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Intel X38 Express Chipset Debuts
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Date: Oct 10, 2007
Section:Motherboards
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introductions and the X38 Chipset



It has been quite some time since Intel launched a desktop chipset targeted squarely at power users and PC enthusiasts.  Of course, the P965 and current P35 have both been very well received by motherboard manufactures and the enthusiast community, but these chipsets were actually designed for the upper-mainstream space.  In fact, the 975X Express, which launched almost two years ago, was the last desktop chipset Intel specifically marketed for enthusiasts.

With today’s launch, however, the Intel desktop chipset line-up gets a new flagship.  To lay the foundation for the upcoming arrival of Intel’s 45nm dual- and quad-core processors, the company is officially introducing the X38 chipset.  The X38 takes all of the things that have made the P35 a success and adds a slew of new features designed to increase memory and graphics subsystem performance.



Like the P35, the X38 supports both DDR2 and DDR3 memory technologies.  The X38 also supports Intel Fast Memory Access and Turbo Memory technologies and ushers in a new feature called Extreme Memory.  Like EPP (SLI Memory), Intel Extreme Memory compatible modules can be detected by a supporting motherboard and the board’s BIOS will be automatically programmed to properly support the RAM.  DDR3 speeds up to 1333MHz are officially supported, but through overclocking much higher speeds are possible.  Intel actually claims the X38 is capable of DDR3 speed of roughly 2.13GHz.

      


With the X38 chipset, Intel will also be offering a new application dubbed the Intel Extreme Tuning Utility.  The Extreme Tuning Utility is akin to NVIDIA’s nTune System Utility, which gives users access to a number of performance and overclocking related features via a Windows-based software tool.  To further support the enthusiast pedigree of the X38, the chipset is designed with flexible (i.e. unlocked) bus ratios and it will eventually support 45nm processors with a 1600MHz front side bus speed.


    


Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the X38 is support for PCI Express 2.0 connectivity, with a full 16 lanes each dedicated to a pair of PCI Express x16 PEG slots.  The X38 Express chipset has 32 PCI Express 2.0 lanes dedicated to graphics, whereas the P35 has only 16 PCI Express 1.0 lanes.

Many X38 boards will sport a third PCI Express x16 slot as well, but it will be outfitted with only an x4 electrical connection.  PCI Express 2.0 is backwards compatible with current PCI Express 1.1 / 1.0 graphics cards, but when next-gen GPUs arrive that natively support PCI Express 2.0 arrive, PCIe 2.0 slots will offer twice the bandwidth of current solution.

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Asus P5E3 Deluxe: Features



To coincide with the launch of the Intel X38 Express chipset, we received a pair of enthusiast class motherboards, the Asus P5E3 Deluxe and the Gigabyte X38-DQ6.  The Asus P5E3 Deluxe is an ultra high-end motherboard that supports DDR3 memory, 802.11n wireless networking, and it even features an embedded Linux-based operating system that can be loaded in a matter of seconds.  The Gigabyte X38-DQ6 is also a high-end offering, but it supports more affordable DDR2 memory.



    

Asus P5E3 Deluxe

Features & Specifications

Processor

  • Support for LGA775 Intel Core 2 Quad and Core 2 Duo
  • 1333/1066/800MHz FSBs along with future 45nm processors

Chipset

  • Intel X38 Northbridge
  • Intel ICH9R Southbridge

Memory

  • Up to 8GB DDR3 800/1066/1333MHz memory in dual channel mode

Expansion

  • Two PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots (both x16 bandwidth) with support for ATI CrossFire
  • Two PCI Express x1 slots
  • Two 32-bit v2.3 Master PCI bus slots (support 3.3v/5v PCI bus interface)

Extras

  • Asus Lifestyle Features including AI Gear 3 

I/O

  • One IDE port
  • Six SATA 3Gbps ports supporting RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 or JBOD
  • ADI SoundMax ADI1988B High-Definition audio codec supporting 7.1 channel surround sound up to 32-bit/192KHz
  • Two Gigabit Ethernet provided by the PCI-Express Marvell 88E8056-NNC1 chipset and another on PCI provided by the Realtek RTL8110SC chipset
  • Agere IEEE1394a Firewire chipset
  • JMB363 chipset supplying one PATA port and two 3Gbps eSATA devices
  • Ralink RT2770F 802.11 Draft-n Wireless

