Christmas rig building guide: Gaming with Windows 7
ASUS P7P55D-E EVO
In our labs with us now is the new P7P55D-E EVO motherboard from ASUS, which we will be using for this editorial. This is one of the latest additions to the Intel P55 Express chipset-based board lineup ASUS has. Unlike their slightly more colourful X58 chipset-based boards, the P55 board uses a pretty mild, yet pleasing blue color scheme. You can only find blue, light blue, and light grey on this board (besides the black PCB).
You would probably have noticed that the northbridge has gone missing. The P55 Express is a single-chip solution; basically just a southbrige, and it has been covered by a huge funky-looking heatsink at the bottom-left of the board. The processor communicates directly with the PCI Express x16 slots and the memory. However, when running CrossFire, the two PCI Express x16 slots operate as an electrical x8 pair because there are only a total of 16 lanes available.
The socket is somewhat different from the previous generation’s LGA 775. For the LGA 1156, the socket cover and securing arm open towards the same direction. On to the power circuitry, the P7P55D-E EVO uses a 12+2 phase VRM design; 12 phases are for the Vcore, while the other two phases are dedicated to the integrated memory controller. In addition to the 12+2 phase power, ASUS has what it calls a T.Probe microchip, which is located near the socket. This chip actively monitors and balances power loads across the many available phases on the board to ensure lower temperatures across the VRM and extend its lifespan.
With active monitoring and a rather beefy VRM design, I’m sure this board would more than welcome those who like to push their systems quite a bit by overclocking. In fact, ASUS has an Auto Tuning feature stuffed in the BIOS. You could set a tuning level, then allow the BIOS to detect and adjust settings (which would take 5 minutes), and you have an overclocked machine. There is built-in stability testing; those who have no experience in overclocking and stress-testing need not worry much when using this feature either.
The expansion slots are well sorted. If you were to run a pair of graphics cards with dual-slot coolers in CrossFire or SLI, you would still have a space of one slot in between both cards to prevent heat buildup and poor airflow to the primary card.
Besides the two PCI Express x16 slots, we have three PCI Express x1 slots, and another two PCI slots. Basically you would have no problems plugging in say a PCI Express x16 graphics card, a sound card on PCI Express x1, and a TV tuner card that runs off PCI.
Like all other latest ASUS boards, the D-E EVO utilizes a unique PCI Express x4 bridge chip to provide true USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gb/s support.
Unlike other implementations, you will still be able to get the full bandwidth available from these ports even while running CrossFire or SLI.
Other standard features include a VIA 8-channel HD audio, and dual Realtek Gigabit LAN ports.
This board is priced competitively at $399.
ASUS EAH5850 (Radeon HD 5850 1GB)
With NVIDIA yet to push Fermi (their next-generation graphics card) out of the door yet, ATI with its Radeon HD 5000 series of cards is the only sole vendor that provides DirectX 11 capable hardware.
The AMD Radeon HD 5850 card here from ASUS is just as quick as the fastest single card from NVIDIA. But do take note, the HD 5850 isn’t the fastest single card in AMD’s lineup – that would be the HD 5870. However you’ll have to fork out over $600 for that, compared to $419 for the HD 5850.
Both the HD 5850 and HD 5870 have the same-looking cooler design, but in terms of card (and cooler) length, the former is shorter. The Radeon HD 5850 is clocked at 725MHz core clock, and 1000MHz for its GDDR5 memory (4000MHz data rate). As the HD 5000 series is manufactured on a 40nm process, power consumption is comparatively lower to any of the previous generation cards.
The Radeon HD 5850 uses a two-slot cooling design for efficient and quiet removal of heat fron the card, and out of the system. Display outputs are aplenty with dual DVI connectors, a HDMI connector, and also a DisplayPort connector. Power is supplied to the card via a pair of 6-pin PCI Express power connectors.
The HD 5850 from ASUS comes with an in-house voltage tweak utility. Gamers and enthusiasts can use the ulility to bump voltage further on the card to allow for more overclocking headroom. Performance gains are expected to be near an impressive 40%.
The Radeon HD 5850 supports DirectX 11 straight out of the box and offers stellar performance at a price that won’t break the bank. This card would be great for anyone who is looking to build a future-proof Windows 7 rig.