01/20/2010 | 02:35 PM
The main hero of our today’s review is a full-size ATX mainboard – Intel DP55WG from the Media Series based on Intel P55 Express chipset. Of course, we are going to compare its accessories bundle, PCB layout, features, performance and power consumption against those of the numerous previously tested LGA1156 mainboards. However, in most cases we will compare Intel DP55WG only against two solutions from this list. First, we have to find out how this solution differs from Intel DP55KG, which belongs to a more technologically advanced Extreme Series. Since both solutions are from two different product lineups and are in different price ranges, the differences between them must be quite significant. Therefore, we have one more very good solution for comparison purposes. Just like Intel DP55WG, Gigabyte GA-P55-UD3R mainboard is a relatively inexpensive solution and will be an ideal opponent for our today’s hero. However, it turned out that Gigabyte and Intel use completely different approaches when it comes to designing their low-cost mainstream solutions.
The box Intel DP55WG mainboard comes in looks very similar to the one used for the flagship Intel mainboard, with that only difference that there is no famous skull image on it and the black-and-white color scheme has been replaced with blue-and-white one:
The back of the box bears a mainboard photo and brief information about its features and functionality.
Inside the box you find the mainboard wrapped in antistatic bag additionally protected by a cardboard frame. Among the accessories are:
Intel mainboards on Intel P55 Express chipset use the same general layout that is based on a microATX form-factor. If you know this fact in advance, then you won’t be surprised with the way Intel DP55WG looks. However, it is somewhat sad to see a lot of unused space at the bottom of the PCB and numerous empty spots reserved for the missing connectors and chips.
Unlike its elder sister, Intel DP55WG has a significantly simpler processor voltage regulator circuitry with only four phases, has no heatsinks over its components. There are no additional Serial ATA and Bluetooth controllers, although the POST indicator and IEEE1394 (FireWire) controller are still there. Interestingly, the mainboard supports multiple graphics cards not only in ATI CrossFire, but also in Nvidia SLI configurations. There is the same number of expansion slots working according to the same principles. The first PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot works at full speed, but if we use two graphics cards, then the speed gets cut down in half, while the third slot can only work as PCI Express x4. You can connect fewer fans to the board – only three. However, the number of USB ports got back to the nominal for Intel P55 Express chipset. There are eight ports on the back panel and six more are available as onboard pin-connectors, which makes a total of fourteen USB ports.
The back panel of Intel DP55WG mainboard also looks a little empty without the PS/2 and eSATA connectors. There is a “Back to BIOS” button, besides the corresponding onboard jumper. There is an optical and coaxial S/PDIF and six analogue audio-jacks supported by the eight-channel Realtek ALC889 codec. As I have already pointed out above, there are eight USB ports. The IEEE1394 (FireWire) port is implemented via Texas Instruments TSB43AB22A controller and one more is available as onboard pin-connector. There is also a local network port (the network adapter is built around Intel 82578DC controller).
There is a layout scheme in the manual that comes with Intel DP55WG mainboard, which shows the location of all electronic components in a very illustrative way and also provides necessary explanations in a table below:
The following chart sums up all the technical specifications of the Intel DP55WG mainboard:
Overall, the only positive change in the layout of Intel DP55WG mainboard is the return to the nominal number of USB 2.0 ports. Other than that, it inherited all the drawbacks its elder sister had, which originate mostly from the fact that the layout is based on a microATX design concept. For example, the front panel connectors, additional USB and IEEE1394 (FireWire) connectors are definitely not in their best places. You will need to remove the graphics card in order to add or remove the memory modules. The absence of all “obsolete” interfaces is barely an advantage since Intel includes here PS/2, COM, LPT, FDD and even IDE. The missing additional controllers and connectors made Intel DP55WG mainboard even more primitive and simple, although it did affect its price significantly, as it became much lower than that of the top solution – Intel DP55KG.
As usual, the early BIOS version that came with Intel DP55WG mainboard didn’t have any integrated reflashing tools, that is why we had to resort to BIOS updating from Windows. However, there is good news too: this board uses the same BIOS version as Intel DP55KG. it is very good, because it means that the BIOS functionality will not be limited like the functionality of the board itself. Although we did notice a number of BIOS “artifacts” – features that refer to the top mainboard model but are absent by a much simpler Intel DP55WG. For example, the early BIOS versions offered to adjust the LED lighting of the skull, which is missing on Intel DP55WG, while the current BIOS version provides parameters for the additional SATA controller, which is also missing on our board.
However, the BIOS of Intel DP55WG uses a more common and eye-friendly color scheme, unlike a harsh combination of white lettering against black background, which we saw by its elder sister. And this is also good news.
Let’s take a quick look at the contents of the most important and interesting BIOS sections of our Intel DP55WG mainboard. The “Main” section on almost all mainboards we know is performing mostly informational functions allowing to change just date and time. The same with Intel mainboards, but for some reason here we also find options for choosing the number of active processor cores and enabling or disabling Intel Hyper-Threading Technology.
In the beginning of this chapter we have already seen what “SATA Drives” sub-section of the “Configuration” section looks like. Now let’s take a glance at the “Fan Control & Real-Time Monitoring” sub-section.
