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ASUS P5K3 Premium Black Pearl Special Edition

ASUS is a company that never ceases to surprise me. It also is a company that is not afraid of taking chances and try new things. Today I am testing yet another high-end motherboard from ASUS with a twist: the ASUS P5K3 Premium Black Pearl Special Edition. As far as I know this is the first motherboard that has on-board DDR3 memory.

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INTRODUCTION

ASUS is a company that never ceases to surprise me. It is also a company that is not afraid of taking chances and try new things. As an example take a look at their motherboards. At one end we have the plain motherboards; cheap, a bit boring but ultimately perfect for the regular user. At the other end we have the expensive motherboards packed with features and new ideas. Their first ROG (Republic of Gamers) AM2 Crosshair motherboard introduced a new small LCD-screen in the back where you could get info about the motherboard (or just write your name). The P5B Premium Vista Edition introduced the ScreenDuo screen. Sometimes these new ideas pay off (who doesn’t love the Q-connector?) and other times they get redesigned (the LCD-screen from the Crosshair was moved to an external unit). But at least ASUS tries to innovate.

Today I am testing yet another high-end motherboard from ASUS with a twist: the ASUS P5K3 Premium Black Pearl Special Edition. As far as I know this is the first motherboard that has on-board DDR3 memory.

ABOUT ASUS

I recently met a group of people from ASUS R&D department for a chat. What struck me at the meeting was how diverse ASUS portfolio is. They provided me with a thick catalogue filled with information about all their products. I quickly realized that regardless of what type of hardware you are thinking of, chances are that ASUS have something for you. This is also apparent when you look at their corporate vision: “ASUS thrives to become an integrated 3C solution provider. (Computer, Communications, Consumer electronics.)”.

“ASUS, a technology-oriented company blessed with one of the world’s top R&D teams, is well known for high-quality and innovative technology. As a leading provider of 3C (computers, communications and consumer electronics) total solutions, ASUS offers a complete product portfolio to compete in the new millennium.

In 2006, the company shipped 55 million motherboards, which means one in three desktop PCs sold last year was powered by an ASUS motherboard. Our 2006 revenues reached US$16.5 billion, and is expected to garner US$23 billion in 2007.

ASUS products’ top quality stems from product development. It’s like learning Chinese Kung-Fu; one must begin with cultivating the “Chi” and inner strength. Besides innovating cutting-edge features, ASUS engineers also pay special attention to EMI (electromagnetic interference), thermal, acoustics and details that usually go unnoticed to achieve complete customer satisfaction. ASUS notebooks are the first TCO’99-certified notebooks worldwide. The requirements for this honor include radiation emission control, energy (battery consumption), ecology (environment friendly) and ergonomics.

To succeed in this ultra-competitive industry, great products need to be complimented by speed-to-market, cost and service. That’s why all 100,000 over employees of ASUS strive for the “ASUS Way of Total Quality Management” to offer the best quality without compromising cost and time-to-market while providing maximum value to all customers through world-class services.

With unyielding commitment to innovation and quality, ASUS won 2,168 awards in 2006, meaning on average, the company received over 5 awards everyday last year. BusinessWeek ranked ASUS amongst its “InfoTech 100” for the 9th straight year. The readers of Tom’s Hardware Guide, the world’s largest IT website, selected ASUS as the best maker of motherboards and graphics cards. Furthermore, the company is ranked as No.1 in quality products and services by the Wall Street Journal. “

FEATURES AND SPECIFICATIONS

The ASUS P5K3 Premium is a motherboard that uses the Intel P35 chipset. The motherboard supports the Intel® Core™2 Quad / Core™2 Extreme / Core™2 Duo / Pentium® Extreme / Pentium® D / Pentium® 4 Processors.

