Some products generate a massive amount of interest when they are announced, today's review subject is one such product, the DFI LanParty MI P55-T36 Mini ITX Motherboard. Back in early November, we exclusively reported details of DFI's secret board and today, we can finally show you what it can do.
The enthusiast market has seen a steady growth in the MATX sector recently, with practically all manufacturers jumping on the bandwagon with their versions, however, it was DFI that were first to market with their JR P45-T2RS, this was a fantastic board in its own right, never mind the fact that it was tiny and able to fit into a reasonably compact chassis, I mean, who wouldn't want a small, yet powerful gaming rig?
MATX not small enough? Well, how about Mini ITX then? At just 17x17cm, the MI is the worlds first P55 motherboard based on the Mini ITX form factor - There are no built in Atom processors or on board graphics here, its a fully featured P55 board with a 16x PCI-E slot to fit your graphics card of choice into. Mini ITX is no longer just for HTPCs!
So let's get to the important part, how does this little monster perform? Read on to find out...
DFI is an international IT expert based in Taiwan locating our Headquarters in Hsi-Chih City. DFI was established in 1981 under Mr. Y.C. Lu's principal. Dedicating to servicing customer with high technology, DFI has been earning a worldwide reputation for quality owing much to the continuing support from our customers, suppliers and affiliates as well as our own efforts over the past twenty years. With more than 20 years of computer product developing and manufacturing, our team of highly skilled engineers helps DFI position ourselves as the standard setter of price-performance solution in the manufacturing and marketing of computer products.
DFI offers a complete line-up of advanced motherboards as well as graphics solutions and Applied Computing Platforms to meet the expanding needs of the IT market. DFI also co-develops with Intel and 3rd party developers for the latest technology on IT solution. These relationships lead customers to adopt DFI products with confidence.
With our Headquarter in Taiwan and Regional Offices in the States, the Europe, China and Japan, DFI has been stably growing from its start 20 years ago into a leader in the IT field today. Close relationships with Intel, AMD, VIA and SiS ensure that DFI products reach the market with leading timing. DFI products are built with Quality as the rock base.
When developing new products, the engineers are instructed with important post to ensure flawless stability and quality as well as the competition ability with our competitors.
By accomplishing these goals, DFI has been fueling our strong growth and reputation in the industry. We are making a global impact because our products offer increasing power, more utility, and value over the competition.
DFI is one of the world's largest and most trustable motherboard and graphics card manufacturers with seniority. DFI also has been taking all expertise into the field of Applied Computing Platforms including KS Series of interactive PCs that has brought DFI further recognition as a leader in the IT Industry rather than a follower. Solid experience in total Innovative Solution sets DFI's ACP products outstanding from the others.
Commitment in Quality Management.
In order to gear with the fast-moving environments, DFI fully computerizes our production line. From raw material shipment, component storage management, assembling operation, testing, packaging to final shipping, DFI has the most advantages over our competitors. DFI prides ourselves in having the lowest return rate in the industry which stems from the insistence in using only the qualified materials, solid quality controls and state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities.
Major OEMs, ODMs and distributors add value to their product line with DFI's rock-solid reliability. Our OEM/ODM customers work with us in the product concepts. Our Sales and Customer Service Groups consult with our customers to obtain feedback on how DFI products serve their needs. The feedback information will facilitate us to more realize what our customers really need and what else we can enhance the satisfaction for customers. Our worldwide Customer Service Groups not only provide satisfactory service to our customers but also participate the improvement from the very beginning at design concept stage.
Being the first ISO9001 certified IT products developer in Taiwan, our philosophy is Total Quality Management through endless improvement. Our quality control activities begin, even before our receiving door, with the control in our supplier's process. All DFI employees take quality to heart. Using hi-tech facilities in non-pollution process, well-trained workforce manufactures quality products under ISO-9001 certified quality system. In-process and roving audit as well as sampling verification, which add to our Manufacturing labor hour, but the results are worth it. Our name has become synonymous with reliability, a reputation we are committed to maintaining. We will still keep on making improvement.
A Closer Look.
The MI P55-T36 looks like half of its cooling is missing at first glance, however, this is how it's meant to be, with just the chipset having a small, black, anodised, aluminium heat sink on it.
