ASUS P5N32-SLI Premium/WiFi-AP Edition nForce 590 Review - Page 4 of 6
Review by Kyle Kerley - November 20, 2006
With the physical installation of the board out of the way, I was getting more and more excited to get some games installed and see how well this computer performed...especially because installing Windows (not including time for formatting the Raptor) took under 8 minutes total. After Windows was up and running, I installed the latest chipset drivers from NVIDIA's site. Upon rebooting, my computer could not get a valid IP address no matter what I did. I tried both of the LAN ports on the back of the motherboard and even put in a separate PCI NIC made by Linksys.
I figured it must've been a driver issue and installed the included WiFi adpater which worked perfectly. It found a ton of networks in my apartment building and connected to the one in my unit perfectly. Finally online, I went to find the latest driver betas in the forums to see if maybe the Ethernet driver had been fixed. But, when I uninstalled the drivers and rebooted the computer, Windows wouldn't load. After the XP loading screen would come up, I would just get a black screen. I let it sit for almost 10 minutes twice with no luck. Even Safe Mode hung when trying to load. With no other alternative, I reinstalled Windows. I made my roommate download the Service Pack 2 package for IT Professionals since the version of Windows XP I have is the original release from 2001 without even SP1. Since SP1 is required for USB 2.0 support and the drivers threw up an error last time about SP1 not being installed, I figured this had to be the problem.
It wasn't. The same thing happened again: I couldn't get an IP address. I reset the router and cable modem countless times, moved my cable between all four ports and still couldn't get a connection. This was incredibly frustrating and made me think that it was a problem with the LAN ports on the motherboard, or perhaps some very odd bug that kept the board from getting an IP address from a groundline Ethernet connection since even that Linsys PCI card couldn't pull a valid IP. This was so confusing and frustrating because my previous machine, using the MSI K9N SLI Platinum nForce 570 board, that was running only a few hours earlier was able to connect just fine via LAN.
With SP2 installed now, I again uninstalled the drivers hoping to use the nForce 4 Intel Ethernet driver to fix the problem and the same bug as before happened! I couldn't get into Windows after uninstalling the Ethernet driver. I was very frustrated and decided to plug my work laptop into the router and Google some answers. But I couldn't get an IP address on that either. Now I was thinking that either my Ethernet cable suddenly went bad or the router went bad. After a quick trip to Best Buy, I found that my old router had in fact died, or at least the Ethernet ports did. Using a new Linksys WRT54GS Wireless 802.11g router with SpeedBoost, I was able to plug in via Ethernet and get an IP within second. Perhaps the most confusing part about this entire situation was that I was able to get onto my wireless network using the included adapter with no problem. Since that was working and my previous build had been working only a few hours earlier, I assumed there could be no problems with the router.
I was mistaken, but I was very happy to find that it was the router with the problem and not the motherboard. However, the bug where Windows would no longer load after the drivers were uninstalled is still bothering me. I could find nothing about it on Google or on ASUS's website, so that makes me think this is an isolated indicident, but it happened three times. Thankfully, the current chipset drivers seem to be working just fine and hopefully will be for the entire time I have this board.
Another issue that came up and really started to worry me was when the computer started turning itself off at random times and for seemingly no reason at all. I woke up one morning and it was just off. The event log showed no critical failures or warnings of any kind...there was just a 4 hour gap between when it turned off and when I got back into Windows.
A few days later, I came home from class to find it off again. Fearing overheating since the CPU had been running at about 48C idle, I turned the computer back on and again checked the event log. This time there was a warning message and it was from my APC battery backup. The battery is over three years old and failing and since the computer is set to shut itself down when the battery gets below 10% of its power, that was what was happening.
With these "bugs" flattened out, the motherboard has been running stable as a rock. The only complaint I had up until overclocking was that the CPU ran ridiculously hot. So hot, in fact, I thought I had seated the heatsink incorrectly, but that was not the case. The CPU was idling anywhere between 48C and 55C and getting up to 67C under a Prime95 load. It was under 70 so I wasn't too worried, but I was uncomfortable nonetheless.
BIOS AND OVERCLOCKING
The BIOS is what I expected with a top-of-the-line board, and one from ASUS who is known for offering customers tons of overclocking options. It has all the standard features found in every BIOS (boot order, time/date, etc) along with the power-user options. There is a menu screen for forcing memory timings and so far, so good with mine. My memory is running at its rated DDR2 800 (4-4-3-8 1T) speeds without any problem, thanks to the memory timings screen.
BIOS Memory Timing Configuration Screen
Apart from the memory timings configuration area, the screen power-users are going to probably spend the most time on is the CPU/Memory frequencies screen. Offering the ability to adjust just the frontside bus, just the memory or both in 1MHz increments (up to 1300MHz for RAM and up to 1600MHz for the FSB) or by hitting enter and manually typing a speed (a big time-saver), ASUS gives overclockers exactly what they need to get the most out of their RAM and CPUs.
BIOS Memory Timing Configuration Screen
The northbridge and southbridge frequencies are also able to be adjusted up to 150 each. I feel this is perhaps the most feature-rich and overclocker friendly motherboard I've ever used. To allow for even easier overclocking, ASUS allows users to save BIOS's as profiles for later use to switch around as needed. It's a very nice touch in case there are varying levels of overclocking one may want to use at any given time.
With all these options for overclocking, I, of course, had to see how far this Core 2 Duo could go. With the temps are high as they were at stock speeds, I wasn't expecting much at all, but ended up being very surprised. I figured I'd shoot the moon and go from a 1066MHz FSB up to 1333MHz. The system posted just fine at 2.99GHz and Windows started without error. The CPU was idling at 63C, though, and that made me very nervous. Since it was error free, I went back into the BIOS and pumped it to 1400MHz, making sure to up the CPU voltage .15v to compensate.
1400MHz was too much and Explorer crashed almost as soon as it finished loading. Back to the BIOS, I backed off to 1390 and still had crashing. Finally, at 1373.7MHz, I got Windows start normally and began running Prime95 to make sure the CPU was solid.
CPU-Z CPU at 3091MHz
That resulted in a clock speed of 3091MHz: a 691MHz overclock! I was also able to get the RAM up to 999MHz without it breaking a sweat, however, thermals kept my excitement in check.
CPU-Z CPU at 3091MHz
The CPU was idling at 71C at these speeds (all temperatures are according to SpeedFan) and when I ran Prime95, temperatures got up to 77C. I thought they would go higher, but looking at CPU-Z, I saw that the thermal throttling was going into effect, lowering the CPU multiplier to keep the temperature in check as much as possible.
This board has got all the potential to be a major overclocker, as does my CPU and RAM...the only thing holding me back is heat. With an extreme aftermarket cooler, I have no doubt in my mind I'd be able to run the CPU at 3091MHz with no problems and no thermal throttling. But until then, I'm happy to plug along at the stock speeds.
An interesting side effect of overclocking, however, is that my CPU is now idling around 28C and only gets up to 35C at full load. Perhaps the overclocking was some sort of burn-in that got the Arctic Silver 5 working to its fullest potential or something else entirely...either way, I'm definitely not complaining.