Intel's Core 2 platform has become the gamer's choice. Finally we have seen the death of the Intel Netburst architecture as the king of the hill, or at least as Intel saw it. AMD's reign as the CPU of choice came to a crashing end when Core 2 finally made its debut to the retail market. Based around the Pentium-M's architecture with a few tweaks to the multimedia capabilities saw a cool running CPU that was able to clearly beat AMD on a clock-for-clock basis.
However, having a good CPU is only half the battle if you don't have a good platform for it to run on. AMD know this all too well; when Slot A was just coming in AMD's Athlon processor was the pits, but the AMD 750 Irongate chipset was the most slap stick chipset ever. Its AGP system was hardly working and it had many compatibility issues with the GeForce DDR graphics cards. A great CPU was going to waste here.
Intel has also felt this problem, Pentium 3 Coppermine was to be Intel's finest CPU but its I820 RDRAM supporting chipset was simply a joke, and the I815 couldn't support more than 512MB of SDRAM either, not to mention DDR was out of the question because of Intel's deals with Rambus, making the Coppermine a lost cause.
Core 2 has been the lucky one, not only has the CPU shown it can break records, but it has also been given a platform for it to build on. P965 was the first chipset designed to take advantage of the Core 2, and while Intel's so called flagship 975X was also Core 2 compatible it lacked the support for native DDR2-800 memory as well as the inclusion of the ICH8R chipset which would have given us six SATA ports rather than the four provided on the ICH7R. P965 was the crown of the desktop market until its replacement, the mighty P35 chipset. P35 was built on the P965s already popular design, however its memory controller was tweaked for DDR2 as well as adding the first DDR3 memory controller for the desktop. The ICH9R was also given to the P35 chipset.
While this was good, the enthusiasts still needed a higher grade chipset. Enter today's contender, the X38. The new X38 chipset is designed to take over where the aging 975X chipset leaves off. Its abilities have been tweaked as well as some extra goodies. So let's have a look at our first retail sample board, Gigabyte X38-DQ6.
Specifications of the Gigabyte X38-DQ6
Supports Intel Core 2 Series (Extreme/Quad/Duo)
Supports Intel Pentium Dual Core Series
Supports Intel Pentium D Series
Supports Intel Pentium 4 5xx/6xx Series
Supports Intel Celeron D 3xx/4xx Series
Supports Intel 45nm Series CPU
Intel X38 Express
DMI @ 2GB/s
4x DDR2-SDRAM 240pin DIMM Sockets
64/128Bit Dual Channel
Supports up to 8GB Total Memory (4x 2GB)
P4 Bus Architecture
2 PCI Express x16
3 PCI Express x1
1 Parallel ATA port supporting 2 IDE Drives
8 Serial ATA ports
2 Gigabit Ethernet Ports
1 PS2 Keyboard Port
1 PS2 Mouse Port
12 USB 2.0 Ports (8 rear accessible, 4 via expansion bracket)
6 Stereo Audio Ports
1 SPDIF RCA Port
1 SPDIF Toslink Port
3 Firewire Ports (2 rear accessible, 1 via Expansion Bracket)
4 e.SATA ports (via expansion brackets)
Quick Rundown on the X38 Chipset
Intel hasn't officially released this chipset to the public yet, so there is no official info on the chipset available from the Intel website. However, a lot of information has hit the market on its new features in recent times.
First off is the memory controller. The X38 chipset is derived from the P35 series so it does support DDR2 memory, however it's not officially recognised as being DDR2 compliant. Intel has big plans for this chipset as far as the DDR3 side of things go. Like NVIDIA, Intel has put its hat into the ring with the memory controller and has launched its own program for enhanced memory. NVIDIA has SLI and EPP ready memory, Intel has XMP or Extreme Memory Profile.
What is it? Basically it is an extra set of instructions on the SPD module which when running on an Intel X38 based board it gives the chipset and memory extra commands to optimise the flow of data to and from the memory, as well as allowing for a smoother overclock and more flexible memory timing adjustments for overclocking. Corsair has been the first company to get the XMP certified logo from Intel, and hopefully we will see more soon.
Now that we have covered this, we move onto something more important, the expansion slots. First off Intel has improved the PCI Express options here. The 975X was Intel's first chipset to support Crossfire which was run using two PCI Express x16 slots clocked at x8 speeds. While this worked, we have moved well beyond that now and are seeing two full speed slots and even a third running x8 speed on NVIDIA 680i boards. Intel has finally caught up and added two PCI Express x16 lanes to the X38 northbridge. That's right, they both run at full speed. This means you can run your Crossfire setup using full speed rather than two PCI Express x8 slots on a 975X board or having to use the x16 / x4 setup of the P965 and P35 boards. While Crosslink has been introduced to split the P35's northbridge x16 slot down to two PCI Express x8 slots, with the X88 it's no longer needed. While electrically the X38 is capable of running SLI, the chances of ever seeing it granted from NVIDIA are about as good as Ian Thorpe getting the bronze in Female Gymnastics.
