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Asus P5E-VM HDMI: A microATX C2D board for gamers?

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Micro-ATX mainboards were once considered minimalist devices for simple office machines, but this notion is rapidly being challenged, no more so than by this new Intel G35 chipset based P5E-VM HDMI from Asus. It includes a huge array of features normally found on premium ATX boards, a BIOS with liberal frequency and voltage adjustments, and solid-state capacitors. Is it the most complete, well-rounded mATX board ever?


December 10, 2007 by Lawrence
Lee

Product Asus P5E-VM HDMI LGA775 motherboard
Manufacturer ASUSTeK
Street Price US$150?

When you think of micro-ATX mainboards, you think of small, unassuming boards with
some basic features, good connectivity options, and little else: something for
a simple office or multimedia machine. This notion is being challenged
by Asus’ latest offering, the P5E-VM HDMI. Aside from its size, it doesn’t resemble
a mATX board at all. Powered by Intel’s latest G35 chipset, it includes features
typically found on premium ATX boards including a BIOS with liberal frequency
and voltage adjustments, and solid-state capacitors. It has the potential to
be the most complete, well-rounded and fully featured mATX board that has ever
entered our labs.


The featured-laden Asus P5E-VM HDMI is very promising.

 


Asus P5E-VM HDMI: Specifications (from the
product web page
)
CPU LGA775 socket for Intel®
Core™2 Quad / Core™2 Extreme / Core™2 Duo / Pentium®
Extreme / Pentium® D / Pentium® 4 Processors
Compatible with Intel® 05B/05A/06 processors
Support Intel® next generation 45nm Multi-Core CPU
*This motherboard supports FSB 1333/1066/800
Chipset Intel® G35 / ICH9R with
Intel® Fast Memory Access Technology
Front Side Bus 1333 / 1066 / 800 MHz
Memory
4 x DIMM, max. 8GB, DDR2
800 / 667 MHz, non-ECC, un-buffered memory
Dual channel memory architecture
Expansion Slots 1 x PCI-E x16
2 x PCI-E x1
1 x PCI
VGA Intel® Graphics Media
Accelerator X3500 integrated
Dual VGA output support: HDMI/DVI-D and RGB
Supports RGB with max. resolution 2048 x 1536@75Hz
Supports HDMI with max. resolution 1920 x 1200@60Hz
Supports DVI with max. resolution 1920 x 1200@60Hz
Maximum shared memory of 384 MB
Supports Microsoft® DirectX® 10, OpenGL® 2.0, Pixel Shader 4.0
*The DirectX® 10 driver will be provided by the chipset vendor later.
Storage Southbridge ICH9R:
– 6 x SATA 3.0 Gb/s ports
– Intel Matrix Storage Technology supports RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10
JMicron® JMB368 PATA and SATA controller
– 1 x UltraDMA 133/100/66 for up to 2 PATA devices
LAN Atheros L1 PCI-E Gigabit
LAN controllers
PCIe Gb LAN controller
Audio Realtek ALC 883, 8-channel
High-Definition Audio CODEC
– Support Jack-dectecting, Enumeration, Multi-streaming
– Coaxial S/PDIF out ports at back I/O
– ASUS Noise Filter
IEEE 1394 VIA VT6308P controller supports
2 x IEEE 1394a ports (one at midboard; one at back panel)
USB 12 x USB 2.0 ports (6 ports
at mid-board, 6 ports at back panel)
ASUS AI Lifestyle Features ASUS AI Lifestyle Features:
– ASUS Splendid
ASUS Quiet Thermal Solution:
– ASUS AI Gear 2
– ASUS AI Nap
– ASUS Fanless Design
– ASUS Q-Fan 2
ASUS Crystal Sound:
– ASUS Noise Filter
ASUS EZ DIY:
– ASUS Q-Connector
– ASUS O.C. Profile
– ASUS CrashFree BIOS 3
– ASUS EZ Flash 2
Special Features ASUS MyLogo 3
Overclocking Features
Precision Tweaker 2:
– vDRAM: 33-step DRAM voltage control
– vChipset (N.B.): 24-step chipset voltage control
– vFSB: 16-step FSB voltage control
– vCPU PLL: 16-step CPU PLL voltage control
SFS (Stepless Frequency Selection)
– vCore: Adjustable CPU voltage at 0.0125V increment
– FSB tuning from 200MHz up to 800MHz at 1MHz increment
– Memory tuning from 533MHz up to 1333MHz
– PCI Express frequency tuning from 100MHz up to150MHz at 1MHz increment
Overclocking Protection:
– ASUS C.P.R.(CPU Parameter Recall)
Back Panel I/O Ports 1 x PS/2 Keyboard
1 x PS/2 Mouse
1 x S/PDIF Out (Coaxial)
1 x D-sub Port
1 x HDMI/DVI port
1 x IEEE1394a
1 x RJ45 port
6x USB 2.0/1.1
8-channel Audio I/O
Internal I/O Connectors 3 x USB connectors support
additional 6 USB ports
1 x Floppy disk drive connector
1 x IDE connector
1 x COM connector
6 x SATA connectors
1 x CPU Fan connector
1 x Chassis Fan connector
1 x Power Fan connector
1 x IEEE1394a connector
Front panel audio connector
1 x S/PDIF Out Header
Chassis Intrusion connector
CD audio in
24-pin ATX Power connector
1 x 4-pin ATX 12V Power connector
System Panel(Q-Connector)
BIOS 8 Mb Flash ROM, AMI BIOS,
PnP, DMI2.0, WfM2.0, SM BIOS 2.3, ACPI 2.0a, ASUS EZ Flash 2, ASUS CrashFree
BIOS 3
Manageability WfM 2.0, DMI 2.0, WOL by
PME, WOR by PME, PXE
Accessories UltraDMA 133/100/66 cable
FDD cable
3 x Serial ATA cables
3 x Serial ATA power cable
1 x HDMI-to-DVI conversion adapter
I/O Shield
User’s manual
3 in 1 Q-connector
Support Disc ASUS PC Probe II
ASUS Update
Anti-virus software (OEM version)
Multi-language MB installation guide
Form Factor uATX Form Factor, 9.6”x
9.6” (24.4cm x 24.4cm)

