Date: May 19, 2008
Author(s): Rob Williams
Building a new machine and want DDR3 support? Then the X48T-DQ6 should be up for consideration. It offers great performance, very stable high overclocks (500MHz) and lots of connectivity, including a full eight USB ports at the back. The layout is not ideal, but the board still proves good overall.
We posted our first X48 review just two weeks ago, but you can expect many more in the weeks to come, as we have somewhat of a stockpile. But today we will be focusing on one, Gigabyte’s X48T-DQ6, a serious enthusiasts offering that promises the ultimate in performance and features.
Last fall, I took a look at Gigabyte’s GA-X38-DQ6 which is close to identical to the one we are looking at today. Besides the minor color changes on various components, the primary difference is the chipset. This is not much of a surprise, however, as X48 itself isn’t a brand-new chipset except with the name. It takes X38 and adds a native 1600FSB setting… and that’s about it.
We found the same to be true for the ASUS P5E3 Premium WiFi-AP @n that we posted a review for earlier this month. The board in itself was near-identical to the P5E3 Deluxe, except for absolutely minor changes, such as the different-colored shields on the heatsink. Other than that, they were identical.
The lack of differences is something that should be stressed, because the fact of the matter is, most X48 boards are identical to their X38 predecessors, in both features and capabilities. X48 might open up a native 1600MHz FSB, but I’ve never come across an X38 board (or P35) that couldn’t hit at least 470MHz FSB with a Quad-Core. So native or not, it’s not as though X48 allows more breathing-room. The parts will be better binned, though, but I’m not confident that real differences will be seen, even with overclocking.
This particular board retails for around $330, which is not that cheap. But the premium comes with DDR3 support. As we found out, that premium is around $40, since the DDR2 version of the board retails for around $290. If you want to save some money and stick with DDR2, I’m doubtful you will see any real performance decreases when compared to this one.
Gigabyte and ASUS are the two main players right now, and for good reason. Both companies are massive, so they can easily afford cases upon cases of Red Bull for their R&D departments. All the rage lately is for power savings, which Gigabyte wraps into a “DES” (Dynamic Energy Saver) technology on their boards. ASUS has EPU, which has similar goals in mind.
Both companies are in a debate right now, as Gigabyte recently invited a bus-load worth of the media to a private event in Taipei. There, Gigabyte railed ASUS for their “lies” and useless EPU. They even went as far as to say EPU is “fake”. I wish I were able to spread the press materials that we were given (I was not at the event, but received the documents afterwards), as they are a humorous read.
But that’s a topic for another article. Once we receive a P45 Gigabyte board, then we’ll put their DES against EPU on the ASUS P5Q Deluxe, to see who reigns supreme.
The X48T-DQ6 is Gigabyte’s highest-end X48 offering, so they didn’t skimp on anything. A 12-phase power solution is used here, which helps with efficiency, but not so much with overclocking, as we’ll see shortly. Two PCI-E slots are included for those with dual ATI cards capable of Crossfire mode, and the connectivity options are quite good.
For improved power efficiency, the board includes high-quality components, such as Ferrite Core Chokes (comprised of iron oxide to hold energy longer), lower RDS (on) MOSFETs (to produce lower switching resistance) and Lower ESR solid capacitors, which are designed to last far longer than standard capacitors.
Available are eight S-ATA ports, all the various headers for extra connectivity, and eight USB ports available on the back panel. If you connect the two USB ports on your chassis, you will have ten to deal with. That’s about six more than I actually have the need for, but for those with numerous peripherals, it’s a welcomed number.
On top of that, the board boasts DDR3-1900 speeds, which means hitting a 475MHz FSB overclock should be no problem at all. The “DDR3-1900” may be a bit conservative, since we’ve rarely seen an X48 board that couldn’t do 500MHz quite reliably, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, as they say.
If there is one thing Gigabyte does well with their products, it’s mastering the art of eye candy. Everything from their box art to the components on their products are designed to be eye-pleasing, and while such a thing doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, it’s nice to see such attention to detail.
