We’ll be the first to admit that we were unimpressed by DDR3 when we first tested it last year, but there’s finally a glimmer of hope.
What changed our minds? Asus’s spanking-fast P5E3 Deluxe WiFi-AP@n mobo, which uses the enthusiast-oriented X38 chipset. The X38’s main highlights are apparently useful DDR3 support and PCI Express 2.0 support. We say “apparently” in reference to DDR3 because we didn’t have a DDR2 version of the board for a direct comparison, but from our tests, the X38 with DDR3 is a winning combination. Also good to have but not a proven performance boost yet is PCI-E 2.0, which doubles the bandwidth of PCI-E 1.0 from 8GB/s to 16GB/s. But does PCI-E 2.0 matter?
Maybe. The jury is still out, but one GPU vendor told us he has seen solid performance boosts from it. We couldn’t test this claim because we were unable to lock our PCI-E 2.0 card at PCI-E 1.0 data rates. Of course, you’ll also need a PCI-E 2.0 GPU, such as Nvidia’s GeForce 8800 GT or AMD’s Radeon HD 3870, to see any benefits. The P5E3 Deluxe doesn’t include SLI support, but the board can run two graphics cards in CrossFire mode.
This mobo also sports a no-nonsense Asus design: There are no blinged-out gamer LEDs or crazy wind tunnels. But that doesn’t mean cooling is an afterthought. A heat pipe keeps the ICH9R south bridge cool and also wraps around the north bridge and voltage-regulation modules.
Other notable features include 802.11n-compliant Wi-Fi support, and the superior Analog Devices audio parts over Realtek hardware.
To test the board and chipset, we set up the P5E3 and an EVGA 680i SLI board with identical hard drives, quad-core CPUs, GPUs, and drivers. However, the P5E3 packed 2GB of Corsair DDR3 clocked at 1,333MHz while the EVGA board used 2GB of Corsair DDR2 RAM clocked at 1,066MHz. With the 2.66GHz Core 2 Quad overclocked to 3.3GHz and running on a 1,333MHz FSB on both platforms, we expected to see minor differences between the two boards, but the P5E3 easily outran the 680i board. The big wins came in gaming, where Quake 4 ran about 11.4 percent faster on the Asus board. FEAR and Valve’s Particle Test were also faster on the P5E3 by a comfortable 5 percent margin. In encoding tests, the P5E3 was faster by a shocking 13 percent.
Those are impressive numbers, especially in motherboard land, where clock-for-clock performance increases of 2 percent are viewed as a win. It’s also more impressive when you consider that the P35 chipset in DDR3 trim was slower than Nvidia’s 680i chipset. However, you’ll have to weigh the value of that speed boost against DDR3’s premium pricing. The chipset does not officially support a 1,600MHz front-side bus, but we conducted much of our Core 2 QX9850 Penryn testing with the board’s FSB at 1,600MHz with no additional voltage. Intel, however, hasn’t certified the X38 as capable of officially supporting 1,600MHz FSB speeds. We won’t see 1,600MHz until the X48 ships, probably in January 2008. The X48 launch will make the X38 one of the shortest-lived enthusiast chipsets in recent memory. Should that trouble you? The “unofficial” FSB doesn’t trouble us, but newer is better, and with the X48 launch imminent, the X38 is something of a head-scratcher.
And that’s really a shame, as the P5E3 Deluxe is a great board. It’s fast and solid and packs just about every feature you would want in an Intel system. Unless you’re hung up on getting SLI support, this is clearly one of the best boards available today for Intel.
Impressively fast and stable motherboard.
No SLI support; will soon be replaced by X48 version
EVGA 680I SLI
Valve Particle Test
Quake 4 (FPS)
ScienceMark 2.0 RAM (MB/s)
Best scores are bolded. We used identical 2.66GHz Core 2 Quad Q6700, EVGA 8800 GTX graphics cards, WD Raptor 150GB 10K drives, 2GB of DDR2/1066 RAM and 2GB of DDR2/1333 RAM.