We first took a look at Intel's P35 Express chipset back in May, when it was released into the wild to supplant the still relatively youthful P965 and usher in the era of DDR3 memory and 1333MHz FSB Intel processors. The P965 is a tough act to follow. Despite its intended mid-range market placement, Intel didn't hamper the P965 in any way except for the lack of official Crossfire support. With its excellent feature set and good performance, the P965 presented an excellent value and became many people's first choice for all of their single-GPU needs. For the P35, Intel has wisely chosen not to change the formula. Actually, the P35 Express is an even better value than the P965 was with its official support for 1333MHz FSB processors, DDR3, as well as the yet to be seen 45nm next generation of Intel processors.
Besides 1333MHz FSB and DDR3 support, the P35 Express also improves upon the P965 in a number of other areas. One of the biggest improvements in terms of performance is thanks to a newly tweaked memory controller which produced good results in our initial look at the P35. Thanks to its use of the new ICH9 south bridge, the P35 is also able to improve upon the P965 in terms of available features, as you can see in the chipset diagram below.
We have looked at quite a few P965 boards in the past in several reviews and two motherboard comparisons (1, 2) and it's now the P35's turn to receive the same treatment. In our initial look at the P35 Express, we used an ASUS P5K3 Deluxe as our guinea pig. We didn't get a chance to take an in-depth look at the P5K3 Deluxe at that time since we wanted to focus on exploring the new features of Bearlake and DDR3, but we did promise we'd take a better look at it and we're not about to break our word. However, we've decided to make things a bit more interesting and instead of a standalone article, we've decided to pit another P35 Express based board up against the P5K3 Deluxe.
Luckily, there are plenty of contenders to choose from. Despite being just a couple months old, the P35 already has very good representation in the retail market, with a surprisingly large selection of P35 based boards available at a wide range of prices. The P5K3 Deluxe is positioned as a premium product, with a price tag to match, weighing in at about $250. We've decided to match it up against another heavy weight, the Gigabyte GA-P35T-DQ6, weighing in at $240. Both of these boards represent the best that the P35 Express chipset has to offer and then some. Both boards implement DDR3 and they both go above and beyond the P35 specs, each with a couple of extra tricks up their sleeves. First we'll take a detailed look at each of the boards and then we'll introduce them to our test bench for a look at performance.
|ASUS P5K3 Deluxe: Specifications & Features|
ASUS went all-out with Intel's P35 chipset and their product page currently displays a whopping thirteen P35 based boards. That is quite a selection and the differences between some of the boards may not be readily apparent at a glance. The board we're looking at today, the P5K3 Deluxe, is near the top of this very large heap. We say 'near' because it doesn't have some of the advanced gamer oriented features of ASUS' Republic Of Gamers series, which is represented on the P35 chipset by the Blitz Formula and the Blitz Extreme which we looked at recently. However, the P5K3 Deluxe is no ordinary pedestrian board for use in your grandma's word processing box (although you could, but we'd consider that a crime against silicon). The P5K3 Deluxe certainly doesn't lack in features as you'll see below.
As the lengthy specification sheet attests, the P5K3's "Deluxe" badge is well earned as it is full of high-end features like an 8-phase power design, 100% solid capacitor, Crossfire support, integrated Wi-Fi, and ASUS' proprietary Super Memspeed Technology. These are pretty self- explanatory except for ASUS' Super Memspeed Technology. Super Memspeed Technology is a feature that gives users native support for DDR3-1333 memory with a 1333MHz FSB processor. ASUS did this by taking advantage of the chipset strapping to enable a DDR3-1333 divider which is available at FSB settings of 333MHz and higher.
Other notable features include the 'Stack Cool 2' which is a special PCB design that effectively transfers heat from one side to the other, through the PCB, allowing the components to breath a bit better. Another handy feature implemented on the P5K3 Deluxe is called 'AI Slot Detector' and it involves a series of LEDs, one for each of the expansion slots. When a card is correctly seated in the expansion slot, the LED lights up as long as power is connected to the system.
The board also implements two power saving features dubbed 'AI Gear 2' and 'AI Nap'. AI Gear 2 allows users to create custom profiles for CPU frequency and vCore voltage and you can switch between the profiles in real time from within windows. This is a nice feature since you can underclock and undervolt when your doing something non-CPU intensive like word processing or surfing the web. AI Nap allows your computer to take a snooze when you're temporarily away from the computer, but it isn't a true suspend since all of your processes keep running. It simply throttles your system to its lowest setting. This is useful for downloading files during the night while you're sleeping or during the day while you're at work. You exit out of the snooze state in the same way as a screen saver and there is virtually no recovery time so you can get right back to work, or play as the case may be.
|ASUS P5K3 Deluxe: Board & Bundle|
The P5K3 Deluxe is dressed in ASUS' standard black PCB and from a distance it looks just like any other mid to high end ASUS motherboard from the last couple years. When you get up close and personal, it's obvious that the P5K3 Deluxe is nearly the same board as the P5K Deluxe, except the former supports DDR3 while the later uses DDR2. Another difference is that the P5K3 Deluxe sports a slightly larger heatpipe system; there are now two heatpipes connecting the heatsink above the CPU socket to the northbridge cooler. Lastly, the color scheme of the RAM slots has changed from yellow/black to orange/black. Besides that, the two boards are near identical in appearance.
Overall, the P5K3 Deluxe has a decent layout, free of major show stoppers.
