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ECS P55H-AK: P55/NF200 Versus X58 In 3-Way SLI

ECS P55H-AK: P55/NF200 Versus X58 In 3-Way SLI
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We’ve seen how three-way SLI boosts gaming performance, but do we really need X58's PCI Express connectivity to realize those gains? Using three GTX 480s, we pit the latest P55/NF200 solution from ECS against a powerful X58-based incumbent to find out.

Captain Obvious dictates that, in order to properly support three graphics cards, your motherboard needs three PCIe x16 slots. Boards with three slots have been available at multiple price points for several generations. The problem with most of those boards was that the third slot was limited to only four PCIe 1.0 lanes. Nvidia would never allow such a low-bandwidth slot to support SLI because the card in the slowest slot often dragged down the performance of every other card in the array.

This is where enthusiasts might scream for a chipset with 48 PCI Express 2.0 lanes to support three graphics cards at full bandwidth from the primary controller. Unfortunately, no such product exists (though AMD comes close). Our own tests have shown that x8 mode is not much of a hindrance to SLI performance on Nvidia’s fastest cards, since CPU bottlenecks come into play long before a PCIe 2.0 x8 slot is completely tapped-out.

So, is the real requirement of three-way SLI really something as simple as a chipset that has 24 direct pathways? While many of our readers recommend X58-based motherboards to their friends specifically for the platform's 36 PCIe 2.0 pathways, we didn’t say that those lanes all had to come from a PCI Express controller. Long ago, Nvidia figured out that, since every card in an SLI array uses the same data, repeating data is an easy way to feed two graphics cards with the full 16 lanes of bandwidth from a chipset that supports only one x16 card. Nvidia calls this method “broadcast” and began using it several years ago to convert its low-cost 750a SLI chipset into a multi-card-supporting monster.

This bridge has since been used on everything from its 680i to Intel’s X58, opening three-way SLI to a broad customer base. Today we consider one such motherboard that allows buyers of mainstream LGA 1156 processor buyers to seek the ultimate level of features and graphics performance, and see how it compares to an LGA 1366 alternative.

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Top Comments
  • 15 Hide
    TheRockMonsi , October 14, 2010 6:22 AM
    Well, if I'm shocked at anything, it's that the P55 platform actually outdid the x58 on some benchmarks. From a pure video card usage's perspective, you really won't be missing out on anything going for the P55 over the x58.

    And while this makes the P55 look good, what really sucks - if you're looking into the longevity of the P55 motherboards anyway - is that the new "Sandy Bridge" CPU's coming out in 2011 will feature a 1155 socket instead of an 1156, which means upgrading to a new motherboard.
  • 10 Hide
    tacoslave , October 14, 2010 6:50 AM
    TheRockMonsiWell, if I'm shocked at anything, it's that the P55 platform actually outdid the x58 on some benchmarks. From a pure video card usage's perspective, you really won't be missing out on anything going for the P55 over the x58.And while this makes the P55 look good, what really sucks - if you're looking into the longevity of the P55 motherboards anyway - is that the new "Sandy Bridge" CPU's coming out in 2011 will feature a 1155 socket instead of an 1156, which means upgrading to a new motherboard.

    yeah i hate how they took of one pin just to f@#$ with us.
Other Comments
  • 15 Hide
    TheRockMonsi , October 14, 2010 6:22 AM
    Well, if I'm shocked at anything, it's that the P55 platform actually outdid the x58 on some benchmarks. From a pure video card usage's perspective, you really won't be missing out on anything going for the P55 over the x58.

    And while this makes the P55 look good, what really sucks - if you're looking into the longevity of the P55 motherboards anyway - is that the new "Sandy Bridge" CPU's coming out in 2011 will feature a 1155 socket instead of an 1156, which means upgrading to a new motherboard.
  • 1 Hide
    rmmil978 , October 14, 2010 6:29 AM
    Very interesting reading, a bit shocked at the outcome. P55 can really be a viable alternative to X58 after all, even for the enthusiast crowd.
  • 4 Hide
    adbat , October 14, 2010 6:44 AM
    Yes the 1156 platform is going bye bye it's realy sad.
    But i think that it shows that moving PCIa to CPU die is not a good idea as P55 with additional chip wins in the end - even the power usage test.
  • 3 Hide
    Crashman , October 14, 2010 6:50 AM
    adbatYes the 1156 platform is going bye bye it's realy sad.But i think that it shows that moving PCIa to CPU die is not a good idea as P55 with additional chip wins in the end - even the power usage test.
    Remember that in this case, the additional chip is acting as a signal repeater. That is to say, you really don't need more than sixteen lanes from the CPU, for optimal SLI performance you only need those same 16 lanes to feed all graphics cards simultaneously.
  • 10 Hide
    tacoslave , October 14, 2010 6:50 AM
    TheRockMonsiWell, if I'm shocked at anything, it's that the P55 platform actually outdid the x58 on some benchmarks. From a pure video card usage's perspective, you really won't be missing out on anything going for the P55 over the x58.And while this makes the P55 look good, what really sucks - if you're looking into the longevity of the P55 motherboards anyway - is that the new "Sandy Bridge" CPU's coming out in 2011 will feature a 1155 socket instead of an 1156, which means upgrading to a new motherboard.

