04/27/2011 | 02:19 PM
Intel DX58SO2 mainboard, which we have recently reviewed on our web-site made an unforgettable impression on us. It is a truly revolutionary model, because it is nothing what Intel mainboards used to be (except for the BIOS). In terms of layout and functionality it can successfully compete against flagship solutions from the leading mainboard makers, and is even seriously better than the competition in certain aspects. Of course, we were extremely excited about such success and decided to check out more of the company’s products, only this time we wanted to see what they’ve got for the latest LGA1155 processors. I have to say that there are new mainboard models almost in all series of products: Classic, Executive, Media and Extreme, but even though there are a lot of different models available, the choice was fairly simple. The majority of mainboards is designed in microATX or mini-ITX form-factors and is based on Intel H61, B65, Q67 or H67 chipsets, which use the graphics core, integrated into the processor and are not intended for overclocking. DP67BA mainboard is based on Intel P67 Express, however, it is designed as a microATX mainboard with a bit of extra textolite on the side to make it fix the ATX form-factor dimensions. As a result, it has all the drawbacks of the small form-factor products but doesn’t have their advantages featuring only two additional PCI slots as compensation. So, it turns out that there is only one mainboard model that could be of interest to us out of fifteen Sandy Bridge products available – Intel DP67BG. This is the only LGA1155 mainboard from the Extreme series, i.e. it contains all the latest features and functions that can possibly be onboard of an Intel platform today. So, let’s see if the mainboard functionality meets contemporary requirements and our expectations.
Intel DX58SO2 mainboard, which we have just mentioned in the beginning of this review, is so unlike any other Intel mainboards, so it is really interesting to know who has actually developed it and who is manufacturing it for Intel. As for our today’s hero - Intel DP67BG – everything is crystal clear here: the logo on the back of the board indicates clearly that the product is manufactured by a popular contractor – Foxconn Company.
The board supports Intel Core i7, i5 and i3 processors in LGA1155 form-factor, dual-channel DDR3 memory. It features two PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots that allow building two-way ATI Crossfire and Nvidia SLI configurations. Intel P67 Express chipset delivers four Serial ATA 3 Gbps and two 6 Gbps ports supporting RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10 arrays. The additional Marvell 88SE6111 controller provides an eSATA 3 Gbps ports on the back panel, and IEEE1394 (FireWire) is implemented via Texas Instruments TSB43AB22A controller. Among the optional features we should point out the heatsinks over the processor voltage regulator components, glowing Power On and Reset buttons, POST-code indicator and a row of Diagnostic LEDs showing the mainboard initialization status on boot-up, as well as a signature feature of the Extreme series – a skull. You may turn off its glow, if you like, and the blinking eyes serve as HDD activity status indicators.
The mainboard back panel has the following ports and connectors on it:
Overall, we cannot complain about anything pertaining to the mainboard layout, although there are indeed a few peculiarities worth mentioning. For example, the power supply connectors were rotated by 1800 degrees, so that the locks are facing towards the inside. Also, the connector pad for the front panel buttons and indicators has been rotated as well. Moreover, and this is typical of all Intel mainboards for some reason, this connector pad is located in the center of the bottom edge of the PCB rather than in the lower right corner.
We summed up all the mainboard features in the table below:
Here is a list of bundled accessories:
We were pleased to discover that the mainboard comes with an external WiFi/Bluetooth module, which is connected to the board with a special cable and is then attached to the inside of the bracket covering one of the free five-inch bays in the system case. Unfortunately, the SATA cables only had straight connectors and didn’t have any locks on them, which struck us as a strange way of saving money. It wouldn’t make any sense to purchase different SATA cables separately, because the SATA connectors on the board do not have special slits for the connector locks. The mainboard we had was based on the latest B3 chipset revision of the Intel P67 Express, and it seemed a little strange that unlike other mainboard manufacturers, Intel didn’t stress this fact in any way.
