P67 motherboard roundup

Gigabyte, Intel and MSI upper mid-tier boards go head to head

TO CONTINUE ON our current theme of Sandy Bridge motherboard reviews, today we have three upper mid-range boards going head to head that should leave most users not wanting for anything much more in the way of features. The boards in question are the Gigabyte GA-P67A-UD4, the Intel DP67BG and the MSI P67A-GD55, all having similar features and price point.

The P67 lacks support for the integrated graphics and so you also lose out on Intel’s Quick Sync technology which is a real bummer and we’re not quite sure how Intel figures this as a smart move. On the other hand, this is the platform to pair with a K series processor, as you can do some serious overclocking here if so inclined. You can also use faster memory, although you’re limited to certain speeds so you’ll want to purchase DDR3 1333, 1600, 1866 or 2133MHz modules, although some boards appear to support 2200MHz modules as well and we might see faster speeds in the future. If you happen to own 2000MHz modules, you’ll be stuck running them at a slower speed.

So what about the boards? Well, let’s start with the Gigabyte GA-P67A-UD4 which is located three boards up from the bottom and two down from the top in Gigabyte’s line-up. It sports the new matte black PCB that Gigabyte has been using from the GA-P67A-UD3R and up and the new fancy looking heatsinks. There’s even a short piece of heatpipe connecting the two heatsinks located on top of the MOSFETs. Gigabyte has moved away from its previous PWM design and is incorporating driver MOSFETs, also known as DrMOS, also on MSI’s motherboards. The P67A-UD4 features a total of 12 power phases, likely more than sufficient, as well as a controller from Intersil as per usual.

In terms of slot layout we have a pair of x16 slots that operate in x8 mode when both are in use, three x1 PCI Express slots and two PCI slots via an ITE bridge chip. Gigabyte hasn’t added any additional SATA ports to the two SATA 6Gbps and four SATA 3Gbps ports that the chipset features and this is part for the course for the other two boards as well. There are pin headers for two front USB 3.0 ports, although no bracket or front bay accessory have been bundled with the board. There are also three pin headers for a total of six USB 2.0 ports and one for a serial port. Gigabyte has fitted a total of four fan headers, but sadly only one beyond the one for the CPU is a 4-pin PWM fan header. Finally the P67A-UD4 is the only board to feature a pair of BIOS chips and it’s also worth noting that out of the four boards, this is the only one that’s made in Taiwan rather than China.

Around the back we have a PS/2 port, eight USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, two eSATA 6Gpbs ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port and 7.1-channel audio with coaxial and optical S/PDIF out. A fairly well rounded feature set, but we’re not quite sure why Gigabyte decided to fit the board with two eSATA ports, as we’d rather have seen one of them as an internal port. You won’t find any USB 3.0 hubs on this board, as it has two dedicated Renesas USB 3.0 host controllers. We’ll end on a slightly negative note and that is the fact that as with the H67M-UD2H, the P67A-UD4 is still using BIOS rather than UEFI, although with GPT boot support.  Gigabyte has said that they will bring UEFI support in due time.

This brings us to the Intel DP67BG which is Intel’s flagship P67 board, although as much as it may be a flagship product for Intel, it only makes it here compared to what its partners have come up with in terms of features.  Intel has gone for what appears to be a 6+2-phase PWM design which appears to use driver MOSFETs and Intel’s marketing jargon speaks of an ePower Voltage regulator, although we’re not quite sure what that means, but Intel is using a controller from CHIL. Unlike the DH67BL, the DP67BG features all solid capacitors, which is a step in the right direction for Intel.

As this is a “Skulltrail” board of sorts, or at least part of that family, it features the traditional lit up skull logo with red LEDs in the eyes that flicker when the drives are being accessed. Intel has also added a light inside the chipset heatsink that illuminates the Intel logo and the Desktop Board test, a seemingly pointless feature that most likely just added cost. A much more useful feature is the set of eight LEDs at the bottom of the board that lights up in succession when the board is powering on to let you know that everything is working properly. On top of that there’s even a POST80 debug LED display, just in case and Intel has also added a power and reset button to the DP67BG.

