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The GP labs hardware test-setup has just been dragged kicking and screaming into 2009. That's right - we've gone i7.

Our friends at PlayTech have kindly weaselled us a few new toys to play with, namely a 3.2GHz Core i7 965, 6GB of G.Skill RAM, and to plug it all into - an Asus P6T Deluxe V2 motherboard. To celebrate this momentous occasion I thought I'd treat you to a few pics and a full run-down of this very excellent board.

The P6T Deluxe V2 sits smack bang in the middle of Asus' Socket 1366 line up, with the P6T and P6T SE filling in the lower-end, and the Rampage-II-Gene & Extreme taking up the high end. The original P6T Deluxe was discontinued due to some issues with the SAS controller, so the V2 was released without this feature but at a slightly cheaper price and also with the addition of a second gigabit ethernet port.

Right now the board is available in New Zealand for roughly $600.

Features

The feature list on this board is extensive to say the least:

  • LGA1366 socket for Intel Core i7 processors
  • Intel X58/ICH10R chipsets
  • 6 x DIMM slots for up to 24GB of triple channel DDR3 memory
  • 3 x PCI-E 2.0 x16 slots (x16/x16/x1 or x16/x8/x8 mode)
  • CrossfireX and Tri/Quad-SLI support
  • 16+2 Phase power design (16 for vCore and 2 for QPI/Memory controller)
  • ASUS Express Gate SSD
  • ASUS EPU (System Level Energy Saving)
  • AI Nap (a snooze function for your PC)
  • Fan Xpert (controls system/CPU fan speeds according to temperature)
  • 6 x SATA II ports
  • Dual Gigabit LAN
  • ADI AD2000B 7.1 channel HD Audio
  • 14 x USB 2.0 ports
  • 2 x IEEEE 1394 ports (Firewire)

A couple of the features above are worth specially highlighting - firstly the 16+2 phase VRM design. The lower P6T variants, like a lot of other X58 boards on the market, feature only 8+2 phase power. These VRMs provide power to the CPU itself and the QPI/memory controller onboard the CPU so having more of them, and higher quality ones, will improve stability, overclock-ability, efficiency and lifespan.

Another cool thing is the ADI sound chip - this is an improvement over the standard Realtek audio chip, and coupled with the Asus Noise Filter it provides a richer stereo and surround sound experience.

The board

The first thing you should notice when you see the board up close is the úber-chunky chipset heatsink. Asus call this their Wind Flow Thermal Design and it connects all the key components of the board via copper heatpipes and also transfers some of the heat to the other side of the PCB with their Stack Cool 2 Design.

Other than heatsinks you can also see there is a plethora of rear-panel connectors, expansion slots, DIMM slots, SATA ports, and even an onboard SSD chip which houses the Express Gate functionality. Express Gate is a Linux-based operating system which can be booted into within five seconds and used to access the internet, emails, video, music and other features without powering up all the other components.

One other thing I especially appreciated was the Power and Reset buttons located at the bottom of the board. These buttons are pretty self-explanatory, allowing you to power on or reset the board at the push of a button without having to connect the front panel headers. This is useful for testing the PC out without having to install it fully into a case, or for people like me who are constantly changing things around and are too lazy to connect the headers all the time.

Packaging and accessories

The box the P6T Deluxe V2 ships in is relatively large due to the motherboard being very well packaged. The board comes inside an anti-static bag which is placed in a moulded-plastic insert which is tucked snugly into another cardboard fitting inside the box. Another cardboard compartment houses all the accessories.

The accessories in this box are 6 SATA cables, IDE cable, rear-panel USB + Firewire header, screw pillars for an optional chipset heatsink fan, ATI Crossfire bridge, Mosfet cooling fan, Asus Q-connector, quick install guide, user manual, back-panel Q-shield and of course a driver CD. I had a few issues installing the bundled drivers onto Windows 7 but the Asus website has updated drivers for this operating system ready for download.

Software

Asus motherboards typically come with a whole bunch of system monitoring and power control tools but one new addition to the line-up is the very cool TurboV application. This tiny but functional little app runs within Windows and is used for overclocking (or underclocking) the system in real time with QPI bus speed control, CPU/QPI/DRAM voltage adjustments and even the ability to change the CPU multiplier, all without rebooting your system.

Even though I usually prefer to overclock within the BIOS and only use the operating system for stability testing, I found that TurboV was extremely useful for reducing the voltages given to each component. Lowering voltage will decrease heat output and extend the lifespan of components, but not having enough voltage can affect stability so it's a fine balance when overclocking. Rather than finding a stable overclock, going into the BIOS to lower voltage, boot into the O/S and stability test, then repeat all those steps over and over again, I could simply run a stability test within Windows then gradually reduce the voltage on any particular component until I found the sweet spot. Trust me, when you're trying to get the perfect permanent overclock, this can save you hours of trial and error.

Overclocking

Speaking of tweaking, I tried a couple of different Intel i7 CPUs out on this board to see how far its settings could be stretched. The Core i7 965 Extreme Edition (which I'll be using for all upcoming reviews) was one of the first i7 chips to hit the market and they are not the best overclockers. With this chip and a relatively safe QPI/DRAM voltage I could only bump the board up to 170MHz QPI speed from 133MHz default (this is the bus speed which determines the speed of your processor once multiplied by the CPU multiplier). Throwing in a newer Core i7 920 however and using the same voltages I was able to get it running stable at just over 200MHz QPI. This would equal a 4.00GHz clock speed at this CPU's 20x multiplier setting, or 4.20GHz with Turbo mode enabled.

For the RAM side of things - my G.Skill Trident DDR3-2000 sticks have an XMP setting which, when enabled in the BIOS, automatically tunes all RAM settings, voltages and bus speeds to run the memory at its rated specification, which of course the P6T Deluxe V2 handled without issue. The QPI voltage set in this mode is a little high - it would definitely pay to use a good aftermarket CPU cooler when using this setting.

Conclusion

Of all the Socket 1366 motherboards on the market at the moment, I am positively stoked that I received a board as excellent as the P6T Deluxe V2 to use as our test system here at Gameplanet.

All I can say now is that if you're in the market for a motherboard to house your new Core i7 CPU, this board should definitely be near the top of your list for consideration.

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Our thanks again to PlayTech for providing the review hardware.