As mentioned moments ago, the board includes support for eight S-ATA ports, one floppy and one IDE. The bottom six are handled by the ICH9 Southbridge that comes paired with X48, while the top two are courtesy of the Gigabyte SATA 2 chip, seen in the picture.
Support for RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10 are handled by the ICH9, while RAID 0, 1 and JBOD can be accomplished with the top two ports, with the help of the SATA 2 chip. In the above picture, you can also see the small but efficient Southbridge heatsink, which sports a nice design.
For some reason, it’s still popular to use PCI-E 1x slots to fill up a motherboard, even though most people will not use more than one right now (if any at all). Besides those, there are two PCI-E 16x slots for dual-GPU operation and also two generic PCI slots for classic peripherals.
I do wish the layout was a little different here. Since no one will use all three PCI-E 1x slots, the two PCI-E 16x slots should be shifted up one spot, leaving one PCI-E 1x above the first PCI slot. That would allow two GPUs with dual-slot coolers to be used, because as it is right now, using such cards would block off one PCI slot.
I’ll jump to conclusions and just assume that there are far more people who could fill up two PCI slots than there are that would use all three PCI-E 1x, so this layout is kind of frustrating.
Here you can see the north and south bridge heatsinks. The NB portion is slightly larger than what we saw on the GA-X38-DQ6, but not by much.
For some reason, I have a sudden craving for watermelon. And I don’t even like watermelon.
The heatsink contraption ends up over the PWM, right behind ten neatly-arranged power phases. This shot presents another layout issue. The 8-pin motherboard connector is not convenient, and you could almost break a fingernail just trying to get the small black protector out of there. I managed to bend a few fins on the heatsink just trying to get it out of there.
It seems so petty, but believe me, it’s more difficult than it needs to be.
On the back, we’ll find numerous connectors… more than most motherboards I’ve come across. Besides the eight USB ports, we have dual PS/2 keyboard/mouse ports, S/PDIF outputs, dual Firewire, dual LAN ports and also the audio, which is powered by the Realtek ALC889A chipset.
Besides the obvious accessories, two storage add-on accessories are included, which avail you a total of four e-SATA ports. These could be installed where a PCI-E 1x slot appears, since it is likely to remain unused anyway.
Gigabyte did a fair job with this board. It’s feature-packed, includes accessories that are not found on other boards, and includes a staggering eight USB ports on the back panel. The big gripe I have is with regards to a few layout features. I really dislike the 8-pin motherboard connector being located where it is, and the same goes for the needless abundance of PCI-E 1x slots, which will rub those who plan on a dual-GPU configuration with cards that use dual-slot coolers the wrong way.
Other than those two things, the layout is good overall.
I have never been a real fan of Gigabyte’s BIOS’, as I’ve found the versions ASUS builds to be far more user-friendly and easier to understand. There are a few reasons for this. The first is the fact that it’s clunky. In the overclocking section, there are so many sub-menus and options you need to set first in order to do certain things… it’s just not fun.
Another reason is that their voltages are not real values, but rather are + figures. To overclock memory, for example, you could set +0.3v, which increases the stock voltage by 0.3v. The reason this is a little confusing is because it doesn’t help when overclocking between different boards. While most others declare the real voltage value, Gigabyte doesn’t. The importance of this is minimal, but I’d much rather see real values.
In order to understand how it compares to other BIOS’, voltage-wise, you’ll need to know the stock voltages for components under a certain chipset. The northbridge, for example, is 1.20v by default, so +0.30v would bring it to 1.50v. It’s a little confusing at first, but once you spend a little time inside, you can get used to it fast.
The CPU voltage is the lone raw value here, which goes up to a staggering 2.35V. That is beyond needless, and it’s important to make sure you don’t accidentally set it. Chances are good that the system will just not boot, but that is way too much voltage to take a risk with.
Though it can’t be seen in the picture (due to it flashing), the DDR3 can be overclocked to 3.05V… also asinine. I’m unsure of the stock values for the PCI-E, FSB and MCH, but their values are equally open. Nothing is held back, that’s for sure.
There is not much more else in the BIOS that is unique or that interesting, so I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
With all that blue out of the way, it’s time to move right on into our testing methodology, followed by our results.
