The new Intel X48 chipset has now become Intel's flagship desktop offering. Intel first provided the X38 which was supposed to be designed to take this role; however, it was pretty clear to Intel that this chipset wasn't fully up to par for this. The Intel P35 chipsets with DDR3 memory could allow a much higher FSB rating than that of the X38 with DDR3, which simply was a huge embarrassment.
Intel however did have a solution to this problem, the X48 chipset; where in fact this has a new number in the X series of chipsets, it's not any different than the X38 chipset by design. It has the same memory controller, PCI Express 2.0 root port and FSB interface, Intel has simply used the X38 chipset but with a hand picking process of the silicon wafer to get the most efficient version which gets the X48 naming.
X48 is the only Intel chipset so far to get official FSB support for 1600MHz or 400MHz Quad Data Rate, X38s have been able to reach this FSB but are not officially recognised to run the new 400MHz series of CPU.
We have already tested the X48 chipset in its DDR2 variant (that's right, because it's a direct descendant of the X38 it keeps the dual mode memory controller); the DDR2 version has already managed to produce some better scores than the X38 DDR2 thanks to its increased FSB support. Today we are moving onto X48 in DDR3 form.
MSI has graciously provided us with their new X48 Platinum motherboard which is designed to be an ultra overclockable and feature-rich model. How it stacks up is the subject of today's review.
Specifications of the MSI X48 Platinum
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 DDR3 SDRAM 240pin DIMM Sockets
64/128Bit Dual Channel
Supports up to 8GB Total Memory (4x 2GB)
P4 Bus Architecture
4 PCI Express x16
2 PCI Express x1
1 Parallel ATA port supporting 2 IDE Drives
6 Serial ATA ports
2 Gigabit Ethernet Port
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 Toslink SPDIF Port
2 e.SATA Port
2 Firewire ports (1 rear accessible, 1 via expansion bracket)
The Box and What's Inside
Package and Contents
Starting our review off we come to the package and contents that are included with the board itself. MSI's X48 Platinum comes in one of their standard boxes with the X48 Platinum logo on the front and some basic info on the chipset used, CPU support and memory support.
On the back of the box there is a full colour photo of the board with quite a bit more on the general features including some of the additional features that the board has such as Firewire, an extra PCI Express graphics slot, memory support and storage interface support.
MSI's documentation supplied with the board is enough to get you off the ground; the main user manual is reasonably thick with info on the board layout, then there's the quick install manual which gives you the basic layout of the board so if you want to get straight into installing the board you can do it easily.
Rather than a single DVD with both XP and Vista drivers, MSI gives you two separate CDs; one has Vista drivers and one has XP drivers. The XP CD contains drivers for both 32 and 64-bit versions of XP as does the Vista CD with 32 and 64-bit support.
Moving along to the cable bundle MSI gives you four Serial ATA data cables and two SATA power splitters. The ribbon cables supplied are a single FDD cable that hosts one floppy drive and a single IDE cable that can host two drives.
Thanks to the X38 chipset Crossfire support now goes full speed, that's twin PCIE x16 slots. Unfortunately due to the spacing setup that the MSI board has between the PCI Express x16 slots, the internal Crossfire bridge cables are not usable. To this end MSI has given you two extra length Crossfire bridge cables; a big plus for MSI.
Like ASUS, MSI has gone to using block installers that allow you to connect the case headers, onboard USB ports and Firewire ports to the ATX case cables on blocks that can then be simply plugged into the board.
Lastly we come to the Rear I/O shield and the PCI cover bracket that is included which gives you a single 6-pin Firewire port and two USB 2.0 ports.
Now we close in on the motherboard itself. MSI has gone for its traditional black/dark brown PCB in a full 30x24cm 6-layer design. MSI has done a reasonably good job on the placement of connectors with only one major drama. The 24-pin power connector gets placed behind the four DDR3 memory slots. The 4/8 pin combo power port gets placed behind the PS/2 ports at the top left of the board just above the Circu-Pipe cooler.
The major drama we had with this board is the placement of the FDD cable at the bottom middle of the board right below the expansion slots, which makes it a pain in the butt if you plan to have a FDD in your system.
