|Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 Motherboard: P55 vs X58|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Motherboards|
|Written by Olin Coles|
|Thursday, 24 September 2009|
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Closer Look: Gigabyte P55
Motherboards haven't seen a lot of change in the past two years, and the Gigabyte P55 series looks very similar to previous P35/X38/P45/X48 and especially X58 motherboards they've produced. Intel rightfully retains DDR3 support on the P55 platform, but the channels from three back down to two (a flash back to the Core 2 era). What's uniquely different now is that the motherboard can support 16GB of DDR3 2600+/2200/1333/1066/800 MHz system memory modules spread across six DIMM sockets. Nearly all other P55-Express motherboards use four DIMM sockets, including much of the other Gigabyte P55-series of motherboard, but only the P55-UD6 model enables the user to fill all six slots with mixed RAM-module construction. If all six sockets are populated with DDR3, then the white slots can handle dual/single-sided modules while the blue slots accept only single-sided modules.
16GB of available system memory will really add momentum for 64-bit computing support, but the six DIMM slots might also help optimize current 32-bit systems with smaller 512MB modules. 32-Bit Windows Operating Systems for example, offers a 4GB maximum memory mapping space and anything more is ignored. Since most all PCI-E video cards available today offer at least 512MB of GDDR, it's theoretically impossible for enthusiasts to completely realize 4GB of system memory.
In comparing P55 against X58, you begin to replace 2- or 4GB (dual-channel) kits with 3- or 6GB (triple-channel) kits. There will be more memory available to the system and less waste than if the builder used a 4GB memory kit on their 32-bit O/S, and 3GB is going to be more affordable. Alternatively, the X58 chipset does not retire dual-channel memory mode, so enthusiasts who are already using their favorite DDR3 in one system can upgrade to X58 without purchasing additional memory; the drawback is that dual-channel mode only doubles memory bandwidth while triple-channel mode will (you guessed it) triple the original bandwidth. With support for six banks of DIMMs, the GA-P55-UD6 can utilize enough DDR3 to keep any 64-bit O/S moving along nicely.
The rear Input/Output panel (I/O panel) receives the first major update I've seen in a very long time. The PS/2 port shares double-purposing between either keyboard or mouse, creating enough space to tack-on two Hi-Speed USB 2.0 ports. Gigabyte includes the high-definition Realtek ALC889A audio controller with DTS Connect capability on the P55-UD6. This audio chipset may be integrated, but with a featured 106 dB Signal to Noise ratio over eight channels it is anything but low-end. Digital audio outputs arrive in two varieties: optical and coaxial S/PDIF connectors. Realtek's ALC889A with DTS Connect is meant to enable high quality full-rate lossless audio, and offer support for both Blu-ray and HD DVD.
Although they're different in appearance, the USB and Firewire ports colored yellow are not any different in purpose. When I first discovered them, I immediately though they might be part of the new USB 3.0 technology, and apparently that's exactly what Gigabyte wants me to think. Sadly, these are basic IEEE 1394a and USB 2.0 ports.
Some of the other features don't appear as outwardly obvious on the GA-P55-UD6, such as Green LAN and Dynamic Energy Saver (DES) Advanced. I originally configured the BIOS to enable Gigabyte's Green LAN feature, which is disabled by default, but I came to learn the hard way that if nothing is plugged in (or turned on) to the RJ-45 port it will go into a deep sleep that cannot be recovered from without a reboot (if using Windows XP). Perhaps done to separate their mainstream P55 and extreme enthusiast X58 motherboards, Gigabyte has removed the "Clear CMOS" button, which allows the user to clear the custom settings of their BIOS and start over from scratch.
A total of ten High-Speed USB 2.0 ports populate the rear I/O panel, with another four available from two mainboard header connections. The Texas Instruments TSB43AB23 processor allows three total IEEE-1394a Firewire ports are available on the P55-UD6, with two on the I/O panel and one more via the IEEE 1394a bracket connected to the internal IEEE 1394a header panel. The remainder of the input/output panel is quite busy, with a wide assortment of ports and connections for everything that is connectable by today's standard. Dual Realtek 8111D Gigabit Ethernet LAN adapter ports are supplied, with activity and link speed indicators at the corner of the RJ-45 port.
External SATA connectors are not part of the motherboards I/O panel, however Gigabyte has included one SATA expansion bracket with the GA-P55-UD6 motherboard kit. There are two eSATA ports available with a 4-pin Molex power connector between them for a total of two eSATA ports. In regards to standard integrated SATA ports, the P55-UD6 motherboard offers six Intel ICH10R (colored blue) Southbridge ports capable of RAID-0, 1, 5, and 10. Along side the six ICH10R ports are another four SATA-II connections from JMicron JMB362 controllers (colored white) which support RAID-0, 1, and JBOD.
One particular note of interest is the orientation of all eight SATA ports, which utilize transverse-mount connections to stem cables off to the side of the motherboard. This layout works extremely well for all modern video cards, especially the larger GeForce GTX 285 and Radeon HD 4870 X2 video cards which occupy multiple expansion slots. This design has been corrected from a flaw we pointed out on the GA-EP45T-EXTREME, which rendered four of the six SATA ports unusable when a large graphics card was installed.
The motherboard's 'Clear CMOS' and 'Reset Switch' buttons are located above and below the only PATA-133 interface available (pictured above). Gigabyte makes it convenient for hardware enthusiasts to tweak the motherboard without having to reach for a power button, or even have the unit installed inside a computer case. By adding a reset and power button switch directly on the motherboard, overclockers can make quick changes and simply press the closest button.
One particular feature the P55-Express chipset preserves in the marriage of CrossFireX and SLI support on the same motherboard. Gigabyte builds three PCI-Express 2.0 ports into the GA-P55-UD6: but only the first slot offers 16x lanes, the second is an 8x slot, and the third is 4x. Although 16-lanes per PCI-E port would be most ideal for SLI or CrossFireX configurations, the second graphics adapter really doesn't come close to bandwidth saturation and should not see any measure of reduced performance with most video games.
The newly designed socket LGA1156 mounting system uses a latch-and-compress method of securing the processor in place. The hinged edge has been removed from the design, and allows a new technique for CPU installation.
Surrounding the processor socket are several high-quality CPU power modules that utilize ferrite core chokes to minimize electromagnetic (and radio) interference signal noise and create a cleaner electrical circuit and comprise the finer points of Ultra Durable 3. A lower Resistance from Drain to Source rDS (ON) MOSFET array allows for transitional power steps, which is the heart of Gigabytes DES Advanced feature. Japanese manufactured SMD solid state capacitors, which contain a solid organic polymer and lower equivalent series resistance (ESR), are implemented throughout this board and will likely outlast the useful life of the Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 LGA1156 Core i5 motherboard.
Please continue on towards the next section, which how Benchmark Reviews will go about testing Gigabyte's top-of-the-line GA-P55-UD6 motherboard.