Going by specifications, the P5E-VM HDMI has just about everything.
Off the top of our head we can only think of two things it does not include:
eSATA and wireless networking. Asus also boasts a variety of overclocking features,
which are almost always limited on mATX parts, so it’s a pleasant
surprise to see them. Compared to the GMA 3100 found on the G33 chipset, the
GMA X3500 has many improvements, including better shader support and DirectX 10
compliance.

PACKAGING & LAYOUT

The packaging is extravagantly glossy but a standard size. There are many accessories within.


The P5E-VM HDMI box shines like a freshly waxed sports car.

 


The package contents: Included among the standard accessories are
a HDMI to DVI adapter and a three block set of Q-connectors, which makes
hooking up a case’s front panel, USB, and FireWire connections easy as
pie.

 


From the side. Clearance around the socket is excellent.

 


From below.

 


Layout.

Overall, the P5E-VM HDMI is a beautiful looking board and it carries with itself
with a swagger that you just don’t see in mATX boards. The use of copper (or copper-colored)
chipset heatsinks gives it a look of regality. The layout is efficient. Power and drive connectors are all on the edges, reducing clutter.
The use of short solid-state capacitors not only improves the reliability and
lifespan of the board, but also helps make the overall appearance cleaner and
more sophisticated. There is a 4-pin fan header in the top right corner labeled
CPU_FAN and two additional 3-pin headers are located between the northbridge
and the USB ports — the higher one is dubbed CHA_FAN1 (even though there
is no CHA_FAN2) and the one below it PWR_FAN.

Generally systems that support two case fans will have one in the front and
one in the rear, so it would have been better for one of these headers to be
located on the right side for better accessibility. In addition, the PWR_FAN
header won’t accommodate a 4-pin fan as there is a capacitor directly above
it. Our only other concern is the placement of the CMOS jumper — it is
hidden away between the front panel connectors and the SATA ports. Inside the
majority of cases, the bottom of the board will almost touch the floor, making
this spot incredibly difficult to get to once it’s been installed. There is
also a strange component just above the first PCI-E 1x slot perpendicular to
the rest of the board with two sets of pins soldered to the bard. In the manual
they are designated “ASM_2” and “ASM_1” — no further
explanation is given.


