A Review of The ASUS P5E Computer Motherboard
|Backing up Computers|
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The ASUS P5E MotherboardIn Nov 2007 I got one of the new ASUS P5E motherboards (reviewed here), to build a replacement for my old dual Athlon MP1800 system. Here is an article about a similar (though slightly older chipset) motherboard from Gigabyte used to build a quad processor system. Key features of the P5E motherboard:
In this picture you can see the expansion cards more clearly, along with the passive chip set cooling system and the CPU fan.
Another look at the expansion cards and the cables for the additional USB and firewire bracket on the back panel.
If you are using this with Windows XP (and maybe even with Vista) you cannot use the RAID system and LAN until you install drivers, which can make installing XP a bit more bothersome. I used NLite to prepare a slipstreamed version of Windows XP that contained the RAID and LAN drivers. This worked quite well, worth looking into if you are going to have to redo the installation a number of times to get everything set up exactly the way you want.
As far as the board's physical layout goes, it is quite well thought out, the only things I would change are:
In the following picture you can see the floppy cable (black) and the 24 pin power cable (covered in thick multi-coloured mesh) and how they connect to the back edge of the motherboard. It would make more sense for these to be connected near the top edge (i.e. to the left) of the motherboard.
In the next picture you can see the "stray USB" connector (labeled USB1112) that's sort of positioned in the middle of the expansion card area. It would make more sense to move this to the front or top edge of the motherboard to get it nearer to the drive bays, which is where you're most likely to be placing a USB device that it is needed for. The loose USB cable will be plugged in here and runs to the front of the case to the flash card reader I added.
Supreme FX II SoundcardThis motherboard includes a PCI-E 8 channel high definition audio (HDA) sound card called the Supreme FX II. The following picture shows the sound card along with the HDA/AC97 front panel audio connector for the front panel jacks (the AC97 connector is hanging loose).
The drivers for this card refused to install, the installer kept saying "The HDA Audio bus driver is required and not found.". A search on the web revealed that this was a common issue with the following articles giving some help:
Antec Sonata III CaseI decided on this Sonata III case from Antec (reviewed here) for a few reasons:
In the following photo you can see the drive array more clearly. In one of the reviews I read, they ran all the drive cables down the other end of the drives (having turned the drives around). I prefer my way of mounting the drives as it is easier to disconnect/reconnect cables when changing a drive - though the cables are not concealed.
Video CardAs I'm not a game addict I didn't go high end on the graphics card. My minimum purchase requirement was that the card provided two DVI ports and used the PCI-E bus. The low end of the pool of cards that provide two DVI ports are the ATI 1650, 1950 and 2600 boards and some of the Geforce 7000 series and the 8000 series cards. In the end I went with a eVGA Geforce 8600GT card, which is a bit faster than the ATI 2600 units for the same price. The 8800 based cards are what is needed to get a good increase in performance, but they are about three or more times as much. This included two DVI to VGA adapters.
Two other positives about this card are that it is relatively low power (it does not even need an extra cable from the power supply), some reviews measured it at between 20W and 45W depending on the task, and because of this its cooling needs are moderate leading to a quieter system.
Hard DrivesI've run a RAID-5 based system for a number of years now (in fact its survived two hard drive failures over the years). One of the reasons for selecting the P5E was that it has a RAID-5 capable SATA controller built in. I added in four 500GB Seagate drives and configured them as two RAID arrays, a RAID-10 section for the operating system, applications and temporary files space, and a RAID-5 system for long term data files (which are primarily read-only).
In my testing the performance of this system was better than what I previously had, but not as great as I was expecting. Write performance on very large file copies on the new RAID-5 is about 16MB/s, while the old system was about 11MB/s. The CPU usage of the new system is much lower (about 1-2%) while the old system was about 15% during a file copy, so that's a substantial improvement. Write performance on the RAID-10 partition is about 44MB/s. These numbers include both the reading of the source and the writing.
The Intel Matrix RAID system allows you to set up two RAID volumes on your disks, so you can have one RAID-10 for the operating system and a larger RAID-5 for data files. Their documentation does not make it clear that this is limited to only two volumes, so if you wanted to add a third, such as a RAID-0 for temporary files you're out of luck.
Once you have the system installed and working under Windows then you can use the RAID console to view the status of the drive array and remove or change the volume that is not currently in use by the system as a boot/OS disk.
Floppy DriveSince I knew that the RAID driver (at least) would have to be loaded into XP during the initial installation (using the infamous F6 key) and I had not tried a slipstreamed installation before, I got a combined floppy and USB card reader, this is a YD-8V08 from Scythe (reviewed here). It connects to the usual floppy power plug and motherboard floppy 34 pin header, as well it has a second cable that you run to one of the motherboard's USB headers. During installation of Windows you should not have the USB connected as this will cause Windows to allocate the C:, D:, E: and F: drive letters to the card reader, meaning your usual C: drive will end up being the very unusual G:.
Power ConsumptionI measured the power consumption of this system at the wall socket (using a UPM EM100 Energy Meter which I got from Canadian Tire), here are some typical numbers:
RAM ProblemsAfter about 10 months in service I tested the RAM (using MemTest x86) and found that the RAM was having trouble (test #4 was reporting errors). This was Crucial Ballistix 1066 RAM and I had set the memory speed to 1066 in the BIOS. I had tested the RAM when it was first installed and at the time it was functioning fine. I got a replacement pair of Ballistix memory sticks from my dealer and they showed a similar problem. I bought a second pair of OCZ 800MHz RAM sticks and they worked fine at the 800MHz speed (they were on sale and I needed them for another computer anyway). I got a second set of replacement sticks from my dealer (these were Patriot 1066 rated sticks) but they would only run at 800 without error. After experimenting with the RAM voltage control in the BIOS (these sticks need a higher voltage for the full 1066 speed) I decided to update my BIOS. I had found a few news articles where people reported developing RAM problems after installing a new BIOS and then the problems going away when a newer BIOS was released, this seemed to be happening with the version 5 and 6 BIOS. Of course ASUS makes no mention of this in their BIOS release notes. As I was running the 4.01 BIOS (from Nov. 2007) I decided to update to the (in early Sept. 2008) newest which was 9.03. Upon doing this the Patriot 1066 memory not only ran without errors, but it no longer needed to have the elevated DRAM voltage set. So I rather suspect that ASUS had fixed up their DRAM control setting code at some point, but has not mentioned this in the BIOS release notes.
RAID ProblemsDuring the time I was tracking down the RAM problems (above) I had a number of blue screen of death type events (BSOD), at the time I was putting these down to the RAM troubles or just faulty software. For the most part they seemed to occur after the computer had been running a long video transcoding session with StaxRip. After the RAM problems were sorted out I still got these occasionally (about twice a week) and looked into one of the errors which suggested the problem might be caused by the RAID drivers. I was running the drivers that came with the original installation disk (Nov'07) so looked at Intel's site and found that a lot of work had been done on them since then. After updating to the 220.127.116.112 driver version the problems have not shown up again (in about 2 months). So if you are running the older RAID drivers you might want to update.