In the midst of the SLI craze Intel launched two new chipsets with the 955X being its latest performance solution. Although we’ve already seen the Intel board, the Asus P5WD2 Premium is the first partner product to arrive in our labs and Asus hasn’t spared any expense making this one of the best 955X boards on the market.
Interestingly the P5WD2 Premium incorporates two x16 PCI Express slots, although the second one didn’t seem to offer any functionality for a graphics card. However, Windows XP does detect a second graphics card in the slot and installs the drivers, but no extra outputs were to be found in the display properties. Asus also provides a soft SLI bridge in the box, but installing this did not enable SLI.
There are rumours about nVidia opening up SLI for other platforms later this year and Asus might just have prepared the P5WD2 Premium for such an event. At least you don’t have to source the SLI bridge connector in the future if this becomes an option. The second slot can still be used for x1 or x4 PCI Express cards, so it’s not useless by any means. The speed of the slot can be set in the BIOS and if you have a graphics card fitted in the slot you can select to use two or four lanes.
Having covered the least useful part of the P5WD2 Premium – at least for the moment – let’s take a look at some of the more useful ones. The Intel 955X chipset incorporates four SATA connectors and supports RAID 0, 1, 0+1 and 5 as well as Intel Matrix RAID. Asus has added a Silicon Image controller, but this has a special purpose. One of the ports is part of the rear I/O of the motherboard, which means that you can connect external SATA devices. How useful this really is without a power connector at the rear of your PC is a matter for discussion, but you can get external drive cases with SATA connectors. The second port is located just behind the I/O connectors, which isn’t an ideal location in terms of cable routing if you need to use it.
As with the last generation of Intel chipsets, you only get one IDE connector, although there are still more IDE than SATA devices in use, so Asus has remedied this by adding an IDE controller. This allows for a further four IDE devices to be connected, although it doesn’t offer any RAID support.