Summary: In today's article we've rounded up four different Core 2-ready motherboards from ASUS for review: the ASUS P5W DH Deluxe WiFi-AP, P5B Deluxe WiFi-AP, P5N32-SLI SE, and finally the P5NSLI. Each motherboard has its fair share of pros and cons. Join us as we go over which features make each board unique, overclocking, and performance in this article!
Core 2ís rabid popularity
For ATI enthusiasts interested in CrossFire, the choice is simple: ASUSí P5W DH Deluxe. This motherboard features Intelís 975X chipset, providing native support for ATIís CrossFire technology, and is loaded with features. Weíve been using this motherboard extensively over the past month, and have found it to be a top-notch board.
Based on Intelís P965 chipset, the ASUS P5B Deluxe WiFi-AP is ASUSí flagship P965 motherboard and it certainly shows. ASUS has decked their P5B Deluxe WiFi-AP board out with pretty much every feature you can think of. For connectivity, youíve got dual Gigabit Ethernet ports as well as 54Mbps 802.11g WiFi, seven Serial ATA ports, and one parallel ATA connector. Since the ICH8 South Bridge used on the P965 chipset doesnít support parallel ATA, the inclusion of parallel ATA support is made possible thanks to an external storage controller manufactured by JMicro, which also powers the boardís seventh Serial ATA port. Rounding out the P5B Deluxe WiFi-APís connectivity are 8 USB 2.0 ports (four provided via back plate, and another four via external USB header) and 2 IEEE-1394a ports (one on the backplate, and one via header). On the backplate of the P5B ASUS also offers an eSATA port just below the FireWire port. This gives you access to a Serial ATA port without having to reach inside your case.
Youíll also note that the P5B Deluxe has two full-sized PCI Express graphics slots, a blue (primary) slot, and a black (secondary) PCI Express slot. Thanks to a recent driver update from ATI, the P965 chipset (and the P5B Deluxe) now supports ATIís CrossFire technology, but currently CrossFire support is limited to just D3D apps and only Radeon X1900 cards (we explain why in this news article).
When running in CrossFire mode the primary slot runs in full 16-lane PCI Express mode while the second slot gets just four PCI Express lanes. This results in a slight performance penalty. In comparison, the 975X chipset splits its PCI Express lanes evenly, eight for each slot. In addition to supporting X1900-based CrossFire, the second slot can also be used to hook up an additional graphics card so you can drive more monitors. The blue slot is the primary graphics slot and runs at full 16 lane operation, while the second graphics slot only runs in x2 or x4 mode.
One of the motherboardís cooler features is known as ASUS Q-Connector. Q-Connector makes it easier for you to hook up items like the pin headers for your system speaker, power button/LED, etc. Instead of having to whip out the user manual to see where these pins are connected to the motherboard, simply plug the pins into ASUSí Q-Connector which then goes on the motherboard. It makes things a lot easier than reaching inside your case to hook these devices up individually, which can be a tedious process sometimes. The P5B Deluxe also has one of the most unique power LEDs weíve seen. Rather than relying on the standard green LED weíve grown accustomed too, ASUS uses a blue power LED adorned with the ASUS logo. Then, once you power the system on, the LED changes from blue to red. Itís a really nice touch that weíd like to see ASUS continue to integrate on their high-end boards.
With so many features integrated onto the P5B Deluxe board, youíd assume that weíd run into issues with the motherboardís layout. However, this isnít the case, ASUS has done a pretty good job with the P5B Deluxeís board layout. The SATA ports are positioned down on the board, so they wonít get in the way of dual-slot graphics cards like the Radeon X1950 XTX or GeForce 7950 GX2, in fact you can run dual dual-slot cards without interference from the SATA ports. ASUS even places two PCI slots between both graphics slots to ensure plenty of room between both graphics cards.
The only real issue some users may run into with the layout of the P5B is the location of the seventh Serial ATA port. ASUS places it just above the primary PCI Express graphics slots, which frankly is one of the strangest places weíve seen a Serial ATA port placed to date. Fortunately this SATA port isnít driven natively by the chipset and therefore will likely be rarely used among P5B Deluxe owners. Youíll also note that parallel ports are missing from the back plate of the P5B Deluxe WiFi-AP in favor of the eSATA port. ASUS made the right move here in our opinion.