The massive heat-pipe system completely surrounds the LGA775 socket and there is at least one heat-pipe on each side of the socket. While ASUS has left plenty of room on all four sides of the socket for the CPU cooler, some people with
large coolers may encounter installation issues. The two heat-pipes connecting the north bridge to the heatsink above the CPU socket passes by the RAM slots, leaving little room for clearance. While this shouldn't be a problem for most users since RAM cooling tends to be of the low-profile heat-spreader variety, those who intend to use custom aftermarket cooling on their memory should take note.
Like many other modern motherboards, the P5K3 relies on airflow within the case to help cool down its elaborate heat-pipe system. Residual airflow from the CPU heatsink is a key component for keeping the large heatpipe system cool which means heat problems could arise when a passive cooler or water-cooling is used to keep the processor cool. ASUS successfully addresses this potential problem by including an optional blower style fan with the P5K3 Deluxe. The fan can be attached to either the heatsink near the I/O panel or the one at the top of the board to provide much needed additional cooling for passive setups. All of our testing and benchmarks were done without this fan installed, however we did try the fan for a short period of time and we found it to be relatively quiet, although it was definitely not silent.
A 24-pin ATX power connector and an 8-pin 12V power connector supply the board with power. The power connectors are backwards compatible with older 20-pin and 4-pin power connectors but it's highly recommended that a modern power supply with the correct 24-pin and 8-pin power connectors be used. As is common for ASUS boards, the P5K3 Deluxe does not have an optional molex power connector for additional power, which makes it even more important that a modern power supply with 24 and 8 pin connectors be used. Also note that the board will not boot unless a 4 or 8 pin power connector is plugged in.
The P5K3 Deluxe has one of the best rear I/O arrays we have seen in a while. Many manufacturers have adopted a legacy-free approach for their motherboard which frees up a lot of room on the I/O array for additional ports, however most manufacturers don't make use of the extra space.
One gripe we have always had with legacy-free I/O arrays is that while they get rid of PS/2 connections, they don't make up for it with extra USB ports, often including the standard four, or even worse, only two
ASUS is not one of these manufacturers and the P5K3's I/O array is absolutely packed with a large amount of modern ports. There are two gigabit LAN ports, two eSATA ports (with RAID support), a Firewire port, optical and coaxial SPDIF connections and six USB ports. When just about everything connects via USB, it's nice to have six USB ports on your I/O array. However the P5K3 isn't an entirely legacy-free design. While you won't find any old fashioned parallel or serial connections, ASUS has wisely included a single PS/2 connector for those of us who still love our PS/2 keyboard or mouse (ie. IBM Model M fans).
The P5K3 Deluxe has total of six fan connectors; a CPU fan connector, a power supply fan connector and four case fan connectors. The fan connectors are spread out along the edges of the board. The CPU and power supply fan connectors are located at the top of the board while three of the case fan connectors can be found on the right edge of the board. The last case fan connector is on the right edge of the board, right next to the I/O array which makes it a good choice for the included optional blower fan.
Located at the bottom of the board are two USB header ports and a single Firewire header port. The pins of the header ports aren't color coded or labeled which makes connecting your case's front USB/Firewire ports much more tedious since you must constantly refer to the manual for the pin-out. Luckily, ASUS provides a Q-Connector set with this board, which greatly simplifies the process. You simply plug your front panel connectors into the labeled USB/Firewire Q-Connector, then when everything is hooked up, connect the Q-Connector to the motherboard's header port
The two PCI-E x16 slots are separated from each other by two PCI slots. This is desirable since the extra space will allow your video cards to breath better. Both of the PCI-E x1 slots are located above the first PCI-E x16. This means that if two double-height video cards are used, only one PCI slot will be available, although the PCI-E x1 slots will be unaffected. Right above the first PCI-E x1 slot is the Wi-Fi card. Thankfully this card has been soldered to the board instead of requiring its own expansion slot like in several other boards which feature Wi-Fi
Unfortunately, the P5K3 Deluxe's layout is not perfect. During our testing we noticed two frustrating layout issues that result from the lower than usual location of the first PCI-E x16 slot. Usually, the first PCI-E x16 slot, the only one with a full compliment of 16 PCI-E lanes on boards based on the P35 Express chipset, is the second slot from the top. The first slot is often a PCI-E x1 slot. However, the memory slots on the P5K3 Deluxe are unusually low on the board which makes it necessary for the first PCI-E x16 slot to be lower on the board too and ASUS moved it to the third position from the top. Unfortunately, this will result in serious complications when a double-height video card is used. Specifically, when a double-height video card is used in the first PCI-E x16 slot, the CMOS reset jumpers and the onboard audio's CD-in internal audio connector are both covered and very tough to access. The CMOS reset jumper can still be accessed by removing the video card, although this is extremely annoying and should be
, the onboard audio's CD-in port is rendered completely useless by a double-height video card. There is simply not enough clearance when a double-height card is installed for the appropriate cable to plug into the port without really mashing it down.
The P5K3 Deluxe comes with a healthy serving of accessories. In the box, you'll find the general user manual, Wi-Fi user manual, driver/utility CD, I/O shield and an ASUS case badge. Also included is a Q-Connector set, which consists of Q-Connectors for USB, Firewire and the system front connectors. The bundled accessories include an IDE cable, FDD cable, a 2xUSB + 1xFirewire header, six SATA cables, two molex-to-SATA power cables, a blower style fan, and a Wi-Fi antenna. We found the accessory bundle to be quite
and it should have everything you need and more to get started.
