ASUS P7P55D PRO Motherboard
By Gabriel Torres on September 11, 2009
ASUS launched nothing less than nine different socket LGA1156 motherboard models based on the new Intel P55 chipset. Today we are going to take a look at one that is currently being sold on the USD 170 range, called P7P55D PRO, which has lots of unique features and includes support for SLI.
P7P55D PRO has a very sober looks, all black with blue, light gray and dark gray plastic parts. The chipset heatsink and the heatsinks used on the transistors from the voltage regulator circuit are silver and blue with a shape that reminds Superman’s Fortress of Solitude.
One of the main new features from socket LGA1156 processors is the presence of an integrated PCI Express 2.0 controller inside the CPU. This controller supports one x16 connection or two x8 connections. Usually on P55-based motherboards the manufacturer puts two PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots on the board, with the first slot working at x16 when only one video card is used or both slots working at x8 when two video cards are used.
ASUS P7P55D PRO, however, has three PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots, each one with a different color. The first two (blue and light gray) are connected to the controller inside the CPU and thus the blue slot works at x16 only one video card is installed, but when two or three video cards are installed both the blue and the light gray slot work at x8. The third slot, which is dark gray, is controlled by the chipset and works at x4.
ASUS P7P55D PRO also has two x1 PCI Express slots and two standard PCI slots.
This motherboard from ASUS supports both CrossFire and SLI configurations. Keep in mind that SLI support on P55-based motherboards will depend on whether the manufacturer licensed this technology from NVIDIA or not, i.e., not all P55-based motherboards have SLI support. On the ASUS line-up only P7P55D LE and the standard P7P55D do not support SLI.
Socket LGA1156 CPUs, like socket LGA1366 and AMD processors, have an embedded memory controller. All other Intel CPUs use an external memory controller, which is located on the north bridge chip (a.k.a. MCH or Memory Controller Hub) from the chipset. This means that with other Intel CPUs the chipset (and thus the motherboard) is the component that says what memory technologies and the maximum amount of memory you can have on your PC.
Since now the memory controller is inside the CPU, it is the processor, and not the chipset, that defines the memory technologies and the maximum amount of memory you can have. The motherboard, however, may have a limitation as to how much memory can be installed.
At the moment, the integrated memory controller of socket LGA1156 processors supports only DDR3 memories up to 1,333 MHz under dual-channel architecture, however ASUS says P7P55D PRO supports DDR3 memories up to 2033 MHz through overclocking. P7P55D PRO has four DDR3 sockets and since each DDR3 memory module can have up to 4 GB, you can have up to 16 GB with this motherboard.
The first and the third sockets are dark gray, while the second and the fourth are light blue. In order to achieve the maximum performance, you should install two or four memory modules to enable the dual-channel architecture. When only two modules are used make sure to install them on the blue sockets. If you install them on the dark gray ones the computer won’t turn on and the memory diagnostics LED will be permanently turned on.
If you pay close attention in Figure 5 you will see that ASUS is using a different kind of socket on this motherboard. Instead of each socket having one latch at each side of the socket, the sockets have only one latch each. On the other side of the socket there is only a slot for inserting the memory module.
ASUS P7P55D PRO comes with a built-in memory compatibility tester called MemOK!. To activate this feature all you need to do is to push a button located near the main motherboard connector (see Figure 6) for a few seconds after you turn on the computer until you see the red LED next to it start blinking. Then the motherboard will check if your memory modules are compatible with your CPU and will display a message on the screen after some seconds (see Figure 7). If this LED is permanently turned on and the system does not show a message even after you wait one minute, then your installed the modules on the wrong sockets (see text above), your modules are not installed correctly/have bad contact with the sockets, they are incompatible or they are damaged.
Intel P55 chipset is a single-chip solution. The basic features provided by this chipset include six SATA-300 ports (RAID support is optional), no support for parallel ATA (PATA) ports, 14 USB 2.0 ports supporting port disable, embedded Gigabit Ethernet MAC (Medium Access Control) and eight x1 PCI Express lanes.
