Summary: With motherboards that are capable of overclocking themselves -- simply press a button and walk away -- or motherboards that can be OC'ed remotely from your laptop, ASUS' P55 motherboard lineup is certainly OC friendly for enthusiasts. But there's lots to like besides OC'ing. Join us as we do our best to cover all the unique features these boards bring to the table!
Just as Windows and Office fuel Microsoft with the revenues and profits needed to experiment with business groups like Xbox and Zune, motherboards are ASUS’ bread and butter product. Each month, ASUS ships millions of motherboards to the public. They’re Taiwan’s largest motherboard manufacturer.
Maintaining this status is ASUS’ first priority. As a result, the company devotes millions in R&D on new products and technologies that go into their latest motherboards. As a result, you can find a wide range of motherboards for a given chipset: for the P55 platform alone ASUS offers nearly two dozen boards! From no-frills motherboards that are designed to appeal to value conscious shoppers, to higher-end boards that can automatically overclock themselves, ASUS has something for everyone.
In today’s article we’re going to be focusing on three of ASUS’ higher-end boards, the P7P55D Premium, the P7P55D Deluxe, and the ASUS Maximus III Formula.
In the interest of full disclosure, we’ve actually had these boards since the Lynnfield launch back in September. The myriad of new product introductions since then has prevented us from fully getting to them until now. ASUS has since updated the original Premium and Deluxe boards with newer variants that include USB 3.0 and 6Gbps SATA support -- in fact ASUS now offers six P55 motherboards with support for USB 3.0 and 6Gbps SATA -- so if these features are important to you, then you may want to check out one of the newer ASUS P55 motherboards. These boards end with the “-E” designation.
Fortunately, ASUS’ latest “E” boards are largely based on the same design as the board’s we’re reviewing today, only ASUS has added USB 3.0 and 6Gbps SATA controllers to the board, so many of the features we’ll be discussing today also carry over with very few changes if you’re interested in one of those boards.
Speaking of ASUS’ new naming convention, we figured we’d explain it a bit. Starting with the P55 chipset, ASUS implemented a new naming system where the random assemblage of numbers and letters that was used previously has been replaced with a real system. Take the P7P55D Deluxe for example. “P7” stands for the CPU generation, with P7 representing Intel’s Nehalem/Westmere CPU generation, “P55” representing the chipset.
The remainder of the product’s name is randomly assigned based on the whims of ASUS’ marketing team.
Besides the new naming convention, another change ASUS has implemented with their latest P55 motherboards is a new tagline: Xtreme Design.
Xtreme Design is marketing speak for an array of features ASUS has integrated into the design of all their Xtreme Design motherboards. Many of these features have been provided for years now in previous motherboards, only now ASUS is more actively promoting them to end users under one tagline. Examples of these include ASUS’ StackCool feature, which is designed to lower motherboard temps, anti-EMI protection, and their Xtreme Durable Capacitors: ASUS has been using all-solid Japanese capacitors for some time now.
ASUS has made some improvements to the power design on their latest P55 boards though. The new power design on their Xtreme Design P55 boards includes new power controllers (Tprobe IC and the PEM IC) along with new capacitors rated for 50,000 hours lifespan and the use of Fujistu super ML capacitors. ASUS has also integrated more power phases into their latest P55 motherboards when compared to comparable P45 offerings.
Another key Xtreme Design feature ASUS touts with their newest boards in TurboV (which carries over from previous boards) and TurboV EVO. TurboV uses a microcontroller to provide precise voltage adjustments as fine as 0.02V and includes a Windows-based GUI for overclocking, while TurboV EVO is a dedicated chip which can be used to automatically OC your CPU for you. No intervention from the end user is required. We’ll be discussing this feature in more detail shortly.
To protect the motherboard from electrostatic discharge (ESD), ASUS has built their Xtreme Design boards to withstand a direct contact ESD of more than 4 kilovolts, and air discharge of 8 kilovolts. The board’s USB ports are also protected against ESD as well as over currents. An integrated circuit protects each of the board’s integrated USB ports from over currents. It acts like a circuit breaker, protecting the ports from the excess voltage they could be exposed to if a USB device with a flaky circuit is connected to the motherboard.
