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Intel X48 Motherboard Round-up: ASUS, ECS, & Intel
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Date: Sep 17, 2008
Section:Motherboards
Author: Robert Maloney
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Intel's X48 Chipset

Stop us if you've heard this one before: In this article we will be looking at the latest high-end desktop chipset from Intel, featuring support for DDR2 and DDR3 memory, support for 45nm dual- and quad-core processors, and PCI Express 2.0 connectivity with 16 lanes devoted to each PEG slot and compatibility with ATI's CrossFire technology.  If it all sounds familiar, it's because the Intel X48 Express Chipset that's used on the three boards we'll be looking at here is almost exactly the same as the X38 Express that preceded it a few months back.  In fact, if we take a gander at the chipset block diagram below, the only glaring addition would be official support for a 1600 MHz FSB - something that some X38 boards were hitting already, but without that "official" tag.

 

One might also stop and point out that DDR3 is the only memory technology listed in the diagram (twice, to be exact).  Initial reports stated as much, but we obviously know that wasn't to be the case, which is a good thing for a variety of reasons.  For sure, hitting the highest supported memory frequencies will only be possible using DDR3; with some manufacturers already offering >2.1GHz modules.  It's the price and availability of DDR2, though, that makes it a quite an attractive option.  Although DDR3 prices have begun to fall somewhat, 4 GB of DDR2 can be bought on the cheap these days.  Upgrade paths are also made easier as there's one less component to buy when building a new system, if you already own some DDR2 that is.  Thus, having X48 boards that support either standard is a win-win for just about everybody.

So, featuring basically the same Northbridge and identical ICH9/R Southbridge, the X48 really becomes more of an update over the X38, rather than a real replacement, and hence claims the title as Intel's flagship chipset for now.  The good news, however, is that the last few months should have allowed for a maturing of sorts, as manufacturers will have had more time and experience to tweak and refine their boards even further.  Three such manufacturers have sent us X48-based motherboards for us to put through the wringer, all aimed at the enthusiast crowd.

The first motherboard comes from ASUS, and belongs in the gamer-oriented Republic of Gamers series, which we have taken a few looks at in the past.  We've been mostly impressed by what they've offered in this series, and expect no less with the Rampage Formula.  Next up is the X48T-A from ECS.  We can honestly say that we haven't seen much from ECS in the past couple of years in the enthusiast segment, so we aren't exactly sure what to expect, but if early impressions mean anything, this "Black Series" board means business.  Finally, following on the heels of their popular Bonetrail X38 board, Intel has sent along the DX48BT2, which, like the X48 chipset is more or less an update of the original.  Three boards, three manufacturers, all shooting for the top spot in our round-up.  Who will come out on top?  Let's read on and find out...

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ASUS Rampage Formula Features

ASUS' Rampage Formula is backed by a dark black PCB with brown elements, making this the first of three darker hued boards -  indeed, black is the new "green".  As with all of ASUS' Republic of Gamers motherboards, great attention has been paid to not only the aesthetics, but to improved cooling as well.  Hence, the Rampage Formula benefits from massive copper coolers over the Northbridge and around the CPU socket, and a series of heatpipes that connect them.



     
  

The Rampage Formula's bundle consists of 6 SATA cables, three of which are angled, one SATA power cable, an extra USB and Firewire port bracket, black IDE and floppy cables, ties, and the SupremeFX II audio riser card.  A drivers and applications DVD provides the necessary software, although as its a DVD you've got to make sure the correct drive type is installed (although the likelihood of anyone buying a new board like this and not using a newer DVD drive is quite unlikely).  We also found an ASUS case badge, full version of S.T.A.L.K.E.R., and a multi-language user guide.

Special inclusions are an optional cooling fan for the heatsink, the LCD Poster that we've regularly seen with ASUS' RoG series of motherboards, ASUS' Q-Connector used to facilitate the installation process, and a Republic of Gamers branded back plate with a padded inner lining and all ports labeled.  Besides the ports, there are additional openings for ventilation and a welcomed space for the LCD Poster's cable.

ASUS Rampage Formula Motherboard
Specifications and Features

CPU
Intel Socket 775 Core™2 Quad/Core™2 Extreme/Core™2 Duo/Pentium® Extreme/Pentium® D/Pentium® 4 processors
Compatible with Intel® 05B/05A/06 processors
Support Intel® 45nm CPU
      
Chipset
Intel X48
Intel ICH9/R
Intel Fast Memory Access Technology

Front Side Bus
1600/1333/1066/800 MHz           

Main Memory  
  
4 x DIMM, Max. 8 GB, DDR2 1200*/1066/800/667 Non-ECC,Un-buffered Memory
Dual Channel memory architecture
*DDR1200 is overclocked speed

Storage
Supported by ICH9/R:
6 x SATA 3 Gb/s ports
Intel Matrix Storage Technology Support RAID 0,1, 5, 10
Supported by JMicron JMB368 PATA Controller:
1 x Ultra DMA 133/100/66/33 for up to 2 PATA devices