The driver/utility CD includes drivers for the chipset, audio codec, USB 2.0 ports and a variety of proprietary utilities including ASUS PC probe II, ASUS Update and ASUS AI Suite. Adobe Reader 7.0, DirectX 9.0c, InterVideo MediaOne Gallery, WinDVD Copy5 Trial, Ulead PhotoImpact 12 SE, CyberLink PowerBackup, Corel Snapfire Plus SE and Norton Internet Security 2006 are also included on the CD. The CD can also be used to create 32-bit as well as 64-bit SATA RAID driver disks. Overall, the accessory and software packages are more than acceptable, with nothing essential left out.
|ASUS P5K3 Deluxe: BIOS & Overclocking|
The P5K3 Deluxe uses a heavily modified AMI BIOS with the same general layout as many other ASUS boards in the past. Like many other AMI BIOS menus, this one is easy to navigate and well laid out although it may not be immediatelyfamiliar to someone who has not used an ASUS board recently. From within the BIOS, users have the ability to configure, enable or disable all of the board's various integrated peripherals, and can monitor fan speeds, voltages and clock speeds.
As expected from a premium motherboard, the P5K3 Deluxe's BIOS is highly configurable and offers a vast array of options. The various menus were well laid out and easy to understand. The BIOS is also internally documented and highlighting just about any option in the BIOS will display a corresponding explanation on the info bar located on the right side of the screen. However, we experienced some lag in certain menus like the 'hardware monitor' and the 'ai net 2' menu.
Two special features offered by the P5K3's BIOS are OC profiles and the EZ Flash 2 utility. The OC profiles feature allows you save your overclocking settings into profiles which you can then load at a later date. The EZ flash 2 utility allows you to flash the BIOS without requiring a bootable floppy disk. The BIOS can be flashed from an BIOS image saved on a floppy drive or USB memory stick from the EZ Flash 2 menu.
While these options are quiet useful, the real fun is in the 'Advanced' menu. Inside, you'll find just about every voltage, frequency, multiplier, ratio and timing setting you'll need to push your CPU, memory and motherboard beyond their manufacturer recommended limits. Before you can get to all the manual controls, you first need to select the AI Overclocking mode you would like to work in. There are four modes to choose from; they are Manual, Auto, Standard and N.O.S. Manual mode allows you to individually tweak the various CPU, FSB and memory settings as you please. Auto mode loads the optimal default settings while Standard loads the standard settings. Finally, N.O.S. mode is the board's automated overclocking feature. In N.O.S. mode, the motherboard intelligently determines the system load and boosts performance while the system is performing particularly demanding tasks. There are four different N.O.S. mode aggressiveness settings; Auto, Standard, Sensitive and Heavy Load.
The P5K3 Deluxe allows the user to manipulate the CPU multiplier, although you are limited to decreasing the multiplier unless you have an unlocked processor. The front side bus frequency can be adjusted in 1 MHz increments, from 200MHz to as high as 800MHz. PCI-E express frequency can be adjusted from 100MHz to 150MHz in 1Mhz increments.
Particularly interesting is the ability to manually set the FSB strap to the north bridge. The settings available are 200MHz, 266MHz, 333MHz and Auto. In auto mode, the FSB strap will be set depending on the selected FSB frequency and the DRAM frequency. In turn, the DRAM frequencies available are determined by the FSB strap and the FSB frequency.
The BIOS offers thorough voltage adjustments. The CPU voltage can be adjusted between 1.1V and 1.7V, in 0.0125V intervals. Memory voltages can be set as high as 2.25V and as low as 1.5V, in 0.05V intervals. The north bridge can be fed 1.25V, 1.40V, 1.55V or 1.70V, while the south bridge voltage can be either 1.05V or 1.20V. The FSB termination voltage can also be adjusted between 1.2V and 1.5V in 0.1V intervals.
Overall, we found the P5K3 Deluxe' BIOS to be excellent. There is an abundant selection of overclocking options and the voltage adjustments are very generous. The menus are well laid out and it only took a couple moments to figure out where everything was.
We took a Core 2 E6850 processor and set out to see if the P5K3 Deluxe's extensive BIOS settings could amount to equally impressive overclocking results. We loaded the BIOS' optimized defaults, and then increased the FSB as far as we could go without having to increase voltages to achieve stability.
We dropped the E6850's multiplier as low as we could to 6 from its stock setting of 9 in order to make sure that our processor wasn't holding us back. Then we overclocked the FSB frequency as high as it would go without compromising system stability or increasing voltages. We ultimately achieved a FSB overclock of 535MHz (2140MHz effective). This is the highest speed our system was able to handle with perfect stability. We were able to boot into Windows at slightly higher frequencies but we weren't able to stay there very long since our system was terribly unstable . Overall, the P5K3 Deluxe is a great overclocker. The FSB overclock it was able to achieve is excellent and it makes the P5K3 Deluxe an excellent overclocking platform which is virtually free of FSB restrictions which can hamper your processor overclock.
|Gigabyte GA-P35T-DQ6: Specifications & Features|
As we previously mentioned, ASUS' P35 product line is quite large, consisting of thirteen different boards. Not to feel left out, Gigabyte also has a large set of P35 based motherboards, although they 'only' have twelve different models. While it may seem odd that both ASUS and Gigabyte are offering such a large selection of P35 based boards, it makes sense when you remember that we're in the middle of a transition from DDR2 to DDR3 and from 1066MHz FSB to 1333MHz. Roughly half of the boards in both ASUS and Gigabyte's P35 line-ups support DDR2 while the other half are geared for newer DDR3.
