Welcome back to our Motherboard Memory Lane series on HWBOT, a series of short articles that examine specific motherboard and CPU platforms from the not too distant past. The idea is look at the chipsets that helped define these platforms, the motherboards and CPUs that were popular with HWBOT members, plus a look at some of the records broken around that time.
Today the focus is on the Intel P55 chipset, a platform that heralded the arrival of the PCH or Platform Hub Controller, a change that (among several other things) saw the end of the traditional Northbridge / Southbridge chipset design. The platform also arrived with the first major change in socket design for several years and a change in the way discrete graphics card bandwidth and other features were delivered. Let’s look at the Intel P55 platform in a little more detail:
Intel P55: Overview
The Intel P55 Express PCH was officially launched on September 8th 2009, replacing the Intel P45 as the company’s mainstream desktop platform. It was joined by H55 Express, H57 Express, B55 Express and Q55 Express alternatives. As with previous Chipset families the P-nomenclature again indicated ‘Performance’, or ‘Premium’ if you prefer. In terms of features it differed from other members of the 5-Series family by being the only model that did not include Intel GMA HD Graphics. The omission of integrated graphics from a motherboard perspective assumed that enthusiasts who preferred to use discrete GPU solutions would also prefer to have the back panel IO populated with connectivity options, not display outputs.
The P55 PCH arrived with a whole new batch of Intel CPUs that today would be referred to as the 1st generation of Intel Core series. These Core i5 and i7 CPUs were collectively codenamed the Lynnfield processor series and were a variants of the new Nehalem architecture that debuted on Bloomfield chips several months earlier(the topic of next week’s article). The new architecture was unique in that it moved several crucial features away from the Chipset, directly to the CPU itself – most notably the PCI Express 2.0 lanes and the memory controller.
Unlike Bloomfield series processors which used triple channel DDR3, Lynnfield processors featured an integrated memory controller that was limited to dual channel DDR3 memory with speeds of up to 1,33MHz supported. In terms of PCI Express connectivity, Lynnfield processors offered 16 lanes of gen 2.0 PICe direct from the CPU. This could be configured as as a single x16 link for a single slot, or a pair of x8 links for two graphics cards. As with the preceding X58 platform, SLI certification was available, with motherboard vendors paying Nvidia for licenses on a per-board basis. ATi Crossfire multi-GPU configurations were available license free. The x16 lanes of PCIe 2.0 available directly from the CPU were basically dedicated to giving graphics cards ample bandwidth. The P55 PCH itself offered sufficient connectivity for other expansion slots and peripherals via eight gen 2.0 PCIe lanes.
The Intel P55 PC connected to the CPU using a 2GB/s DMI connection similar to that used to connect North and Southbridge chips in previous generations.It was manufactured using the more efficient 65nm process, had a smaller die of just 8.5 x 9mm and a TDP of only 4.7 watts.
Most Popular Intel P55 Motherboards
If we step back in time and take an historical look at the P55 era from the view of motherboards, find that once again ASUS were the most popular brand in terms of overall overclocking submissions. However we do see the arrival of two brands that are new to our top ten list. Let’s check out the top ten motherboards of the P55 era:
- -ASUS Maximus III Formula – 9.13%
- -EVGA P55 FTW – 7.18%
- -MSI P55-GD65 – 5.63%
- -EVGA P55 Classified 200 – 5.00%
- -GIGABYTE P55A-UD7 – 4.33%
- -MSI P55-GD80 – 4.19%
- -ASUS P7P55D Deluxe – 4.09%
- -ASUS Maximus III Gene – 3.94%
- -GIGABYTE P55-UD5 – 3.08%
- -GIGABYTE P55-UD6 – 3.06%
One thing that is immediately apparent in this era is that there are more vendors taking a share of the top ten mainstream platform space. EVGA and MSI are well represented with two boards each in the top ten. The remaining six spaces on the list are divided between ASUS and GIGABYTE with three boards each. The Maximus III Formula again underlines the strength of the ASUS ROG brand, as does the Maximus III Gene which was one of the first micro-ATX form factor boards to be adorned with Republic of Gamers branding.
