For some us, a standard motherboard just won't do. One or two PCIe x16 slots? Bah. How about 5 or 7? SATA support? Try SAS as well. ASUS has a line of motherboards built for users that are not your typical user but instead are looking for a workstation solution to construct a computer around. The line is known as "WS" and you get two guesses what that stands for; if you didn't get it right then you won't need what they are selling here.
Check out our video overview of the ASUS P6T7 and P7P55 WS motherboard to see how the other half lives.
Still want more? I have included some pictures of these motherboards as well for those of you adverse to video (or me I guess) along with some specifications and details on the workstation offerings.
The ASUS P6T7 WS X58 Motherboard
The ASUS P6T7 motherboard is based on the X58 chipset and the ICH10R south bridge and supports pretty much all LGA1366 processors including the Core i7 series and the Xeon 3500/E55xx CPUs.
The motherboard form factor is CEB - not something most of us have heard of but that is used for low cost servers and workstations. That being said, it should have no problems installing in most standard ATX cases but you will want to make sure you have enough room for before making the purchase.
Yeah, this is probably the defining feature for the P6T7: a full 7 PCI Express x16 Gen2 slots! Now, not all of them run at the full x16 PCIe bandwidth of course, but that depends on the configuration of the cards and components installed. The motherboard actually uses a pair of NVIDIA nForce 200 chips to facilitate of this graphical goodness.
Those chips are hiding under here - along with the ICH10R south bridge. This heatsink can get VERY hot as the nForce 200 chips are no slouch when it comes to power consumption.
The Core i7 Bloomfield processors and the Xeon parts listed above all support three-channel memory controllers so there are a total of six memory slots on the board.
Storage is likely very important for workstation users and ASUS is hoping they have done enough here on the P6T7 motherboard for them. The ICH10R supplies 6 SATA 3.0 Gb/s ports (seen here in blue) while a Marvell 88SE6320 chip provides the other two connections that are in fact SAS ports.
ASUS has taken extra care with the P6T& motherboard to make sure that it has enough cooling on the appropriate power regulation sections for a completely stable computing environment.
The processor socket is also surrounded by heatpipe cooling but provides enough room most air cooling solutions.
For our external connections the ASUS P6T7 WS motherboard provides six USB 2.0 ports, dual Gigabit Ethernet, 8-channel analog and digital audio outputs as well as a pair of eSATA connections powered by a Mavell 88SE6121 controller.
One great foresight that ASUS' engineers had came in regards to the included power and reset button dongle. Here you can see that it actually lies flat after going through a 90 degree rotation from the motherboard in order to allow the user to install it even if they have a GPU in that last blue PCIe slot.
Finally, in the box with the motherboard you will find SATA cables, power adapters, SLI bridges for both dual card and three card configurations along with USB/Firewire dongle and case connection adapters.
The ASUS P7P55 WS P55 Motherboard
The ASUS P7P55 WS motherboard is a bit of a different beast as it is powered by the Intel P55 chipset and has an LGA1156 processor socket. The LGA1156 socket was first introduced with the Lynnfield processors unveiled in the fall of 2009 and were a semi-mainstream variant of the LGA1366 processors used in the P6T7 and other X58 motherboards. There is also a line of Xeon processors, the 3400 series, that runs in LGA1156 slots so this board has full support for those as well.
While not as visually impressive as the P6T7 above, the P7P55 Workstation motherboard has more than most other P55 offerings available while remaining passively cooled.
There are a total of four PCIe x16 slots that vary in their bandwidth connection depending on your card configurations. Like the P6T7 above the P7P55 WS uses the power of the NVIDIA nForce 200 bridge chip to expand on the PCI Express capabilities of the native platform but this time ASUS is only using a single one rather than a pair. The reason of course is that the Lynnfield processors that can use this motherboard integrate x16 lanes of PCI Express on-chip and thus there is only a single full bandwidth connection to split up properly.
Only the black and blue slots will properly power high-end graphics cards. The white slots, including the PCIe x1, x16 and legacy PCI are all sourced at the P55 chipset directly and thus the PCIe x16 slow runs at x4 bandwidth.
This board has the unique feature of some internal USB 2.0 ports - two of them located along the bottom of the board. For storage this motherboard only uses the six on-board SATA channels provided by the Intel chipset.
The Lynnfield architecture utilizes a dual-channel memory controller thus a move to an even four memory slots rather than the six in the P6T7 above.
A very similar heatpipe cooling solution to our other previewed motherboard is found surrounding the LGA1156 processor socket.
The external connections on the P7P55D WS include eight more USB 2.0 ports, dual Gigabit Ethernet, a single Firewire 400 connection, 8-channel analog and digital audio outputs and a pair of legacy PS2 ports.
Inside the box we find the necessary SLI bridges, SATA cables, SATA power adapters, USB/Firewire expansion bracket and the other standard inserts.
Both the ASUS P6T7 and P7P55 WS motherboards offer a slightly different set of features and specifications than the traditional motherboard in the gaming market. The P6T7 definitely is impressive for high-end users that are going to want to take advantage of multiple graphics card or other PCI Express-based accessories as it includes a total of 7 PCIe x16 slots along with the X58 chipset and support for the latest LGA1366 processors, including the upcoming Gulftown 6-core CPU. The offers a more standard configuration with support for LGA1156 processors (like Lynnfield and Clarkdale) along with 5 PCIe x16 slots.
Pricing for the P6T7 WS is high at $399 currently while you can pick up the P7P55 WS for $229. Neither motherboard is what we would call "typical" for a standard gamer or PC enthusiast but if you are looking for a very specific use case with needs for this type of connectivity then I think you will be more than happy with these options.
PC Perspective Upcoming Events
1/24 @ 7:00pm PT / 10:00pm ET PC Perspective Podcast
1/25 @ 12:30pm PT / 3:30pm ET This Week in Computer Hardware