Who says you need to spend a fortune to get a great motherboard? For everyday tasks, the ASUS P5QL-E delivers top performance for a rockbottom price.
Not everybody wants to spend a week’s pay on a motherboard. Unlike you or me, these folks actually have weird things called lives and responsibilities, usually involving a wife, kids and a mortgage. While we lie awake at night, unable to sleep due to the immense pity we feel for them, the truth is they don’t really miss out on much. With motherboards like the ASUS P5QL-E, they’re getting most of the goodies we get, but for half the cost.
For the mere sum of $130, you can purchase approximately 76 stubbies of Victoria Bitter, or this Intel P43-powered motherboard. While the VB will probably only last you a week or two, depending on whether it’s cricket season, don’t let the P5QL-E’s price suggest that it too will be short-lived. Provided you’re not going to jump on the Nehalem bus anytime soon, there’s plenty to keep your middle-of-the-road PC happy for the foreseeable future.
Let’s start with the P43 Northbridge. Like its bigger, more expensive brother, the P45, this chip supports a speedy 1600MHz frontside bus. It’s also got the newer PCI Express 2.0 lanes, but is lacking the CrossFire support of the P45. The Southbridge is the ICH10R, which we didn’t expect to see on such an affordable board. This offers a comprehensive range of RAID solutions – 0, 1, 5 and 10 – and there’s even a single eSATA port. Considering the price point, it’s no surprise to see that this board is built for DDR2, with the maximum officially supported speed of 1066MHz. Don’t let that stop you though – if your memory can handle it, you’ll hit 1200Mhz with ease.
A very noticeable difference between this board and the upper end of the spectrum is cooling. To be honest, the P5QL-E is about as sophisticated as a Coolgardie safe. There’s a small chunk of aluminium on the North- and Southbridges, but that’s about it; not a heatpipe or waterblock in sight. As a result, it’s not the best for extreme overclocking, and we also think the P43 chipset isn’t quite as tolerant as the P45. Having said that, given the officially supported 1600MHz frontside bus, there’s nothing to stop you from purchasing a 1333MHz Core 2 Duo and cranking it up faster than Intel intended. We managed to hit around 410Mhz before stability became an issue, and due to the primitive cooling, didn’t get too crazy with the voltages.
You don’t need to overclock to get impressive performance though, as the P5QL-E is a very respectable platform when running at default values. Unless you’ve got the reflexes of a cyborg, there’s no way you’d notice the difference between this and a board three times its price. In benchmarks we noticed a few per cent differences, but you won’t if you’re using it for normal day-to-day tasks.
Even the audio on this board is surprisingly capable. Realtek’s ACL1200 chip provides 8-channel sound courtesy of the board’s S/PDIF output. There’s only a single Gigabit Ethernet port on the same I/O panel as the S/PDIF, but most folks won’t miss the second one that is commonplace on more expensive boards. ASUS’s excellent Express Gate feature, which allows you to use email, internet, Skype, music and photos without booting into Windows, is also included.
Hmmm, maybe the guys that buy these cheap boards are onto something. It may not overclock to the point where liquid nitrogen becomes essential cooling, and the lack of CrossFire support means there’s no worries about buggy drivers and crashing drivers, but many users will be hard pressed to tell the ASUS P5QL-E from boards twice its price.