03/14/2011 | 01:18 PM
Whenever Intel’s 6 series chipsets are mentioned these days, it is always with a comment about the error that has been found in them. Every error of this kind is a problem but how bad is this particular one? Let’s recall what it’s all about. With this error the performance of disks connected to the chipset’s SATA 3Gbps ports may deteriorate after two or three years of heavy use. Thus, if you only have one or two hard disks, like the majority of users, you should not worry about this problem at all. You can just plug your disks into the two SATA 6Gbps ports which are not susceptible to the performance deterioration and enjoy problem-free computing. Now, if you really need to use more than two SATA ports, there are several options as well. Many mainboards offer onboard SATA controllers which you can use or you can install a standalone SATA controller into your system. You can even use the affected SATA ports and there is a high chance that you will never experience any problems with their performance. If you already own a potentially defective mainboard, you can approach its manufacturer requesting a refund or replacement when mainboards with the revised chipsets start shipping. In fact, you can hardly lose much even in the worst case scenario: if you keep on using an affected mainboard and do notice its SATA performance degrade after a couple of years, you may want to replace your entire system because there will be completely new mainboards and new CPUs then with much higher performance.
Well, Intel has already begun to ship its series 6 chipsets of the new B3 revision which are free from the discovered issue, with corresponding mainboards coming to market very soon. The new chipsets do not differ from the older revision in anything but the eliminated error, so we are going to continue our series of reviews of LGA1155 mainboards. We will be talking about the ASUS P8P67 Pro today. We choose this product not because it comes first in alphabetic order and not because its manufacturer is the world's major mainboard maker. Having had a chance to take a quick look at several LGA1155 mainboards from different brands, we are especially interested in what ASUS offers. The company implements a lot of innovations in its products, so we want to dwell on them in more detail than we would be able to do within the constraints of a comparative review of several mainboards. Besides, ASUS traditionally rolls out not just an individual product but a whole series which models vary in functionality. Thus, many things said here are true for the other products of the same series.
The ASUS P8P67 Pro comes in a rather slim box which front is decorated with various logotypes. The product’s key features are briefly described on the back of the box.
Besides the mainboard, the box contains the following accessories:
The ASUS P8P67 Pro is a well-balanced and cleverly designed product which is very easy to use.
One of the key features of the new generation of ASUS mainboards is a digital CPU voltage regulator called DIGI+VRM. It is claimed to offer quick response time, deliver stable power, maintain lower temperature and longer service life compared to conventional analogue solutions. The voltage regulator of the P8P67 Pro has 12+2 phases and the number of active phases can be dynamically adjusted depending on the current load and operation mode. Rich and flexible setup options are yet another advantage of the DIGI+VRM regulator. For example, besides turning on and off the technology for counteracting the CPU voltage drop under load, you can specify the exact degree of that counteraction.
The mainboard also features an integrated Bluetooth 2.1+EDR module and a number of onboard controllers. There are two Renesas (NEC) D720200F1 chips here: one supports the two USB 3.0 ports on the back panel and another allows connecting two more ports either to your system case or to the dual-port USB 3.0 bracket included into the box. Besides two SATA 6Gbps and four SATA 3Gbps ports provided by the chipset, there are two more SATA 6 Gbps ports based on a Marvell 88SE9120. A JMicron JMB362 controller is responsible for the two back-panel eSATA 3 Gbps connectors, one of which is Power eSATA, i.e. it can power the connected device. Finally, there is also a VIA VT6308P controller supporting two FireWire ports.
The ASUS P8P67 Pro has a lot of special technologies and features we know from other ASUS products like the MemOK! button which helps start the system up even if there are some problems with the memory modules. There are handy latches on the graphics card slots while the memory slots have a latch on one side only. The Q-LED system will indicate at what step the boot-up process has been halted. The TPU (TurboV Processing Unit) switch helps overclock the CPU automatically whereas the EPU (Energy Processing Unit) switch enables energy-efficient operation.
Here is what the mainboard offers on its back panel:
The ASUS P8P67 Pro specs are summarized in the following table:
We’ve got another innovation here. ASUS's new mainboards come with EFI BIOS which is an implementation of the UEFI specification (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface). By default, when you enter the mainboard’s BIOS, you work in EZ Mode which doesn't allow configuring much, actually. The top of the screen displays system information including basic monitoring parameters. In the middle of the screen you can choose one of the three preset power-saving modes. In the bottom part you can specify the order of boot devices by dragging and dropping them with your mouse pointer.
