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Typical BIOS Flaws

ASUSTeK is a recognized leader in the mainboard business. They design and manufacture mainboards with excellent features. Some of them are truly unique and some boast terrific overclocking potential. Unfortunately, there are a few serious drawbacks that keep migrating from one BIOS version to another and may be typical of all ASUS mainboards. I believe there are three major problems:

  1. BIOS is too smart;
  2. Processor power-saving technologies get disabled once the Vcore is changed.
  3. They no longer support rotation speed management of processor fans with 3-pin connectors.

If the latter two issues pointed out are definitely drawbacks, then the first one is actually arguable. Of course, “smart” ASUS BIOS that can change frequencies and voltages on its own to ensure system stability is great help to commencing overclockers. I have very often come across the following messages in the forums: “I have just increased the FSB frequency and everything works!”. However, the newbie has absolutely no idea how much work the mainboard has actually done for him in this case: it reduced the memory frequency, increased the processor Vcore, Vmem and Vchipset, and corrected the timing settings. The first-time overclocker doesn’t even have to know about it: “smart” ASUS BIOS will do everything for him – a really great achievement.

However, no matter how smart the BIOS is, it cannot know the actual potential f the computer hardware that an experienced overclocker knows. Parameters that suit perfectly for average overclocking may be insufficient or excessive in some specific cases. Together with the other drawbacks it hinders overclocking on ASUS mainboards a lot and sometimes may affect the buying decision not in ASUS’ favor.

To back up my words, I would like to offer you an example. Not so long ago I put together two systems on two different mainboards with two different Conroe-2M processors. Totally by coincidence both processors could overclock to the same maximum frequency of 3150MHz with identical Vcore settings. However, the results of this overclocking experiment turned out different for both processors.

The first system was built with ASUS Commando mainboard on Intel P965 Express and Intel Core 2 Duo E4300 processor (1.8GHz, 200MHz FSB). If you didn’t know or forgot that it is an excellent mainboard, then check out our article called Asus Commando: First Look at a Dream Mainboard. It has a well-known drawbacks, though: FSB Strap that causes performance to drop starting at 401MHz FSB. However, at 400MHz and below this old mainboard can compete with any contemporary one just fine. However, we were not worried about FSB Strap, because we only needed to increase the FSB frequency to 350MHz in order to push our Intel Core 2 Duo E4300 to 3150MHz with a high clock frequency multiplier of x9. So, how far could we overclock our CPU on ASUS Commando mainboard? – To 2.52GHz.

Of course, the mainboard as well as the CPU could do better than that, but the reasons that led to this result lined up as follows. Since the mainboard cannot control the rotation speed of a processor fan with a three-pin connector (drawback No.3), we used a very powerful but very quiet cooler, even at maximum rotation speed. So, to ensure that the cooler can cope with its task, we decided to overclock without raising the nominal processor core voltage. However, starting with 281MHz FSB the “smart” ASUS BIOS (drawback No.1) started raising the Vcore on its own, so we had to stop at 280MHz FSB, which prevented us from overclocking any further. It is also impossible to set the CPU Vcore at a fixed rate, because in this case processor power-saving technologies get turned off (drawback No.2).

Combination of these three drawbacks didn’t let us overclock the CPU to the maximum and cost us 630MHz of processor speed. It is a pretty significant loss, far not every processor can actually overclock that far and in our case this practically guaranteed overclocking result was taken away from us. However, when we overclocked our second system built on MSI P35 Platinum mainboard with Intel Core 2 Duo E6300 processor (1.86GHz, 266MHz FSB), there were no problems at all.

I am not going to idealize MSI mainboard based on this result and when I said we didn’t have any problems, I actually embroidered the reality a little bit. MSI P35 Platinum mainboard has very efficient chipset cooling system and a number of drawbacks that haven’t gone anywhere since we posted our review of this solution last year (for details see our article called Experience the Roller Coaster: MSI P35 Platinum Mainboard Review).

The mainboard can unexpectedly increase the NB voltage when the FSB frequency increases. During overclocking we need to reset the jumpers to trick FSB Strap and avoid performance drop, but it will inevitably catch up with us once we hit 514MHz FSB. However, we were not worried about this unique drawback typical only for MSI P35 Platinum and P35 Combo mainboards, because we only needed to increase FSB to 450MHz in order to overclock our Intel Core 2 Duo E6300 to 3150MHz frequency. Besides, the mainboard also cannot control the rotation speed of a three-pin processor fan, so our overclocking was limited by the nominal CPU Vcore and the cooler rotation sped was reduced to minimum using an external fan rotation speed controller.

I mentioned far not all the drawbacks of MSI P35 Platinum mainboard here. Timing settings are also very inconvenient: you can either set all of them to Auto or have to set all of them manually. It is hard to connect more than two hard disk drives because two chipset Serial ATA connectors exist in the rear panel as eSATA ports, and the other two are blocked by the graphics card cooler. However, once we resolved all the issues, we ended up with a very quiet system where the CPU was working at its maximum possible frequency in these conditions of 3150MHz and had all its power-saving technologies up and running, so that the CPU Vcore and clock multiplier could be lowered in idle mode.

So, what mainboard is better for overclocking: excellent ASUS Commando, or not very convenient to work with MSI P35 Platinum? I would have immediately chosen the former, but it turns out it is in fact the latter. All they really need to do is fix the following three issues to take the last chance away from the competitors:

  1. Allow disabling the “smart” BIOS;
  2. Allow processor power-saving technologies to keep running if the CPU Vcore changes;
  3. Give the boards back their ability to control rotation speed of CPU fans with three-pin connectors.

And while they haven’t done it yet, let’s see how well ASUS P5N-D mainboard will cope with CPU overclocking.

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