Summary: Looking for a good P55 motherboard to OC your CPU beyond 4GHz? If so, you may want to check out EVGA's P55 FTW. With its extra ATX12V connector, this motherboard can send up to 600W of juice to the CPU, and it's got more voltage settings in BIOS than 95% of the general public needs. But that's just barely scratching the surface of what this board can do. Check out today's review for the full details!
But building kickass graphics cards isn’t all that EVGA does. As many of you know, EVGA is also making a name for themselves in the motherboard space.
At first EVGA’s motherboard efforts were largely based around NVIDIA reference board designs: EVGA merely slapped their stickers on the board, and shipped it out the door. The benefit to the consumer was that you knew you were getting a board that had been tested and qualified by NVIDIA themselves, and of course an even better value-add was EVGA’s excellent customer service and support: EVGA’s after purchase support is legendary. Not only does EVGA provide toll-free phone support, their online forums are actively monitored daily by EVGA support employees. Over the years I’ve seen cases where they cross-ship RMA’ed products when a new GPU or motherboard first comes out, although officially the company maintains that they don’t offer cross-shipping (I think they had a problem with some people abusing it).
In the last two years EVGA’s motherboard team has begun to step out of the reference board box, coming up with unique designs of their own. In 2007 EVGA picked up a number of ex-EpoX engineers, who worked on many of their non-reference designs for the nForce platform.
For those of you who don’t know, back in the days EpoX, along with ABIT, were the two leading motherboard manufacturers among hardcore overclockers and enthusiasts. From a pure hardware perspective, EpoX built some great boards, but they were ultimately doomed by poor marketing and support.
Beginning last year with the X58 chipset, EVGA enlisted the services of master overclocker Peter Tan, aka “Shamino”. Shamino played a key role in the design of EVGA’s X58 SLI Classified, and now heads up work on their latest high-end motherboards.
The X58 SLI Classified is EVGA’s flagship motherboard, with its integrated NF200 chip, it sports 4 PCI Express graphics slots with full support for 3-Way x16/x16/x16 SLI plus a dedicated GeForce card for PhysX+PCIe audio, and is loaded with the latest features for overclocking. To this day, the X58 SLI Classified holds all the world records in 3DMark 03, 05, 06 and Vantage for overclocking.
With their EpoX roots, and now a world record-breaking overclocker at the helm, you can bet who EVGA’s targeting their latest motherboards towards: the gamers and hardware enthusiasts who love to overclock.
For their latest high-end P55 motherboard, the $220 P55 FTW, EVGA incorporates many of the same features found in their $400+ X58 SLI Classified. Considering the success EVGA’s already enjoyed from the X58 Classified, this should make the P55 FTW an instant hit right? Let’s find out…
Now if that’s what you’re looking for, EVGA does make a complete lineup of P55 motherboards which don’t have the bells and whistles found on the FTW, but sell for significantly less money.
We say this upfront because honestly in a lot of ways the FTW board is overbuilt for the guy who may just want to rely on Turbo Mode for his Core i5-750 when it comes to OC’ing, or maybe you’re just shooting for a relatively tame (for these processors anyway) 500MHz OC. This is easily achievable with one of EVGA’s lower-end P55 boards, and you’ll save yourself some money in the process.
If you want to have it all though, and want to push your motherboard and processor to their fullest capabilities, you’d be hard-pressed to beat EVGA’s P55 FTW. EVGA’s loaded this board up with all kinds of goodies for enthusiasts.
For starters, EVGA uses low inductance ceramic capacitors (LICC) in the CPU socket. Why use LICCs here? For maximum efficiency. High inductance leads to power loss, so EVGA uses LICCs to reduce inductance as much as possible.
Another interesting feature supported by the P55 FTW is its PCI Express disable jumpers. This move was made to ease troubleshooting. In a water-cooled SLI system experiencing graphical glitches for instance, you’d have to take everything apart to determine which card is causing the problem. Thanks to EVGA’s PCIe disable jumpers, you can easily disable the PCI Express slot(s) without having to touch your graphics card.
These are the same features EVGA integrated on their X58 SLI Classified by the way.
Like the X58 SLI Classified, EVGA also ships the P55 FTW with a debug board, in this case it’s their newer ECP V2 module. ECP stands for EVGA Control Panel. It’s a handy external device which features built-in buttons for turning the system on, reset, and clearing CMOS, as well as PCIe slot disable jumpers, and buttons for increasing or decreasing the CPU core voltage and VTT. Simply tap the button on the ECP V2 module to increase or decrease CPU voltage by 0.1V, as well as a button for increasing CPU VTT voltage 0.1V. Finally, a debug LED is placed on the bottom right of the ECP module.
This can be used like a traditional diagnostic LED to read hex codes during POST, and it can also be used to monitor CPU temps once the motherboard has booted into the OS.
A ribbon cable is used to connect the ECP V2 module to the motherboard.
It doesn’t stop there though. If you look closely, you’ll see that EVGA also includes a 4-pin Molex connector on the board. This is used to provide additional power to the PCI Express slots. Apparently Shamino found this extra bit of juice can be helpful at improving stability when running multiple graphics cards while the CPU and GPU are also heavily overclocked.