When the Intel board boots, you see their traditional boot-up image. You can replace this image using special software utility, but the Intel logo will still be there. It has recently become possible to disable the boot-up image completely, but in this case you will get a black screen without any technical data, like you would on other mainboards. The POST-codes are also displayed in the lower right corner of the screen together with the list of functional keys: F12 – boot on LAN, F10 – choose boot-up device, F7 – update the BIOS.
You can access the BIOS by pressing F2 or Del, but you won’t find anything new there. If you have seen BIOS of one Intel mainboard, you’ve seen them all. It is still the same BIOS with numerous inconveniences and drawbacks, which we honestly do not feel like listing one more time. Luckily, all settings necessary for proper system configuration are there.
However, there are no rules without exceptions. So, instead of focusing on an unfriendly BIOS and its drawbacks, we would like to draw your attention to a few unexpected features, which we discovered in one of the least remarkable sub-sections of the “Configuration” section called “Fan Control & Real-Time Monitoring”.
At first glance this sub-section seems to be the same as on dozens of other Intel boards as it simply shows the current fan rotation speed, temperatures and voltages. However, Intel mainboard BIOS has all informational messages and unavailable settings grayed out, like the two last lines in the previous screenshot. In this case, however, all parameters (all!) are in bright-white color, which means that all of them can be changed!
You can set the minimal allowed rotation speed for the fan in RPM. By default, if its rotation speed is less than 250 RPM, the mainboard will notify you on boot-up.
Moreover, you can even set the minimum and maximum fan rotation speed in percents. You can even change the function of the given fan.
But the most remarkable thing is that all these detailed settings options are available not only for the CPU fan, but for all four fans that can be connected to this mainboard.
The same options are also available for the temperatures. We can set maximum allowed temperature, the temperature at which the corresponding fan will speed up to its maximum, we can even adjust the fan’s sensitivity and response time to temperature changes in the system.
The voltage adjustment options are a little more modest, as we can only set the acceptable value intervals for those.
Frankly speaking, I am simply amazed at the new features in the “Fan Control & Real-Time Monitoring” sub-section. Long time ago Abit was the only one, whose mainboards allowed such detailed configuring of the temperatures, fan rotation speeds and voltages. And today Intel DP67BG is the only mainboard out there with such extensive functionality in this aspect.
All performance tests were run on the following test platform:
We used Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 64 bit (Microsoft Windows, Version 6.1, Build 7601: Service Pack 1) operating system, Intel Chipset Software Installation Utility version 184.108.40.2065, Nvidia GeForce/ION Driver 266.58 graphics card driver.
We didn’t have any problems with the assembly of our Intel DP67BG based system, except for the fact that all power supply cables were rotated by 180 degrees and so was the connector pad for the front panel buttons and indicators. We also had to adjust the processor fan settings in the mainboard BIOS, because it slowed down too much and the board started to worry about it. However, in this case everything will depend on the type of fan that you are using. Other than that, we didn’t have any problems, the OS installation went smoothly and everything worked fine. By default all processor power-saving technologies on the mainboard are enabled, but looks like all LGA1155 mainboards work that way anyway. It was with LGA1366/1156 mainboards that we had to enable all processor power saving technologies manually. I could also point out that more mainboards have drives working in AHCI mode by default, and Intel DP67BG is one of them.
As for system fine-tuning and overclocking, Intel has a special PDF document in English, which explains all the terms, the meaning of certain BIOS parameters and offers a few examples of proper overclocking. It is called Performance Tuning Guide. However, we did come across certain difficulties during overclocking: under heavy load the board lowered the processor clock frequency multiplier below the set value. However, we have already experienced this problem with Biostar TP67XE mainboard. Back then we learned that we needed to increase the “Power Limit” parameter in the BIOS to ensure that the CPU worked at the set frequency even under heavy load, although other mainboards will do it automatically. As a result, we managed to overclock our processors to the maximum frequency of 4.8 GHz.