Package Contents

  • 6 x SATA cables
  • 1 x Molex to dual SATA power cable
  • 1 x Floppy cable
  • 1 x IDE cable
  • 1 x Asus Q-Connector
  • 1 X Asus Q-Shield
  • 2 x WiFi Antennaa
  • 1 x  PCI bracket with 2 USB ports and 1 Firewire port
  • 2 x Optional Fans
  • Manuals, Quick Start Guide and Driver DVD

    


As you’ve probably come to expect from Asus, the P5E3 Deluxe ships with an over-the-top assortment of bundled accessories and software.  The Asus P5E3 Deluxe’s bundle includes detailed user’s manuals for the board and its integrated 802.11n WiFi NIC / AP, and a multi-language quick-start guide to help get the board installed as quickly and painlessly as possible.  Also included with the board is a driver DVD, six SATA cables, a 4-Pin Molex to dual-SATA power adapter, a pair of optional cooling fans, a package of Q-Connectors, black IDE and Floppy cables, a case bracket with USB and Firewire ports, and finally a pair of WiFi antennas.  You can also see a custom I/O shield above, which interestingly enough is somewhat unique.  With this I/O shield, Asus has done away with the sharp metal tabs common to virtually all other shields and has replaced them with an insulated foam.  The foam adapts to the shape of the board and helps prevent accidental cuts and vibration.

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Asus P5E3 Deluxe: Layout



The Asus P5E3 Deluxe was designed with power users in mind, and as such the board is loaded with integrated peripherals and sports an oversized cooling solution comprised of multiple copper heatsinks linked together via a complex heat-pipe system.



    

The area around the CPU socket on the P5E3 Deluxe is surrounded by copper heatsinks on all four sides.  One of the heatsinks is mounted atop the Northbridge, while the other three are mounted to various components in the board’s voltage regulation circuitry and power array.  This heatsink arrangement may pose a problem for some oversized aftermarket CPU coolers, so take note.  There is also a fourth heatsink affixed to the ICH9R Southbridge on the P5E3 Deluxe.  It, however, is a low-profile design that won’t interfere with any expansion cards.



    


Other than the board’s heatsink arrangement, the P5E3 Deluxe has a generally good layout.  All of the boards various sockets, ports, and headers are color coded and easy to identify, and strategic connectors like the IDE port and four SATA ports are mounted to the board at a right angle to make them easier to access when a long, double-wide graphics card is installed.  Power connectors are all situated around the edge of PCB, which prevents the thick power cabled from hindering air circulation over hot running components.

As you can see, the P5E3 Deluxe has a trio of PCI Express x16 slots, a pair of PCI Express x1 slots, and a single standard PCI slot.  The blue PEG slots on the board both have a full 16 lanes of PCI Express connectivity, while the black slot is powered by only 4 lanes.




Thanks to the P5E3 Deluxe’s ICH9R Southbridge, the board supports multiple RAID modes and it had six internal SATA ports.  There are another two eSATA ports in the board’s external I/O cluster, along with six USB 2.0 ports, analog and digital audio jacks, a PS/2 keyboard port, dual GigE LAN jacks, dual WiFi antenna jacks, and a single Firewire port.  The P5E3 Deluxe’s audio support comes by way of an ADI1988 HD coded and Firewire by way of an Agere controller.  Finally, an Ralink RT2770F chip powers the integrated 802.11n WiFi controller.

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Asus P5E3 Deluxe: Express Gate, BIOS and OC



As we mentioned earlier, the Asus P5E3 Deluxe features an embedded Linux-based operating system that’s available upon initial power-up.  The feature is dubbed “Express  Gate”, but it is based on the SplashTop platform technology developed by San Jose-based company DeviceVM.


