ASUS P5W64 WS Professional: A Mainboard with Four PCI Express x16 Slots

Please meet ASUS P5W64 WS Professional Wall Street Quartet mainboard on i975X chipset that features four PCI-Express x16 slots that can accommodate four graphics cards and hence allow connecting 8 monitors to the system. More details in our review!

by Doors4ever
10/26/2006 | 07:16 PM

The situation in the computer market has always changed rapidly, but these days everything happens so quickly that it looks like we are at some crucial turning-point. The computer world is standing on three foundations: the CPUs, the graphics cards and the mainboards, so any sort of changes will immediately be noticed.

 

It took Intel some time to realize that frequency is not the most important thing in life. However once they realized it, they launched very successful Core 2 Duo processor family. Of course, they are not going to stop right there and although even the potential of dual-core processors is not yet fully utilized they are very soon going to move everyone to quad-core solutions. AMD is also trying to keep up with their 4x4 platform concept.

The graphics card makers are sticking to the general tendency towards increasing the number of GPUs. At first only Nvidia Company tried to convince us that two graphics cards working in SLI mode are better than one, then their main competitor joined them with ATI CrossFire technology. And some time ago ATI went even further having announced Stream Computing technology that performs all calculations in the graphics chips.

If two graphics cards are working in CrossFire mode then the third one can deal with physics calculations, since even relatively old graphics cards like Radeon X1600 based ones claim to support Havok FX. Three graphics card in a single computer system is an even more doubtful solution these days than quad-core CPUs. From this prospective, Nvidia’s solution seems to be more realistic: they are rumored to be integrating physics calculations support into their top GPUs within the Quantum Effects technology implementation.

The third “foundation” is represented by the mainboard guys is still picking up pace and getting ready for changes to come, although they start to feature some cool innovations such as digital CPU power consumption control, for instance. Although they promised to introduce support of three PCI Express x16 slots (for a pair of graphics cards working together and the third one dealing with physics) only in the next generation chipsets, ASUS is already offering P5W64 WS Professional mainboard equipped with four PCI-E x16 slots.

Package and Specs

ASUS P5W64 WS Professional is based on i975X chipset that officially supports CrossFire technology. The manufacturer doesn’t deny the support of this feature, but it is also available on regular mainboards with only two PCI-E x16 slots. The unique feature of this particular mainboard is that it allows installing four graphics cards and hence connecting eight (!) monitors to it. Who might need a system like that and for what purpose?

 

The mainboard’s package gives you a few hints regarding this question. The package as well as the screen you get on system boot-up reads “Wall Street Quartet”. I guess everyone understands “quartet” – a direct mention of 4 PCI-E x16 slots. But what does the “Wall Street” stand for, apart from the fact that it is a financial world symbol?

The only explanation I could come up with that this mainboard is designed for financial specialists, who can display stock market reports and other data on eight monitors at the same time, in order to be able to monitor as much data as possible and to make sure that no important moment has been missed. In other words, ASUS P5W64 WS Professional is a solution with a very narrow application field. I would even say a conceptual solution, such as mainboards with valve sound amplifiers.

At the same time, I cannot claim that only financial professionals will benefit from ASUS P5W64 WS Professional mainboard. Even if you do not have 8 monitors, you may be pretty happy with this mainboard. Just take a closer look at the detailed list of mainboard features and supported technologies also available on the manufacturer’s web-site:

Closer Look

Let’s now take a closer look at the PCB design and features of ASUS P5W64 WS Professional mainboard.

Eight-phase processor voltage regulator has become a traditional feature of top ASUS mainboards. However, only half of MOSFET transistors are covered with the heatsink. Anyway, the main goal of this heatsink is to help cool down the chipset North Bridge, as it receives the heat from the chip via the heatpipe.

Of course, a mainboard that is ready to support multi-core processors as well as four graphics cards at a time should have an 8-pin CPU power supply connector and a 24-pin ATX connector onboard. The board will work with a 4-pin processor connector and a 20-pin ATX connector as well, but in this case you should better ensure additional power on the EZ-Plug connector.