Specifications

  • Support Intel® next generation 45nm Multi-core CPU
    – Intel LGA775 Platform
    – Intel® P35 chipset
    – Intel® Core™2 Quad / Core™2 Extreme / Core™2 Duo / Pentium® Extreme / Pentium® D / Pentium® 4 Processors
  • Onboard memory, 2GB, DDR3 1333MHz
  • Onboard memory feature Guaranteed to overclock above DDR3 1500
  • Pure Copper Heat Pipe
  • 6*SATA/2*SATA on the Go/ 1394a
  • Dual Gigabit LAN

For a full list of the specifications check out ASUS page for the motherboard.

Features

If you scroll down on this page you can see a complete list of the features. I however want to start this section by talking about the feature that sets this motherboard apart from other P35/DDR3 motherboards: the integrated memory, also called TurboD3.

Basically what ASUS has done is to add 2 GB of DDR3 1333 MHz memory directly to the motherboard. There are several reasons ASUS has put the memory onto the motherboard:

  • Improved Timing, command return time is faster for enhanced performance
  • Reduces 50 % clock cycle timing for random data access

Complementing the memory is a new 10-layer design with good power delivery and which improves the signal quality and thus also increases the overclocking ability.

The result is that ASUS can promise that the DDR3-memory on the motherboard will overclock to 1500 MHz and beyond. We will of course test that claim later in this review.

As expected from ASUS, the motherboard is filled with additional features. This is a high-end motherboard, something that is obvious when you look at what is included.

LGA775 Intel® 45nm Processor Ready
This motherboard supports the latest Intel 45nm CPU which introduces new micro-architecture features for greater performance at a given frequency, up to 50% larger L2 caches, and expanded power management capabilities for new levels of energy efficiency.

LGA775 Intel® Core™2 Processor Ready
This motherboard supports the latest Intel® Core™2 processors in LGA775 package. It also can support Intel® next generation 45nm Multi-Core CPU. With new Intel® Core™ microarchitecture technology and 1333 / 1066 / 800 MHz FSB, Intel® Core™2 processor is one of the most powerful and energy efficient CPU in the world.

Intel® P35 Chipset
The Intel® P35 Express Chipset is the latest chipset designed to support the next generation 45nm CPU; and up to 8GB of dual-channel DDR3 1066/800 MHz or DDR2 800/667 MHz memory architecture. It also supports 1333/1066/800 FSB (Front Side Bus), PCI Express x16 graphics and multi-core CPUs.

ATI CrossFire Technology
ATI´s CrossFire boosts image quality along with rendering speed, eliminating the need to scale down screen resolutions to get the high image quality you want. CrossFire ignites with the higher antialiasing, anisotropic filtering, shading, and texture settings you desire. Adjust your display configurations, experiment with your advanced 3D settings, and check the effect with a real-time 3D-rendered preview within ATI´s Catalyst™ Control Center to rule your CrossFire system.

Dual-Channel DDR3 1066
The motherboard supports DDR3 memory that features data transfer rates of 1066/800 MHz to meet the higher bandwidth requirements of the latest operation system, 3D graphics, multimedia, and Internet applications. The dual-channel DDR3 architecture doubles the bandwidth of your system memory to boost system performance, eliminating bottlenecks with peak bandwidths of up to 17 GB/s. Furthermore, the supply voltage for the memory is reduced from 1.8 V for DDR2 to just 1.5 V for DDR3. This voltage reduction limits the power consumption and heat generation of DDR3 which makes it an ideal memory solution.

Turbo D3 The Turbo D3 is an onboard memory feature that provides users with guaranteed memory overclocking above DDR3 1500 and reduces clock cycle timing by 50% for random data access. An innovative 10 layered design provides good power delivery, low latency and a high frequency response that makes it easy to reach higher overclocking frequencies – allowing users to enjoy enhanced performance and faster speeds.

ASUS Super Memspeed Technology
Surpass the Limit with Easy Overclocking Choices
ASUS´s Super Memspeed Technology keeps you one step ahead by breaking through current FSB and DRAM ratio proportions with full support of native DDR3 1333 to match CAS Latency from 7 to 10. With support for future memory trends, your purchase investment is protected; and it is the best stage for overclocking options when compared to other technologies that run at reduced frequencies of DDR3 1066 or require overclocking to reach DDR3 1333. It is also the only technology that allows overclocking to be more convenient and smart – providing better compatibility and granting great performance for 3D graphics and other memory demanding applications. 