Audio and Dual GigE LAN
Audio duties are handled by an 8-channel codec from Analog Devices, the ADI 1988B. The 1988B seems particularly well suited for use with voice recognition software, ASUS touts its noise filtration capability and bundles the board with an ADI superbeam array mic, which focuses on the sound coming from the microphoneís reception cone, ignoring the sounds coming from other directions. This feature could make the P5B Deluxe an ideal solution for Skype users and other video conferencing applications. The motherboardís networking is powered by Marvell 88E8001 and Marvell 88E8056. These are two popular controllers that have been implemented by numerous motherboard manufacturers, but keep in mind that the secondary Ethernet controller, the 88E8001 is based on the slower PCI bus and therefore wonít come anywhere close to hitting its peak theoretical speeds. Fortunately, the primary controller, the 88E8056 is based on PCI Express and doesnít have this problem.
ASUS has put together a very solid BIOS for the P5B Deluxe WiFi-AP. Starting with their 507 BIOS update, ASUS has added the ability to adjust the CPUís clock multiplier downward for Core 2 CPUs, which can come in handy for HTPC who may want to underclock their processor (this feature is also present on Gigabyteís Core 2 motherboards), and with bus speeds up to 650MHz, the P5B Deluxe has all the bus speeds youíll ever need for overclocking and then some. Keep in mind that since the Core 2ís front-side bus is quad-pumped, that equates to bus speeds of up to 2.6GHz effective.
The BIOS for the P5B Deluxe WiFi-AP is very well laid out, all the key settings youíll need to overclock the board can be found on one page, making navigation a snap. ASUSí BIOS provides a wealth of voltage settings for the CPU, FSB, Memory, North Bridge, and South Bridge, and for those of you with older PCI devices you can lock the PCI bus to 33MHz or tie it to the CPU. This is a nice feature to have if youíve got a sound card or other PCI device that may be sensitive to overclocking.
The P5B Deluxe WiFi-AP BIOS even features the ability to save profiles for overclocking. This could come in handy for instance if you find that some of your favorite older games can run with complete stability at higher clock speeds, while newer more demanding games may require slower speeds. With the OC profile, simply load the higher OC profile when youíre playing older games, and load the slower OC profile for your newer games. Up to two OCíing profiles can be saved in the P5W DHís BIOS.
End users have been reporting some pretty staggering overclocks with the P5B Deluxe, so we were eager to see how high we could push our board, and it certainly didnít disappoint. When it was all said and done, we were able to run FSB speeds up to 439MHz with complete stability!
The flagship of ASUSí Core 2 line is currently the P5W DH Deluxe. This motherboard is based on Intelís 975X ďenthusiastĒ chipset and fully supports ATIís CrossFire technology, in fact weíve been using the P5W DH Deluxe for the past month as our standard platform for Core 2 testing, most recently running a pair of Radeon X1950 XTX cards in CrossFire mode for our ATIís Radeon X1950 XTX: Quad SLI Killer? article. We also used the P5W DH Deluxe to take a 2.13GHz Core 2 Duo E6400 to 3.4GHz as well.
Like the P5B Deluxe, the P5W DH Deluxe supports ASUSís Q-Connector feature, youíll also note that all of the motherboards major components are color-coded, just like the P5B Deluxe (the primary graphics slot is the orange slot by the way).
Also like the P5B board, the P5W DH Deluxe boasts an 8-phase power delivery system. In fact youíll see that ASUS uses the same low height capacitors that are found on the P5B Deluxe, including polymer capacitors. We had no problems getting our largest CPU coolers to fit on the P5W DH Deluxe.
The P5W DH Deluxe also uses the same Realtek RTL8187L 802.11a/b/g Wireless LAN controller thatís found on the P5B Deluxe, right down to the same location on the motherboard.
ASUS provides tons of space between the PCI Express graphics slots. ASUS refers to this as their two-slot thermal design. Basically it refers to the fact that ASUS provides two slots between the PCI Express x16 graphics slots, often times to save space on the board the two graphics slots are only separated by one PCI slot, or a single x1 PCI Express slot. By integrating more space between the graphics slots, ASUS provides more space for graphics cards with dual-slot coolers like the GeForce 7900 GTX and Radeon X1900 XTX. This provides better airflow between the cards, helping to reduce board temperatures.