The settings are not very rich, and scarce hardware monitoring options have been moved to a separate page for some reason.
Most parameters that deal with overclocking and system optimization for the desired performance level are in the “Performance” section.
Unlike many other mainboards, where you can change frequencies and voltages separately, all parameters in the BIOS of Intel boards are grouped according to their application. For example, some parameters related to the processor are on a separate “Processor Overrides” page. Here you can select static or dynamic increase of the CPU Vcore, voltage increment to be used, and the level of counterbalancing the processor core voltage drop under heavy load.
The parameters for adjustment of frequency, timings and voltages on the memory modules and memory controller integrated into the CPU are also singled out onto a separate page.
You can find a couple of other important processor-related parameters, such as “Enhanced Intel SpeedStep Tech” and “CPU C State” in the “Power” section.
Numerous options for startup fine-tuning are available in the “Boot” section.
It is quite logical that the list of available “hot keys” that we see on system boot-up is also provided in the “Boot Display Options” sub-section. Here you can also switch the POST codes display setting to discrete card. The only thing I think is missing is the option that would allow you to disable the startup logo.
Besides the anticipated standard parameters, the “Exit” section allows saving and loading one BIOS settings profile.
We have taken a quick look at the features and functionality of the most important and interesting sections of the Intel DP55WG BIOS. Since, Intel DP55KG and Intel DP55WG mainboards use the same BIOS version, they have exactly the same advantages and drawbacks. If you like, you may check out Intel DP55KG Review for a more detailed description of the features, advantages drawbacks of this BIOS version. In the end, we only notice one positive change: return to a more eye-friendly color scheme. Compared with the previous BIOS versions, we could also point out the use of new BIOS structure that makes it easier to work with Intel boards now. However, most of the drawbacks are still present: inconvenient way of changing the settings, inability to use keyboard to enter the desired value, the need to use automatic mode for all memory settings at once or change all of them manually. You can’t disable the built-in piezo-speaker or the startup logo image. There is no single section containing all significant parameters related to overclocking and performance. It will take you a lot of keystrokes and navigating around BIOS sections before you adjust all the settings to your liking.
We performed all our experiments on the following test platform:
We used Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate (Microsoft Windows, Version 6.1, Build 7600) operating system, Intel Chipset Software Installation Utility version 184.108.40.2069, ATI Catalyst 9.9 graphics card driver.
Overall, if we disregard the annoying beeping of the piezo-speaker on every system boot-up and non-optimal adjustment of the processor fan rotation speed, we didn’t have any other issues with Intel DP55WG working in the nominal mode. The board is reluctant to increase the processor fan rotation speed, which is usually around 500 RPM. It is very quiet, but when the CPU utilization is high, its voltage regulator components heat up significantly. During overclocking, however, the rotation speed of the processor cooling fan increases to its maximum very rapidly and then immediately drops down if the workload disappears. These periodic howling is extremely annoying, and fast slowing down of the CPU fan causes the temperature to increase excessively.
I have to remind you that we have already discussed the basics, terminology and approximate overclocking algorithms in our earlier article called “Guide: Lynnfield Overclocking on Asus P7P55D Deluxe Mainboard”. Of course, we mostly focused on Asus P7P55D Deluxe mainboard and Intel Core i7-860 processor, but the basic overclocking principles typical of LGA1156 platform are the same on every mainboard and you will easily find the corresponding equivalents among the parameters of your mainboard and CPU.
Intel DP55KG and Intel DP55WG mainboards are very similar, but they behave differently during overclocking. To begin with, the junior Intel DP55WG mainboard proved operational at 205 MHz base clock, while on the top model we had to stop at 200 MHz. However, this difference is mostly formal, because we could only achieve this high frequency after disabling the processor fan rotation speed control function. Only when the fan was working at its maximum speed, the system could pass the tests, otherwise overheating caused errors. I would like to remind you that most LGA1156 mainboards can easily work with the base clock increased up to 210 MHz.
Just like the top Intel DP55KG, the junior Intel DP55WG couldn’t overclock our CPU to its maximum: we stopped at 3.9 GHz frequency.
If you compare this Everest screenshot with the same screenshot from our Intel DP55KG review, you won’t notice any differences, besides the mainboard model names, of course. However, Intel DP55WG mainboard increases the voltages under serious load even higher than its elder sister that is why we had to deliberately set them lower in the BIOS in order to get the same result. Like all other LGA1156 mainboards, Intel DP55WG has all Intel processor power-saving technologies up and running even when we increase the voltages during CPU overclocking. It means that without any high load the processor clock frequency multiplier as well as the CPU Vcore will be automatically lowered.
Time has come to check out the performance numbers and compare the results in two different system modes: in nominal mode and during CPU and memory overclocking. First we are going to talk about the results in nominal mode, when the boards set the most optimal parameters on their own, almost without any help from the user. Due to Intel Turbo Boost technology the clock frequency multiplier of our Intel Core i7-860 processor could increase to 26x. Our today’s hero will be competing against previously tested LGA1156 mainboards. The mainboards are listed on the diagrams according to their performance (from high to low). The results of Intel DP55WG mainboard are marked with a darker color for your convenience.
