Today we're going to review a top motherboard from ASRock. Actually, company's P55 series isn't very long, and even the second top P55 Extreme is more of a decent mid-end product. But P55 Deluxe is definitely a top solution with both rich features (SLI, 3 graphics slots, dual Gigabit LAN, top-class integrated audio, FireWire, USB/eSATA (Powered eSATA), etc.) and a nice addition to the bundle -- a SATA 3.0 daughterboard.
Despite its top status, the motherboard has no fundamental differences typical for its counterparts from other companies. It features a number of legacy interfaces, even including a COM port and an FDD connector. Besides, its 3 PCI slots isn't that advanced. Of the three PCIe x16 slots, only the first can use all of the 16 PCI Express 2.0 lanes. The second slot allows you to install a graphics cards and use it in an x8+x8 SLI configuration. Finally, the third graphics slot is connected to the Southbridge at all.
The motherboard layout is convenient. Mainly because the SATA and PATA connectors are horizontal. Top-class attributes include a LED POST indicator and the rather originally (and, most likely, inconveniently) located power and reset buttons. On the other hand, the more useful CMOS reset button is quite logically situated on the rear panel, available without you having to open PC enclosure.
The power circuitry naturally corresponds to a top-class motherboard. CPU VRM uses 16 lanes (2 FETs per each) for core and 2 lanes (3 FETs per each) for uncore. The remaining circuitry, including those powering memory modules, are also good. The motherboard only has polymer capacitors from Japanese Nichicon. This is not a record or something, but it's a quite reasonable solution. Frankly speaking, even 16 channels are too many for real life.
The cooling system is also quite liberal. The CPU VRM, given the amount of lanes and FETs, doesn't require anything extreme, but still the makers have provided two large heatsinks interconnected by a heatpipe (the latter is mainly for appearance). While no active cooling is provided, a box CPU cooler will do the trick. No need to worry about overheating of these motherboard parts.
Consuming less than 5W, the chipset doesn't need much cooling. But the top status obliges. Anyway, the snowflake heatsink is rather compact and doesn't hinder you from installing cards and connecting cables. A downside is that all of the motherboard's heatsinks are fixed by means plastic latches. We believe that top-class models are just bound to utilize screws that would let users easily change thermal grease under heatsinks and adjust pressure.
Like in all other up-to-date motherboards, the CPU PWM controller can disable active voltage regulator lanes depending on load. The advantage of ASRock's implementation is that this Intelligent Energy Saver feature (IES) can be both enabled in Windows and BIOS Setup. So, unlike other motherboards, this one doesn't require an additional process in RAM.
Other proprietory features include Combo Cooler Option that provides backward compatibility for older Socket 775 coolers. Essentially, this feature is just two sets of mounting holes. Note that installing a Socket 775 cooler will require rotating it a bit. But that won't increase its dimensions much.
Finally, there's a number of "marketing" features -- fancy but somewhat useless. So, P55 Deluxe and P55 Extreme motherboards are officially the first certified for the Energy Using Product (EuP) 2.0 energy saving standard. Essentially, this means saving another 0.5W of consumption in standby. Then there's Good Night LED that disables enclosure and keyboard LEDs during standby. And there's also Instant Boot advertised as a radical speed boost to system bootup: 3-4 seconds in the Fast Mode and 20 seconds in the Regular Mode instead of the usual 50-60. Essentially, this is based on Windows' S3 (Stand By) and S4 (Hibernate) features. Instant Boot intercepts power off commands from the Windows Start menu; reboots PC instead of powering it off; on bootup, it sends the PC to standby (Fast Mode) or hibernate (Regular Mode).
Monitoring features of BIOS Setup are not quite impressive: the same 2 temperatures and 4 voltages found in cheaper motherboards. However, this motherboard also monitors all 5 fans. Besides, it can adjust the speed of 4 of those (PWM only for 4-pin connectors). CPU cooler can be controlled automatically, by setting the desired temperature and corresponding rotation speed.
Like any other top-class motherboard, and almost any ASRock motherboard, P55 Deluxe should have rich overclocking features, involving lots of memory timings and fine-tuning of primary and secondary voltages. Besides providing those features in BIOS Setup, the company offers the proprietory OC Tuner utility for Windows that can adjust most key voltages, raise BCLK and PCIe clock rates, and monitor lots of voltages.
The bundle is quite ample. There are 4 SATA cables with 2 power adapters (all straight on both ends, with latches), an IDE ribbon and even an FDD ribbon. Also included are rear-panel faceplate, SLI bridge, user's guide, and a software DVD. But of course the key is a daughterboard that provides support for SATA 3.0 (SATA-600) to 2 internal ports and the external eSATA connector (two of the three can work simultaneously). This is one of the first mass-produced solutions adding support for the new interface. We'll describe it in detail a bit later in this review.
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