955X-based mobo shoot-out

We test the top LGA755 motherboards

A smattering of extra features helps turn the otherwise reference-like D955XBK motherboard into a real retail contender, and it scores points for having a three-year warranty, common on most Intel boxed motherboards. It doesn't have some of the more esoteric features found on the Gigabyte and ABIT models, but has enough to keep most users happy, especially with CrossFire around the corner.

The board is bundled with a well-written main manual, comlete with colour illustrations, that only covers basic installation. There's no reference to the BIOS settings and overclocking features at all. Intel's excellent one-click installation CD takes the boring work out of chipset and features installation, and a second CD adds in a whole slew of extra, useful software from the likes of Norton, Farstone, NTI, MusicMatch, Intervideo and Jasc, as well as a number of Intel-specific utilities.

What's interesting to note is that the eight funky SATA cables supplied with the D955XBK carry SATA 2 latches that are UV-reactive. That also goes for the ATA-100 and floppy cables, and all are manufactured by BizLink. Intel, as you would expect, also adds in floppy discs for both its own Matrix Storage and Silicon Image's controllers.

A 3.5in front-mounted box adds in a couple of USB 2.0 ports and the remaining two-port FireWire support for 1394a (blue board header) and 1394b (pink header). Microphone and headphone sockets are also provided.

Extra fly cables are supplied to further boost high-speed connectivity ports and audio connections. A couple of USB 2.0 ports bring the total up to the ICH7/R-supplied eight. A single FireWire port doesn't make a whole heap of sense if you use the front-mounted box.

The first informative screen in the D955XBK's BIOS shows us processor and memory information. Of course, Intel's very own i955X motherboard supports all of its LGA775 CPUs, from lowly Celerons right up to expensive, fast dual-core models. That implies support for CPUs with native FSBs of 200MHz and 266MHz, respectively. System memory, when run with the common 200MHz FSB CPUs, can be set to 400MHz, 533MHz, 667MHz or 800MHz. Dual-channel DDR 2 400MHz provides, theoretically, enough bandwidth to satiate the processor's requirement, and using, say, DDR2 667MHz or DDR 2 800MHz memory, without the additional burden of onboard graphics, is relatively futile. It's best to go with lower latencies than higher bandwidth, we reckon. All major parameters are set from a separate configuration screen.

System RAM's latencies can be reduced in order to increase performance. We ran with a pair of Corsair's 3-2-2-8 DDR 2 667MHz modules at DDR2 533MHz speeds. It's nice to see that DDR 2 voltage can be raised from the default 1.8V up to 2.08V. Enthusiast-orientated DDR 2 RAM tends to require more than 2V for operation at its rated frequency and timings. The SPD for the modules is rather relaxed.

Where the D955XBK Extreme really falls down is in providing the user with easy-to-use FSB and CPU voltage adjustment. One can add up to ten per cent extra clock speed from the menu, but it's far, far less than what's available on most partners' boards, including the ABIT and Gigabyte models reviewed here. It's somewhat strange that Intel provides a reasonable degree of MCH voltage adjustment but then doesn't do the same for the CPU. This may, of course, change with newer BIOS release, and Intel seems to update pretty often.

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