Along the same lines, the P55 FTW also features a second ATX12V power connector. As a result, you could theoretically send up to 600W of power to your Lynnfield CPU.
Like the Molex power connector, this second connector is completely optional and would likely only be needed by someone who needs to send gobs of extra power to the CPU for extreme OC’ing.
EVGA also places dedicated read points on the top of the board, allowing you to get accurate voltages for the VCORE, DIMM, PCH, CPU_PLL, VTT, and Ground with a voltmeter or multimeter.
Another interesting feature EVGA has added to the P55 FTW is three BIOS chips. You can use this feature for a variety of different applications.
EVGA EVBot support
While it doesn’t ship with the motherboard, the P55 FTW also supports EVGA’s external EVBot device. This is a handheld unit hooked up to the motherboard via ribbon cable that you can use to overclock your processor on-the-fly without having to load up a software utility. EVBot can also be used to adjust voltages, PCIe speeds, and other settings you’d expect to find in BIOS.
While we haven’t seen it firsthand ourselves, EVGA says that EVBot uses no system resources, and in addition to supporting CPU/motherboard OC’ing, EVBot will also be compatible with EVGA Classified video cards like the GeForce GTX 285 Classified. Presumably you’ll be able to OC all these devices at any time with the EVBot.
EVBot has yet to be released, and EVGA hasn’t mentioned a price for this device.
Onboard power, reset, clear CMOS buttons/diagnostic LED
Like other high-end EVGA motherboards, the P55 FTW ships with built-in power, reset, and clear CMOS buttons located on the bottom of the motherboard. This is a feature that won’t apply to most of the general public, but for anyone running their PC on an open test bench (like us), this is a feature you’ll really appreciate. As an added bonus, the reset button also acts as a HDD activity LED.
A second clear CMOS button is also located on the backplate of the motherboard for handy access.
EVGA also continues to equip the P55 FTW with a diagnostic LED display, which is located on the bottom right corner of the board. This is helpful for diagnosing problems during POST. If your system isn’t booting up properly, simply look up the hex code displayed by the diagnostic LED in your motherboard manual to determine what’s going wrong (incorrect VGA/RAM installation, CPU initialization, etc).
Like the debug LED on the ECP V2 module, this diagnostic LED reads the current CPU temp once the OS is loaded, so you instantly know how hot or cool your CPU is running. Sweet!
Double play heatsink support
In addition to the standard mounting holes for LGA-1156 CPU coolers, EVGA also includes mounting holes for LGA-775, so those of you with Core 2/Pentium coolers can use your existing cooling on the P55 FTW.
Unlike some of the other high-end P55 boards out there that mix and match a wide range of colors and other flashy parts, EVGA goes for an all-business look for the P55 FTW. Frankly, we like it.
The PCB itself is decked out in black, with the heatsinks, SATA ports, PCI slots, x1 PCIe and x4 PEG slots also sporting black. The primary PEG slot and secondary x8 PEG (PCI Express Graphics) slot are colored gray, and the DIMMs are color-coded so you won’t accidentally hook them up incorrectly.
Moving to the area around the CPU socket, we see no major obstacles that should prevent you from installing high-end coolers. Like many manufacturers EVGA employs large aluminum heatsinks to cool the MOSFETs, but the heatsinks are safely out of harm’s way. Thankfully EVGA doesn’t use push-pins to mount them to the motherboard, this ensures a better seal, which improves their cooling potential.
This was one of our biggest gripes with the EVGA X58 SLI – they didn’t use push-pins there either but the heatsink used to cool the MOSFETs was prone to budge. The MOSFET cooling on the P55 FTW is much more secure.
One issue you may run into with today’s latest motherboards is RAM clearance. Memory manufacturers like Corsair and OCZ are increasingly moving to high-profile cooling for their latest high-end memory modules. Examples of this include OCZ’s Reaper modules (a favorite here in our labs) and Corsair’s Dominator memory line.
Rather than using conventional heatspreaders, these memory modules are outfitted with tall heatsinks and/or heatpipes. This is great for cooling the memory, but as you can imagine, these tall memory modules can interfere with today’s latest high-end CPU coolers. EVGA’s P55 FTW suffers from this problem as well.
The only solution is to leave the memory slot directly adjacent to the CPU socket empty, or to use a memory module with a conventional heatspreader like OCZ’s Platinum line, which is also very good memory.
EVGA employs a 12-phase analog power design for the CPU, with two additional phases dedicated for vtt and 3-phases for the memory. Now with Gigabyte employing 24-phases on their P55-UD6 and ASUS 32-phases on their P7P55 Premium, EVGA’s P55 FTW may look inadequate in this department but EVGA argues that it really isn’t about the total number of phases, rather their ability to support a maximum PWM frequency of 1189KHz (compared to ASUS’ 250KHz) gives them an advantage over the others as they can run really high frequencies for switching and with very fast transient response.
In all honesty we feel all of these solutions are probably overkill for 98% of the users out there. You’re going to need subzero cooling to push any of them.
