It is always nice to buy high-end hardware. Given you have money for it. If you don't or just grudge it, you can only dream about top PC parts, choosing cheaper alternatives instead and weighing all pros and cons. This is especially hard for those assembling LGA1156-based rigs. Parts for these are still considered novelties and this has a negative effect on prices. There are just three processors for such machines, starting from $200. And motherboard makers are in a hurry to skim the cream, firstly offering the highest-end solutions, often with many unnecessary features.
Of late there have been more affordable boards as well. The problem with these is just the opposite -- such solutions might lack needed features. For example, the recently reviewed Gigabyte P55-UD3 lacks fully-fledged support for multiple graphics cards. It does have two PCIe x16 slots, but one works as x4 and is handled by the chipset. Not many people use multiple graphics cards, but it's a pity to be deprived of one of the basic P55 features. But you shouldn't think bad of Gigabyte. The same thing can be said about ASUS P7P55D LE that belongs to the same price range. Boards that have two fully-fledged PCIe x16 slots do exist, but they cost more and are positioned as higher-end. And three such slots are most often found in mercilessly expensive top-end motherboards. Fortunately, most often doesn't mean always. Today we shall review just such a board that has maximum PCIe-related features (for a P55-based solution), but lacks heatpipes, additional disk drive controllers -- everything that would prevent it from being reasonably priced.
This motherboard looks similar to another product we have recently reviewed: DP55KG. This is no surprise, as these two (as well as one of the mATX modifications) share the same PCB. The upside is that despite being budget the board can be a nice foundation for an advanced rig. In particular, it has three wide PCIe slots, thus providing support for SLI/CrossFire and leaving a PCIe x4 slot available, which is compatible with x16 cards. It also has a POST LED, usually found on top boards, and even a back-panel button to access BIOS setup, if you have pushed overclocking too far.
But how does one make a budget board out of a top one? Simple: by removing everything unnecessary. Though sometimes useful features are also removed. But there's nothing one can do, the price is the key. On the other hand, there are no glowing skills and whatnot, the design is austere, traditionally for Intel. But then again other reductions are not that welcome.
Comparing to DP55KG, the most noticeable simplifications are related to CPU power circuitry. The board has 4 channels instead of 6 (and that was modest already) and no transistor heatsinks. Note that in the meantime some other companies offer 10-phase power and better. Still, it's logical. DX58SO needs 6 channels to power 130W TDP processors and to have something left in reserve. DP55KG, in its turn, has to feed only 95W, though Extreme series' overclocking features are needed as well. DP55WG is hardly meant for hardcore overclockers, as there are other solutions for that purpose. Besides, the expected dual-core LGA1156 processors will have 73W TDP, and many will choose budget models as PC foundations. Unless, of course, you plan to overclock your CPU extremely. As for the company, they haven't been trying to prevent this in the latest products. Despite certain concerns that a simpler board would have simpler overclocking settings, not only the BIOS allows you to increase clock rate, it also lets you adjust CPU and memory voltage (in other words, the features are theoretically the same as DP55KG's). Just don't push it too far.
This board supports up to 6 disk drives, while DP55KG supports 10 (8 internal and 2 external). Is this good or bad? Fewer SATA ports seems like a neutral factor to us, because 6 drives supported by the chipset are enough for a couple of optical drives and 4 HDDs. Though even users of higher-end machines often do with one optical drive and one or two HDDs. In other words, 6 are too much already. Besides, additional controllers (especially those utilizing low-speed PCIe x1) are slower than chipset's. So even in a rare case when you need a large RAID array, you should use chipset ports or buy a fully-fledged RAID controller with a x4 or x8 interface. And this board has just the slot for it.
Also, unlike other similarly priced motherboards, you'll be able to install a high-speed controller even having two graphics cards. But if you only have one, you can use two controllers designed to work with multiple PCIe lanes. E.g., a fully-fledged hardware SATA (or even SAS) RAID controller and a SSD drive with the PCIe interface. There's enough slots for this (though it would cost you a part of graphics card performance). There was a myth that the first and the second PCIe slots -- the ones connected to CPU -- are designed solely for graphics cards. We didn't believe it, as there were no objective reasons for such a limitation. This time we decided to check, if the second slot was compatible with something else than graphics cards by installing Creative Labs X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Professional Series card with the PCIe x1 interface. Just as we expected, it resulted in no problems whatsoever. The card was recognized at once and the system even let it work without drivers as another HDA device.
What happened to the first slot in this case? Only what we had expected. As you can see on the GPU-Z screenshot above, when the second slot is used, the first one switches to the x8 mode to free up the other 8 lanes.
And this is what the same utility says about the graphics card, if the second slot is free. All 16 lanes are used. Of course, it's a pity to lose 7 PCIe lanes (9 were used in our example: 8 by the graphics card and 1 by the sound card), so you shouldn't use the second long slot for PCIe x1 devices. Still, you can easily do that, if you really need to.
So, it seems the expansion slots are as good as those on top-end LGA1156 boards. One thing we cannot welcome is no eSATA ports whatsoever. External hard drives are not exotic anymore, so why force people to use only lower-speed USB ports? They could at least provide a slot cover to output one of the chipset ports. Those things are very cheap.
The board also lacks a Bluetooth adapter. Though as we have mentioned, it would be the same as a discrete Bluetooth dongle anyway, so no worries. Essentially, DP55WG offers users a decent foundation for a multi-GPU rig or a rich-featured workstation. While everything else can be purchased separately without overpaying for integrated parts.
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