Dual Gigabit Ethernet done right
Handling networking duties on the P5W DH Deluxe are two Marvell 88E8053 Gigabit LAN controllers. Both controllers are bound by the PCI Express interface, so the secondary network controller on the P5W DH Deluxe isnít afflicted by the PCI bus like the P5B Deluxe board is.
For starters, thereís plenty of room in the areas that are the two biggest hot spots on any modern motherboard: the area around the CPU socket and the space separating both PCI Express graphics slots. We discussed this on the previous page, but we couldnít help but repeat it again, as this is important to any enthusiast. ASUS also places the ATX power connectors along the top edge and right edge of the motherboard, so these components are mostly out of the way of CPU/system fans where they can get caught. It is a bit strange to see that ASUS elected to use a 4-pin connection for the ATX12V connector though, after all, this is supposed to be a high-end motherboard.
With three PCI slots and two x1 PCI Express slots the P5W DH Deluxe has plenty of options in terms of expansion. Sitting in between the PCI Express graphics slots are one x1 PCI Express slot and one PCI slot, so youíll lose these slots if you plan on running X1900 XT/XTX CrossFire, but that still leaves you with one additional x1 PCIe slot and two PCI slots, so those power users with CrossFire, a PCIe TV tuner card, and a PCI sound card should love the P5W DH Deluxe. ASUS hangs an eSATA port off the backplate of the P5W DH Deluxe for additional storage connectivity as well.
Like the P5B Deluxe, heat pipe cooling is used to cool the boardís North Bridge and MOSFETs, while the ICH7R South Bridge is cooled passively with a small aluminum heatsink, allowing the motherboard to run silently.
In terms of complaints, we wish that ASUS provided four SATA ports that were driven natively by the system chipset, but as we discussed earlier itís just three. You can literally see where ASUS has silkscreened the fourth SATA port. The retention mechanism used on the P5W DH Deluxe can also be difficult to manipulate when a dual-slot graphics card like the Radeon X1900 XTX or GeForce 7900 GTX is in place, in order to grab it youíll have to reach directly under the graphics cardís heatsink, which can be a difficult task. It wouldíve been better if ASUS had placed the retention mechanism on the top of the PCI Express slot like they did with the P5B Deluxe.
All this aside though, itís a minor miracle ASUS was able to pull off the P5W DH Deluxeís board layout so well.
The BIOS of the P5W DH Deluxe supports the same BIOS layout and all the key features found in the P5B Deluxeís BIOS, including OC Profiles, only it supports slightly different bus speeds and voltages. We tested with ASUSí recently released 1405 BIOS, which adds (among other things) the ability to adjust the CPUís clock multiplier downward for Core 2 CPUs, as well as boasting more performance and bus speed options than the 701 BIOS we were using previously.
The P5W DH Deluxe doesnít have the 650MHz bus speed ceiling of the P5B Deluxe, but with bus speeds up to 550MHz, the P5W DH Deluxe should still have more than enough bus speeds to satisfy the overclocking crowd. The P5W DH Deluxe also has a few memory bus speeds that arenít available on the P5B Deluxe.
In addition to the standard settings, ASUS also includes a ďDigital HomeĒ setting, when enabled the BIOS will automatically lower fan speeds and voltages to help the system run quieter, although for finer fan speed control you can still go in the BIOSí power management settings and manually tweak the fan speeds of your CPU and system fans.
Note: One quirk with early P5W DH Deluxe motherboards is that they didnít support all Core 2 CPUs. ASUS has since released newer BIOS revisions that fully support all Core 2 CPUs, but unfortunately a few motherboards with earlier BIOS versions slipped out that didnít fully support Core 2.
In terms of overclocking, we were able to hit a bus speed of 427MHz with our P5W DH Deluxe motherboard. Thatís not quite as high as the speeds we hit with the P5B Deluxe, but impressive nonetheless.
As we explained on the first page of this article, ASUS currently offers two options for SLI enthusiasts looking for a new Core 2 motherboard: the P5N32-SLI SE Deluxe and the P5NSLI. Weíll go over the P5N32-SLI SE Deluxe first.
The P5N32-SLI SE is ASUSí high-end SLI offering for the Intel platform, and uses NVIDIAís nForce 4 SLI X16 Intel Edition chipset. The motherboard is actually based largely on ASUSí older P5N32-SLI motherboard, only the SE board has been modified to support Core 2 CPUs. ASUS has basically tweaked the board design of the original P5N32-SLI, coming up with a new board revision for their newer P5N32-SLI SE board. ASUS has redesigned the P5N32-SLI SEís VRM circuitry and BIOS to support Core 2ís lower operating voltage, and the P5N32-SLI SE now officially supports DDR2-800 memory (the original P5N32-SLI only offered official support for 667MHz DDR2 RAM).
