With so much of ASRock’s focus being on high-value performance, few of us expected the company to use Intel’s latest high-end chipset which, after all, is more expensive but electronically identical to the earlier X38 Express. Yet, the company leapt past the earlier enthusiast part, its X48TurboTwins-WiFi, with the likely intention to entice buyers across its entire product line by producing a flagship model. Will its highest-end product to date impress us enough to have the desired brand-boosting effect?
Layout and Features
Two things that stand out about the X48TurboTwins-WiFi more than its odd name are the dual PCI-Express x16 slots and simplified chipset sink arrangement, both of which scream “value” compared to competing X48 models. We say “value” rather than “low cost” because it’s well known that the X48 doesn’t run hot, and that the third x16 slot found on higher-cost boards is nothing more than a version 1.0 slot with only four PCI-Express pathways.
Thus, ASRock cuts costs in places where higher-priced parts are mostly for show. We seriously doubt anyone would want to put a high-performance graphics card in a third slot that has only an eighth of the bandwidth of the other two slots, so eliminating it was an easy choice for ASRock. Whether or not the simplified chipset cooling is a similarly “zero-negative-effect” solution is answered in this article’s overclocking comparison.
The X48TurboTwins-WiFi is still packed with features, and one that stands out at the high end is its use of both DDR2 and DDR3 memory slots. A feature normally reserved for lower-cost products, enthusiasts on a middle budget can build their system today while carrying over the DDR2-800 memory from their old system, and upgrade to DDR3 whenever prices become more tolerable.
Two of the X48TurboTwins-WiFi’s more questionable design elements are the placement of its 24-pin ATX/EPS power connector and WiFi USB riser card header. By putting the main power lead between the rear panel ports and the Northbridge, ASRock forces builders to pull the cable over or around the CPU cooler. The WiFi card blocks one of only two PCI slots that would remain useable when two double-thick graphics cards are installed. Addressing either concern would have required ASRock to sacrifice other features, however, such as back-panel ports and DIMM slots.
ASRock also places the floppy cable header very inconveniently below the lowest PCI slot, which could result in a cabling nightmare for Windows XP users who want to use the chipset’s RAID or AHCI modes for SATA. Perhaps they believe users will forgo these advanced modes or use Windows Vista.
Another look at the X48TurboTwins-WiFi’s top corner reveals two Serial ATA connectors, but these are not ports. Rather, these are pass-through connections for rear-panel eSATA, and rely on internal ports located at the opposite corner of the board. We’re fairly certain that most users will not want to string cables corner-to-corner across the motherboard, so perhaps ASRock could have gotten back some of the previously-mentioned missing space by simply eliminating the fake eSATA ports.
Flipping the motherboard over reveals some ICs close to the CPU socket, which could interfere with the installation of some CPU cooler support plates.