|Introduction and Specifications|
Six to nine months prior to the launch of Intel's Core 2 Duo product line, if you polled the average HotHardware.com reader, regarding their thoughts on an Intel 975X based motherboard, you might well have gotten a luke-warm reception. Back then AMD's dual core Athlon 64 X2 and FX offerings were in full stride and NVIDIA's nForce 4 chipset found its way into many high-end Desktop systems. On the contrary, no one would argue that Intel's 975X chipset was not without its own merits for die-hard Intel customers.
Let's face it though, without a more efficient and capable CPU under the hood, Intel's market share in both processors and chipsets, was being whittled away and with good reason. The introduction of Intel's latest flagship line of dual core processors, dubbed Core 2 Duo, also know its code name of Conroe, has breathed new life into Intel's adjacent chipset business. Intel's "ecosystem" has gotten significantly healthier in the past few months to be sure.
Today we're taking a look at a new motherboard from Asus based on the same Intel 975X chipset that has been out on the market since December of last year. While typically many of you might conjure up a yawn at the thought of a 10 month old product, with Conroe driving the performance testing, we're sure you'll all sit up and take note. Asus' new P5W DH Deluxe is on the HotHardware test-track today and a Core 2 Duo E6700 is at the wheel.
Outfitted with a new CPU power array around its socket and a Conroe-compatible BIOS, the P5W DH Deluxe also sports a wealth of the latest integrated motherboard technologies. An on-board HD Audio solution is provided via Realtek's ALC882 7.1+2 Channel High Definition audio codec that included five 24-bit stereo DACs and three 20-bit stereo DACs and a 100dB or better signal-to-noise ratio. Not bad for starters but the board's feature list goes on. Let's take a closer look.
|The Board and Bundle|
Probably one of the best looking motherboards to grace our labs in a long time, the P5W DH Deluxe is what some might call a "totally decked-out" design. Every square inch of the board is packed tight with technology from its Dual Gig-E ports, to its 8-channel audio jacks, and the board's three, that's correct, three RAID controller chips.
Dual X16 PEG slots are also available for support of ATI dual Graphics CrossFire setups in a dual X8 PCIe configuration. Heat-Pipe connected passive heatsinks adorn the board's MOSFET power array and Northbridge chip, while a stand-alone sink dissipates heat from the Southbridge. Also, as we noted earlier, the P5W DH Deluxe has three on-board SATA RAID controllers -- the Intel ICH7R Southbridge with three available connectors, a Silicon Image SIL4723 2 channel RAID processor with two connectors and a JMicron LBM363 SATA RAID controller that has one internal and one external SATA connector.
As you'll see in the pages ahead, the SIL4723 does offer decent RAID capabilities, along with the JMicron chip which is only really targeted for two single SATA connections though it too offers RAID functionality. However, we sorely missed that forth SATA connector off the ICH7R. For example, users looking for a 4-drive RAID 10 setup will need to configure three of the drives on the ICH7R's ports and one of the driver on the SIL4723's port. This is because the fourth ICH7R port is connected to the SIL4723 and split into two ports.
The P5W DH Deluxe also has an integrated 54g WiFi NIC installed with a proprietary connector on the PCB, as well as a unique header and backplate port called "MP3IN" that allows users to feed an MP3 player into the motherboard's integrated audio solution.
In addition, the P5W DH comes equipped with the a wide array of cabling and IO connector plates to support all available features on the board with the proper connectivity. Asus also bundles in an antenna for the WiFi NIC and a small remote control package (testing results later) that can operate some basic media control and even advanced stand-bye/power control functions of the board. Lastly, Asus documents the board nicely with an assortment of literature for all the board's integrated functionality and drops in their obligatory Media Launcher CD with WinDVD Suite Advanced from InterVideo as its core software component.
|BIOS and Overclocking|
The Asus P5WDG2-WS DH Deluxe is equipped with an AMI (American Megatrends, Inc.) BIOS, that is relatively complete and fairly easy to navigate. 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.
The board also allows users to tweak memory, processor core, FSB, Northbridge and Southbridge voltages. The memory voltage can be set as high as 2.4v, the Vcore as high as 1.7v, FSB as high as 1.5, and the Northbridge and Southbridge voltages can be set as high as 1.65v and 1.2v, respectively. Since the P5W DH Deluxe is targeted at enthusiasts and power users, Asus incorporated a host of overclocking tools into its system BIOS as well. With the P5W DH Deluxe, users have the ability to alter their processor's front side bus frequency in 1MHz increments, between 100MHz and 450MHz. And they can also set the memory to run at an assortment of frequencies, including 1066MHz when using a processor with a similar FSB. PCI Express and PCI clocks can also be altered, or locked in to their default values.
Armed with a Core 2 Duo E6700 processor, we set out to see how high we could overclock our CPU by altering the voltages and the FSB. We bumped our memory voltage to 2.3v and increased the processor core voltage by .1v. Then we jacked up the FSB as far as we could, keeping memory speeds within reasonable limits, via the board's multitude of clock divisors.