Finally, ASUS has equipped their Xtreme Design boards with their latest StackCool technology, StackCool 3 and StackCool 3+. The biggest addition here is the addition of a 2-layer, 2-ounce copper PCB.
By doubling the amount of copper from 1-ounce to two ounces, heat is dissipated off the board more effectively, helping to reduce motherboard temps, and the components on it.
Those are all of the Xtreme Design features. In addition to these though, the ASUS motherboards we’re reviewing today also retain other features ASUS has used previously on high-end boards. This includes features like ASUS Express Gate (although it isn’t found on the ROG board), and MemOK!, ASUS’ feature for enhancing memory compatibility. These are features that are unique to ASUS boards only.
All P7P55D series boards ship with 12-phase power and CrossFire at a minimum. In addition, all of the boards ship with ASUS’ Energy Processing Unit (EPU) feature, which dynamically can power the motherboard’s power phases up or down depending on usage. This helps to reduce system power consumption in cases where you don’t need all of the motherboards 16 power phases cranking at full tilt (say for instance, when browsing the web or at idle), but can dial up the power when you’re pushing the CPU.
TProbe is another feature that’s common to all P7P55D motherboards. TProbe is a built-in thermal controller that actively monitors temps on the VRM area of the board and can automatically adjust workload from one group of power phases to cooler-running phases if one area begins to overheat. By working to keep the power phases running as cool as possible, this helps to extend the motherboard’s longevity.
All of the P7P55D boards also ship with ASUS MemOK!. This feature is designed to address the memory compatibility issues that can often crop up with today’s latest motherboards and memory modules. If you fail to get a video signal during POST, often times this is caused by the motherboard running timings that the memory module just can’t keep up with. In these cases simply press the MemOK! button and the and MemOK! automatically determines the failsafe memory settings needed to boot the motherboard.
The final feature all P7P55D series motherboards ship with is the TurboV EVO processor. This is a special chip designed by ASUS strictly for overclocking. The TurboV chip will automatically do all CPU overclocking for you, adjusting bus speeds and voltages for your particular system and its specific components.
As we all know, you can grab two CPUs from the same batch and get completely different OC’ing results. Rather than having to sit and fine tune your OC for your particular CPU – a process which can take hours, if not days – you can use TurboV EVO to do the grunt work for you. Simply click a few buttons and TurboV EVO will overclock your processor and memory. You can do this via Windows, or there’s a separate TurboV EVO option inside BIOS.
The Windows auto tuning option is pretty simple. Simply install and load the TurboV software on your PC, scroll to the Auto Tuning tab, and press Start. The board will then restart, and automatically attempt to OC your CPU and RAM. The end user can then walk away for a few minutes coming back to find his or her system in Windows with the CPU and RAM OC’ed as far as TurboV feels it can safely take the components. TurboV automatically handles all the needed adjustments, including voltages and multipliers to get the system stable.
You can also use TurboV to OC the board from BIOS. Again, the motherboard will magically do everything for you, although in this case the motherboard reboots itself multiple times, each time at a higher clock frequency until your system components can’t go any further. (The OS never loads, TurboV appears to just run through a few stability checks during POST.)
Using both methods, we were able to OC our Core i7-870 between 3.8-3.9GHz, with the BIOS-based method yielding a slightly higher OC (3.91GHz). Keep in mind this is a chip we’ve found can hit speeds as high as 4.4GHz with 1.41V CPU voltage when OC’ing the old fashioned way, so even though TurboV cranked up the voltage
Design was an important consideration for ASUS engineers during the P7P55D Deluxe’s development, and it definitely shows. The layout of the board is better than any other P55 motherboard we’ve seen. ASUS has incorporated a number of thoughtful features that make the board easy to work with.
For starters, there’s the ASUS Q-DIMM slots. First introduced with the Rampage II Gene last year, with Q-DIMM the locking tabs you normally see on the DIMM slots to lock the memory modules into place are only placed at the top of the DIMM slot. Simply press the modules into the DIMM slots, and you’re done! There’s nothing to interfere with your graphics card and removing the memory modules is a snap as you only have to unlock the tabs at the top of the DIMM slots.