The second competitor in our comparison is the Gigabyte GA-P35T-DQ6. In Gigabyte's naming scheme, boards with names that end in 'DQ6' are the top products offered by Gigabyte for their respective chipsets. This has resulted in 'DQ6' boards earning quite a reputation for quality and performance, although being the top products also means they come with the biggest price tags. A glance at the P35T-DQ6 spec sheet gives us hope that it will be another winner.
We took a look at the first DQ6 from Gigabyte, the GA-965P-DQ6, almost a year ago in our first Intel P965 motherboard comparison. That DQ6 was the first motherboard to offer an all-solid-capacitor design and since then several motherboards from various manufacturers have incorporated solid capacitors. With the introduction of the Intel P35 chipset, Gigabyte upped the ante by introducing the Ultra Durable 2 branding. All motherboards in the Ultra Durable 2 series have an all-solid capacitor design, but that's not all. They also use low RDS(on) MOSFETs which produce lower switching resistance for faster electric current charging and discharging than standard MOSFETS as well as ferrite core chokes instead of the less efficient iron core chokes seen on most other boards. These three Ultra Durable 2 series features translate into better power efficiency, longer component life-time and cooler operation. In fact, Gigabyte claims that Ultra Durable 2 motherboards can operate up to 33 degrees Celsius cooler in the area around the CPU socket than some competing products.
Another feature from the GA-965P-DQ6 that makes an appearance in the new GA-P35T-DQ6 we are looking at today is the Crazy Cool backside cooler. The Crazy Cool is a low-profile heatsink attached to the backside of the motherboard. Gigabyte has raised the bar here as well as the P35T-DQ6 has two Crazy Cool coolers, one for the CPU socket and northbridge and a second one for the southbridge.
|Gigabyte GA-P35T-DQ6: Board & Bundle|
Much like how the ASUS P5K3 Deluxe is in many ways a DDR3 version of the P5K Deluxe, the Gigabyte GA-P35T-DQ6 is a DDR3 version of the GA-P35-DQ6. In fact, except for the memory slots, which differ in type and color, the P35T and the P35 are visually identical. Like many recent Gigabyte boards, the GA-P35T-DQ6 is very colorful. The board features a snazzy dark blue PCB and it's covered by multi-colored components. Just about everything on the board is color coded and colors are rarely re-used. While this doesn't help the P35T-DQ6 very much in the aesthetics department, it does make components on the board easy to identify which helps during installation.
However, the board's most striking feature is its massive heatsinks. These are simply the largest heatsinks found on a motherboard that we have ever seen. The main heatsink which covers the northbridge and much of the surrounding area is extremely large and is connected to the other three heatsinks by a series of copper heatpipes. The entire assembly resembles a miniature downtown city block, complete with skyscrapers.
The bottom of the P35T-DQ6 has two Crazy Cool copper heatsinks. The main Crazy Cool heatsink covers the backside of the CPU socket and the northbridge while the significantly smaller secondary Crazy Cool heatsink covers the backside of the southbridge. All of these heatsinks on the front and back of the board make it very heavy for a motherboard. This makes us worry a bit about possible transportation issues. Just like a particularly heavy CPU heatsink could damage the motherboard when the rig it is installed in is being transported, we wonder if the massive heatsinks on the P35T-DQ6 would cause it to suffer a similar fate during a particularly
ride. Gigabyte certainly thinks there is a potential that the heatsink assembly could become damaged during transport since the P35T-DQ6 is packaged very tightly with a large Styrofoam block wedged between the heatsinks to ensure everything stays in place.
The massive heatsink assembly also makes us wonder about efficiency. In recent years we have seen motherboard cooling solutions change from a simple and small heatsink+fan combos to huge interconnected heatpipe systems. While they certainly look very impressive and the elimination of cooling fans is very welcome, it does greatly increase board clutter and production costs. The utility of massive heatsinks for cooling a motherboard's components is also questionable. While it is obvious that the northbridge would require a larger heatsink to absorb the somewhat significant amount of heat it is capable of outputting, we question the necessity of having huge heatsinks on the MOSFETs. The addition of heatpipes to connect all of the heatsinks is also questionable.
During heavy benchmarking, we would occasionally touch the heatsinks to gauge how hot they were getting and none of them threatened to burn our skin although the north bridge and south bridge heatsinks did get rather hot, as did the single heatpipe joining the two. However, the two heatsinks covering the MOSFETs above and to the left of the CPU socket, which are each several times larger than the southbridge heatsinks, got lukewarm at best. The heatpipes connecting these two heatsinks together was also cool to the touch. However, having said all of that, we won't hold it against the P35T-DQ6 since it is, after all, a top-end product and they should be exuberant. Not to mention the P5K3 Deluxe is every bit as quilty of using an unnecessarily large cooling system.
We liked the P35T-DQ6's layout for the most part. Gigabyte left an acceptable amount of room around the CPU socket, however, due to the height of the chipset heatsinks, larger CPU heatsinks may have mounting issues. Just like the P5K3 Deluxe, the P35T-DQ6's cooling is completely passive and its cooling performance suffers when a passive CPU heatsink or water cooling is used since airflow around the CPU socket is greatly reduced. Unlike ASUS, Gigabyte didn't include an optional fan of any sort in case of such a scenario, however we are confident the extremely large heatsinks will be able to survive the reduced airflow, provided there is some air being circulated by case fans or even just the PSU fan .