A closer look at the chipset heatsinks. The northbridge heatsink stands
36mm high.

The northbridge heatsink is very long with lots of surface area, and plenty
of distance between the fins. The southbridge heatsink is similar but with an
odd tunnel design in the middle that serves little purpose unless air is directed
through it. Though it could use some improvement, it’s still far better than
the standard black Asus southbridge cooler utilized over the years. Both heatsinks
are attached to the board with push-pins.


Back panel.

The back panel offers both VGA and HDMI connections (DVI can be used via the
included HDMI to DVI adapter), as well as analog and digital coaxial audio.
Both video outputs can be used simultaneously.

BIOS

The BIOS of the P5E-VM HDMI is as expansive and flexible as any we’ve encountered in fuall ATX boards geared to performance enthusasists. The screenshots below give you a slice of this BIOS.


BIOS Performance Settings.

 


More settings.

 

Notable BIOS Controls
Setting
Options
Multiplier
6 to maximum
FSB Frequency 200Mhz to 800Mhz in 1Mhz increments
PCIE Frequency 100Mhz to 150Mhz in 1Mhz increments
DRAM Frequency Varies depending on FSB Strap setting
DRAM Timing Control Numerous, various
CPU Voltage 1.1000V to 1.7000V in 0.0125V increments
DRAM Voltage 1.80V to 2.44V in 0.02V increments
North Bridge Voltage 1.25V to 1.71V in 0.02V increments
South Bridge Voltage 1.05V, 1.20V
Video Memory 128MB/256MB, Fixed/DVMT

The frequency and voltage options are impressive. Some features were unfamilar, including
“Clock Over-Charging Mode,” “CPU Voltage Damper,” “PLL
Voltage,” and others. There is still room for improvement for “undervolters”, as the lower
limit for CPU voltage is only 1.1000V.

FAN CONTROL

Fan control from within the BIOS is available in the Hardware Monitor section.
With the Q-Fan feature enabled, three different CPU fan speed profiles can be
selected: Optimal, Silent, and Performance. A fan connected the CHA_FAN1 header
can also be controlled. The “Chassis Fan Ratio” can be set to 90%,
80%, 70% or 60%. The case fan will run at this speed unless the system temperature
exceeds the designated “Chassis Target Temperature” which can be set
from anywhere between 28°C and 46°C. We looked forward to experimenting with these extensive fan controls.


The Hardware Monitor section of the BIOS.

TESTING

Test Setup:

Measurement and Analysis Tools


Our test bed. Yes, the heatsink is installed backwards. Don’t freak out.

THE FAN CONTROLS

To test exactly how the different fan profiles affected fan speed behavior,
we used an incredibly complex technique called ‘stopping the fan.’ Unfortunately
our specialized fan stopping tool was in the shop for repairs so we used a SATA
data cable wedged in-between the fan blades instead. With the fan stopped,
the CPU was allowed to heat up , and at specific temperatures
we released the fan to see fast Q-Fan decided it should spin. We used
a ZeroTherm BTF90 heatsink/fan which tops out at approximately 2500RPM to cool
our E6400 processor. When cooled passively on the open testbench system, the CPU temperature stabilized
at 69°C.

CPU Temp
CPU Fan Speed (RPM)
Silent
Optimal
Perf.
30°C
830
820
900
35°C
830
820
900
40°C
830
820
1360
45°C
840
1000
1590
50°C
840
1320
2220
55°C
1080
1730
2450
60°C
1320
2160
2450
65°C
1880
2480
2450
69°C
2160
2410
2450

As expected, the Silent profile waited the longest to spin up and spun up the
least, never reaching the fan’s maximum speed even at 69°C. The Performance
profile behaved much more aggressively, beginning to ramp up between 35°C
and 40°C, and reaching maximum speed at 55°C. The minimum speed was
also slightly higher. The Optimal profile had the smoothest increase in fan
speed, gradually picking up at around 40°C and topping out at 65°C.
These profiles should satisfy most users.


