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    Arrow X58 In 2010: 4 LGA 1366 Boards including USB 3.0 And SATA 6Gb/s

    The March 2010 launch of Intel's hexa-core Core i7-980X gave us a good reason to revisit the LGA 1366 interface. Today, we're looking at four new X58 Express-based motherboards that tie USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gb/s support in to Intel's flagship platform.

    Many people assume newer is better, but thats not always true when it comes to processor interfaces. The high-end LGA 1366 platform launched with Intels Nehalem architecture in 2008, and the mainstream LGA 1156 platform that followed nearly a year later wasnt designed to match the connectivity needs of a high-end market.

    Yet, by the time new technologies like USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gb/s were available to the public, the market was treating Intels high-end platform like a has-been, despite the fact that it continues to offer the PCI Express 2.0 needed for both capabilities.
    The problem with LGA 1156 is its lack of PCI Express 2.0 connectivity. Most gamers won't want to sacrifice any of the processors sixteen 5.0 Gb/s lanes for an add-in controller, since doing so steals bandwidth from the graphics card. And the PCI Express lanes that come from Intel's P55, H57, and H55 controller hubs only run at the PCIe 1.1 data rate, severely bottlenecking performance.

    While some manufacturers initially tried to sneak away the graphics cards lanes, and others used a bridge device to connect four 2.5 Gb/s lanes to two 5.0 Gb/s controllers, true enthusiasts knew that the only perfect way to add those high-performance controllers would be to simply use a platform with more true PCI Express 2.0 connectivity.

    Fortunately, X58 already has 36 PCIe 2.0 pathways, allowing up to 32 to be devoted to graphics, while four serve other needs. Those other needs can include 5.0 Gb/s USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gb/s (at 5.0 Gb/s max). But X58 needed a new high-end processor to help thrust it back into the spotlight. That product came six weeks ago with the introduction of Intels six-core Core i7-980X processor.

    Now that people are finally taking second (and third) looks at the X58, lets see what these new-for-2010 motherboards have to offer.


    ASRock X58 Extreme3

    ASRock produces two USB 3.0-equipped X58 models, but its X58 Extreme3 is the only version to use onboard controllers rather than x1 cards. Like the other boards in todays comparison, it also includes the future-looking SATA 6Gb/s controller. If you can't find this board online, trying searching for it as the X58 Extreme 3."

    The X58 Extreme3 provides a third x16-length slot, in addition to its two PCIe 2.0 x16 slots, but that the third slot is not PCIe 2.0-compliant. The third slot instead uses four of the chipsets PCIe 1.1 lanes, making it too slow for performance graphics use. This configuration allows two of the chipsets four remaining PCIe 2.0 lanes to serve the USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gb/s controllers. Yet, while performance considerations limit the X58 Extreme3 to dual-card SLI or CrossFire configurations, at least ASRock puts an extra space between its two full-performance x16 slots to improve airflow between cards.

    Priced at only $200, the X58 Extreme3 is one the few low-cost X58 motherboards to incorporate bench-top-friendly onboard power and reset buttons, in addition to an overclocker-friendly Port 80 diagnostics display.
    ASRock appears to be the only company in todays roundup to notice that the Marvell 88SE9128 PCIe to SATA 6Gb/s controller also supports a single Ultra ATA interface, as the X58 Extreme3 is the only product to utilize it. The X58 Extreme3 also taps into the keyboard (Multi I/O) controllers floppy and serial port functions, but neglects its integrated parallel port function. One might argue about the value of any legacy connectors, but we can still appreciate ASRocks attempt to make the most of the motherboards built-in capabilities.
    Unfortunately, the X58 Extreme lacks any additional controller for eSATA and instead relies on the same 88SE9128 that provides two SATA 6Gb/s connections internally. The second internal port is shared with the external port, so that using it internally forces the user to sacrifice the rear-panel port.
    Another blast-from-the-past is the 40 mm VRM cooling fan, a part that spins at such low speed as to produce almost unnoticeable noise. This particular part could be handy when using cross-flow CPU coolers that mostly miss the motherboards sinks, but a higher-airflow fan might be required in highly-overclocked liquid-cooled systems.
    The X58 Extreme3 has a few pleasant surprises in the area of cable management, with USB 2.0 and front-panel LED connections at the motherboards front-end for easy to reach top-panel bays. Similarly, the front-panel audio cable has been moved several inches from the boards traditional bottom-rear-corner location, and now resides above the uppermost PCIe x16 slot, allowing easier reach using the short cables that come with some cases. The internal FireWire header is still found at the bottom edge however, though it at least has been slid forward of the bottom PCIe slot.
    BIOS Features
    ASRock OC Tweaker provides a wide enough range of controls to overclock most hardware to its limit, if desired. This begins with CPU EZ OC Setting and DDR3 EZ OC Setting profiles to assist neophytes in their performance-chasing endeavors.