When all was said and done, we were able to take our E6700 CPU to 3.5GHz, by raising its FSB to 350MHz and running our RAM at DDR2-1050MHz settings in the BIOS. This overclock was achieved with the help of one of our favorite standard LGA775 type HSF coolers from Arctic Cooling, the AC Freezer 7.
|Asus EZ-Backup RAID, Wifi AP Solo, and DH Remote|
Next we'll cover some of the features that are unique to this new high end Motherboard from Asus. Asus coins the culmination of these various features as the "Digital Home" experience. Here's a quick-take on a few key salient points.
The beauty of this solution is its driverless and configuration free installation. Unfortunately, EZ-Backup, at least for us, wasn't as "EZ" as we would have liked. In fact, we were able to configure a RAID 1 array but RAID 0 took a bit of work to get running. The motherboard's setup manual instructs you on the jumper configurations for a RAID 0 (RAID 1 is the board's default setting), along with a mode-change toggle in the BIOS. Unfortunately no matter what we did, we couldn't get the machine to set the array to RAID 0 mode at first but with some help from Asus support and a BIOS update, RAID 0 was possible. Although we didn't have time to run RAID 0 tests for you, we did run through some testing with a RAID 1 setup.
EZ-Backup Manager makes quick work of array status and health monitoring. You can also update Controller Firmware with this utility.
HD Tach EZ-Backup RAID1 Results
As a reference data-point, we've listed what a standard ICH7R RAID1 setup can do on this motherboard versus the HD Tach scores you see in the above graph. In short, RAID 1 performance of the SteelVine chip is on par with ICH7 RAID performance and at slightly less CPU utilization of 2% or so. Finally, one downside to the board's Storage configuration (recall the JMicron controller for External SATA as well) is that there are only 3 SATA ports off the board's ICH7R Southbridge. Frankly, we prefer the traditionally available 4-port ICH7R setups that are on other Intel chipset based motherboards from Asus, rather than this two-port Silicon Image/EZ-Backup controller in conjunction with only three ICH7R ports, especially since it does add cost to the board. Maybe a BIOS revision or two down the road and things will smooth out for the Silicon Image solution on this motherboard. Success with decent performance in a RAID 0 configuration may have colored our opinion a bit differently here.
Wifi AP Solo:
Just for some rough baseline testing, we ran SANDRA's Network Bandwidth test on our 54Mbps 802.11g connection with the P5W DH Deluxe and then again on the board's Gig-E wired port.
As you can see, though we certainly wouldn't expect it to stand up to the board's Gig-E link, the WiFi throughput here is just slightly lower than SANDRA's 54Mbps WiFi reference system. We should note we performed this test about 30 feet away from our lab's 802.11b/g/n Netgear Wireless Router with no large walls or obstructions in the way and a signal strength of 84% noted in the WiFi AP Solo utility.
The transmitter in the DH Remote's package is an Infrared-type unit rather than RF, so you need to be directly in front of the USB receptor unit for it to work reliably and we do mean d-i-r-e-c-t-l-y in front of it. The software and remote control functionality does add some usefulness to the package, however, with the ability to put the machine into "Noise Off" mode (fan throttling), "EZ-WiFi" mode (sleep mode with WiFi support) and even run a multimedia application like Windows Media Player (user configurable) at the touch of a single button. Standard system Hibernate, Volume, Play, Skip, FF and RW functions are available on the remote as well.
|Test Systems and 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 DDR2-800 at 4,4,4,12 1T 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 P5W DH Deluxe and our Core 2 Duo E6700 processor. All of the scores reported below were taken with the processor running at its default clock speed of 2.66GHz.
On all accounts the P5W DH Deluxe put up slightly better numbers than Intel's own 975X based "BadAxe" motherboard. Asus has historically been known to tweak their FSB settings a little aggressively even at stock speed settings, so this is not surprising. In any event, the performance differentials were minimal.
|PCMark CPU and Memory Tests|
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.
From this point forward in this showcase, we'll be comparing the performance of Asus' 975X Express chipset based P5W DH Deluxe motherboard to Intel's own D975XBX, and an AMD Athon 64 X2 5000+ powered Asus M2N32-SLI motherboard that's based on the NVIDIA nForce 590 SLI chipset.
As you can see, PCMark05's CPU performance module had the P5W DH Deluxe outperforming Intel's offering by a slight margin, similar to what we saw with SANDRA tests. The AMD powered 5000+ system lagged behind by a sizable deficit though.
"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.
Oddly enough, though we re-ran this test over and over, the Intel D975XBX shows measurably better memory throughput in this PCMark05 test module though both boards were configured with identical DDR2-800 4-4-4-12-1T timings. Again, though running with the same DDR2 memory speeds, the Athlon 64 5000+/NF590 system couldn't compete, which is more than likely due to the higher bandwidth cache architecture in the Core 2 Duo E6700.
|Office XP and Photoshop 7|
PC World Magazine's Worldbench 5.0 is a new breed of Business and Professional application benchmark, that has replaced the aging and no-longer supported Content Creation and Business Winstone tests in our suite. 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.
