X48 Motherboard Comparison

Conclusions

We have a clear winner, but not an awardable one: the Asus P5E3 Premium (Compare Prices on P5E3 Motheboard) was the only motherboard in this comparison to pass every single test, because the remaining boards failed (or partially failed) four-DIMM compatibility. But we realize that some builders will never use more than two memory modules, and that the higher capacities available with DDR3 make large dual-channel kits a better option. Awards are reserved for obvious leadership in performance, overclocking, or "bang for the buck", and these are places where the losing motherboards each had their own strengths.

Gigabyte's X48T-DQ6 and MSI's X48 Platinum both matched the P5E3 Premium in CPU overclocking capability, taking our E6850 to 446 megahertz FSB clock at the processor's default 9x multiplier. Yet the MSI X48 Platinum's 452 MHz maximum FSB at 6x CPU multiplier edged out the Gigabyte X48T-DQ6's 540 MHz FSB, leaving the P5E3 Premium at the bottom for multiplier-limited processors at 535 MHz FSB clock. This slight win for MSI put the Gigabyte X48T-DQ6 in second place for maximum achievable FSB clock as well as four-DIMM capability.

All three motherboards provided similar performance, yet there's a large price disparity between Asus and Gigabyte/MSI models. Though none of the boards we tested had reached vendors in time for any direct price comparison, we can look at otherwise-identical X38 counterparts to see the trend: As of this writing, the P5E3 Deluxe WiFi-AP @N Edition costs $350, while the MSI X38 Platinum and Gigabyte GA-X38T-DQ6 are both $285. For builders who only want to use a single pair of memory modules, that $65 price difference could be the deciding factor.

On the other hand, anyone who has second-guessed themselves concerning the overall value of the X48 Express probably shouldn't have bothered to do so. Our X38 Express motherboards overclocked just as well, and all of them supported Intel's latest FSB-1600 - the reason for which the X48 was released. A few of our own editors would claim that the X48 Express should be the default choice for FSB-1600 desktop processors, because nothing is certain in the world of overclocking, but we've yet to present any evidence of an X38 motherboard that was not perfectly stable at speeds beyond FSB-1600.

A higher "validated" speed is no guarantee of increased clock speed potential. The idea that the X48 Express is better than the X38 Express in the same way that a Core 2 Duo E6850 is better than a Core 2 Duo E6750 can be shot down by the fact that our E6850 doesn't overclock as far as our E6750. One could point to the higher memory stability of the P5E3 Premium - when compared to the P5E3 Deluxe - as proof of the X48 Express chipset's superior stability, but minor differences between PCB revisions 1.03G and 2.00G between the two models are more likely responsible for this benefit. One might also expect that the P5E3 Premium BIOS is optimized for added high-FSB stability rather than the best performance, but the P5E3 Premium outperformed the P5E3 Deluxe. Retail buyers should expect the latest PCB and BIOS revisions to be applied to either model, and we're left with no evidence that the X48 Express is actually a better product than the X38 Express.

How much more should you expect to pay for a product that's better in theory but not practice? We expect the price premium to drop to around $20 once retail channels are completely filled, but early buyers can expect much higher over-charges for what are, electronically, the same products as the X38-Express models on which these are based.

If X38 Express motherboard prices remain consistent for X48 Express versions, buyers who only plan to use two memory modules could find better value in the second-place Gigabyte GA-X48T-DQ6. But at these prices we can't imagine too many buyers will be willing to pay even more for an X48 Express Northbridge, and manufacturers may be waiting for X38 prices to drop a bit before shipping X48 derivatives.

In the end, the difference between the X48 and X38 Express is at best 98% marketing and 2% validation. Buyers who constantly find themselves among the unlucky few should consider the X48 Express as insurance against high-FSB stability issues, but everyone else could potentially find better value in the X38 Express.

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7 comments
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  • Anonymous
    Help please.Can this board be configured with the first two (SATA) HDs mirrored and the other drives JBOD? Thank you in advance.
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  • oblivionspell
    Great review, very detailed and informative. But I must say that either you were lucky that your X38 P5E3 Deluxe came with a better-than-average chipset or that I wasn't so lucky and got a malfunctioning one.