ASUS P7P55D PRO provides all the six SATA-300 ports with support for Intel Matrix Storage, which provides RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10. The motherboard also has one extra SATA-300 port, one eSATA-300 port and one ATA-133 port controlled by a JMicron JMB363 chip. The eSATA port present on this motherboard supports port multiplier up to four devices, i.e., you can install up to four drives there, limited by the number of drives your external HDD enclosure supports, of course. RAID 0, 1, 0+1 and JBOD are supported on the ports controlled by this extra chip from JMicron, so if you have an external HDD enclosure supporting port multiplier you can create a RAID array with the drives installed in your enclosure.
Four of the SATA connectors are placed facing the motherboard edge while the others are placed near the left edge of the motherboard, as you can see in Figure 8. This is a terrific solution, because on motherboards where the ports are facing up the video cards usually block the access to them or even completely prevent you from installing SATA cables on them.
No floppy disk drive controller is present.
This motherboard has all the 14 USB 2.0 ports supported by the chipset, eight soldered on the rear panel and six available through three motherboard headers. Additionally ASUS P7P55D PRO comes with a FireWire (IEEE 1394) controller, providing two FireWire ports, one soldered on the rear panel and one available a header. The motherboard comes with an I/O bracket containing two USB ports and one FireWire port.
Audio is generated by the chipset using a VIA VT1828S codec, which is a professional-grade component, providing 7.1 audio with 24-bit resolution, 110 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the outputs, 100 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog inputs and 192 kHz sampling rate for both the outputs and inputs. This motherboard comes with on-board optical and coaxial SPDIF outputs. The board also has an SPDIF out header, which may be used to connect the SPDIF output to your video card, if it has an HDMI connector in order for you to have HDMI with digital audio over a single cable. As you can see in Figure 9, this motherboard has independent analog outputs for all eight channels. With these specs you work professionally with audio editing and mixing without the need of a high-end (and expensive) add-on sound card.
ASUS P7P55D PRO has a Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Realtek RTL8112L chip.
In Figure 9, you can see the motherboard rear panel with PS/2 mouse and keyboard connectors, eight USB 2.0 ports, coaxial and optical SPDIF outputs, FireWire port, eSATA port, Gigabit Ethernet port and independent analog 7.1 audio outputs.
ASUS P7P55D PRO has some other smaller but not less important features. All capacitors used on this motherboard are solid and it uses a 12-phase voltage regulator (plus two phases for the memory controller) using ferrite chokes, with the transistors using the passive heatsinks already shown on the first page. Read our Everything You Need to Know About the Motherboard Voltage Regulator Circuit to understand why this is a terrific configuration.
Like other motherboards from ASUS, this one features Express Gate, an operating system stored inside the motherboard read-only memory that allows you to access the Internet without needing to load the operating system or even without having a hard disk drive installed.
In Figure 11, you can see all the accessories that come with ASUS P7P55D PRO.
ASUS P7P55D PRO offers a myriad of overclocking options. A really unique feature from this board is the presence of a physical memory overvoltage switch to prevent you from increasing the voltage from the memories above 2 V. Since the memory controller is inside the CPU, increasing the memory voltages can damage the CPU, so having this physical lock is a great idea. With this switch on you can adjust memory voltage above 2 V up to 2.5 V.
The main options we could see with the initial BIOS release (0209) were:
Memory timings can also be tweaked.
ASUS P7P55D PRO motherboard main features are:
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.
ASUS P7P55D PRO has some advantages and some disadvantages over other P55-based socket LGA1156 motherboards on the same price range.
The most obvious advantage is the support for SLI, the presence of three x16 PCI Express 2.0 slots (although they run at lower speeds when more than one video card is used) support for RAID, use of only solid capacitors and a high-end voltage regulator. It also brings the unique memory compatibility test (MemOK!) and way more overclocking options than other boards on the same price range, plus the interesting idea of adding a physical switch for limiting memory overvoltage and thus preventing users from frying their CPUs.
Another highlight from ASUS P7P55D PRO is its professional grade on-board audio, which will allow you to edit analog audio sources without practically non-existent white noise, due to its high signal-to-noise ratio (100 dB). Translation: you can use this board to professionally edit audio without the need of buying an add-on sound card.
But we missed some small features on P7P55D PRO that are available on competing products, like a POST diagnostics display, an external clear CMOS button (or at least an on-board clear CMOS button), on-board power and reset buttons and a buzzer.
In summary, it is a good mid-range motherboard supporting SLI for the new socket LGA1156 processors, but some users may feel they need even more features. If this is your case, then you will have to go with a more expensive model.