The brave new world of LGA1155
There’s good news and bad news for Intel lovers. The bad news is for folks who just bought a motherboard using the LGA1156 socket: Yup, it’s obsolete already. The good news: The LGA1155 motherboards using Intel’s performance P67 chipset are swimming with improvements such as native SATA 6Gb/s support, front-panel USB 3.0 headers, and UEFI. The biggest change, of course, is support for Intel’s new line of Sandy Bridge CPUs. These second-generation Core ix processors are not only fast, they’re cheap and overclock like hell. To find a suitable home for your new Sandy Bridge chip, we gathered up boards from old foes MSI, Asus and Gigabyte to see whose next-gen motherboard deserves the honor. Our mini roundup not only gives you a glance at what the latest P67 boards give you, but it gives you an idea of what you’re getting for your money. The MSI board here is a surpringly capable sub-$200 board, while the Asus laddles on features for another sixty bucks. Finally, the Gigabyte represents just what you’re going to get when you crack that $300 pricer barrier. What’s right for you? Read on to find out.
Asus P8P67 Deluxe
We’ll be honest: We’ve had the most hands-on time with Asus’s new P8P67 Deluxe board of any P67-based board this cycle. That’s because Asus sent a functioning board to us far before its competitors (including Intel) did, and as such, we conducted the bulk of our Sandy Bridge chip testing with the P8P67 Deluxe board.
Usually, early boards mean soldered-on wires, unpredictable performance, and hiccups that are often a consequence of very early hardware. None of that was true of the P8P67 Deluxe board. Out of the box, it offered rock-solid stability and its performance was excellent across the board.
Front-panel USB 3.0 is finally a reality with Asus’s P8P67 Deluxe.
POST the P8P67 Deluxe and you’ll notice the first big change: Universal Extensible Firmware Interface, or UEFI. The arrival of UEFI on the PC might feel like that long-awaited unicorn bar mitzvah, but it’s actually been around for some time. Numerous Intel boards have had UEFI but you’d never know it from looking at their BIOS-like interface.
You won’t get that feeling from the P8P67 Deluxe board, and any misgivings you have regarding the change to UEFI will likely vanish when you see the beautiful interface Asus has developed. The configuration screen alone will remind you how ancient that 16-bit BIOS is. Navigating the UEFI isn’t as intuitive if you’re used to moving about a BIOS, but it’s a brave new world we like.
On the hardware front, Asus packs a lot into this $240 motherboard. With Intel finally releasing a spec for a USB 3.0 internal header, Asus takes advantage by including a 3.5-inch drive-bay adapter with two USB 3.0 ports to boot. Why is this needed? Previously, case enclosures that included front USB 3.0 required you to run cables out of the back of the case and plug into the rear USB 3.0 ports. This eats up your USB 3.0 ports and is inelegant, to say the least. The Deluxe board gives you two front USB 3.0 ports, plus the two on the rear.
The USB 3.0 isn’t native to the P67 chipset, but the SATA 6Gb/s is. Sort of. Intel finally adds SATA 6Gb/s but only two of the ports in the P67’s peripheral controller hub have it. Why? To save money. Intel says running more than two ports would add additional pin-outs to the PCH and, well, that costs dinero. The result is a horrific headache of port confusion. On feature-rich boards like the P8P67 Deluxe, this gives you four SATA 3Gb/s ports plus two SATA 6Gb/s off of the Intel PCH. Add another two SATA 6Gb/s from the Marvell 9128 controller and your SATA mode will greatly depend on which port you luck yourself into. You’ll definitely want to run the Intel SATA 6Gb/s over the Marvell because it’s faster, but you have to RTFM first.
Also cool, but a bit tricky, is the inclusion of Asus’s nifty Bluetooth control option for the board, which lets you boot, reset, shut down, and overclock the board remotely from popular smartphones. Asus said it tweaked the Bluetooth stack and app to make it easier to transfer files from your phone, too. While that aspect worked fine with our Android phone, we couldn’t get the remote capability up and running. We’ve tested it successfully on other Asus boards, so we suspect that it’s a side effect of the early application, or us.
In general performance, the Asus board held its own against the MSI, but both boards traded wins and losses. In other words, don’t consider performance a deciding factor. We’d rather that you look at price, layout, and features. In those respects, it’s hard not to recommend the P8P67 Deluxe as a worthy ride for your new Sandy Bridge chip.