While we are on the subject of PCI Express, the X38 chipset is also the first to support the new PCI Express 2.0 spec. PCI Express 2.0 basically doubles the data transfer rate. For example, a PCI Express x1 slot has 250MB/s in and 250MB/s out (500MB/s total transfer speed). A PCI Express 2.0 slot running at x1 has 500MB/s in and 500MB/s out (1GB/s total). What this means is PCI Express 2.0 graphics cards will be using a x16 slot 8GB/s in and 8GB/s out (16GB/s Total). Using this theory a PCI Express x4 card using the 2.0 specs would be equal to running our current PCI Express x16 spec. This can open the door for cheaper cards. While the PCI Express lanes on the northbridge are 2.0 compatible, the southbridge driven ones are all 1.0a specs. ICH10 is set to replace the ICH9 series with PCI 6 or 8 PCI Express 2.0 lanes, allowing for a third PCI Express x16 slot for physics cards to be used.
Inside the Box
Package and Contents
Now we have gotten the little bit of info we have on the X38 out of the way, it's time to start on the Gigabyte board. First off we wanted to state to you that this is a Retail Version of the Gigabyte X38-DQ6 and not an engineering sample board which Anandtech and a few others have posted about. This board is retail shipping with the latest retail BIOS meaning it has been tweaked, allowing for more performance than the results that have been posted by some other sites. Gigabyte's packaging hasn't changed for the DQ6 series, a rather large double sized box is used. The X38-DQ6 logo is printed on the front.
Turning over to the back of the box we have a colour photo of the board as well as a bit of info on the features and some marketing hype. The picture is rather small, but we won't criticise Gigabyte as they have at least put a picture of the board there. Though you won't really need it, why?
This is why! When you open the front flap of the box you get quite a good shot of the board inside its protective plastic blister that it is encased in. Gigabyte has certainly done a good job, even on the inside of the cover flap there is more info on the board as well as more hype about its all-solid capacitor design which we will state is a much better system than the old Electrolyte capacitors.
The software and documentation bundle is more than adequate. You get a full user manual which explains the board in full detail as well as a quick install sheet if you're not into knowing all the in's and out's of the board. It gives you header locations as well as orientations so you can plug your case switches up and go for gold.
Gigabyte hasn't gone to any lengths to put e.SATA ports on the board but rather done it in a somewhat cheaper way. While it's cheaper, it does do the job and just as well. Rather than putting ports on the rear I/O panel, Gigabyte puts two e.SATA ports and an external power port onto a PCI Bracket cover, these then plug into any free SATA ports on the board. You get two of the brackets giving you a total of four e.SATA ports. If you're only after two you can just use one bracket. If you're more into internal storage you can use all the board's SATA ports inside without having to use any e.SATA. Boards with dedicated e.SATA ports on the rear steal either two of the ICH9R's SATA ports or the JMicron SATA/PATA controller one. Gigabyte's way gives you eight ports in total, if you want to use e.SATA you can but if not you can use them all internally, it's just that simple.
In order to use the e.SATA cables Gigabyte has given you two e.SATA to standard SATA cables and a molex extension to SATA power cable. Unfortunately no e.SATA to e.SATA cables are provided, so if you have an e.SATA enclosure you need to get a cable with e.SATA at both ends. If you want to have your normal SATA drives external to the case, this is just fine to use these cables.
For your internal cables you get four SATA cables to connect to four of the total eight SATA ports. If you want to use all the ports internally, you're going to need to buy some more. If you want to use the e.SATA, there is enough here. A FDD and IDE cable make up the last of the parallel data cables, and it won't be long now before we see FDD and IDE totally off the boards now that SATA ATAPI devices are popping up quite regularly.
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.
BIOS and Overclocking
Coming down to the BIOS we get to see the traditional Award 6 Modular setup that Gigabyte has chosen to use. The overclocking options as always go under the Motherboard Intelligent Tweaker (M.I.T) menu.
