Intel's launch of three LGA1156 processors has been accompanied with four motherboards -- two ATX and two MicroATX ones. They belong to different families: two motherboards of different form factors come from the Extreme series, another two from the Media series. In fact, all boards look very much alike, they have similar PCB layouts, and compact boards differ from full-size ones in the traditional Intel's way: they just cut off the bottom part that sticks out of the MicroATX confines (the left part on our photo) with all its contents. Today we are going to review the top model in this series, DP55KG, which crowns the Intel's desktop motherboard series along with the already reviewed DX58SO.
We've been waiting for a long time which manufacturer will be the first to install an honest cooling system for the new P55 chipset -- and it has been Intel. The PCH P55 comes with a modest compact heatsink -- exactly like the one used to cool the ICH10R Southbridge on previous motherboards from this company. Why "honest"? It's because these chips have similar power consumption levels (4.7W and 4.5W TDP), so they need similar cooling. And bulky heatsinks (or even heat pipes on some motherboards) play only a decorative role. The only component in the new platform that needs good cooling is a CPU (even in the overclocked mode), and that's exactly what Intel does for its products.
And there are a couple of small heatsinks on the CPU power system, of course - that's quite enough: it's inherited completely from the DX58SO.
"Modest" six channels in the previous model easily coped with 130-W processors, and they allowed overclocking them to a level, when real power consumption started to exceed 200W. So more power-efficient LGA1156 processors won't be a problem.
Like Gigabyte P55-UD6 and other top motherboards with P55 we have already reviewed, this model can accommodate three PCIe x16 expansion cards. In fact, these two motherboards have the same layout of slots, only mutual positions are different. However, the long slots do not look standard: the second slot cannot work faster than x8, the third -- x4. It's still possible to use "non-standard" cards, because the rear wall of the slots is cut out, and there is a latch (to fix a full-size card) at a proper distance from the front edge of the slot. But the number of slots is the same: three slots for full-size cards, two PCIe x1 and two old PCI slots. But unlike the Gigabyte product, all slots are operable at the same time -- this motherboard has much fewer additional controllers.
We have no gripes with the layout of slots either: even when two "double-decker" graphics cards are installed, you will still have easily accessible PCIe x1, PCIe x4, and PCI slots, while the Gigabyte product will leave you in this case (along with PCI) with either a single PCIe x4 slot (you need to disable eSATA support) or two PCIe x1 slots, which can accommodate only a short adapter (as there is a large and useless heatsink on the chipset behind it). However, most such motherboards will certainly be used with a single graphics card (a dual-GPU model as a last resort). In this case, owing to the sufficient number of additional controllers, a user will have nothing more to wish for.
There is no need to dwell on Intel fighting with outdated interfaces once again -- along with the list of new features, the motherboard guide proudly lists what old interfaces it got rid of. As it has already become a routine with Intel motherboards, there is no PATA, no floppy, no PS/2, no serial or parallel ports. In return, the DP55KG is one of the few motherboards to support Bluetooth. The lack of such support in standard motherboards is actually one of primary reasons for this popular mobile and notebook interface to gain ground in desktops so slowly.
This feature needs no implementation miracles: a corresponding adapter just takes up one of USB ports, it's just soldered directly to the motherboard, while the other few motherboards with this adapter were equipped with a stand-alone controller to be plugged to the right connector. Now the only thing required from a user is to handle the bundled antenna. However, there is not much in this implementation for those users, who assemble computers on their own: a stand-alone module bought separately will be just as good. Or even better: external modules usually come with various software. And in this case you will have to content with standard Windows features (not quite friendly, frankly speaking). It would have been useful for ready system units, but this motherboard is not intended for system integrators.
At least, it's hard to assume the contrary judging from its palette. We have never suspected that Intel motherboards can imitate Christmas trees -- now we have to adapt to this design. Blue illumination of the space under the motherboard and a skull with red eyes (which can be used to indicate HDD activity) -- it's all very unusual. These features can be disabled, of course. But it won't make it disappear, so these features may please only owners of transparent PC enclosures. What concerns the POST LED display (a new feature for Intel products, but a usual function for other manufacturers), it's not used very often, but it never stands in your way. However, it will be very useful to people working in service centers or enthusiasts.
And the on-board power button gives away that the motherboard is designed for enthusiasts, who often use their equipment in open testbeds, rather than for common users. Another button will be interesting to those users, who do not want to open their PC enclosure -- a special switch on the rear panel allows a motherboard to boot with default BIOS parameters, which comes in handy, when your last parameters froze the system. In fact, most manufacturers successfully solved the problem of resetting BIOS options after a failed overclocking attempt, so this function is present without additional switches. (BIOS will automatically revert to permissive settings in the worse case. But models for enthusiasts do not have this problem: after an emergency reboot, BIOS keeps the settings that caused the problem.) However, such manual control warms hearts much better than soulless mechanisms (especially as they do not always work correctly).
What else to add? One of USB ports is soldered right on the board as a typical A-type connector, not a standard pin-header. The number of available USB ports is odd because of the USB Bluetooth module, and engineers found it unnecessary to add the last odd port to the eight installed ones. This implementation may be used for exotic adapters, such as PCIe ExpressCard. Besides, it's easier to plug a flash drive into the on-board port than to a port on the rear panel in an open testbed. Another way to use this port is to install a compact fast flash drive to use Windows ReadyBoost (unlike the external drive, this one won't be accidentally removed).
The last curious feature is an optical audio input. It's a pity this input appeared so late: this feature would have been useful in times of CD- and MD-decks with this output. As for now, we cannot think of any applications for it. So instead of fighting outdated connectors (it can be said about both S/PDIF versions), Intel could have installed a coaxial output, so that users wouldn't have to buy adapters.
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