Looking at the photo below - at the centre top is the LGA 1156 socket, to the right are two DDR3 DIMM slots, a full sized twenty four pin ATX socket, LED postcode display, the LED/Power/Reset jumpers and a couple of fan headers. To the left of the CPU socket are the six phase Digital PWMs, DFI say that despite their conventional appearance, they are in fact hybrid PWMs, based on a traditional mosfet array design which can be calibrated by the SMBus tool, whereas pure digital PWMs require profiles to fine tune their performance. What does this mean for the end user? Not a great deal really, in theory, the PWMs should be more efficient and can be controlled more effectively.
To the left of the PWM section (more on that later), but oddly, the eight pin EPS socket is positioned between the PS/2 mouse/keyboard sockets and the Optical/coaxial digital outs. I suspect this could cause problems in some cases, just getting the eight pin plug in, time will tell.
Moving to the lower left-hand quarter of the board, we have the X-Fi Xtreme Fidelity logo stuck on top of the analog audio sockets, directly to the right of the analog sockets are three more sockets:
To the right again, we have a red jumper and a blue jumper, the red is the CMOS clear and the blue is secondary RTC reset.
Moving further to the right is the lone chipset heat sink that we mentioned earlier and directly below that is the battery, that is mounted vertically and nxt to that are two, dual USB 2 headers and three SATA II sockets. To the right of the SATA II sockets is the tiny SPI BIOS chip, this is of the fixed variety and directly underneath the BIOS chip is the "download BIOS flash" and IrDA connectors.
Finally, at the bottom of the board, we have a single PCI express II 16x socket.
The I/O panel is well stocked for a board of this size:
- PS2 Keyboard
- PS2 Mouse
- Clear CMOS Switch
- Coaxial Digital Output
- Optical Digital Output
- 6x USB 2 (or five and one E-SATA)
- 1x E-SATA (See above)
- 1x LAN
- 7.1 Channel Analog Outputs
Remember earlier, I mentioned that the CPU socket cover came in a bag?, well here's why. The LGA 1156 sockets are now "security tagged", with a notice telling you to check the socket for damaged pins before removing the label and clear plastic cover.
When you remove the security label, this happens to it!
Back to the LGA 1156 socket, DFI have gone for the LOTES branded version and this makes sense after the spate of burnt Foxconn sockets and CPUs earlier this year.
Upright battery, CMOS clear jumpers and chipset heat sink.
Test Set Up And Testing.
I'm going to test the MI as I do all our review boards - I'll do a set of benchmarks and real world observations at varying settings and then I'll overclock as far as possible and run the test again, with a sprinkle of memory tweaking along the way.
As you can see from the comedy shot above, the MI fits neatly into the corner of a standard ATX or MATX motherboard tray, but looks a little bit lost in our test bench!
The test set up is as follows:
- DFI LanParty MI P55-T36
- Intel i7 860 - Water cooled Thermochill PA120.2/Custom D-Tek Fuzion/DDC
- Corsair Dominator GT 2000MHz CAS 8
- Corsair HX620
- Samsung FJ400GB
- OCZ Vertex 250GB
- Powercolor HD4870 PCS+
While testing the MI, it became clear that its lack of cooling could be a problem at around 4GHz/1.4V and above. When stress testing with 4070MHz/1.41v the PWMs would overheat and shut down, at first I thought the MI had died, but it was the overheat protection kicking in. This was on an open test bench with 18c ambient room temps.
To try and remedy this, I fitted an overhead fan, and while this helped slightly, it didn't fix the problem. I spoke to DFI and they confirmed that it is the PWM shutting down, their tests indicate that each phase can handle around 25w MAX current, the i7 860 at the voltage I was using pulls more than this, and that's why it was shutting down. There are two key things to remember to avoid these shut downs and the first is cooling - Keep the PWMs as cool as possible, some kind of stick-on RAM sinks may be a good idea if you plan on overclocking above say 3.6GHz inside a mini ITX case, and also you need a good circulation of air in the case, around the PWM area especially, and also the back of the board where there are more mosfets. The second thing is voltage, remember, this is not a full size board, so you can't fully expect it to be able to perform like one - Try and keep the CPU voltage under 1.38v if you are using a Hyperthreaded processor.
So, just to recap, the shut downs don't appear to be a fault, but simply an inevitable limitation of the MI's form factor. I will look into this further and report back.
With the above in mind, the highest stable CPU overclock with HT on that I could manage on the MI was 3960MHz - This is in line with my Gigabyte P55-UD6 and in my opinion is nothing short of incredible for a mini ITX board. The C-State settings work well too, if you enable it, you'll be greeted with a 26x multi, this will be active for only one of your cores, but this was easily doable and stable under OCCT. I should point out that if you load up all your cores, the multi will drop to 22x.