MBR Review: GIGABYTE A520 AORUS ELITE

“The A520 AORUS ELITE occupies the high-end of A520 based motherboards, yet is still affordable. I picked this one up for a mere $89.99, a relative steal in comparison to most B550 motherboards, and still cost effective over B450 boards carrying a $30-40+ premium. Yes, it gives up overclocking support of the processor. If you’re looking to overclock your CPU, A520 is not the place to be. However, that doesn’t mean you’re entirely limited to stock performance.”

Read the full review here.

GIGABYTE A520 AORUS ELITE Review: A520 Meets ATX

Last Updated: January 26th, 2021
Author: Stephen Cooper

Introduction

AMD’s A520 chipset occupies what could be seen as a crowded space. Now that Ryzen 5000 series CPUs are supported on the 400-Series chipsets, is there really room for the A520? Most would simply look at it and say, no, B450 boards only cost a bit more and you have the overclocking support. It’s a no brainer. Or, is it? After all, if you’re using your rig primarily for work as well as play, do you really need cost up features like 2.5GbE? What about integrated Wi-Fi if you’re parked near your modem or Wi-Fi router? Are you one to shy away from overclocking to retain that warranty, or simply don’t want to invest in an expensive cooler? These factors and more make A520, especially the “premium” A520 boards, more enticing. Today, we have a full review of an enthusiast level A520 motherboard, the GIGABYTE A520 AORUS ELITE.

The A520 AORUS ELITE occupies the high-end of A520 based motherboards, yet is still affordable. I picked this one up for a mere $89.99, a relative steal in comparison to most B550 motherboards, and still cost effective over B450 boards carrying a $30-40+ premium. Yes, it gives up overclocking support of the processor. If you’re looking to overclock your CPU, A520 is not the place to be. However, that doesn’t mean you’re entirely limited to stock performance. Unlike most B450 motherboards, you’re not limited to DDR4-3200. The A520 AORUS ELITE can handle up to DDR4-4266 with the Zen 3 line for example. I know, I know, why would you invest in such a kit when you’re only dropping $90 on a board? And I hear you. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t pick up a budget level DDR4-3200 kit and push the limits if that’s your goal.

Before we dive headlong into the packaging and accessories, let’s take a quick look at the specs, courtesy of GIGABYTE.

Specification Highlights

CPUAMD Socket AM4, support for AMD Ryzen™ 5000 Series
3rd Generation AMD Ryzen™ processors
3rd Generation AMD Ryzen™ with Radeon™ Graphics processors
ChipsetAMD A520
Memory4 x DDR4 DIMM sockets supporting up to 128 GB (32 GB single DIMM capacity) of system memory

AMD Ryzen™ 5000 series processors:
Support for DDR4 4266(O.C.) – 2133 MHz memory modules
3rd Gen AMD Ryzen™ Processors:
Support for DDR4 4400(O.C.) – 2133 MHz memory modules
3rd Gen AMD Ryzen™ with Radeon™ Graphics processors:
Support for DDR4 4733(O.C.) -2133 MHz memory modules
Onboard Graphics1x DVI-D port, supporting a maximum resolution of 1920×1200@60 Hz
1 x HDMI port, supporting a maximum resolution of 4096×2160@60 Hz
AudioRealtek® ALC1200 codec
High Definition Audio
2/4/5.1/7.1-channel
Support for S/PDIF Out
LANRealtek® GbE LAN chip (1000 Mbit/100 Mbit)
Expansion Slots1 x PCI Express x16 slot, supporting PCIe 3.0 and running at x16 (PCIEX16)
Chipset:
1 x PCI Express x16 slot, supporting PCIe 3.0 and running at x2 (PCIEX2)
3 x PCI Express x1 slots, supporting PCIe 3.0 (PCIEX1_1, PCIEX1_2, PCIEX1_3)
Storage Interface1 x M.2 connector (Socket 3, M key, type 2242/2260/2280/22110)
Chipset:
4 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
Support for RAID 0, RAID 1, and RAID 10
USB1 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A port (red) on the back panel
3 x USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports on the back panel
Chipset:
2 x USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports available through the internal USB header
4 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports available through the internal USB headers
4 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports on the back panel
Internal I/O1 x 24-pin ATX main power connector
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V power connector
1 x CPU fan header
1 x water cooling CPU fan header
3 x system fan headers
2 x addressable LED strip headers
2 x RGB LED strip headers
1 x M.2 Socket 3 connector
4 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
1 x front panel header
1 x front panel audio header
1 x USB 3.2 Gen 1 header
2 x USB 2.0/1.1 headers
1 x Trusted Platform Module (TPM) header (2×6 pin, for the GC-TPM2.0_S module only)
1 x serial port header
1 x Clear CMOS jumper
1 x Q-Flash Plus button
Back Panel I/O1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse port
1 x DVI-D port
1 x HDMI port
1 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A port (red)
3 x USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports
4 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
1 x RJ-45 port
1 x optical S/PDIF Out connector
5 x audio jacks
Form FactorATX Form Factor; 30.5cm x 24.4cm