New Generation 8-Phase Power Design
Genuine 8-Phase Power Design Excels at Power Efficiency The ASUS 8-Phase Power Design provides highly efficient operation to generate less heat (at least 15°C (27°F)) than other conventional power solutions. It reduces input ripple current and output ripple voltage, which keeps CPU and power module from suffering the risk of high power stress. It has the advantages of quick transient response and stability, especially beneficial when CPU requires more current immediately under heavy loading or overclocking mode.

Up to 20°C(36°F) Cooler – Stack Cool 2
StackCool 2 is a fan-less and zero-noise cooling solution offered exclusively by ASUS. It effectively transfers heat generated by the critical components to the other side of the specially designed PCB (printed circuit board) for effective heat dissipation.

Pure Copper Heat Pipe Lowers Temperatures by up to 16°C
The Pure Copper Heat Pipe design effectively directs the heat generated by the chipsets to the heatsink near the back I/O ports – where it can be carried away by existing airflows from the CPU or a bundled optional fan. This innovative and groundbreaking fanless heat pipe design effectively lowers temperatures by up to 16°C without having lifetime problems that a normal chipset fan has. Furthermore, it provides options for users to install side-flow fans or a passive cooler. This Heat Pipe design is the most reliable fanless thermal solution to date.

Save 50% CPU Power – AI Gear 2
Power Savings for Environment-Friendly Computing
AI Gear2 allows users to choose profiles to adjust CPU frequency and vCore voltage to minimize system noise and power consumption. For example, users can change the mode in real-time in the operating system to max power saving mode and can save up to 50% power for the CPU when using word processing applications.

AI Nap
Minimize noise and power consumption when temporarily away! With AI Nap, users can instantly snooze your PC without terminating the tasks. System will continue operating at minimum power and noise when user is temporarily away. It keeps downloading files or running applications in quietest state while you´re sleeping. Simply click keyboard or mouse, you can swiftly wake up the system in few seconds.

Q-Fan 2
Adjusts both CPU fan and chassis fan speeds according to system loading ASUS Q-Fan2 technology intelligently adjusts both CPU fan and chassis fan speeds according to system loading to ensure quiet, cool and efficient operation.

Uses 100% All High-quality Conductive Polymer Capacitors!
This motherboard uses all high-quality conductive polymer capacitors onboard for durability, improved lifespan, and enhanced thermal capacity.

AI Slot Detector Assists in Proper Installation for PCIe/PCI Devices
When PCIe/PCI devices are installed, users can simply plug in the power cable and find out if these devices are successfully installed. Without even switching on the PC or entering the operating system, ASUS´s innovative on-board LEDs provide an efficient way to identify the correct way to set up the PC.

Q-Connector Make connection quick and accurate!
The ASUS Q-Connector allows you to connect or disconnect chassis front panel cables in one easy step with one complete module. This unique adapter eliminates the trouble of plugging in one cable at a time, making connection quick and accurate.

CrashFree BIOS 3
Simply restore corrupted BIOS data from USB flash disk
The ASUS CrashFree BIOS 3 allows users to restore corrupted BIOS data from a USB flash disk containing the BIOS file. This utility saves users the cost and hassle of buying a replacement BIOS chip.

O.C. Profile
Conveniently store or load multiple BIOS settings Freely share and distribute favorite overclocking settings The motherboard features the ASUS O.C. Profile that allows users to conveniently store or load multiple BIOS settings. The BIOS settings can be stored in the CMOS or a separate file, giving users freedom to share and distribute their favorite overclocking settings.

EZ Flash 2
Simply update BIOS from a USB flash disk before entering the OS EZ Flash 2 is a user-friendly BIOS update utility. Simply launch this tool and update BIOS from a USB flash disk before entering the OS. You can update your BIOS only in a few clicks without preparing an additional floppy diskette or using an OS-based flash utility.