Another neat design feature ASUS has integrated into the P7P55D Deluxe is Q-Slot. ASUS has developed their own custom locking mechanism for the PCI Express graphics slots. Instead of having to press down on a tiny tab that can be difficult to reach once your motherboard is housed inside the case (especially if you’re running SLI or CrossFire), the locking mechanism on the Q-Slot is massive. As a result, it’s very simple to unlock your graphics card and remove it from your system case.
To cut down on troubleshooting system issues during POST, ASUS has integrated an array of LEDs located across the motherboard. These LEDs are known as Q-LED, and each LED represents a different system component – CPU, VGA, RAM, and boot device. If one of these LEDs lights up, you know that particular component is preventing your board from booting up properly. Say for instance, you install your graphics card incorrectly and it isn’t making good contact with the PCI Express graphics slot. The Q-LED for the GPU will shine red, letting you know there’s a problem with your GPU.
Because their boards are used by millions of people, ASUS has to design their boards for a wide range of audiences: the hardcore OC’er using liquid helium or liquid nitrogen to OC his CPU has very different needs than the guy who just wants to push his Core i5 CPU to 4GHz. One huge difference between these two camps is voltages. The extreme OC’er using LN2 can safely crank up his CPU voltage to extreme levels that would fry the chip if it were running on air.
To prevent the less seasoned OC’ers from accidentally damaging their CPUs, ASUS provides two ranges of voltage options on the P7P55D Deluxe. By default, there’s a “safe” group of voltage options, or if you need more juice, you simply flip the overvoltage switch to enable voltage options above 2V in BIOS.
ASUS provides overvoltage switches for the CPU voltage, its integrated memory controller, and RAM. These are all located on the top of the board, just above the Q-DIMM slots.
One feature ASUS includes with their Deluxe and Premium motherboards is their TurboV remote control unit. Remote isn’t quite an accurate description for this device, as it’s a handheld unit that’s wired to a header on the motherboard, but it is a pretty nice feature to have.
With the TurboV remote, you can manually adjust the base clock speed of your P7P55D Deluxe motherboard, simply press the “+” button to increase the bclk 1MHz, or the “-“ to decrease it. No reboot is required and the adjustment takes place immediately.
TurboV also has three Turbo Key buttons. You can save custom profiles to each of these buttons. Simply press the TurboV button to load one of the three profiles. Finally, TurboV also has dedicated buttons for the ASUS EPU feature we discussed earlier. From here you can seamlessly adjust the power profile of your board.
One feature ASUS has provided on their latest boards for quite some time is Express Gate. Express Gate consists of a custom Linux distribution from Splashtop with its own built-in software programs including web browser, games, photo viewing, instant messaging, and Skype. The idea with Express Gate is to give you near instant access to features like the Internet or Skype without having to wait 30 seconds or more to boot up Windows.
16+3 phase power
ASUS relies on a 16+3 phase power design to provide power to the CPU, with 16 phases devoted to CPU vCore and an extra 3 phases for its integrated memory controller. Like most of their high-end boards, the P7P55D Deluxe is also equipped with low RDS MOSFETs, ferrite core chokes, and 100% Japanese conductive polymer capacitors. In fact, all of the capacitors on the board are high-quality conductive polymer capacitors. Traditionally motherboard manufacturers would combine conductive polymer aluminum solid capacitors mixed with more traditional electrolytic capacitors. In these configurations, typically the solid capacitors would be used to power the CPU, while the electrolytic capacitors would be used for powering less intensive areas of the motherboard. On most high-end ASUS boards made within the last 2-3 years however, every capacitor is a solid capacitor. With all solid capacitors onboard, the idea is that the capacitors will last longer while also boosting system stability under extreme conditions.
The layout of the P7P55 Deluxe is excellent. Besides the user friendly design touches like Q-DIMM and Q-Slot, ASUS employs an intelligent board layout that places everything where it won’t interfere with other system components.
SLI/CrossFire users will appreciate the spacing between the PCI Express Graphics (PEG) slots. There’s plenty of room to run three dual-slot GPUs if you wish (although the CPU/chipset is limited to running 2-Way SLI/CrossFire). The original P7P55 Deluxe shipped with 3 PEG slots, but on newer –E models, the third PEG is replaced with an additional x1 PCIe slot. This makes sense considering that Lynnfield CPUs can take advantage of the third PEG slot – it would merely be used for driving additional displays.