Expansion Slots
2 x PCIe 2.0 x16 , support at full x16, x16 speed 
3 x PCIe x1 ( the PCIEx1_1 (black) is compatible with audio slot)
2 x PCI 2.2

ATI CrossFire
Supports ATI CrossFire graphics cards

Audio
SupremeFX II Audio Card
ADI 1988B 8 -Channel High Definition Audio CODEC
Coaxial / Optical S/PDIF out ports at back I/O
ASUS Noise Filter

LAN
Dual Gigabit LAN, both featuring AI NET2
Support Teaming Technology

USB
12 x USB 2.0 ports (6 ports at mid-board, 6 ports at back panel)
      
IEEE1394
2 x 1394a ports (1 port at back I/O, 1 port onboard)

Special Features
External LCD Poster
Onboard switches: power / reset/ clear CMOS (at rear)
ASUS EPU (Energy Processing Unit)
ASUS Q-Connector, Q-Fan 2, EZ Flash 2, CrashFree BIOS 3, MyLogo 3

Back Panel I/O Ports
1 x PS/2 Keyboard
1 x IEEE 1394a
2 x LAN (RJ45) port
6 x USB 2.0/1.1
1 x Clr CMOS switch
1 x Optical + 1 x Coaxial S/PDIF Output

 
On-Board Peripherals
3 x USB connectors support additional 6 USB 2.0 ports
1 x Floppy disk drive connector
1 x IDE connector
6 x SATA connectors
1 x IEEE 1394a connector
1 x CPU Fan connector
3 x Chassis Fan connectors
1 x Power Fan connector 
3 x Optional Fan connectors 
1 x S/PDIF Out connector
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V Power connector
24 -pin ATX Power connector
1 x En/Dis-able Clr CMOS connector
3 x thermal sensor connectors
Chassis Intrusion connector
System Panel Connector   
  
BIOS
16 Mb Flash ROM, DMI 2.0, AMI BIOS
PnP, WfM 2.0, SM BIOS 2.4, ACPI 2.0a
Multi-language BIOS

Overclocking Features
Extreme Tweaker
Loadline Calibration
2-Phase DDR 2

Intelligent overclocking tools
- CPU Level Up
- AI Gear 3
- AI Overclocking (intelligent CPU frequency tuner)
- ASUS AI Booster Utility
- ASUS O.C. Profile: overclocking configuration-sharing tool

Overclocking Protection
- COP EX (Component Overheat Protection - EX)
- Voltiminder LED
- ASUS C.P.R.(CPU Parameter Recall)

Dimensions
12 inch (L) x 9.6 inch(W) ATX Form Factor
      
Mounting
9 mounting holes



     
     

Mostly blue and white connectors are spread out nicely around the board. leaving a mostly clean layout.  Two blue PCI-E x16 slots with ample space between them populate the upper area, interspersed with 2 white PCI and 2 white PCI Express x1 slots.  The SupremeFX II audio riser card is parked in its own black colored PCI Express x1 slot with a fan header close by, nestled in tightly inside a bend in the heatpipes.  LEDs are placed strategically around the board, and are used to display the voltage status for CPU, Northbridge, Southbridge and memory in an intuitive color-coded fashion (read: green = good, red = bad).

Front Panel pins are placed in the closest corner to the front of the unit, followed by 2 sets of USB 2.0 headers, the on-board power and reset buttons that we've come to know and love, and then a Firewire header. Forward angled SATA ports provide the ability to attach six SATA drives, and another forward angled IDE port controlled by the JMicron controller can be used for installing two more IDE devices.  Floppy drives can still call the Rampage Formula home as a port lies near the 20-pin power plug.  The board's color coded DIMM slots have  power regulation circuitry right next to them and there's just enough room between the clips on the DIMM slots and the graphics card so that they won't come into contact.


     
     

The smaller Southbridge heatsink is branded as a member of the RoG, and has a heatpipes extending from it and leading to the large copper heatsink over the Northbridge.  This, in turn, leads to another heatpipe whisking away heat to an aluminum radiator and out the back of the board.  Two additional copper heatsinks line the outer edge of the voltage regulation circuitry surrounding the CPU are also connected by heatpipes and then out towards the rear.  An 8-pin power connection is found in the upper corner nearby the LED poster header with the cable going through an opening in the I/O shield, allowing the little display to be placed on the desk or another exterior location.  For anyone with a dream of running a plethora of fans, ASUS has placed 7 fan headers about teh board - six 3-pin types and a 4-pin for the CPU cooler.

The heatsinks use what ASUS refers to as a "pin-fin" thermal design, resulting in better thermal performance by breaking the "boundary-layer" phenomenon for effective airflow.  The copper pins rise directly up and away from the board, but the density of all of these heatsinks placed so near to the CPU socket area could lead to some concerns when installing larger CPU coolers.  Creating room on the backplane for the radiator resulted in sacrificing a port or two, leaving us with six USB 2.0 ports, a single PS/2 port for a keyboard or mouse, optical and coaxial audio, a "Clear CMOS" button, a Firewire port and 2 LAN jacks.