AI NOS™ Boost performance when you need it the most!
Applications such as 3D games and video editing demand a huge chunk of system resource. Inject “nitrous oxide” into your CPU! The patented AI NOS™ (Non-delay Overclocking System) technology intelligently detects system load and automatically boosts performance for the most demanding tasks. Unlike other dynamic overclocking techniques, AI NOS™ reacts much faster to satisfy your unending need for speeds .
Precision Tweaker
Achieve system maximum performance!
It offers ways to raise system performance inch-by-inch and step-by-step to achieve maximum performance! This is about getting the most out of your machine and taking pride in your customized computer.
vDIMM
– Take control of how much power is going into the memory modules. This motherboard gives you 13-step voltage control to the DIMM.
vCore
– Find out “exactly” how much power your CPU needs. Fine-tune it with 0.0125 volts at a time!
SFS (Stepless Frequency Selection) allows
– FSB tuning from 200MHz up to 800MHz at 1MHz increment
– Memory tuning from 667MHz up to 1333MHz at 1MHz increment
– PCI Express frequency tuning from 100MHz up to 150MHz at 1MHz increment

C.P.R.(CPU Parameter Recall)
When the system hangs due to overclocking failure, there is no need to open the case to clear CMOS data. Just simply restart the system, the BIOS would show the previous setting and then users can amend the CPU setting again.

ASUS Crystal
AI Audio 2
Enhance The Audio Experience On Your PC!
AI Audio 2 creates a virtual center channel that expands the overall sound field without introducing a picket fencing effect. Preserving the dialogue or solo performances with downmixing from multichannels will allow you to experience true-to-life high quality audio.

Noise Filter Eliminate background noise while recording
This feature detects repetitive and stationary noises like computer fans, air conditioners, and other background noises then eliminates it in the incoming audio stream while recording.

ASUS Unique Features
Multi-language BIOS
Help you configure system easier and faster
The multi-language BIOS allows you to select the language of your choice from the available options. The localized BIOS setup menu helps you configure your system easier and faster.

MyLogo3 Personalize your system with customizable boot logo
You can convert your favorite photo into a 256-color boot logo for a more colorful and vivid image on your screen.

SATA on the Go
This motherboard supports the next-generation hard drives based on the Serial ATA (SATA) 3Gb/s storage specification, delivering enhanced scalability and doubling the bus bandwidth for high-speed data retrieval and saves. The external SATA port located at the back I/O provides smart setup and hot-plug functions. Easily backup photos, videos and other entertainment contents on external devices.

Dual RAID
The Intel ICH9R chipsets incorporate Six Serial ATA connectors with high performance RAID functions in RAID 0, 1. The JMicron controller provides another two Serial ATA connectors for RAID 0, 1, and JBOD functions. This motherboard is the ideal solution to enhance hard disk performance and data back up protection without the cost of add-on cards.

Dual Gigabit LAN
The integrated dual Gigabit LAN design allows a PC to serve as a network gateway for managing traffic between two separate networks. This capability ensures rapid transfer of data from WAN to LAN without any added arbitration or latency.

ASUS WiFi-AP Solo
Easily Connect and Share Data Wirelessly
WiFi AP Solo allows a new level of versatility for your PC, enabling it to create a complete wireless home network in either AP or wireless client mode. Users will be able to play LAN games, connect to the Internet, access and share printers, and use Skype from anywhere within range. WiFi-AP Solo can provide these functions even when the PC is in sleep mode, so users can use Skype as a true replacement for tradition long distance telephone service. WiFi-AP Solo is an on-board feature, which means that user will save the extra WiFi AP cost.

IEEE 1394a interface
IEEE 1394a interface provides high speed digital interface for audio/video appliances such as digital television, digital video camcorders, storage peripherals & other PC portable devices.

High Definition Audio
Enjoy high-end sound system on your PC!
The onboard 8-channel HD audio (High Definition Audio, previously codenamed Azalia) CODEC enables high-quality 192KHz/24-bit audio output, jack-sensing feature, retasking functions and multi-streaming technology that simultaneously sends different audio streams to different destinations. You can now talk to your partners on the headphone while playing a multi-channel network games. All of these are done on one computer.