      

When the P5E3 is first powered up, a menu is displayed that gives users the option to boot the OS, enter the system BIOS, power down the system, or launch the Express Gate applications.  If you choose to boot the OS, enter the BIOS, or recycle power, the P5E3 Deluxe behaves just like any other motherboard.  If you launch the Express Gate applications, which are comprised of a web browser and Skype at this time, the embedded Linux-based OS is launched from a ROM and seconds later it’s available for use.  We found the Express Gate technology easy to use and quite handy.  Say, for example, you need to download a driver or BIOS file and the hard drive-based OS isn’t functioning properly.  With Express Gate you can now access the web and integrated peripherals even if the system’s full blown OS has a problem.


Asus P5E3 Deluxe - The BIOS

It's All Right There



      

      


The Asus P5E3 Deluxe is equipped with a Phoenix/Award BIOS derivative that is very complete and relatively easy to navigate. From within the BIOS users have the ability to configure, enable or disable all of the board's integrated peripherals, and monitor voltages and clock speeds. The P5E3 also has a very complete set of memory timing options that offer excellent flexibility for fine tuning memory performance.

The  Asus P5E3 Deluxe's standard BIOS menu screens don't reveal anything out of the ordinary, but they will give you a "feel" for the general layout and organization of the options. Each individual screen has a host of menus that tunnel deeper and deeper as the options get more complex.

Overall, other than the color scheme, they are very similar to the BIOS derivatives used on most other high-end motherboards today, but navigating through Asus' BIOS menus does take some getting used to if you've never experienced them before.


Asus P5E3 Deluxe - Overclocking

As Good As They Get



      


It's within the "Extreme Tweaker" section of the Asus P5E3 Deluxe's BIOS that most of the board's performance tuning options lie.  From within the "Extreme Tweaker" section of the BIOS, users have the ability to alter clock frequencies and voltages for virtually every major on-board component. The CPU and PCI Express frequencies can be altered in 1MHz increments, and the CPU multiplier and memory ratio can also be manipulated manually.  There are also extensive voltage options for the CPU, Memory, chipset, and PLL.  And what's interesting is that the BIOS is designed to allow users to key in voltages and frequencies without having to tunnel into a menu option - simply highlight the CPU voltage, for example, punch in your desired voltage and you're done.




Asus P5E3 Deluxe FSB @ 515MHz


With all of the overclocking tools available on the P5E Deluxe, we had high expectations for its overclockability.  Fortunately, we were not disappointed.  To overclock the board, we dropped our CPU multiplier to 6, and lowered the memory speed as well.  Then we raised the CPU voltage to 1.4v and gave the memory, chipset, and PLL all a .1v bump for good measure.  All tests were conducted in an open-air environments with stock air-cooling.  With these basic tweaks made via the board's BIOS we were able to hit a stable 515MHz FSB (2.06GHz quad-pumped).  When equipped with the latest BIOS file available from Asus, the P5E3 Deluxe is able to acheive excellent front side bus overclocking results.

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Gigabyte X38-DQ6: Features



The second Intel X38 Express based motherboard we’ll be featuring in this article came by way of Gigabyte.   Like the Asus P5E3 Deluxe, the X38-DQ6 is a high-end motherboard targeted at enthusiasts, but the Gigabyte board is configured to support more affordable DDR2 memory, as opposed to the DDR3 required for the P5E3 Deluxe.



    

Gigabyte X38-DQ6

Features & Specifications

Processor

  • LGA775 Intel CoreTM  2 Extreme/ CoreTM  2 Quad/ CoreTM  2
  • Duo processors
  • Supports 1600/1333/1066/800 MHz FSB

Chipset

  • Northbridge: Intel X38 Express Chipset
  • Southbridge: Intel ICH9R
  • T.I IEEE 1394 Controller
  • 2 Realtek Lan Controller
  • 8 Channels ALC889A Audio controller

Memory

  • Supports DDR2 1066/800/667 MHz memory
  • Dual Channel architecture supports up to 8GB by 4 DIMM slots

