The Board in all its Glory
Now it's down to what you've all been waiting for (or in some cases just skipped to), the board itself. Gigabyte's PCB colouring hasn't changed, the aqua blue full ATX PCB is used for the X38-DQ6, and why not as it looks quite attractive, especially if you have case lighting. Gigabyte has learnt from its past mistakes on the layout of its boards, getting criticised every review for it must have had something to do with them putting more effort into this area. The 24-pin power connector along with the FDD data port is located behind the four DDR2 memory slots which are coloured yellow and red. The 4 / 8 pin aux power connector sits between the rear I/O ports and the heatpipe assembly at the top left of the board, keeping it away from the CPU as much as possible.
The IDE port is located on the right hand edge of the board and is rotated 90 degrees allowing you to use the IDE port as well as installing large video cards. This was a big complaint on the P965 which had the IDE port the traditional way, if you wanted to use large video cards it would push the PCI Express graphics card out of its slot, especially when transporting it to and from LAN events. The arrangement Gigabyte has come up with is extremely efficient. The six ICH9 southbridge SATA ports are coloured yellow and the two SATA ports belonging to the JMicron chip are purple. The IDE port is also controlled by the JMicron chip as the ICH8 and 9 both came out with no IDE support. At this stage its still a good idea to have at least one IDE port on your southbridge.
Gigabyte's DQ6 boards are known for packing in a huge amount of voltage regulators and phases to keep a steady voltage stream to the CPU. The X38 board is no different with a total of twelve phases to keep your CPU happy. Ten of the twelve phases are located in a single row behind the rear I/O ports and the final two just above the CPU. Gigabyte has gone for this arrangement for future boards to allow a better cooling setup and to keep as much clutter away from the CPU as possible. The P35 board in contrast had six at the side and six at the top, causing the CPU to be encased in a heat pipe maze that generates quite a bit of heat which resulted in the CPU heating up when at full load compared to other boards. But its hard to match the overclocking ability that Gigabyte has managed to achieve in the past.
Gigabyte has upgraded its silent pipe cooling system for its northbridge and southbridge chipsets. The X38 chipset that the board is based around runs a lot hotter than any previous generation of Intel chipset.
In order to help keep the board at a cool temperature during full throttle operation Gigabyte has placed heatsinks on the back of the board. The large heatsink sits at the back of the CPU area, mosfets and the northbridge heatsink. A smaller heatsink sits at the back of the southbridge chip.
Now we get to the rear I/O ports. Gigabyte has done away with the parallel and serial ports and chosen to include eight USB 2.0 ports, two SPDIF ports, a 6-pin and 4-pin Firewire port, two Gigabit Ethernet ports and six Stereo Audio ports.
Now to the expansion slots. Thanks to the new X38 chipset we now get two full speed PCI Express x16 slots that also support the new PCI Express 2.0 protocol. For current graphics card setups you can now run ATI's Crossfire at full x16 speeds, something that has only been possible using an ATI Chipset. Three PCI Express x1 slots supporting the older 1.0a standard come from the southbridge along with two PCI slots.
Lastly on our tour is the additional chips added to the board. Gigabyte has used a JMicron two port SATA chip that also incorporates a single IDE channel supporting two drives. This is how all ICH8 and ICH9 boards get their IDE ports. While it does say Gigabyte on the top, it is simply a JMicron chip, as the JMicron drivers work for it perfectly. Lastly, to get the Firewire support a Texas Instruments PCI based Firewire controller chip takes care of this part.
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