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Intel P55 Motherboard Shootout - The New Mainstream

By Vincent Chang - 11 Oct 2009



Despite our hope that the Lynnfield processors will herald a new wave of mainstream systems, a glance at online prices showed that it's only half fulfilled. The premium P55 boards from the top vendors remain substantially more expensive. One can even find Intel X58 motherboards that are less costly than the US$250 boards we have seen from ASUS and Gigabyte. Of course, the highest end X58 boards continue to be terribly expensive, costing more than US$300, so one could say that these premium P55 motherboards are indeed more affordable than their X58 counterparts.

It's all relative isn't it? Though we highly doubt that mainstream users would be looking at these US$200 and above P55 motherboards and is probably catered for enthusiasts who know their requirements and needs. The ECS P55H-A at around US$120 is more reasonably priced while ASUS, Gigabyte and MSI all have slightly lower versions of what you have seen today in the US$150 to US$170 price range. These boards then are the likely choices for those who are building a truly mainstream system, with the Core i5-750 the obvious choice to pair these boards with.

Yet, there's one good reason to go the P55 route even if you're an enthusiast. And that is the enhanced Turbo Boost feature on these boards. Going with the less expensive Core i7-860 for example, one gets Turbo Boost and HyperThreading, which in quite a few cases, ends up being faster than the Core i7-920. Hence, these enthusiasts would be the ones looking for boards with premium features like more storage or overclocking options.

After looking through the five top P55 boards from these vendors, we have summarized our results in the following table:

Scoring Breakdown
  Performance Features Layout Overclocking Stability Value Street Price (US$)
ASUS Maximus III Formula 4.0 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.0 3.5 250
ECS P55H-A 4.5 3.5 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.5 120
Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 4.0 4.5 4.0 4.5 4.0 4.0 250
Intel DP55KG 4.0 4.0 4.0 3.5 4.0 3.0 210
MSI P55-GD80 4.0 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.0 4.0 210

ASUS Maximus III Formula: There's nothing much to fault ASUS here with the Maximus III Formula. If we had to nitpick, it's that ASUS is trying too hard. No doubt, the company has a reputation to maintain and its ROG series have always pushed the limits with new features. This time, the new ROG Connect failed to connect with us as we couldn't see it being useful to enthusiasts. It adds on to the other hit or miss features that ASUS has implemented on its ROG boards so far.

Fortunately, the layout and other non-overclocking features remain top class, though heat and power consumption were only average. The price too (US$250) is at the highest end so get this board only if the ROG features work for you. If not, ASUS has plenty of other comparable options that perform just as well without the extreme slant.

ECS P55H-A: The least expensive of the five at US$120, the ECS provides great value if you can ignore its flaws. There are plenty, even if ECS has upped its game with more enthusiast friendly features. The most basic of the five boards, even when taking into account of the Intel board, the ECS suffers from a case of being more power hungry than its competitors, which leads to higher board temperatures when coupled with its basic cooling solution.

Its performance however, was a bright spot and its benchmark results surprised the bigger brands. While there are still some minor issues with the layout and features, the ECS P55H-A makes for a decent budget alternative that is price competitive with the mATX models of other brands.

Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6: While ASUS went off with its overclocking overload, Gigabyte has went the other route, emphasizing on the quality and build of its motherboards. A feature packed motherboard that arguably covers the whole gamut of storage options, this is the board for those with a home file or media server. In fact if you're not quite sure if you need more features or not in the future, you might just want to give in and choose this board for its all inclusive features. Plus the fact that it scores on the temperature and power efficiency front are more reasons to choose it.

The Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 was a really close contender for winning this shootout, however a similarly high US$250 price point and some niggling layout issues gave us pause, though for Gigabyte, it does appear to be the more you pay, the more you'll get (not only features, but mass as well).

Intel DP55KG: Frankly, we were quite surprised to find out the price of the Intel DP55KG. Although the company has made an obvious effort to spice up its motherboards to appeal to enthusiasts, it is still some way behind the competition. This is why the US$210 price tag does not suit it in our opinion. This is a board that aspires to be a premium board, but lacks some of the features on the others. The performance was also average, with no outstanding power efficiency to convince us of its value.

MSI P55-GD80: Finally, we come to the last contender - MSI P55-GD80. This is a board that like some of the brand's recent offerings, has a good blend of features for mainstream and enthusiast users. Admittedly, some of its overclocking features are not the most original but MSI has not been tempted to throw everything in. This 'balance' to cater to the more mainstream user while having some allowance for enthusiasts is best exemplified by the new OC Genie.

A one-button solution for the mainstream user, OC Genie can be tweaked further by enthusiasts and the BIOS is as full featured as any from its competitors. Furthermore, MSI's choice of a thicker heat pipe has paid off, with lower temperatures while its power efficiency is above average. Together with a layout design that gave us no complaints, this US$210 board may not be the cheapest but it's extremely competitive with the other top brands. It's no doubt our choice for the best P55 of its class and thus the Winner of our shootout with a nice balance of what's good for both the mainstream consumer and the enthusiast.


Final Ratings
The MSI P55-GD80.


 The ASUS Maximus III Formula.
 The Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6.  
The ECS P55H-A.
The Intel DP55KG. ;
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