S/PDIF-out on Back I/O Port This motherboard provides convenient connectivity to external home theater audio systems via coaxial and optical S/PDIF-out (SONY-PHILIPS Digital Interface) jacks. It allows to transfer digital audio without converting to analog format and keeps the best signal quality.

RoHS & Operation System GreenASUS
The motherboard and its packaging comply with the European Union´s Restriction on the use of Hazardous Substances (RoHS). This is in line with the ASUS vision of creating environment-friendly and recyclable products and packaging to safeguard consumers´ health while minimizing the impact on the environment.

CLOSER LOOK – THE BOX AND BUNDLE

The P5K3 Premium comes in nice looking blue/black box. I personally prefer the look of the boxes that ASUS uses for their motherboards over the boxes they use for their video cards.

The front of the box flips open and reveals a large section describing how the integrated memory works and what is good with it.

It is pretty obvious that this is one of ASUS high-end motherboards when you open the box up. It is absolutely crammed with things. In fact, I had a hard time getting everything back into the box after the review.

Inside the box we find:

  • The motherboard
  • UltraDMA 133/100/66 cable
  • FDD cable
  • 6 x Serial ATA cables
  • 1 x 2-port Serial ATA power cable
  • I/O Shield
  • User’s manual
  • ASUS WiFi-AP Solo manual
  • 3 in 1 Q-connector
  • 1 x 2-port USB2.0 / 1-port IEEE1394 module
  • Optional Fan for Water-Cooling or Passive-Cooling only
  • ASUS WiFi-AP Solo omni-directional antenna
  • CD with drivers and software

It is nice to see ASUS including enough cables to utilize every possible connector on the motherboard.

QConnector

The Q-Connector is simple yet invaluable help in wiring up the front panel. I don’t know how many times I have had to dig up a manual or try to make out the tiny text beneath the front panel connector on the motherboard when hooking up a motherboard to the case. The Q-connector takes away all that pain.

Fan

The chipset fan included is only intended to be used if you use passive or water cooling on the CPU. The reason is that the chipset cooling solution on the motherboard needs the CPU fan to take away heat. If you do not have a fan there you need to add the included chipset fan so you still take away the heat.

The WIFI-antenna hooks up the WIFI card that sits in a special slot on the motherboard.

LAYOUT

The motherboard is completely black. The main feature is of course the fan-less cooling system set up for the North/South bridges as well as for the memory.

The heat pipes are made of pure copper and the design directs the heat generated by the chipsets to a heat sink at the back of the motherboard. The hot air is then transported out from the case, either by the CPU fan or by the supplied clip-on fan.

The heat pipes from the memory go to a separate heat sink at the side of the motherboard, close to the PSU-fan. Again you can add a fan here if you need extra heat removed.

The 6 internal SATA-ports are clustered at the front edge of the motherboard, close to where you usually find the hard drives in a case. The only IDE-connector sits close to the SATA-connectors out of the way from the memory and long video cards.

Something that surprises me is that ASUS has chosen not to include on-board power and reset buttons. I have not yet figured out why some motherboards get it and others don’t. This is a high-end motherboard that costs a lot so it should really have those buttons. While mainly useful when testing the motherboard outside a case I have found it very handy also when I’ve installed a motherboard in some cases and quickly want to test that everything works without having to go through all cables and hook them up. A minor complaint but still something I miss. 

At the back of the motherboard we find the following I/O-ports:

  • 1x PS/2 Keyboard
  • 1 x S/PDIF Out (Coaxial + Optical)
  • 2 x External SATA
  • 1 x IEEE1394a
  • 2 x RJ45 port
  • 2 x USB 2.0/1.1
  • 1 x WiFi-AP Solo antenna jack
  • 8-channel Audio I/O

As this has the WIFI AP Solo you have to make due with the connectors directly back on the motherboard instead of the SupremeFX II add-on card that many other high-end ASUS motherboards have. Both still however use the ADI® AD1988B 8-channel High Definition Audio CODEC for the HD-sound.

