[nextpage title=”Introduction”]

EVGA has released six different motherboard models based on the new Intel P55 chipset, with suggested prices ranging from USD 169.99 to USD 349.99. We decided to take a look at their most affordable model, P55 LE.

We liked the overall looks from P55 LE, all black with some gray plastic parts. It certainly looks cleaner and more professional than motherboards that look like Aloha shirts, with each plastic part made with a different color. The first thing we notice about this motherboard is that all capacitors from the voltage regulator circuits are solid and all the other capacitors used on this motherboard are Japanese from Chemi-Con.

EVGA P55 LE motherboardFigure 1: EVGA P55 LE motherboard.

EVGA P55 LE has two PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots. These slots are actually connected directly inside the CPU, and this in one of the main new features brought by socket LGA1156 processors. If only one video card is installed, the main slot will work at x16, but if two video cards are installed the speed drops to x8 on each slot. This is a limitation from the CPU, not from the chipset or the motherboard, since the CPU is the component controlling these slots, as explained. P55 LE supports CrossFire configuration, but not SLI. SLI support on P55-based motherboards will depend on whether the manufacturer licensed this technology from NVIDIA or not. From the EVGA line-up, only P55 LE does not support SLI, all the other five models do.

EVGA P55 LE motherboardFigure 2: Slots.

This motherboard also has one x1 PCI Express slot and three standard PCI slots. These are controlled by the chipset.[nextpage title=”Memory Support”]

Socket LGA1156 CPUs, like socket LGA1366 and AMD processors, have an embedded memory controller. All other Intel CPUs use an external memory controller, which is located on the north bridge chip (a.k.a. MCH or Memory Controller Hub) from the chipset. This means that with other Intel CPUs the chipset (and thus the motherboard) is the component that says what memory technologies and the maximum amount of memory you can have on your PC.

Since now the memory controller is inside the CPU, it is the processor, and not the chipset, that defines the memory technologies and the maximum amount of memory you can have. The motherboard, however, may have a limitation as to how much memory can be installed.

At the moment, the integrated memory controller of socket LGA1156 processors supports only DDR3 memories up to 1,333 MHz under dual-channel architecture, however EVGA says P55 LE supports DDR3 memories up to 2000 MHz. EVGA P55 LE has four DDR3 sockets and since each DDR3 memory module can have up to 4 GB, you can have up to 16 GB with this motherboard.

The first and the third sockets are black, while the second and the fourth are gray. In order to achieve the maximum performance, you should install two or four memory modules to enable the dual-channel architecture. When only two modules are used make sure to install them on the grey sockets. If you install them on the black ones the computer won’t turn on and the POST display will show “E8” code.

EVGA P55 LE motherboardFigure 3: Memory sockets. Install two or four modules for the best performance.

[nextpage title=”On-Board Peripherals”]

Intel P55 chipset is a single-chip solution. The basic features provided by this chipset include six SATA-300 ports (RAID support is optional), no support for parallel ATA (PATA) ports, 14 USB 2.0 ports supporting port disable, embedded Gigabit Ethernet MAC (Medium Access Control) and eight x1 PCI Express lanes.

EVGA P55 LE provides all the six SATA-300 ports and they are placed facing the motherboard edge, as you can see in Figure 4. This is a terrific solution, because on motherboards where the ports are facing up the video cards usually block the access to them or even completely prevent you from installing SATA cables on them.

EVGA P55 LE motherboardFigure 4: SATA ports.

Since Intel P55 chipset does not provide parallel ATA port and EVGA P55 LE doesn’t have any additional PATA controller chip, this motherboard doesn’t have any parallel ATA port. It also lacks a floppy disk drive controller.

All the 14 USB 2.0 ports supported by the chipset are present, eight soldered on the rear panel and six available on three motherboard headers. Additionally EVGA P55 LE motherboard comes with a FireWire (IEEE 1394) controller, providing two FireWire ports through two headers located on the motherboard. The board comes with one I/O bracket containing two USB ports and one FireWire port (standard size), so the other FireWire port and the other four USB ports must be used by either installing an additional I/O bracket or using a case that comes with these ports.

Audio is generated by the chipset using a Realtek ALC889 codec, which is a professional-grade component, providing 7.1 audio with 24-bit resolution, 108 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the outputs, 104 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog inputs and 192 kHz sampling rate for both the outputs and inputs. This motherboard comes with an on-board optical and coaxial SPDIF outputs, which is terrific. As you can see in Figure 5, this motherboard has independent analog outputs for all eight channels. With these specs you work professionally with audio editing and mixing without the need of a high-end (and expensive) add-on sound card.

EVGA P55 LE has a Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Marvell 88E8057 chip.

In Figure 5, you can see the motherboard rear panel with PS/2 keyboard connector, clear CMOS button, coaxial and optical SPDIF outputs, eight USB 2.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet port and independent analog 7.1 audio outputs.

EVGA P55 LE motherboardFigure 5: Motherboard rear panel.

As you can see, this motherboard does not come with a PS/2 mouse connector, so you must use a USB mouse.

[nextpage title=”Other Features”]

EVGA P55 LE has other smaller features. It comes with a POST display, which helps you to diagnose why the computer isn’t turning on through a two-digit number. You can also configure this display to show the CPU temperature after the system starts loading the operating system. This is done on the option “P80 Show CPU Temperature” present on the “Advanced Chipset Setup” from the BIOS setup.

EVGA P55 LE motherboardFigure 6: POST diagnostics display.

It also has reset and powe
r buttons soldered on the motherboard, which helps a lot when you are building a PC outside a case or are debugging your PC. And besides these buttons there is a second clear CMOS button (and not just a plain jumper like it usually happens).

