Intel launched their X58-chipset based high-end platform back in November 2008 and the i7-based CPUs blew everything else out of the water, when it hit the markets. Just about a year later, Intel followed with the new P55 based platform that is aimed at the mainstream markets. In general the P55 and Lynnfield processors were meant to fill in the gap that was left behind Nehalem and the older Core2 CPUs.
Now that the P55 markets have settled, we thought it would be a nice time to get acquainted with the platform. We received some nice hardware from Intel and G.Skill so we could review the top-of-the-line motherboard from MSI, the P55-GD80. Lets see what kind of a splash this motherboard makes.
P55 and Lynnfield
The thing that set the P55 chipset apart from the earlier products was the fact that it was based on one chip, the PCH (Platform Controller Hub), instead of the normal setup of a north- and southbridge.
The new i5 and i7 CPUs from Intel have taken a new direction in CPU design, at least for Intel. Intel has finally followed AMDs lead and integrated the memory controller directly on the CPU. Intel has tweaked some things during the year which passed after the release of the i7 and X58 platform, and the Lynnfield CPUs actually include the PCI-E controller on the CPU chip, which should result in lower latencies between the CPU and the peripherals, such as graphics cards. While the X58 chipset for the Nehalem platform had a total of 36 PCI-e lanes, the Lynnfield CPUs only have a total of 16 PCI-e 2.0 lanes. This may cause some bottlenecks for the high-end graphics cards, but in general it should pose no problems. It does however cut out the chance for Tri-SLI or Crossfire for more than 2 cards, at least it would cause a major bottleneck for them if used.
Another thing which has seen a major improvement during the year is the Intel Turbo Boost Technology. The Lynnfield CPUs spend more or less of their time at higher than "specified" clocks, depending on the model. This boost in frequencies is enabled by the fact that the CPU can raise its ratio a certain bit, depending on the load. This results in improved performance in various situations.
The LGA1156 based CPUs were originally divided into the two categories, the i5 and i7 series. The divide was done by the easy distinction that the i7 CPUs integrated Intels Hyperthreading Technology and the i5 didn't. What is Hyperthreading you ask? Hyperthreading basically divides the physical cores on the CPU into two virtual ones. This makes the OS think that it has twice as many CPUs available. This should improve on the efficiency that the system works with when highly loaded with multithreaded operations. The effects of this technique could actually be seen in one of our benchmarks, later on in the review.
Basically Lynnfield is an "improved" design, which is based on the Nehalem architecture. It incorporates the PCIe controller onto the CPU and it features the newer and improved Turbo Boost. While both of these have their positive effect on the performance, some trade-offs have been made. The PCIe-lane count has gone down from 36 lanes to a mere 16 and while the Nehalem chips offered support for triple-channel memory, the Lynnfield CPUs have to settle with just dual-channel memory.
All in all, I am very interested in checking this new platform out and see how it compares with the older systems.
Package & Bundle
The package, like usual, shows just about everything you'd want to know about the motherboard, or atleast what MSI wants you to know.
The bundle consists of the usual cables and adapters, which there are plenty of, the necessary bridges for SLI and Crossfire, the IO-plate, the basic guides, the driver-cd, and to top it off, MSI has included some wire leads which are meant to be used with the on-board voltage measurement points. A nice touch indeed for the enthusiast users.
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