However, you can switch into Advanced Mode to get access to more setup opportunities. While EFI BIOS is very new with a bunch of new features and functions, new interface and ability to use not only keyboard but also mouse, we were extremely pleased that the menu structure is actually based on that of the time-tested conventional BIOS of older ASUS mainboards.
As before, most of the parameters we are interested in can be found in the AiTweaker section. Besides familiar ones, there are new options here. For example, we can now not only enable power-saving technologies with the EPU Power Saving Mode but also choose an appropriate level of power saving. Other options such as Load-Line Calibration or Phase Control can be set up flexibly, too. Some parameters have got separate pages: such as CPU Power Management and DRAM Timing Control.
The Advanced section contains CPU, chipset, onboard controller and interface settings.
In the Monitor section you can check out the key voltages and temperatures and adjust the rotation speed of the fans connected to the mainboard.
The Boot section is for specifying the boot devices order and some other boot-related parameters.
We found a few familiar utilities in the Tool section: EZ Flash for updating the firmware and O.C.Profile for managing BIOS settings. There is also a new feature: now you can view the memory modules' SPD information here.
We still have to see how other manufacturers implement UEFI but ASUS’s approach looks good to us. This EFI BIOS offers a lot of new capabilities while retaining all of the previous developments. Of course, such full-scale changes could not be expected to go without a single glitch. We encountered a number of small problems of various kinds when working with this mainboard but they will surely be eliminated in the future. Our overall impression from the EFI BIOS is the most positive anyway.
The numerous utilities developed by ASUS are now united within a single shell called AI Suite II. This unification has both its pros and cons. You have to download a huge file, about 300 megabytes big, even if you only want to be able to adjust the rotation speed of your fans, for example. You really have to download it all but you can choose the utilities you need during AI Suite II installation on your computer.
When installed, AI Suite II looks like this:
Its panel can be minimized. You can then evoke it by clicking its tray icon or the arrow on the right side of the screen.
The Auto Tuning button is the first one on the panel and stands a little apart from the others. It opens the appropriate section of the TurboV EVO utility where you can turn on automatic overclocking.
When pressed, most of the buttons on the AI Suite II panel open drop-down menus for you to choose the tool you need. The Tool button allows you to launch the TurboV EVO utility, for example.
The DIGI+ VRM tool gives you access to the enhanced setup options of the digital voltage regulator.
The EPU tool is for choosing a power-saving mode.
The FAN Xpert utility makes it easy to choose a preset fan operation mode or create your own one.
ASUS Probe II allows monitoring voltages, temperatures and fan speeds.
The Sensor Recorder tool helps you keep track of changes in voltages, temperatures and fan speeds over time.
The functionality of the BT GO! utility is largely determined by the capabilities of the connected Bluetooth device. You can use it to transfer files, sync your contacts and folders, listen to music, use the Bluetooth device as a remote control or access the Internet.
The Monitor button on the AI Suite II panel allows you to manage monitoring parameters, including CPU clock rate and CPU load.
Naturally enough, the Update button is for updating the mainboard's firmware.
The MyLogo utility can be used to change the picture displayed during the startup process.
The System Information button provides key information about the mainboard, CPU, and memory timings (from the SPD).
The Settings button helps you set up the list of installed programs and change their color scheme.
We did not do into details regarding AI Suite II toolset but checked out its features and functionality briefly. Like with the BIOS, the introduction of the new software suite is not quite free from a few errors. For example, the latest version of AI Suite II available at the time of our review could not even be installed unless you downloaded a special patch. Besides, ASUS’s tools haven’t got rid of their old habit of leaving a lot of junk in the system, i.e. unnecessary folders and files, after uninstallation.
All performance tests were run on the following test platform:
We used Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate 64 bit (Microsoft Windows, Version 6.1, Build 7600) operating system, Intel Chipset Software Installation Utility version 220.127.116.111, ATI Catalyst 11.1 graphics card driver.
ASUS P8P67 Pro is the most exciting mainboard to deal with thanks to its rich and flexible settings. We are especially pleased with the power-related options which can now not only enable power-saving technologies without any additional tools but also allow you to control their operation. Everything is very visual: you enable EPU Power Saving Mode and see right away how the CPU voltage decreases. You use the Phase Control option to allow the dynamic adjustment of the number of active power phases and you can see then how the system's idle power consumption lowers. Of course, not all of the EFI BIOS settings produce such a clear and easily observable effect, yet you do get a nice feeling of full control over your system. Unfortunately, the longer we used the mainboard, the more small defects and downsides we spotted about it. We don't really mind them considering the completely new BIOS interface but hope that ASUS won't take too long to fix them.