At Techgage, we strive to make sure our results are as accurate as possible. Our testing is rigorous, and sometimes exhaustive, but we feel the effort is worth it. In an attempt to leave no question unanswered, this page contains not only our testbed specifications, but also a fully-detailed look at how we conduct our testing.
If there is a bit of information that we’ve omitted, or you wish to throw off recommendations or suggest changes, please feel free to shoot us an e-mail or post in our forums.
When preparing our testbeds for any type of performance testing, we follow these guidelines:
No hardware during our performance reviews is changed during testing, except for the product-type being reviewed, of course. Our current configuration is as follows:
For our testing, we use Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit. We chose to stick to a 64-bit Windows because throughout the past year of usage, we find it to be much more stable than the 32-bit counterpart.
Once we set up our OS’, nothing changes unless we revamp our entire methodology, which doesn’t happen too often.
In an attempt to deliver accurate results, games that we test with are played through manually, with the average FPS recorded with the help of FRAPS 2.9.4. In our personal tests, we have found that manually benchmarking games is the best way to deliver accurate results, since time demos rely heavily on the CPU.
In order to deliver the best results, each title we choose is explored to find the best possible level for our benchmarking. Once a level is chosen, we play through in order to find the best route, and then in future runs, we stick to that route as close as possible. We are not robots, so we cannot make sure that each run is identical, but they will never be far off from each other. As we see in our results, scaling is good, so we are confident that our methodology is a good one.
Because performance between motherboards shouldn’t vary by much to begin with, we choose to run a single game for our tests, along with Futuremark’s 3DMark Vantage.
On the next page, we’ll kick off our results with SYSmark 2007 Preview.
There is no better way to evaluate a system and its components than to run a suite of real-world benchmarks. To begin our testing, we will use two popular benchmarking suites that emulate real-world scenarios and stress the machine the way it should be… by emulating tasks that people actually perform on a day to day basis.
Both SYSmark and PCMark are hands-free, using scripts to execute all of the real-world scenarios, such as video editing and image manipulation. Each one of these suites output easy-to-understand scores once the tests are completed, giving us a no-nonsense measure of seeing which areas our computer excels in.
SYSmark, from Bapco, is a comprehensive benchmarking application that emulates real-world scenarios by installing popular applications that many people use every day, such as Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, Sony Vegas and many others.
SYSmark grades the overall performance of your system based off of different criteria, but mostly it will depend on how fast it could complete certain tasks and handle multi-tasking. Once the suite is completed, five scores will be delivered, one being the overall. We dedicate an OS and hard drive to this test in order to keep the environment as clean as possible.
All the boards performed quite similarly overall, but the X48T-DQ6 took the top spot, along with ASUS’ Maximus Extreme.
One area where Intel’s 45nm processors excel is with multi-media encoders that utilize the SSE4 instruction set. Beginning with DivX 6.6.0, the set is fully supported and will make a huge difference when using the “Experimental Full Search” algorithm to encode.
When using DivX 6.6.0+, you will notice that the “Experimental Full Search” is left at Disabled by default. This, as we found out, is a good thing since it does indeed take longer overall. If you are a media enthusiast who cares a lot about quality and doesn’t mind the extra wait, then the Experimental Full Search is the route to take. The end result may vary depending on certain factors, such as original video codec, original video quality and video length.
For our testing, we are using a 0.99GB high-quality DivX .AVI of Half-Life 2: Episode Two gameplay. The video is just under 4 minutes in length and is in 720p resolution, which equates to a video bit rate of ~45Mbps, not dissimilar to standard 720p movies. We converted the video two different ways.
First, we encoded the video at the same resolution but a lower quality, so as to achieve a far more acceptable file size (~150MB). The second method is encoding of the same video, but to a 480×272 resolution, similar to what some mobile devices use.
Years ago, you’d have to fork over a roll of Benjamin’s in order to get a piece of great technology, but that’s not the case anymore. For a modest fee, you can set yourself up with some absolutely killer hardware. Luckily, one area where that’s definitely the case is with digital cameras. It’s cheaper than ever to own a Digital-SLR, which is the reason why they are growing in popularity so quickly. As a result, RAW photo editing is also becoming more popular, hence the topic of our next benchmark.
