Intel X48 vs. Nvidia nForce 790i Ultra SLI

The high-end chipset offerings from Intel and Nvidia couldn’t be more similar — at least at first glance. Both were designed to power the latest Core 2 Duo, Quad or Extreme processors, both support the latest technologies such as PCI Express 2.0 and DDR3-1600 memory, and both combine these with a plethora of interfaces. Both are highly overclockable and offer proprietary features to enhance performance.

The two target different types of enthusiast customers, however. Intel is the old bull in the chipset arena, owning roughly 50% of the core logic market, but has come a long way from providing reliable business products to also catering to the enthusiast. The X series, starting with the 925X, has been the enthusiast chipset line for some time, yet the Intel enthusiast series isn’t necessarily the best choice for everyone. The mainstream chipsets, such as the P965 and P35, have provided similar performance, interfaces and overclocking features as the 975X and X38 models. The enthusiast chipsets mostly support faster system speeds or optional dual graphics configurations.

The X48 release once again introduces a new chipset that does not offer substantial advantages over the mainstream products — the main difference this time is its qualification for FSB1600 system speeds. At the same time, X48 had support for DDR2 memory and ECC DIMMs removed on the specification sheet, although DDR2 is physically still supported.

Nvidia has addressed the enthusiast audience ever since, which is obvious by its aggressive branding and graphics-centered strategy, paired with a strong feature set. Not only was Nvidia the first firm to introduce Scalable Link Interface (SLI) dual graphics with the nForce 4 family, but it also introduced SLI-ready memory with EPP in the nForce 600. EPP stands for Enhanced Performance Profiles, a technology that allows the motherboard to automatically enable the fastest memory speed and aggressive memory timings. The Nvidia chipsets also were first to introduce comfortable management tools, and the overclocking utility nTune. The latest nForce 700 chipset family focuses on DDR3 memory, two-, three-way and four-way SLI based on two x16 PCI Express 2.0 slots, plus an additional x16 PCI Express 1.0 slot.

Though Nvidia is the multi-GPU graphics specialist, supporting both dual SLI with two SLI-ready graphics cards, three-way SLI with GeForce 8800 GTX or Ultra and quad SLI using two GeForce 9800 GX2 double whoppers, Intel does in fact also support dual graphics. With the introduction of the 975X chipset, two x16 PCI Express lanes were available in X series chipsets to host two ATI Radeon graphics card in Crossfire mode.

If you favor either ATI’s Crossfire or Nvidia’s SLI technology then your chipset choice has been made. If not, then you’ll find our comparison of a Gigabyte X48T-DQ6 and an Asus Striker II Extreme useful. Look at the features, performance, overclocking abilities and power consumption of the two high-end choices before making a decision.