Benchmark Analysis and Conclusion
Looking back at all the numbers, it's relatively obvious that Intel's new PCI Express/DDR2-driven Alderwood chipset is maturing with mainstream motherboard OEMs such as ABIT and ASUS. While the Intel-built board we tested in our June launch article showed little to no gain over the i875 test bed, the ABIT AA8 DuraMAX and ASUS P5AD2 exhibited consistently better performance across our entire suite of benchmarks. With CAS3-timed DDR2 DRAM offering higher overall system bandwidth, along with the modest near-term gains of PCI Express graphics, the i925X should quickly be coming of age.
In terms of relative performance between the ABIT AA8 DuraMAX and the ASUS P5AD2 Premium, it was a virtual dead heat. Although ASUS times their stock FSB speeds a bit more aggressively than ABIT, this only offered an insignificant gain. By and large, the two boards performed within a few percentage points of each other in any given benchmark scenario.
The only major hurdle this new high-end platform needs to overcome is adoption in the market place. With a new CPU socket and pin-out interface, new memory, and a potential need for a new power supply, if you are migrating from a recent high-end i875- or i865-based system, there are probably better ways to invest your money. However, for a new system build or prebuilds from system OEMs, it certainly makes perfect sense to spend a little extra on Intel's latest enthusiast/high-end workstation platform, investing in its modest performance gains today and significant upside potential down the road.
ABIT's AA8 DuraMAX:
Superb stability, excellent overclocking headroom, and a well-rounded feature set are the hallmarks of this board. We pushed the AA8 to the limits of our CPU and memory components, and the board actually exhibited slightly more stable performance under extreme duress than the ASUS board. In addition, while the ASUS P5AD2 proved a bit finicky with certain memory modules we tried (Kingston DDR2 ValueRAM), the ABIT AA8 held up strong with just about every reasonable setting we threw at it.
The board has four channels of SATA RAID, Gig-E, integrated high-def audio, and some nice overclocking and monitoring utilities with ABIT's uGuru and OC Guru technologies. With retail prices dropping in around $175 on our PriceGrabber search engine, the AA8 is a solid deal for all that it offers. As a frame of reference, ABIT's high-end IC7-G Canterwood board retails for about $150. We're giving the ABIT AA8 DuraMAX an 8.5.
ASUS P5AD2 Premium Wireless Edition:
The ASUS P5AD2 was also a very stable motherboard and more-than-capable overclocker. The board,along with the ABIT board, hit our 4GHz overclock goal at blistering DDR2 667MHz memory speeds. We did witness a bit of instability with some Kingston DDR2 memory at stock speeds, oddly enough. This was a minor issue, and we think it was related to the BIOS timings for memory at stocks speeds being a bit too aggressive. When we overclocked, the timings were a bit more relaxed, and our Kingston Value RAM ran just fine. This issue should also be easily resolvable with a BIOS update in the future.
More importantly, what is most impressive about this ASUS motherboard is its wide dizzying array of features and performance tweaking options. Its BIOS has a plethora of settings, and the ASUS AI NOS overclocking features, with its dynamic overclocking based on system load, is a real innovation that many users can and will take full advantage of. Add to that standard integrated 802.11g wireless networking, dual Gig-E ports, eight channels of RAID-ready Serial ATA, and 1394B FireWire, and we're not sure what else ASUS could have done to buff this board out more.
On the flip side, all of these features come at a price, with the Premium Edition we tested (Dual Gig-E and 1394B FireWire) weighing in at $259, nearly $100 more than ABIT's AA8. The "Deluxe" version of this board (one Gig-E port and 1394A FireWire), drops in around $229. With its integrated 54g Wi-Fi functionality, this is potentially a better deal for some folks. We're giving the ASUS P5AD2 Premium, for all its features and innovation, a 9 on the Heat Meter.