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X48 Roundup: ASUS, ECS & Intel
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by Rob Williams on July 7, 2008 in Intel Motherboards

With so much X48 selection on the market, choosing the right board can be tough. To help make the choice easier, we are taking a look at three such boards all at once, ASUS’ DDR2 Rampage Formula and also the DDR3 ECS X48T-A and Intel’s DX48BT2.

Introduction, ASUS Rampage Formula

Although Intel’s P45 chipset may be taking most of the limelight lately, the enthusiast side of things still belongs to X48. Since we had a few boards hanging around waiting to get benchmarked, we’ve decided to include them all in this single article.

The three boards include ASUS’ DDR2 offering, the Rampage Formula, along with ECS’ “gamers” board, the X48T-A. Lastly, we’ll also be taking on Intel’s official X48 board, the DX48BT2.

X48 is Intel’s latest top-end enthusiast chipset, offering the entire gamut of features that overclockers and enthusiasts are looking for. Though it was a somewhat lackluster update to X38, with the main support added being support for the 1600MHz FSB, most X48 boards are priced right along with X38, making them very worthy of consideration.

The fact that X48 supports a 1600MHz FSB might seem a little odd, since there is only a single processor model available to support it, but it’s likely that we may see updated models later in the year that also support the higher FSB, unless Nehalem hogs so much of the limelight that Intel deems it an unwise choice.

Add to the fact that X48 is not at all required to run a CPU with a 1600MHz FSB. In fact, I’ve been running a QX9770 in a higher-end P35 board for around a month now and it’s been running perfect. So while X48 is not a necessity, what sells the boards are the features that the manufacturers tack on. But do the three on our bench today offer enough to grab your attention?

ASUS Rampage Formula

ASUS is no stranger to the site, for the reason that we can’t help but want to get their products into our labs. We’ve never been truly let down with an ASUS product, whether it be a motherboard, GPU or notebook, so it’s always a joy to get one of their new models in.

Of course, all good companies tend to have their downfalls, and in the case of ASUS, that’s with their customer service. It’s something they need to work on, and they are aware of it, so hopefully we can see some things improve sooner than later. But I digress…

The Rampage Formula is unique to our X48 line-up as it’s the only one that supports DDR2 memory. Although the benefits of DDR3 can be debated, DDR2 still remains a fantastic choice due to both the density and price. You can now get 4GB of RAM for under $100, and that’s hard to ignore. In that regard, it’s not such a difficult predicament. DDR3 is constantly decreasing in price, but it will take a while longer before it will overshadow DDR2.

From a design standpoint, ASUS usually does a fair job with their board layouts, and the Rampage Formula doesn’t change a thing. Everything is positioned in a convenient location, and even with the robust copper heatsink, there should still be sufficient room for most coolers on the market.

The board design might be great, but for some reason the color scheme doesn’t do much to impress. Blue and white for the DIMM slots? What would it take to see a perfectly-coordinated board from ASUS?

Moving on downwards, the corner of the board is where most of the peripheral connectivity can be found. The S-ATA ports are located in a very convenient location, and because they are side-mounted, there will be no graphics card on the market that can get in your way. The front panel connectors are also in an ideal location. Note also the two fan connectors, adding to the overall appeal of the board. It’s truly designed with enthusiasts and gamers in mind.

Like most higher-end ASUS boards, this one features a whole lot of copper, enough to make overclocking a breeze. Although most CPU coolers on the market should be mounted without issue, please note that Zalman coolers may be a problem. In our recent CPU cooler roundup, Bill found that neither of the three Zalman coolers on hand would fit on our ASUS P5E3 Premium. So it’s something to bear in mind.

Given that X48 offers support for two GPUs in Crossfire mode, it’s no surprise to see two PCI-E 16x slots here for the taking. Besides those, there are three PCI-E 1x slots among two ‘old-school’ PCI. The top black PCI-E 1x connector is meant to be used with the included external audio card.

Finally taking a look at the back panel, we can see a total of six USB ports, one Firewire, S/PDIF audio, PS/2 keyboard and also two LAN. The lack of audio is due to the external audio card being included. Also note the ‘Clr CMOS’ button, which does exactly as you’d expect.

In way of included accessories, you can expect to find a copy of STALKER, a heatsink fan, back I/O panel, LED readout and of course, the audio card. The LED readout plugs into the motherboard and reports on various information, such as CPU temperature and fan speeds.

That’s of course not all, however. Also included is a variety of HDD/ODD cables, Q-Connector (makes light work of the ATX chassis cables) and also an accessory to fill up one of the back slots in your PC, adding the ability to use another two USB ports and one single Firewire.

As I mentioned before, ASUS usually does a good job with both the design and feature set of their motherboards, and the Rampage Formula doesn’t disappoint. Everything from the board layout to included accessories cater directly to the people its built for, enthusiasts and overclockers.

Next we’ll take a brief look at the BIOS, then move onto a look at our ECS board.