Summary: With built-in 802.11n wireless, DDR3, 3 PCIe graphics slots, FSB speeds up to 800MHz in BIOS, and an embedded Linux distro that can boot to the Internet in around 5 seconds, the ASUS P5E3 Deluxe WiFi-AP@n truly looks incredible on paper. But how does it perform in practice? Find out in this review!
With recent developments like PCI Express 2.0 graphics cards and DDR3 memory, itís been time for Intel to replace 975X with something new.
Enter the X38 chipset.
X38 offers support for both PCIe 2.0 and DDR3, as well as dual 16-lane operation when running a pair of Radeon cards in CrossFire mode, 12 USB 2.0 ports, Intel Turbo Memory and many other features. We went over all the new additions in our Gigabyte X38-DQ6 review last week. We recommend you check out that article if youíd like to see whatís new with the chipset, including CrossFire benchmarks where we tested a pair of Radeon HD 2900 XT cards running in CrossFire mode on Intelís X38 and P35 Bearlake platforms.
The focus of our article today is on the ASUS P5E3 Deluxe WiFi @P. As one of ASUSís higher-end X38 motherboards, this board is loaded with features. Letís see what makes this board so specialÖ
In addition to the standard features provided by the X38 chipset, ASUS has integrated lots of additional goodies. One of the first features youíll notice are the three PCI Express graphics slots, most X38 motherboards just ship with two slots. The primary graphics slots are colored blue and are driven by the North Bridge of the chipset. Up to 16 lanes are devoted to each slot. The third PEG slot is powered by the South Bridge of the chipset and can be used to drive additional monitors. If the x1 PCI Express slots are unused, up to four PCIe lanes are sent to this slot. If the expansion slots are in use, only one PCIe lane of connectivity is provided.
Again, this slot canít be used for 3-way CrossFire, or as far as we know it canít be used for GPU-based physics processing. Its purpose is solely for driving additional monitors, so if you happen to have an older PCIe graphics card you can house it here and power 2 more monitors.
Another feature that sets the P5E3 Deluxe from many other motherboards on the market is its built-in wireless networking. ASUS has integrated wireless on many of their high-end motherboards in the past, but these motherboards were limited to 802.11g. The P5E3 Deluxe is the first ASUS motherboard to offer support for 802.11n. A wireless networking controller from AzureWave (the AW-NA830) provides Wi-Fi functionality. Two antennas are also included in the box for use with the wireless module.
The "AP" in the P5E3 Deluxe/WiFi-AP@n designation stands for access point. Like previous wireless motherboards from ASUS, the P5E3 Deluxe/WiFi-AP@n can be configured to run as an access point which you can use to connect other wireless devices in your home together to form a wireless network. The motherboard supports WEP, WPA, and WPA2 for security.
ASUS Express Gate
Tired of waiting a minute or more to boot up your system just so you can browse the Internet? Perhaps you want to get online real quick so you can browse the local showings for the latest movie or place an order on Newegg? If so youíll appreciated ASUSís Express Gate feature.
Express Gate consists of a built-in flash memory chip that rests between a PEG slot and a PCI slot. Loaded on this flash memory chip is a Linux distribution from Splashtop. When booting up the P5E3 Deluxe motherboard, youíll be presented with the Express Gate splash screen. From there you have the option to load up BIOS, boot into the OS, reboot or shut down the computer, or you can click the ďWebĒ and ďSkypeĒ icons to load these applications in Splashtop.
The Splashtop OS boots up very quickly, with our Core 2 Extreme QX6850 system and 2GB of RAM we could load the web browser in just six seconds. The Splashtop browser itself is good, it supports features like tabbed browsing and it can save all your passwords if youíd like. Obviously once youíve launched the browser you can then launch your favorite IM client and chat with friends, check your email, or browse the Internet. We didnít have any problems viewing all of our favorite sites with the Splashtop browser, it makes an excellent alternative to booting into your primary OS if all you want to do is browse the web. The only downside we found is we were limited to a maximum resolution of 1440x1050.
One feature ASUS continues to provide on all of their motherboards is 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.
SATA on the Go
While it initially got off to a slow start, eSATA is finally beginning to grow in popularity. ASUSís SATA on the Go feature provides two eSATA ports on the back plate of the P5E3 Deluxe motherboard, allowing easy access for the end user.