The four Serial ATA ports that are controlled by the ICH9R are located on the bottom right hand edge of the board. The yellow IDE port also sits on the edge of the board just above the four ICH9R SATA ports along with a red and black SATA port which are run off the Marvell 88SE6111 SATA/PATA controller chip.
Pressing on, we move our way down to the CPU socket area. MSI has gone all solid capacitors and iron ferrite chokes which reduced the size of the overall components as well as the amount of real estate needed on the PCB. The CPU is powered by a Dual Channel PWM which is made up of 2x4 phases of voltage regulation working together to deliver eight phases in total. The Circu-Pipe cools the Southbridge, IDT PCI Express root port, Northbridge and the Mosfets for the voltage regulators.
The rear I/O ports of the MSI X48 Platinum have changed since their last Platinum series so a new I/O shield is provided. MSI puts eight of its 12 USB ports on the back along with a Clear CMOS toggle button which allows you to clear the CMOS if you screw up an overclocking attempt. MSI has also given us two e.SATA ports which are routed off the last two SATA ports on the ICH9R. To be honest we are not a great fan of this, we would prefer to see the Marvell SATA chipset's SATA ports be routed to the e.SATA ports and keep the ICH9R six SATA ports all together to allow for a six drive RAID array.
Moving to the end of our board analysis we look at the expansion slots that the board is equipped with along with the additional chipsets used on the board. In total the MSI X48 Platinum has six PCI Express x16 slots, two of which are coloured blue and two coloured yellow. The two blue slots run off the X48 Northbridge and are they're both PCI Express 2.0 compliant. Each of the two blue slots get a full 16 lanes to each other allowing for full speed Crossfire and even support for the next generation of high bandwidth graphics cards to be installed and utilised.
The two yellow slots are electrically at x4. While you may wonder why it gets two extra slots at x4 speeds where even the ASUS Maximus Extreme and the X38A Foxconn board only have one extra PCI Express x16 slot, it's thanks to an extra chip MSI has thrown onto the board. ASUS first used this chip on the Blitz series of boards to split the PCI Express x16 lane from the P35 Northbridge down to two PCI Express x8 lanes to support standard Crossfire mode. This chip is used again but is a root port that uses the extra four lanes from the Southbridge and allows them to be used concurrently with the two extra slots. It just uses routing to send data to and from each slot in turn, and while it may be slower than a single x4 slot, it does allow for extra graphics power on this board, maybe Quad Crossfire?
To finish off there are two PCI Express x1 lanes that can be used so long as the PCI Express x4 slots are not in use; if they are, the bandwidth is routed to these slots. A single PCI legacy slot is also included. Additionally there is an Intel PCI Express based LAN controller chip and a Realtek PCI-E based LAN controller chip. The IDE and two extra SATA ports coloured red and black are handled by a Marvell PCIE controller chip where Firewire is handled by a two port VIA PCI based 1394a controller. The IDT PCI Express root port is also used to run the two yellow PCI Express x16 slots.
BIOS and Overclocking
MSI's BIOS of choice is AMI Megatends' AMI BIOS interface which has been used by them for quite some time. AMI BIOS has managed to really pull out all the stops in recent times to create a BIOS interface that is easy to use as well as giving a familiar feel; after all, Award has been around for ages and is the most used BIOS out there. For the overclocking features you need to go to the Cell Menu section.
Adjust CPU FSB Frequency: 200 - 800 in 1MHz Increments
Adjust PCIE Frequency: 100 - 200 in 1MHz Increments
Adjust PCI Frequcney: 33.3MHz, 33.6MHz, 37.2MHz, 42MHz
CPU Voltage: 1.3250v to 2.1v in 0.0125v increments
Memory Voltage: 1.5v to 2.75v in 0.05v Increments
FSB Termination Voltage: 1.2v to 1.44v in various increments
NB Voltage: 1.25v to 1.83v in various increments
SB Voltage: 1.5v to 1.83v in various increments
Well, all we could say was "Wow!" when it came to overclocking this board. So far we have only tested the X48 DDR2 variant, and with the extra headroom that DDR3 offers we hoped to get a better bus speed. Here we managed to get 558MHz out of the board, and while it still hasn't matched the 580MHz we have hit with the P35 and DDR3, it's a great start for X48 and DDR3. Even X38 and DDR3 hasn't managed to get this far. Intel's hand picking seems to be helping here.