Here is one such problem, for example: when you reach the Boot Override page of the Boot section after checking out and changing some other settings, clicking on any of the available disks will make the mainboard instantly boot from that device. The problem is that the mainboard, as opposed to an MSI mainboard we saw, will not ask whether you want to save your previously made changes or not. It will just boot without saving any changes.
When starting up, the mainboard shows a picture that doesn’t have any practical meaning but you won't see much information if you turn it off. The mainboard displays the memory clock rate correctly whereas the CPU clock rate is always reported to be the default 3.3 GHz irrespective of its real frequency. There is no hint that pressing F8 opens up a menu for choosing the device you want to boot from. This is a handy option and it really works, but the mainboard just doesn’t care to mention it.
If the P8P67 Pro cannot start up for some reason, after several attempts, it automatically starts in safe mode and suggests that you enter its BIOS and change the incorrectly specified parameters. In this case the mainboard stores all the BIOS settings you have selected but always disables the EPU Power Saving Mode. Of course, we could select the necessary setting again or use a previously saved profile with BIOS settings but in the latter case the CPU voltage could be much higher than the specified one. We had to correct it manually but later we found out that by selecting the CPU voltage option and pressing Enter we could make the mainboard recall the correct CPU voltage.
So, these are examples of a few small issues that will surely be fixed by ASUS. The only serious problem we found with the mainboard is that it does not start up at a memory frequency of 1600 MHz. Whatever memory timings, voltage or modules we used, the mainboard could only start at a memory frequency of 1067 or 1333 MHz. When it's already running, you can set memory frequency to 1600 MHz, choose minimum timings, and the mainboard will pass all the tests and reboot successfully but the next start will be a failure again. Hopefully, this is a problem of our particular mainboard sample, and the off-the-shelf products won’t be affected.
As for overclocking, our new Intel Core i5-2500K processor is formally clocked at 3.3 GHz but its frequency actually varies from 3.4 to 3.7 GHz thanks to Intel Turbo Boost technology. We can set any other frequency, though, because its frequency multiplier is not locked. The new Intel CPUs are in fact very easy to overclock. You just keep on increasing the multiplier and voltage and monitoring the temperature. You should not be baffled by the numerous user-definable parameters available in the BIOS as the mainboard sets most of them in automatic mode just fine. We also saw that Asus mainboard BIOS had the Internal PLL Overvoltage parameter which was supposed to help during overclocking. This option has also become available in the BIOSes of Gigabyte and MSI mainboards, so it must be a really useful parameter, although we could not see its effect during CPU overclocking.
The clock rate of 5.0 GHz looks pretty but we could not keep our Core i5-2500K stable at such settings. By the way, while the new CPUs are easy to overclock, it may be difficult to confirm their stability. When overclocked, our CPU could work for a very long time in extreme conditions created by LinX. This might be considered a 100% stability guarantee, but Prime95 proved capable of crashing the system in just a few minutes under the same conditions.
Our CPU could run at a clock rate of 4.9 GHz but this achievement had little practical value. Although it passed our stability tests, including Prime95, its temperature was as high as 90°C on an open testbed. The temperature is going to be even higher in a closed system case, which may lead to performance deterioration or even cause the system to shut down as a result of overheating. Fortunately, as soon as we set the clock rate to 4.8 GHz, the CPU temperature dropped below 80°C even under high loads. This overclocking is quite practical in long-term prospective.
By the way, we did not use any special overclocking methods or tools and did not limit the mainboard’s capabilities. Particularly, we did not disable any controllers or power-saving technologies.
As for bus overclocking, ASUS P8P67 Pro, like many other mainboards, can work at a base clock rate of 105 MHz. You can use this overclocking method with ordinary CPUs that have a locked frequency multiplier. In this case you will add extra 200 MHz to your CPU frequency, which is quite a decent performance boost.
By benchmarking the mainboard in our tests we will see its basic performance level and the overclocking benefits. We will compare our ASUS P8P67 Pro with the MSI XPower model. The LGA1366 platform is still considered a top-performance one, so let’s see how the LGA1155 platform compares with it. The test conditions were identical except for the CPUs and memory: we used an Intel Core i7-930 and 3x1024MB Kingston HyperX DDR3-1866 (KHX14900D3T1K3/3GX) with the MSI mainboard. The operation modes of the two systems are summarized in the next table:
We used Cinebench 11.5. All tests were run five times and the average result of the five runs was taken for the performance charts.
