The P965 chipset has certainly evoked a lot of different emotions around our test labs as well as around the various hardware sites and forums. This chipset was hyped as the next 440BX in some circles and promoted ad nauseam before, during, and after Computex last year. At first look this chipset seemed to be an instant replacement for the venerable 975X as it costs less, sports an improved memory controller (at least on paper), and supports all Intel processors from NetBurst (Celeron through Pentium D) to Core 2 Duo, as well as the latest Core 2 Quad offerings.

Leading up to Computex 2006 we found that the majority of the motherboard suppliers were introducing at least one product based on this new chipset, while companies like Gigabyte and ASUS would launch several different product lines dedicated to it. The initial product introductions had this chipset being used in every imaginable configuration from the $80 ECS P965T-A to the $250 (at launch) ASUS P5B-Deluxe WiFi-AP. While the high-end boards like the Gigabyte GA-P965-DQ6 and ASUS P5B-Deluxe have dropped in price, the base P965 boards such as the ECS P965T-A and MSI P965 Neo-F continue to hover around the $80 mark.

At times we have even seen these budget P965 boards practically given away for free with the purchase of a processor, but other chipsets continue to thrive in the low end market for people wanting to use a Core 2 Duo processor. In fact, one of our favorite motherboards after the Conroe launch was the ASRock 775Dual-VSTA featuring the VIA PT880 Pro chipset that afforded users the capability to utilize their existing AGP or DDR memory with a Core 2 Duo processor. We still recommend this board and its successor the 4CoreDual-VSTA that features quad core capability and improved performance in the budget Intel market.

Why hasn't the P965 obliterated the other chipsets in the market sector? Obviously one important factor is pricing as it appears there will not be any $60 P965 boards soon (or perhaps ever). That leaves the budget market to Intel's previous generation chipsets and competitors like VIA or SIS. Unfortunately, with the AMD buyout of ATI we will not see competitive chipsets from ATI in the Core 2 Duo market except for the performance oriented RD600 that is currently being offered from DFI. We also see very good 975X boards such as the DFI Infinity and Intel D975XBX2 in the $160 to $199 range now that offer excellent performance for the price.

The other important factor is performance, as Intel's 975X still offers better clock for clock performance when compared to the P965 in most situations. We expect this to change to some degree as the P965 continues to mature, and additional BIOS tweaks such as 1T command rates should be fully working in the near future. The 975X's front side bus will not overclock as high as the P965, but due to relaxed MCH timings and memory strap changes it is difficult to take advantage of the higher P965 front side bus speeds without premium memory and cooling solutions.

The 975X also offers 8x8 CrossFire capability while the P965 has been limited to a 16x4 hybrid solution. We have not discovered much difference in performance at the lower resolutions, but as game engines and future video cards require greater bandwidth then the P965's CrossFire performance will be hampered. The good news is that the upcoming release of the Bearlake chipset family will feature a performance oriented version with true dual x16 capability. We might even see a few upcoming P965 motherboards offer a revised PCIe controller chip that allows 8x8x4 or 16x0x4 operation with CrossFire performance exceeding that of 975X in 8x8 mode.

Probably the most important factor to date has been compatibility. The initial P965 BIOS releases suffered from memory timing and voltage issues, and there were also general performance drawbacks in the areas of overclocking and memory throughput. The majority of these issues have been solved as the BIOS and motherboard designs have matured. The memory suppliers have also worked closely with the motherboard suppliers to ensure the issues we witnessed at launch with memory modules not booting at 1.8V or having SPD settings that greatly affected timings are basically a thing of the past.

However, the one item that still concerns us and continues to be an almost daily issue in both our labs and those systems owned by the readers is drive compatibility. Intel did just about everything right last year, but the one boneheaded decision they made was to introduce the P965/G965 chipsets without native IDE support. While we agree the IDE interface is getting long in the tooth and SATA is the solution for the foreseeable future, it would have been nice to have coordinated this decision with the optical drive manufacturers. Hindsight is always 20-20, but the best solution would have been to defer the change until the next chipset release, as it appears the optical drive suppliers will have primarily switched to the SATA interface by Q3 of this year, just in time for Bearlake.

In the meantime we have been left with a situation where the motherboard manufacturers had to increase the cost of their boards in order to include an additional IDE capable chipset, and with this they opened a can of worms. The additional complexity involved in getting a chipset like the JMicron JMB363 to play nice with Intel ICH8/R chipsets has proved to be difficult. While Biostar wisely chose the VIA VT6410 chipset for IDE availability at the expense of additional SATA ports, the balance of suppliers have gone the JMicron route. We feel like this is to gain an advantage on the feature checklist as you can have two additional SATA ports for either standard 3Gb/s or e-SATA support.

