iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






ASUS P5Q Deluxe Motherboard

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ASUS P5Q Deluxe motherboard is a good example of a top model, which does not irritate common users with its exotic features for 'hardcore gamers' and the like. Four LAN ports are twice as cool as two ports, of course, and six PCIEx16 slots are approximately three times as 'powerful' as two standard slots. But this motherboard works out its high price not resorting to quantitative measures.

It's one of the top models in the new series ASUS P5Q, based on Intel 4x chipsets. Like all top models, it's equipped with two PCI-E 2.0 x16 slots and takes advantage of the new chipset feature: support for the second version of the PCI Express standard and sterling CrossFire setup. In other respects, the motherboard wins hearts with a variety of its technologies and their implementations. Well, let's have a look at one of the most interesting (and the most popular) models on the Intel P45 chipset.

We've noticed several peculiarities of the PCB layout at first sight: relocated memory slots (relative to their usual position), the on-board cooling system, the set and arrangement of expansion slots and SATA connectors. However, despite the unusual exterior, this PCB layout does not make the assemblage more difficult. Even if you install various large components, you just risk blocking one SATA port (the other ones are either removed out of the graphics cards' way or tilted). The board contains two PCI and two (three actually) PCIEx1 slots -- the outermost PCIEx16 slot automatically becomes the third one (you can also install PCI-E expansion cards of any format into this slot), but it switches to the x1 mode when any PCIEx1 slot is used. Slots for graphics cards are moved to the edge of the board -- that's very good, because the upper slots always remain unblocked. Also note that both PCI slots are sure not to be blocked by large expansion cards. Motherboard dimensions -- 305x245 mm (full-size ATX), nine screw mount, all edges of the motherboard are fixed.

The reason for this unusual layout of memory slots becomes clear after an inspection of the voltage regulator -- that's what ASUS can be really proud of. For one, top ASUS P5Q motherboards break a new record in the number of phases in the VRM: 16! In this case we can see 16 sterling phases with an individual driver and two field-effect transistors in each, which must provide exceptionally high efficiency of the VRM and lower operating temperatures. Moreover, memory and chipset VRMs are dual-channel solutions (engineers had to modify the usual layout of memory slots, as they had to arrange chokes of the VRM) -- it's not a unique solution anymore, but it's still a sign of an elite product. The choice of other electronic components is also praiseworthy: the voltage regulator of the processor incorporates low RDS(on) field-effect transistors; the board uses only high quality conductive polymer capacitors from Fujitsu and ferrite core chokes.

However, lower requirements of power circuit components to cooling did not bring about a cheaper design of this important (especially for overclocking) element. The motherboard uses the classic chipset cooling system: a Heatsink on the Southbridge connects to the Heatsink on the Northbridge (possessing larger heat exchange surface area) with a copper heat pipe. And in its turn, the NB Heatsink uses two heat pipes to connect to one of two additional Heatsinks on MOSFETs and the CPU power circuit. Upper fin-stack configuration of these Heatsinks allows to install proprietary coolers -- in this case one comes in the bundle. However, ASUS recommends active cooling only if the CPU cooler does not generate air flows near the processor socket.

Metal plates on the back of the board Heatsink fitting

The motherboard has another peculiarity that has to do with MOSFET Heatsinks: they are not mounted in a usual way (plastic latches on the PCB), they are screwed to aluminum plates on the back side of the board. As these plates are pressed tight to the PCB, this technology improves temperature conditions of the board in its hottest part (plus Stack Cool 2 -- metal layer on the back side of the PCB). In our opinion, the layer of thermal grease is too thick, but it should provide normal heat exchange with time. Efficiency of this solution aside, we'd like to complain that the bridge Heatsinks are secured with usual plastic latches, even though these very components need really tight contact with the chipset! It's incredible that good fitting of on-board Heatsinks is still used only by several models for overclockers: only few users will change thermal grease on a regular basis, of course, but the normal hold-down pressure will still provide good cooling efficiency.

Express Gate SSD

Like all latest products from ASUS, this motherboard features the Express Gate technology -- you might have already read about it in our articles. In this case we deal with the full implementation of this technology (Express Gate SSD). As the title implies, it uses an integrated flash drive of 512 MB to store a bootup image. Express Gate technology consists in loading a special Splashtop shell in no time (based on Linux) instead of the main OS. You make the choice right at startup (you can use the mouse). It's an operating system with severely limited features (bought from DeviceVM), which offers several basic functions: view photos from flash drives or HDD, browse Internet, communicate in IM (except for ICQ) and Skype networks.

Techies adore gimmicks, but we cannot take functionality of this solution seriously. For one, only ASUS can update Splashtop so far. Even though such updates gradually enhance functionality of this built-in operating system, users cannot customize this shell (add favorite programs, change themes, etc.) For two, Splashtop configuration is limited so far (you can only change screen resolution and configure your LAN connection). For three, Splashtop lacks any media player, and you cannot install browser plugins (it's a curtailed version of Firefox). So it will hardly entertain a user for long

However, the main problem that renders Express Gate a useless toy for rare fans is that Splashtop is hardly faster than Windows waking up from hibernation -- however, the latter can be slowed down by too much memory installed. ASUS claims that Splashtop starts up for 5-10 seconds, which is absolutely true. However, it takes Windows (with running programs, for example, an Internet browser with 30 open tabs) almost ten seconds more to wake up. If we also take into account the time it takes to start necessary applications, enter user name and password, etc. the built-in operating system may even lose this contest. What concerns possible functionality and convenience of use, Splashtop is totally outscored by a sterling operating system (be it any Windows version or Linux) even before any tests, so we don't think that Express Gate/SSD is of any use at all.

You can find a motherboard to your liking even within the P5Q series, as it includes a lot of various models. But some of these models are practically indistinguishable from our motherboard under review: they have a similar or the same PCB and practically identical functionality. We can mention P5Q3 Deluxe/WiFi-AP@n (a complete copy of our motherboard designed for DDR3 and equipped with Wi-Fi-n) and P5Q-E/WiFi-AP (a less functional modification without Express Gate SSD, but still supporting Express Gate, 8-phase PWM-controller of the CPU voltage regulator; there is also a modification with Wi-Fi). As they are very much alike, this article applies to them all.

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Page 1: Introduction, design

Page 2: Interfaces, package

Page 3: Controllers, BIOS, performance

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