ASUS uses a massive heatsink on the P55 chipset. The cooler is adorned with a colorful design that meshes well with the board, and of course the ASUS logo. While the heatsink is quite large it’s slim enough that it won’t obstruct anything.
The P7P55D Premium is ASUS’ flagship motherboard in the P7P55D family. The board ships with all of the basic features found in the Deluxe board we just discussed, plus more.
Its most jaw dropping feature is without a doubt its 32-phase power design. Yes, you read that right, ASUS devotes 32 power phases for CPU vCore on the P7P55D Premium, the most of any motherboard on the market. 3 additional phases are then sent to the CPU’s memory controller.
Why 32-phases? We honestly don’t know. Clearly Intel’s latest CPUs are tremendous OC’ers, but even the best don’t need a motherboard with 32-phase power. The best argument in favor of ASUS’ 32-phase design is that the individual phases won’t be stressed as much when OC’ing, extending their durability and also keeping motherboard temps down.
Don’t expect the Premium board to OC your CPU any better than the Deluxe, as you’re much more likely to run into the individual limits of your particular processor before your motherboard holds you back.
The Premium motherboard’s second most notable feature is SATA 6Gbps. It was the first motherboard on the market to support the SATA 6Gbit/sec spec. Marvell’s 88SE9123 is used to provide this functionality.
SATA 6Gbps offers twice the theoretical bandwidth of today’s SATA II hard drives, although we’ve found in previous testing that today’s only SATA 6Gbps hard drive, the Seagate Barracuda XT, doesn’t deliver twice the performance of most conventional 3Gbps drives. In fact when you run back-to-back benchmarks of the drive running in 6Gbps mode versus 3Gbps, performance only improves by 5% in average writes.
Upcoming SSDs should definitely be able to take advantage of the 6Gbps spec, and hopefully future mechanical drives will be able to also – that was certainly the case for 3Gbps SATA when it was initially introduced. The first wave of drives showed slim performance gains over their direct predecessors.
Compared to the P7P55D Deluxe, the layout of the Premium board is fundamentally pretty similar. ASUS has repositioned the PCI slots so they’re both between the PEG slots, and the x1 PCIe slots are placed underneath the secondary PEG slot.
Hardware-based Express Gate
If you’re a fan of the Express Gate concept, you’ll be glad to hear that the P7P55D Premium ships with built-in support. Nestled underneath the secondary PEG slot is a Samsung flash memory chip providing the Express Gate functionality.
Just below the Express Gate module, to the right of the x1 PCIe slots, you’ll find a PLX PCI Express bridge chip. These extra PCIe lanes are devoted for the Marvell 6Gbps SATA controller. The SATA ports tied to the Marvell controller are colored off-white and are located in the 6-port SATA cluster to the right of the P55 chipset.
As always, ASUS pulls out all the stops for their Republic of Gamers (ROG) series motherboards. These are ASUS’ boards that are tailored specifically towards the gaming/overclocking community who want the very best technologies available at ASUS’ disposal. The board continues to support the Republic of Gamers features we’ve come to expect from ASUS like SupremeFX X-Fi audio. This is ASUS audio solution for gamers looking for audio features like Creative’s EAX sound effects in addition to the HD audio that’s found integrated on the motherboard.
Note that despite ASUS’ name, this isn’t the same as Creative Labs X-Fi sound card. ASUS SupremeFX X-Fi card actually uses a CODEC sourced originally from Analog Devices. Instead ASUS merely licenses technologies found on Creative sound cards like EAX 4.0, the 24-bit crystallizer, X-Fi CMSS-3D, and Creative Alchemy.
Also note that SupremeFX X-Fi audio is literally an external PCIe card that you must plug into the Maximus III Formula board. In other words, it isn’t built-in to the motherboard like most audio solutions. As a result, you end up losing one of the Maximus boards PCIe expansion slots to get the feature to operate.
ProbeIt also makes a return on the Maximus III Formula. The ProbeIt measurement points can be used to watch the board’s voltages more precisely using a multimeter.
