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Extreme P55: Four LGA 1156 Motherboards Over $250

We noticed quite a bit of position-swapping in today’s performance charts, but a quick compilation of those scores should help us find the balance.

With a default overclock on the top three motherboards, the clock-for-clock performance difference between the first and last place finishers is actually less than 1%. That’s especially important for overclockers to remember, since even the most cautious among them will no longer rely on the alterations various manufacturers have made to default settings. Since all four premium P55 motherboards also offered similar overclocking capabilities, the best way of choosing a favorite is by examining features.

The P7P55D-E Premium targets traditional power users by supporting the latest USB 3.0 and SATA 6.0 Gb/s high-bandwidth interfaces, dual network controllers, and even any carried-over Ultra ATA devices. It’s the only recent board we’ve compared from Asus to include the company’s built-on Splashtop OS-loaded Express Gate dual-port USB 2.0 flash drive and it even supports two graphics cards for SLI or CrossFire configurations. The Swiss Army knife of motherboards, its biggest problem is that many of its potential buyers might instead be waiting for LGA 1366-based Gulftown processors. Not entirely a bad problem to have.

The Maximus III Formula targets high-end gamers, at least in name. But its most unique feature is a data link that allows overclockers to control its basic functions from another system. That is to say the Maximus III Formula is actually an overclocking competition board made to visually impress gamers, although the spacing of its two high-bandwidth slots is also suitable from a functionality standpoint.

MSI Trinergy attempts to satisfy an even higher-priced gaming market by adding a third high-bandwidth slot via Nvidia’s PCIe bridge, using a slot layout identical to the competing Maximus III Formula. But the Trinergy’s chief competitor isn’t designed to address 3-way SLI or triple CrossFire support, and we’re loath to suggest that positioning alone could make MSI’s high-bandwidth bottom slot as unappealing as the lower-bandwidth slot of the Maximus III Formula. Because the Trinergy has the extra bandwidth needed to make adding that third card worthwhile, it’s probably worth the added effort of finding a suitable card and case combination.

The only motherboard to feature “Hi-C” capacitors, the Trinergy also beats both Asus motherboards in network bandwidth by using two PCIe controllers rather than PCI versions. A combination of advanced features and legacy interfaces could make this the perfect product for the gamer who want the best of what’s old and new, but isn’t too concerned yet about emerging standards, such as USB 3.0 and SATA 3.0 Gb/s.

Buyers who prefer to rid their system of “useless” legacy interfaces and add 3-way SLI or CrossFireX capability have one choice from today’s contenders, EVGA’s P55 Classified 200. Using the same nForce 200 bridge as MSI to enable three additional x16-length slots with up to x8 bandwidth, the P55 Classified 200 is also the only product in today’s lineup to properly support those three double-slot cards within the confines of a standard seven-slot case. EVGA adds a second eight-pin power connector and supersized digital voltage regulator to support CPU overclocking levels that would set many competing products on fire, adds extra gold to the LGA pins to slow the oxidization that’s sure to come with increased heat, and even provides an onboard volt meter and cable to ease voltage measurement of any component along the board’s surface. Intel’s LGA 1156 processors are its greatest limitation, and an oversized PCB its only challenge to builders.

Two leaders in the race for P55 supremacy have emerged today, the Asus P7P55D-E Premium for work and the EVGA P55 Classified 200 for play. MSI’s attempt to satisfy both markets is unfortunately diminished by the Trinergy’s difficultly-placed third graphics card slot, though determined builders can find eight to ten slot cases or use liquid-cooled cards to overcome this challenge.

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