Power is supplied to the board by a 24-pin ATX power connector and a 8-pin 12V power connector. The board is compatible with 20-pin power connectors as well as the 4-pin power connector. At the very least, a 4-pin power plug and a 20-pin plug must be connected in order for the system to boot. While 20-pin power connectors are supported, it is highly recommended that a 24-pin connector be used to ensure sufficient power is delivered to the board. Similarly, a power supply with an 8-pin power connector is recommended. If you plan on installing a high-power processor like a quad-core, an 8-pin power connector will become necessary since a 4-pin will not be able to supply stable and reliable power. An optional molex power connector is provided at the top left corner of the board, next to the memory slots. The molex connector supplies additional power to the board when particularly thirsty PCI-E devices are being used.
Unlike the ASUS board, the P35T-DQ6 retains legacy support and it sports a parallel and a serial port on its I/O array. Two PS/2 ports are also present. Between these legacy ports are two S/PDIF outputs, an optical and a coaxial. On the other half of the I/O array are four USB ports, a Firewire port, gigabit LAN port and the 8-channel audio connectors. Overall, the P35T-DQ6's I/O array is pretty classic, neither missing any essential nor having anything exceptional.
The P35T-DQ6 possesses a large number of internal connectors including three USB connectors, which support six USB ports, two Firewire connectors and S/PDIF audio connector that can be used to output audio from the onboard sound to a HDMI compatible video card. The P35T-DQ6 only offers a total of four fan connectors, which includes the CPU fan connector. Some people may find this to be inadequate . However, of more concern is the placement of the connectors.
One of the case fan connectors can be found on the top edge of the board and another can be found on the bottom edge. Both of these are easily accessible, but the remaining two connectors are hard to reach. The CPU fan connector and the northbridge fan connector are located on opposite sides of the massive north bridge heatsink. This makes the connectors nearly impossible to reach when a video card and CPU heatsink are installed. This is somewhat of a hassle since you must first remove the video and/or CPU heatsink before you can (dis)connect a fan to either fan connector.
Another problem we encountered has become increasingly common on modern motherboards. The first expansion slot, a PCI-E x1 slot, is so close to the massive north bridge heatsink that it is rendered nearly useless. Unless you have an extremely short PCI-E x1 expansion card, it is unlikely that you will be able to clear the northbridge heatsink without making contact with it. Lastly, the P35T-DQ6 suffers from one of the oldest layout issues around, although it is also a very minor one. When a video card is installed, it is impossible to remove or install RAM into the memory slots because the locking clips have no clearance room. Besides this handful of minor gripes, the P35T-DQ6 is well laid out and free of major problems.
Included with the P35T-DQ6 is an ample accessory bundle. Included in the bundle is an I/O shield, floppy cable, IDE cable, two internal SATA cables, a header modules that has two USB ports and one Firewire port, and two eSATA kits. Each eSATA kit includes a eSATA header with 2 eSATA ports and 1 molex power port, a eSATA cable and an external molex-to-SATA power cable.
Also included in the box is a Gigabyte case badge, user's manual, hardware installation guide and a driver/utility CD. The hardware installation guide includes detailed explinations on how to install each components of a typical computer system and novice computer builders may find it very useful.
The driver/utility CD launches Gigabyte's Xpress Install utility which automatically determines which drivers you are missing and installs them for you. You can also choose to install the drivers individually. Also on the CD is a selection of software including Norton Internet Security, Kaspersky Antivirus, Acrobat Reader, Gigabyte's proprietary C.O.M. software, EasyTune 5, DMI Viewer, Face-wizard, @BIOS, I-COOL and Easy Tune Center. The C.O.M. software is a web-based system management tool that allows you to monitor various system statistics remotely. @BIOS is a utility for updating the BIOS via the internet. The I-COOL utility allows you to adjust CPU performance, power usage and fan noise while the Face-wizard utility customizes the BIOS boot up screen.
|Gigabyte GA-P35T-DQ6: BIOS & Overclocking|
The GA-P35T-DQ6 uses Gigabyte's familiar version of the Award BIOS. Unlike the P5K3 Deluxe's BIOS, which has been heavily modified from the basic Award layout to support a plethora of sub-menus, the P35T-DQ6's BIOS has a classic Award layout. The advantage of sticking with the basic Award BIOS interface is that it's instantly recognizable and usable to just about anyone who has rummaged through a BIOS before. However, the P35T-DQ6's BIOS does have one new edition, an extra menu called the "Motherboard Intelligent Tweaker", or M.I.T. for short. This menu is unique to Gigabyte boards and it contains all of the performance, overclocking and voltage related settings.
The P35T-DQ6's BIOS should be familiar to just about anyone who has tinkered with an Phoenix-Award derived BIOS. With the exception of the M.I.T. menu, which we will get into later, the BIOS is pretty standard Phoenix-Award fare, and everything was where it should be.
T he standard options are all there, in their usual spots. It's all pretty unremarkable until you get to the M.I.T. menu, which isn't necessarily a bad thing when we're talking about standard options that pretty much every motherboard has. It's good to know that they are in familiar places and that you won't need to bust out the manual when you need to do something simple like change the boot order.