Once again the P5W DH is slightly outpaced by the Intel D975XBX motherboard in both Office XP and PhotoShop 7, though the margins are admittedly very slim; on the order of 1 - 5% in fact. This isn't enough to be concerned with frankly and it's the type of delta a future BIOS revision could remedy for Asus in the weeks ahead.
|WME9 / Mozilla MT and Lame MP3 MT|
We continued our testing of Asus' P5W DH Deluxe motherboard 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.
In our final WorldBench 5 test, the Athlon 64 X2 system is completely out-classed by its Conroe driven counterparts. The two Intel based boards are almost twice as fast in this test, and again, the P5W DH Deluxe from Asus is neck-and-neck with the Intel D975XBX motherboard.
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.
This time the Asus P5W DH scores a first place slot in our Lame MP3 encoding tests, whether in single-threaded or multi-threaded mode but it is definitely not a photo finish like we have seen previously, with the advantage going to Asus by about 10% in our multi-threaded test.
|Cinebench and 3DMark06|
The Cinebench 2003 benchmark 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).
The trend continues, as the Asus and Intel boards take on the Athlon/nForce 590 combination with relative ease, and between each other, there is hardly a gap to measure
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.
Similar to what we saw in our PCMark05 tests, the P5W DH's slightly goosed up stock CPU speeds allow it to edge out the D975XBX from Intel in 3DMark06's CPU test. Also, the Core 2 Duo E6700 shows approximately 17% advantage over the Athlon 64 5000+.
|Game Testing - Quake 4|
For our first gaming test, we benchmarked all of the test systems using a custom single-player Quake 4 timedemo. Here, we installed the v1.2 patch which is SMP capable, cranked the resolution down to 640 x 480, and configured the game to run at its "Low-Quality" graphics setting. Although Quake 4 typically taxes today's high-end GPUs, when it's configured at these minimal settings it too is more CPU and memory-bound than anything else.
More of the same impressive performance here; a healthy lead for the E6700 driven systems and the Asus P5W DH Deluxe motherboard over the A64 5000+, and a real horse race between the Asus and Intel 975X-based motherboards.
Then, to see how Asus' P5W DH Deluxe would fare in a typical high-end gaming scenario, we also tested it with Quake 4 at high-resolution settings that tax the graphics sub-system of each of our test machines. This time we changed our configuration to a Radeon X1900 CrossFire setup to show you what mult-GPU performance can be like on this motherboard.
Our Quake 4 CrossFire scores are approximately 81% faster than a single card configuration on the Asus P5W DH Deluxe from Asus. Someday we'd love to see NVIDIA open up their drivers and allow SLI setups on Intel chipset-based boards. Are we dreamers? Perhaps but then again we've learned not to be surprised by much in little industry of ours.
|High Res Gaming With F.E.A.R.|
We performed the same test with F.E.A.R. and our pair of Radeon X1900 XTs in CrossFire mode, just to show you the performance profile of the P5W DH in this type of setup.
The Asus P5W DH and Radeon X1900 CrossFire combination yields a 58% performance gain versus single graphics frame-rates in F.E.A.R. at the resolution and IQ settings we tested. For those of you that are hell-bent on the upmost gaming performance and image quality settings multi-GPU setups are the way to fly these days.
|Benchmark Wrap-up and Conclusion|
Benchmark And Performance Summary:
Where Asus and others will differentiate their offerings will be on features, stability and price. With respect to stability the P5W DH Deluxe performed admirably, overclocking our Core 2 Duo E6700 to new heights and showing rock-solid stability during several installations and heavy stress-testing. On the features side of the equation, you'd be hard-pressed to find another motherboard that provide more add-ons and additional functionality integration than the P5W DH. The P5W DH Deluxe has three SATA RAID controllers on board, integrated WiFi, HD Audio and even comes with an infrared remote control for general system and multimedia control.
Asus pulled out all the stops on this motherboard, but that also ratchets up its price point a bit ($255 currently in our HH PriceGrabber store). In the end, we struggled just a little working with the board's EZ-Backup RAID controller as well as the remote. We were left wishing these options were omitted perhaps, leaving room for one more SATA port off the ICH7 Southbridge and keeping costs in line a bit more. Maybe the addition of a standard Silicon Image software RAID controller would have been a better way to approach storage expansion, but then again, that's just our personal preference.
In the final analysis we'd say the Asus P56W DH Deluxe is a great new motherboard to base your first Core 2 Duo system build on. Its performance is first-rate, it's decked out with a multitude of trimmings and integrated features and overclocks like nobody's business. Taking the plunge on one of these new motherboards from Asus may cost you a bit more but if you want all the bells and whistles, the P5W DH Deluxe could be just what the doctor ordered.