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ASUS P5WD2-E Premium — a Top Motherboard on the Intel 975X Chipset

October 31, 2006




  • Intel 975X chipset (i975X Northbridge and ICH7R Southbridge)

Intel 975X chipset has practically no advantages for common users. Formally the top chipset from Intel, it surpasses the i955X only in the official support for ATI CrossFire (there is still no official support for NVIDIA SLI), but it's more expensive. If we also take into account that the share of systems with two video accelerators is next to none, you will understand why the i975X is not even as successful as its modest predecessor. Besides, motherboard manufacturers practically ignored the new chipset. But while nearly all second-tier manufacturers did it literally, the leading companies certainly had to maintain their reputation. As a result, each of them launched a single model (Gigabyte — one and a half). But they decided not to advertise or promote the really interesting new solutions (except for Gigabyte with its G1975X).

For example, ASUS offered the P5WD2-E Premium, with CrossFire, of course. Among the other Premium features of the motherboard we can note two gigabit network adapters, doubled integrated capacity of the chipset in data storage (both for SATA, and PATA devices), support for FireWire and HDA, standard features for motherboards of this level. Besides, we should note capacity of the new ASUS product for installing various expansion cards: two video slots (PCIEx16) are supplemented with three PCI slots, one PCIEx1 and one PCIEx4 (x2). Another top model is ready.




With all its functionality, design of the motherboard produces a nice impression: PCIEx4, not PCI, is sacrificed to a potentially wide video card in the main PCIEx16 slot; as a worst-case scenario, connectors for ATA drives will interfere with the second video card and a very long PCI expansion card; the other connectors are placed at the PCB edges. Another brand feature of ASUS motherboards is the "lateral" IDE connector, which allows to plug a cable without making a cable mess. What concerns drawbacks, we can only mention tight placement of PATA and SATA connectors of the additional controller. If you try to use them all, it won't be easy to do inside a PC case without removing cables. The CMOS reset jumper is located in a convenient place, it's easily accessible even when the motherboard is installed into a PC case. At the same time, all the other jumpers should be configured right after you remove the motherboard from a box. As it will be very difficult to do in a PC case. There is no brief description of jumper functions on the PCB.

The 4-phase switching voltage regulator of the processor incorporates four field-effect transistors per channel (half of them are covered by an efficient heatsink) and the total of eleven 820 uF capacitors and six 1000 uF ones (high-quality reliable electrolytic capacitors from Sanyo and United Chemi-Con). The motherboard is also equipped with a memory voltage regulator incorporating six 1000 uF capacitors reinforced with L elements. A green LED indicates on-board power. You must not install or remove system components, while the LED is alight. There is an empty seat for the COM2 connector for the second serial port on a bracket. The company offers another model based on the i975X chipset (P5WDG2-WS). But it's designed for workstations (it features such attributes as PCI-X expansion slots). Its design and functions differ much. At the same time, ASUS models on the i955X chipset also have a different design. That is the P5WD2-E Premium has a unique PCB layout. Motherboard dimensions — 305x245 mm (full-sized ATX, nine-screw mount, all motherboard edges are firmly fixed.

System monitoring (Winbond W83627EHF, according to BIOS Setup)

  • CPU voltage, +3.3 V, +5 V, and +12 V
  • RPM of 4 fans
  • CPU and board temperatures (by the corresponding embedded sensors)
  • Q-Fan — automatic speed control of the CPU fan and the fan connected to one of the on-board connectors depending on CPU temperature. You can choose on of the three presets.

Onboard ports, sockets, and connectors

  • Processor socket (Socket 775, officially supports the following models: Intel Celeron D (up to 3.33 GHz), Pentium 4 (up to 3.8 GHz), Pentium 4 Extreme Edition (up to 3.73 GHz), Pentium D (up to 3.6 GHz), Pentium Extreme Edition (up to 3.73 GHz), including processors manufactured by the 65nm process technology)
  • 4 x DDR2 SDRAM DIMM (up to 8 GB DDR2-400/533/667/800 with/without ECC; dual channel mode is supported)
  • 2 x PCIEx16 for video accelerators (in CrossFire mode both slots operate as x8)
  • "Universal" PCIEx4 slot (maximum speed - x2)
  • PCIEx1
  • 3 x PCI
  • Power connectors: standard ATX 2.2 (24 pins, you can use a standard 20-pin connector, but in this case you shouldn't use powerful state-of-the-art components, like top PCIE video cards, or you should use an additional on-board connector), 8-pin EPS12V to power a processor (you can use the standard 4-pin connector) and 4-pin peripheral connector for powerful video cards without on-board power connectors
  • 1 x FDD
  • 2 x IDE (Parallel ATA) — one of the is chipset-based, the other is based on the additional Marvell controller
  • 8 x SATA-II (Serial ATA II) — 4 of them are based on the chipset (connected drives can form RAID: RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 10 (0+1), Intel Matrix RAID), another 4 are based on the additional Marvell controller (one of them, painted black, cannot be used together with the e-SATA connector on the rear panel)
  • 2 connectors for brackets with 4 additional USB ports
  • 2 connectors for brackets with 2 FireWire ports
  • Connector for a bracket with a Game port
  • Connector for a bracket with a COM port
  • Connectors for analog audio ins and outs on the front panel
  • 1 x CD/DVD audio connector
  • Connector for a chassis intrusion sensor
  • 4 x fan headers (all with RPM control).