One new feature ASUS provides on the Maximus III Formula is ROG Connect. With ROG Connect, you can hook your notebook or netbook computer up to the Maximus III Formula board so you can manipulate the board from a distance. Simply install the ASUS software on your laptop or netbook computer, hook the supplied USB cable up your notebook, then attach the other end of the cable to the ROG Connect port on the Maximus motherboard, and you’re ready to go. From the comfort of your laptop you can then remotely boot up the Maximus board, adjust BIOS settings, read POST codes during bootup, and more.
GameFirst is another first for the Maximus III Formula. This is ASUS’ packet prioritization software, which can be used to give the highest priority to gaming network traffic. GameFirst offers a very simple user interface, merely select what priority you’d like to devote to different games and other applications, a simple slider ranges from low to high, making it easy to customize and add different programs and their networking priority.
Finally, ASUS also outfits the Maximus III Formula with a new feature they call the Go button. In addition to providing MemOK! functionality, this is button can also be used to activate a Go button overclocking profile that you’ve predefined in BIOS beforehand. This profile can be loaded at any time, even when the system is already running within the OS. (Note: to use it for MemOK!, you’ll need to press the button before POST.)
ASUS devotes 16 power phases to the CPU vCore on the Maximus III Formula. An additional 3 phases are then dedicated for vtt and three more for the memory controller.
On the surface, 16 phases may not sound like a lot, especially when the P7P55D Premium sports twice as many phases, but as we noted earlier ASUS’ power subsystem is more than capable of supplying enough juice for CPU overclocking, especially if you’re relying on air cooling. All of these motherboards are so overbuilt that it’s highly unlikely you’d run into a situation where your motherboard was holding back your OC. You’re much more likely to hit the limits of your particular CPU first.
As you can see, ASUS uses low profile caps and other power circuitry surrounding the CPU socket – just like the other ASUS boards we’ve discussed – but also uses low-profile cooling in this area as well. Whereas the previous boards used fairly tall heatsinks in this area, the Maximus III’s heatsinks are just ˝” tall. In comparison, the heatsinks used on the Premium board are up to 1.25” tall.
With shorter heatsinks, this gives the Maximus board even more room for larger CPU coolers than the other ASUS motherboards.
To compensate for the shorter heatsinks, ASUS uses a longer heatpipe that rings around the top and bottom of the LGA-1156 socket. Three of the CPU’s four sides are encircled by this heatpipe, which is made from aluminum. An ROG heatsink is then added underneath the CPU socket to provide additional cooling for the larger heatpipe. The Republic of Gamers logo in the center of the heatsink lights up when the board is on, adding a decorative touch to the Maximus board.
Right next to that ROG heatsink is an x1 PCIe slot. This slot bumps right up against the ROG heatsink, and looks like it would be an interference issue. However, it technically isn’t, as it’s intended for use with the ASUS SupremeFX X-Fi audio card that’s bundled with the motherboard. The audio board doesn’t even operate if you plug it into any other PCIe slot.
Another trait that stands out is all the fan headers. The Maximus III Formula has fan headers everywhere: 8 total. This is twice the number of fan headers you’ll typically find on your average P55 motherboard. The fan headers aren’t lightweights either. All eight headers are of the 4-pin variety also.
With so many fan headers, enthusiasts who run multiple case fans shouldn’t have a problem with the Maximus III Formula.
As you can see, the Maximus III Formula is outfitted with the same Q-DIMM slots as the other ASUS boards reviewed here today, as well as the Q-Slots for PCIe graphics cards.
One aspect of the Maximus III Formula’s layout we don’t like is the location of the second x1 PCIe slot. It’s located directly underneath the primary graphics slot. Therefore, if you run the SupremeFX audio card in its intended slot above the primary PEG, and your graphics card is dual-slot, you won’t have any x1 PCIe slots available for additional expansion. Instead you’ll need to use the white PEG slot at the bottom of the motherboard.
Looking at the SATA connectivity, there are three areas on the board reserved for this functionality. You can see the six port cluster of SATA ports located on the right edge of the board. They’re mounted parallel to the edge of the board too so they won’t interfere with long graphics cards. Mounted above this SATA cluster are ASUS’ ODD1 and ODD2 SATA connectors. The “ODD” in this case refers to optical disk drives. These are SATA ports that ASUS recommends solely for use with optical drives. They’re tied to JMicron’s JMB363 SATA controller.