The auxiliary IDE and SATA support has come at an expense. There have been numerous problems getting the IDE drives to operate in modes other than PIO. There have been conflicts between the RAID operation on the JMicron and Intel ICH8R setups. The ability to use IDE optical drives and SATA drives together on the JMicron controller has caused problems numerous times. Even purchasing a SATA optical drive and using it on the Intel ICH8R controller with RAID enabled has been impossible on some boards. One of the most popular scenarios we witnessed and continue to see is to have RAID enabled on the Intel controller and IDE on the JMicron resulting in the RAID array not being seen. The other problem is enabling RAID on the JMicron setup and not being able to use an IDE drive or RAID on the Intel controller. The majority of these problems have been resolved through BIOS, firmware, or driver updates, but you just never know when it is going to be an issue.

With all that said, let's present a quick recap of our review boards and a few boards that stood out during the past four months of testing.

Test Setup and Benchmarks
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  • BigTuna - Sunday, February 11, 2007 - link

    Not a significant difference on OC between the Asus E 1.02 and the Asus Deluxe Wifi. I don't need Wifi now and hear the Asus on board Wifi ain't the best. They didn't test the P5B Deluxe (with out the WiFi) but looks like the same board with out the WiFi. It looks like the Deluxe offers a little better power / heat management features, along with the extra PCI-16 and Sata.

    Aside from the extra PCI-16 and Sata is the Deluxe a better board than the Asus E 1.02? For ~$20.
    Reply
  • schlumpfi106 - Wednesday, January 31, 2007 - link

    You can't be serious to give the highest award to that Asus board. Apparently, the onboard sound is not working on all of the P5B boards (they all use some ADI 1988* chip). And Asus is totally ignoring that problem. Have you ever dealt with the Asus "support"? It is a complete waste of time.
    So you are giving an award to them for putting together some crap and then letting the customers alone with it. I do not say that the other mainboard makers are better, but this is definitely not worth an award.

    A frustrated Asus buyer.
    Reply
  • dez93 - Wednesday, January 31, 2007 - link

    I've been looking to get the gigabyte after following the various chat on this site, but after this article was tempted to go for the Asus - even if the difference is small it's still worth getting the best, right?
    Maybe not - i know prices fluctuate so it's not necessarily in anandtech's best interest to use price comparisons during review articles, but having just checked on a UK price comparison site, the best price for the Asus deluxe is 45% more than the best gigabyte. As jmunjr says, the difference in quality is negligible, hence a price difference of this magnitude could well swing it for many potential buyers: it will for me.
    p.s. good article, cheers for keeping us up to date on the new revisions!
    Reply
  • jmunjr - Wednesday, January 31, 2007 - link

    quote:

    In our overclocking tests the ASUS P5B-Deluxe WiFi-AP was absolutely superb and clearly offers the best overall performance.


    Come on, quit insulting us. The differences in your tests are so minute the word "clearly" should not have been mentioned. The truth is with more than half of these boards not a soul would notice a difference, and the differences are so small that testing a duplicate model of any one of these mobos would yield results that according to you would be "clearly" better than the original. In gaming the difference is even more negligible.
    Reply
  • dspboys - Sunday, January 28, 2007 - link

    How did you manage to overclock the ECS P965T-A to 300FSB?What software did you use?Thanks! Reply
  • jeffrey - Sunday, January 28, 2007 - link

    The most impressive board has to be the Biostar TForce 965PT.

    Costs only $105 and provided some of the best overclocking with the least amount of issues.

    What features does this board give up to deliver such great results at such a low price?
    Reply
  • yehuda - Sunday, January 28, 2007 - link

    quote:

    ASUS also utilized the ADI 1988B HD audio solution that provided the best overall audio capability and performance of the onboard solutions.


    This sentence refers to P5B Deluxe. I'd like to ask if you're getting consistent results from other higher end models that use this chip. Do they all seem to be doing equally well as far as audio clarity goes?

    ADI aside, have you anything negative to say about the Realtek ALC883 chip as compared with ALC888? According to ASRock, 883 is only "Vista Basic" certified, implying inferior properties, whereas the 888 is "Vista Premium" certified. ASRock thus sticks to the 888 across the entire produce line to enhance the user's experience. Does this make any sense in the real world?
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Friday, January 26, 2007 - link

    quote:

    If are you are looking to get the highest possible overclocking results with an E6300 or E6400 processor then we would recommend the ASUS P5B-Deluxe at this time. Of course our preliminary results (which will be available shortly) with the Commando board will change this statement.


    'If are you are looking . . '? typo :)

    /me confesses to be one of those 'vocal' ABIT owners.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Saturday, January 27, 2007 - link

    Corrected. Reply
  • yyrkoon - Friday, January 26, 2007 - link

    err, last page, paragraph two. Reply

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