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 DDR3-1600XMP OCZl (Supplied by OCZ)
Hard Disk: 1TB Seagate 7200.9 (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 220.127.116.119, Forceware 163.21
Our test setup has been designed with a total of three boards on the chopping block; first we have the MSI X48 Platinum motherboard, along with this we have the ASUS Maximus Extreme X38 motherboard that has been the best overclocking X38 we have managed to get our hands on and also the GIGABYTE P35T-DQ6 which sets the standard for us here at TweakTown in the overclocking dept. with a massive 581MHz FSB which is still our record.
In stock mode we used a 9x multiplier and a 333MHz FSB to give our CPU a stock 3GHz speed which our Core 2 Quad QX6700 can handle without any voltage increases. We set the DRAM to DDR3-1333MHz which is the fastest speed we can get without enabling XMP which requires a 400MHz FSB. While the P35T-DQ6 doesn't officially support this, using a 333MHz FSB we do get 1333MHz memory.
For overclocking we clocked the memory back to a 1:1 memory ratio as well as a 6x CPU multiplier to reduce the CPU and memory as being the bottleneck. We lock the PCI Express to 100MHz and the PCI to 33MHz. In our array of overclocking tests we had the P35T-DQ6 at 581MHz, the MSI X48 Platinum at 558MHz and the ASUS Maximus Extreme at 527MHz.
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 off we look at memory performance. We see X38 and X48 identical at stock speeds; however they both manage to just creep ahead of the P35. Intel did do a bit of a number on the DDR3 memory controller on the X38 and X48 compared to the P35 to give it a leg up, even at stock speeds. When overclocking comes in we see the X48 Platinum behind the P35T due to the higher FSB the P35T, but it's not as huge a gap as we would have expected.
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.
Pressing on into PCMark05 we see that the same trend from Everest applies here as well.
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 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
When it comes to Premiere Elements the more memory bandwidth and CPU speed you can pump out the better your overall encode score will be. Here we see the X48 in front at stock, but only just. When it comes to overclocking we see the P35 with a higher FSB, memory and CPU clocks gain the upper hand.
Benchmarks - HDD Performance
Version and / or Patch Used: 18.104.22.168
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.
Hard Disk performance across the three different boards is identical thanks to the same HDD and storage controllers on each board. The MSI's Marvell SATA chip does outperform the JMicron chip though.
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.
Into our first gaming benchmark, and while being synthetic it still shows the same trends we have seen in our previous system tests.
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.
Here we see the X48 Platinum get the best scores at stock speeds. At overclocked the extra power of the P35T gives it a slight lead.
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.
Battlefield 2142 shows us that the MSI X48 Platinum is only a couple of FPS better than the P35 at stock; it's no better than the X38 at stock due to the exact same memory controller. Overclocking is where the P35 manages to get a jump on the MSI X48.
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.
Our last gaming benchmark and we see the exact same trends as the other gaming tests we have run.
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.
Power usage between the X48 and X38 are identical at stock; Both MSI and ASUS are pretty well on the money when it comes to power usage. MSI's X48 draws a slight bit extra at overclocked speeds over the ASUS Maximus Extreme due to a higher bus speed and more voltage being pumped into the Northbridge. Compared to the P35T the X48 draws quite a bit more power.
The X38 chipset has definitely turned out to be less than we had initially hoped for, and with all the hype saying it would be the next big chipset without overclocking boundaries that are put into some chipsets to limit their overclocking potential, X38 has flopped out with higher power requirements and heat generation causing some overclocking problems; this is especially the case when it came to the memory side of things. If the Northbridge gets to hot it just can't handle the bus speeds.
X48 is Intel's big push to keep X38 alive while giving it a different name so it goes up a class, this by simply hand picking a set of chipsets that are guaranteed to work better.
MSI's first X48 to cross our labs really has us wanting more X48s to tinker with. If this is the result of simply selecting the best chipsets from the wafer, then Intel's getting things well sorted right now and we may even see better X38 boards if the chipset continues now that X48 is out.
Overall, the X48 Platinum packs in as many features as most other boards have along with the additional two PCI Express x16 slots for a grand total of four. We are seeing the beginnings of boards that totally dominate for graphics cards.
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