Expansion Slots

  • 2 x PCI Express x16 slots  (Support PCI Express 2.0)
  • 3 x PCI Express x1 slots
  • 2 x PCI slots

Internal I/O Connectors

  • 8 x Serial ATA 3Gb/s connectors
  • 1 x UDMA ATA 100/66/33 connector
  • 1 x IDE connector
  • 1 x FDD connector
  • 1 x IEEE 1394a connector
  • 2 x USB 2.0/1.1 connectors (supports 4 ports)
  • 1 x audio pin header (supports 8-Channel)
  • 1 x TPM pin header
  • 1 x  S/PDIF In header
  • 1 x  S/PDIF Out header
  • 1 x  LPT port

Rear I/O  Connectors

  • 8 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
  • 1 x coaxial S/PDIF Out connector
  • 1 x optical S/PDIF Out connector
  • 2 x IEEE 1394a ports
  • 2 x RJ45 port
  • 6 x audio jacks
  • PS/2 Keyboard/Mouse

Form Factor

  • ATX form factor,  305 x 244mm


    


Gigabyte typically outfits their high-end motherboards with an extensive software and accessory bundle. And true to tradition, the X38-DQ6 ships with a boatload of stuff thrown in.  Along with the motherboard itself, we found a detailed user's manual and quick setup guide that explained all of the board's features and clearly illustrated the various steps necessary to install and configure the board.  In addition, a driver / utility CD is included, along with a Gigabyte case badge, and a custom, color coded I/O shield.  There was also an assortment of brightly colored SATA cables included, and 80-wire IDE and floppy cables were included as well.  Probably the coolest accessories included with the X38-DQ6, however, are a pair of slot-mounted brackets that house eSATA ports.  These brackets bring eSATA and power connectors to any open slot location, and data and power cables to be used with the brackets are included.  If you're sick of the pokey transfer speeds of your external USB hard drive, you can connect basically any standard hard drive to one of these ports and get the same performance as if it was connected internally to one of the board's SATA connectors.

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Gigabyte X38-DQ6: Layout




The Gigabyte X38-DQ6 has a wide array of integrated peripherals, so the board is packed with a number of additional controllers and connectors.  Despite the relative complexity of the board, however, Gigabyte did a nice job with its layout and overall design.


    


As you can see, the X38-DQ6 is built upon Gigabyte's signature blue PCB and all of its slots, headers, and connectors are color-coded for easy installation.  The board's slot configuration consists of two physical PCI Express x16 slots (x16 / x16), three PCI Express x1 slots, and a pair of PCI slot.  This is a very good slot configuration that'll allow users to run two, double-wide video cards in SLI mode, while still giving them access to two additional PCI Express slots and a PCI slot.

All of the X38 Express chipset's inherent features are exploited on this board, so there is a wealth of USB and SATA connectors available (which support various RAID modes), but not all of the SATA ports are linked via a single controller.  The 6 main ports are powered by the ICH9R chipset and support multiple RAID modes, but the purple ports along the bottom edge come by way of a pair of individual controllers.  We should not that arrays can't be built across them; individually they do support RAID, however.

 

    


In general, all of the X38-DQ6's various connectors are situated around the edge of the PCB, which helps with internal cable management.  Like a few of Gigabyte's previous high-end offerings, the X38-DQ6 has an intricate cooling apparatus affixed to this board.  The chipset and voltage regulators are all adorned with high-quality copper heatsinks, linked together via a heat-pipe system.  Additionally, on the underside of the board, you'll find two more heatsinks situated underneath the CPU socket / Northbridge area and Southbridge. This is an excellent cooling scheme in our opinion, and it did a great job throughout testing.  We should also note that this board features a 12-phase power array, which results in more stable power and lower operating temps.  The 12-phase array is actually touted as a quad-triple phase array, which make it fit in with Gigabyte's DQ6, 6-Quad theme (Quad Core Ready, Quad Cooling, Quad Triple Phase Power, Quad eSATA, Quad BIOS, and Quad DDR2 slots).

