Exclusive Preview: The first P55 board in our labs
While the first Core i5 results have already leaked, the first board arrived to our lab yesterday. Because Intel is not able to deliver CPUs on time for testing, but happily selling them in Hongkong, Taiwan and Japan, we can only check out what the board will offer.
The P55 is not a real chipset, it's just the southbridge with some PCIe lanes, think of it as an enhanced version of the iCH10R. So you will see some boards which will feature northbridge coolers - and yes, there are no chips below them. They are place-holders for the upcoming P55/nf200 boards that will feature native SLI.
Let's have a look what Elitegroup is offering:
uPI semiconductors uP6206AK VRM controller cpu-portion
uPI semiconductors uP6203A VRM controller northbridge-portion
Realtek RTL8111DL PCIe Gb LAN controller
JMicron JMB361 PCIe SATA II/PATA controller
ITE IT8720F super I/O controller
ICS 9LPRS926EGLF clock generator
passive cooling of chipsets/VRM
8Mb BIOS, version: n/a
Mainboard Revision: 1.00
2x PCIe 2.0 x16, 1x x16 or 2x x8
1x PCIe 2.0 x4 @ x2 speed
1x PCIe 2.0 x1 @ x0.5 speed
4x Duale-Channel DDR3-slots for PC3-10667U memory up to 16GB
6-Port SATA II featuring RAID 0, 1, 5, 0+1, JBOD
1x PS/2 keyboard
1x PS/2 mouse
1x Gb LAN
8x USB 2.0
1x eSATA II
7.1 analog audio
1x optical audio out
1x CMOS clear button
4x SATA cable angled with clips
1x PATA cable
The first thing you notice is that this board is not an high-end board. That board was built to appeal to the mass-market at a very reasonable price-level. We expected more and are a little bit disappointed.
The VRM is an analog 4-phase design without any fancy stuff. Elitegroup changed the supplier for its VRM controllers from ISL to uPI semiconductors. We saw one of this controllers only once on the eVGA X58 SLI board and we were not impressed. Because the northbridge portions of the 1156 CPU do need a separate VRM, two phases are just for that. The controllers are so tiny we struggled to make good pictures.
The slot design is very straightforward. Two PCIe 2.0 x16 slots give you the capability to use Crossfire. This board will not support SLI. The PCIe x4 slot is always available, so you can at least upgrade with one card if you are using two two-slot PCIe graphics cards. For some reason Elitegroup decided to place a 4-pin molex-connector on the board, which is totally unnecessary and so it loses one PCIe slot.
The memory slots are too close to the CPU socket. This may give you some problems with some big CPU-coolers. We have no information yet, if the CPU can use any memory slot you choose or if you have to use slot 1 as you have to do with the i7 900 series, but we think so. The power-connector is at a safe distance, so no problems there.
For some reason all vendors go for the cheapest PCIe Gb LAN solution on the market, which is the recently introduced Realtek RTL8111DL. It's an improvement over the RTL8111C and now supports 9k Jumbo Frames, but still Realtek is not known for very good performance, especially the I/O load is quite weak. A Marvell, Broadcom or Intel chip would have been a better choice, but of course opting for a better chip would also have increased costs. Because this is an entry level board we didn't expect anything else. While we like eSATA ports we wonder what's the price difference between an JMB361 and JMB362 controller, as the later offers two SATA ports. The ALC888S is quite standard these days, the S indicating it does support separate streaming for Skype.
The SATA connectors are on the edge of the board and all of them are angled at 90°. This is the best solution available because the connectors won't interfere with any cards. Sadly the PATA connector is on the left side of the board near the second PCI slot. Meanwhile we would not be sad to see this connector gone.
So this board is clearly placed to fit the mainstream. It does feature all the necessities but lacks some special features besides the debug LED which is really useful. Also the accessories are rare, so we expect a retail price around €100,- entering the market.
Due to the fact we don't have any LGA1156 CPUs, you'll have to wait for benches.