CPU Host Frequency: 100MHz to 700 MHz in 1MHz increments
PCI Express Frequency: 100MHz to 150MHz in 1MHz increments
DDR2 OverVoltage Control: +0.05v to +2.55v in 0.05v increments
PCI-E OverVoltage Control: +0.05v to 0.35v in 0.05v increments
FSB OverVoltage Control: +0.05v to +0.35v in 0.05v increments
(G)MCH OverVoltage Control: +0.025v to 0.375v in 0.025v increments
CPU OverVoltage Control: 0.83125v to 2.35000v in 0.00125v increments
Our overclocking results were not quite what we were hoping for. P35 has done over the 550MHz mark with its DDR3. Though we are dealing with DDR2 here we were hoping to get as high as the P35T has managed which is 580MHz. The P35 has managed 520MHz, we only got 517MHz out of our current board. There are still a few BIOS issues to work out as for no reason even at stock sometimes the board will turn off and do the Gigabyte BIOS restart which usually only occurs if you overclock it incorrectly. But how can this be when we're at stock? A few more tweaks will help this board gain some extra speed.
Important Editor Note: Our maximum overclocking result is the best result we managed in our limited time of testing the motherboard. Due to time constraints we were unable to tweak the motherboard to the maximum and find the highest possible FSB as this could take days to find properly. We do however spend at least a few hours overclocking every motherboard to try and find the highest possible overclock in that time frame. You may or may not be able to overclock higher if you spend more time tweaking or as new BIOS updates are released. "Burn-in" time might also come into play if you believe in that theory.
Test System Setup and Memory Performance
Test System Setup
Processor: Intel Core 2 Extreme Q6800 @ 3GHz (9x333MHz)
Motherboard: Gigabyte X38-DQ6 (Supplied by Gigabyte)
Memory: 2x 1GB DDR2-1186 Geil (Supplied by Geil)
Hard Disk: 500GB Seagate 7200.9 (Supplied by Seagate Australia)
Graphics Card(s): MSI ATI Radeon X1950Pro in Crossfire (Supplied by MSI)
Cooling: Gigabyte Neon775 (Supplied by Gigabyte)
Operating System: Microsoft Windows XP SP2
Drivers: Intel INF 184.108.40.2063, Catalyst 7.9
Our test systems comprise of three boards, all from Gigabyte. First we have our X38-DQ6 running DDR2 memory, our second is the P35-DQ6 running DDR2 memory and lastly there's the P35T-DQ6 running DDR3 memory.
We ran our test systems at stock speeds for a comparison using 9x333MHz to run at 3GHz and use the 1333MHz FSB. While it may seem unfair at stock speed on the X38-DQ6 we used the 1066MHz DDR2 memory divider in order to gain some extra speed, as the board does support this memory speed out of the box. We ran the P35T-DQ6 at 1333MHz DDR3 for stock settings.
At the overclocked level we had the X38-DQ6 running 517MHz with a 7x ratio, the P35-DQ6 at 521MHz with a 7x ratio, and the P35T-DQ6 at 580MHz with a 6x ratio. At the overclocked level, all memory ratios are at 1:1 to eliminate any ratio advantages. It's pure clock here baby.
EVEREST Ultimate Edition
Version and / or Patch Used: 2006
Developer Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
Product Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
Buy It Here
EVEREST Ultimate Edition is an industry leading system diagnostics and benchmarking solution for enthusiasts PC users, based on the award-winning EVEREST Technology. During system optimizations and tweaking it provides essential system and overclock information, advanced hardware monitoring and diagnostics capabilities to check the effects of the applied settings. CPU, FPU and memory benchmarks are available to measure the actual system performance and compare it to previous states or other systems.
At stock speeds the X38 beats out the P35 with DDR2 and almost even gets ahead of the P35 using DDR3. At overclocked it can't compete due to the lower clocked FSB and memory against DDR3. However it's slightly better than the P35 DDR2 at overclocked speeds.
Benchmarks - PCMark05
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.2.0
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/pcmark04/
Buy It Here
PCMark is a multipurpose benchmark, suited for benchmarking all kinds of PCs, from laptops to workstations, as well as across multiple Windows operating systems. This easy-to-use benchmark makes professional strength benchmarking software available even to novice users. PCMark consists of a series of tests that represent common tasks in home and office programs. PCMark also covers many additional areas outside the scope of other MadOnion.com benchmarks.
PCMark shows that when memory performance is at stock the X38 is just ahead of the P35's DDR2 and DDR3 results. When overclocked the P35 with DDR3 takes the lead, but the X38 manages to hold off the P35 running DDR2.
Benchmarks - Adobe Premiere Elements 2.0
Adobe Premiere Elements 2.0
Version and / or Patch Used: 2.0
Developer Homepage: http://www.adobe.com
Product Homepage: http://www.adobe.com/products/premiereel/
Buy It Here
Our test with Adobe Premiere Elements 2.0 is performed with a raw two hour AVI file. It is then compressed into DivX format using the latest version codec. We measure the time it takes to encode and then record CPU usage.