The rest of the internal connectors (USB, Firewire) are all situated at the edge of the motherboard making it easy to route cables around the motherboard to reach them.

THE BIOS

The bios of the ASUS P5K3 Premium Black Pearl Special Edition is, as expected, filled with options for overclocking.

vDIMM
– Take control of how much power is going into the memory modules. This motherboard gives you 13-step voltage control to the DIMM.
vCore
– Find out “exactly” how much power your CPU needs. Fine-tune it with 0.0125 volts at a time!
SFS (Stepless Frequency Selection) allows
– FSB tuning from 200MHz up to 800MHz at 1MHz increment
– Memory tuning from 667MHz up to 1333MHz at 1MHz increment
– PCI Express frequency tuning from 100MHz up to 150MHz at 1MHz increment

Another cool feature for the overclocker is C.P.R.(CPU Parameter Recall). This makes sure that in case of a failed overclock, the previous settings are being put back. This means that there is no need to clear the CMOS when the machine does not start. It does however obviously not work if the machine boots into Windows and you then find stability problems there.

HOW WE TESTED THE MOTHERBOARD

The board was tested with the following components:

Review System
CPU  Intel Quad-Core Q6600 @ 2.4 GHz
Motherboards
ASUS P5K3 Premium
ASUS P5K3 Deluxe
Gigabyte P35-DQ6
Memory
Built-in DDR3 in ASUS P5K3 Premium
Corsair TWIN3X2048-1800C7DF G
HDD
1×320 GB SATA
Video cards
ASUS 8800GTS

Optical

Toshiba HD-DVD drive
Operating System
Windows Vista (32-bit)

The benchmarks

CPU and memory 

  • PCMark05 (default, CPU, Memory,HDD,GFX)
  • SiSoft Sandra XII Lite (CPU,Memory)
  • Everest Ultimate 2006 (CPU,Memory)
  • Cinebench 10 (CPU)
  • piMod XS 1.5 (CPU/Memory/System)
  • Create archive with WinRAR (CPU/Memory)

Disk and USB

  • HD Tach RW 3.0.1.0 on SATA drive
  • HD Tach RW 3.0.1.0 on AC Ryan USB enclosure with 80 GB SATA drive
  • HD Tach RW 3.0.1.0 on AC Ryan eSATA enclosure with 80 GB SATA drive
  • SiSoft Sandra XII Lite Filesystem test on SATA drive
  • SiSoft Sandra XII Lite Filesystem test on AC Ryan USB enclosure with 80 GB SATA drive
  • SiSoft Sandra XII Lite Filesystem test on AC Ryan eSATA enclosure with 80 GB SATA drive

Games

  • Company of Heroes (800×600)

OVERCLOCKING

Before we move into the results lets talk overclocking. Usually when I discuss overclocking in my reviews I talk about CPU overclocking. With this motherboard however, it is just as interesting to see how well the memory can overclock, especially since ASUS guarantee that it will overclock beyond 1500 MHz.
I had no problems to overclock the memory up to the promised 1500 MHz (375×7 => CPU clocked at around 2.65 GHz). The system was completely stable even after a few days of continuous testing. I could not get it much higher though as the system started to get unstable at 1600 MHz. 1560 MHz was the highest stable overclock I could get during the time I had with this motherboard.

TESTING – SISOFT SANDRA XII LITE

SiSoftware’s SiSoft Sandra has long been a favourite amongst reviewers for testing and benchmarking components in a system. The program allows you to test each component separately and while the result of course only gives a theoretical performance it non-the-less allows you to spot any bottlenecks in the system.

CPU

As expected there is not a lot of difference between the various motherboards. As the CPU is slightly overclocked when running the memory at 1500 MHz, the scores are slightly higher for that configuration.