Audio functionality is provided by Realtek’s ALC889 high-definition audio CODEC. The 889 is Realtek’s newest audio solution, boasting DACs with a signal-to-noise ratio of 108dB. Realtek refers to it as a 7.1+2-channel CODEC, as it can drive 7.1 sound while also simultaneously supporting 2-channel VoIP.
It’s a pretty popular solution among P55 motherboard manufacturers. Networking duties are handled by two Marvell 88E8057 PCIe-based GigE Ethernet controllers.
EVGA’s P55 FTW is mostly legacy free, you’ll find no IDE or floppy connectors on the board itself, the board supports SATA drives only.
While the P55 FTW ships with three PCI Express Graphics (PEG) slots, keep in mind that due to the limitations of the P55 chipset, the third (black) PEG slot is electrically limited to x4 operation. You won’t be able to run 3-Way SLI on this motherboard.
It actually isn’t a power LED, EVGA uses a blue LED for power right next to the ATX power connector, but it’s pretty nice touch anyway.
The BIOS interface EVGA has put together for the P55 FTW is without a doubt, the most powerful we’ve seen on any P55 motherboard. Frankly, it isn’t even close either.
EVGA throws in everything but the kitchen’s sink inside the P55 FTW’s BIOS. There are a couple of settings in here that we’ve never seen before, and frankly we’re not sure what they do! EVGA even includes settings for the extreme cooling crowd running at temps below 0 degrees Celsius.
It’s the voltage and timings settings selections that impress us the most. We’re not going to list everything here, because frankly you could devote an entire article just to this board’s BIOS, but we’ll provide a quick summary.
Base clock speeds range from 133-300MHz in 1MHz increments, while PCIe speeds go up to 200MHz and memory multipliers for speeds of 800MHz, 1067MHz, 1333MHz, and 1600MHz are available in BIOS. For further tweaking, you can also adjust QPI and MCH speeds, which may aid stability for high OCs.
In terms of voltages, CPU voltages range from 1.0V to a staggering 2.3V in very fine increments of just 0.00625V. For the safety of your CPU, we wouldn’t recommend going over 1.45V on air for extended periods of time unless you’ve got very good cooling, so you can see that a lot of the voltages EVGA provides are overkill for most people. For most voltages, EVGA includes voltage settings for initial bootup, as well as eventual voltage setting.
DRAM voltages offered range from 1.20V-2.6V in increments of 0.01V. Again, this is another case of overkill, Intel recommends users don’t exceed 1.65V on the DRAM voltage, or else you could potentially damage the memory controller inside your CPU. EVGA offers VDroop control to enhance stability during OC’ing and you can also select your CPU, VTT, and DDR PWM Frequencies. You’ll want to set these as low as you can go to maintain stability in order to keep your motherboard temps down.
Chipset voltages range from 1.05V-2.625V, mainly in increments of 0.025V, while CPU PLL voltages range from 1.05V-2.4V , also in increments of 0.025V.
Finally, CPU VTT voltages of 1.05-2.0V are available within BIOS in increments of 0.025V.
The P55 FTW’s BIOS supports up to four custom profiles, and you can even adjust the signal strength for components like the CPU, PCIe bus, DMI, PCH, and DDR.
If you don’t want to manually sit down and tweak all the various settings, you can leave everything at auto and the board will attempt to get the proper settings for your given clock speed. Newer chipsets and motherboards are getting increasingly good at this.
We managed to hit a max bclk of 218MHz with our P55 FTW board. We could actually boot the board at higher speeds, but couldn’t maintain 100% stability.
With our Core i7-870 Lynnfield CPU, we were able to hit speeds of 4.42GHz (22x202) with complete stability at 1.42V. This is as far as our particular CPU sample will go with air cooling.
Note, the CPU-Z screenshot indicates 1.25V core voltage, but that’s not what we set manually in BIOS. We think the board may be automatically adjusting voltage based on usage, with 1.42V set as the max limit.
Intel Core i7-870
4GB (2x2GB) Kingston KHX1600C8D3K2/4GX @ DDR3-1333 Speeds
ASUS P7P55D Deluxe
EVGA P55 FTW
ATI Radeon HD 5850
Catalyst 9.10 Beta
150GB Western Digital Raptor
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
Far Cry 2
Valve Particle Simulation Benchmark
Performance: With Intel now integrating the PCI Express controller on the CPU, there’s very little left for the chipset to handle. As such, performance is going to be largely the same across different P55 motherboards. You’ll really only find differences in the peripheral components like SATA, USB, networking, etc.
Quirky BIOS: While EVGA’s BIOS implementation has everything a hardcore enthusiast would want for OC’ing in terms of feature set, EVGA’s still got some gremlins in there that make the experience a little rough around the edges for end users. USB compatibility can be intermittent. This is an issue that we experienced with the X58 SLI when it initially debuted also, but it was eventually addressed via BIOS update. Some users have complained about the long boot times, but this is because the board has to reboot itself each time in order for the clock generator to switch modes (the board boots up for 3-7 seconds, then shuts off to reboot). The beeping you’ll hear during POST is the board detecting USB devices.