The lower part of the PCB is stuffed with all sorts of additional controllers and ports.

ASUS used IDT 89HA0324 switch to ensure the support of four PCI-E x16 slots. It is covered with a Quartet heatsink. The ICH7R South Bridge also gets pretty warm at work and uses a small needle-shaped heatsink.

The mainboard supports two Parallel ATA and four Serial ATA devices thanks to the chipset South Bridge. The very bottom edge of the board is packed with connectors and ports: sound connectors, COM-port (a corresponding bracket comes with the board, although the specs do not mention any COM ports), USB, IEEE 1394 and three SATA connectors serviced by the Marvell 88SE6145 controller. The fourth eSATA connector implemented via the same controller is laid out on the back panel of the board, which also carries keyboard and mouse connectors, coaxial and optical S/PDIF connectors, six audio-jacks (ADI 1988B), LPT-port, 4 USB and 2 network RJ45 connectors (Marvell 88E8052 and 88E8001).

In conclusion to our visual inspection of ASUS P5W64 WS Professional mainboard I would like to mention that there are four fan connectors, three of which offer rotation speed management ability, and a TPM-connector in the lower right corner of the PCB above the front panel connectors. It is designed for the TPM-module (Trusted Platform Module) that stores safely all your passwords, keys, certificates and data. This module can be purchased separately.

As you see, the layout of ASUS P5W64 WS Professional mainboard is very compact and smart, despite the tremendous amount of different controllers and connectors.

BIOS

Now it is high time we took a closer look at the mainboard BIOS. When the article was written we had BIOS version 0215 available. It was based on AMI code. It looks very much like the BIOS of another ASUS mainboard on i975X chipset – ASUS P5W DH Deluxe – and boasts very similar lists of options. However, when we took a quick pick at ASUS P5W DH Deluxe mainboard in our previous articles, we didn’t pay due attention to the BIOS. Now we are going to correct this mistake with the help of our today’s hero - ASUS P5W64 WS Professional mainboard.

Most settings are in the Advanced section, so let’s start with the JumperFree Configuration page. Although at first the page doesn’t look very impressive, as there are only AI Overclocking and Performance Mode set to Auto and Stable Mode option available. The funny thing is that by default this option is Disabled. Well, you all already know that you can select one of the preset overclocking profiles for AI Overclocking, or go with automatic overclocking within relatively small range performed by AI N.O.S. if needed. If you decided to set everything manually, then the page will open up as follows:

FSB frequency can be adjusted from 100MHz to 500MHz with 1MHz increment. The memory frequency for the CPU running at 266MHz (1064MHz) nominal frequency can be selected from the following list: DDR2-400 / 533 / 667 / 711 / 800 / 889 / 1067MHz.

As for the voltages, Vmem may vary from 1.85V to 2.4V with 0.05V increment, the CPU Vcore - from 1.225V to 1.7V with 0.0125V increment, the MCH chipset voltage – from 1.5V to 1.8V with 0.1V increment.

FSB frequency can be adjusted with “+” and “-“ keys, and in all other cases, you can select the proper setting from the drop-down list.

The next page from the Advanced section we would like to draw your attention to is CPU Configuration. It lists the major processor specifications correctly, except the fact that the mainboard sees the CPU clock frequency multiplier as unlocked and can be increased up to 20x. in case of ASUS P5W DH Deluxe, we didn’t experience anything like that when we installed the same CPU.

Could it be this bug that caused numerous rumors about ASUS mainboards allowing clock multiplier increase? Actually, it is not like that at all, and the only thing you can do with the Default CPU Ratio parameter is reduce the coefficient to 6x. But what for? The default x7 multiplier is already low enough for overclocking.

Moreover, here you can set the power saving parameters and even disable one of the processor cores. In this case, the system will recognize Allendale based CPU as Conroe-L based one.

On the Chipset page we can adjust the memory and PCI Express settings (not all the PCI Express settings are displayed, however).