As we continue our tour around the X38-DQ6, you may notice that this board is equipped with nothing but solid capacitors; no electrolytic caps are to be found.  This should help with the board's longevity as there no chance of a leaky cap.




The I/O backplane is home it a great assortment of connectors. Along with PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports you'll find, optical and analog audio ports, a single mini-Firewire port and a standard Firewire port, an excellent 8 USB 2.0 ports, and dual Gigabit Ethernet LAN jacks. The Firewire ports come courtesy of a TI controller, the two GigE LAN ports are powered by a Realtek controller, and audio functionality come by way of Realtek's ALC889 HD codec.
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Gigabyte X38-DQ6: BIOS and Overclocking


 

Gigabyte has outfitted the X38-DQ6 with a customized Award / Phoenix BIOS derivative that resembles many of the other high-end, enthusiast class motherboards currently on the market.  Gigabyte does, however, put their own spin on the BIOS.


Gigabyte X38-DQ6 - The BIOS

It's All Right There


     

 

The main BIOS menu screens should look familiar to most of you. Using these menus, users can configure any of the board's integrated peripherals, set the boot order, or tweak memory timings, etc.  We'd also like to note that thankfully, Gigabyte has listened to the community and have eliminated the need to press CTRL-F1 to access the X38-DQ6's more advanced BIOS features.  The need to press CTRL-F1 to gain full access to the BIOS on older Gigabyte boards was a minor annoyance that we're glad to be without.


Gigabyte X38-DQ6 - Overclocking

To Be Continued



      



The MB Intelligent Tweaker, or M.I.T., menu is where experienced users will find all of the X38-DQ6's voltage and memory options, and overclocking tools.  From within the M.I.T. menu, users have access to an array option that offer control over voltages and frequencies for the CPU, chipset, and memory.  There is fine granularity with all of the voltage controls (which are extensive) and all frequencies can be adjusted in 1MHz increments.

We spent some time overclocking our Core 2 Duo E6750 processor with the X38-DQ6 motherboard and had mixed results.  Before we began, we bumped the CPU and chipset voltages up by a tenth of a volt, configured our memory to operate at only 667MHz, and dropped the CPU's multiplier to 6.  Then we raised the FSB until the machine was no longer stable.  We were able to hit upwards of 490MHz and successfully booted into Windows, but further attempts to break the 500MHz mark resulted in a non-functional board.  We have been in contact with Gigabyte over the issue and a replacement board is en route to us, however.  We should be able to update this section of the article over the course of the next day or so.

Update 10/15/2007: We completed our testing of the replacement X38-DQ6 with much better results.  After following the same procedure outlined above, we were able to take the board to a 500MHz front side bus without any problems.
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Test Systems and SANDRA



How we configured our test systems: When configuring our test systems for this article, we first entered their respective system BIOSes and set each board to its "Optimized" or "High performance Defaults". We then saved the settings, re-entered the BIOS and set memory timings for either DDR2-1066 with 5-5-5-15 timings or DDR3-1333 with 7-7-7-18 timings. The hard drives were then formatted, and Windows XP Professional (SP2) was installed. When the Windows installation was complete, we installed the drivers necessary for our components, and removed Windows Messenger from the system. Auto-Updating and System Restore were then disabled and we set up a 1024MB permanent page file on the same partition as the Windows installation. Lastly, we set Windows XP's Visual Effects to "best performance," installed all of our benchmarking software, defragged the hard drives, and ran all of the tests.
 
 

HotHardware's Test Systems

AMD & Intel Inside!

