It's not every day that a new chipset such as the Intel
P55 Express brings about such sweeping changes to the desktop PC
environment. Chief among them is a new CPU socket that sees LGA775
processors relegated to the old folks home. Moving forward all of Intel's
mainstream processors will be LGA1156 chips. You see, up until recently desktop
computer motherboards have been built around a three chip solution
that hasn't really changed in the past decade. It consisted of a CPU
that communicated directly with the Memory Controller Hub (MCH) also known as
the 'Northbridge,' and this in turn talks to an I/O Controller Hub
(ICH), commonly called the 'Southbridge.'
The CPU-Northbridge-Southbridge architecture happily survived many
years of upgrading intact, but as memory started using more channels, CPUs grew
extra cores and videocards grew more powerful, the interconnects that let these
parts send information to one another became increasingly swamped with
information and prone to bottlenecks. It was time to redesign the system
What was once a three chip system will be simplified to just two parts with
Intel's upcoming 'Lynnfield' P55 platform: CPU-Southbridge.
Enter the Gigabyte GA-P55-UD3R motherboard, just one part from Gigabyte's line up of Intel P55 Express boards. The
GA-P55-UD3R is the most affordable of the ATX motherboards that Gigabyte will be
launching, cutting down on some the frills that you might find on its bigger
brothers in favor of a better bottom line. We like affordable PC hardware just
as much as you!
Fortunately a slightly smaller feature set doesn't affect its overall
performance or compatibility. Gigabyte's GA-P55-UD3R motherboard supports all of Intel's socket 1156 Core i5 700-series and Core i7
800-series processors, which so far consists of the Core i5 750, Core i7
860 and Core i7 870, as well as future support for Intel's upcoming 32nm socket
1156 processors as well. Core i7 8xx-series should not be confused with Core
i7 9xx-series processors, those are socket
1366 CPUs which are not compatible with this motherboard or any P55
INCLUDES: User's Manual,
Driver CD, (4) SATA cables, I/O Shield, IDE
Chipsets: Intel P55
CPU Support: Intel Socket
Memory Type: Dual Channel
Videocard Support: (2) PCI Express
One of the biggest changes with the P55 Express chipset is what it
doesn't do. While traditionally Intel chipsets have used the
northbridge to control memory (including last generation's Intel P45 Express), that job
now falls to the Core i5 and Core i7 processors and on-die memory controllers.
The shift makes for some big improvements in memory performance, fortunately for
the end-user memory compatibility is still pretty familiar. The GA-P55-UD3R will support
up to 16GB of dual-channel DDR3 RAM, in speeds of DDR3-800/1066/1333 and even DDR3-2200 under
certain overclocked settings.
Another thing you won't find on the Intel
P55 Express chipset is an add-on PCI Express 2.0
controller, it's been moved on to the die of socket 1156 Core i5
This on-board controller supplies x16 lanes of PCI
Express 2.0 bandwidth to the primary PCI Express x16 slot. Another PCI Express
x16 slot is supplied with x4 lanes of bandwidth by the Intel P55 Express
chipset, and both of these PCI Express x16 slots can be linked together in
Crossfire mode when paired with similar ATI Radeon videocards.
Although some motherboards using Intel's P55 Express
chipset will run dual NVIDIA Geforce videocards in SLI mode, the
GA-P55-UD3R doesn't have this feature built-in. Not that it matters much any
more, NVIDIA's latest videocards never materialized and never will.
With Intel's Core i5 processors now handling most
of the roles that would have traditionally been the job of the Northbridge,
there's no longer any need for a two-chip core logic. Intel has merged the
Northbridge and Southbridge into a single entity named the "PCH", P55 Express to
you and me, it controls the legacy PCI slots, storage, networking and
In addition to its two PCI Express x16 slots, Gigabyte's GA-P55-UD3R
has four legacy PCI slots and a single PCI Express x1 slot (with x1
lanes of bandwidth, naturally). This leaves a fair amount of room available for
expansion. The board is well laid out so that even with two double-wide
videocards installed, there's room for a pair of legacy expansion cards. Useful if you have
an old TV tuner and fancy soundcard.
Intel's creation of the PCH controller for the Intel P55 Express chipset is an evolution of the ICH10R southbridge controller that graced
the Intel P45 Express chipset. The PCH storage controller can handle up
to six SATA II connection at 3Gb/s in RAID 0, 1, 5 and
10 modes. Gigabyte adds two more controllers into the mix, a JMicron JMB362 controller that
powers two eSATA ports that can be run in RAID 0, 1
and JBOD modes, as well as Gigabyte's own SATA controller, which controls two more SATA II 3Gb/s
that also do RAID 0, 1 and JBOD, and finally a legacy PATA adapter that
can handle up to two IDE devices. Altogether that's 8 internal SATA connections and two
eSATA connections, a lot of storage by anyone's definition. Unfortunately,
there's no SATA 6G on this particular board.
Around back the I/O panel abounds with
connectors; 10 USB 2.0 ports ready to go, a gigabit RJ-45 port, coaxial and
optical S/PDIF audio connectors, 8-channel audio stereo jacks and two e-SATA
ports for external devices. The Gigabyte GA-P55-UD3R motherboard retails for around $150 CDN ($140 USD, £85 GBP)
which puts it right where motherboards based on Intel's P45 Express chipset used to
be. When combined with a processor like the $200 Intel Core
i5 750, it's pretty easy to build a socket 1156 computer system for under $600.
Gigabyte Ultra Durable 3
Of course, since this a Gigabyte
entire thing gets the Ultra Durable 3 treatment. Ultra Durable 3
is a set of manufacturing technologies that Gigabyte has added to all of
its motherboards that improve the quality of components.
These range from 6-layer PCB with
2oz. copper substrate, to the Japanese made solid state aluminum polymer capacitors and other
electrical components chosen for low temperatures and long life. Including the energy saving features
built into it, Gigabyte is certainly pulling out all the stops
when it comes to making the GA-P55-UD3R competitive. With Intel P55 motherboards, features really
distinguish the products, so browse those spec sheets carefully!
Gigabyte hasn't stopped there though. There are a lot of
motherboards that will be based on
Intel's P55 Express chipset, and standing out from the crowd is more difficult
than ever before. To seal the deal Gigabyte introduced something called Smart 6.
Smart 6 is a team of interstellar robot lions that combine to form... no
wait, that's Voltron. Smart 6 is actually
a suite of programs that work with Gigabyte's motherboards to speed up and
expand the capabilities of your computer system. PCSTATS will be taking a closer
look at the Smart 6 later on in this review.
Okay, let's go in for a closer look at the Intel P55 Express chipset
technologies and then show you some more of this nice Gigabyte motherboard.