Onboard Devices Configuration page manages peripheral devices and additional controllers.

Power section features a page with monitoring data and fan rotation speed controls.

But this is not everything yet, as the latest ASUS mainboards feature a new section called Tools. It contains EZ Flash 2 utility that offers you very convenient graphics interface to quickly and easily reflash the mainboard BIOS.

Unfortunately, ASUS P5W64 WS Professional, just like ASUS P5W DH Deluxe, didn’t work with a USB flash drive during BIOS reflashing, although it recognized it correctly on start-up and could boot from it. Replacing a USB flash drive with a different one didn’t help. Looks like it is some kind of bug in all i975X based mainboards, because all other ASUS solutions for Intel and AMD platforms could work with USB flash just fine during BIOS saving and reflashing.

You can use ASUS O.C. Profile in the same section to save or load a pre-saved set of BIOS settings. If you want to use any external storage device for these profiles, then you will need to use a special utility with the interface very similar to EZ Flash 2.

Well, this is pretty much all we would like to say about ASUS P5W64 WS Professional mainboard at this time. Now we should check out its overclocking features.

Overclocking

When we got down to some overclocking experiments, we discovered something not very nice: the mainboard was extremely unstable at any frequencies even slightly over 300MHz FSB. Of course, maybe the mainboard designed for financial professionals isn’t intended to deal with something like overclocking at all, and that was something I thought about at first. Despite this fact, I kept trying and finally discovered the source of the issue. When digging through the options of the mainboard BIOS I enabled the Hyper Path 3 parameter intended to accelerate work with memory. Once I set it to Auto or Disabled, all overclocking issues disappeared.

In fact, when it comes to work with the memory, i975X chipset is not that issue-free. And we have some practical evidence of that. We have already tested quite a few DDr2 memory modules in Core 2 Duo based platforms. In the beginning we ran the tests on ASUS P5W DH Deluxe (Intel 975X) and P5B Deluxe/WiFi-AP (Intel P965) mainboards, but then we had to give up the P5W DH Deluxe, because we couldn’t get stable operation at high frequencies. Now these data have been officially confirmed.

For instance, the user’s manual to ASUS P5W64 WS Professional mainboard lists the following limitations when working with the memory:

Do not forget that during successful overclocking of Intel Core 2 Duo E6300 processor, ASUS P5B Deluxe mainboard allows the memory to run as 1:1: you can set it as DDR2-533, i.e. the memory will work at over 900MHz frequency. In case of ASUS P5W64 WS and P5W DH Deluxe mainboards, you should use a lowering 4:3 divider, so that the memory is set as DDR2-400. As a result it will run at 700MHz speed.

Speaking of CPU overclocking I would like to point out that the mainboard could run stably at 460MHz FSB speed. In this case processor Vcore was set to 1.4V and the Vchipset – to 1.8V.

With ASUS P5W DH Deluxe configured the same way, we could get only 10MHz better result. Maybe it was so because that mainboard allowed raising the chipset voltage to 1.85V against 1.8V by ASUS P5W64 WS., and we all know that successful overclocking depends a lot on the voltage on the chipset North Bridge. Needless to say that we managed to overclock the CPU to 493MHz FSB on ASUS P5B Deluxe mainboard.

Conclusion

As a result, I have to say that ASUS P5W64 WS Professional mainboard turned out a very successful product for an i975X based solution. Even if you never get all four graphics cards for a single computer system, you will always be able to use the available PCI Express x16 slots for the PCI-E x8, x4 or x1 expansion cards, if you manage to find them anywhere.

As for the CPUs, I doubt that high-end financial analysts will ever overclock their processors. And even if they ever do, they won’t play with the youngest members of the Intel Core 2 Duo family, the E6300 CPUs, that are really hard to overclock to the maximum of their potential. And in case of any other processors, the features of ASUS P5W64 WS Professional mainboard will be more than enough.

In fact, although I haven’t been in the Wall Street for quite some time, some one told me that there are no financial pros there anymore. :)