Stack Cool 2
To help combat heat, ASUS provides their Stack Cool 2 feature. Stack Cool 2 is designed to transfer heat off the motherboard and its components. ASUSís 1st generation Stack Cool cooling sat directly underneath the CPU, helping to dissipate heat from the processor and all the surrounding power circuitry. Their second-generation Stack Cool 2 cooling covers the entire motherboard, essentially adding an extra layer to the PCB to help disperse heat.
Besides the aforementioned wireless antennas and Q-Connectors, ASUS also bundles an IR remote with the P5E3 Deluxe. This remote can be used to power the system on/off/suspend as well as performing media playback functions (play/pause, rewind, etc). You can also program the remote to perform specific functions if youíd like.
Like their P35 Bearlake motherboards based on the P5K line, ASUS uses an 8-phase power system delivering power to the CPU. In addition, every capacitor on the P5E3 Deluxe is an aluminum solid capacitor with conductive polymer. With all solid capacitors onboard, the idea is that the capacitors will last longer while also boosting system stability under extreme conditions.
ASUSís P5K P35 motherboards also utilize all solid capacitors.
Looking at the CPU socket, youíll notice that an array of large copper heatsinks flanks the area around the processor socket. These heatsinks are then connected by an equally impressive network of heat pipes; in fact, dual heat pipes are used to cool some areas, including the North Bridge.
This array of tall heatsinks provides excellent cooling without the need for a fan, but if youíd like to use active cooling, ASUS does include additional fans inside the packaging of the P5E3 Deluxe which you can use, but they arenít required for normal operation at stock clock speeds.
The only downside to all these heatsinks is it can be tough installing larger coolers with a wide base; the reason being there is very little room for you to work with, as all sides of the CPU are obstructed by the ASUS cooling. We managed to install our Scythe Ninja without any issues, but it did take a little longer than normal as a result.
One gripe we have with all the X38 motherboards that have been released to date is the location of the PEG slots Ė theyíre too close to one another, with only one expansion slot between them. When running two dual-slot Radeon HD 2900 XT graphics cards, thereís very little room between both cards because both graphics slots are right next to one another. The cooling system on these cards depends on having adequate airflow for optimal cooling. Fortunately we havenít run into any stability issues or seen any artifacts or other anomalies when running two cards in CrossFire mode, but if there was more room between the PEG slots the uppermost card would definitely run cooler.
Again, this is an issue that seems to most X38 motherboards and isnít unique to the P5E3 Deluxe, although it appears ASUS has figured out a solution, as their upcoming Maximus Extreme/Formula motherboards donít have this issue (you do lose the third PEG slot as a result though).
The rest of the P5E3 Deluxeís layout is quite good. Four of the boardís SATA ports, as well as the IDE connector are located along the right edge of the motherboard, parallel to the edge of the motherboard. With this orientation these connectors donít interfere with long, dual-slot cards like the Radeon HD 2900 XT and GeForce 8800 GTX. The flash memory chip for ASUS Express Gate is also short enough that it wonít interfere with a dual-slot graphics card. On the backplate of the board youíll find six USB ports, audio ports (including optical), a keyboard connector, and dual Ethernet ports. Here we should note that while the P5E3 Deluxe boasts dual Gigabit Ethernet connectivity, the second Ethernet port is driven by a Realtek RTL8110SC Gigabit LAN controller that is PCI-based, not PCIe. Enthusiasts will want to use the Ethernet port driven by Marvellís 88E8056 PCIe Gigabit LAN controller.
For the P5E3 Deluxe ASUS uses their familiar AMI BIOS interface theyíve used for the past several years. The layout is a little unusual if this is your first ASUS motherboard, but over time we have grown used to it.
For overclockers the main settings youíll want are found under the ďAi TweakerĒ menu. Here youíll find settings for adjusting all your speeds and voltages, as well as memory timings. The myriad of settings can be a little intimidating if youíre new to overclocking, which is why ASUS provides their overclock tuner setting which can be used to automatically overclock the system. Enthusiasts will want to get their hands on the speeds and feeds and here ASUS doesnít disappoint, delivering FSB speeds up to 800MHz in 1MHz increments. You can also adjust the memory multiplier depending on your FSB speed. At 1333MHz FSB, DDR3 memory speeds of 667MHz, 800MHz, 835MHz, 887MHz, 1002MHz, 1066MHz, 1111MHz, and 1333MHz are available. You can also adjust PCIe speeds between 100-150MHz in 1MHz increments.
