Putting the current climate of political shenanigans aside for a while, let's look at the first P45 board on our bench with a mature BIOS. It seems everyone in Taiwan is busily tweaking and improving their boards on a daily basis but Asus was first out the hat for us with a complete product that worked as expected.
This year's iteration of the Intel chipset craziness has seen some vast improvements in features from Asus – every P45 board now comes with the ExpressGate Linux software and the Asus EPU as standard.
The P5Q Deluxe is a DDR2 board with plenty of features, but without the extreme price overhead of the WiFi-AP @n boards. But does the new, more advanced EPU add any significant benefit and how appealing is the ExpressGate software – has it changed since we first looked at it?
After spending quite a bit of time in the last few weeks with several P45 boards the evident thing is that things are changing for the greener and for the more fulfilled – we're seeing the Republic of Gamer level BIOS tweaks filter down to mainstream level across the board, and we're being told from every motherboard manufacturer that overclocking and system tweaking is changing with this final front side bus chipset. But embrace it and have some fun – we'll tell you which board manufacturer makes the experience the most intuitive and easiest to learn.
Just look at all those features below and then consider that all that is for a non-too expensive £120? If the performance matches up – do we have our next inevitable upgrade?
Intel's P45 Chipset and ICH10 Southbridge
It's all new on the Intel front. Well, by new, I mean oldan update to tradition – here we have the very last mainstream chipset that will use the antiquated front side bus. Since the modern CPU began (where ever you attribute that to be), this interlink been the stable diet of communication between processor and memory controller. Finally we've reached the end of the front side bus’ lifetime and Intel has realised that it can no longer draw out performance – this is why it's changing the way its CPUs work with Nehalem, by integrating the memory controller into the CPU itself.
That's not to say there's still some life in the old dog yet as P45 has been greatly updated from P35 – it features an "unlocked" PCI-Express x16 lane which has been upgraded to 2.0 speeds, so a balanced, dual x8 for CrossFire is far better option. Unlike the latest revisions of the X48 chipset which we were told by Intel would also be 65nm but as far as we can tell have also turned out to be 90nm, the P45 is the first 65nm chipset for Intel.
When we last saw it, the chipset is identical in size and shape to the G45, literally because the two chipsets are identical but with certain parts disabled – this saves time in designing multiple products and also has lead people to believe Intel might try the same Hybrid Graphics power saving technique like AMD and Nvidia with future motherboards, however this depends on Intel's discrete graphics parts or working with someone else.
The ICH10 south bridge is pretty much identical to the ICH9 for the most part, there are no more USB ports and we're still limited to six PCI-Express 1.1 connections for extra peripherals. There's no Wireless, Firewire or even WiMAX option too, the only new feature is more advanced Wake up on LAN (WoL) options for remote access, if that's your thing.
While we heard about Intel's Extreme Tweaking Utility epochs ago (in Q3 last year) it has yet to rear its head. This piece of software was meant to launch with X38, yet, it has been continually pushed back. We saw it again during CeBIT and IDF Spring 2008, but still no motherboard manufacturer has yet to include it and we haven't heard a peep out of Intel. While every board you buy will ship with some form of overclocking software these days, both AMD (OverDrive) and Nvidia (nTune) ship a standard set of software for their hardware.
Support for 65nm and 45nm Intel socket LGA775 05B, 05A and 06 processors from families including Core 2 Extreme, Quad, Duo, Pentium Extreme, 4 and D.
Asus EPU 6-Engine and 16 phase CPU power design
Intel P45 north bridge
Intel ICH10R south bridge
Four DDR2 DIMMs supporting 667/800/1,066 and 1,200MHz memory up to 16GB in dual channel
Two PCI-Express 2.0 x16 slots (in either x16/x1 or x8/x8 arrangements)
One PCI-Express x16 slot (at x4 bandwidth)
Two PCI-Express x1 slots
Two PCI slots
Six red ICH10R SATA 3Gbps ports supporting RAID 0, 1, 0+1 and 5
Two orange Silicon Image Sil5723 SATA ports supporting "Super Speed" or "EZ Backup" with DriveXpert
One Marvell 88SE6121 controller supporting one IDE channel and one eSATA 3Gbps port
One Marvell 88E8056 PCI-Express Gigabit Ethernet
One Marvell 88E8011 PCI Gigabit Ethernet
ADI AD2000B 7.1 channel High-Definition audio codec
LSI L-FW3227 PCI IEEE1394a Firewire controller supporting two ports
Ten USB 2.0 ports (four through pin-outs, six on the rear I/O)
Asus ExpressGate SSD
Asus DieHard BIOS, Q-Shield, Q-Connector, AI Booster with Precision Tweaker BIOS function and AI Suite
Eight red SATA cables including four with 90 degree connectors
Two Molex to four SATA power connectors
Asus Q-Shield soft rear I/O cover
Manual, case badge and driver DVD
IDE and floppy cables
Optional heatpipe cooling fan
Two USB port and one 4-pin Firewire PCI bracket
The extra features are pretty much all encompassing – just what we'd expect from a Deluxe model. With a full complement of SATA cables and niche features like the Q-connectors and Q-shield, Asus has the edge on the competition here. If you care for it, it's missing the RS232 serial port and an extra pair of USB ports on a PCI bracket, but those USBs are usually routed to the front of a case and very few people outside of industry use serial ports these days anyway.