GIGABYTE X48-DQ6 Mobo - DES Arrives!

In our first ever X48 review we look at GIGABYTE's X48-DQ6 which boasts advanced energy saving features thanks to DES.
| Jan 7, 2008 at 11:00 pm CST
Rating: 90%Manufacturer: GIGABYTE


IntroductionWith 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-DQ6CPUSupports Intel Core 2 Series (Extreme/Quad/Duo)Supports Intel Pentium Dual Core SeriesSupports Intel Pentium D SeriesSupports Intel Pentium 4 5xx/6xx SeriesSupports Intel Celeron D 3xx/4xx SeriesSupports Intel 45nm Series CPUChipsetIntel X48 Express X48 NorthbridgeICH9R SouthbridgeDMI @ 2GB/sSystem Memory4 DDR2 SDRAM 240pin DIMM SocketsSupports DDR2-533/667/800/1066MHz64/128Bit Dual ChannelSupports up to 8GB Total Memory (4x 2GB)Bus Frequency100/133/200/266/333/400MHz Internal400/533/800/1066/1333/1600MHz ExternalP4 Bus ArchitectureExpansion Slots2 PCI Express x162 PCI Express x12 PCIConnectivity1 Parallel ATA port supporting 2 IDE Drives8 Serial ATA ports2 Gigabit Ethernet PortsExpansion Ports1 PS2 Keyboard Port1 PS2 Mouse Port12 USB 2.0 Ports (8 rear accessible, 8 via expansion bracket)6 Stereo Audio Ports1 RCA SPDIF Port1 Toslink SPDIF Port3 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.

The Motherboard

The Board
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.
BusesHost Frequency: 100MHz to 700 MHz in 1MHz incrementsPCI Express Frequency: 100MHz to 150MHz in 1MHz incrementsVoltagesDDR2 OverVoltage Control: +0.05v to +2.55v in 0.05v incrementsPCI-E OverVoltage Control: +0.05v to 0.35v in 0.05v incrementsFSB OverVoltage Control: +0.05v to +0.35v in 0.05v increments(G)MCH OverVoltage Control: +0.025v to 0.375v in 0.025v incrementsCPU OverVoltage Control: 0.83125v to 2.35000v in 0.00125v increments Overclocking
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

Test System 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 SP2Drivers: Intel INF, Forceware 163.21Our 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 EditionVersion and / or Patch Used: 2006Developer Homepage: Product Homepage: http://www.lavalys.comBuy 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

PCMarkVersion and / or Patch Used: 1.2.0Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: 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 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 3.0Version and / or Patch Used: 3.0Developer Homepage: Product Homepage: 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

HD TachVersion and / or Patch Used: Homepage: http://www.simplisoftware.comProduct Homepage:

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