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The March 2010 launch of Intel's hexa-core Core i7-980X gave us a good reason to revisit the LGA 1366 interface. Today, we're looking at four new X58 Express-based motherboards that tie USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gb/s support in to Intel's flagship platform.
Many people assume newer is better, but that’s not always true when it comes to processor interfaces. The high-end LGA 1366 platform launched with Intel’s Nehalem architecture in 2008, and the mainstream LGA 1156 platform that followed nearly a year later wasn’t designed to match the connectivity needs of a high-end market.
Yet, by the time new technologies like USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gb/s were available to the public, the market was treating Intel’s high-end platform like a has-been, despite the fact that it continues to offer the PCI Express 2.0 needed for both capabilities.
The problem with LGA 1156 is its lack of PCI Express 2.0 connectivity. Most gamers won't want to sacrifice any of the processor’s sixteen 5.0 Gb/s lanes for an add-in controller, since doing so steals bandwidth from the graphics card. And the PCI Express lanes that come from Intel's P55, H57, and H55 controller hubs only run at the PCIe 1.1 data rate, severely bottlenecking performance.
While some manufacturers initially tried to sneak away the graphics cards lanes, and others used a bridge device to connect four 2.5 Gb/s lanes to two 5.0 Gb/s controllers, true enthusiasts knew that the only “perfect” way to add those high-performance controllers would be to simply use a platform with more true PCI Express 2.0 connectivity.
Fortunately, X58 already has 36 PCIe 2.0 pathways, allowing up to 32 to be devoted to graphics, while four serve other needs. Those other needs can include 5.0 Gb/s USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gb/s (at 5.0 Gb/s max). But X58 needed a new high-end processor to help thrust it back into the spotlight. That product came six weeks ago with the introduction of Intel’s six-core Core i7-980X processor.
Now that people are finally taking second (and third) looks at the X58, let’s see what these new-for-2010 motherboard’s have to offer.