Since itís largely based on an older motherboard design, the P5N32-SLI SE predates ASUSí Digital Home initiative and therefore lacks support for Wi-Fi like the P965 and 975X motherboards, but as a high-end board, the P5N32-SLI SE is still loaded with features. ASUS not only throws in eSATA and dual Gigabit Ethernet, but also heat pipe cooling, running completely silent.
The P5N32-SLI SEís most distinguishing feature is that it supports full 16-lane PCI Express operation, even with two cards running in SLI. This is made possible thanks to its nForce4 SLI X16 Intel Edition chipset, which is currently the only chipset on the market for Core 2 that supports full 16-lane PCI Express operation (the 975X chipset runs both graphics cards in x8 mode once CrossFire is enabled). Here we should also note that the P5N32-SLI SE Deluxe fully supports Quad SLI. Weíve tested it out extensively and havenít run into any problems.
For those of you with lots of older parallel ATA drives, the P5N32-SLI SE also natively supports Ultra ATA/133 operation, supporting up to four ATA drives (two IDE connectors are present on the motherboard). Since most Core 2 motherboards currently on the market use Intel chipsets, only one IDE connector is present on these motherboards, limiting support for only up to two ATA drives. The P5N32-SLI SE is also one of the few motherboards on the market to offer an x4 PCI Express slot, providing a little more bandwidth than the x1 slots you normally see present on most motherboards, while still providing legacy x1 support for slower PCI Express devices. In addition to the x4 PCI Express slot, the board also offers two x1 PCI Express slots and two PCI slots. When combined with the boardís two x16 graphics slots, this makes the P5N32-SLI SE one of the most capable Core 2-ready motherboards on the market when it comes to PCI Express connectivity.
Like the P5B Deluxe and P5W DH Deluxe, ASUS has integrated an 8-phase power delivery system on the P5N32-SLI SE. The motherboardís MOSFETs are cooled directly by ASUSí heat pipe cooling, as is the North and South Bridge of the system chipset. If you want a little more cooling than this, ASUS also includes two additional fans inside the P5N32-SLI SEís packaging which can be mounted to the motherboard for even more cooling.
Considering the number of goodies ASUS has integrated onto the P5N32-SLI Deluxe, theyíve done a pretty good job with the motherboardís layout. The ATX power connectors are out of the way of the CPU fan, so you wonít have to worry about snagging the power cable, and the area around the CPU socket while crowded still left plenty of room for large heatsink/fan units like Zalmanís CNPS7700 and CNPS9500.
Speaking of spacing, the primary graphics slot is located awfully close to the boardís DIMM slots. Thereís just enough space to install the graphics card without affecting the DIMM slots, but itís still close. The x1 and x4 PCI Express slots sit between both PCI Express graphics slots, so youíve got plenty of room for hooking up two GeForce cards for SLI, even if the cards are dual-slot like NVIDIAís GeForce 7900 GTX and 7950 GX2. Resting just below the secondary graphics slot are two PCI slots for expansion.
If the boardís four native Serial ATA ports arenít enough for you, ASUS provides a fifth port which is driven by a storage controller from Silicon Image, the Sil 3132. This controller supports 3Gbs Serial ATA with NCQ and is also responsible for driving the P5N32-SLI SEís eSATA port, which is located on the backplate of the motherboard just underneath the parallel connector. This fifth SATA port is located in awkwardly above the PCI Express graphics slots, just below the CPU. Ideally it would rest somewhere closer to the other SATA ports. Thatís our only real gripe with the P5N32-SLI SEís board layout. Some may also be surprised to see the lack of FireWire ports on the P5N32-SLI SEís backplate, but fortunately a FireWire header is included with the motherboard to provide this functionality.
Like the P5W DH Deluxe, the P5N32-SLI SE has two Gigabit Ethernet ports with a PCI Express-based controller from Marvell powering the networking engine of the second Ethernet port. The P5N32-SLI SE doesnít support Intelís high-definition audio standard since its nForce4 SLI X16 chipset is incompatible with HD-audio, but Realtekís ALC850 CODEC is a popular choice among many motherboard manufacturers and gets the job done for the P5N32-SLI SE Deluxe.
