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Asus P5QL Pro

Roundup: Six Core 2 Motherboards Under $100
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The Asus P5QL Pro targets a market that views $100 motherboards as extravagant. Buyers who put price ahead of features will be pleased to note that for around $85, the P5QL Pro includes only those features needed to meet the majority of their demands.

In fact, the P5QL Pro is even the thinnest motherboard of today’s comparison, and the only one to arrive noticeably warped. Yet motherboards rely on a case to provide mechanical support, so the appearance really shouldn’t present much of a problem to value seekers.

One big thing that low-cost buyers can appreciate is flexibility. The P5QL Pro supports full-length cards in every one of its six expansion slots, broadening its market to include both low-budget builders and repair personnel. Gamers with modified graphics cards will find space for triple or quad graphics card coolers without any cable clearance issues.

Another way Asus was able to reduce the P5QL Pro's cost was by making it narrower than typical ATX motherboards. The smaller size provides an installation advantage, as even the most crowded cases should have enough room in front of the Ultra ATA connector to add a cable.

Unfortunately, the narrow design left no room for an ATX connector at the front edge, and we instead find it more inconveniently placed between the P43 northbridge and the P5QL Pro’s rear edge. We can’t think of any system where this would be beneficial, as the computer’s thickest cable must be routed either around the CPU cooler in traditional cases or around the graphics cards in cases that have the power supply at the bottom. In fact, the cables of some power supplies might not reach this far.

Similarly, with no room at the front of the circuit board for additional connectors, the floppy header has been moved towards the back of the bottom edge. Few users require these, but anyone clinging to Windows XP might find a floppy handy for adding AHCI drivers during OS installation.

Asus even puts its front-panel audio connector in the bottom rear corner, which is a location that, though traditional, causes grief when trying to connect the cables of the top-panel jacks used by some cases.

A few positive features that help the P5QL Pro stand apart from many other low-cost motherboards is the use of solid capacitors in all locations, a replaceable BIOS IC that can help recover the motherboard’s functionality in case of a bad flash, and a four-phase voltage regulator where some competitors use only three. The combination of these quality enhancements, support for over-sized expansion cards, and Asus’ reputation for performance could make the P5QL Pro the ideal choice for the ultra-low-cost crowd.

Asus P5QL PRO (Revision 1.00G)

Northbridge

Intel P43 Express

Southbridge

Intel ICH10

Voltage Regulator

Four Phases

BIOS

0803 (10/08/2008)

333.3MHz (FSB1333)

333.0 MHz (-0.10%)

Clock Generator

ICS 9LPRS916JGLF

Connectors and Interfaces

Onboard

1x PCIe 2.0 x16

2x PCIe x1

3x PCI

3x USB 2.0 (2 ports per connector)

1x SerialPort header

1x Floppy

1x Ultra ATA (2 drives)

6x Serial ATA 3.0 Gb/s

1x Front Panel Audio

1x CD-Audio In

1x S/P-DIF Out

1x Fan 4 pins (CPU)

1x Fan 3 pins (Chassis)

IO panel

2x PS2 (keyboard + mouse)

6x USB 2.0

1x Digital Audio Out (S/P-DIF coaxial)

1x RJ-45 Network

6x Analog Audio (7.1 Channel + Mic-In + Line-In)

Mass Storage Controllers

Intel ICH10

6x SATA 3.0Gb/s

Marvell 88SE6102 PCI-E

1x Ultra ATA-133 (2-drives)

Network

Atheros AR8121 PCI-E

Gigabit LAN Controller

Audio

Realtek ALC1200 HDA

Eight-Channel (7.1 Surround) Output

An Ultra ATA controller, digital audio output, and enough analog audio jacks to support 7.1-channel output plus a microphone and line input simultaneously are the only superfluous features for low-cost system builders. Of these, the full set of analog jacks will probably be used most frequently.

Buyers in the P5QL Pro’s secondary market will find that the combination of dual PS/2 ports and Ultra ATA support make it a great replacement for previous-generation systems. Asus had long-ago removed the second PS/2 ports from its more expensive products.

That twice-discussed Ultra ATA controller is Marvell’s 88SE6102, which uses a PCIe interface to provide full bandwidth to two drives at speeds up to 133 MB/s.

The Atheros AR8121 is so small that its manufacturer claims it’s half the size of the nearest competing product. It uses a PCIe interface to deliver full bi-directional bandwidth to the P5QL Pro’s single Gigabit Network connection.

Realtek’s ALC1200 is a special part manufactured to Asus’ specifications, supporting 7.1-channel surround audio plus synthesized surround using DTS Surround Sensation UltraPC for stereo speakers.

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