SpeedFan’s Readings screen.

For those looking for complete, customizable control, we loaded up SpeedFan
to see what could be done. CPU0 Fan and Speed02 correlated to CPU_FAN, AUX0
Fan and Speed01 to CHA_FAN1, and Sys Fan to PWR_FAN (no speed control available).


‘Manual PWM Control’ is what you want for manual control.

To enable manual fan control of the CPU and case fan headers, we had to set
PWM 1 and 2 mode to “Manual PWM Control.” While the case fan header
had a full range of control, the CPU fan header had a lower limit — it
stopped decreasing the fan speed at approximately 30%. In addition, this header
could only control 4-pin PWM fans.


PC Probe monitoring.

Asus’ PC Probe also offered an extensive range of fan speed, temperature, and
voltage monitoring data, as well as adjustable threshold limits.

POWER & HD VIDEO PLAYBACK TESTING

Our test procedure is designed to determine the overall system power consumption
at various states (measured using a Seasonic Power Angel), and to test the integrated
graphics’ proficiency at playing back high definition videos. Standard HD-DVD
and Blu Ray discs can be encoded in three different codecs by design: MPEG-2,
H.264/AVC and VC-1. MPEG-2 has been around for a number of years and is not
demanding on modern system resources. H.264 and VC-1 encoded videos on the other
hand, due to the amount of complexity in their compression schemes, are extremely
stressful and will not play smoothly (or at all) on slower PCs, especially with
antiquated video subsystems.

We
used a variety of H.264 and VC-1 video clips encoded for playback on the PC
for testing. The clips were played with Windows Media Player 11 and a CPU usage
graph was created by the Windows Task Manger for analysis to determine the approximate
mean and average CPU use. High CPU usage is indicative of poor video decoding
ability on the part of the integrated graphics subsystem. If CPU usage reached
extremely high levels and the video skipped or froze, we concluded the board
(in conjunction with the processor) failed to adequately decompress the clip.

Enhanced Intel Speed Step was enabled and Aero Glass was disabled during testing.

Video Test Suite


1280×720 | 24fps | ~6.1mbps
720p H.264: BBC’s
HD in Full Bloom
is encoded with H.264. It features time-lapsed
photography, mainly of various flowers blooming with vibrant colors
and high contrast.

 


1920×816 | 24fps | ~9.9mbps
1080p H.264:
Rush Hour 3 Trailer 1
is encoded with H.264. It has a good
mixture of light and dark scenes, interspersed with fast-motion action
and cutaways.

 


1440×1080 | 24fps | ~7.5mbps
WMV3 VC-1:
Coral Reef Adventure trailer
is encoded in VC-1 using the
WMV3 codec (commonly recognized by the moniker, “HD WMV”).
It features multiple outdoor landscape and dark underwater scenes.

 


1280×720 | 60fps | ~11.9mbps
WVC1 VC-1: Microsoft Flight Simulator X trailer
is encoded in VC-1. It’s a compilation of in-game action from a third
person point of view. While the source image quality is poor compared
to the other videos in our test suite, it is encoded using the Windows
Media Video 9 Advanced Profile (aka WVC1) codec — a much more
demanding implementation of VC-1.

 

Test Results: Power Consumption
Test State
System Power Consumption (AC)
2.13Ghz (EIST)
2.13Ghz (1.100V)
1.60Ghz (1.100V)

1.20Ghz (1.100V)

Off
3W
3W
3W
3W
Sleep (S3)
4W
4W
4W
4W
Idle
56W
53W
53W
49W
Prime95
97W
77W
73W
60W
Prime95 + ATITool
99W
79W
75W
62W

At stock settings, the system power consumption reached almost 100W when both
Prime95 and ATITool’s artifact scanner were run concurrently. When undervolted
to 1.100V, there was a significant reduction of approximately 20% at load. Underclocking
also yielded some further power savings, though not nearly as dramatic. We can
only imagine what numbers we would’ve seen if the board allowed us to go below
1.100V. Undervolting (if stable) is an easy way to keep the electric bill low
and allows slower, quieter CPU and system fans to be used.