EVGA P55 LE motherboardFigure 7: Reset, power and clear CMOS buttons.

The voltage regulator circuit uses only solid capacitors, as mentioned before, and also uses ferrite chokes, which are better (25% less power loss). There is also a passive heatsink on top of the voltage regulator transistors.

EVGA P55 LE motherboardFigure 8: Voltage regulator circuit.

But one small detail may make all the difference in the world for some users. The CPU cooler for socket LGA1156 processors don’t fit socket LGA775 processors and vice-versa. This happens because the positioning of the motherboard holes is different. EVGA made something ridiculously simple yet ingenious: they added holes for both socket LGA1156 and socket LGA775 CPU coolers. So if your favorite CPU cooler is only available for socket LGA775 there is no problem: you can install it on EVGA P55 LE. It is important to note that motherboards from other manufacturers may not provide this feature.

EVGA P55 LE motherboardFigure 9: EVGA P55 LE provides holes for socket LGA1156 and socket LGA775 CPU coolers.

In Figure 10, you can see the accessories that come with the motherboard.

EVGA P55 LE motherboardFigure 10: Accessories.

The printed manual included with the motherboard is really bad, failing to provide the basics like a detailed list of features from the motherboard and the exact use of the SPDIF2 header. Inside the CD, however, you can find the full manual in PDF format.

[nextpage title=”Overclocking Options”]

EVGA P55 LE offers some good overclocking options under a menu called “Frequency/Voltage Control.” You have even the option to save up to four different configuration profiles for quickly recovering a different configuration set. The main options we could see with the initial BIOS release (08.00.16, 08/28/2009) were:

  • Dummy O.C.: Automatically configures a basic overclocking for you.
  • CPU base clock: can be adjusted from 133 MHz to 300 MHz in 1 MHz increments.
  • PCI Express clock: can be adjusted from 100 MHz to 200 MHz in 1 MHz increments.
  • CPU voltage: From 1.0 V to 2.3 V in 0.00625 V increments.
  • CPU termination voltage (VTT): From 1.050 V to 2 V in 0.025 V increments.
  • CPU clock generator (PLL) voltage: From 1.050 V to 2.4 V in 0.025 V increments.
  • Memory voltage: From 1.20 V to 1.50 V in 0.05 V increments then from 1.50 V to 2.60 V in 0.1 V increments.
  • Chipset (PCH) voltage: From 1.050 V to 2.625 V in 0.025 V increments.

Memory timings can also be tweaked.

EVGA P55 LE motherboardFigure 11: Overclocking menu.

EVGA P55 LE motherboardFigure 12: Overclocking menu (cont’d).

EVGA P55 LE motherboardFigure 13: Memory timing options.

[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]

EVGA P55 LE motherboard main features are:

  • Socket: 1156.
  • Chipset: Intel P55 Express.
  • Super I/O: Fintek F71889F
  • Clock generator: ICS 9LPRS139AKLF
  • Parallel IDE: None.
  • Serial IDE: Six SATA-300 ports controlled by the chipset.
  • USB: 14 USB 2.0 ports (eight soldered on the motherboard and six available through headers on the motherboard; the board comes with one I/O bracket containing two USB ports and one FireWire port).
  • FireWire (IEEE 1394): Two ports controlled by a Texas Instruments TSB43AB22A chip (the board comes with one I/O bracket containing two USB ports and one standard-sized FireWire  port).
  • On-board audio: Produced by the chipset together with a Realtek ALC889 codec (eight channels, 24-bit resolution, up to 192 kHz sampling rate for both the inputs and outputs, 104 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the inputs and 108 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the outputs). On-board coaxial and optical SPDIF outputs.
  • On-board LAN: One Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Marvell 88E8057 chip, which is connected to the system through one PCI Express x1 lane.
  • Buzzer: Yes.
  • Power supply required: EPS12V.
  • Slots: Two PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots (working at x8/x8 when two video cards are installed) supporting CrossFire, one PCI Express x1 slot and three standard PCI slots.
  • Memory: Four DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to 16 GB up to DDR3-1333/PC3-10600 officially or up to DDR3-2000 non-officially).
  • Number of CDs/DVDs provided: One.
  • Programs included: motherboard drivers and utilities.
  • Extra features: Aluminum solid capacitors on the voltage regulator circuit, ferrite chokes on the voltage regulator circuit, Japanese capacitors on the rest of the motherboard, external clear CMOS button, POST diagnostics display, holes for socket LGA775 CPU cooler.
  • More Information: https://www.evga.com
  • Average price in the US*: USD 169.99

* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.

[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]

Even though EVGA P55 LE is the simplest from the six P55 motherboards offered today by EVGA it is far from being an inexpensive product. Costing USD 169.99, there are surely cheaper products around like ECS P55H-A that costs USD 135.00.

Compared to this cheaper model from ECS, P55 LE brings as advantages having RAID support, a professional-grade on-board audio, two FireWire ports and holes that allows you to use socket LGA775 CPU coolers with your socket LGA1156 processor.
ECS P55H-A, on the other hand, brings as advantages having one ATA-133 port, which may still be useful for some, one eSATA port, only solid capacitors and price.

If you are building a mainstream Core i5-based system and won’t work converting analog audio to digital format (e.g., VHS tapes to DVD, LPs to CDs or MP3s, etc) then ECS P55H-A is a better suited option. But if you do – or if you are an audio freak –, than EVGA P55 LE is definitely the motherboard for you.

Of course if you want more options– especially SLI support – you will have to buy a different (and more expensive) product.