While the P5N32-SLI relies on American Megatrends AMIBIOS like the other Core 2 motherboards in this roundup, it uses a decidedly different interface that quite frankly, is a little confusing to navigate through in comparison to the other motherboards. This is because a lot of the settings enthusiasts will want to adjust are hidden under a myriad of vague submenus Ė to adjust the memory timings for instance you must navigate through two multiple menus and submenus: Advanced: JumperFree Configuration: Performance Options: Memory Timings: Manual. Getting to the FSB adjustment setting and memory bus setting are just as complicated. On other motherboards, these settings are normally available within a few keystrokes.
In fact on the P5N32-SLI SE, itís actually easier to get to the settings for voltage adjustment (which are hanging right underneath the Advanced menu), than it is to get to the settings for adjusting bus speeds.
Fortunately the rest of the boardís BIOS is pretty easy to navigate through, and everything is located where youíd expect it to be for the most part. One real strength of the board is the level of flexibility you get when adjust memory speeds, options all the way up to 1600MHz are at your disposal in 1MHz increments, although surprisingly no settings are present for adjusting PCI Express voltage.
Our overclocking endeavors with the P5N32-SLI SE were rather limited, topping out at just 282MHz, which is well shy of the capabilities of our Core 2 CPUs. This seems to be a problem that plagues all P5N32-SLI SE motherboards, as numerous end users are also reporting slim overclocks with their boards. We wouldnít be surprised if this was a limitation of the chipset, as ASUS has certainly done their part to help ensure the P5N32-SLI SEís overclocking potential, using more heat pipes on the P5N32-SLI SE Deluxe than on any of the other ASUS motherboards featured in this roundup.
Are you interested in a Core 2-ready SLI motherboard but donít want to break the bank in the process? If so, ASUSí P5NSLI may be just the motherboard for you. The motherboard is powered by NVIDIAís recently released nForce 570 SLI chipset. Whereas the nForce4 SLI X16 and nForce 590 SLI chipset were designed to appeal directly to hardware enthusiasts, the nForce 570 SLI chipset has been designed for the masses. Itís limited to just 20 PCI Express lanes total whereas nForce4 SLI X16 and nForce 590 SLI support up to 48 lanes.
With just 20 PCI Express lanes at its disposal, the nForce 570 SLI chipset canít run both PCI Express graphics slots in x16 mode when SLI is in use, instead the chipset devotes 8 PCI Express lanes (x8) to both graphics cards, but fortunately weíve found in the past that none of todayís applications are capable of taking advantage of the added bandwidth dual 16-lane SLI graphics provides. However this may change as more graphically-intensive games appear on the horizon, and/or Havok/ATI/NVIDIAís GPU-based physics begins to be incorporated into more games. The chipset technically only supports up to 667MHz DDR2 memory as well, although you can run faster speeds via the P5NSLIís BIOS.
Other differences between the nForce 570 SLI and the 590 SLI are that it supports only four Serial ATA hard drives (like the nForce4 SLI X16 chipset) and is limited to just 8 USB ports and one Gigabit Ethernet connection. In comparison, the 590 SLI chipset supports ten and two respectively. Like the nForce4 SLI X16 chipset used on the P5N32-SLI SE, nForce 570 SLI also supports up to four parallel ATA drives. ASUS outfits the P5NSLI with two IDE connectors, allowing the board to support up to four PATA drives.
No external storage controllers are added to the P5NSLI for added connectivity, nor does ASUS toss in a second network controller or include IEEE-1394 FireWire support: what you get natively from the nForce 570 SLI chipset is basically all you get from ASUS for the P5NSLI. This is important to keep in mind in case you have a digital camcorder or other FireWire device, or you need more than the four SATA/PATA connections that the P5NSLI provides. Remember, this is a budget motherboard thatís targeted towards price-sensitive buyers, adding extras such as extra storage controllers or additional networking/IEEE-1394 connectivity adds to the production cost of the motherboard and thus it isnít included. If these items interest you, youíll have to opt for ASUSí P5N32-SLI SE Deluxe for now.