Processor power-saving technologies continued working in idle mode: they lowered the CPU clock multiplier and core voltage.
As usual, we are going to compare the mainboards speeds in two different modes: in nominal mode and during CPU and memory overclocking. The first mode is interesting because it shows how well the mainboards work with their default settings. It is a known fact that most users do not fine-tune their systems, they simply choose the optimal BIOS settings and do nothing else. That is why we run a round of tests almost without interfering in any way with the default mainboard settings. For comparison purposes we are going to also include GigabyteGA-P67A-UD4-B3. The results of Intel DP67BG are marked with darker color on the diagrams.
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 1920x1080 resolution with 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 1920x1080 resolution with high image quality settings. The average of five test runs was taken for further analysis:
As we have expected, there is barely any performance difference between these two mainboards. Both mainboards work at almost the same speed except for two tests where Gigabyte is about 2% behind: 3DMark 11 and Adobe Photoshop CS5. As for the last application, it was because of the errors in it that we were forced to lower our overclocking using Gigabyte mainboard to 4.7 GHz. So, let’s perform the same tests with the overclocked CPU and memory and see how much of a performance difference there will be in case of a 100 MHz difference in CPU frequency. I would like to remind you that the CPU was overclocked to 4.8 GHz on Intel mainboard, while the memory worked at 1600 MHz with 6-6-6-6-18-1T timings on both of them.
Due to a slightly higher CPU overclocking on Intel mainboard, it is about 2% faster than the competitor from Gigabyte. There are exceptions, and again these are in 3DMark 11 and Adobe Photoshop CS5: here Gigabyte mainboard falls behind farther than usual, although it wins back in the gaming FarCry 2.
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 the CPU. For a more illustrative picture there are graphs that show how the computer power consumption grows up depending on the number of active execution threads in LinX.
Intel mainboard is a little more energy-efficient, even during overclocking, although we had to increase the voltage a little more than we would on Gigabyte mainboard. But you will only notice it when the overclocked processor is utilized 100%.
Overall, Intel DP67BG left a very stable, moderately positive impression. Like any other mainboard, especially an Intel one, it has some drawbacks. The worst one of them is, probably, the user-unfriendly BIOS, which is very inconvenient to work with. However, one can get used to almost anything. Besides, once you configured your system, there is really no need to access the BIOS anymore, so we do not consider this drawback something critical. Remember, that the BIOS functionality was sufficient to overclock our processor to its maximum. Besides, the board also pleased us with extended options for managing the fan rotation speeds, temperatures and voltages, which no other contemporary mainboard offers at this time. This is truly impressive and gives us hope that we will soon see even more dramatic changes in the BIOS of Intel boards.
There are very few specific peculiarities in the mainboard layout. They are the connector pad for the front panel buttons and indicators rotated by 180 degrees and the power supply connectors that have been moved to an unusual spot. Among other things we could mention the missing locks on the SATA cables and connectors, but this is hardly a serious issue as well. These few little issues can be overshadowed by a special discrete WiFi/Bluetooth module and higher energy-efficiency of the mainboard under medium-high load.
Overall, it is a little strange that Intel doesn’t stress that much their competitive advantages. For example, the dynamic adjustment of the number of active phases in the processor voltage regulator circuitry depending on the current operational load is only mentioned on the boxes, but without any further details. There is a mention of “Maximum ePower” technology in the brief description of the boards, but what does it actually mean? Unlike other manufacturers, Intel doesn’t stress that the board is based on the new B3 chipset revision of P67 Express, which is free from the well-known bug. Instead, they would like us to trust the “Better together” concept, which implies that Intel processors work best with the mainboards from the same maker. And why is that? There is not enough convincing proof. In case of the unique Intel DX50SO2 mainboard, I agree, it is better together. But if you ask me about other Intel mainboards that I have tested so far, then I would rather have just the Intel CPUs. As for the Intel DP67BG mainboard that we reviewed today, then this slogan would sound more like “together just as good”.