    I have an Asus Maximus Formula which is, as you know, the Republic of Gamer's solution for the X38 and recently bought a Patriot Extreme Performance 1150mhz PC2-9600. Whenever I try anything above 1020mhz for the RAM my PC reboots; the higher it is the less time it takes to do it. At 1020mhz it'll only reboot if I run something more demanding like 3dMark06 or any new game, at 1100mhz it'll barely show the Windows loading screen then reboot, above 1120mhz it'll not even load windows and freeze. But in every case it boots up fine.

    The Asus forums are full of users who can't get stability in any way with >=1066mhz ram on X38 boards. A selected few have come to accomplish it however, which leads me to think those were the lucky ones who got the good shipment, like you. The Patriot forums are the same, X38 users can't get their system stable with RAMS over 1066 or not even that.

    Maybe that X48 "official" support is something to consider, it might be the fix to the X38 we users are looking for. Even if it's only to make sure it'll run RAMs at >=1066mhz, it's good enough already.
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  • Anonymous
    oblivionspell - Have you tried manually setting your RAM voltage to the correct value for the performance setting(s)?

    I had to do this on my Asus Crosshair, even though EPP is supposed to take care of it for you. Without manually setting the voltage, I had memory corruption and crashes, but could use the non-EPP mode. With the voltage bumped to the correct 2.1V,
    the EPP modes work perfectly.
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  • Crashman
    oblivionspellGreat review, very detailed and informative. But I must say that either you were lucky that your X38 P5E3 Deluxe came with a better-than-average chipset or that I wasn't so lucky and got a malfunctioning one.I have an Asus Maximus Formula which is, as you know, the Republic of Gamer's solution for the X38 and recently bought a Patriot Extreme Performance 1150mhz PC2-9600. Whenever I try anything above 1020mhz for the RAM my PC reboots; the higher it is the less time it takes to do it. At 1020mhz it'll only reboot if I run something more demanding like 3dMark06 or any new game, at 1100mhz it'll barely show the Windows loading screen then reboot, above 1120mhz it'll not even load windows and freeze. But in every case it boots up fine.The Asus forums are full of users who can't get stability in any way with >=1066mhz ram on X38 boards. A selected few have come to accomplish it however, which leads me to think those were the lucky ones who got the good shipment, like you. The Patriot forums are the same, X38 users can't get their system stable with RAMS over 1066 or not even that.Maybe that X48 "official" support is something to consider, it might be the fix to the X38 we users are looking for. Even if it's only to make sure it'll run RAMs at >=1066mhz, it's good enough already.


    It's just a matter of having the right RAM and using the correct timings and voltage. All X38 and X48 motherboards that support DDR2 memory can run DDR2-1066 speeds with stability, so long as the RAM is set up right in BIOS.
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  • Anonymous
    "Inside, users will find a GUI based on the Smart Common Input Method (SCIM) platform."

    This is not accurate. SCIM is an "input method" -- a scheme for entering internationalized text. Not sure what the GUI is really based on. GTK2, maybe?
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  • Crashman
    Quote:
    "Inside, users will find a GUI based on the Smart Common Input Method (SCIM) platform." This is not accurate. SCIM is an "input method" -- a scheme for entering internationalized text. Not sure what the GUI is really based on. GTK2, maybe?


    I see your point, but that's the same arguement as "Windows 98SE is a GUI based on DOS". Which is innacurate only in wording. It would be better to say "Windows 98SE is a GUI for DOS".

    So, you'd be happier to read "Users will find a GUI for the Smart Common Input Method (SCIM) platform" correct?
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  • chill70
    It's not only the wording. SCIM is not an operating system, so even your example is not analogous (won't even mention that DOS and Windows are separate operating systems with distinct kernels, etc).

    This statement is as correct as saying Vista has a GUI based on a 105-key keyboard.

    SCIM is an input method platform independent on the GUI. GTK GUI is an widget toolkit, independent on SCIM (although they *may* used each other). Neither is "based" on the other.

    If you want to emphasize that the Express Gate supports users of many different languages and nationalities you can mention that the GUI USES SCIM.
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