The slot layout consist of the regular dual x16 PCI Express slots where both slots operates in x8 mode. The board also has three x1 PCI Express slots and two PCI slots via an IDT bridge chip. You’ll also find pin headers for six additional USB 2.0 ports, a single FireWire port and Consumer IR. Intel has gone for a total of four fan headers, although all four supports 4-pin PWM fans. Around the back we have eight USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, a single eSATA 3Gbps port, a FireWire port, a Gigabit Ethernet port using an Intel solution of course, 7.1-channel audio with optical S/PDIF and a “Back to BIOS” button which isn’t a CMOS reset, instead it bypasses any manual settings and enables you to access the UEFI settings. The UEFI is all text based and doesn’t really look any different to that of Intel’s older models. We should also point out that Intel bundles a USB Wi-Fi/Bluetooth combo adapter with the retail version of this board, but didn’t provide one for us to test.

Last, but far from least, we have the MSI P67A-GD55 and it’s the first board to feature a graphical UEFI interface and this has its upsides and downsides. For starters, MSI’s version added a bunch of useless “fluff” like the inclusion of three games that requires the supplied motherboard DVD to be inserted, a pure waste of time in our opinion. On the other hand it all looks very new and exciting with big squares to click that takes you to the various settings. MSI has also added a few utilities such as a memory test, its Live Update software that will connect to the Internet and check for BIOS updates, a hard drive backup option and a custom boot image utility. Overall the MSI Click BIOS didn’t quite agree with us, as it was a bit sluggish and it was sometimes hard to select the right option. On the other hand, with time, MSI will hopefully iron out these problems as we think the Click BIOS has a lot of potential.

The board itself looks fairly ordinary, although MSI has come up with a nicer looking set of heatsinks compared to its P55 series and it’s also the only board out of the three to have the heatsinks screwed in place. It’s also the only board in this price range, that we’re aware of, that uses tantalum capacitors for the PWM and MSI is of course using DrMOS. We weren’t able to identify the controller used by MSI and the board appears to use a 6+2-phase design. MSI also has a couple of other interesting features such as power and reset buttons, a button for its OC Genie, solder points for Voltage readouts for serious overclockers, as well as a couple of pin headers that we were unable to identify the purpose of including one for a “future control card” whatever that means.

The slot layout is identical to that of the Gigabyte P67A-UD4 with two x16 slots that operates in x8 mode when both are used, three x1 PCI Express slots and two PCI slots, although this time via an ASMedia bridge chip. There are pin headers for a pair of front USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports – which co-incidentally will charge various Apple devices, just like on Gigabyte’s boards – a FireWire port and a serial port. MSI offers five fan headers, although only the one for the CPU supports PWM fans. Both MSI and Gigabyte provide a set of six LED for the active power phase switching.

Around the back we have a PS/2 port, eight USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, a FireWire port, a Gigabit Ethernet jack, 7.1-channel audio with optical and coaxial S/PDIF out and a clear CMOS button. Just like Gigabyte, MSI has fitted a pair of Renesas USB 3.0 host controllers to the P67A-GD55 rather than using some kind of USB 3.0 hub solution.

For the benchmarks we used an Intel Core i5 2500K CPU, 8GB of Corsair Vengeance DDR3 1600MHz memory with a latency of 9-9-9-24, an Intel 160GB X25-M SSD, a Sapphire Radeon HD 6870 graphics card, an Akasa Freedom power 750W PSU and an Akasa Nero 2 CPU cooler.

So what about the benchmark figures, well, all three boards performed very similar once again, surprisingly close in fact, especially considering that all three boards used fairly early BIOS/UEFI implementations. Please take a gander at the benchmarks below, there really isn’t much in it between the boards and the benchmarks are clearly not a factor that should matter too much when it comes to anyone’s purchasing decision.

The summary isn’t quite straightforward, but let’s start with pricing. MSI is the cheapest at around $160, with Intel next at $180 while Gigabyte expects you to pay $190 for its board. This makes it pretty clear that MSI is the winner in terms of value for money; although you lose out on eSATA support, but this is also the only trade off you have to make with the P67A-GD55 compared to the other boards, but MSI needs to tweak its UEFI implementation. As much as we want to like the Intel board we’re not crazy for it.  It really is a step up from previous Intel products we’ve tested in the past and the Wi-Fi/Bluetooth adapter is a nice extra, although we have no idea as to how it performs. However we weren’t too keen on Intel’s UEFI implementation, as it doesn’t make any difference from an old fashion BIOS in terms of usability. Finally the Gigabyte P67A-UD4 is the best looking board out of the three, but it’s also the most expensive and considering that it doesn’t really stand out in any significant way, the price is really what kills it here along with the fact that Gigabyte has as yet to add UEFI support.S|A

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