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ASUS P7P55D Premium P55 Preview - SATA 6G returns

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Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: Asus
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The P7P55D Premium

Did you know there was a new Intel processor coming out next month?  
Did you also know that along with it will come a new chipset called the
P55?  If not, you haven't been reading PC Perspective at all or just
about ANY OTHER tech site in the world either.  I have personally done
previews of the ASUS P7P55D EVO and ASUS P7P55 Deluxe - both of which were very interesting and feature-rich motherboards. 
(Note we also have done a preview of a Gigabyte P55 motherboard, but
reasons that completely illogical, was asked to take down.) 

One interesting change that we have seen take place since the first
P55 engineering samples we had in-house centered around the inclusion
of brand new storage technology: SATA 6.0 Gb/s or just SATA 6G for
short.  We did quite a lot of research for this updated news piece that covered the removal of the Marvell 9123 chip from basically EVERY motherboard it was placed on - a huge problem for
motherboard vendors needing to revise their design so late in the
game.  Not to worry though - thanks to ASUS we have answers and our
first official motherboard that will actually have the technology for
SATA 6G on board.  More on that as we explore the motherboard.

In terms of product placement, the Premium model will likely be one of the most expensive models available from ASUS, with only the ROG-based Maximus III board priced above it.  The P7P55D Premium, which of course supports the LGA1156 socket for the upcoming Intel Core i5/i7 Lynnfield CPUs, will add support for ASUS Hybrid technology, TurboV EVO and Remote options for overclocking, T.Probe tech for improved active cooling and a very unique Hybrid power phase technology. 

The external remote-looking device you see in this photo is the TurboV remote and gives you hardware-level access to your basic overclocking functions. 

We don't know a whole lot yet about the power configuration on the P7P55D Premium, but you can from the number of chokes  surrounding the processor socket that something VERY interesting is afoot...

There are 4 DIMM slots that support speeds up to 2133 MHz (overclocked) and as high as 1600 MHz officially using the Lynnfield processors.  You can also see the lack of clips on the bottom of the DIMM slots - this prevents any interference with longer graphics cards and installing or removing memory modules.

Just above the memory slots are some manual switches that are meant to both enable and prevent overclocking on the board.  In the disabled position, the BIOS will only allow for a certain amount of voltage adjustments on the CPU, DRAM and integrated memory controller.  When enabled, the full list of options is available to the end user. 

The expansion configuration of the P7P55D Premium includes a pair of x16 PCIe slots that run at x8 when two GPUs are installed, a pair of legacy PCI slots and two x1 PCIe slots for additional peripherals.  You can also see the power and reset buttons, the embedded Linux OS chip for the near instant-boot ExpressGate tech and interesting little chip with a PLX logo on it...hmmmm.  That PLX chip is actually a PCI Express bridge chip that is allowing ASUS to properly implement SATA 6G on the motherboard where other designs and vendors had failed.  I'll go through that issue at the end of this preview.

Speaking of the SATA 6G support, the two white connections here are those very high-speed SATA ports.  The blue connections are powered by the Intel P55 chipset and run at SATA 3G speeds - the four facing the back of the board and the other two below the chipset heatsink.  In this case, that heatsink there is doing double duty - it is cooling both the P55 chipset and the Marvell 9123 6G SATA controller.

The external connections on the P7P55D Premium include legacy PS2 ports, a CMOS reset button, a pair of blue USB connections (that might have one time been USB 3.0 ports but are NOT anymore), both optical and coax digital audio output, six more USB 2.0 ports, a Firewire connection, dual Gigabit Ethernet ports and 8-channel audio output.

The SATA 6G Magic

As I mentioned above, ASUS has figured out, apparently, how to get around the issues with integration of the Marvell 9123 SATA 6G chip.  Remember that nearly all the motherboards from ASUS, MSI and Gigabyte were originally going to include this technology - it was one of the many reasons we were really excited about the P55 and Lynnfield platform launch. 

This is explanation for the previous problem with the Marvell 9123 integrations: when only using a single PCIe 1.0 x1 connection for the chip, you were limiting the bandwidth between the storage drives and the P55 chipset to only 250 MB/s.  That's actually LESS than the theoretical performance maximum of SATA 3G speeds.  Obviously if you have a 600 MB/s connection between your hard drive and the Marvell 9123, it would be wasted when only being used through the 250 MB/s bottleneck to the P55 chipset.

The P7P55D Premium motherboard addresses this issue by integrating a PEX PLX8613 PCI Express bridge chip.  Now, using 4 lanes of PCIe 1.0 lanes from the P55 chipset, the PLX8613 has access to nearly 1 GB/s of bandwidth and the PLX provides 500 MB/s of bandwidth over a single PCIe 2.0 connection.  That is the key factor here: obviously the Marvel 9123 chip can only accept a single PCIe connection for data - but it can be either Gen1 or Gen2 PCI Express.  Since the P55 chipset only supplies PCIe 1.0, the most if can offer over a single lane is 250 MB/s; the PLX bridges as many as 4 lanes of PCIe 1.0 to PCIe 2.0 where a single lane provides 500 MB/s. 

So, while ASUS has essentially doubled the speed available to the Marvell 9123 chip, they have done so at the cost of additional logic and traces on the board and without actually meeting the 600 MB/s theoretical speed maximum.  Still, 500 MB/s is still much better than 250 MB/s and I think that users will be able to see a noticeable difference - once we actually get SATA 6G devices out and available. 

These benchmarks were provided by ASUS - so obviously you need to take them with a grain of salt, but the performance claims are impressive.  They don't mention what device they used to test the SATA 6G speeds and we don't know exactly what SATA 3G drive they are comparing it to. 


Initial Thoughts

The ASUS P7P55D Premium motherboard looks to be a very impressive option for users looking to take the plunge into the world of Intel's Lynnfield CPUs next month.  Obviously the inclusion of SATA 6G will be a big selling point but other features like overclocking support and the improved power phase design will also make the Premium offering from ASUS a sought-after motherboard. 

Lynnfield is nearly here and I think we are getting more excited the more of this kind of hardware we get to play with.  Stay tuned to PC Perspective for all the latest!

UPDATE: We now have initial testing results from our first SATA 6G hard drive, the Seagate Barracuda XT.

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