    Scrolling past a fairly complete frequency selection brings us to a similarly-complete voltage control set. Further down the main menus are three registers where custom overclocking profiles can be stored.

    The DRAM Timing Control submenu provides a more modest set of timings, but theres still enough here for most tuners. Individual settings can be left in Auto mode if desired.


    With two high-bandwidth PCIe 2.0 x16 slots, the X58 Extreme3 requires only a single SLI bridge to serve the needs of most Nvidia users. CrossFire support comes by way of the bridge included with most Radeon graphics cards, while the remainder of ASRocks installation kit includes six SATA cables, an Ultra ATA cable, and even an old-fashioned floppy cable.


    Asus P6X58D-E

    Nearly anyone who liked the P6X58D Premium relaunched last December, but pined for a lower price, will want to take a very close look at the newer P6X58D-E, a $240 product that's only lacking the onboard Express Gate flash drive, a secondary Ethernet connection, and an onboard reset button compared to its $300 predecessor.

    For a mere $20 more than Asus' basic P6T, the P6X58D-E rids itself of the lower-cost parts biggest weakness, while adding several features and only one other flaw. Enhanced features, like the 2-port USB 3.0 and 2-port SATA 6Gb/s controllers, will get the most attention from buyers.

    The addition of PCIe pathway switches between the second and third x16-length slots address the biggest weakness of the less-expensive P6T, enabling x16-x8-x8 transfer modes when three high-bandwidth cards are installed or x16-x16-x1 modes when only one or two are present. The cheaper P6T was permanently stuck at x16-x16-x4 mode, compromising the performance of triple-graphics-card arrays.
    The P6X58D-E isnt issue-free, though, as it (and all other boards of similar slot arrangement) requires a nonstandard eight-slot case in order to properly support a third double-slot card, which is a step backward for ease-of-installation compared to the older, low-budget P6T.
    While the P6X58D-E and its predecessor are based on the same design, Asus eliminated the solder points of every part it eliminated from this cheaper model. The only problem we have with the new PCB is that by eliminating the pathways previously used for the more expensive boards Express Gate flash drive, Asus also eliminated the two USB ports that could have been opened up by simply putting nine pins in the same location. Both products have two fewer USB 2.0 ports than the chipset supports.
    The P6X58D-E is about as close to legacy-free as any successful motherboard has been, lacking serial, parallel, floppy, and Ultra ATA connectors. Thats usually fine with us, since few performance PC buyers are interested in attaching older, slower components.
    One other potentially-problematic layout decision is the placement of two of the chipsets SATA 3Gb/s ports along the P6X58D-Es bottom edge, a location where the ports would normally be blocked by the extended heat sinks of long graphics cards. Fortunately, cables with 90 ends can typically fit under a graphics cards heat sink

    BIOS Features

    Asus long overclocking history lends familiarity to its Ai Tweaker menu, and all the features most overclockers need are easily found.

