Skip to main content

P55 On Boost: Five LGA 1156 Boards Between $200 And $250

Mainstream Parts For High-End Systems?

We’ve heard that Intel’s LGA 1156 platform was intended to bring its Nehalem architecture to the mainstream market. But the first processors to support that platform are hardly what most of us would consider inexpensive. Starting with a $200 Core i5-750, the range currently tops out with a surprisingly-expensive $550 Core i7-870. At those prices, the cheapest processor barely fits into the top of what most folks consider mainstream.

On the other hand, a simplified platform architecture based on Intel's single-component platform controller hub, which looks amazingly similar to the previous-generation’s southbridge, has allowed comparable motherboards to cost around $100 less than their LGA 1366 predecessors. The tradeoff for this cost savings is the loss of 20 PCI Express (PCIe) lanes and a scale back from triple- to dual-channel memory support.

The combination of fairly expensive processors and a scaled-back chipset puts us in a difficult position when considering the market for full-feature motherboards. Can any LGA 1156 system truly be considered high-end? After all, there’s no practical way to supply two graphics cards with a full 16 lanes of bandwidth. However, only the most expensive graphics cards need more than eight PCIe 2.0 lanes, and not every high-end buyer wants a gaming system.

Current LGA 1156 hardware thus cuts a broad swath across both sides of the line that normally separates high-end from mainstream systems, appealing to mid-budget gamers, non-gaming power users, and technophiles who think of themselves as both gamers and power users. They are among the users who are the most likely to want more performance than they are willing to pay for, to be tempted by the easy gains of overclocking, and to find themselves surrounded by Tom’s Hardware forum members. Some of these users are on our staff.

Now that we’ve figured out why someone might want to build a moderately expensive system using parts that are mainstream in name only, let’s take a closer look at how well some of those parts, specifically the motherboards, fit in this market.

  • liquidsnake718
    Always the question in mind. Is it possible for the manufacturers to make a P55 with FULL SLI 16x 16x? I wouldn’t know. I do know tests have proven that the difference in a 8x, 8x isnt all that bad but If I were going to invest next year on a motherboard Id want the best possible one for the best possible "upgradability".

    Also for just $50 more one could get a reasonable X58 board and the core i7 920 would be a great buy. The only motherboard here that would be a "smart" buy with "long term" in mind would be the Gigabyte UD6 since it at least sports USB3.0 AND Sata 6.0. One would not need to purchase any expansion card for this feature as it will be used in the years to come. Also knowing that X58 will be used for 6core chips way ahead is comforting as these boards then will still be around and mainstream by the time those processors will even be relevant for avid/regular PC users.

    I just have a few questions you may be able to answer, do you guys also choose motherboards from other countries? I have seen Foxconn and Emaxx in some reviews but I also know that they may not be the best quality boards but it would be great to compare those boards as well. Its also good that you placed a reference Intel P55 so people would know the standard in which to compare with. Also how come we still dont have a P55 or X58 XFX board? Has XFX stopped making mb's and only started to focus on GPU's?


    Reply
  • nerrawg
    liquidsnake718"Is it possible for the manufacturers to make a P55 with FULL SLI 16x 16x? I wouldn’t know."

    In the article first page:" Can any LGA 1156 system truly be considered high-end? After all, there’s no practical way to supply two graphics cards with a full 16 lanes of bandwidth. However, only the most expensive graphics cards need more than eight PCIe 2.0 lanes, and not every high-end buyer wants a gaming system."

    The reason for this is the GPU - CPU bridge on core i5 systems, which in previously intel boards was part of the southbridge chipset, is now integrated onto the CPU. Therefore it isn't the boards that limit GPU lanes to a maximum of x16 lanes total, but it is the p55 core i5 & i7 CPUs that do this.

    Check this link for more on the CPU-motherboard layout:
    http://www.tweaktown.com/articles/2920/intel_s_p55_express_lynnfield_chipset_overview/index2.html
    Reply
  • I not quite agree with Gigabytes UD6 being the best choice with "long term" in mind. If using USB3.0 or SATA3, your VGA will run at 8x PCIe 2.0 instead of 16x. That might not be a problem with mainstreamcards, but would you rather have your high end GTX295, R5870 or R5970 run at 8x or 16x? I know what I want when buying a topdog card.

    Also see this artice on VR-Zone which explains the pitfalls of Gigabytes USB3/SATA3 implementation: http://vr-zone.com/articles/gigabyte-p55a-boards-usb3-sata3-issues-analysis/8158.html
    Reply
  • tacoslave
    the 8x pci was the only thing that kept me from buying an i5 but instead i got a phenom II 955 and never looked back and i got a great deal with a bundle from newegg. gotta love em.
    Reply
  • kumaiti
    I would like to suggest a little more depth on the software features of each board. Performance tests are nice and everything but the differences are so small that often the features are the main deciding factor on getting a Mobo. It would be nice to know, for example, which boards support Dolby Digital Live.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    kumaitiI would like to suggest a little more depth on the software features of each board. Performance tests are nice and everything but the differences are so small that often the features are the main deciding factor on getting a Mobo. It would be nice to know, for example, which boards support Dolby Digital Live.
    Good point, perhaps the features comparison chart could be expanded a little.
    Reply
  • apache_lives
    1156 platform is mid-range, if you want the full 16x + 16x you go for 1366 its that simple, and nativly there are not enough lanes for dual 16x slots btw and nvidia chips can open them up to almost 16 16 but no real benifit anyhow

    who would buy a Phenom II rig to get 16 16? not comparing AMD but you would see better performance from a high model i5 with 8 8 lol good one
    Reply
  • donkeykong2009
    It will be great to see the performance impact on the Games for the Gigabyte board when USB 3.0 and SATA 3 is enabled.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    donkeykong2009It will be great to see the performance impact on the Games for the Gigabyte board when USB 3.0 and SATA 3 is enabled.
    You can't enable USB 3.0 and SATA 6.0 Gb/s at the same time.
    Reply
  • I'm not talking about full speed CrossFireX or SLI at two times 16x PCIe speed. I'm talking about single VGA solutions. I want my HD5970 to run at fullspeed 16x PCIe express and that's not happening if I connect a USB3 or SATA3 device. Even in single VGA setups, the speed will be cut in half on my PCIe 16x slot to 8x.

    I'd rather have the ASUS or MSI (GD85) solution who use an additional PLX chip. The question was about being future proof and the Gigabyte solution is not as future proof as it seems.

    Unfortunately Intel seems to be steering away from the X58 platform. There are more and more P55 motherboards coming out which have high end features. The top end Lynnfield CPUs have no problem outrunning the lower end Bloomfield CPUs. So saying a 1156 is midrange... that's giving it less credit than it deserves.

    Btw, there are P55 mainboards from ASUS, MSI and EVGA with an NF200 chipset which do offer fullspeed dual CrossFire/SLI at 16/16. And those definitely don't have midrange prices. :o
    Reply