interconnect), still lovingly referred to as the Northbridge, which will likely have a detrimental effect on performance compared to the i7/X58 chipset. Also missing is triple channel DDR3, replaced instead by dual channel DDR3 supporting a maximum 16GB which, if you have read our article on the benefits of 3GB vs 6GB vs 12GB is no big deal and the increase in performance triple channel currently offers over dual could be written on the back of a postage stamp so there's no great shakes there.
 
I was however intrigued to learn that the P55 chipset will restrict the bandwidth of PCI express to 8 lanes if you intend on using a dual card set. While this is the same as it's P45 brethren I would have appreciated an upgrade in this department. Not that it will concern anyone apart from those lucky enough to be running dual GPU cards such as the 4870x2 or GTX295. If you are just using one card though then the full benefits of PCIe 2.0 are available. Information regarding SLI compatibility is sketchy at present but you can be assured that Crossfire will at least work on P55, much the same as P45.
 
Specification
 
Before we take a sneak preview of the Asus P55 Evo motherboard let's take a peek at it's specification which, is subject to change being that it is a very early sample:
 
  Asus P7P55D
CPU
LGA1156 Socket for Intel Lynnfield PRocessors
 Supports Intel Turbo Boost Technology
Chipset Intel P55 Express Chipset
Memory
4xDIMM, max. 16GB, DDR3 1600(OC)/133/1066MHz, non-ECC,unbuffered memory
Dual Channel memory architecture 
Expansion Slots
2 x PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots (single at x16 or dual at x8/x8 mode)
1 x PCI Express 2.0 x16slots (at x4 mode, 2.5GT/s)
2 x PCI Express 2.0 x1 (2.5GT/s)
2 x PCI
Storage
Intel P55 Express Chipset
- 6 x SATA 3.0 GB/s ports
- Intel Matrix Storage technology supports RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10
LAN
Dual Gigabit LAN controllers
Realtek 8112L/8110SC Gigabit Lan controller featuring AI NET2
Audio
VIA VT1828 8-channel High Definition Audio CODEC
- DTS Surround sensation UltraPC
IEEE 1394
Via 6308P controller supports 2 x IEEE 1394aports (one on the mainboard, one at the backplate)
USB 14 x USB 2.0 ports (6ports on board, 8 ports on the back panel)
Asus Features
MemOK!
Asus EPU
Express Gate
Asus Q-LED (CPU,DRAM, VGA, Boot Device LED)
Asus Q-Slot
Asus Q-DIMM
 
As the specification above suggests, this is going to be one feature packed motherboard and with a massive 14 possible USB ports, the ultra in connectivity. I was interested to see that Asus are not including their Xonar sound package with the board, instead relying on VIA to provide your Aural pleasure.
 
That's enough spiel for the time being, time to take a look at the motherboard itself...


Asus P7P55D EVO P55 Motherboard Preview Page: 2
Asus P7P55D P55 Motherboard
 
First impressions are this is one very, very nice looking motherboard. With a black PCB and two tone blue effect carried through the various ports and heatsinks on the board, the theme is cold, freezing and simply lush to look at. Even the 24pin and 8pin ATX power slots are colour coded rather than being the bland white slots of old.
 
P55 front
 
The first thing I noticed about the new motherboard was that the CPU socket looks so much smaller than the 1366 socket size I am used to. Framing this and in turn framing the CPU, making it look smaller than it actually is, are two weird looking heatsinks. Presumably, these heatsinks are anodised aluminium as with the P5Q range of motherboards and not the Cobalt metal the colour would have us believe. Interestingly, these heatsinks are further away from the edge of the motherboard than previous models which may or may not be a good move depending on you choice of cooling. What certainly is a good move is the 14+2 power phase design of the board which should ensure that overclocks will come thick and fast with this motherboard.
 
CPU Socket Memory slots
 
As previously stated, the memory configuration differs from the i7/X58 range of motherboards in that the P55 boards will run with dual channel only but with the point to point interface of P55, memory speed will hopefully be such that bandwidth will not be a problem. I have never really advocated the absolute need for triple channel memory anyway and while I do welcome progress, I don't think the eventual P55 users will notice any serious performance drops, they just won't notice the gain i7 users have. It's nice to brag about numbers but in all honesty, I have yet to notice any tangible difference between Dual and Triple channel setups. E-peen hunters will however no doubt beg to differ on this opinion. Squint your eyes a little and you may notice that the memory slots have clips to just one side. This is because with the primary PCIe slot located so close to the memory, removing said memory with the GPU in position will be a difficult task indeed. This neat little design allows memory to be added or removed without disturbing the graphics card.
 
PCIe SB
 
PCI Express bandwidth is one area which may or may not be the downfall of P55. With the ever increasing bandwidth requirements of GPU's, PCIe lanes become all important. Single card users need not worry as the P55 comes with a full fat PCIe 2.0 standard GPU slot which provides all the bells and whistles X58 does. This bandwidth however is split between two ports (x8 + x8) should you wish to use a dual card configuration. Again this is not so much of a problem with mid - high end cards as PCIe 2.0 x8 provides just as much bandwidth as PCIe 1.1 x16. The problem however arises when one wishes to use 2 top end cards such as ATI's 4870x2 and NVidias GTX295 in Crossfire and, if this board does support it, SLI. These monster cards will suffer some (though not too much) throttling by using 8 lanes instead of the full 16. Admittedly though, users of these extremely expensive GPU setups would most likely plump for X58 anyway so this is a null point but a point worth making nonetheless.
 
Next we arrive at what appears to the the Southbridge but is in effect the NB, or should I say P55 chipset core itself. The heatsink does not look like what will be the final design as I would expect a much more intricate design to be employed. Also note the white outline which serves to back up this assumption. The chip itself functions more or less like the traditional ICH chip of old, controlling the same functions bar memory. This controller acts as a one chip for all, and replaces the dual ICH and MCH chips on previous designs with the one chip controlling all of the I/O functions in one place.  As with Core i7, Lynnfield cores will have an on-board memory controller and will also act as as the PCIe controller.
 
Perhaps one of the biggest upgrades you are likely to get with P55 is the introduction of SATA-III. Judging by the picture above at least that's what I assume it is as the current standard is 3GB/s not the 6GB/s advertised on the mainboard. Either way there are 6 of these ports controlled by Intel and a further two (white slots) controlled by the Marvel Controller.
 
 
Finally, we arrive at the I/O backplate area which is no different from high end X58 motherboards. The P7P55D EVO features a whopping 8 USB ports, Firewire, dual LAN ports, 10 Channel audio courtesy of 6 3.5mm audio jacks or the S/PDiff output. Asus have also included traditions PS/2 ports for both keyboard and mouse.
 
There's no doubting that the Asus P7P55D EVO is a premium board despite it's mid range chipset. First impressions are it will be a corking board that will deliver on it's promises. We at OC3D are brimming with excitement over this motherboard and new chipset with everyone gathered around my virtual desk drooling over its form and features. Ushering them away was no easy task as I'm sure it won't be for those lucky enough to eventually get one installed in there PC. Unfortunately, that's about all I can tell you about Asus's P55 EVO for the time being as the NDA is not officially lifted until September unless there is a revised date, in which case you can expect OC3D to let you know those performance figures before you can say 'Gimme that P55 EVO!'.
 
We will keep you posted on all developments...
 
Feel free to discuss the preview in our forums.