System 1:
Core 2 Duo E6750
(2.66GHz - Dual-Core)

Asus P5E3 Deluxe
(X38 Chipset)

2x1GB Cosair DDR3-1800
CL 7-7-7-18 @ DDR3-1333

Gigabyte X38-DQ6
(X38 Chipset)

2x1GB Cosair DDR2-1066
CL 5-5-5-15 @ DDR2-1066

GeForce 8800 GTX
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD740 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows XP Pro SP2
Intel INF 8.0.3.1013
NVIDIA Forceware v158.22
DirectX 9.0c (June 2007)

System 2:
Core 2 Duo E6750
(2.66GHz - Dual-Core)

Asus Blitz Extreme
(P35 Chipset)

2x1GB Super Talent DDR3-1600
CL 7-7-7-18 @ DDR3-1333

GeForce 8800 GTX
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD740 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows XP Pro SP2
Intel INF 8.0.3.1013
NVIDIA Forceware v158.22
DirectX 9.0c (June 2007)

System 3:
Core 2 Duo E6750
(2.66GHz - Dual-Core)

Asus Blitz Formula
(P35 Chipset)

2x1GB Corsair PC-6400
CL 4-4-4-12 - DDR2-800

GeForce 8800 GTX
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD740 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows XP Pro SP2
Intel INF 8.0.3.1013
NVIDIA Forceware v158.22
DirectX 9.0c (June 2007)

 

Preliminary Testing with SiSoft SANDRA XII

Synthetic Benchmarks

 
We began our testing
with SiSoftware's SANDRA XI, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests that partially comprise the SANDRA XII suite with a Core 2 Duo E6750 installed in the X38 motherboards ( CPU Arithmetic, Multimedia, Memory bandwidth, and Memory Latency) .  All of the scores reported below were taken with the processor running at its default clock speed of 2.66GHz.

 
Asus P5E3 Deluxe
CPU @ 2.6GHz
CPU Arithmetic

 
Asus P5E3 Deluxe
CPU @ 2.6GHz

MultiMedia

 
Asus P5E3 Deluxe
Memory @ DDR3-1333

Memory Bandwidth

 
Asus P5E3 Deluxe
Memory @ DDR3-1333

Memory Latency

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately, we don't have any SANDRA scores from the DDR2-equipped Gigabyte X38-DQ6 at the moment due to the failure we mentioned on the previous page.  We did complete the rest of our benchmark suite with the board, however.

In the four SANDRA benchmarks we compelted with the Asus P5E3 Deluxe, the board performed about as well as we had expected based on our experience with similar P35-based motherboards.  The CPU Arithmetic and Multimedia benchmarks were in-line with other results we've obtained with an E6750 processor.  The memory bandwidth and latency scores were just a touch higher than the P35 though.  In the bandwidth test we broke the 7.1GB/s mark and the latency test reported a random access memory latency of 71ns with a speed factor of 62.50.

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Futuremark PCMark05: CPU and Memory

For our first round of synthetic benchmarks, we ran the CPU and memory performance modules built into Futuremark's PCMark05 suite.
  

Futuremark PCMark05

Synthetic CPU and Memory Benchmarks

 
"The CPU test suite is a collection of tests that are run to isolate the performance of the CPU. The CPU Test Suite also includes multithreading: two of the test scenarios are run multithreaded; the other including two simultaneous tests and the other running four tests simultaneously. The remaining six tests are run single threaded. Operations include, File Compression/Decompression, Encryption/Decryption, Image Decompression, and Audio Compression" - Courtesy FutureMark Corp.


According to PCMark05's CPU performance module, there is very little difference between the four platforms we tested. The slight variations in performance seen here all fall within the margin of error in this test.


"The Memory test suite is a collection of tests that isolate the performance of the memory subsystem. The memory subsystem consists of various devices on the PC. This includes the main memory, the CPU internal cache (known as the L1 cache) and the external cache (known as the L2 cache). As it is difficult to find applications that only stress the memory, we explicitly developed a set of tests geared for this purpose. The tests are written in C++ and assembly. They include: Reading data blocks from memory, Writing data blocks to memory performing copy operations on data blocks, random access to data items and latency testing."  - Courtesy FutureMark Corp.


PCMark05's memory performance module showed a clear pattern.  The DDR2 equipped systems finished marginally lower than the higher-clocked DDR3 systems.  These results show that this test is affected more by higher bandwidth (DDR3) than lower latency (DDR2).  That will not always be the case in real world applications, however.

