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Foxconn X38A: A Work In Progress, Continued

X38 Comparison Part 1: DDR2 Motherboards
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At the bottom of the front edge are Power, Reset and CLR_CMOS buttons. The BIOS-resetting button doesn't come with a "safety switch," so owners must pay special attention to it in order to prevent resetting custom settings after their systems are finished.

A "Port 80" type diagnostics display shows system status in numeric values, which can be compared to a code chart if any problems occur. This design isn't quite a convenient as Asus' English-language display, but it beats Gigabyte's lack of any such device.

The X38A doesn't have as many USB 2.0 ports as its competitors, and a closer look reveals two vacant USB 2.0 headers in front of the rear-panel audio ports. These might have made for an easy connection point for the top-mounted "front panel" ports of some cases, but perhaps the connections were instead routed to Foxconn's rear-panel "Foxconn Digital Connector?"

The remaining USB 2.0 and IEEE-1394 break-out connections are located near the front of the X38A's lower edge, which shouldn't be too much of a problem for routing the cables for most case designs. The front panel audio connector on the other hand is located in its traditional "bottom rear corner" position, which is a design tradition thankfully broken by both Asus and Gigabyte X38 boards and one that we'd like to see go away soon.

The only important installation issue we noticed with the Foxconn X38A is that its Southbridge heatpipe is raised to clear two capacitors along its path, and is high enough to prevent graphics cards from seating firmly in the top PCI-Express x16 slot. Cards can normally be forced into place without much effort, but we wonder if doing that prevents the chipset blocks from seating squarely.

Foxconn X38A (Revision 1.0)
Northbridge Intel X38 Express MCH
Southbridge Intel ICH9R
Voltage Regulator Six Phases
BIOS P01 (09/21/2007)
333.3 MHz (FSB1333) 333.3 MHz (+0.0%)
Connectors and Interfaces
Onboard 3x PCIe x16 (One with x4 pathways)
2x PCIe x1
2x PCI
2x USB 2.0 (2 ports per connector)
1x Serial Port Header
1x Floppy
1x Ultra ATA (2 drives)
6x Serial ATA 3.0Gb/s
1x Front Panel Audio
1x CD-Audio In
2x Fan 4 pins (CPU/System)
1x Fan 3 pins (System)
1x Internal Power Switch
1x Internal Reset Switch
1x Internal CLR_CMOS Switch
IO panel 2x PS2 (keyboard + mouse)
2x RJ-45 Network
4x USB 2.0
6x Analog Audio (7.1 Channel + Mic-In + Line-In)
2x Digital Audio (S/P-DIF Optical+Coaxial)
2x eSATA (External Serial ATA) interface
1x Foxconn Digital Connector
Mass Storage Controllers
Intel ICH9R 6x SATA 3.0Gb/s (RAID 0,1,5,10)
JMicron JMB363 1x Ultra ATA-100 (2-drives)
2x SATA 3.0Gb/s
Network
Realtek RTL811B PCI-E 1x Gigabit LAN Connection
Realtek RTL8110SC PCI 1x Gigabit LAN Connection
Audio
HDA (Azalia) Controller Interface Realtek ALC888S 8+2 Channel Codec
FireWire
Texas Instruments TSB43AB22A 2x IEEE-1394a (400 Mb/s)

Foxconn joins the ranks of manufacturers offering multi-streaming audio codecs, which provide separate audio streams for the front panel stereo output in addition to rear multi-channel outputs. Configuring these outputs allows programs such as voice communications to operate on a separate stream from media playback such as movie soundtracks, thereby enabling audio multitasking.

Because the X38A dedicates four of its remaining six PCI-Express ports to the third x16 slot, some onboard devices must instead use a PCI interface. Among these is one of the Gigabit Ethernet controllers. The only problem this creates is that the 32-bit PCI interface can only handle gigabit traffic in one direction at a time. Thus, one gigabit network controller operates at full speed while the other has a slight performance handicap.

Rear audio connections include PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports; optical and coaxial digital audio outputs; a proprietary "Foxconn Digital Connector" interface, an IEEE-1394 FireWire port, two External SATA ports, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, four USB 2.0 ports and six analog audio connectors. Six is the "magic number" for supporting eight-channel output while maintaining separate microphone and line-level inputs.

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