ASUS Maximus III Extreme LGA1156 Motherboard Review

by MAC     |     April 11, 2010


Intel's new P55 Express 'Ibex Peak' chipset is a true break from their traditional chipset design. Unlike all previous Intel chipsets which featured both a northbridge and a southbridge (eg. X58 Express + ICH10R), the P55 is a one-chip solution. As such, it has been given the new designation of Platform Controller Hub (PCH). When it comes to PCI-Express 2.0 connectivity things get a little complicated with this chipset since in the past, the northbridge supplied the graphics-related PCI-E lanes. However, Lynnfield processors feature an industry-first: an integrated PCI-E controller that supports 16 PCI-E 2.0 lanes supplying two mechanical PCI-E x16 slots. If only one graphics card is installed it will operate at the full electrical x16 speed, but if two graphics cards are installed the PCI-E lanes are divided between both PCI-E x16 slots and they will operate at x8 each. On motherboards with three mechanical PCI-E x16 slots, the first two slots will each operate at x8 while the third slot will operate at x4. How is this possible if we have already established that the integrated PCI-E controller only supports 16 PCI-E lanes? The additional 4 PCI-E lanes come from the P55 PCH itself, which can supply up to 8 PCI-E 1.0 lanes in total.

On the connectivity front, the P55 supports 14 USB 2.0 ports and 6 SATA II ports with Matrix Storage Technology. Naturally, it also supports Advanced Host Controller Interface (AHCI) and Native Command Queuing (NCQ). The PCH also features one Gigabit LAN port and HD Audio Technology. The one omission is support for Intel's Trusted Execution Technology (TXT), formerly known as LaGrande, which provides hardware-level protection against malicious software.

The P55 PCH communicates to the processor via the Direct Media Interface (DMI), which is a 2 GB/s point-to-point connection, which is roughly equivalent to a PCI-E x4 1.0 link. By the way, the DMI is by no means new, it has long been used as the link between the northbridge and southbridge.

Much like the P45 Express and X58 Express chipsets, the P55 PCH is manufactured on the venerable 65nm process, and it has a low default voltage of 1.0V. As a result of this low voltage, and the simple fact that the P55 does not actually do much, it does run quite cool. Did we mention that it is also quite tiny? The P55's package size is just 27mm x 27mm, and the actual die is a minuscule 8mm x 8mm.

That's about all there is to know about the chipset itself, so let's move on to the motherboard itself. Despite being a mainstream platform, higher-end P55 motherboards like this ASUS model are definitely outfitted with just about anything you could want on a motherboard.

This motherboard's specifications list is stacked like no other P55 motherboard on the market. In fact, aside from the Rampage III Extreme, we can't think of another motherboard with more extensive set of specs and features. Of particular interest to us though are the new 'Special' and 'Overclocking' features built into this model, and we will be examining them thoroughly.

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