    In addition to the expected clock ratio and component voltage settings, the P6X58D-E includes DRAM reference voltage, signal amplitude, and clock skew settings.

    Most users will find the P6X58D-E memory timings controls somewhat overwhelming, but Asus puts the settings most tuners are familiar with at the top. Automatic settings for individual timings and a full list of detected timings are also helpful.

    With no Express Gate flash drive, the P6X58D-E relies on a hard drive to install the associated SplashTop OS. Other features include Asus EZ Flash 2 GUI for updating BIOS from non-bootable drives, and Asus O.C. Profile for storing up to eight custom BIOS configurations as user profiles.


    The P6X58D-E installation kit contains a three-way SLI bridge in addition to the basic parts needed for installation. Only two of the four SATA cables are SATA 6Gb/s-rated because only two of the motherboards ports support the higher speed.


    Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD3R

    The least-expensive of Gigabytes USB 3.0-equipped X58A-series, the $200 X58A-UD3R packs enough features to compete with high-end parts, while stealing thunder from its low-cost rivals.

    This is, for example, the only sub-$300 board in todays roundup to use a separate controller for eSATA, freeing up two rear-panel ports where competitors have either a single shared port (ASRock) or none whatsoever (Asus). Yet that controller is just one of three that double the number of SATA drives supported.

    Perhaps the X58A-UD3Rs biggest advantage over similarly-priced competitors is its two sets of automatic PCIe lane switches that allow the board to change from dual x16 to quad x8 transfer mode whenever cards are detected in the second and fourth blue slots. But while pathway redirection could allow up to four high-end graphics cards to operate at near-peak performance, slot spacing prevents more than three double-slot cards from being inserted.

    Unfortunately, Gigabyte didnt implement a workaround for the issue we found Asus' competing model. Placing three double-slot graphics card on either product results in the third card hanging a full space beneath the motherboards bottom edge. Proper support for that third card consequently requires an eight-slot case, whereas the ATX standard only accounts for seven. While high-end office users might view the X58A-UD3Rs quad-graphics-card ability as the ultimate in multi-monitor display support, gamers are probably better-off using two dual-GPU cards to achieve the best performance possible.

    Other layout snags that will affect only a small minority of builders are a floppy header located near the back of the X58A-UD3Rs bottom edge and an Ultra ATA connector also near the front of the bottom edge. Anyone who needs a floppy drive for such ancient tasks as installing Windows XP with AHCI drivers will note that, while long floppy cables do exist, they arent exactly pretty. Ultra ATA cables, being far shorter, can become a far greater installation issue for anyone who wants to keep an old optical drive.

    Marvells 88SE9128 provides the two SATA 6Gb/s ports via a single 5.0 Gb/s PCIe 2.0 interface. These are given the same white color code as the JMB363-controlled SATA 3Gb/s ports next to them, forcing builders to pay careful attention to the labels if they want to be certain their modern drives are plugged into the faster interface. Both controllers also support Ultra ATA, but Gigabyte chose a JMicron part for the X58A-UD3Rs single interface connector.
    A full seven expansion slots marks the final features for the money triumph for Gigabytes X58A-UD3R, but heat sink placement limits the top slots card length to a maximum of 3.125. Though this sounds rather restrictive, we have found several expansion cards that fit.

    BIOS Features
    Gigabytes well-designed MB Intelligent Tweaker menu hasnt changed much over the past two or three product generations, as theres little room for improvement. Primary clock controls and ratio are found at the top of its main menu, while primary voltage controls are farther down the page.

    Various submenus bring up advanced CPU and clock settings

    The Advanced DRAM Features menu allows timing adjustments beyond those available in the main menu. Users who would like to access these advanced controls but still keep the timings for all channels grouped together should choose Quick mode.
    We again see the basic four timing controls at the top of the advanced menu, followed by most of the other memory timings experienced tuners occasionally need.

    Advanced Voltage Control is also found on a submenu, providing such intricacies as DRAM reference and termination voltage.

