Asus P5B Premium Vista Edition review

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Many manufacturers are scrambling to get on the Vista bandwagon, but few are doing so with quite as much gusto as Asus. Last month, it brought us the first SideShow device – an embedded screen in the lid of its W5fe notebook . This month, we’ve got a desktop motherboard with a SideShow screen, as well as integrated flash memory to take advantage of Vista’s ReadyBoost feature and TPM (Trusted Platform Module) support.

From the outset, though, we should point out that the promising SideShow screen isn’t strictly speaking compatible with Vista SideShow. To get what Asus calls the ScreenDUO working, you’ll need to install a set of drivers from the included CD, as well as use the dedicated USB port on the motherboard. Then you can enable Gadgets in the SideShow tool of Vista’s Control Panel, although you can’t use Microsoft’s default or downloadable offerings: Asus supplies Gadgets for the Inbox, Contacts and Calendar of Outlook 2007, as well as extras for controlling iTunes and Windows Media Player.

To be really enticing, the ScreenDUO needs more flexibility than this. The cheap-feeling controls, the USB cable that powers it and the fact that a lot of the Gadgets aren’t tailored for a desktop PC undermine its usefulness. Even playing music requires access to the hard disk, as there’s only 64MB of memory onboard; so the PC has to be powered up too. But there’s certainly potential. A menu-driven Bluetooth remote that could sleep or wake your PC, play music, adjust the volume and control Media Center certainly has appeal. For the moment, Asus bundles a slightly less useful (and fiddly) infrared-based remote control. The infrared receiver (which connects to another dedicated USB port) is unsightly, though.

A more intriguing feature of this Vista Edition motherboard is the integrated ReadyBoost module, which Asus calls the Asus Accelerated Propeller, or ASAP. It’s essentially the guts of a 512MB flash drive soldered into a mid-board USB header. However, you won’t find a 512MB storage device in Vista’s Computer section from the off. Instead, you have to install another set of drivers from the driver CD. Again, this process was more convoluted than we’d like: clicking on the driver installer just invoked a message demanding us to install the driver first. When clicked again, the installer launched, ending in a message to enable ReadyBoost in the Control Panel. However, ReadyBoost then claimed that no ReadyBoost device was attached. We performed the usual Vista fix of restarting the PC only to find that we now had no recognised boot device. A hunt through the BIOS revealed that the ASAP device thought it was a hard disk and had usurped our Western Digital Raptor test disk. Boot order sorted, we were met by the usual portable storage device dialog box offering to test our drive for ReadyBoost compatibility.

We’ve found ReadyBoost to be useful, especially on systems with less than 512MB of RAM, but there was no notable improvement in our benchmarks, which are designed to prevent caching where possible to provide consistent results. We did measure a few seconds being shaved off boot times, though.

Other Vista-focused extras include a TPM header for BitLocker if you can afford Vista Ultimate and the optional TPM itself. And, finally, a dual mic should make the voice-recognition built into Windows Vista that bit more effective.

In terms of performance, the board’s score was on a par with expectations; the same components in a 975X board scored 1.56 to the P5B’s 1.55. However, while you may think this is a dual-graphics board, the second PCI Express 16x slot can only handle up to 4x bandwidth.

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