The red SATA ports on the bottom of the Maximus board are ASUS’ speeding HDD connectors. These are SATA connectors ASUS recommends for use with RAID arrays. A JMicron JMB322 SATA controller powers these ports.
Speaking of storage connectivity, you’ll notice that the Maximus III Formula doesn’t offer IDE connectivity, the board is SATA-only.
ASUS motherboards have delivered pretty robust BIOS for quite some time now, so it’s unlikely you’ll be disappointed with the selections provided: ASUS offers a dizzying variety of settings for end users to tweak and fiddle with. The following chart summarizes the key settings you’ll need for OC’ing:
Fundamentally the BIOS implementations between all three boards are pretty similar, with the Deluxe and Premium boards sporting identical interfaces and the only adjustments being minor.
The Maximus III Formula’s BIOS is a little more enthusiast-friendly in the sense that the opening BIOS menu takes you straight to the “Extreme Tweaker” page, where you’ll find all the BIOS settings you’ll need for OC’ing. The page also provides your current system temps and voltages here as well, so you don’t have to scroll to the hardware monitor section (like you do on the Premium and Deluxe boards) for this info.
For these reasons enthusiasts will certainly prefer the Maximus III’s BIOS when compared to the other P55 motherboards ASUS offers.
Intel Core i7-870
4GB (2x2GB) Kingston KHX1600C8D3K2/4GX @ DDR3-1333 Speeds
ASUS P7P55D Deluxe
ASUS P7P55D Premium
ASUS Maximus III Formula
EVGA P55 FTW
ATI Radeon HD 5850
150GB Western Digital Raptor
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
Far Cry 2
Valve Particle Simulation Benchmark
Maximus III Formula
ASUS P7P55D Deluxe
The P7P55D Deluxe has features that make it easier to work with. This includes items like Q-DIMM and Q-Slot. MemOK! helps users correct memory related problems during POST, while Q-LED can indicate which system components may be incorrectly installed or dead.
For the OC’ing crowd, ASUS includes their TurboV features. For instance, the TurboV remote can be used to adjust clock speeds on-the-fly while within Windows, or to load custom profiles you’ve predefined beforehand. For OC’ing, TurboV EVO is a software utility that can be used to OC your motherboard from within Windows, with bus speeds, voltages, and other BIOS options available from within Windows. Or if you don’t want to fiddle with BIOS settings, TurboV EVO can do all the work for you automatically.
With all of these features, its well executed BIOS, and flawless board design, the P7P55D Deluxe is one of the finest P55 motherboards you can buy today, hence it was an easy call for Editor’s Choice.
ASUS P7P55D Premium
The Maximus III Formula is yet another solid offering from ASUS’ Republic of Gamers team. Priced at $250, it’s a little cheaper than the Premium board, and $50 more than the Deluxe.
For that extra $50, you get a board that’s much more focused on the overclocking enthusiast. With ROG Connect you can remotely OC and monitor the motherboard from your laptop, while it’s lower profile cooling in the CPU socket area is more accommodating of large CPU coolers.
In traditional ROG fashion, the Maximus III Formula is blinged out with LEDs, and looks quite sharp in our opinion. The board also features twice the number of fan headers as the other ASUS motherboards, and should meet the needs of the most die hard OC’er. We also think its BIOS interface is a little more tailored for the overclocking crowd as well.
The Maximus III Formula should serve the needs of most gamers and enthusiasts well, with a solid feature set and no obvious flaws from a design standpoint. It may not have the high number of power phases as some other motherboards, but that shouldn’t stop you from breaking through 4GHz when OC’ing.
If none of the motherboards reviewed today fit your needs because of lack of USB 3.0 support, keep in mind that ASUS also offers newer derivatives of all of today’s boards that support the new USB spec. You will pay a premium for the feature though, with Newegg selling the P7P55D-E Deluxe with USB 3.0 for $40 more than the board we reviewed today. That’s a pretty hefty price increase in our opinion, but if you simply must have the latest and greatest you’ve always had to fork over more cash to enjoy it.
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