    Up to eight custom BIOS configurations can be set as user profiles and the motherboard automatically saves three more, just in case an overclocker would like to return to a recent unsaved setting.


    Gigabytes installation kit is on-par with Asus', with the addition of two feature guides and an Ultra ATA ribbon.

    Gigabyte X58A-UD7

    We offered everyone the opportunity to provide two boards at different price levels, but Gigabyte was the only company that took us up on the offer. The X58A-UD7 is packed with so many features that weve already used it in a recent System Builder Marathon machine.

    A plethora of commonalities between the X58A-UD7 and the cheaper X58A-UD3R would make a full description of the high-end model seem redundant, but the differences are where this premium model really shines. The X58A-UD7 adds a second gigabit Ethernet controller, a Port 80 diagnostics display, power and reset buttons, a (3/8 hose barb) chipset water block for liquid-cooled configurations, and an oversized screw-on air-cooling sink. Overclockers will notice the increase from eight to 24 phase CPU voltage control, while anyone who doesnt block the top PCIe x1 slot with the accessory chipset cooling sink will notice that its maximum card length has been improved slightly to 3.3.

    A short list of features carried over from the cheaper board includes the same trio of SATA controllers, the same port locations, the same slot layout, and the same space restrictions for 3-way and 4-way graphics card placement. If you think weve missed any major design features in this description, please flip back to this articles X58A-UD3R overview on the previous page.

    BIOS Features

    Keeping out eye on overclocking capabilities, we noticed an identical layout between the BIOS menus of the X58A-UD7 and the previously-discussed X58A-UD3R.


    The X58A-UD7 installation kit is a little more extensive than that of the less expensive X58A-UD3R, with the inclusion of a slot bracket that extends eSATA to four ports by breaking out two internal connections, a 4-pin to dual-SATA power adapter for use with that bracket, two data cables that connect internal SATA drives to eSATA ports, and a hold-down plate for the 3-way SLI bridge. We were disappointed to see that even this expensive motherboard model includes only four internal SATA cables.

    Test Settings

    Two sets of Kingstons DDR3-2000 modules allow us to check the memory overclocking capabilities of all motherboards, though a lower speed was used for assessing benchmark performance.

    Sapphires Radeon HD 5850 crunches graphics data fast enough to expose any PCIe performance issues.

    Rosewill surprised us several months ago with an air cooler that could deal with the heat of a Core i7-920 overclocked to its limit at 1.45V, so weve continued to use it.

    Zalman supplied enough of its high-performance thermal grease to allow continuous testing for more than a year.


    Benchmark Results: Modern Warfare 2 And Crysis

    This tester normally disables any unused drive controllers that have boot BIOS to reduce boot time, but doing so was a problem for ASRocks X58 Extreme3. Disabling the SATA 6Gb/s controller by itself resulted in the lowest performance, while disabling both it and the USB 3.0 controller brought us closer to performance levels of competitors. This source of this problem was discovered after the article was published, the board was retested with both controllers enabled, and both sets of results (both controllers enabled, both controllers disabled) are presented in the updated charts.

    Performance differentiation diminishes as graphics details are increased, indicating the aforementioned issue is related mostly to the CPU.

    Asus has lead Gigabyte in three of the four tests so far, which makes sense because Asus runs its 133.3 MHz base clock setting at 133.6 MHz, while Gigabyte underclocks it to 133.0 MHz. Its worth noting that Gigabyte also overclocks on-the-sly when builders set the base clock to Auto, rather than manually selecting 133 MHz.


    Benchmark Results: DiRT 2 Demo, Call of Pripyat

    We continue to provide updated charts with ASRock's add-in controllers enabled (both) and disabled (both). Asus slight overclock helps the P5X58D-E retain an insignificant lead through DiRT 2 Demo.

    ASRock fall slightly behind in Dirt2, but not noticeably.