In order to estimate the results of Intel DP55WG mainboard correctly, we have to remind you that two previously tested Gigabyte mainboards, Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 and GA-P55-UD3R, increased the base clock in nominal mode, but ASRock P55 Deluxe board increased this setting even more. That is why these solutions were faster than everyone else. Biostar TPower I55 mainboard also had peculiarities of its own: even with Turbo technology on it didn’t always increase the CPU clock frequency multiplier, which often led to the lowest scores in the nominal mode. So, the only mainboards working in the same conditions as Intel DP55WG are the ones from Asus, DFI LANPARTY DK P55-T3eH9, Gigabyte GA-P55M-UD4 and Intel DP55KG, therefore you should take their performance numbers into account in the first place.
Keeping in mind everything we have just said, Intel DP55WG demonstrated very good results: it is in the middle of the pack almost all the time. It is practically as fast as its competitors in the nominal mode. Only in image editing test from the Custom PC Bench 2007 suite it is notably behind.
The second comparison was performed during maximum processor overclocking. This time we disabled extended processor power-saving modes in the mainboard BIOS using “C-STATE” parameter, which limited the maximum processor clock frequency multiplier setting with 22x. In this case the CPU could work at higher base clock than with 26x multiplier, which meant that we ended up with higher resulting performance although it happened at the expense of higher power consumption in idle mode. During the performance tests with overclocked CPU and memory the boards were also split into two groups. Only Gigabyte mainboards and Asus P7P55D Deluxe could overclock our processor to 3.95 GHz, while all others stopped at 3.9 GHz.
Intel DP55WG mainboard is doing very well during CPU and memory overclocking and only falls behind all the other in “Image Editing” test again. This way, we can state that the defeat in this benchmark that we saw in the nominal mode for the first time is not an isolated incident. However, you shouldn’t be too upset about it, as the difference in results is not critical at all.
We measured power consumption using Extech Power Analyzer 380803 device. This device was connected before the system PSU, i.e. it measured the power consumption of the entire system without the monitor, including the power losses that occur in the PSU itself. When we took the power readings in idle mode, the system was completely idle: there were even no requests sent to the hard drive at that time. We used LinX program to load the Intel Core i7-860 CPU. For more illustrative picture we created a graph showing the power consumption growth depending on the increase in CPU utilization as the number of active computational threads in LinX changed in nominal mode as well as during overclocking. Besides Intel DP55WG, we also included the results of all previously tested LGA1156 mainboards. The boards are sorted out in alphabetical order on the diagrams below.
The fewer chips there are on the PCB, the less power the board consumes, and we did notice a lot of empty spots when we checked out the PCB layout of our Intel DP55WG. No wonder that under all types of load, except the maximum, this solution proves more energy-efficient than its competitors. As for the power consumption in case of maximum CPU utilization, Intel DP55WG appears on the same level with most others because of the pre-increased voltages, but is still more energy-efficient than many of the tested boards.
We did lower the voltages during overclocking to avoid them rising too high that is why in the end Intel DP55WG consumes about the same power as its competitors. However, it did prove the most efficient in idle mode.
We have been comparing Intel DP55WG against its elder sister all the time throughout this review, since they have so much in common. However, you don’t have to go for a top flagship mainboard in order to build a fully-functional LGA1156 platform. In this respect it makes more sense to compare Intel DP55WG against Gigabyte GA-P55-UD3R. These two solutions are priced similarly, but have dramatically different features: two manufacturers have chosen completely different ways of lowering the cost of their end-product.
Gigabyte GA-P55-UD3R is a very common mainboard, without any specific distinguishing features. It has a complete set of connectors, starting with the outdated COM, LPT and FDD, including still current PS/2 and IDE, and finishing with quite contemporary eSATA and S/PDIF. How did they lower its price? By offering no support for Nvidia SLI, eliminating the IEEE1394 (FireWire) controller and other additional chips, such as a second integrated network adapter, for instance. As for Intel DP55WG, it got cheaper due to simpler processor voltage regulator circuitry, simpler cooling, partial use of solid-state capacitors, elimination of a controller for additional Serial ATA ports. Moreover, the use of Intel’s unified design also allows lowering the price point, although the use of a microATX form-factor as a basis does have negative implications. However, Intel DP55WG does support Nvidia SLI and has an additional IEEE1394 (FireWire) controller. As for the “obsolete” interfaces, they are still not there anyway.
So, which board should you go for - Intel DP55WG or Gigabyte GA-P55-UD3R? It is impossible to give a definite answer to this question, as these two solutions are so different from one another, that is why everything will depend on your personal needs and preferences. If you are planning on using Nvidia SLI configurations and need IEEE1394 (FireWire) interface to connect a video camcorder to your PC, for instance, then Intel DP55WG will be a good choice. In all other cases, Gigabyte GA-P55-UD3R will be a better bet. It is simpler, easier to work with, overclocks processors a little better and has much richer functionality. However, these are not the only two choices you have, other mainboard makers also offer quite a few interesting solutions in the same price range. As always, the final decision is in your hands :)