GIGABYTE A520 AORUS ELITE: Snap Preview

Last Updated: January 11th, 2021
Author: Stephen Cooper

Introduction

AMD’s A520 chipset occupies what could be seen as a crowded space. Now that Ryzen 5000 series CPUs are supported on the 400-Series chipsets, is there really room for the A520? Most would simply look at it and say, no, B450 boards only cost a bit more and you have the overclocking support. It’s a no brainer. Or, is it? After all, if you’re using your rig for work as well as play, do you really need cost up features like 2.5GbE? What about integrated Wi-Fi if you’re parked near your modem or router? Are you one to shy away from overclocking to retain that warranty, or simply don’t want to invest in an expensive cooler? These factors and more make A520, especially the “premium” A520 boards, more enticing. Today, we have a quick preview of an enthusiast level A520 motherboard, the GIGABYTE A520 AORUS ELITE.

The A520 AORUS ELITE occupies the high-end of A520 based motherboards. I picked this one up for a mere $89.99, a relative steal in comparison to most B550 motherboards, and still cost effective over B450 boards. Yes, it gives up overclocking support of the processor. However, that doesn’t mean you’re limited to stock performance. Unlike most B450 motherboards, you’re not limited to DDR4-3200. The A520 AORUS ELITE can handle up to DDR4-4266. I know, I know, why would you invest in such a kit when you’re only dropping $90 on a board? And I hear you. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t pick up a budget level DDR4-3200 kit and make it scream.

While this is one overclocking method that’s enabled by the A520 chipset, you do need to take into account that pesky stock CPU PPT limit. While you’re not pushing the SoC on a processor like the 5600X this board was tested with, ramping up that DDR and Infinity Fabric clock will consume a few extra watts. That means on high core count loads, you’ll end up giving up a bit of performance depending on how far you push it in frequency and voltage. Finding that right balance is the fun of the game.

Now, for this preview, and review, I’m focusing on performance with a Ryzen 5600X. Will most picking up this board want to sink that much cash into a processor? Probably not. You’d likely be heading down a route closer to a Ryzen 3600 if you’re going for a APU-less chip. A520 will allow for upgrades in the future to the Zen 3 line though. Some may also want to pair this up with any future Zen 3 + APU chip as well.

Before we delve into a quick look at the board, here’s a quick glance at the specs, courtesy of GIGABYTE.

