There are a few improvements since the 925XE chipset was released. On the Northbridge, the memory bandwidth increased from 8.5GB/s to 10.7GB/s. And the memory addressability increased from 4GB to 8GB. It also supports all LGA775 CPU's including dual core Pentium D and Pentium Extreme Editions.
On the Southbridge SATA at 3 GB/s bandwidth has been established for each of the four SATA ports. I would call this SATA II as everybody is expecting, but the naming organization messed it up and killed our enthusiasm. We cannot call it SATA II. Actually, the increase to 3.0GB/s doesn't bring anything because the bottleneck is not the link to the motherboard. The bottleneck is the drive mechanics.
But the new Southbridge has brought something new to the desktop. You can use a minimum of three, and up to four hard drives to set RAID5. With Mirroring (RAID1) you lose half the capacity. The stripe sets (RAID0) is a call for disaster. But with the RAID5 configuration you lose only one hard drives capacity up to 4 drives. Even if one hard drive fails you don't loose your data. RAID5 was possible with expensive add-on cards before. Or you needed to buy a Server OS to be able to do RAID5 in software.
If this motherboard would be a pizza, you would call it "Super Supreme" or "Extravaganza". You name it; the Asus P5WD2 Premium has it. Let's start to name those features. This motherboard supports both the dual core Pentium D and Pentium Extreme Edition as well as low cost Celerons up to a 1066MHz Front side bus in LGA775 packaging. The Northbridge is cooled by a large heat sink. Asus has been using this kind of cooling to prevent sound and fan failures for a long time now.
This motherboard requires a 24 pin and a 4 pin 12V connector from your PS, but actually they placed an 8 pin EPS type connector so it is possible to install only the 4 pin using half of the connector. And if you are thinking two video cards, they provided a regular 4 pin Molex type connector on the motherboard, what they called an EZ Plug. Asus is recommending a 400W PS for standard use and they are recommending at least a 500W.PS and using the EZ Plug for dual Video card setup. I agree with them. I have tried a 350W PS with pin converter. It is running but it heats up the power supply. For long-term use, you need a PS with serious muscle.
The motherboard has a single PCI-E 16x port and a single PCI-E universal port, which supports up to 4x PCI-E. In the list of packaging a "GT Soft Bridge" was listed. This was supposed to be the SLI Bridge. The 955X chipset motherboards do not support SLI yet. May be they forgot, or maybe they altered the package knowing it will not happen.
The first thing I tried was plugging in two nVidia cards. Both worked. Not in SLI mode though. You won't be able to SLI them even with special drivers. If somebody finds a tweak, let us know! The second thing I have tried to run was a Matrox APVe card and an nVidia card. It locked up while booting. Bummer! I would like to utilize perfect HDTV and analog TV overlay out capabilities of the Matrox card and the 3D gaming of nVidia. They didn't leave much need but the motherboard has 3 PCI slots just in case you may like to plug a modem, SCSI and/or a TV Tuner. It has a single PCI-E 1x slot, which is not that popular. I could be able to find only an Ethernet card in PCI-E 1x format.
The motherboard has 4 DDR II memory slots supporting up to 8GB. This is on the hardware level. You need to have a 64 Bit OS or your Server OS supports over 4GB such as Windows 2003 Advanced Server. It supports memory speeds up to DDRII-800. It sounds cool for overclockers and actually works with high-end memory.
Theoretically you can install 12 hard drives with this motherboard. There are 3 controllers. The main one is ICH7R. You can connect two IDE hard drives, one being the Master and the second being the slave and 4 SATA hard drives. You can create RAID 0,1,10 or 5 on SATA hard drives as I explained on the chipset section. Or, you can set ICH7R to AHCI mode to utilize hot-swap for these ports. On ICH6, this feature was not that stable but I tested hot-swap on this motherboard and it worked like a charm. I bought a special bracket providing me 2 SATA ports and a power plug in the back. I connected that to ICH7R headers and power supply. Picture this; you are plugging a SATA hard drive, ghosting or backing your computer up really fast. Not USB 2.0 fast, SATA fast. And you don't have to shutdown your computer. You can unplug the hard drive no problem after backing up. While testing, I caught a glitch though. If you connect a SATA DVD Recorder like the popular Plextor 716SA, and setup SATA to AHCI mode for hot swap capability, the system locks up. ASUS was kind to overcome this issue with a beta BIOS (0425). I have tested it and it worked great. This particular BIOS is not posted live to the public as of press time. I hope they post it for everybody soon.