The real fun begins when you get into the M.I.T. menu. This menu contains all of the overclocking, voltage, memory timing, and automated tweaking options, all in one place. While most of these options are available right away, the memory timings are hidden. To unlock the memory timings and make them visible, you need to press CRTL+F1 in the main menu. After having done that, when you enter the M.I.T. menu again, all of the options available will be visible. This procedure need to be performed each time you enter the BIOS.
We don't quite understand why the memory timings need to be hidden by default. We can understand that it may be good to hide some of the more advanced options that could damage your hardware if set incorrectly, but why aren't the non-automated overclocking and voltages settings not hidden then?
The first option available in the M.I.T. is the Robust Graphics Booster setting. This determined how aggressively the system accesses the PCI-E x16 slot bus. There are three settings, Auto, Fast and Turbo. The Auto option simply allows the system to choose the setting for you based on your system configuration. Another interesting option is vaguely called "Performance Enhance". To make things worse, there is no entry for it in the otherwise detailed BIOS section of the manual. Apparently the Performance Enhance option is supposed to control the chipset's internal timing options. You can choose between Standard, Turbo and Extreme. Finally, there is CPU Intelligent Accelerator 2 (C.I.A.2) option. This is the automated CPU overclocking feature of the motherboard. There are five different levels of automated overclocking starting with Cruise which overclocks the CPU by 5%-7%, depending on the CPU loading, all the way up to the maximum setting of Full Thrust, which overclocks the CPU by 17%-19%.
Moving on to manual settings, the FSB can be set to anything from 100MHz to 700 MHz. The speed of the memory can be adjusted through via a memory multiplier and the actual memory frequency results from the multiplier combined with the FSB. The multipliers available are 2.4, 3.0, 3.2, and 4.0. There is also an Auto setting that lets the motherboard choose for you.
there is no way to unlink the memory frequency from the FSB. The estimated actual frequency of the memory is displayed below the memory multiplier option. There is an interesting setting called "High Speed DRAM DLL Settings" that toggles the way memory timings are handled internally between two options. If your memory overclock fails, you could try the second option and it could end up working out.
Lastly, we have the voltage settings, or rather the OVERvoltage settings. There is no way to undervolt anything except the CPU. The memory voltage can be increased by as little as 0.05V to as much as 1.55V, in 0.05V increments. The PCI-E and FSB voltages can both be increased by as much as 0.35V in 0.05V increments. The FSB voltage setting effectively increases the voltage to the north bridge. The south bridge's voltage is controlled through the 'MCH' setting and it can be tweaked as high as 0.375V in 0.025V increments. Finally, we have the CPU voltage setting, which is not an overvoltage. The CPU can be set from as low as 0.5V to as high as 2.35V. The increments between the settings differ depending on which part of the voltage spectrum you're in.
The P35T-DQ6's BIOS has one last trick up its sleeve. Many of the settings in the M.I.T. menu are monitored by the BIOS so if you create a potentially troubling setting combination flashing red warning text will appear on your screen. The entire BIOS is also self-documented, with information being displayed on a bar to the right, although the description is usually very cursory. Overall the P35T-DQ6's BIOS is well laid out and easy to use. We found the Overclocking options to be acceptable and the warning indicators somewhat helpful, especially when first getting used to the BIOS. The only thing we didn't particularly like was the default locking of the memory timing settings, which we thought was unnecessary.
We took our Core 2 E6850 processor and set out to see if the P35T-DQ6 could match the P5K3 Deluxe's overclocking results. We loaded the BIOS' optimized defaults, dropped our multiplier to 6, then increased the FSB as far as we could go without having to increase voltages to achieve stability. The frequency of our Kingston KHX11000 modules were kept as close to their rated speed of 1375MHz in the BIOS' memory multiplier settings as possible.
We were able to take our FSB to a very nice 530MHz (2120MHz effective), resulting in a CPU frequency of 3180MHz. This is the highest FSB our system was able to handle with perfect stability. That's 5MHz lower FSB overclock than the P5K3 Deluxe was able to achieve. However, it isn't much of a difference. Just like with the P5K3 Deluxe, these results were obtained at stock voltages using stock cooling.
We particularly enjoyed overclocking the P35T-DQ6 because it was such a painless process. If we went too far and the system failed to boot, after 3 unsuccessful tries the CMOS would automatically reset itself. We never once had to manually reset the CMOS after a failed overclocking attempt. The P35T-DQ6 was also surprisingly resistant to instability during booting, it would either boot as usual or fail completely and restart itself automatically. No middle-ground that ultimately results in a frozen screen in the middle of the boot process. Overall, this meant that the P35T-DQ6 was a joy to work with.
|Test Systems & SiSoft SANDRA|
How we configured our test systems: When configuring our test systems for the following set of benchmarks, we first entered their respective system BIOSes and set each board to its "Optimized" or "High-Performance Defaults." We then saved the settings, re-entered the BIOS and set memory timings for DDR3-1066 at 7,7,7,20 latency. The hard drives were then formatted, and Windows XP Professional SP2 was installed. When the Windows installation was complete, we installed the drivers necessary for our components, and removed Windows Messenger from the system. Auto-Updating and System Restore were then disabled, and we set up a 768MB permanent page file on the same partition as the Windows installation. Lastly, we set Windows XP's Visual Effects to "best performance," installed all of our benchmarking software, defragged the hard drives, and ran all of the tests.
