X38 Comparison Part 1: DDR2 Motherboards

Foxconn X38A: A Work In Progress, Continued

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.

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Foxconn X38A (Revision 1.0)
NorthbridgeIntel X38 Express MCH
SouthbridgeIntel ICH9R
Voltage RegulatorSix Phases
BIOSP01 (09/21/2007)
333.3 MHz (FSB1333)333.3 MHz (+0.0%)
Connectors and Interfaces
Onboard3x PCIe x16 (One with x4 pathways)2x PCIe x12x PCI2x USB 2.0 (2 ports per connector)1x Serial Port Header1x Floppy1x Ultra ATA (2 drives)6x Serial ATA 3.0Gb/s1x Front Panel Audio1x CD-Audio In2x Fan 4 pins (CPU/System)1x Fan 3 pins (System)1x Internal Power Switch1x Internal Reset Switch1x Internal CLR_CMOS Switch
IO panel2x PS2 (keyboard + mouse)2x RJ-45 Network4x USB 2.06x Analog Audio (7.1 Channel + Mic-In + Line-In)2x Digital Audio (S/P-DIF Optical+Coaxial)2x eSATA (External Serial ATA) interface1x Foxconn Digital Connector
Mass Storage Controllers
Intel ICH9R6x SATA 3.0Gb/s (RAID 0,1,5,10)
JMicron JMB3631x Ultra ATA-100 (2-drives)2x SATA 3.0Gb/s
Realtek RTL811B PCI-E1x Gigabit LAN Connection
Realtek RTL8110SC PCI1x Gigabit LAN Connection
HDA (Azalia) Controller InterfaceRealtek ALC888S 8+2 Channel Codec
Texas Instruments TSB43AB22A2x 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.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • firesteel
    What happened to this motherboard? I don't see it for sale at places like tigerdirect. Newegg say it's discontinued. Has it been replaced by a newer model or something?