    yeah i hate how they took of one pin just to f@#$ with us.
  • 2 Hide
    compton , October 14, 2010 7:13 AM
    What an awesome board ECS has put together. I'd like to see a full review of this board - I'm intrigued with the effort ECS has put it to make what seems like a excellent piece of gear. Perhaps this will result in the trickle down effect if ECS is successful, that is, maybe starting at the high end will result in better mid- and low- range boards.
  • 2 Hide
    jupiter optimus maximus , October 14, 2010 7:13 AM
    Nvidia does not seem to be bothered by continuing production of 65nm NF200. Would like to know if there is any R&D into a die-shrink to 40nm or less.
  • 4 Hide
    martel80 , October 14, 2010 7:18 AM
    tacoslaveyeah i hate how they took of one pin just to f@#$ with us.
    IIRC they didn't just take out one pin but they also redesigned how clocking of the CPU works. 1155 CPUs will have their own clock generator (as opposed to 1156's board-generated clock) and the board needs to support this. They could possibly hack-around this but why would they bother? Sheep will always buy the latest Intel stuff no matter what. :) 
  • 0 Hide
    BoxBabaX , October 14, 2010 7:23 AM
    This is an excellent article, nice analysis that I enjoyed reading before bed :) .
  • 7 Hide
    xrodney , October 14, 2010 7:50 AM
    CrashmanRemember that in this case, the additional chip is acting as a signal repeater. That is to say, you really don't need more than sixteen lanes from the CPU, for optimal SLI performance you only need those same 16 lanes to feed all graphics cards simultaneously.

    Except that enthusiast use more then just GPU in those PCI-e slots, add things like raid controller, some audio/video processing units and in case you share lines performance is going down to drain.
  • 2 Hide
    sprunth , October 14, 2010 7:50 AM
    BoxBabaXThis is an excellent article, nice analysis that I enjoyed reading before bed .


    I agree, nicely done!
    Results were interesting, especially with P55 outdoing X58 on lower resolutions...although even 5-10 fps isn't noticeable above 70 frames...so more just technical efficiency.

    Hopefully SandyBridge will pull off some nice benchmarks, these cards are probably going to push cpu bottlenecks more and more.
  • 3 Hide
    Stardude82 , October 14, 2010 8:33 AM
    dogman_1234Now let all the trolls come out about the LGA 1155 release!Seriously, as a respective consumer to Intel, i have began to dislike their practices. Why do I not want SB? Hmmm...good question, same reason I do not want P55..short live and full of disaster!


    In the years when AMD was leading in preformance, they made 3 mainstream socket changes in 4 years (not even counting some awful FX stuff) ; socket A, 754, 939, and AM2 between 03-06. I think socket 1156 lasting for 2 years is about average. If you are upset about that, imagine how I felt when AMD abruptly abandoned Slot A! Kids today are so spoiled with their backwards compatible CPU's!

    But then, not all too long ago, there were 4+ chip-makers making chips for one common socket..
  • 4 Hide
    marraco , October 14, 2010 9:35 AM
    ... but the X58 also run crossfire
  • 5 Hide
    Blink , October 14, 2010 12:38 PM
    Stop moving things on the charts! You have Dual SLI, Tri Sli, X58, and P55 moving up and down on the charts. That makes it more difficult to compare.
  • 0 Hide
    garyshome , October 14, 2010 12:48 PM
    I've have had two ECS boards and they have worked well. They were both low cost and gave me no trouble at all. One which I am using now for http was $20.00 after rebate.
  • -1 Hide
    lkalbert , October 14, 2010 1:33 PM
    Yes, I agree with the article that it will be hard to change minds about brands. My Asus P6x58D Premium has been so darn reliable, stable, fast, and overclockable, more so than any other motherboard I have tried (and I have had many over the years), that it will take an earthquake to make me change it.
  • -1 Hide
    jjchmiel78 , October 14, 2010 1:40 PM
    I got a P55 socket 1156 (base model on newegg currently at $80) for $40 off ebay. I put this together with other bargain price shopping parts and have a screaming office computer. The features it does have is all I need and the bios takes less than 1/4 of the time that my main expensive computer with an Asus board does. It is a solid board that works very well and I even do casual gaming with it (Civ 5 mostly) I like this board a hell of a lot more than (at the time) expensive Gigabyte board (socket 775). That experience turned me away from Gigabyte for ever.
  • 1 Hide
    tx-jose , October 14, 2010 2:16 PM
    i never thought a P55 could perform so well even under the 1156 socket lol
  • 0 Hide
    zxcvbnm44 , October 14, 2010 2:50 PM
    tacoslaveyeah i hate how they took of one pin just to f@#$ with us.

    Yes. Which reminds me of Meet The Spy.

    Scout: "What're you? President of his fan-club?"
    Spy: "No... that would be your mother!"
    [The Spy reveals a folder and slaps it down on the table, revealing several compromising photographs of the RED Spy and the Scout's Mother.]
    Scout: [stammers out of shock and disbelief]
    Spy: Indeed, and now he's here to us! So listen up boy, or pornography starring your mother will be the second worst thing that happens to you today."

    We can logically conclude that Intel is in fact... THE RED SPY!!!

    Well, ode to the LGA 1156!
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