Bearlake 4 under the scanner
Intel’s new P35 chipset (code-named Bearlake) marks the launch of yet another milestone for Desktop computing, namely DDR3 memory. Though the chipset supports DDR3, in the initial phase, motherboards will be offered with DDR2 memory to streamline the transition to DDR3. Memory speed apart, the new chipset ushers in support for the new, yet-to-be-launched Penryn processors (45nm at 1333 MHz FSB).
In this round-up, we have four motherboards: the ASUS P5K Deluxe, MSI Platinum, Gigabyte GA-P35-DQ6, and the Foxconn P35A. The former three are geared towards enthusiasts (read: bells and whistles attached).
All four motherboards use the ATX form factor, and hence demand a full ATX cabinet. And all of them have taken to silent cooling. The MSI Platinum has oodles of copper pipes running around the Northbridge, with fins to increase surface area. ASUS has its own implementation; Gigabyte goes a step forward and includes a back plate to cool the PCB. These substantial coolers will impede installation of a larger heatsink-fan combo for the processor.
ASUS P5K Deluxe ---> Wi-Fi antenna with magnetic base
The same pipes run towards the Southbridge, terminating into either a copper heatsink with fins (Gigabyte, MSI) or without them (ASUS). The Foxconn motherboard hasn’t gone with silent cooling—this is their P35 for the masses.
MSI P35 Platinum ----> 8 Diagnostic LED’s: Easy Diagnosis of boot-up failures.
The placement of the 24-pin ATX connector is spot-on on the ASUS and the Foxconn boards, but the dense heat pipes on the Gigabyte and the MSI hinder easy installation of the ATX connector. On all the boards, extra power is available via a four-pin Molex connector.
Foxconn P35A ----> OnBoard Power and Reset switch: Benchtester Friendly
The memory slots on the ASUS and Foxconn don’t interfere with the graphics card. Sadly, Gigabyte and MSI miss the mark by a few inches; the Corsair Dominator (as will any memory with a bulky heat spreader) comes dangerously close to the graphics card’s PCB. And with the MSI and ASUS, a long graphics card will run over the SATA ports.
Gigabyte P35-DQ6 ----> Crazy Cool: enhances Heat desipation on rear side of Motherboard
Gigabyte’s DQ6’s Front Panel Audio gets trapped in between the back panel I/O ports and the thermal pipe solution, so Gigabyte implements a pin-raiser for easy access to it. The USB extension headers are placed at the bottom of all the boards, with ASUS and Foxconn using plastic brackets for trouble-free installation.
Gigabyte implements three PCIe x1 slots, whereas the ASUS P5K Deluxe and MSI P35 Platinum have two. The Foxconn provides just one. ASUS and Foxconn implement three PCI slots; MSI and Gigabyte, two each.
The ASUS lacks a PS2 port and alongwith P35 Platinum both of them have six USB, one FireWire, and two eSATA ports. The Foxconn P35A and Gigabyte GA-P35-DQ6 both provide four USB ports. The Foxconn also has an eSATA port.
All the boards have 8-channel audio; the ASUS P5K Deluxe and the Gigabyte GA-P35-DQ6 have multi-streamed audio, a technology that allows separate signals to be sent to the rear speaker connectors and headphones, separating background audio streams from communications applications.
Power And The BIOS
Gigabyte has opted for a 12-phase power design—supposedly good for overclocking. ASUS offers 8-phase power, which should be good enough for driving the CPU to crazy overclocks. The Foxconn P35A and MSI P35 Platinum use a simpler, 4-phase power—no problems for stock systems, but could limit the CPU’s overclocking potential.
Though 1066 MHz DDR2 RAM is supported on all boards, the Foxconn and MSI required adjustment to run the Corsair Dominator at 1066 MHz.
The ASUS has a feature-rich BIOS with controls for the North / Southbridge voltage, and also for the CPU Damper, Transaction Booster, and Clock Over-Charging Mode.
The Gigabyte C.I.A 2 has five preset overclocking profiles, whereas the ASUS provides two user-configurable overclocking profiles. All the boards come with utilities for overclocking through Windows, as also a utility to update the BIOS.
The ASUS and Gigabyte provide crash-free BIOSes. The MSI P35 Platinum has eight diagnostic LEDs and a BIOS reset switch—just in case. The Foxconn P35A provides onboard power and reset switches for fine-tuning the system before fitting.
Testing the boards resulted in mixed scores with only tiny differences. In PC Mark 05, a score of 7327 by the ASUS P5K Deluxe left the MSI P35 Platinum just behind at 7326. The Gigabyte GA-P35-DQ6 scored 10818 in 3D Mark 06, while ASUS P5K Deluxe ran a score of 10813; the 10814 by the Foxconn P35A in 3D Mark 06 fetched it second position. In the SiSoft Processor Arithmetic and Multimedia test, the P5K Deluxe took the lead, while the Foxconn P35A a close second.
|Corssair Dominator XMS2|
2GB DDR2 Kit 1066MHz 2x1024
Testing a newly-launched motherboard is a nightmare mostly because of memory compatibility issues; this is something we faced, and you’ll face them too—till new BIOSes are introduced, of course.
Luckily, Corsair’s Dominator memory worked flawlessly, and we recommend these if you plan to buy any of these motherboards. These memory modules are SPD programmed for 5-5-5-18 timings at 800 MHz, and do 5-5-5-15-2T at 1066MHz 2.2V. The 2 GB Dominator kit is a matched pair of 1 GB DDR2 memory modules—best used in dual-channel configuration.
We used Corsair Dominator memory at 1066 MHz for our tests—no problems here. The Right Mark Memory Analyzer put the Gigabyte GA-P35-DQ6 ahead with a latency of 28.94 and a bandwidth of 4562.43.
The Asus P5K Deluxe was neck-to-neck with the Gigabyte, but lagged behind in the latency test with a score of 31.77 against the 28.94 of the GA-P35-DQ6. The ASUS P5K Deluxe completed Wprime in 32.859 seconds, followed by Gigabyte at 32.937; in Super Pi, both scored 18.797 seconds.
In the gaming benchmarks, the Asus P5K Deluxe churned out 128.8 fps in Company of Heroes, the Gigabyte came in just behind with 128.1. The MSI P35 Platinum and Foxconn P35A clock 127.9 and 126.5 fps respectively.
The Foxconn P35A managed a score of 59.4 MBps in the Average Read test with a Random Access time of 64 ms in HD Tach. The Asus P5K Deluxe followed closely, but we saw a burst speed of 133.7 MBps. None of the boards really had a clear lead.
ASUS packs in a great bundle, with Wi-Fi and dual Gigabit LAN. The Q-Connector from ASUS simplifies installation of the chassis front panel connector by providing a pluggable, labelled connector.
The Foxconn P35A includes an SLI bridge in the package. The Gigabyte provides 4 eSATA 2 extensions along with external power Molex for faster peripheral data transfer. All the boards come with a single FireWire port and SPDIF out (Sony/Philips Digital Interconnect Format) ; drivers for XP and Vista come bundled.
ASUS’ new P5K Deluxe doesn’t disappoint. Combining fabulous features, great overclocking potential, and superb performance, this new board is still reasonably priced.
The Gigabyte GA-P35-DQ6 is crafted beautifully, with superb on-paper specs, and it delivers—but at Rs 18,000, it’s a little too expensive.
The MSI Platinum P35 is a good motherboard, especially by virtue of its pricing. Extensive (ab)use of copper for silent cooling and some component placement issues mar an otherwise great product.
The Foxconn P35A is an excellent product, but the over-the-head pricing is something Foxconn should consider revising.