Specifications – A Quick Look

CPUAMD Socket AM4, support for AMD Ryzen™ 5000 Series / 3rd Generation AMD Ryzen™ processors / 3rd Generation AMD Ryzen™ with Radeon™ Graphics processors(Please refer “CPU Support List” for more information.)
ChipsetAMD A520
Memory4 x DDR4 DIMM sockets supporting up to 128 GB (32 GB single DIMM capacity) of system memory
AMD Ryzen™ 5000 series processors:
Support for DDR4 4266(O.C.) / 4000(O.C.) / 3866(O.C.) / 3800(O.C.) / 3733(O.C.) / 3600(O.C.) / 3466(O.C.) / 3400(O.C.) / 3333(O.C.) / 3300(O.C.) / 3200 / 2933 / 2667 / 2400 / 2133 MHz memory modules
3rd Gen AMD Ryzen™ Processors:
Support for DDR4 4400(O.C.) / 4000(O.C.) / 3600(O.C.) / 3333(O.C.) / 3200 / 2933 / 2667 / 2400 / 2133 MHz memory modules
3rd Gen AMD Ryzen™ with Radeon™ Graphics processors:
Support for DDR4 4733(O.C.) / 4600(O.C.) / 4400(O.C.) / 4000(O.C.) / 3600(O.C.) / 3333(O.C.) / 3200 / 2933 / 2667 / 2400 / 2133 MHz memory modules
Dual channel memory architecture
Support for ECC Un-buffered DIMM 1Rx8/2Rx8 memory modules
Support for non-ECC Un-buffered DIMM 1Rx8/2Rx8/1Rx16 memory modules
Support for Extreme Memory Profile (XMP) memory modules(Please refer “Memory Support List” for more information.)
Onboard GraphicsIntegrated in the 3rd Generation AMD Ryzen™ with Radeon™ Graphics processors:1 x DVI-D port, supporting a maximum resolution of 1920×1200@60 Hz
* The DVI-D port does not support D-Sub connection by adapter.
1 x HDMI port, supporting a maximum resolution of 4096×2160@60 Hz
* Support for HDMI 2.1 version, HDCP 2.3, and HDR.Maximum shared memory of 16 GB
AudioRealtek® ALC1200 codec
High Definition Audio
2/4/5.1/7.1-channel
Support for S/PDIF Out
LANRealtek® GbE LAN chip (1000 Mbit/100 Mbit)
Expansion Slots (CPU)1 x PCI Express x16 slot, supporting PCIe 3.0 and running at x16 (PCIEX16)
* For optimum performance, if only one PCI Express graphics card is to be installed, be sure to install it in the PCIEX16 slot.Chipset:
1 x PCI Express x16 slot, supporting PCIe 3.0 and running at x2 (PCIEX2)
3 x PCI Express x1 slots, supporting PCIe 3.0 (PCIEX1_1, PCIEX1_2, PCIEX1_3)
* The PCIEX1_2 and PCIEX1_3 slots share bandwidth with the PCIEX2 slot. The PCIEX2 slot becomes unavailable when a device is installed in the PCIEX1_2 or PCIEX1_3 slot.
Storage Interface (CPU)1 x M.2 connector (Socket 3, M key, type 2242/2260/2280/22110 SATA and PCIe 3.0 x4/x2 SSD support)Chipset:
4 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
Support for RAID 0, RAID 1, and RAID 10
USB (CPU)1 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A port (red) on the back panel
3 x USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports on the back panelChipset:
2 x USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports available through the internal USB header
4 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports available through the internal USB headers
4 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports on the back panelChipset+USB 2.0 Hub:
Internal I/O Connectors1 x 24-pin ATX main power connector
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V power connector
1 x CPU fan header
1 x water cooling CPU fan header
3 x system fan headers
2 x addressable LED strip headers
2 x RGB LED strip headers
1 x M.2 Socket 3 connector
4 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
1 x front panel header
1 x front panel audio header
1 x USB 3.2 Gen 1 header
2 x USB 2.0/1.1 headers
1 x Trusted Platform Module (TPM) header (2×6 pin, for the GC-TPM2.0_S module only)
1 x serial port header
1 x Clear CMOS jumper
1 x Q-Flash Plus button
Back Panel Connectors1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse port
1 x DVI-D port
1 x HDMI port
1 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A port (red)
3 x USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports
4 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
1 x RJ-45 port
1 x optical S/PDIF Out connector
5 x audio jacks
I/O ControlleriTE® I/O Controller Chip
H/W MonitoringVoltage detection
Temperature detection
Fan speed detection
Water cooling flow rate detection
Overheating warning
Fan fail warning
Fan speed control
* Whether the fan speed control function is supported will depend on the cooler you install.
Unique FeaturesSupport for APP Center
* Available applications in APP Center may vary by motherboard model. Supported functions of each application may also vary depending on motherboard specifications.
@BIOS
EasyTune
Fast Boot
Game Boost
ON/OFF Charge
RGB Fusion
Smart Backup
System Information Viewer
Support for Q-Flash Plus
Support for Q-Flash
Support for Xpress Install
Bundled SoftwareNorton® Internet Security (OEM version)
Realtek® 8118 Gaming LAN Bandwidth Control Utility
Form FactorATX Form Factor; 30.5cm x 24.4cm

