Sign in with
Sign up | Sign in

X48 Motherboard Comparison

X48 Motherboard Comparison
By

Few users question the notion that today's fastest systems will use Intel's highest-model PC chipsets, since these have consistently outpaced rival controllers in overclocking capability. Even builders who don't overclock can appreciate the added stability required for Intel to reach this position, but is the introduction of a new chipset model name a good enough reason to rush out and buy a new motherboard?

A brief look back to former chipsets shows that Intel's biggest breakthrough in high-speed stability dates to the P965 release of 2006. Though the P35 Express that replaced it was somewhat better, added features appeared to be the only reason for buyers to spend more for the upscale X38 Express that followed. Now Intel would like us to consider its latest "Ultimate Feature", official support for FSB-1600 processors via the X48 Express. But given that most X38 and many P35 motherboards can automatically configure FSB-1600 already, we can see where a few readers might not yet be convinced of the X48's necessity.

There's been much debate over the significance of Intel's X48 Express northbridge, with some arguing that its nothing more than an X38 validated at a higher clock speed, and others claiming that the additional validation makes these chips special. Some even compare the processor market, where the Core 2 Extreme QX6850 Compare Prices on QX6850 Processor and latest-production Core 2 Quad Q6600 use the same G0 stepping cores. Yet the QX6850 contains an added feature over the G0 stepping Q6600, as all Intel Extreme processors have the multipliers unlocked in both the upward and downward directions. Do X48 buyers benefit from such added features? Let's take a closer look.

At first, the X48 Express appears to have a reduced feature set compared to the X38, but the standard features are still there. Intel left a few of the basic functions out of this particular chart, to focus our attention on the X48 Express northbridge's performance-oriented features.

One recently-introduced feature we did notice is Intel XMP memory mode, but the technology isn't exclusive to the X48 Express - most motherboard manufacturers already advertise XMP support for previously-introduced X38 Express models. Like NVidia's "SLI Memory Mode" which is known among memory venders as "Enhanced Performance Profiles" (EPP), Intel's XMP technology adds semi-automatic overclocking profiles to memory's basic SPD values, which users may select from within the BIOS. Both technologies are meant to aid neophytes in reaching the rated speeds and timings of "factory overclocked" performance RAM, but XMP applies to DDR3, where EPP was for DDR2.

While the X48 Express officially adds FSB-1600 support, the needed 400 MHz bootstrap was also present in the X38 Express. Indeed, many motherboard manufacturers are now producing X48 models based on the same circuit boards as their X38 predecessors, leaving the possibility of higher bus speeds as the only reason to choose an X48 Express based board over an otherwise-identical X38 Express model. Some enterprising X38 platform owners may even try to use the corresponding X48 BIOS, though we wouldn't recommend it: if two boards really are identical except in name, the BIOS should also be identical except for its label. Any move by a company to withhold BIOS improvements from X38 models in order to boost X48 sales would be a cheap shot towards existing customers.

The boards might not differ much from their X38 forerunners, but that hasn't prevented Intel from charging motherboard producers a price premium for the additional validation. Though a few manufacturers saw the price difference as a good reason to ignore Intel's latest offering, others saw an opportunity to use the higher-validated X48 Express to highlight their products' high-speed capabilities. Four motherboards arrived at our lab in time for today's review.

Join our discussion on this article!

Display all 7 comments.
This thread is closed for comments
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , June 15, 2008 3:19 PM
    Help please.Can this board be configured with the first two (SATA) HDs mirrored and the other drives JBOD? Thank you in advance.
  • 0 Hide
    oblivionspell , July 2, 2008 8:26 PM
    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.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , August 15, 2008 1:22 PM
    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.
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , September 6, 2008 9:37 AM
    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.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , September 15, 2008 5:50 PM
    "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?
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , September 15, 2008 7:18 PM
    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?
  • 0 Hide
    chill70 , October 15, 2008 12:09 PM
    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.