    Differences between systems are even less noticeable in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat.


    Benchmark Results: Audio And Video Encoding

    The base clock difference between Asus and Gigabyte boards is too small to show up as an advantage in iTunes.

    The X58 Extreme3 suffers a setback when its add-in controllers are disabled.

    The performance handicap for disabling controllers on the ASRock board becomes more pronounced in MainConcept.


    Benchmark Results: Productivity

    Photoshop clearly illustrates the confusing performance we had experienced with the X58 Extreme3's SATA 6Gb/s controller disabled. The same board perks up to "normal" performance levels with both add-in controllers enabled.

    Asus falls slightly behind the 31-second norm when rendering a 3ds Max frame.

    We find identical performance in AVG and a virtual 4-way-tie in both file-compression benchmarks.


    Benchmark Results: Synthetic

    The low cost X58A-UD3R looks good in 3DMark Vantage, while the even-cheaper X58 Extreme3 pushes the performance envelope in PCMark.

    Sandra is great for testing individual components, showing the negative effect of using the "wrong setting combination" in ASRock BIOS. ASRock later sent us a new BIOS that fixes the issue.



    Heres a quick comparison chart of the available BIOS settings each motherboard provides to assist overclocking and related performance optimizations.

    Though some boards have broader adjustments than others, we normally reach the limits of our hardware at BIOS settings far below the maximum. Part of that is due to a very early C0 stepping CPU core that weve used consistently to provide comparable overclocking data for all of our X58 motherboard roundups.
    The motherboards with 16-phase and 24-phase CPU power regulators push our old CPU beyond 4.1 GHz, while those with eight-phase units settle under that mark.

    Asus takes the lead in maximum base clock by a mere 1 MHz. Both $200 motherboards reach the same speed, but ASRock takes the lead alphabetically.

    Asus also takes the lead in memory speed. Greater numbers might have been achieved using Gulftowns improved memory controller.


    Last edited by Mohamed Fouad; 29-05-2010 at 05:43 PM.

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    Power, Heat, and Efficiency

    Lower idle power gives Gigabyte a small lead in the power consumption test, which is sorted by the average of idle and full-load tests.
    Elaborate heat sinks and additional power phases appear to help the more expensive boards dissipate heat more effectively.
    The P6X58D-Es slightly higher-than-standard base clock might have helped it a little in the benchmarks, but returned no favors in efficiency. Gigabyte wins with both boards.



    The addition of USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gb/s controllers is nothing more than an evolutionary step in X58 motherboard design, and all of todays boards used the same parts to address these technologies. Aside from those updates, frankly, none of todays motherboards stood out in any technically-interesting way compared to previous-generation parts. The Asus and Gigabyte solutions aren't able to accommodate three double-slot graphics cards within an ATX cases seven-slot confines, and ASRock even centered its third slot on PCIe 1.1 connectivity in order to free up a couple PCIe 2.0 lanes for its new onboard controllers. The performance difference between the Asus and Gigabyte boards falls within the 0.7% difference in base clock.
    Yet, while none of the technology strikes us as exceptionally new, one product stood out by providing a great amount of it for an incredibly low price. Priced around $150 less than its "big brother" UD7 model, Gigabytes X58A-UD3R has nearly as many onboard features. The X58A-UD3R even offers more features than Asus mid-priced P6X58D-E, for a price roughly equal to ASRocks lower-cost model. With consideration for the price premium that normally accompanies X58-based products, we simply havent seen a motherboard value this good since November of last year. That level of value earns the X58A-UD3R an award.

    Meanwhile, theres the low-cost ASRock X58 Extreme3. A BIOS issue that caused performance to drop dramatically when any of its onboard controllers were disabled has been solved with version 1.52, but to keep things fair from a development time perspective we simply retested the board with its previous BIOS version after enabling all controllers. Anyone who doesn't need all of the winning Gigabyte board's features might find value in ASRock's slightly lower price.
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