We began our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran three of the built-in subsystem tests that partially comprise the SANDRA 2007 suite (CPU, Multimedia, and Memory) with the ASUS P5K3 Deluxe, Gigabyte GA-P35T-DQ6 and our Core 2 Duo E6850 processor. All of the scores reported below were taken with the processor running at its default clock speed of 3.00GHz.
The ASUS P5K3 Deluxe takes an early lead, beating the Gigabyte GA-P35T-DQ6 in both the SANDRA processor arithmetic test and the processor multimedia test. However, the P35T-DQ6 wins the memory bandwidth test. This is a good start for the P5K3 Deluxe. Could this be the start of a trend?
|PCMark05 CPU & Memory Benchmarks|
For our next round of synthetic benchmarks, we ran the CPU and Memory performance modules built into Futuremark's PCMark05. For those interested in more than just the graphs, however, we've got a couple of quotes directly from Futuremark that explain exactly what these tests do and how they work.
"The CPU test suite is a collection of tests that are run to isolate the performance of the CPU. The CPU Test Suite also includes multithreading: two of the test scenarios are run multithreaded; the other including two simultaneous tests and the other running four tests simultaneously. The remaining six tests are run single threaded. Operations include, File Compression/Decompression, Encryption/Decryption, Image Decompression, and Audio Compression" - Courtesy FutureMark Corp.
Unlike our SANDRA results, the PC Mark 2005 scores don't show much of a difference between the two boards. Although the ASUS P5K3 Deluxe comes in first, it does so just barely. The difference is certainly small enough to be negligible.
"The Memory test suite is a collection of tests that isolate the performance of the memory subsystem. The memory subsystem consists of various devices on the PC. This includes the main memory, the CPU internal cache (known as the L1 cache) and the external cache (known as the L2 cache). As it is difficult to find applications that only stress the memory, we explicitly developed a set of tests geared for this purpose. The tests are written in C++ and assembly. They include: Reading data blocks from memory, Writing data blocks to memory performing copy operations on data blocks, random access to data items and latency testing." - Courtesy FutureMark Corp.
As with the CPU test, the two boards are neck and neck when it comes to memory performance. The P5K3 Deluxe wins again but just like with the CPU test, the P35T-DQ6 only lost by a hair.
|WorldBench Office & Photoshop Benchmarks|
PC World Magazine's Worldbench is a new breed of Business and Professional application benchmark. Worldbench 5.0 consists of a number of performance modules that each utilize one, or a group of, popular applications to gauge performance.
Below we have the results from WB 5's Office XP SP2 and Photoshop 7 modules, recorded in seconds. Lower times indicate better performance here, so the shorter the bar the better.
With WorldBench, we see a similar trend to our PC Mark results, with both boards scoring nearly the same. Although the P5K3 Deluxe wins both the MS Office and Photoshop tests, it only beat the P35T-DQ6 by 5 and 9 seconds respectively. Considering the margin of error for the benchmarks, you will probably never notice the differences during every day usage of either program.
|WorldBench Multi-task & LAME MP3 Benchmarks|
We continued our comparison of the ASUS and Gigabyte motherboards with a Windows Media Encoder benchmark that is is also part of the Worldbench 5.0 suite, a video is encoded using Windows Media Encoder, while an instance of the Mozilla browser is also running and navigating through various cached pages. Because the system is multi-tasking with two different applications, this test is more taxing and representative of a common multitasking end user experience.
The gap between the boards gets even more narrow in the multimedia test. The two boards post scores within 1% of each other. Once again, during real-world usage, the performance difference would be completely unnoticeable.
In our custom LAME MT MP3 encoding test, we convert a large WAV file to the MP3 format, which is a very popular scenario that many end users work with on a day-to-day basis, to provide portability and storage of their digital audio content. In this test, we created our own 223MB WAV file (a never-ending Grateful Dead jam) and converted it to the MP3 format using the multi-thread capable LAME MT application in single and multi-thread modes. Processing times are recorded below. Once again, shorter times equate to better performance.
The same trend continues in our LameMT MP3 encoding test. The ASUS P5K3 Deluxe edges out the Gigabyte P35T-DQ6 to take first place.
|Cinebench, Kribibench & 3DMark06 CPU Benchmarks|
The Maxon Cinebench Revision 10 is the latest version of the popular Cinebench rendering benchmark. Cinebench is an OpenGL 3D rendering performance test, based on the commercially available Cinema 4D application. This is a multi-threaded, multi-processor aware benchmark that renders a single 3D scene and tracks the length of the entire process. The time it took each test system to render the entire scene is represented in the graph below (listed in seconds).
Once again the P5K3 Deluxe takes the prize although the P35T-DQ6 is right behind. Although the performance difference is still very small and basically negligible, the gap has increased slightly over the WorldBench tests.
For this next batch of tests, we ran Kribibench v1.1, a 3D rendering benchmark produced by the folks at Adept Development. Kribibench is an SSE aware software renderer where
a 3D model is rendered and animated by the host CPU and the average frame rate is reported
. We used two of the included models with this benchmark: a "Sponge Explode" model consisting of over 19.2 million polygons and the test suite's "Ultra" model that is comprised of over 16 billion polys
The Kribibench results maintain the trend we have observed so far in our tests, with the P5K3 Deluxe coming in first, followed very closely by the P35T-DQ6. With as much as 16 billion polygons on screen in the case of the 'Ultra' model, which consists of hundreds of thousands of individual rendered houses, even our mighty Intel Core 2 Duo E6850 is brought to its knees.