Along those same lines, the hardware accessories bundled with the P5NSLI are pretty minimal. While you do get ASUSí excellent Q-Connector, the rest of the bundle is fairly mundane. Unlike the other ASUS motherboards discussed previously, youíll get no auxiliary cooling fans for added cooling, just one SATA data cable, three ribbon cables (1 floppy, 1 80-conductor IDE and one 40-conductor), 1 Molex-to-SATA power adapter, a 2-port USB header, and ASUSí SLI bridge connector, which is required to swap the card from single-graphics card mode to SLI mode.
With so few auxiliary chips and peripheral connectors built on the P5NSLI motherboard, thereís plenty of room available on the PCB for the boardís onboard devices and overall the boardís layout is well done.
Gone is the 8-phase power delivery system used on the previous ASUS motherboards weíve discussed, the P5NSLI relies on a 3-phase power solution instead. This may not sound like much, but we had no problems running this with Intelís latest Core 2 Extreme X6800, we wouldnít be surprised though if this isnít enough power for Intelís upcoming quad-core Kentsfield CPU, which is set for release later this year.
Looking over the area near the CPU socket youíll see thereís plenty of room for the largest of heatsink/fan CPU coolers, while the boardís array of MOSFETs is cooled by as aluminum heatsink. In fact, the entire motherboard is passively cooled, with a large aluminum heatsink cooling the boardís North Bridge, while the MCP51 South Bridge isnít cooled at all. In operation both the North Bridge and South Bridge can get pretty hot, especially during extended operation under load Ė some enthusiasts may want to swap out the stock chipset cooler with an aftermarket cooling unit if temperature is a concern to you. Fortunately this didnít seem to affect the stability of the motherboard.
Sitting just underneath the CPU socket is the ATX12V power connector. This location is a little less than ideal, as the 12V power supply cable must run awfully close to the CPUís fan on the P5NSLI, we would have preferred the 12V connector to be located closer to the top edge of the motherboard.
Moving further down the board youíll find three x1 PCI Express slots on the P5NSLI, along with two PCI slots. The P5NSLI provides lots of room between the two PCI Express graphics slots, supporting ASUSí two-slot thermal design Ė two of the boardís x1 PCI Express slots are located here. Youíll also see that the SLI selector cardis housed here. The selector card operates like a switch, one end is used to operate the PCI Express graphics slots in single card mode, where the primary graphics slot runs in 16-lane mode and the second slot runs in 1-lane mode. Flip the SLI card over to the ďDual Video CardsĒ side and youíll switch the PCI Express graphics slots to split the PCI Express lanes evenly between both graphics slots, with both slots running in 8-lane mode. Motherboards based on NVIDIAís nForce4 SLI X16 and nForce 590 SLI chipsets donít need the selector card, as the PCI Express graphics slots run in full 16-lane mode regardless of whether you have two graphics cards installed or not, as those chipsets have enough PCI Express lanes to devote all 16 lanes to both graphics slots.
Like the P5N32-SLI SE Deluxe, ASUSí BIOS interface for the P5NSLI departs from the norm you typically associate with ASUS motherboards, although in the case of the P5NSLI navigation is definitely a little easier: the BIOS settings are all where youíd expect them to be and they arenít hidden under quite as many submenus. The settings most overclockers are going to want are going to be found under the Advanced: JumperFree Configuration submenu. Here youíll find settings for adjusting bus speeds and voltages, although when it comes to the latter you wonít find many voltage settings available for some critical components. Here are the key settings found within the P5NSLIís BIOS:
As you can see, ASUS provides a nice selection of FSB speeds, and like the P5N32-SLI SE you can select the speed of the memory bus in 1MHz increments, this provides a little more flexibility than what the Intel chipsets provide.
Where we come away a little disappointed though is in the voltage settings available. For overclocking the CPU, ASUS provides voltages up to 1.6V. Thatís probably enough juice for most Core 2 CPU overclocks, but is a little lower than other enthusiast-level motherboards for Core 2. Whatís really disappointing however is the lack of voltage options for the memory: ASUS only provides settings of 1.8V, 1.9V, 2.0V, and 2.1V. Thatís clearly not enough voltages, as many enthusiast-level memory modules from Corsair, OCZ, and others require at least 2.2V to operate. Fortunately we were able to get our Corsair modules to run at 2.1V, but we still feel ASUS needs to provide more memory voltage settings as this could cause compatibility issues with a wide range of memory modules.