Test Results: Video Playback
Video Clip
Mean CPU Usage
Peak CPU Usage
(Either Core)
System Power (AC)
Core 0 / 1
Average
720p H.264
19% / 15%
17.0%
35%
63W
1080p H.264
33% / 20%
26.5%
63%
65W
WMV3 VC-1
24% / 28%
26.0%
49%
65W
WVC1 VC-1
45% / 32%
38.5%
67%
73W
WVC1 (1.6Ghz)
40% / 48%
44.0%
75%
65W
WVC1 (1.2Ghz)
100% / 100%
100.0%
100%
58W

Video playback was excellent as none of the clips gave the test system any
problems. The demanding WVC1 clip was also played with the system underclocked
to 1.6Ghz and 1.2Ghz. At 1.6Ghz there was a moderate increase in CPU usage,
but also a sizable decrease in power consumption. At this speed, it still rendered
the video smoothly with plenty of headroom. Intel’s slowest dual core processor
happens to be clocked at 1.6Ghz, so in conjunction with a G35 motherboard, all
of Intel’s slower dual core processors are fast enough to play back the majority
of H.264 and VC-1 videos adequately. At 1.2Ghz, the clip stuttered frequently
and there were complete pauses in some spots. If underclocking, we recommend
keeping the clock speed to at least 1.4Ghz for proper VC-1 playback.

COMPARING G35 and G33

It’s not really a faceoff between chipsets, rather, it’s one between specific motherboards. A chipset comparison would require many different board samples. However, it’s interesting to compare this board against the Intel DG33TL reviewed last week, equipped with the earlier G33 chipset and GMA X3000 graphics.

Comparison: Asus P5E-VM HDMI (G35) vs. Intel DG33TL
(G33)
Test State
P5E-VM HDMI (G35)
DG33TL (G33)
Average CPU Usage
System Power (AC)
Average CPU Usage
System Power (AC)
Off
N/A
3W
N/A
2W
Sleep (S3)
N/A
4W
N/A
3W
Idle
0%
56W
0%
52W
720p H.264
17.0%
~63W
14.5%
~55W
1080p H.264
26.5%
~65W
25.0%
~58W
WMV3 VC-1
26.0%
~65W
28.5%
~58W
WVC1 VC-1
44.0%
~73W
52.0%
~71W
Prime95 (x2)
100%
97W
100%
96W

The new Asus shows a slight improvements in video playback. Looking at the power
consumption numbers we find that at idle there was only a 4W gap, but the difference was negligible when running
Prime95. The most notable differences occurred
during video playback testing, where power consumption was up to 8W higher.
These results seem to indicate that the more advanced integrated graphics of
the G35 chipset simply has a higher overhead.

During stress testing, both chipset heatsinks became very hot. While
this was expected on the much smaller southbridge heatsink, it was more of a surprise on the much larger northbridge heatsink. This may be
due, again, to the more advanced GMA X3500 graphics.

OVERCLOCKING

Normally we don’t delve into overclocking, but we were curious to know whether all these settings were window dressing or
if you could actually accomplish a good overclock. We used an Intel Core 2 Duo
E6400 (8 x 266Mhz) with CPU voltage increased to 1.40V and multiplier lowered
to 6x and Corsair Dominator PC2-8500 memory. FSB frequency was raised in 5Mhz
increments until it would not boot into Vista.

With all other settings at default, the system booted into Vista at 435Mhz.
At 440Mhz, the screen would blink on and off indicating that it was causing
problems for the integrated video. Our suspicion was confirmed when it booted
up without any problems with a dedicated video card installed. After some more
testing we found that the GMA X3500 was only stable up to 385Mhz — at 390Mhz
ATITool began to detect artifacts. Increasing the northbridge voltage helped
stabilized the GPU, but we didn’t want to continue with the onboard graphics
hampering us.


485Mhz: the maximum FSB overclock we could achieve with a 0.10V bump in
northbridge voltage.

