Motherboard Guide

Intel P55 Motherboard Shootout - The New Mainstream

Intel P55 Motherboard Shootout - The New Mainstream



Hail to the New Intel Mainstream

Hail to the New Intel Mainstream

Intel's much awaited mainstream CPU successor to its Core 2 series finally hit the streets last month with three different processor models. In case you're still in the dark about these new processors, you should know that although they are based on the same Nehalem microarchitecture as the Core i7 (Bloomfield), there have been significant changes under the hood, of which (if you can only remember one thing), a new pin-count requiring a new socket (LGA1156) is probably the nugget to take away from our article on the Lynnfield.

The other major news is that Lynnfield indeed lives up to its promise as the mainstream CPU we have been hoping. Intel's Bloomfield Core i7 may remain the most powerful processor in the universe (as Intel likes to remind us), but for the majority of users, the Core 2 is plenty of power already. The new Lynnfield processors manages to top the Core 2 significantly while remaining relatively affordable; in fact, for everyday usage, it's more than competitive with the slower Bloomfield Core i7s thanks to its enhanced Turbo Boost feature.

At launch, the lowest end Core i5-750 is just under US$200, with the Core i7-860 at around US$285 and the highest Core i7-870 at about US$555. So for those looking for a new performance mainstream machine, a Lynnfield processor is a good start. But of course, the processor is but one part of the 'trinity' at the heart of a PC.

The other two are memory and the motherboard. And there are more good news for consumers, as DDR3 memory prices have been on the downwards slide. For choices and recommendations of some of the best DDR3 1600MHz memory, we've got a pretty good showdown article. The last part of the equation is the Intel P55 Express chipset, which is the focus of our article today.

This new chipset represents a rather drastic shift in Intel's chipset topology, with the North and Southbridge divide gone and replaced with a single Platform Controller Hub (PCH) that handles the I/O like the old Southbridge. PCI Express graphics controller meanwhile is now handled by the CPU, which following the addition of a memory controller in Bloomfield, gets loaded with an internal PCIe graphics controller hub for Lynnfield.

As you can imagine, it appears to make things a lot simpler for motherboard vendors, though given Lynnfield's mainstream nature, the graphics PCIe lanes are unsurprisingly more modest: a single GPU installed will get the full 16 lanes of bandwidth but a dual-GPU (both CrossFireX and SLI are supported depending on the motherboard vendor) system will be configured in a x8/x8 arrangement. For the typical consumer, it's more than adequate.

Therefore, with the Lynnfield processor and P55 combo looking likely to be in most of the new PCs for the rest of the year and the next, we have decided to snag the top P55 motherboards from some of the bigger brands around and put them through our comprehensive testing and comparison. This time round, we managed to get offerings from ASUS, ECS, Gigabyte, MSI and of course, Intel's own retail desktop motherboard kit. Could one of them be your next motherboard? Find out in the following pages.