New Review: ASUS TUF GAMING X570-PRO (WI-FI)

With the recent launch of the AMD’s Ryzen 5000 “Zen 3” chips, we’ve seen a series of revised or upgraded X570 motherboards hitting the market. Today, we’re taking a look at the successor to the popular TUF GAMING X570-PLUS (WI-FI), the TUF GAMING X570-PRO (WI-FI). This motherboard rolls in with a current retail price tag of $219.99. The X570-PLUS (WI-FI) though can be had for $189.99. Are the upgrades between motherboards worth that $30?

Read the complete review to find out.

ASUS TUF GAMING X570-PRO (WI-FI) Review: The X570-PLUS Gets Upgraded

Author: Stephen Cooper
Last Updated: January 8th, 2021

Introduction

With the recent launch of the AMD’s Ryzen 5000 “Zen 3” chips, we’ve seen a series of revised or upgraded X570 motherboards hitting the market. Today, we’re taking a look at the successor to the popular TUF GAMING X570-PLUS (WI-FI), the TUF GAMING X570-PRO (WI-FI). This motherboard rolls in with a current retail price tag of $219.99. The X570-PLUS (WI-FI) though can be had for $189.99. Are the upgrades between motherboards worth that $30? After all, the X570-PLUS (WI-FI) is a known quantity at this point with a solid, cool-running VRM and a price tag that won’t break the bank. The X570-PRO (WI-FI) is based off of the same design, so many of the key factors are shared between boards. Let’s take a look at the ASUS TUF GAMING X570-PRO (WI-FI) and see if the upgrades are really worth that pricing bump.