Back panel (left to right, blockwise)





Click the image to open the rear view of this motherboard
  • PS/2 mouse and keyboard
  • 1 x LPT, Coaxial and Toslink (optical) S/PDIF-Out, 1 x e-SATA (external Serial ATA, not powered)
  • 2 x USB and 1 x RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet)
  • 2 x USB and 1 x RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet)
  • 6 x Audio (Mic-In, Line-In, Front, Center/Sub, Rear, Side).

Package Contents




  • Package: a usual box (AI Life series) of the standard dimension with a flip cover listing motherboard's features
  • User's Guide in English
  • Cables: 6 x SATA with three power converters for six SATA devices, 1 x ATA66, and 1 x FDD (black cable with the company logo), 1 x ATA33 for a CD-ROM
  • Rear panel bracket with 2 x USB and a Game port
  • Rear panel bracket with a 6-pin FireWire port
  • Rear panel bracket with a COM port
  • Rear I/O shield
  • Two CDs with motherboard drivers and proprietary ASUS utilities, as well as InterVideo WinDVD Suite (PhotoAlbum, WinDVD Creator 2, Copy 2.5, Disc Master 2.5).

As you can see, the bundle is decent, but far from being luxurious.

Integrated Controllers

  • Audio, based on the Realtek ALC882M HDA codec, supporting 7.1 audio, equipped with front line-ins/outs and S/PDIF-Out, as well as supporting Dolby Master Studio, including Dolby Headphone, Dolby Virtual Speaker, Dolby Pro Logic IIx and Dolby Digital Live
  • Two network controllers, based on Marvell 88E8053-NNC1 chips supporting 10/100/1000 Mbit/sec data transfer rates (PCIEx1 Gigabit Ethernet) and AI Net2
  • ATA controller (SATA+PATA), based on the Marvell 88SE6141-TFE1 chip supporting one ATA133 channel (two devices, support for CD-ROM devices is not guaranteed) and four SATA300 (SATA-II) ports. One of the latter is backed up on the rear panel and can be used for external SATA devices (of course, only instead of corresponding connector on the motherboard)
  • FireWire, based on the Texas Instruments TSB43AB22A chip, supporting 2 ports.

The integrated audio quality was tested in 16bit, 44 kHz using the RightMark Audio Analyzer 5.5 test application and the Terratec DMX 6fire sound card:

Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB:
+0,13, -0,18
Very good
Noise level, dB (A):
-80,3
Good
Dynamic range, dB (A):
79.3
Average
THD, %:
0.0022
Excellent
Intermodulation distortion + Noise, %:
0.026
Good
Channel crosstalk, dB:
-76,6
Very good
IMD at 10 kHz, %:
0.023
Good

General performance: Good (Details). Audio output quality does not break any records, even though the motherboard uses a HDA codec. Nevertheless, there are no evident troughs.

Note that the Marvell 88SE6141 actually supports RAIDs with SATA drives. But ASUS probably decided that the motherboard wouldn't need another RAID controller. So the current BIOS versions can use this controller only for additional hard drives.

Proprietary technologies and peculiarities

  • ASUS Stack Cool 2 (passive cooling of electronic components in the CPU voltage converter circuit, heatsinks on both sides of the PCB)
  • ASUS NOS (dynamic CPU overclocking when the load increases and returning to the initial state when idle)
  • ASUS AI Net2 (the network controller automatically detects a damaged cable even without booting into OS)
  • ASUS CrashFree BIOS 2 (an option to restore BIOS automatically from a floppy or bootable CD even when the data in the flash-chip is damaged)
  • ASUS C.P.R. (CPU Parameter Recall — when the motherboard cannot startup because of overclocking, it automatically rolls back to default BIOS settings)
  • ASUS Q-Fan2 Technology (automatic fan speed depending on the temperature)
  • ASUS EZ Flash (flashing BIOS without booting into OS)
  • ASUS Multi-language BIOS (language selection for BIOS Setup)
  • ASUS MyLogo 2 (display your own logo at system startup).