Memory

The memory scores are of course more interesting considering that we have one motherboard with integrated memory and two without. Even running at the same speed (1066 MHz), the ASUS P5K3 Premium performance almost 10% better than the Gigabyte and the other ASUS P5K3 motherboard.

Hard Drive transfer speed

We tested the performance of a hard drive using three different interfaces: internal SATA, external USB and external eSATA. An AC Ryan external hard drive ensclosure was used for the USB and eSATA drives.

All motherboards perform similary. The Gigabyte P35 motherboard has a slight edge although it is minor.

Testing the drive using the USB 2.0 interface we see that there is basically no difference between all motherboards. Since they all are using the same chipset it is not surprising.

More and more motherboards now support external SATA-drives making it interesting to see how the performance is. As expected the performance is far more impressive than using the slower USB 2.0 interface. While we do not reach the same performance as we would hooking it up to an internal SATA-port it still is a fast way to connect an external drive. It is possible that the difference in speed also sits in the AC Ryan enclosure. The only result that stands out is the Buffered Write test with the overclocked P5K3 Premium.

TESTING – PCMARK05 AND EVEREST ULTIMATE 2006 EDITION

PCMark05

PCMark05 has been with us a long time now. I am pretty sure it is soon time for a new version but until then this benchmark is an excellent way to test each component and find more bottlenecks.

As expected the differences between the motherboards are minor. The P5K3 Premium performs a bit better in the memory category than the other motherboards again highlighting the benefits of integrating the memory.

Everest Ultimate 2006 Edition

Yet another system testing software that also has some benchmarking capabilities. While the tests do not seem to be as thorough as PCMark05 or SiSoft Sandra (they take just a few seconds to run) they none-the-less should provide us with yet another way to spot any obvious bottlenecks in the systems.

These tests really show some strange results. For the Gigabyte motherboard I noticed that the CPU never switched to full speed when running the Photoworx and the ZLib tests. Even though SpeedStep is turned off in the bios, all motherboards run the CPU at 1600MHz in Windows Vista, occasionally switching to 2400 MHz (seen in CPU-z). As a program/game is run that requires more CPU usage the motherboards start running the CPU at 2400 MHz. What I noticed was that the Gigabyte P35 motherboard never switched up to 2400 MHz in the Photoworx and ZLib test, thus yielding much lower results than the other motherboards.

Just as with the CPU test, the Gigabyte P35 motherboard for some reason refused to kick the CPU into high gear during the tests.

Both in memory read and memory copy situations, the P5K3 Premium has a clear advantage over the other motherboards. Again it is obvious that the integrated solution has its benefits when it comes to performance at the same clock speed.

ASUS claims that the memory latency should be improved with its integrated memory and Everest confirms that in this test.

TESTING – CINEBENCH 10, SUPERPI MOD 1.5XS, WINRAR AND HDTACH RW

Cinebench 10

Cinebench 10 is a real-world test suite that assesses your computer’s performace capabilities. MAXON CINEBENCH is based on MAXON’s animation software CINEMA 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation.

MAXON CINEBENCH runs several tests on your computer to measure the performance of the main processor and the graphics card under real world circumstances. The benchmark application makes use of up to 16 CPUs or CPU cores and is available for Windows (32- and 64-Bit) and Macintosh (PPC- and Intel-based).

No surprises here. Overclocking the CPU helps the performance.

SuperPi Mod 1.5XS

This little piece of software calculates from 16K to 16M digits of pi. This stresses the both the CPU and the memory subsystem.

 

As we increase the number of digits calculated, the P5K3 premium performance slightly better than the other motherboards.

WinRAR 3.71

I created two archives with WinRAR 3.71 and recorded the time it took to create them.

Archive 1: Folder with all the files for Cinebench 10. Total Size: 123 MB.

Archive 2: DivX video (Stargate Atlantis). Size: 349 MB

 

It is interesting to see that the un-overclocked P5K3 Premium manages to perform >10% better than the other two motherboards. I can only conclude that the improved memory subsystem of the P5K3 Premium affects the overall performance for this type of action.