Official Specifications

CPUAMD AM4 Socket 3rd and 2nd Gen AMD Ryzen™/3rd, 2nd and 1st Gen AMD Ryzen™ with Radeon™ Graphics Processors
ChipsetAMD X570
Memory4 x DIMM, Max. 128GB, DDR4 5100(O.C)/4800(O.C.)/4600(O.C)/4400(O.C)/4266(O.C.)/4133(O.C.)/4000(O.C.)/3866(O.C.)/3733(O.C.)/3600(O.C.)/3466(O.C.)/
3400(O.C.)/3200/3000/2933/2800/2666/2400/2133 MHz Un-buffered Memory
Dual Channel Memory Architecture
GraphicIntegrated Graphics in the 3rd, 2nd and 1st Gen AMD Ryzen™ with Radeon™ Graphics Processors
Multi-VGA output support : HDMI/DisplayPort ports
– Supports HDMI 1.4b with max. resolution 4096 x 2160 @ 24 Hz
– Supports DisplayPort 1.2 with max. resolution 4096 x 2160 @ 60 Hz
Multi-GPU Support3rd and 2nd Gen AMD Ryzen™/3rd, 2nd and 1st Gen AMD Ryzen™ with Radeon™ Graphics Processors
Supports AMD 2-Way CrossFireX™ Technology
Expansion Slots3rd Gen AMD Ryzen™ Processors
1 x PCIe 4.0 x16 (x16 mode)
2nd Gen AMD Ryzen™ and 3rd Gen AMD Ryzen™ with Radeon™ Graphics Processors
1 x PCIe 3.0 x16 (x16 mode)
2nd and 1st Gen AMD Ryzen™ with Radeon™ Vega Graphics Processors
1 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 (x8 mode)
AMD X570 chipset
1 x PCIe 4.0 x16 (max at x4 mode)
2 x PCIe 4.0 x1
Storage3rd Gen AMD Ryzen™ Processors :
1 x M.2 Socket 3, with M Key, Type 2242/2260/2280/22110(PCIE 4.0 x4 and SATA modes) storage devices support
2nd Gen AMD Ryzen™/3rd, 2nd and 1st Gen AMD Ryzen™ with Radeon™ Graphics Processors :
1 x M.2 Socket 3, with M Key, Type 2242/2260/2280/22110(PCIE 3.0 x4 and SATA modes) storage devices support
AMD X570 chipset :
1 x M.2 Socket 3, with M Key, Type 2242/2260/2280/22110(PCIE 4.0 x4 and SATA modes) storage devices support
8 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s)
Support Raid 0, 1, 10
LANIntel® I225-V 2.5Gb Ethernet
ASUS Turbo LAN Utility
TUF LANGuard
Wireless Data NetworkIntel® Wi-Fi 6 AX200
2×2 Wi-Fi 6 (802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax) support 1024QAM/OFDMA/MU-MIMO
Supports up to 2.4Gbps max data rate
Supports dual band frequency 2.4/5 GHz
Supports channel bandwidth: HT20/HT40/HT80/HT160
Supports PCIe interface
BluetoothBluetooth v5.1*
*BT 5.1 function will be ready in Windows 10 build 19041 or later.
AudioRealtek® ALC S1200A 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC
Audio Feature :
– Exclusive DTS Custom for GAMING Headsets.
– Audio Shielding: Ensures precision analog/digital separation and greatly reduced multi-lateral interference
– Dedicated audio PCB layers: Separate layers for left and right channels to guard the quality of the sensitive audio signals
– Premium Japanese audio capacitors: Provide warm, natural and immersive sound with exceptional clarity and fidelity
– Audio Cover: Effective shielding preserves the integrity of audio signals to ensure best quality.
USB PortsRear USB Port ( Total 7 )
3 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 port(s)(2 x Type-A +1 x Type-C)
4 x USB 3.2 Gen 1 port(s)(4 x Type-A)
Front USB Port ( Total 7 )
1 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 front panel connector port(s)(1 x Type-C)
2 x USB 3.1 Gen 1 port(s)(2 x Type-A)
4 x USB 2.0 port(s)(4 x Type-A)
Special FeaturesASUS TUF PROTECTION
– ASUS SafeSlot: Protect your graphics card Investment
– ASUS ESD Guard: Enhanced ESD protection
– ASUS Overvoltage Protection: World-class circuit-protecting power design
– ASUS Stainless-Steel Back I/O: 3X corrosion-resistance for greater durability!
– ASUS DIGI+ VRM: Precision control for stable power
– ASUS LANGuard: Protects against LAN surges, lightning strikes and static-electricity discharges!
AURA :
– Aura Lighting Control
– Aura RGB Strip Headers
– Addressable Gen 2 Header
ASUS Exclusive Features :
– AI Suite 3
– Ai Charger
ASUS Quiet Thermal Solution :
– Stylish Design: MOS Heat-sink with dual thermal pads design, PCH Fan, PCH and M.2 Heatsink
– ASUS Fan Xpert 4
ASUS EZ DIY :
– ASUS CrashFree BIOS 3
– ASUS EZ Flash 3
– ASUS USB BIOS FlashBack
– ASUS UEFI BIOS EZ Mode
ASUS Q-Design :
– ASUS Q-LED (CPU, DRAM, VGA, Boot Device LED)
– ASUS Q-Slot
– ASUS Q-DIMM
DIY Friendly Design
– Procool
– SafeSlot
– Digi+ VRM
– Highly Durable components
– ESD Guards
Back I/O Ports1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port(s)
1 x DisplayPort
1 x HDMI
1 x LAN (RJ45) port(s)
1 x Optical S/PDIF out
5 x Audio jack(s)
1 x BIOS FlashBack Button(s)
1 x ASUS Wi-Fi Module
4 x USB 3.2 Gen 1 (up to 5Gbps) ports
3 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 (up to 10Gbps) ports (Type-A + USB Type-CTM)
Internal I/O Ports1 x CPU Fan connector(s)
1 x CPU OPT Fan connector(s)
3 x Chassis Fan connector(s)
1 x AIO_PUMP connector
2 x Aura RGB Strip Header(s)
1 x Addressable Gen 2 header(s)
1 x USB 3.2 Gen2 connector support additional 1 USB ports(20-pin, Type-C)
2 x USB 2.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 4 USB 2.0 port(s)
1 x M.2 Socket 3 with M Key, type 2242/2260/2280/22110 storage devices support (SATA mode & X4 PCIE mode)
1 x M.2 Socket 3 with M Key, type 2242/2260/2280/22110 storage devices support (SATA mode & X4 PCIE mode)
1 x SPI TPM header
8 x SATA 6Gb/s connector(s)
1 x 24-pin EATX Power connector(s)
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V Power connector(s)
1 x 4-pin ATX 12V Power connector(s)
1 x Front panel audio connector(s) (AAFP)
1 x System panel(s)
1 x Clear CMOS jumper(s)
1 x COM port header
1 x USB 3.2 Gen 1 (up to 5Gbps) connector support additional 2 USB ports
BIOS256Mb Flash ROM, UEFI AMI BIOS, PnP, SM BIOS 3.2, ACPI 6.2, Multi-language BIOS, ASUS EZ Flash 3, CrashFree BIOS 3,
F6 Qfan Control, F3 My Favorites, F4 AURA ON/OFF, Last Modified log, F9 Search, F12 PrintScreen, and ASUS DRAM SPD (Serial Presence Detect) memory information
Form FactorATX Form Factor
12.0 inch x 9.6 inch ( 30.5 cm x 24.4 cm )

