Asus P7P55D EVO
Before I begin taking you through the motherboard I have a confession to make. This board is an engineering sample and as such the P7P55D EVO you see here is actually a very early edition of the retail P7P55D Deluxe. Confused? I know I was.
With that out of the way, let's take a look at the first P55 motherboard through our doors. The front of the motherboard is colour coded with Royal blue, sky blue, white and black slots upon a black PCB. The Azure heatsinks also match the overall theme of the motherboard. Perhaps most striking is the omission of the traditional QPI bus/Northbridge area. As explained in the preview of this board, there is no longer a need for this thanks to the redesigned architecture and chipset. That said, everything else appears to be placed well with all the major connections surrounding the leading edges of the motherboard.
The CPU socket is a mass of capacitors and chokes as the P7P55D uses a 12+2 phase design. However, due to the smaller socket size there is still plenty of space in this area. A mass of new CPU coolers will be on the horizon though as the mounting holes are slightly further closer together than Skt1366 but further apart than Skt775. You may be lucky enough to get some redesigned retention clips for your current CPU cooler but for the most part I feel that many people will be purchasing a new cooling setup for this board. Speaking of retention clips, the CPU retention mechanism is redesigned in that both the securing cover and locking arm both open up in the same direction making CPU installation much easier than older socket variants.
The new i5 CPU, like the i7 range has the memory controller on board however the i5 differs slightly in that it offers dual channel rather than the Tri-Channel of it's bigger brother. How this affects memory performance we will investigate later in the review but it goes without saying that the bandwidth will certainly be lowered. One plus point though is that far less strain will be placed on the CPU which perhaps will allow for better CPU overclocking. Although the Q-DIMM feature of the memory slots is not welcomed by all I have had no problems using it. With no clip at the lower end of the slot one might think that there is no retention there but memory felt as solid as it does in any normal slot.
Perhaps one of the biggest drawbacks that I can see with a board based on the P55 chipset is the restriction Intel have placed on PCI express. With one card in-situ, the full bandwidth will be available but add another and the lanes will be split across both slots in an x8 + x8 configuration. Crossfire is supported and I would be very surprised if Nvidia was not although nobody seems willing to confirm that it will be at present. The good news is nobody is denying it either so read into that what you will. You may notice that Asus have also used a 2oz Copper PCB however this will not be in the final release. Instead Asus will most likely use a variant of there StackCool silkscreen technology, hopefully StackCool 3+ which uses an 8 layer PCB.
As with the ROG range of motherboards, the P7P55D will have on board power (Red) and reset (Green) switches which is now becoming the norm on most motherboards. Next to these switches are 3xUSB headers which will add some serious connectivity to your setup. The SATA debacle was explained previously so I won't bang on about this area as I would fully expect the SATA ports to be re-arranged and colour co-ordinated to reflect the change. SATA II will no doubt be replacing the SATA 6G and as there are few devices that can take advantage of 300MB/s at present this is perhaps not such a major issue at the moment.
Asus have incorporated the MemOK feature into the EVO which is a welcome addition and should ensure greater compatibility for end users. This feature also doubles as returning memory that has been overclocked to it's stock 'bootable' state. Along with this button but situated above the memory is a dip switch which will allow end users to pump masses of voltage through the memory. While I'm all for new features, I do feel that for the most part these are needless additions as if overclocking the memory is the problem I would hope the BIOS recovery would automatically set in and rather than use an on-board switch, what on earth is wrong with simply setting the value in the BIOS?
The I/O backplate area is crammed full of 8x USB ports, 2 Gigabit LAN ports, Firewire, 3.5mm jacks along with Optical and coaxial outputs that provide audio courtesy of the VIA VT8128 8-channel audio Codec. Legacy PS/2 Mouse and keyboard ports are supplied along with a small CMOS clear button should the motherboard not recover from a bad overclock. I'm certainly no audiophile but even I noticed a drop in audio quality going from Realtecs ALC899 chip, common on X58 motherboards to the VIA audio found in this example.
Here we see the Intel PCH P55 chipset itself. This little sliver of silicon controls the USB, Ethernet, BIOS support, Audio and SATA along with e-SATA and PCI Express x1 ports. This is of course interlinked to the new CPU architecture which has control over PCIe 2.0, and the memory functions of the motherboard. The Chipset heatsink was very small but as this is a pre-release sample I would expect this sink to be enlarged upon final retail release. I would also hope that more thermal paste would be used as the contact area was very poor in our sample.
Overall the board is a very good looking piece of kit and while we have seen the EVO colour scheme in other Asus releases, I must say I do like the look of it. The board itself is well laid out with all the connections found around the leading edge of the board which should make for a relatively straightforward install as well as being perfect for those who obsess over cable tidying.
Let's move on to the BIOS section....