UEFI! Native SATA 6Gb/s
Confusing SATA ports; pre-release drivers are a little wonky.
We love Sandy Bridge, and we even like some aspects of the P67 chipset. But, we’ll say it again: Intel’s decision to cheap-out on SATA 6Gb/s will create massive port confusion. With the Asus board, we had to RTFM to figure out which port went to which controller and at what speed. The situation is murkier with the P67A-GD65. The board features eight SATA ports and tells you which are SATA 6Gb/s. Unfortunately, it doesn’t tell you which controller they’re running off of.
Windows 7 is so smart, though, that it will boot a board on the Marvell controller without missing a beat. However, if you’re running a SATA 6Gb/s drive, you’ll want to be on the Intel PCH, which is a good clip faster than the Marvell part. Unfortunately, the European manual that came with our early review board didn’t tell us which controller ran which ports. The only way to figure it out was to plug in the drive, boot the board, and see which controller initialized in the BIOS.
MSI’s P67A-GD65 is a screaming deal.
But let’s not get sidetracked. Despite this minor documentation issue (perhaps Europeans can sense what port to use), the P67A-GD65 is a solid board that’s seriously cheaper than the Asus board on the facing page. And despite costing $60 less than the Asus P67 mobo, the P67A-GD65 is almost on par with its competitor. It has a secondary SATA 6Gb/s controller, an NEC USB 3.0 controller with two ports, and an additional two ports on a USB 3.0 dongle. What you don’t get is the built-in Bluetooth features of the Asus board, nor its dual-Gigabit ports or front USB 3.0 bay, either. And while Asus gives you a choice of a Realtek network PHY or an Intel PHY, the P67A-GD65 gives you only the former. MSI does, however, give you access to Creative Lab’s X-Fi algorithms. And in a tip of the hat to super-duper overclockers, the board also features a header to directly measure voltages off the board.
Like the Asus board, we tested whether this board could boot to a 3TB Western Digital drive, and it passed. Both also offered good USB 3.0 speed, ran SLI just fine, and offered comparable SATA 6Gb/s performance.
One feature that’s slightly disappointing is the MSI ClickBIOS. MSI actually planned to release a board with UEFI more than a year ago, but that board never materialized. Still, we thought the early lead MSI had would have resulted in a highly polished UEFI interface. It’s not terrible, but at times, the interface felt, well, like a BIOS, but with mouse navigation.
We tested all of the boards here with some mild overclocking, pushing our 3.4GHz Core i7-2600K to 4.5GHz using the wimpy stock cooler. As expected, both passed just fine. Our only issue with the MSI board came with installing the drivers for the Creative audio. As with the Asus board, we’ll chalk it up to early drivers or installers. For example, some of the drivers came on a USB key from the press office, so they’re clearly not final.
Overall, the P67A-GD65 doesn’t quite have the panache or super-smooth UEFI interface of the Asus, but it’s also cheaper. In this economy, if that makes the difference to you owning a GeForce GTX 580, it’s worth it.
UEFI! Native SATA 6Gb/s; seriously cheap
Really confusing SATA ports; pre-release drivers are slightly wonky.
If there’s one thing we know about Gigabyte, it’s that the mobo maker loves USB 3.0. We mean, it loves USB 3.0. How much? The company has been pushing USB 3.0 as its number one feature for a while now, and this tact has apparently worked. The company claims that it’s the No. 1 USB 3.0 motherboard company, whatever that means.
The GA-P67A-UD7 is the pinnacle of USB 3.0 boards to make it in to our hands. Most USB 3.0 boards sport two ports, which is the maximum a single NEC USB host controller will support. Newer boards add another two more ports with a second NEC controller.
Gigabyte goes plumb crazy with six USB 3.0 ports in back plus two USB 3.0 headers for a total of ten possible ports. Gigabyte does this by using two VIA USB 3.0 hub controllers. To be fair, Gigabyte isn’t the only company to do this – we saw a pre-production Asus board with the same hub chips too. But this development still safely consolidates Gigabyte’s position as the king of USB 3.0.
