With Intel's Core micro architecture pushing its way through the IT forest, Intel has created a beast which can't be fed; but one thing is certain, Intel is really trying these days! - Since the Core 2 introduction on the desktop, we have seen at least seven chipsets come from Intel alone which are allocated to different market segments. We have the P965 and G965 chipsets which started off the big rush. G33 and G31, P35 and X38 chipsets stemmed from there, along with even more coming thereafter including the G35 chipset. Intel has a huge line-up of chipsets now available, and whatever you're looking for Intel seem to have covered all bases.
X38 has been the most recent chipset introduction; Intel and quite a few of its partners have been working on putting a lot of new features into the X38 including specialised memory module support for extreme overclocking, PCI Express 2.0 support for the PCI Express lanes running off the X38 Northbridge and also Dual PCI Express x16 slots which make use of all their lanes for full throttle Crossfire, something that only AMD/ATI has done with the Crossfire 3200 chipset.
While the X38 on paper looked the goods, it has one major flaw; its overclocking is hampered by its extreme power usage and heat dissipation properties. The X48 chipset uses its own IHS or Integrated Heat Spreader just like the Core 2 CPU has on top of its die, this is used to aid the transfer of heat to the Northbridge cooler, giving it a larger surface area.
Today we have a look at the Intel X48 chipset for the first time. While it has a new name, things haven't changed; in fact, X48 is essentially an X38 chipset that has been hand picked to run higher clock speeds and to support the 1600MHz FSB CPU when Intel finally releases it sometime this year.
We have our first X48 board in hand from GIGABYTE; dubbed the X48-DQ6 it packs in some mighty features including a new heat and voltage management technology. Let's see how it all comes together.
Specifications of the GIGABYTE X48-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 X48 Express
DMI @ 2GB/s
4 DDR2 SDRAM 240pin DIMM Sockets
64/128Bit Dual Channel
Supports up to 8GB Total Memory (4x 2GB)
P4 Bus Architecture
2 PCI Express x16
2 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, 8 via expansion bracket)
6 Stereo Audio Ports
1 RCA SPDIF Port
1 Toslink SPDIF Port
3 Firewire ports (2 rear accessible, 1 via expansion bracket)
The Box and What's Inside
Package and Contents
Pushing into the thick of things we start on the package that the board comes in as well as the little extras that really determine a good overall product from a slap it together deal. GIGABYTE's X48-DQ6 is part of the Dual Quad series which comes in an oversized box. Inside there is a plastic blister that encases the board for safe transport and underneath that is a cardboard box that contains the cables, manuals and accessories.
Flipping the box over, on the back there is a colour photo of the board itself with some pointers to the specific functions of the board as well as some info on the new DES or Dynamic Energy Saver software and hardware built into the board which we will give a little bit of info on later.
The accessories that the board is shipped with are quite impressive. Out of the total eight SATA ports the board supports, only four DATA cables are included. While there are a few cables lacking, the ones that are included are of good quality with locking tabs on them to prevent them coming out accidentally. The ribbon cables supplied are a single FDD cable with one FDD drive support and an IDE cable with two drive support.
Additionally since the board doesn't have any e.SATA ports, GIGABYTE has given you a cheaters way of getting e.SATA which actually works out better in the end. One PCI cover bracket is included that has two e.SATA ports on them which run off two of the onboard SATA ports. If you want e.SATA you can divert any two ports to it, it doesn't matter what controller they are on to run the e.SATA interface. If you don't want e.SATA you can simply use all eight ports internally, however only six run of the ICH9R whilst two are run off the additional controller chip, thus an eight-drive RAID array is out of the question.
Now it's to the interesting part of the article, the board itself. GIGABYTE's new weapon is a full ATX layout with a 30x24cm profile on a 6-layer blue PCB. When it comes to the layout GIGABYTE has really listened to past criticism, especially for their top line of boards. The 24-pin power connector long with the single FDD port reside behind the DDR2 memory sockets. The 4/8 pin aux power connector sits between the PS/2 port towers and the Mosfet heatsink cooler at the top left of the board. One thing that is a bit of a pain is if you want to disconnect the 4/8 pin power lead, it's a tight fit to get into, especially without cutting your knuckles on the copper heat fins.
The six SATA ports that are controlled by the ICH9R Southbridge have been coloured yellow and the two coming from the JMicron controller are coloured purple so you know which ones are which and what ones to plug the drives into if you want to setup a six disk RAID array on the ICH9R. The single green PATA interface sits off to the lower right side of the board and is rotated 90 degrees so it keeps the IDE cable away from large video cards, something that was a problem on the P965-DQ6.