ASUS TUF X570-PRO GAMING (WI-FI) – Our Preview

Today, we have our latest article. This time, we’re taking our first look at the new ASUS TUF X570-PRO GAMING (WI-FI). This board is a refresh/upgrade from last year’s hit, the TUF X570-PLUS GAMING (WI-FI). There are some cosmetic changes to be sure, like dropping the plastic rear I/O cover in favor of beefier VRM cooling, but there’s also more under the hood that’s been upgraded as well. Before we dig deeper into the product, take a look at our preview to see what’s coming.

12/31 Update – We fired up a 1.25V VCore and 1.00V VSoC at 4.65GHz all-core on our Ryzen 5 5600X to take a look at how the available LLC levels (1-5) impact the load voltage for both VCore and VSoC. Check out the last page of the Preview for the data table. This should be the last update to the Preview before the full review is up. Target date for the full review is Friday the 8th, if not earlier. Enjoy!

Intel DX79SI & Core i7-3960X

..:: Sandy Bridge-E and X79 ::..

Ahh, it’s that time again. Several weeks after a product launch, when the string of products hit the channels and start to make their way into the loving arms of enthusiasts around the world. The Intel X79 chipset is the latest edition of this event, and we’ll be taking a look at it today in Intel’s DX79SI “Siler” motherboard. I can remember back several years when Intel motherboards were consistently written off as stable, but lackluster as best. They were the boring mid-size sedan to others’ high-end sports coupe. This point was hard to argue, but soon things began to change for the better. We started seeing motherboard products that allowed for ever increasing flexibility. Are they at the pinnacle of “tweakability”? No, that post is still reserved for other third party manufacturers. However, with the steady change of pace, we are seeing better and better products for enthusiasts coming out of the Intel labs. Today, we’ll examine the DX79SI “Siler” motherboard with the latest production BIOS and drivers to see just where Intel is headed this time.

I always like to give the manufacturers some time after product launch to work out a few bugs with BIOS updates, driver updates, etc. before conducting a full evaluation, and that holds true today. Both the DX79SI and Core i7-3960X have been on the market for roughly three months now, though during some of that time competing boards were still stocking up in the market. Now that we have several options available, we can use these as a rough comparison in value and features. To give you an idea of the performance of the DX79SI and Core i7-3960X pairing, we will pit these two against our ASUS SABERTOOTH X58 and Core i7-965X. This board and processor combo reached new performance levels when they were tested, and will serve as a baseline for comparison with the X79 platform.

Intel DH55TC

..:: Introduction ::..

With the recent launch of Intel’s Clarkdale processor with Intel HD Graphics integrated into the package, Intel has provided an innovative solution for the needs of the budget end consumer, and the multimedia crowd. Thanks to the capable integrated graphics, Clarkdale offers an excellent solution for a home theater system, or any multimedia system for that matter. To harness the power of these new chips, Intel has developed their media series motherboards with the varying chipset options geared towards the Core i3 / i5 / i7 solutions. Today, we’ll be taking a look at the DH55TC “Tom Cove” motherboard. This board offers a wealth of features, but with a market price in the $99 range, is it a better solution than competing boards? We’ll take a look at the performance of three processors on the DH55TC platform, and examine other market options in a price / feature comparison to find out. Before we delve into the board, let’s rewind back and take a quick look at the H55 Express features, and a quick refresher of Intel HD Graphics.