HDTach 3.11 RW

Just as with Sandra, we tested the hard drive performance with HD Tach RW on an interal drive, a drive hooked up through USB and a drive hooked up through eSATA.

Just as SiSoft Sandra showed us, there is no real difference between the motherboards when it comes to SATA-performance.

The same can be said for USB performance although we see that the Gigabyte manages to score a slightly higher Burst performance.

And last but not least the eSATA performance is basically the same on all motherboards. The conclusion is that if transfer rates are important for you, every one of these motherboards will perform fine.

 

TESTING – COMPANY OF HEROES

Last but not least we come to our only game in this test. Gaming performance rarely is affected by the motherboard, instead depending more on the CPU speeed, the memory speed and the video card.

To take the video card out of the equation we ran the built in benchmark in Company of Heroes at 800×600 with all settings set to medium.

As expected the performance is pretty much identical between all the motherboards. Even overclocking the CPU slightly and overclocking the memory a lot does not affect the average score. Instead we see a slightly better minimum framerate on that system.

CONCLUSION

Wow! I am not completely sure what to make of this motherboard (or how to rate it). At the core it is a really good motherboard. As with all their high-end motherboards you get tons of cool features with the motherboard. You certainly will not be disappointed when you open up the box. You also will not be disappointed when you use the board as the performance is top notch. The integrated memory manages to perform a bit better at stock speed and overclocks very well to 1500 MHz giving you even more performance. So what is the problem? I see two main problems with this motherboard; price and flexibility.

Price
The recommended price for this motherboard is around 9000 SEK although ASUS says it should be lower when it comes out in the stores. If the price for a regular P5K3 are used as a template (2200 SEK and 250$) it should mean that the P5K3 Premium should cost around $900 – $1000 in the US. That is a lot for a motherboard. Now of course this is a bit unfair to say as you also get good DDR3 memory that overclocks really well. Similar performing memory costs around $550-$700 depending on the brand (Kingston, OCZ, Super Talent) meaning that if you combine these with a ASUS P5K3 Deluxe (~$250 and upwards) you will have to pay around ~$800 – $950 to get a similar configuration. These prices also are the best I can find for the DDR memory on PriceGrabber while the price for the P5K3 Premium is calculated from the recommended price meaning that the difference could be even higher. So while it is a lot of money the fact is that even at $900-$1000 you actually are getting a pretty good deal, at least if you need to buy memory at the same time anyway. If you already have some DDR3 memory it becomes a lot more expensive. 

Flexibility
My biggest gripe though is the lack of flexibility. The motherboard comes with 2 GB of memory and there is no way to upgrade this to more memory. At a time when 64-bit OS’es are becoming more common and games are starting to demand as much memory as possible (Supreme Commander being a good example) it feels odd to have a motherboard so clearly aimed at the hardcore users which is limited to 2 GB.

I am impressed with ASUS. They are not afraid to try out new ideas in the wild. This is a great motherboard that probably simply has come out a bit too early. DDR3 memory is still very expensive and thus drives the price of this motherboard up beyond what the regular users are prepared to pay. I however would not be surprised if we would see a version in the future where you get integrated memory just as you today get integrated graphics. How about a nice mATX motherboard with good integrated graphics and 2 GB of good ram? Perfect for a HTPC . Or why not a P5K Premium version with 4 GB of DDR2 memory? There is nothing wrong with the idea itself.

Even with the complaints I have I cannot deny that the motherboard performs really well. It is nice to not have to wonder whether the memory will work well with the motherboard or not and be able to concentrate on overclocking the CPU. As you saw in the benchmarks there is quite a lot of headroom for the memory. This means you do not have to worry about the memory when you are looking for the best overclock for your CPU.

Pro

+ DDR3 memory guaranteed to work well with the motherboard
+ Impressive bundle
+ Wireless network included
+ Great performance
+ Overclocks both memory and CPU well

Con

– Expensive
– More than 2 GB memory would have been better
– No flexibility – no way to add or upgrade memory

The ASUS P5K3 Premium Black Pearl Special Edition gets 8 paws out of 10

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