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Office XP SP1 and Photoshop


PC World Magazine's Worldbench 5.0 is a Business and Professional application benchmark.  The tests consist of a number of performance modules that each utilize one, or a group of popular applications to gauge performance.
 

Worldbench 5.0: Office XP SP1 and Photoshop 7 Modules

Real-World Application Performance


Below we have the results from WB 5.0's Office XP SP1 and Photoshop 7 performance modules, recorded in seconds.  Lower times indicate better performance here, so the shorter the bar the better.



All of the motherboards we tested performed similarly in the Worldbench 5.0 Office XP and Photoshop tests.  Technically the DDR2 equipped machines put up the best scores by a few seconds in each test, but overall performance was similar.  Contrary to the PCMark05 memory results on the previous page, these results were affected more by latency than bandwidth.

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LAME MT and Sony Vegas


In our custom LAME MT MP3 encoding test, we convert a large WAV file to the MP3 format, which is a very popular scenario that many end users work with on a day-to-day basis to provide portability and storage of their digital audio content.
 

LAME MT MP3 Encoding Test

Converting a Large WAV To MP3


In this test, we created our own 223MB WAV file (a never-ending Grateful Dead jam) and converted it to the MP3 format using the multi-thread capable LAME MT application in single and multi-thread modes. Processing times are recorded below. Once again, shorter times equate to better performance.

Nothing to see here.  LAME MT didn't show any variation from platform to platform.

Sony Vegas Digital Video Rendering Test

Video Rendering Performance


Sony's Vegas DV editing software is heavily multithreaded as it processes and mixes both audio and video streams. This is a new breed of digital video editing software that takes full advantage of current dual and multi-core processor architectures.

Once again the DDR2 systems put up the best overall scores in our Sony Vegas video rendering benchmark.  The 5 to 14 second deltas shown here, however, are still quite small in the grand scheme of things.

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Cinebench R9.5 and 3DMark06

The Cinebench 9.5 benchmark is an OpenGL 3D rendering performance test, based on the commercially available Cinema 4D application. Cinema 4D from Maxon is a 3D rendering and animation tool suite used by 3D animation houses and producers like Sony Animation and many others.  And of course it's very demanding of system processor resources.

Cinebench 9.5 Performance Tests

3D Modeling & Rendering Tests


This is a multi-threaded, multi-processor aware benchmark that renders a single 3D scene and tracks the length of the entire process. The time it took each test system to render the entire scene is represented in the graph below (listed in seconds).

 

Talk about a non-event.  Like the LAME MT results from a few pages back, Cinebench R9.5 didn't report any differences in performance between the four motherboards tested.

Futuremark 3DMark06 - CPU Test

Simulated DirectX Gaming Performance


3DMark06's built-in CPU test is a multi-threaded "gaming related" DirectX metric that's useful for comparing relative performance between similarly equipped systems.  This test consists of two different 3D scenes that are generated with a software renderer that is dependent on the host CPU's performance.  This means that the calculations normally reserved for your 3D accelerator are instead sent to the central processor.  The number of frames generated per second in each test are used to determine the final score.


We had another photo-finish in the 3DMark06 CPU benchmark.  Here, all of the motherboards we tested performed within a few points of one another.

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Gaming Test: Q4 and F.E.A.R.


For our last set of tests, we moved on to some in-game benchmarking with Quake 4 and F.E.A.R. When testing processors and motherboards with Q4 or F.E.A.R, we drop the resolution and reduce all of the in-game graphical options to their minimum values to isolate CPU and memory performance as much as possible.  However, the in-game effects, which control the level of detail for the games' physics engines and particle systems, are left at their maximum values, since these actually do place some load on the CPU.

Benchmarks with Quake 4 and F.E.A.R. v1.08

DirectX 9 an OpenGL Gaming Performance





The results from our custom Quake 4 benchmark were pretty cut and dried. Overall the DDR3-equipped systems were slightly faster, but the deltas were nothing to get excited over.  This same performance trend played out in the F.E.A.R. benchmark as well, but in F.E.A.R. the delta were much more pronounced.

