Foxconn X38A: A Work In Progress
Foxconn periodically pops in and out of the Enthusiast motherboard market like a prairie dog, but we hope the brand sticks around this time. The company missed the enthusiast market with its P35 Express boards and was late to market with its own 680i SLI motherboard design (after producing the 680i SLI reference board for other brands), but its 975X7AB-8EKRS2H became one of the best-in-class after a few BIOS revisions. Today's X38A faces similar obstacles to its 975X board, and we hope a BIOS update will yield similar improvements.
Branding is a popular way for today's technology companies to differentiate product lines, and Foxconn finally joined the movement with its "DigitaLife" campaign. This seems to target Asus' AI Lifestyle series and will include future media-centric devices that connect to Foxconn's proprietary "Foxconn Digital Connector."
Foxconn is among the few motherboard manufacturers to still design its chipset sinks with fan cooling. Asus offers an add-on fan for its heatpipe, but Foxconn's design makes it mandatory by shrouding the sink for directional airflow. The fan is quiet and the design seems to provide a better cooling-to-noise ratio, but the custom-shaped fan will eventually wear out. Also notice that only four of the X38A's six CPU voltage regulator resistor groups receive added cooling; the LGA775 socket is too close to the X38A's top edge to leave any room for a sink on the last two "power phases."
Most noticeable of the X38A layout features are its six DIMM slots, designed for up to four DDR2 modules or two DDR3 modules. In a comparable move for added flexibility, Foxconn also provides three PCI-Express x16 slots rather than two, though the third slot uses only x4 pathways.
ATX/EPS main power and ATX12V/EPS12V CPU power connectors are located conveniently near the top of the board for easy cable reach to top-mounted power supplies, and the floppy connector provides a similarly easy cable path to any mid-mounted 3.5" external bay.
Further down, the front edge an Ultra ATA connector is positioned high enough on the board for average-length cables to reach the top external bay of most mid-tower cases, but it faces forward to tuck under the leading edge of long graphics cards. Ultra ATA cables always have "90-degree" ends, so anyone tucking the X38A into a tight motherboard space will be able to use the connector by installing the cable before dropping the board into place.
The previously mentioned installation trick doesn't work with forward-facing double-rows of SATA cables (see the Asus board for an example), so Foxconn positioned its SATA headers facing straight up from the board above the third "x16" slot. These could be a tight squeeze for clearance to long PCI cards, but we really can't think of a better way to make this many ports fit into so many different configurations.