Computer hardware always evolves, and in the interest of making lives more productive technology continues to advance. Gigabyte has recently launched their P55-A series of motherboards on the Intel P55-Express chipset, which incorporate a new 3-3-3 theme of features: Super-Speed USB 3.0 and 3x the USB power output, as well as SATA-3.0 for 6Gbps bandwidth. In this article, Benchmark Reviews tests the Gigabyte GA-P55A-UD6 and inspects the new SATA-6G functionality in-depth. Performance will be measured between the Intel Core i7-860 fitted to the LGA1156 socket on the Gigabyte GA-P55A-UD6 motherboard and the Core i7-920 equipped GA-EX58-UD4P. Testing a Core i7-860 against an i7-920 might not seem fair, and it’s a little biased to compare P55 against X58, but the final outcome might just surprise you.
For computer enthusiasts, the last Intel milestone was the Core i7 processor launch that paralleled the X58-Express motherboard chipset launch back in November of 2008. Intel returned to launch the P55-Express chipset for mainstream users around September 2009, introducing a new LGA1156 socket for the Core i5 and i7 processors. On the outside little more than the processor socket and memory configuration has changed, replacing dual-channel for triple. PCI-Express now offers only one 16x lane instead of two, while the number of SATA and USB ports continues to give more expansion room than the average user might need. The consumer might not know what to expect when choosing between the two products, other than one is mainstream (P55) and the other is for extreme enthusiasts (X58).
Benchmark Reviews has tested the Lynnfield Core i7-870 and Core i5-750 processors, and we’ve also inspected Intel’s P55-Express motherboard chipset in other articles, but we’ve yet to have a good apples-for-apples look at P55 versus X58. Comparing the 2.8GHz Core i7-860 LGA1156 Lynnfield CPU against Intel’s 2.67GHz Core i7-920 LGA1366 Nehalem processor looks doesn’t seem very fair paper, even more so when you pair them to their rightful P55-Express mainstream or X58-Express enthusiast motherboards. While the basis of this article revolves around a review of the Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 LGA1156 motherboard, the real story here is how one ‘mainstream’ platform can compete with the premium ‘extreme’ platform for enthusiasts. One costs a lot less than the other and Benchmark Reviews puts Intel on the spot to answer the question: are you really getting for your money with ‘extreme’ motherboards?
The new Core i7 and i5 processors are the first Intel processors to integrate both a 16-lane PCI Express 2.0 graphics and a dual-channel memory controller, enabling all input/output and manageability functions to be handled by the single-chip Intel P55 Express. Previous Intel chipsets required two separate chips (hence the ‘set’). A new Direct Media Interface (DMI) connects between the processor and chipset, allowing P55 motherboards to support 8 PCI Express 2.0 x1 Ports (2.5GT/s) for flexible device support. Dual graphics cards are supported in a “2×8” configuration. The Intel chipset also supports 6x SATA 3 Gb/s ports with Intel Matrix Storage Technology providing RAID levels 0/1/5/10. Up to 14 USB 2.0 Ports can be supported with the chipset’s integrated USB 2.0 Rate Matching Hub, along with Intel High Definition Audio for premium digital sound. The new processors are the first to be supported by the new Land Grid Array (LGA) 1156 package and socket technology.
The Gigabyte GA-P55A-UD6 was designed specifically to take advantage of the new socket LGA1156-generation Intel Core i5 and i7 processors using the Intel P55-Express chipset, while also adding SATA 6 Gb/s bandwidth and SuperSpeed USB 3.0 support. Similar to X58-Express motherboard, Quick Path Interconnect, or QPI, replaces the Front Side Bus and is meant to eliminate the communication bottleneck between the processor and chipset. Beginning with the P55 ‘Ibexpeak’ platform, Intel ditches the term ‘chipset’ in place of Platform Controller Hub (PCH).
Intel’s Core i5 and i7-series processors feature an integrated memory controller inside the processor die and supports 1333Mhz (up from 1066MHz in X58) dual-channel DDR3 memory that delivers impressive bandwidth and lower memory latency for incredibly fast memory access. Additionally, the Gigabyte GA-P55A-UD6 motherboard features Intel Turbo Boost Technology, which is able to power down idle processor cores and dynamically reroute the power to the active cores for significant performance boosts, and at the same time, maintain greater energy efficiency.