Voltage options are equally robust, with adjustable voltage settings for the CPU, FSB, DRAM, and North and South Bridges of the chipset. CPU voltages range from 1.10-1.70V with increments as fine as 0.00625V at most voltage settings. This allows you plenty of room to tweak the CPU voltage until you get it just right when overclocking. If for whatever reason you need more than 1.7V of juice to overclock your Core 2 CPU, ASUS also provides the CPU PLL Voltage setting, which can go up to 2.78V of additional juice for the processor. Unless youíve got an ultra exotic cooler mounted on your CPU (read: liquid nitrogen) donít ever touch this setting. In our testing we never go over 1.5V when OCíing 65-nm Core 2 CPUs.
Besides the CPU voltage, FSB voltages of ranging from 1.20-1.50V are provided, while DRAM voltages range from 1.50-2.78V. Finally, for the North Bridge and South Bridge voltages range from 1.25-1.91V and 1.05V-1.20V respectively.
For newbies who may not know what voltages to select for these settings, ASUS color codes these last four voltage settings. So blue means the voltage youíve selected is okay, yellow is warning, purple is strong warning, and red means danger. As an additional warning, if you really crank up the voltages for the North Bridge and South Bridge into the red zone, the BIOS will remind you to add additional cooling with the following message ď**North Bridge needs a better cooling system! **Ē.
Another cool feature the BIOS provides is the ability to manually type in the voltage you want. If your voltage setting isnít supported by the motherboard, it will automatically select the closest alternative setting.
Like previous ASUS motherboards if your OC is unsuccessful and the system isnít able to complete POST, the BIOS will load up in safe mode with conservative BIOS settings the next time you reboot the system. Note that the motherboard wonít automatically reboot itself in safe mode however.
While the X38 chipset is officially limited to supporting FSB speeds up to 1333MHz, in our hands the chipset is capable of hitting speeds well beyond this frequency. Last week we pushed our Core 2 Extreme QX6850 to 472MHz FSB with Gigabyteís X38-DQ6, and with our ASUS P5E3 Deluxe motherboard we were able to go even further, topping out at 490MHz FSB!
We were actually able to boot to even higher speeds but couldnít get 100% stability within Windows. We think with more voltage we could have gone further, but we honestly were pleased with our results and didnít want to push the issue. After all, thatís what our Core 2 Duo E6750 is forÖ
Armed with this CPU, we were easily able to break past the 500MHz FSB mark. We managed to hit an FSB speed of 518MHz on the ASUS P5E3 Deluxe motherboard.
Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6850 (3.0GHz)
ASUS P5K Deluxe
ASUS P5E3 Deluxe
ASUS P5K3 Deluxe
EVGA nForce 680i
2GB Kingston KHX11000D3LLK2/2G 7-7-7-20 2T Timings
2GB Kingston KHX6400D2ULK2 3-3-3-10 2T Timings
AMD Radeon HD 2900 XT w/Catalyst 7.9
Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2
LAME MT MP3 Encoding (MS Compiler)
Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9
LAME MT MP3 Encoding
Company of Heroes
Features: ASUS has loaded the P5E3 Deluxe/WiFi-AP@n with features. For starters the boardís X38 chipset supports DDR3 and PCIe 2.0 with CrossFire, as well as Intelís upcoming 45-nm Penryn family of CPUs. Then there are the ASUS unique features like the AI Remote, Q-Fan 2 (which can adjust fan speeds based on temperature), CrashFree BIOS 3. The motherboard also supports eSATA, dual Gigabit LAN, and is cooled passively with heat pipes. In addition to these aforementioned features, there are a couple of other goodies that really stand out:
Price: As you can imagine with a motherboard with this many features built in, the P5E3 Deluxe is by no means an inexpensive motherboard. Currently the board sells for $350 online, making it more expensive than the Gigabyte X38-DQ6 motherboard we tested earlier. In its defense, the P5E3 Deluxe comes with more features than the X38-DQ6, but this is still something you should keep in mind.