Using a Radeon X1950XTX instead gave us a lot more headroom — we reached
a limit of 450Mhz before the board failed to boot. Increasing the
northbridge voltage by 0.10V allowed us to push the board further to 485Mhz.
We did not try to go any higher as we only wanted
to provide a cursory evaluation of its overclocking ability without too much
fiddling.

The chipset heatsinks got quite hot when overclocked so we aimed
a Scythe 120mm fan at them, but it did not help us overclock any further. It
is possible that our E6400 had reached its limit, though we doubt this is
the case as most E6400’s seem to be capable of 3.0Ghz, the CPU
voltage was raised quite a bit and it had more than adequate cooling. 485Mhz is already very
impressive, but it’s probable that the board is capable of even higher speed
with more tweaking. If you plan on overclocking while using the onboard
graphics, we expect you will need to pump a lot of extra voltage into the northbridge.


AI Suite worked great until we tried to run it.

Users put off by BIOS overclocking can try it from the desktop using the Asus
AI Suite utility. Unfortunately we were presented with an error message when
we tried to run it in Vista.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Asus has produced a compelling product with the P5E-VM HDMI. The Intel
chipsets provide a huge range of features and an improved graphics engine.
Asus built upon those strengths by implementing solid-state capacitors,
an admirable fan control system, and a wide-open BIOS that makes the board a
surprisingly good overclocker. This last capability really separates it from the
rest of the pack. Unless the extra expansion slots are required, it’s a serious contender for power users
and gamers, which
can’t be said of the majority of mATX mainboards. Housed in a good mATX case such as the Antec NSK3480 or a Silverstone TJ08, the P5E-VM HDMI mated with a good gaming graphics card could form the heart of a quiet, small, yet powerful gaming rig. Despite the improvements in image and video quality of the GX3500 integrated graphics, no gamer could be happy with its performance in modern 3D games (for reasons detailed explicitly from this gaming-oriented review posted by the Register just a couple of days ago.)

 


The board’s higher power requirements probably wouldn’t be noticed by other reviewers, but energy efficiency is a characterstic we’ve examined and valued for years. Power
consumption was generally higher; with a faster and more advanced DX10
GPU, this may have been unavoidable. A lower limit for CPU undervolting would be nice to see, as the current 1.10V is basically the
same as SpeedStep. Minimizing
CPU voltage can result in substantial reduction of power consumption. Lower CPU voltage options could easily be implemented in a new BIOS release.

On a more practical level, the board is expected
to retail initially for $150~200 — lofty pricing for a mATX board. ($132 was the lowest online price we found just moments before this review was posted.) For HTPC applications, AM2-based mATX boards have developed nicely, offering excellent integrated graphics with both nVidia and AMD690G chipsets, and usually selling at prices under $100. It will be interesting to see whether the higher pricing of this Asus is mirrored in G35 mATX boards from other brands. Whatever the initial selling prices are, we expect it won’t be long before they slide downwards, in the pattern common to almost all in consumer IT products.

The Asus P5E-VM HDMI is not the perfect product
for a silent or green PC, but for all other purposes, it’s close to perfect.
The new X3500 integrated graphics core is Intel’s best thus far, and it provides a nice boost, making HD video possible on this board even with the slowest of Core 2 processors being produced by Intel today. Finally, if you are an enthusiast who has been longing for a socket-775 mATX board
with the overclocking prowess of a premium ATX board, your wait is officially
over.

PROS

* Long list of features
* Multiple video and audio outputs
* Superb high definition playback
* Solid-state capacitors
* Good fan control
* Overclocks suprisingly well
(if the onboard video is disabled)

CONS

* Undervolting is limited
* Higher power consumption compared to the G33 chipset
* Price

Our thanks to ASUSTeK
for this motherboard sample.

* * *

Articles of Related Interest

Intel DG33TL mATX mainboard
Asus M2A-VM HDMI: AM2 mATX motherboard
Hiper Media Center Barebones PC
Albatron KI690-AM2: A Mini-ITX Powerhouse
AOpen i945GTt-VFA m-ITX C2D motherboard

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