..:: H55 Express Chipset Features ::..

The Intel H55 Express Chipset has several features that are common amongst all of the i5 and i7 supporting chipsets. The H55 features the Direct Media Interface (DMI) between the processor and the PCH, as well as the Flexible Display Interface (FDI) for processors like the Core i5-661  The processor and FDI support both legacy analog VGA as well as all modern digital connections like HDMI and DVI. The H55 Express Chipset also adds support for an additional 6 PCI Express x1 (or other configuration like 3 x2, 1 x4 and 1 x2, etc.) lanes. It also supports Intel HD Audio, 6 Serial ATA ports, eSATA, a SPI bus for the Intel Management Engine, 10/100/1000 and/or GbE and the customary array of USB 2.0 ports. The block diagram above shows each of these in more detail.

..:: Intel HD Graphics Features ::..

With the new Intel HD Graphics enabled processors, we now have the graphics die on the processor package, greatly increasing the potential performance versus a discrete (G)MCH solution. The Intel HD Graphics solution is by no means meant for what we in the enthusiast community would call gaming. Sure it can handle many of the basics and older DX9 games, but anything beyond that and you’ll be needing a discrete solution. What Intel HD Graphics is meant for is the average Joe looking for support of the Aero features of Windows Vista / 7, Blu-Ray playback support, HD streaming media and movies, etc.

In comparison to the prior GMA 4500 Series, the new Intel HD Graphics processors offer Blu-Ray playback with premium audio and dual decode functionality, Deep Color and x.v.Color, 8×8 polyphase DVD upscaling versus 6×6, HD video sharpness, dynamic frequency adjustment for mobile processors and OpenGL 2.1 support. These newly added features offer a substantial upgrade over what is currently offered in desktop and mobile (G)MCHs and over what you will find in Atom based solutions. Intel HD Graphics offers all features needed to create a true home theater or media PC. Now that we’re familiar with the H55 Express and Intel HD Graphics, let’s take a better look at the DH55TC.

Intel DP55KG / Core i5 750 / Core i7 870

..:: Introduction ::..

In November 2008, Intel launched the Core i7 processor based on a new microarchitecture codenamed Nehalem. This long-awaited microarchitecture brought dominant performance for the Core i7 900 series, but with that performance came at a steep price relative to Intel’s own Core 2 processors. X58 motherboards with prices in the range of $300-$400 USD are far from uncommon. This was certainly a contributing factor to a core component of the market simply being priced out of Bloomfield and X58. Intel recognized this fact, and after some delay has released the Lynnfield Core i5 and i7 800 series processors, as well as a new mid-range chipset dubbed P55. The real question is, have Lynnfield and the P55 chipset come to the rescue of the mainstream market?

It’s well known now that the Lynnfield core has had some features removed, i.e. QPI Links, however Intel has also added features such as an integrated PCI Express 2.0 controller directly in the die. This feature of Lynnfield should help to negate some of the loss of the QPI. After all, one primary use of QPI was previously to link the processor to the X58 IOH. Now that the IOH has been integrated directly into the die, we’ll benefit from lower latencies.

Another change that comes with Lynnfield is the move to supporting only dual channel DDR3 vs. triple channel DDR3 offered by Bloomfield and the X58 chipset. How much of a difference will this truly make in the end? I would initially suspect that there will not be much performance degradation in the shift from dual channel to triple channel when it comes to real world applications. We’ll soon see if this does indeed turn out to be the case.

An astonishing feat of the Lynnfield core is that it turns out it is larger than Bloomfield, yet we’re still seeing these sell at a discounted rate from the Bloomfield processors.Couple this fact with relatively cheap P55 solutions in comparison to their X58 brethren and you have what could be an excellent and affordable solution.

Today, we’ll be taking our look at Intel’s own P55 motherboard, the DP55KG, codenamed “Kingsberg”. This board boasts some impressive features, and as you’ll soon see have an added extra component or two. It’s always fun to work with board that still have debug ports and all of the engineer leftovers. Before I delve into the performance of the board, let’s take a tour around the PCB to see just what Intel has to offer with the DP55KG.