Adobe Lightroom is an excellent RAW photo editor/organizer that’s easy to use and looks fantastic. For our test, we take 100 RAW files (Nikon .NEF) which are 10 Megapixel in resolution and then export them as JPEGs in 1000×669 resolution… a result that could be easily passed around online or saved elsewhere on your machine as a low-resolution backup.
As an industry-leading 3D graphics application, Autodesk’s 3DS Max is one of our more important benchmarks. If there are people who will benefit from faster CPUs with lots of cores, it’s designers of 3D models, environments and animators. Some of these projects are so comprehensive that they can take days to render. At this time, the application does not support SSE4 and will likely not in the future due to irrelevant instructions.
For our test, we are taking a dragon model which is included with the application, Dragon_Character_Rig.max, and rendering it to 1080p resolution (1920×1080). For a second test, we render the same model, but all 60 frames, to a 490×270 resolution .AVI.
Between all three of our tests here, neither board performed that different. This was to be expected though.
Simpli Software’s HD Tach RW is a superb storage benchmarking tool, that’s now free for everyone to use. It’s great for benchmarking removable storage or internal storage, such as hard drives, which is what we use it for here. Since we are testing a hard drive with an OS installed, we run read tests only, as write tests would overwrite important information.
Differences so small, it almost hurts to contemplate them.
Sandra has been in my virtual toolbox for quite some time, and the reason is simply the fact that it includes many different types of synthetic benchmarks and makes for a great all-in-one. The two tests we will be focusing on is the Arithmetic and Multi-Media, however, as they are both CPU-specific.
In the Arithmetic test, the application stresses the CPU to find the maximum ALU instructions per second and floating point operations per second, in millions. In the Multi-Media test, a similar stress is executed to find the maximum int and float instructions per second.
Surprisingly, memory is one area where differences are seen between boards. In this case, both the P5E3 Premium and Maximus Extreme excel, in both bandwidth and latency. The other boards hover around the same. Overall though, these differences are all rather small and would show little difference in real-world tests (as we’ve seen).
If there is one game in our line-up that most everyone has played at some point, it would be Half-Life 2. The most recent release is Episode Two, a game that took far too long to see the light of day. But despite that, it proved to be worth the wait as it delivered more of what fans loved.
We are using the Silo level for our testing, which is a level most people who haven’t even played the game know about, thanks to Valves inclusion of it in their Episode Two trailers during the year before its release. During our gameplay, we shoot down a total of three Striders (their locations are identical with each run, since we are running a saved game file) and a barn is blown to smithereens.
Overall it’s a great level, but the Strider’s minions can prove a pain in the rear at times – most notably when they headbutt you. Nothing a little flying log won’t solve, however! This levels graphics consist mostly of open fields and trees, although there is a few explosions in the process as well, such as when you blow the Striders apart with the help of the Magnusson Device.
Settings: High graphic settings are used throughout all three resolutions, with 4x AA and 8xAF.
Like our other real-world tests, the differences seen are minimal.
3DMark Vantage is the latest benchmarking tool released from Futuremark, effectively making most computers cry. It doesn’t matter how high-end your machine is, this is one test that will not run smoothly, and it might be a while before we come together with components that can storm through the test like many machines are doing with 3DMark 06 now.
Once again, the differences are absolutely minimal. Regardless of the board, gaming on X48 (or X38) will prove a great experience.
Hitting a high FSB used to be difficult, but it’s not so much of a problem now with the advent of killer chipsets that can handle the strain. My immediate goal with any new motherboard is to hit at least 500MHz, as it’s a definite sweet-spot. At that point, DDR3-2000 speeds are possible, as well as incredible potential with any CPU. Even with CPUs that offer a lackluster 7x multiplier, 500MHz could give you a sweet 3.5GHz clock speed, as long as the CPU could handle it.