Moving to the CPU area we see a large heat-pipe conductor that cools not only the North and Southbridge chipsets but also 10 of the 12 phases of voltage regulation circuits that the board supports. The two extra phases are cooled by a small heatsink at the top of the CPU socket. It would be nice for GIGABYTE to incorporate these last two phases into the full line for an all in one cooling setup but I guess that's not happening due to space constraints.
Now we are going to get a bit dirty with the new DES or Dynamic Energy Saver technology that the board has. Designed to compete directly with ASUS' own power saving technology, GIGABYTE has gone the extra step here. The design on the ASUS power saver is that when the CPU goes to its idle state, four of the eight phases are shut off to save power, and when the CPU hits load the extra four phases come online and provide the CPU with as much power as it needs. While it sounds good in theory, GIGABYTE knew there was room for improvement with their design.
When the CPU hits an idle state on the GIGABYTE board, the DES shuts down all but four phases; as the CPU load increases the board turns on two phases at a time (up to a total of 12) so if the CPU doesn't require full power, it will only use as many phases as it requires, thus saving more power in the long run over the ASUS implementation.
During our testing with this feature turned on, we noticed that in a few tasks and games the system didn't go to a full 12 phases, resulting in an overall energy saving as well as generating less heat that the heatsinks would otherwise have to get rid of. Everest didn't cause the system to go to full power neither did PCMark05 during a few of the HDD and Graphics tests. However, one thing we found was that with this system enabled overclocking took a hit as the CPU needs more power at these levels and the switching didn't happen quite quick enough to keep the system stable. With the DES disabled, the board perfomed just as if it was a standard DQ6 series board, but it will eat up more power than with it disabled.
To keep the board as cool as possible for overclockers, the back of the board gets a special heatsink that covers the CPU socket and Northbridge in one. A smaller heatsink is placed on the back of the Southbridge chipset; we would like to see in future a small heatsink assembly below the voltage regulators to help take even more heat away for a more stable board.
Moving along we come to the rear I/O ports of the board. GIGABYTE has continued the same power arrangement that we saw on the X38-DQ6 motherboard with extra USB ports on the back as well as two Firewire ports rather than one. No e.SATA ports are included as you can use the expansion brackets to get e.SATA if you truly want it. There is no Parallel or Serial ports on the board so older printers and some older GPS users will not be able to connect their hardware to this board.
Lastly we come down to the expansion slots that the board comes equipped with. Thanks to the X48 basing a direct descendant of the X38 (same chipsets, just handpicked for performance) the Dual x16 slots are carried over allowing you to run Crossfire at full speed on X48 based boards, not only that but the PCI Express lanes are version 2.0 on the Northbridge side, so when graphics cards come out with PCI-E 2.0 support this board will support the extra bandwidth straight away which will be even better for Crossfire without link cables; the bandwidth will be doubled to handle the exchange between cards across the PCI Express bus.
The two graphics card slots are coloured blue; if you want to use a PCI Express x4 or x8 RAID card in one of these slots go ahead, you've got bandwidth to spare on these slots. To round the rest off there are three PCI Express x1 slots which are 1.0a compliant and run off the Southbridge along with two PCI legacy slots as well. Hopefully down the track GIGABYTE might put a third x16 slot in that is x4 compatible running off the Southbridge, this would be good for Physics GPU cards.
BIOS and Overclocking
GIGABYE has gone with its familiar Award Blue screen BIOS that has served us quite well, it's easy to navigate and has been the same design style for over 10 years. It works and makes referencing easier to do than some of the other BIOS setups out there. To gain access to the overclocking / tweaking options you need to go to the MB Intelligent Tweaker (M.I.T) menu.
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
In our overclocking tests we did a double whammy but for reality sakes we only included one set of overclocking results in our tests. We tested the board using the DES both enabled and disabled. With DES enabled our overclocking limited us to just over 502MHz FSB; this is where we found instabilities when the CPU wanted to rush to full speed, the voltages just weren't stable enough to handle this with the DES enabled.
Running with the DES system disabled we managed to get 545MHz out of the board which was a lot better than our X38-DQ6 using DDR2 memory. It seems Intel has done a good job picking these chipsets from the batches.
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 weren't able to tweak the motherboard to the absolute 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.
Test System Setup and Memory Performance
Processor: Intel Core 2 Quad QX6700 @ 3GHz (9x333MHz)
Memory: 2x 1GB DDR2-1186 Geil (Supplied by Geil)
Hard Disk: 1TB Seagate 7200.11 (Supplied by Seagate Australia)
Graphics Card: MSI GeForce 8800GTS 640MB (Supplied by MSI)
Cooling: GIGABYTE 3D Galaxy II (Supplied by GIGABYTE)
Operating System: Microsoft Windows XP SP2
Drivers: Intel INF 188.8.131.529, Forceware 163.21
Our test systems today are a dual GIGABYTE affair. We are pitting the X48-DQ6 against the X38-DQ6 which both run DDR2 memory technology. X48 is designed to remove X38 as the enthusiast chipset of choice, so it's only fitting we see how well they perform against each other. Stock tests were done with the CPU at 3GHz using a 333MHz FSB, 9x multiplier and DDR2 memory frequency of 800MHz.