The ASUS ROG Maximus III Formula was one of the first motherboards to feature the signature red and black coloring that we now associate with ROG products. The board supported higher memory frequency support than most alternatives including 2,133MHz, 2,000MHz and 1,800Mhz profiles. The board’s BIOS featured an Extreme Tweaker section designed specifically for Overclocking which included the ability to save OC profiles.
Most Popular Intel P55 Compatible Processor: Intel Core i5 750
When we look at the processors used on the Intel P55 platform we can identify one stand out model, and surprisingly it does not belong to the Core i7 family. The Core i5 750 proved to be most popular, being used in 28.13% of all P55 submissions. In terms of member ownership, it proves to be even more popular with 38.23% of all HWBOT members making a submission with an i5 750 at some point.
The Core i5 750 is a quad-core, four thread processor with a base clock of 2.66GHz which could turbo up to 3.2GHz. Based on the Lynnfield variant of the Nehalem architecture, it used the new 1156 LGA socket, was manufactured using the 45nm process and a had reasonably low TDP of 95 watts. Initially retailing at around $200 USD it’s easy to see why it was a popular choice among enthusiasts.
Looking at the more expensive Core i7 space we find that the Core i7 860 is in fact the second most popular processor of the P55 era in terms of submissions. The Core i7 860 was in fact used in 18.25% of all P55 platform submissions. The Core i7 860 was not however the flagship model of the Core i7 lineup in September 2009. The Core i7 870 was the most expensive Lynnfield model at launch and retailed at around $560 USD compared to the Core i7 860 which could be had for around $280 USD – this fact doubtlessly explains why the Core i7 870 featured in only 6.71% of all P55 submissions.
It’s also crucial to consider that the Intel X58 platform and Bloomfield i7 processors were a strong alternative to the P55 platform and its Lynnfield processor offerings at this time. If you wanted to spend more cash and enjoy flagship performance, the P55 platform was in most cases not the best option. However, as a solid performing quad-core offering, the Core i5 750 was clearly a huge hit with enthusiasts and overclockers in this era.
ASUS Maximus III Formula: Record Scores
We now take a look at the highest scores posted using the most popular P55 platform motherboard, the ASUS Maximus III Formula.
Back in 2009 the job of overclocking a processor remained linked to raising the motherboard’s reference clock. As with all overclocking however, thermal and voltage constraints plus the availability of settings in the motherboard’s BIOS would ultimately determine the upper limitations of the reference clock, and therefore the CPU clock.
The highest reference clock submitted on HWBOT using an ASUS ROG Maximus III Formula came from Hungarian Elite overclocker Achill3uS. He managed a reference clock of 294.32MHz using a Clarkdale-based Intel Core i5 655K with a multiplier of x16 and a clock of 4,709MHz.
Here’s a shot of the rig as used by Achill3uS:
You can find the submission from Achill3uS here on HWBOT: http://hwbot.org/submission/1069818_achill3us_reference_frequency_maximus_iii_formula_294.32_mhz
Even though today we don’t pay too much heed to raw CPU frequencies or treat them as true benchmarks, in era of the P55 PCH it remained an important performance metric for most overclockers.The highest CPU frequency ever submitted to HWBOT using the ASUS Maximus III Formula came from America’s Dentlord who managed to push a Core i5 655K to a massive 6,860.32MHz, +114.38% beyond stock settings.
You can find the submission from Dentlord here: http://hwbot.org/submission/1056416_dentlord_cpu_frequency_core_i5_655k_6860.32_mhz
Finally we come to the classic SuperPi 32M benchmark, one of the most important in terms of historical relevance. The fastest SuperPi 32M run submitted on HWBOT using an ASUS Maximus III Formula was submitted by Germany’s Otterauge who managed to complete a run in just 6min 50sec 234ms, using a Core i5 670 pushed to 6,309MHz (+82.34%).
You can find the submission from Otterauge here: http://hwbot.org/submission/971871_otterauge_superpi___32m_core_i5_670_6min_50sec_234ms
Thanks for joining us for our latest trip down Motherboard Memory Lane. Join us again next week when we take a look at the classic Intel X58 platform.