The motherboard is based on the Intel P55 chipset (P55 PCH). The additional controllers include:
- Integrated audio based on the 10-channel (7.1+2) Realtek ALC890 HDA codec -- the top-class solution supporting full-quality HD DVD and Blu-ray output, with an optical (Toslink) and coaxial S/PDIF-Out on the rear panel, and an on-board HDMI_SPDIF connector for HDMI-equipped graphics cards;
- Dual Gigabit LAN with additional enterprise features based on Realtek RTL8111DL (PCIe x1);
- IDE/SATA 2.0 based on JMicron JMB363 (PCIe x1) supporting 2 IDE (PATA) devices, including CD/DVD drives, and 1 SATA-300 port (as rear-panel eSATA);
- FireWire based on VIA VT6308S (PCI) supporting 2 ports (one on the rear panel).
We tested the integrated audio solution in the 16-bit/44kHz and 16-bit/48kHz modes using RightMark Audio Analyzer 6.0 and a Terratec DMX 6fire sound card. Total grade: Excellent (both modes).
|Frequency response (40Hz to 15kHz), dB:
|Noise level, dB(A)
|Dynamic range, dB(A)
|THD + noise, dB(A)
|IMD + noise, %
|Channel crosstalk, dB
|IMD at 10 kHz, %
As we've mentioned, the audio codec has both high SNR and supports full-quality HD DVD and Blu-ray output via S/PDIF-Out. The latter is provided by HDCP support that allows certified players to transmit audio with no loss in quality. To output such audio signals via a HDMI-equipped graphics card, you'll need one with its own audio codec onboard. Or you can use a receiver supporting modes up to 24-bit/192kHz on S/PDIF-In.
The digital S/PDIF supports both most popular sampling rates: 44.1kHz and 48kHz. Besides, ALC890 is certified for DTS Connect.
The Realtek LAN controllers can be teamed into one load-balanced 2Gbps interface. If one of the physical ports malfunctions or a cable is broken, all traffic is routed through the available channel (obviously at only 1Gbps throughput). Additional parameters of these Realtek controllers can be set by means of a proprietory utility.
JMicron JMB363 is a quite popular controller. We have already confirmed it has no trouble supporting PATA devices. And this time is not an exception, too.
Intel P55-based motherboards with Marvell 88SE9123 controllers were expected in September, but certain issues forced manufacturers to urgently remake ready products. Since then Marvell has been shipping fixed chips, so some companies have had time to roll out newer motherboard revisions. Meanwhile, ASRock prefers to ship auxillary daughterboards and save on not remaking anything. Well, this seems logical enough. Don't use the board while you don't need SATA-600. When you do, just install it.
What's more important is whether the board is needed at all. Though 88SE9123 is designed for PCI Express 2.0, it only uses a single lane. But 500MB/s (and 500MB/s in the opposite direction) is not enough to provide two 600MB/s ports. Besides, most "peripheral" PCIe lanes in P55-based motherboards, while formally supporting the 2nd version of PCI Express, only have throughput of the 1st version. Obviously, 250MB/s is not enough even for a single SATA-300 port, not to mention two SATA-600 ones. Well, at least it's good that the daughterboard uses PCI Express, it could've been USB. Actually, Socket 1156 motherboards can use CPU's full-fledged PCIe 2.0 controller (if provided for by motherboard slots layout). But then graphics card will only have 8 lanes instead of 16. Anyway, we'll test the daughterboard, because there may be certain sense in using it.
We thought that ASRock's daughterboard could come in handy if you owned a few PCs, for example. X58-based motherboards or AMD CPUs support enough lanes. Well, tough luck. It worked perfectly in ASRock P55 Deluxe, but with Intel DX58SO it only worked with Southbridge slots (PCIe 1.1). In the latter case, the system recognized the controller, but only let it work in the AHCI mode, because regular PATA emulation could only enabled in the special ASRock's BIOS. So, we could install the corresponding driver, but all tests resulted in BSODs. So it seems the daughterboard can only be used with the motherboard it's shipped with.
On the other hand, there are only a few commercially available SATA-600 products, e.g. Seagate Barracuda XT series. The latter is a regular HDD, so its plate read/write is up to 150MB/s. You don't need SATA-600 for that. However, a number of faster SSD drives have already been announced. Those devices could really use SATA-600. But don't forget about the limitations described above.
We decided to see if such a connection can be a bottleneck for even SATA-300 devices. We used a Kingston SSDNow SNE125-S2/32GB drive that put the older SATA standard to good use.
As you can see, Intel ICH10R remains the fastest SATA controller (in the SATA-300 mode, of course). However, the new Marvell is also good, when PCIe 2.0 is used. They don't limit the SSD when reading large blocks of data, so the results are only limited by the actual drive performance. In turn, PCIe 1.1 couldn't even provide speeds over 200MB/s. Though P55's SATA controller is slower than that of ICH10, while the PCIe one is obviously faster, it doesn't help. By the way, we tested both x1 and x4 slots. The results of the second are the same as those of the first, so we haven't provided them on the diagram.
The write test produces similar results. Using PCI Express 2.0, Marvell's controller outperforms P55 with 16KB and larger blocks and does similarly to ICH10R with large blocks. But using the older PCIe standard almost halves its performance, down to about 100MB/s.
Conclusion: if you don't mind taking 8 lanes from your graphics card (this will only limit high-end models), then there's some sense in using the daughterboard with high-speed drives. Of course, you won't get 600MB/s for each of the two ports, but you'll get 400MB/s for a single high-speed drive. (PCIe 1.1 limits read speed down to about 200MB/s, so if you use a high-speed SSD with the daughterboard connected to PCIe 2.0, the bandwidth should be twice as high.) Installing the daughterboard into PCIe 1.1 slots only has sense if you simply need more ports. The best read speed you'll get will be 200MB/s or so.
Perhaps, an ASRock motherboard isn't the first thing that comes to mind, when you're considering top-class solutions. But the company is doing its job fine, offering models for all price ranges, including top-class, ultra cheap, and interesting niche motherboards. If you don't care much about brands, ASRock P55 Deluxe, is definitely one of the best top-class motherboards on the Intel P55 chipset. For some 200 bucks it offers all modern interfaces (except USB 3.0), supports SLI (though as x8+x8), and is built as good as most competiting solutions are.
Speaking of the SATA 3.0 adapter, our tests indicate that it's a working solution that even provides a certain speed boost, given the drive itself is speedy enough. However, there are motherboards that have built-in SATA 3.0 support already, so you have a choice.
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