Settings

Jumpers and switches Clear CMOS jumper  
Jumpers to enable system wake up on USB devices  
PS/2 keyboard power jumpers  
In BIOS v2.53 from AMI Allows to disable specific CPU functions + Hyper-Threading, Internal Thermal Control, Execute Disable Bit, Virtualization, Enhanced SpeedStep, Enhanced Halt State
Memory timings + Hyper Path 3, CAS# Latency, RAS# Precharge, RAS# to CAS# Delay, RAS# Activate to Precharge Delay, Write Recovery Time
Memory frequency selection + Auto, 400/533/667/711/800/889/1067 MHz for the 1066 MHz FSB, 400/533/667/800 MHz for the 800 MHz FSB, and 400/533 MHz for the 533 MHz FSB
Peripheral bus frequency control + PCI-E = Auto, 90—150 MHz at 1 MHz steps
PCI = Auto (to be raised according to PCI-E frequency), fix it at 33.33 MHz, raise according to FSB frequency
PCI IRQ manual assignment -  
FSB frequency setup + 100—450 MHz at 1 MHz steps
CPU multiplier + You can fix the multiplier at x14 for any processors (for efficient overclocking)
CPU core voltage control + Auto, from the nominal value to 1.7000 V at 0.0125 V steps
Memory voltage control + Auto, 1.80 V, 1.90 V—2.40 V at 0.05 V steps
Chipset voltage control + Auto, 1.50 V—1.65 V at 0.05 V steps for Northbridge and Auto, 1.05 V, 1.2 V for Southbridge
Termination FSB voltage control + Auto, 1.2—1.5 V at 0.1 V steps

We used BIOS 0401, the latest available BIOS version at the time of our tests. The current Versions 0501 and 0601 detect new CPU models. The mentioned BIOS parameters are available in this version, but the viability of non-standard settings hasn't been tested.

Temperature conditions

While Intel processors have been leading on the desktop market in terms of heat release, even top chipsets from this company still use passive cooling — at least, passive cooling is an option, which is demonstrated by Intel motherboards (of course, other manufacturers are free to use any coolers — for example, Gigabyte G1975X). In this case ASUS engineers used a medium-sized pin-fin heatsink on Northbridge. It's interesting to find out how efficient this cooling system is and to compare its capacity with that demonstrated by the ASUS P5N32-SLI Deluxe. That motherboard is based on the NVIDIA nForce4 SLI IE + nForce4 SLI. It's equipped with a passive cooling system as well, though it's much more complex, with heat pipes and additional heatsinks.

This diagram shows that temperatures of both bridges in the new model are lower by a couple degrees, both under load and in idle mode. What conclusions follow from these data? Firstly, i975X bridges are evidently cooler than two NVIDIA's Northbridges on the P5N32-SLI Deluxe. It was to be expected. Secondly, temperatures are far from the critical values in all cases. If your PC case is well ventilated, an allowance for the open PC case of our testbed shouldn't be too large. If that is so, is it justified to use a complex device with heat pipes to cool the chipset on the P5N32-SLI Deluxe? It is probably justified only in two cases: when the temperature inside a PC case is very high and in case of heavy overclocking, which raises heat release (though not as much as in case of a processor) of the integrated controllers.

Performance

Testbed configurations:

  • CPU: Intel Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 3.46 GHz
  • Memory:
    • 2 x 512 MB Corsair XMS2-4300 CM2X512A-4300C3PRO (DDR2-533, 3-3-3 timings) for the ASUS motherboard
    • 2 x 512 MB Corsair XMS2-5400 CM2X512-5400C4 (DDR2-667, 4-4-4 timings) for the MSI motherboard

  • Video card: ATI Radeon X800 XT, 256 MB GDDR3
  • HDD: Samsung SP1213C (SATA, 7200 rpm, 8 MB buffer)
  • Power supply unit: FSP AX500-A
  • OS: Windows XP SP2

As the Gigabyte model on the i975X chipset was available in our lab only for a short period of time and was used for special tests, testbed configuration differed much from our usual configuration. We had to wait for another motherboard on the top chipset from Intel. This time it was a motherboard from MSI, its review will be published in the nearest future. And now we'll compare the ASUS P5WD2-E with this very motherboard. We'll draw i975X performance conclusions in the MSI 975X Platinum review.

Test ASUS P5WD2-E Premium MSI 975X Platinum
Archiving with 7-Zip, min:sec 7:12 6:59
MPEG4 (XviD) encoding, min:sec 5:17 5:12
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Low@640x480), fps 71.4 73.0
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Highest@1600x1200), fps 64.4 67.0
Doom 3 (Low@640x480), fps 113.7 111.6
Doom 3 (Highest@1600x1200), fps 59.8 58.7

Unfortunately, the MSI motherboard couldn't use DDR2-533 memory with 3-3-3 timings. But as we demonstrated in our comparison of the latest Intel chipsets with various memory operating modes, DDR2-667 with 4-4-4 timings is practically equivalent to this configuration. On the whole, the ASUS P5WD2-E looks slower. But the difference does not exceed 4%. In some games, sensitive to video performance, this motherboard is even a tad faster.

Bottom line

It's a good top motherboard that maintains its status with its chipset and additional functions. It's also equipped with a passive cooling system. Let's sum up its drawbacks: a rational, but unremarkable bundle as well as moderate performance. This model will certainly be a good choice for those who want a motherboard for a state-of-the-art computer without spending much time on considerations. But it's not the best solution for enthusiasts, either in price or in functions.

This model on the manufacturer's web site (Russian mirror)

The motherboard is kindly provided by the manufacturer





Sergei Pikalov (peek@ixbt.com)
Vladimir Senchihin (sench@ixbt.com)
October 31, 2006

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