Though in case with other manufacturers we chose to review top or similar ATX boards based on the Intel P55 chipset, we decided to familiarize ourselves with new ASRock products by reviewing company's compact, inexpensive microATX board P55M Pro. After all, ASRock became known and popular by making budget and ultrabudget boards. And customers are still somewhat wary of company's feature-rich products. But, frankly speaking, ASRock P55M Pro is not that budget. These days it is company's only P55-based microATX board. It had used to be the lowest in the new series until ASRock released two P55DE boards. Anyway, its features are rather decent. Suffice it to say that the board has FireWire and USB/eSATA (Powered eSATA) interfaces and utilizes only polymer capacitors (unlike the aforementioned P55DE).
The board is affordable for a reason. Essentially, it has a minimum of extra features, but those present are used reasonably and to the full. E.g., the eSATA ports are implemented by means of chipset, not additional SATA controllers (which ASRock P55M Pro hasn't). But the PCB doesn't look empty at all. Vice versa, each square inch is used. Not the most obvious and expected features include IDE, FDD, IrDA, COM, LPT (and PS/2 on the back panel). In other words, legacy devices support is sufficient (not typical for modern boards). That using some of the bare-pin interfaces isn't quite comfortable and that the installed graphics card blocks memory modules in their sockets -- all this is probably not the worst there could be, especially for a microATX board. One money-saving feature of it is the proprietory Combo Cooler Option.
Socket 775 box cooler mount
It provides two sets of mounting holes: standard Socket 1156 and additional Socket 775. Since there's no way to combine these directly -- the Socket 775 mounting rectangle is slightly narrower, it would get in the way of Socket 1156 holes -- you'll have to mount an old cooler at an angle. It's quite small, so cooler dimensions won't increase much, and this solution is sufficiently functional.
Another money-saving feature is two PCI Express x16 slots that theoretically can hold two graphics cards. But the board has no circuitry that would connect both slots to the CPU to switch between x16/x8+x8 modes (this way ASRock saved on SLI licensing). This slot scheme -- a full-speed PCI-E 2.0 x16 connected to CPU and a PCI-E 1.1 x4 connected to chipset -- is used in other new lower-end motherboards of the company. In general, the set of expansion slots is typical for P55-based microATX solutions: two (pseudo or fully-fledged) PCIEx16, one PCIEx1 and only one PCI.
The board utilized basic power circuitry with no extras whatsoever. CPU switched voltage stabilizer has 4+1-channel design (4 channels for core and 1 for "uncore" logic) with two FETs per channel. Other circuitry, including memory modules', has single-channel transducers. Obviously, voltage stability will only be acceptable in the standard mode. No overclocking records for this board. On the other hand, our regular tests showed no problems with P55M Pro. Also, as a token of goodwill (and to make press releases sound better) it utilizes solely Japanese Nichicon's polymer capacitors.
Cooling onboard parts is also done for the sake of simplicity. The low-power chipset has a humble Southbridge heatsink typical for the previous generation of motherboards. CPU power converter is cooled only by the CPU cooler, which results in its parts being quite hot. Still, as we have already mentioned the board isn't meant for overclocking, we won't critisize its cooling anymore. Again, P55M Pro worked all right in the standard mode.
Like those in all modern motherboards, CPU power pulse-duration modulation controller reduces the number of active voltage transducer channels depending on load. ASRock's implementation is somewhat different though -- their proprietory IES (Intelligent Energy Saver) feature can be enabled from both a Windows utility and BIOS setup. In the latter case you won't need the Windows utility at all(just to monitor PDM controller state, perhaps).
Monitoring features available in BIOS setup are typically basic. As is the automatic CPU cooler speed adjustment feature: you can set the desired CPU temperature and select one of cooler presets. One more cooler can be controlled directly, also by means of presets (PDM adjustment only). Typically for ASRock, the motherboard offers rich overclocking features, including adjustment of memory timings and fine-tuning primary and secondary voltages. Also, the proprietory OC Tuner utility for Windows allows changing most voltages, increasing FSB and PCI-E clock rates, and monitoring many voltages. One big downside is that it doesn't allow reducing CAS Latency below 6. This clearly indicates catering for madly-clocked overclocker memory that is rarely needed -- what cannot be said about low timings. Another disadvantage is that by default (the Auto setting) the board sets memory voltage at 1.65V instead of the standard 1.5V. But you can easily changed it back manually though.
The bundle is also basic: a few cables (including FDD!), a SATA power adapter, back-panel faceplate, simple user's manual and a couple of Instant Boot and IES brochures, a software CD.
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