Intel i925XE Chipset / 3.46GHz Pentium 4

..:: Introduction ::..

In the past few months, things have certainly changed direction in the Intel processor design houses. The latest change comes with Intel dropping the 4.0GHz version of the Pentium 4 in order to concentrate on Smithfield, their upcoming dual core processor for the desktop that is set to debut sometime in the mid to latter half of 2005. Certainly, it seems someone at Intel has seen the light and decided against advancing a processor design that has an achilles heel, it’s thermal characteristics.  

With the initial launch of the LGA 775 platforms and processors, there was a real lull in how fast the enthusiast crowd picked them up. At time of launch, there were few solid PCI-Express options, and those that were available were quite costly. There was a substantial amount of DDR-II that soon became available, and the prices seen were quite nice, though that wasn’t expected to last and it’s already making a rebound. Another problem was lack of any third arty cooling solutions. Basically, either you found an LGA 775 capable water block, or you were stuck with Intel’s standard cooler, which isn’t exactly a slouch, or something worse. As time has progressed, and more platforms and capable components have reached the market, the LGA 775 platforms have begun to garner more interest among upgrading Intel enthusiasts.

Another problem many had with the actually i925X and i915P/G platforms were their expensive premium. As we saw when these two platforms were launched, there’s only a minute difference in overall performance between the two. It certainly wasn’t enough to justify the extra costs for upgrading. As cheaper and better boards have hit the market, this too has helped business pick up for i925X and 915P/G motherboards. So, although things were slow at first as I expected, they’re beginning to pick up, and should really start to pick up when PCI-E graphics solutions become more the norm for upgrades over the several months to a year as AMD chipsets debut featuring support for PCI-E.

Today, we see the launch of Intel’s latest incarnation of i925X, the i925XE chipset. Now, as much as anyone would like to tell you, whether it be through marketing or salesmanship, i925XE is nothing more than a glorified i925X with added support for 1066MHz FSB Pentium 4’s, the first of which is also being launched today and you’ll see in action soon. The initial i925X chipset had a built in overclocking lock by our friends at Intel that made 1066MHz a nearly impossible feat even with motherboard manufacturers finding ways to circumvent the problem. Obviously, both these boards and processors will carry a heavy premium, but the real question is, as always, is it worth the extra cash? Well, before we try to answer this question for our adoring public, I’ll be re-hashing the info on the i925X and now i925XE chipsets, as well as covering the thermal specs for the 3.46GHz Extreme Edition CPU. If you already know all of these details, skip ahead to the benchmarks to find what you’re looking for.

 

 

..:: 3.46GHz EE – Thermal Design Power ::..

As we’ve seen time and time again over these past few processor releases from Intel, that three letter acronym that everyone in the computing industry dislikes, TDP, has been growing and growing. The newer “Prescott” cores have been the real culprits putting off tremendous amounts of heat. The older Northwood core Extreme Edition CPU’s have been much better, in our experiences, with keeping cool, but their time will soon come. This new 3.46GHz Extreme Edition CPU carries a TDP of 110.7W, a slight increase over the 3.40GHz EE. The Icc max for the 3.46GHz model is a cool 84.8A. To put these numbers in comparison to similar models, the 3.40EE boasts a TDP of 109.6W, while the 3.40E (550) and 3.60E (560) sport a TDP of 115.0W. The max current draw for the 3.40E and 3.60E processors is a massive 119 Amps, up 41 Amps from the 3.20 and below speed grades.

 

..:: Processor Physical Overview ::..

The processor itself is identical to the other LGA 775 processors we’ve seen to date, slightly larger than the Socket 478 Pentium 4’s featuring a slightly modified heatspreader. The heatspreader on the Socket 478 implementation goes to roughly 1mm from the edge of the package, and then drops down to the surface. On the LGA Pentium 4’s, the heatspreader goes out a similar distance, although the outer edge is lowered down to allow for the outer casing that holds the processor in place once it is mounted. On the bottom of the package, we find all 775 of the gold contacts, along with the various resistors, and capacitors that are surface mounted underneath the processor die. This package looks quite similar to the 478 solution, only larger and pin-less.