We have been using Fritz Chess Benchmark utility for a long time already and it proved very illustrative. It generated repeated results, the performance in it is scales perfectly depending on the number of involved computational threads.
A small video in x264 HD Benchmark 3.0 is encoded in two passes and then the entire process is repeated four times. The average results of the second pass are displayed on the following diagram:
We measured the performance in Adobe Photoshop using our own benchmark made from Retouch Artists Photoshop Speed Test that has been creatively modified. It includes typical editing of four 10-megapixel images from a digital photo camera:
In the archiving test a 1 GB file is compressed using LZMA2 algorithms, while other compression settings remain at defaults.
Like in the data compression test, the faster 16 million of Pi digits are calculated, the better. This is the only benchmark where the number of processor cores doesn’t really matter, because it creates single-threaded load.
There are good and bad things about complex performance tests. However, Futuremark benchmarking software has become extremely popular and is used for comparisons a lot. The diagram below shows the average results after three test runs in 3DMark11 Performance mode with default settings:
Since we do not overclock graphics in our mainboard reviews, the next diagram shows only CPU tests from the 3DMark11 – Physics Score.
We use FC2 Benchmark Tool to go over Ranch Small map ten times in 1280x1024 resolution with medium and high image quality settings in DirectX 10.
Resident Evil 5 game also has a built-in performance test. Its peculiarity is that it can really take advantage of multi-core processor architecture. The tests were run in DirectX 10 in 1280x1024 resolution with medium image quality settings. The average of five test runs was taken for further analysis:
It’s easy to see that the new platform beats the previous leader in every test save for Fritz Chess Benchmark and 7-Zip when both are working in their default modes. This is despite the fact that most of our tests create multithreaded load and the LGA1366 platform could execute them in eight instruction threads simultaneously whereas the LGA1155 platform, in four threads only.
The default frequency of a CPU is a compromise between price, manufacturing cost and power consumption. A lot of factors affect it, including the functionality of competing CPUs. The only way to see what a system can do is to overclock it. So, let’s see how our systems perform when overclocked.
Now the LGA1366 platform wins in the compression test only. The speed in 7-Zip depends not only on the CPU clock rate and the number of execution threads but also on the memory subsystem performance. Clearly, it is the triple-channel memory access that ensures the advantage over the platform with dual-channel memory. Anyway, the new LGA1155 processor isn’t far behind in that test and is greatly superior to its opponent in the rest of them. The performance benefits from overclocking are impressively high – over 40% in most of the computing tasks!
We performed our power consumption measurements using an Extech Power Analyzer 380803. This device is connected before the PSU and measures the power draw of the entire system (without the monitor), including the power loss that occurs in the PSU itself. In the idle mode we start the system up and wait until it stops accessing the hard disk. Then we use LinX to load CPU. For a more illustrative picture there are graphs that show how the computer’s power consumption grows up depending on the number of active execution threads in LinX.
The MSI XPower is very economical for an LGA1366 mainboard in the default operation mode but the ASUS P8P67 Pro is much better. At maximum load it needs only as much power as the MSI mainboard requires for running a single-threaded application. The difference is striking indeed.
We see the same picture during overclocking: the new system is far more economical and, as we already know, nearly always faster. Of course, there exist six-core LGA1366 processors which would deliver higher performance, but the new platform looks preferable in terms of price and power consumption anyway. Thus, although the LGA1366 platform may be optimal for special applications, the new LGA1155 is a more versatile platform for different categories of users.
During our tests of the ASUS P8P67 Pro we found a number of small issues and problems which might be expected considering the numerous innovations implemented in it. There is only one serious problem, though. It is the mainboard's inability to work at a memory frequency of 1600 MHz. I am sure that these issues will be fixed and off-the-shelf mainboards will be better than our sample. As we’ve already had a chance to check out new mainboards from other makers, we can state that ASUS P8P67 Pro has made the strongest impression so far.
We like ASUS's approach to developing products. Instead of building something from scratch, they add new features to the existing and time-tested functionality core. The P8P67 Pro is good in almost every aspect: starting with the useful accessories, and finishing with the rich and flexible EFI BIOS settings. Its broad functionality is enhanced with a powerful combination of additional controllers.
In our future reviews we will discuss different products, both simple and advanced, but you should be aware that the ASUS P8P67 Pro is just one model in a whole series of related ASUS mainboards based on Intel’s new chipsets. So, if it doesn't suit you for some reason, you may want to check out its cousin with the functionality and features you need. We hope you will get as much pleasure working and exploring its features as we did with our P8P67 Pro.