Second Controller is Silicon Image 3132. You can connect two SATA hard drives; one being internal and second being external by provided e-SATA connector in the back on the IO Shield. The e-SATA is one of the emerging ways of connecting SATA drives externally. You cannot connect a SATA hard drive directly to this port. It is different than standard SATA connector. You need to have an enclosure to provide power to the drive and an e-SATA connector on it. There are some external boxes out there providing this. This is for the good guys out there, scared to handle a bare drive outside of the case. I prefer the flexibility by using a SATA bracket in the back as I explained. You can create RAID 0 or RAID 1 using the external and the internal hard drives.
Third controller is ITE IDE controller. You can connect 4 IDE hard drives to the 2 red connectors on the motherboard. You cannot RAID them and you cannot connect optical devices to these ports. It is possible to connect to IDE optical devices or hard drives to ICH7R. So unless you have spare IDE drives that you don't want to throw out, I don't see a reason to have this controller.
About 5-6 years ago, on-board sound had been considered a cheapo, low quality solution. But in last 3 years, sound codec chips coupled with raw CPU power, became the main stream, no hassle solution. Signal to noise ratios increased, speaker counts went up topped with Dolby certifications. The new Creative X-Fi cards are out but even enthusiasts are trying to decide if coughing up extra money will be worth it or not. Asus P5WD2 premium supports 8 channels Hi Definition Audio with Realtek ALC882D codec. It supports Dolby Digital Live and jack sensing, jack re-tasking, multi streaming functions. There is an optical and a RCA digital port in the back, on the IO shield for optical sound to connect to amplifiers. You can connect front panel audio to the provided connectors on the motherboard for speakerphones and microphones for convenience.
The audio panel is pretty straightforward and easy. You can control the Audio jacks from an easy control panel illustrated. You can set environments such as concert hall, auditorium, even the shower. You can manually adjust the graphical equalizer or use the presets such as rock, classical.
The firewire on-board gives you one internal connector for front panel connection and one in the back. The 1394a firewire supports up to 400 Mbps. Most of the video cameras out there have this and you can connect and transfer the video to your computer without an extra capture card. Asus had 1394b connection on P5AD2-E Premium motherboard, which supports 800 Mbps, but on this top motherboard they didn't provide it. May be it didn't become popular.
Asus P5DW2 supports 8 USB ports. Six of them are physically provided, 4 in the back and 2 on the bracket. You can use 2 more by the header connecting to the front panel. They didn't forget the legacy ports within all these new connectors. There was a parallel port on the IO Shield, a midi and a Serial port on the provided brackets.
It is pretty common for the server market, but it is not common to see two network ports provided in the desktop segment. One of them utilizing Intel PRO/1000 PM chip uses the PCI-E link to the Southbridge. Second one is utilizing Marvell 88E8001 chip uses the PCI connection. Both of them are Gigabit chips. The common use of two ports in Server market are; one internal LAN connection, one external Internet connection such as on the e-mail and proxy servers. For desktop use, it is not easy to tell, may be for Internet connection sharing, or redundant Internet connections.
The card we have received came with WI-FI option. This kit includes a TV Tuner - Wireless combo card, a wireless antenna, a FM tuner antenna, a connection breakout cable, and USB remote kit. The software package was the Cyberlink Power Cinema and Cyberlink Power Director. First I have tested the wireless option. The Wireless card can be configured as Access Point or Just wireless connection card. If you set it up as Access point, you can share your Internet connection and it act as a wireless router. If not you can connect to an access point to avoid network cabling. It gives you access to all three 801a/b/g networks up to 54 Mb/s.
Then I tested the TV and Radio tuner. Supposedly it should pick up Analog and Digital Cable or channels. I setup the test system at home. I have Comcast cable. To be able to change the channel by the provided remote, I did not use a cable box. That way I receive only the local channels. Unfortunately it picked up only two channels. Our Asus contact told us, the US version of the card does not include Digital. For the reception issue he would send me another software. Unfortunately the new Powercinema version picked up 2 channels too. To make sure, I connected the same cable directly to my TV. It picked up all unscrambled local channels.
I am providing all the software photos, but the US version of the WiFi option doesn't work well. I have read the same thing on the newsgroups. They wrote about the same problem with Comcast. Comcast is one of the largest cable suppliers in US. That makes it a big problem. So I would buy this motherboard without this option. There are great TV Tuner cards out there with remote. Actually if this would pick up channels, it would be a nice option. Powercinema provides a Windows Multimedia Center like GUI. It provides pausing, time shifting, recording options as well as photo and media viewing from the folders on in your PC. Setting up and using it with the remote is very easy. But if you don't receive channels, than there is no point.