Besides a new color scheme, the UD7 features a ton of USB 3.0 ports and an nForce 200 chip
We’re not just being smart asses either. Despite using the same NEC controller, the GA-P67A-UD7 actually pulled in noticeably better (180MB/s vs 156MB/s) USB 3.0 performance than the MSI P67A-GD65 and Asus P8P67 Deluxe boards. IO on the Marvell and Intel 6Gb/s ports was also better.
In other benchmarks, the UD7 ran just about even with the Asus and MSI. As we’ve said before, the competition usually boils down to features and not pure numbers for boards using the same chipset. In features, the UD7 is a mixed bag. Boot up the board, and you’ll not be greeted by a pretty-as-hell UEFI interface. Instead, it’s what Gigabyte calls a “hybrid UEFI.” It has UEFI underpinnings but the company said it stuck with its tried and true (and boring) BIOS interface. Whether you’re into UEFI or not, the most important feature today is the support of booting from partitions larger than 2TB and the UD7 is fine. Thankfully, the board booted fine from our WD 3TB Caviar drive.
Overclocking on the board was straight-laced. While the Asus would only overclock via Turbo Boost multipliers, the UD7 was old fashioned and allowed us to crank the CPU multiplier up and reboot. Like all P67 boards, we performed a mild overclock and took our 3.4GHz Core i7 2600K to 4.5GHz using a stock heat sink. All went fine, and it’s really hard to say which method works better. But we’d prefer options to do both.
Perhaps the most eye-opening feature of the GD7 is its nForce 200. Standard P67 boards can’t run more than two GPUs effectively but using the nVidia nForce 200 chip, you can run up to three GeForce cards. Standard P67 chipset boards are best suited for two GPUs, but by integrating an nForce 200 chip, the UD7 can run three double-width GPUs. We tested the UD7 using three GeForce GTX 580 cards and we weren’t disappointed. We actually found the three cards scale nicely if you run either brand new, taxing DX11 games, or if you run older games at super high resolution. One question you’ll have to ask yourself before you plunge into a board capable of running tri-SLI is whether you need it. That nForce 200 chip isn’t free and certainly contributes to the higher price of the UD7. If you’re pretty sure that you’re never going to put out the cash for three GPUs, it makes a lot more sense to buy a board without the nForce chip.
Despite its somewhat boring BIOS, there’s little to dislike on the UD7. If we were to pick something to ding Gigabyte over, it’s the lack of USB 3.0 dongles. Both MSI and Asus give you either additional rear USB 3.0 ports that plug into the onboard header or a front bay adapter with ports. Gigabyte gives you none. Considering its steep price of $320, that’s a bit of a burn.
Tons of USB 3.0 ports, Tri-SLI support
No UEFI and no USB 3.0 adapters.
|Asus P8P67 Deluxe||MSI P67A-GD65||Gigabyte GA-P67A-UD7|
|PCMark Vantage 64-bit Overall||11,250||10,388||10,556|
|Everest Ultimate MEM Read (MB/s)||16,110||16,492||16,501|
|Everest Ultimate MEM Write (MB/s)||16,757||18,602||18,592|
|Everest Ultimate MEM Copy (MB/s)||25,128||21,628||21,324|
|Everest Ultimate MEM Latency (ns)||35.8||53.5||52.3|
|SiSoft Sandra RAM Bandwidth (GB/s)||15.7||15.8||15.6|
|3DMark Vantage Overall||14,845||15,214||14,471|
|3DMark Vantage GPU||11,947||12,287||11,871|
|3DMark Vantage CPU||54,470||53,282||53,670|
|Valve Particle Test (fps)||180||177||178|
|Resident Evil 5 low-res (fps)||132
|HAWX low-res (fps)||244
|HD Tune Pro Sustained Write w/ Marvell 6GB/s Controller (MB/s)||208
|HD Tune Pro Burst (MB/s) (Marvell)||157||167||174|
|HD Tune Pro Sustained Write w/Intel 6GB/s Controller (MB/s)||256.7||242||267.1|
|HD Tune Pro Burst (MB/s) (Intel)||170||204||191.2|
|HD Tune USB 3.0 (MB/s)||155.6||156||180|
We tested all three boards using an Intel 3.4GHz Core i7 2600K, 4GB of Corsair DDR3/1333, GeForce GTX 280, 64-bit Windows 7 and WD Raptor 150GB hard drive. USB 3.0 performance testing used an OCZ Enyo drive. SATA 6Gb/s testing used a Crucial C300 SSD.