As we expected, the X48T-DQ6 had no problem whatsoever hitting our goal. With the FSB voltage in the BIOS cranked up to max (which is still moderate by comparison to other motherboards), 500MHz proved 20-hours stable with our Dual-Core E8400. With our QX9650 Quad-Core, 465MHz was deemed stable – a tad lower than other boards I’ve used recently, but still very respectable.
Going over 500MHz with the Dual-Core was not successful, though. At 510MHz, regardless of the voltage, the OS would not boot properly. It’s surprising what a difference 10MHz can make, but it was clear to me that no amount of voltage was going to help things here. While the board lacks in a top-end overclock, it at least it is extremely stable at 500MHz.
To capture power consumption, we use a Kill-A-Watt which is plugged directly into the wall, with our PC plugged into it. The monitor and speakers are plugged into a different socket, so our figures here show what our entire PC draw is and nothing else.
Please note that these figures include the Corsair Nautilus 500 water-cooling system, as it feeds off of our computers power. Only one hard drive is plugged in during this testing, and the lone accessory used is a RAM fan. The network adapters are enabled, but no LAN cable is plugged in.
We test grab figures while the machine is idle, and also when the machine is utilizing half of the CPU (QX9650). We then continue to let the 50% CPU usage continue while we load up 3DMark Vantage, to grab a realistic from normal usage. In this case, it would assume playing a game that happens to utilize the CPU well.
All of the boards performed quite well here, with the Rampage Formula surpasses all the others, although not by much. The X48T-DQ6 had the highest top-end wattage with everything except the idle. The DES didn’t seem to help much here.
The X48T-DQ6 retails for around $330… so is it worth it? Hard to say. At $300, it would be a lot easier to recommend the board, as it supports DDR3 and is really quite feature-packed, on top of having a good overclocking ability. But $330 is a lot to devote to a motherboard, especially with P45 right around the corner.
In our initial P45 tests, however, overclocking is not as stellar as X38/X48, but whether or not that just happens to be our sample (ASUS P5Q Deluxe) or not, I’m not sure. But it still begs the question, should a brand-new motherboard be purchased now with P45 coming out in less than a month?
Well at this point, we are unsure where P45 is going to stand in the marketplace. P35, when released last spring, was designed to be a mid-range product, which is why there are products available for well under $100, and also above $200. X38 was then launched as a high-end enthusiast’s offering, which is why boards are far closer to $300. So if there is a P45, is there going to be an X55?
It’s hard to say at this point, but there’s been no leaks so far. If our P45 testing is representative of all boards with such that chipset, it will be lacking in overclocking-ability. However, I can say at this point that P45 seems to be more power efficient, but we need to investigate whether the drop is due to the chipset or ASUS’ EPU chip. More on that in an article later this week.
That tangent aside, I have no issues recommending this board. It performed well alongside our other X38/X48 offerings, overclocked to 500MHz FSB without a hitch, looks great and includes lots of functionality. The fact that eight USB ports are available right out of the box is nice, and the same goes for the eight S-ATA ports.
Overall, I liked the layout the board offered, with the two caveats I mentioned earlier. I have no idea who could design this board and not realize the 8-pin motherboard connector is a chore to deal with. It’s difficult to remove the protector, difficult to plug the power in and likewise difficult to remove it.
The other potential issue is with the slot layout, for those who want to use Crossfire mode. If you have single-slot GPUs, you are fine, but if you don’t, then the first PCI slot will be cut off. This might not be a problem for some, but many use both an add-on card and also a WiFi, so that would tie them both up and as a result, make Crossfire not possible with dual-slot cards.
The lesson is simple. Begin buying what you can in PCI-E 1x. Motherboard manufacturers, for whatever reason, continue to focus on those, so it might be a good idea to purchase such cards where possible. Sound cards and WiFi cards are starting to creep up in PCI-E 1x, and we can only expect more and more peripherals to follow suit.
For those not willing to splurge well over $300 for a board (along with DDR3), the X48-DQ6 board is identical to this one, except that it uses DDR2. It also retails for $40 less than this one, so I’d have no problem recommending that over this one. Unless for some reason you really need DDR3 (which you don’t).
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