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Power Consumption

Before we bring this article to a close, we'd like to cover a few final data points. Throughout all of our benchmarking and testing, we monitored how much power our test system was consuming using a power meter. Our goal was to give you all an idea as to how much power each configuration used while idling and under load. Please keep in mind that we were testing total system power consumption at the outlet here, not just the power being drawn by the motherboards alone.

 

Total System Power Consumption & Acoustics

It's All About the Watts and Decibels






As you can see, the DDR2-equipped P35 motherboard consumed the least amount of power both while idling and under load.  Somewhat surprisingly, the Gigabyte X38-DQ6 had the second lowest power consumption while idling, only to surge to the head of the pack while under load.  We suspect the X38-DQ6's power characteristics are a reflection of its relatively large number of integrated peripherals and not simply the result of the X38 consuming more power then the P35.  In fact, looking at the P5E3 Deluxe vs. P35-DDR3 comparison, we'd say the X38, despite having more features and PCI Express lanes actually consumes about the same amount of power as the P35.
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Our Summary and Conclusion



Performance Summary: 
Based on the benchmark results we’ve obtained over the course of our testing, we’d have to say the new Intel X38 Express chipset performs on par with, and perhaps ever so-slightly higher, than similarly equipped P35s - which is to say performance is quite good.  Throughout our testing the DDR3-equipped Asus P5E3 Deluxe performed just a bit better than a P35 using similar memory, and for the most part the same held true for the DDR2-equipped Gigabyte X38-DQ6.
 
   
Asus P5E3 Deluxe:
The Asus P5E3 Deluxe is a power user’s motherboard if there ever was one.  This board sports a number of features not found on any other motherboard currently, including an embedded Linux-based mini-OS and integrated 802.11n WiFi.  The P5E3 Deluxe also has a well appointed BIOS and it turned out to be an excellent overclocker.  The only issues we had with the board had to do with its oversized cooling apparatus which crowds the CPU socket area somewhat and what will undoubtedly be a high price.  We don’t have street pricing yet, but expect the P5E3 Deluxe to hover in the neighborhood of $320.  However, enthusiast class chipsets like the X38 and high-end motherboards always command a high price; early adopters are familiar with this trend we’re sure.  In the end though, we’d have no trouble recommending the Asus P5E3 Deluxe.  If there’s a feature you want, this board probably has it.

  • Great Overclocking
  • Silent Cooling
  • 802.11n Integrated WiFi
  • Solid Performance
  • Stable
  • Express Gate Embedded Linux!
  • Cramped CPU Socket Area
  • Going to be expensive
 


Gigabyte X38-DQ6:
We’re a little more apprehensive about the Gigabyte X38-DQ6.  Throughout most of our testing, the board was rock-solid stable and gave us no trouble whatsoever.  It also performed well throughout all of our benchmarks and its feature set is top notch.  We also liked the X38-DQ6’s accessory bundle (specifically the slick eSATA brackets) and system BIOS, which is about as well appointed as they come.  Plus, the board works with DDR2 memory, which will save potential consumers a fortune without sacrificing much, if anything, in terms of performance.  Unfortunately, our particular sample couldn’t recover from an aggressive overclock and we’re waiting for a replacement.  Once we’re done testing the new board, we’ll update this conclusion.  But we’ll have to reserve final judgment for now.

Update 10/15/2007: We have completed our testing of the replacement X38-DQ6 with much better results.  We acheived a peak front side bus frequency of 500MHz while overclocking with the board, and as our benchmarks have shown its performance is very good, even with more affordable DDR2 memory.  It's too early to pass judgement on the X38 due to the fact that we have only worked with two motherboards at this point in time, but it is shaping up to be a solid solution. And the Gigabyte X38-DQ6 should serve users well if they're not inclined to also purchase DDR3 memory for an upgrade.

  • Good Performance
  • Overclocking Potential
  • No More CTRL-F1!
  • Works with More Affordable DDR2 Memory
  • Our Sample Died
  • Price


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