Like the P5N32-SLI SE Deluxe, our overclocking endeavors with the P5NSLI were rather limited, topping out at just 321MHz. Considering the massive overclocks we saw with the 975X and P965 motherboards, this is a bit of a disappointment, but keep in mind that weíre dealing with a motherboard that sells for much less and isnít endowed with the beefy 8-phase power system and heat pipe cooling of the other motherboards, so you canít complain too much. After all, you do get what you pay for.
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ASUS P5B Deluxe
ASUS P5W DH Deluxe WiFi-AP
ASUS P5N32-SLI SE Deluxe
If youíre on a tight budget and want SLI support, ASUS P5NSLI is the obvious choice. The motherboard is based on NVIDIAís value-oriented nForce 570 SLI chipset. It doesnít support 16-lane SLI operation, but none of todayís applications are capable of taking advantage of the extra bandwidth anyway and while the board is light on extras and doesnít enjoy the heat pipe cooling of the other motherboards in this roundup, itís still capable of doing everything 90% of its target audience will ask it to do. Performance is right up there with the rest of the motherboards included in this article and thatís going to make this board appeal to the bang-for-the-buck crowd. All thatís really missing is more memory voltage options, and that can quickly be fixed with a BIOS update if ASUS chooses to do so.
If you want SLI support but also need a better storage subsystem, Firewire support, or just want a more future-proof CPU thatís ready for more power-hungry processors, the P5N32-SLI SE Deluxe is the best option available on the market right now. Itís got an 8-phase power system, better chipset cooling than the P5NSLI, and more options for storage and PCI Express connectivity. Itís definitely the better board, but it sells for roughly $100 more than the P5NSLI at many retailers including Newegg, so itís definitely not for the budget-conscious.
The P5B Deluxe WiFi-AP is the board for overclockers. ASUS has definitely built this board for overclocking, with its 8-phase power system and FSB-loaded BIOS. Believe it or not, there are Core 2 Duo users out there breaking 5GHz with this motherboard. Our biggest gripe with the board is the lack of x1 PCI Express slots, and while the motherboard boasts dual GigE functionality, the second networking controller is bound by the PCI bus, so it will never live up to those speeds. Other than that, itís hard not to like the P5B Deluxe WiFi-AP.
The P965 has recently been endowed with CrossFire support, making the P5B Deluxe WiFi-AP more appealing to those of you with plans for two Radeon GPUs, but CrossFire performance will never be as good as 975X, nor does P965 CrossFire support Radeon cards that predate the X1900 line so youíll have to keep those limitations in mind. The board also sells frequently for over $200, so it definitely isnít cheap. Therefore if you donít need the wireless functionality we definitely recommend you save a few bucks and get the regular P5B Deluxe instead.
Our favorite Core 2-ready motherboard at the moment however is ASUSí P5W DH Deluxe WiFi-AP. Youíve got Intelís 975X chipset, so the board supports full-featured CrossFire, and while it doesnít have the FSB options of the P5B Deluxe, the P5W DH Deluxe is still a solid platform for overclocking. This board is by no means perfect either, weíd like to see a fourth SATA port hanging off the ICH7R chip for instance, and the P5W DH Deluxe is one of the most expensive motherboards out there, but itís the board that offers the least set of compromises overall in our opinion.
ASUS includes a nice mixture of options for expansion, and youíve got all the features ASUS incorporates in their other high-end motherboards such as 8-phase power, WiFi, and heat pipe cooling. ASUS then tops the package off with their digital home accessories, which includes a IR-based programmable remote and software package to go along with it. ASUS even includes an ďMP3-inĒ bracket which can be mounted to the back of your case, allowing you to hook up and listen to your MP3 player without having to power up the system. Overall itís a very nice package, and when combined with the features on the P5W DH Deluxe board itself, makes the board appealing to both hardware enthusiasts and the digital media crowd.
Because of all this, weíre awarding the P5W DH Deluxe our Editorís Choice Award. No other Core 2-compliant motherboard thatís available on the market today can match it in terms of both basic features, performance, and accessories. It truly is the best board out there if youíre looking for a board that delivers a nice mixture of bells and whistles with a solid BIOS and good performance.
If youíve got an unlimited budget for your next motherboard upgrade and donít need SLI, it would be the board to get in our opinion. A lot of people wonít fall into this category however, and thatís why ASUS offers multiple choices for Core 2 CPUs at this time.
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