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Now There's A Familiar Face

Asus P7P55 WS Supercomputer P55 Motherboard Preview
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Now There's A Familiar Face

Seen most recently in our performance exploration of MSI's X58 Eclipse Plus motherboard, Nvidia's NF200 PCI Express bridge chip is necessary on a platform like this one, with its sixteen lanes of integrated PCI Express 2.0 connectivity. 

Here's where the story gets a little crazy. X58 provides up to 36 lanes of PCIe 2.0, making it relatively easy to serve up four x8 links or, as we saw in the MSI story, mux lanes to deliver a trio of true x16 links (masking the fact that two x16 links actually share one x16 link from the host). So, with that many lanes available, building boards with six x16 slots makes sense. It's a niche proposition, sure, but for for the workstation users banking heavily on Nvidia's CUDA technology and running several Tesla cards in parallel, we see the allure.

So how does Asus do it with P55, which does sport eight of its own PCI Express 2.0 lanes, but connects to its Core i7 or Core i5 through a DMI interface? Granted, this generation of DMI could be as fast as 4 GB/s, since P55 includes PCIe 2.0 data rates. But even then, that's the equivalent of a x4 slot shared between peripherals attached to the PCH. 

Enter NF200. The bridge takes the processor's 16 lanes and turns them into 32, enabling 16/8/8 configurations from a platform supposedly limited to one x16 slot or two x8s. Presumably, the other two slots support up to four lanes each and attach to the P55 PCH, but we're still waiting to hear back from Asus regarding the effect of populating all five x16 slots, and what that'd do to the two RTL8112L GigE controllers onboard.

Update: Asus just stopped by our Culver City office with a board diagram. Four PCIe x16 links actually attach to the NF200, switching to 8/8/8/8 when four cards are installed. The fifth card attaches to P55 and gets four lanes of PCIe 2.0 connectivity. Naturally, those aren't configurations you'd want for a four-way CrossFire setup or anything; according to Asus, this board is strictly for workstation-based applications.

Of course, there are performance implications to splitting 16 lanes between three high-end graphics cards, but we'll have to wait until after P55's official launch before we can start talking about them. For the time being, we're left impressed that Asus' engineers were able to use NF200 to enable a capability otherwise unavailable from P55. The bridge chip might not have been necessary for X58-based gaming machines, but it may very well prove useful to enthusiasts looking to build an inexpensive Core i5 box and put extra money into graphics. There's also the professional crowd, which can use the expansive PCIe connectivity with Nvidia's hardware/software technologies to accelerate engineering and science applications.

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  • 0 Hide
    apache_lives , August 18, 2009 7:33 AM
    so asus stole "supercomputer" from asrocks "X58 SuperComputer" motherboard, and wtf is with that name, it isnt a supercomputer - a "super" computer would bring me a coffee and massage my back while i work.
  • -2 Hide
    one-shot , August 18, 2009 8:15 AM
    I'm still not regretting getting a 1366 socket i7 rather than waiting for the 1156 socket "i7". These new chips appear to be solid, but my needs require a faster CPU. It'll be interesting to see how AMD reacts after launch.
  • -1 Hide
    JeanLuc , August 18, 2009 8:20 AM
    Spelling error - page 3, paragraph 2, line 3 "as we saw in the MSI story, muxlanes"

    Good to see that there's a Nvidia's NF200 PCI Express bridge chip is included. Does that mean we will be able to run two video in crossfire/SLI at 16/16 or will the board always be limited to only 8x on the second lane?
  • -3 Hide
    onlyojay , August 18, 2009 9:25 AM
    i know this will be like just a wet dream but...4870x2 x 5?
  • 9 Hide
    DjEaZy , August 18, 2009 10:09 AM
    ... common... another socket??? ... its like 754/939...
  • -7 Hide
    DjEaZy , August 18, 2009 10:09 AM
    ... common... another socket??? ... its like 754/939...
  • 3 Hide
    cknobman , August 18, 2009 1:19 PM
    No eSATA? Ill pass.
  • -1 Hide
    idisarmu , August 18, 2009 1:47 PM
    onlyojayi know this will be like just a wet dream but...4870x2 x 5?


    If that were possible... it would still be stupid.

    Why would you do that if you could put 5 gtx295s in there? (though that's impossible too)
  • 4 Hide
    Shadow703793 , August 18, 2009 2:24 PM
    apache_livesso asus stole "supercomputer" from asrocks "X58 SuperComputer" motherboard, and wtf is with that name, it isnt a supercomputer - a "super" computer would bring me a coffee and massage my back while i work.

    ASRock was part of ASUS.
  • 1 Hide
    theholylancer , August 18, 2009 3:18 PM
    i thought asrock is still part of asus, except they are now allowed to make premium boards.
  • 0 Hide
    lj7777 , August 18, 2009 4:46 PM
    On another note, do they still make motherboards WITHOUT on-board audio?
    I hate paying for something I won't use...
  • 0 Hide
    megamanx00 , August 18, 2009 6:22 PM
    Seems convoluted. It would make more sense to hook up all 4 PCI-E Graphic slots to the nForce controller that way when the cards are communicating with each other the signlas are routed to the nForce controller rather than going to the CPU and then to the controller which introduces more latency. The nForce 200 could also provide 4 8x-PCIE slots for quad crossfire as many of the AMD 790FX boards already provide.
  • 0 Hide
    gigipuscarie , August 18, 2009 8:42 PM
    I really dont think this motherboard deserves the name "supercomputer". I'm waiting for a real benchmark. Until then....it is just another P55 regular board.
  • 0 Hide
    Major7up , August 18, 2009 10:55 PM
    If it were a supercomputer it would use copper pipes (the good sh*t!) Plus I agree that any true supercomputer would bring me coffee, the paper or whatever I told it too ;) 
  • 0 Hide
    ebattleon , August 19, 2009 12:26 AM
    Super computer to me meant something like a Cray 2 or IBM's blue gene. Massively powerful machine with hundreds of cores. To calla single CPU motherboard a supercomputer seems almost laughable.
  • 0 Hide
    brisingamen , August 19, 2009 2:25 AM
    could you rock two gtx 285's and two 4890's and switch back and forth between the setups depending on which architecture is better for the given game your playing?

  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , August 19, 2009 3:11 AM
    No USB 3!!! This is not super computing
  • -1 Hide
    ebattleon , August 19, 2009 11:38 AM
    I have seen stressed board on final production video cards and in my opinion that would result in reduced board life. A electronic circuit board is made of differing materials of different characteristics and the board is under thermal stress as well as mechanical under. To have a board that is warped to begin with will only make to condition worse when loaded and cause separation of the stressed component from the board. Leading to a short service life.

    So i would really look at any warped circuit board as being bad design and not idly dismiss it.
  • -1 Hide
    TemjinGold , August 19, 2009 12:54 PM
    brisingamencould you rock two gtx 285's and two 4890's and switch back and forth between the setups depending on which architecture is better for the given game your playing?


    Seeing as those are dual slot cards, I'd have to go with "no."
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , August 20, 2009 12:25 AM
    I take it from here on out, you won't be able to buy a cheap Intel compatible mobo with normal non-enthusiast heatsinks... Now their "mainstream" CPUs also require an enthusiast motherboard... The i5 isn't that much cheaper than the i7, I don't see why anybody would go that route...
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