3DMark06's built-in CPU test is a multi-threaded "gaming related" DirectX metric that's useful for comparing relative performance between similarly equipped systems. This test consists of two different 3D scenes that are generated with a software renderer, which is dependant on the host CPU's performance. This means that the calculations normally reserved for your 3D accelerator are instead sent to the central processor. The number of frames generated per second in each test are used to determine the final score.
Remembering that higher scores are better in 3DMark, we see the P5K3 Deluxe has taken the lead, barely. While scores like these aren't particularly interesting since they both share the same chipset, it is surprising that ASUS P5K3 Deluxe manages to consistantly capture first place, indication that it isn't just lucky.
|Game Testing: Quake 4 & F.E.A.R.|
For our first gaming test, we benchmarked the test systems using the multi-player Quake 4 timedemo that comes with the game. Then after that, we set them loose on F.E.A.R. To try and isolate the motherboard's performance as much as possible we dropped the graphics settings to a minimum and cranked the processor settings to the max. We also used a resolution of 640x480, also as an attempt to isolate processer and chipset performance.
While the P5K3 put forth a good effort, it was edged out by the P35T-DQ6 here.
The P5K3 Deluxe wins the last of our tests, maintaining the trend it has kept almost throughout our tests. We also couldn't help noticing that the NVIDIA 8800GTXs in our test rig produced some insane frame rates at these low settings.
|Performance Summary & Conclusion|
Benchmark And Performance Summary:
The performance of both boards was excellent. The P5K3 Deluxe and the P35T-DQ6 were evenly matched and they consistantly posted benchmarks scores within 1%-2% of each other. However, the P5K3 Deluxe did perform the best in the majority of our tests. Even though all of our test results were very close and most of the time, the P5K3's lead on the P35T-DQ6 was small enough to be attributed to a particular benchmark's margin of error, the fact that the P5K3 Deluxe consistantly came out on top tells us that is not the case. The P5K3 Deluxe was the better performer, although just barely. Ultimately the performance gap between the two boards is negligible and the performance of either board should be more than satisfactory.
ASUS P5K3 Deluxe :
Despite some minor layout issues, the P5K3 Deluxe is an excellent, well-rounded board that performs well and overclocks even better. The 535MHz FSB frequency we were able to achieve at standard voltage is very impressive and the P5K3's BIOS options were exceptional. We enjoyed the level of detail of the settings and we especially liked being able to choose the FSB northbridge strap if we wanted to.
While its overclocking prowess is indeed impressive, the P5K3 Deluxe also has a very nice feature set. The integrated Wi-Fi adapter in addition to the two onboard gigabit ethernet controllers means the P5K3 Deluxe is a formidable networking device that can easily act as the center of your network. We also really liked the P5K3's onboard I/O setup. We liked that ASUS decided to go with a legacy-free approach but still included a PS/2 port, since there are many users who have PS/2 keyboards that they absolutely refuse to part with. We also liked that ASUS was able to fit six USB ports on the I/O panel which means we're that much less dependent on the included USB headers, which may not be available if all the expansion slots are being used.
However, the P5K3 Deluxe isn't without faults and we found the position of the CMOS reset jumper as well as the onboard CD-In connector to be poorly placed and quite unusable when a double-height video card is installed in the first PCI-E x16 slot.
The P5K3 Deluxe is an excellent board and a great example of what the P35 Express chipset has to offer. Although it comes at the somewhat high price of $250, the price of admission is worth it if you're looking for a fully-featured companion for your brand new 1333MHz FSB Core 2 processor and sticks of DDR3 memory, or if you are upgrading from an older chipset and enjoy the piece of mind of knowing the P35 Express will be compatible with the upcoming next generation of Intel processors. If you're not quite ready to ditch your DDR2 memory yet but you want the benefits of the P35 Express chipset, you can look to the P5K Deluxe, which is essentually a DDR2 version of the P5K3 Deluxe.
The P35T-DQ6 is a somewhat different take on what a top-end P35 Express board should be. While it doesn't offer a second gigabit ethernet controller or integrated Wi-Fi, it does share the P5K3's affinity for performance and overclocking. In addition, the P35T-DQ6 is outfitted with Gigabyte's Ultra Durable 2 kit, which should lend extra stability and longevity to your system. While it is hard to gauge whether the fancy Ultra Durable features really work or not, we can tell you that the P35T-DQ6 is an amazingly stable board that never once gave us a problem. Regardless of what we did or how badly we overshot an overclock attempt, the P35T-DQ6 always recovered on its own, with no assistance or extra work on our part.
One area where the P35T-DQ6 did have an issue was in regard to the oversized cooling system. While it looks very impressive, the cooling system is arguably too large and heavy. This creates some annoying issues during installation since the heatsinks are often so tall that when expansion cards are installed, it was very difficult to reach parts of the board to plug in cables and access jumpers. However, these issues are quite minor and pale in comparison to the board's many advantages.
The P35T-DQ6 offers virtually the same levels of performance and overclocking as the P5K3 Deluxe at a slightly lower price of $240. If you're not interested in the P5K3's extended networking capability or you simply prefer the piece of mind that the components of the 'Ultra Durable' variety can provide, the P35T-DQ6 makes for an excellent choice. Just like ASUS, Gigabyte offers a DDR2 version of many of their P35 Express based boards and the DDR2 version of the P35T-DQ6, the P35-DQ6, can be had for $5 less.