At stock speeds we don't see any real advantage with either of our platforms. When overclocking comes in the X38 came in second on the list behind the DDR3 P35 due to a slower clock speed of the RAM and FSB. Hopefully BIOS tweaks will allow better overclocking of the FSB.
Benchmarks - HDD Performance
Version and / or Patch Used: 220.127.116.11
Developer Homepage: http://www.simplisoftware.com
Product Homepage: http://www.simplisoftware.com/Public/index.php?request=HdTachBuy It Here
HD Tach has been around for a long time and is excellent when it comes to testing hard drive performance. It is also a very handy program when it comes to testing the controller used on particular motherboards. Tests such as Read, CPU Utilization and Burst are available at a click of the button and give you a good idea of how the hard drive can perform from system to system.
Due to using the same HDD and ICH9 controller the results are identical across the board.
Benchmarks - 3DMark06
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1.0
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark06/
Buy It Here
3DMark06 is the very latest version of the "Gamers Benchmark" from FutureMark. The newest version of 3DMark expands on the tests in 3DMark05 by adding graphical effects using Shader Model 3.0 and HDR (High Dynamic Range lighting) which will push even the best DX9 graphics cards to the extremes.
3DMark06 also focuses on not just the GPU but the CPU using the AGEIA PhysX software physics library to effectively test single and Dual Core processors.
At stock speeds the X38 manages to win out over the P35 with DDR2 and DDR3. With DDR3's higher latencies we aren't seeing it gain much of an advantage here. When the bus is clocked up the DDR3 platform manages to win out here.
Benchmarks - Prey
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.2
Timedemo or Level Used: Hardware OC Demo
Developer Homepage: http://www.humanhead.com
Product Homepage: http://www.prey.com
Buy It Here
Prey is one of the newest games to be added to our benchmark line-up. It is based off the Doom 3 engine and offers stunning graphics passing what we've seen in Quake 4 and does put quite a lot of strain on our test systems.
With real world gaming we don't see a huge amount of difference at stock; all three boards are within striking distance of each over. Overclocking does help push the P35 with DDR3 ahead. When X38 is given its DDR3 hit, expect to see something spectacular.
Benchmarks - Far Cry
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.3
Timedemo or Level Used: Benchemall Default Demo(download here)
Developer Homepage: http://www.crytek.com
Product Homepage: http://www.farcrygame.com
Buy It Here
While Far Cry is now one of our older benchmarking games, it is still able to put pressure on most computers systems as it is able to utilize all parts of the system. Utilizing PS2.0 technology with the latest versions supporting Shader Model 3.0 with DX9c and offering an exceptional visual experience, there is no denying that even some of the faster graphics cards get a bit of a workout.
Onto our last gaming benchmark and we see the X38 is just behind the P35 DDR3 at stock. When overclocked the P35 DDR3 manages a decent lead.
Power Consumption Results
We are now able to find out what kind of power is being used by our test system and the associated graphics cards installed. Keep in mind; it tests the complete system (minus LCD monitor, which is plugged directly into an AC wall socket).
There are a few important notes to remember though; while our maximum power is taken in 3DMark06 at the same exact point, we have seen in particular tests the power being drawn as much as 10% more. We test at the exact same stage every time; therefore tests should be very consistent and accurate.
The other thing to remember is that our test system is bare minimum - only a 7,200RPM SATA-II single hard drive is used without CD-ROM or many cooling fans.
So while the system might draw 400 watts in our test system, placing it into your own PC with a number of other items, the draw is going to be higher.
With our power meter we can see that he X38 does indeed draw more power than the P35, justifying the heatsink on the northbridge.
Well, it's clear that the X38 with DDR2 memory is simply not the platform to build on. DDR2 has reached its limits at 1200MHz and with the bus clock speeds expected to be quite high on this board due to Intel removing its artificial overclocking restraints, we need something with more kick to keep things in check.
While DDR3 may have higher latencies, we have already seen it break 2000MHz in our Corsair vs. Super Talent article; this is where we want to see the X38 go, DDR3 all the way. If you can clock bus speeds to the max with this board, you're going to need some good RAM.
While our RAM may have contributed to the problem of low clock speeds, we have seen this RAM go above 1200MHz before, and we haven't even got there today with this board which leads us to conclude that this baby while having a good enough BIOS for retail use still needs some tweaking, and Gigabyte are known for their BIOS releases to improve their already impressive boards.
The things we really liked here was the clean layout of the board along with the new Dual PCI Express x16 slots running at full speed. Finally Crossfire gets a good platform to work on.
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