by Tony Celeste
Many PC enthusiasts have been waiting breathlessly for the new, ultra high-end, super high-tech, Intel X38 motherboards, ever they showed up at June 2007 Computex. Relax, that wait is finally over. A motherboard based on the long-anticipated Intel X38 chipset has arrived, in the form of Gigabyte's GA-X38T-DQ6.
The X38 chip lets you crank DDR3 memory speeds beyond 1333 MHz.
The X38 represents the first new gamer/enthusiast chipset from Intel since the 975X series, and the changes it brings are impressive. Perhaps most important for do-it-themselfers, the X38 chipset not only supports today's Core 2 Duo, Core 2 Quad, and Core 2 Extreme processors, it also supports upcoming Penryn 45 nm processors as well. This means that this board is ready for the next generation of multicore Intel CPUs, with speeds that are expected to hit and eventually exceed 3.0 GHz, without having to buy a new motherboard. That is our definition of "upgradeability"!
Gigabyte's GA-X38T-DQ6 also ships with significant enhancements to its PCI Express architecture. The PCI Express 1.1 standard, employed on all recently released motherboards, including the 975X and newer P35 boards, supports transfer speeds of up to 250 MB/s per PCI lane. The PCI 2.0 standard, implemented in the Gigabyte GA-X38T-DQ6, doubles this speed to 500 MB/s per PCI Express lane. For an x16 graphics card slot, that means a transfer speed of 8 GB/s!
You'll also be pleased to learn that, unlike the 975X chipset, the P35 chipset, and even the Apple Mac Pro's chipset; the GA-X38T-DQ6's two x16 PCI Express slots aren't just electrical slots that operate at x8 when two cards are in use. These x16 slots are the real deal: both operate with all 16 lanes running, at full PCI Express 2.0 speed, even when both x16 slots are in use. Gamers, video editors, and 3D animators, take note: this is 32 lanes of the fastest Northbridge to GPU transfer around.
Of course, all of this upgradeability and graphics firepower can't do much without improvements to Front Side Bus and RAM speed. The GA-X38T-DQ6 has that covered, too. This board supports FSB speeds up to 1600 MHz, and handles next generation DDR3 RAM with speeds of 1600/1333/1066/800 MHz. Need for more storage space? The GA-X38T-DQ6 is ready to help there as well, with eight 3 Gb/s SATA ports - 6 connected directly to the Southbridge, plus 2 connected via a Gigabyte chip - plus one IDE port that supports 2 PATA drives, 3 Firewire ports, and a total of 12 USB 2.0 ports.
As you might expect from a company like Gigabyte, they've added many bells and whistles to Intel's already impressive X38 chipset. These enhancements include 100% copper heat pipes, ferrite core chokes, solid state capacitors, and a backup BIOS chip. There's also plenty of software to ease the process of updating drivers, downloading BIOS updates, monitoring system health, managing fan speeds, and, of course, tweaking settings for overclocking.
The GA-X38T-DQ6 costs over $300, probably more than most other motherboards. But it is one of the most advanced, future proof, and fastest gaming/enthusiast motherboards available on the market today, at least in this reviewer's opinion. Any PC enthusiast will likely jump for joy to find it among his or her Christmas gifts.
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