Our overclocking tests are pushed to the limits with regards to the FSB. Memory is always set to run 1:1 in overclocked mode. The X48-DQ6 ran with a 545MHz FSB and a 6x multiplier while we kept the X38-DQ6 to its 517MHz limitation with a 6x multiplier.
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.
First up is Everest. At stock speeds both of the boards are identical. Intel has done nothing to the memory controller on the X48; it's still the same X38 memory bus. When overclocked the X48 manages to get a bit more of a lead over X38 thanks to its improved overclocking result.
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 puts both boards at an identical level on the stock tests. There are no improvements whatsoever between X38 and X48 apart from batch testing for higher overclocking, that's why the X48 is able to win in the overclocked tests.
Benchmarks - Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0
Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0
Version and / or Patch Used: 3.0
Developer Homepage: http://www.adobe.com
Product Homepage: http://www.adobe.com/products/premiereel/
Buy It Here
Our test with Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0 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.
Pushing though Premiere Elements it's only when we overclock that the X48 manages to come out on top.
Benchmarks - HDD Performance
Version and / or Patch Used: 184.108.40.206
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.
With the exact same ICH9R and JMicron controllers on each board along with the same HDD no difference is seen between the two boards in this test.
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.
3DMark06 shows that at stock the two players are dead even with no change in score to be seen. Only when overclocking does the X48 take the lead.
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.
Prey doesn't show any difference at stock specs between the boards since they are running almost identical chipsets. When the overclock we see better results.
Benchmarks -Battlefield 2142
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.25
Timedemo or Level Used: Custom Timedemo
Developer Homepage: http://www.dice.se/
Product Homepage: http://www.battlefield.ea.com/battlefield/bf2142/
Buy It Here
In Battlefield 2142, players choose to fight for one of two military superpowers - the European Union or the newly formed Pan Asian Coalition -in an epic battle for survival.
Armed with a devastating arsenal of hi-tech weaponry, including assault rifles, cloaking devices and sentry guns, players will also take control of the most lethal vehicles known to man. Massive Battle Walkers wage fierce combat on the ground, while futuristic aircraft rule the skies. When taking on this futuristic armor players will need to use their wits and an arsenal of new hi-tech countermeasures like EMP grenades and smart mines to level the playing field.
Throwing it over to Battlefield 2142 we see that at stock speeds there is again no difference between the two boards. At overclocked speeds we see the X48 ahead.
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.
In our last benchmark we see that the X48 and X38 tie it up at stock speeds, but when we overclock the X48's extra bus and CPU speed give it the edge.
Power Consumption Tests
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.
For our power usage tests we did a little investigating here. We performed the tests with DES enabled and disabled at stock speeds to see just how much more efficient this setup is. As you can see, the DES system does make quite a bit of difference to a system running at stock speeds. If you were only going to run the system using GIGABYTE's onboard overclocking like C.I.A.2 to overclock the CPU, enabling DES would make a huge difference to not only performance, but energy conservation as well.
GIGABYTE has turned green with this new series of high-performance boards to hit the market. No, I don't mean green PCBs, I mean they are going in a whole new direction with their marketing. While they are still pushing extreme performance on their motherboards they are also looking at improving the overall power consumption. With PC's getting faster CPUs, higher clocked memory and faster graphics cards they are also starting to use more energy than ever before. In fact, some systems with Dual GPU graphics cards need nearly 1000 watt power supplies just to keep them happy; that's a lot of wasted energy, especially if there are measures you can use to reduce this without sacrificing overall performance.
The X48-DQ6 is GIGABYTE's first board to incorporate the DES system and it's not going to be their last according to their technical department who were kind enough to give us a call before we received this board to give us a full rundown on how this technology was designed to be used. Not only will we see it on budget boards that will definitely see the extra voltage savings and use them (as most of the time they aren't even on full CPU load to do internet or word documents), but even the enthusiasts are able to take advantage; a mildly overclocked CPU can still work with DES, and quite well at that. It just depends on how far you want to push things.
Overall the X48-DQ6 does perform better than the X38-DQ6, especially in the overclocking department thanks to Intel's hand picking of the best chips. However, if you're looking for a board with more features this board is simply an X38-DQ6 with a higher running chipset, there are no more technical advantages to the X48 over the X38.
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