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Asus BIOS & Overclocking Options



 

The BIOS used for ASUS' Republic of Gamers series of motherboards is different from most of what's out there.  Based on a variant of American Megatrends, Inc. BIOS (AMIBIOS), the BIOS for the Rampage Formula uses tabs at the top that range from the standard Main and Advanced settings to Extreme Tweaker, where most of the options for overclocking the board lie in wait. 

     
     
 

The Main page allows the user to set the system date and time, language, and provides a quick readout on the drives that are installed.  Drilling down further into SATA configuration provides options for enabling RAID, System Information will give you just that: CPU type and speed and the amount of RAM currently installed.  Advanced covers a number of topics, from CPU Configuration to Chipset, Onboard Devices, and USB and PCIPnP configurations.

Under CPU Configuration, we saw a more detailed layout of the CPU information as well as options to change the CPU Ratio, and enable things such as Vanderpool (a virtualization technology), Intel Speedstep and support for C1E, Max CPUID Value limits, and Execute Disable Bit.  Chipset, on the other hand, has more to do with the configuration of the Northbridge, with choices for the ordering of graphics card slots and PEG Port Control.  Finally, Onboard Devices has, of course, all of the toggles for enabling or disabling onboard components, including the LCD Poster's backlight settings.  Sadly, gone is the option for customized messages.

Overclocking the ASUS Rampage Formula 
As smooth as silk

     
     
 

Extreme Tweaker is where it all happens, and the list of options is staggering.  One can settle for using the Ai Overclock Tuner which can load an optimal settings for the system, or by choosing CPU Level Up you can select a CPU Level which will automatically adjust all parameters such as FSB and DRAM frequencies to the expected levels.  It's a great way to see if your CPU is capable of performing like a more powerful one, but without spending the extra cash.  But, selecting a manual overclock is what we're here for, so we set the overclock tuner to "manual", thereby activating all of the options below.

Dialing in the FSB Frequency is where to start, and the BIOS will allow you to enter a speed all the way up to 800 MHz, which is a bit hopeful.  PCI-Express and DRAM Frequency are also set here as well, with the memory using a series of dividers which determine the memory speed based on the CPU's bus speed.  We found that our OCZ sticks that were rated for 1066MHz operation wouldn't work well with the DDR2-1066 divider, and found ourselves having to shoot for DDR2-1002 instead.  Following from there, the memory timings and command rate are located directly below the frequency, with the longest list we've ever laid eyes upon, although not all are configurable.  Of course, no ASUS board would be complete without voltage overrides, and the Rampage Formula is no slouch in this department. Boosting the voltage for each component uses a color-code for the relative safety of the desired upon voltage level, both in the BIOS and on the board itself using LEDs.

                                                          Here are some of the ranges:

CPU Voltage:
CPU PLL Voltage:
North Bridge Voltage:
DRAM Voltage:
FSB Termination Voltage:
South Bridge Voltage:
SB 1.5V Voltage:
1.10V-2.40V (0.0125V steps)
1.50V-3.00V (0.02V steps)
1.25V-2.05V (0.02V steps)
1.80V-3.40V (0.02V steps)
1.20V-2.00V (0.02V steps)
1.05V-1.225V (0.05V steps)
1.50V-2.05V (0.05V steps)


Overclocking the ASUS Rampage Formula was a relative breeze compared to our other boards.  We started raising the FSB in 5MHz bumps, lowering the Memory ratio to keep those speeds at or around 1000MHz.  At 375MHz, we raised the CPU voltage slightly to 1.4V, but we found that from 375MHz to 425MHz, we kept having to give a little more to the system to keep it purring so that by the time we reached 425MHz we were running with 1.45V allocated to the CPU. After we reached this stage, we kept moving higher and higher right up over 500MHz.  Here, we added another .05V which allowed us to gain another 20MHz and then hit a wall.  At this point, even the lowest memory divider still forced speeds over and above what our memory could handle.  Thus, we believe we couldn't get any higher, not due to the CPU or board, but due to our RAM.

When an overclocking attempt failed, one reset of the system was usually enough to get us back into the BIOS to correct the issue.  Throughout our testing, we only had to bump the CPU voltage and memory voltage to achieve the gains listed above, and hardly touched the finer settings made available to us.  Stability was never an issue, whether we were at normal or higher speeds - a true testament to ASUS' engineers.

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ECS X48T-A Features
 




As was the case with the Asus board, with ECS a dark brown or black PCB remains the color of choice.  Black is probably what they were shooting for as the X48T-A is part of their limited Black Series.  ECS runs the rest of the palette dry with their color scheme: two red PCI-E x16 slots, two black PCI 2.3 slots, a single yellow PCI Express x1 slot, and then grey and yellow marked DIMM slots for dual DDR3 with support up to 1600MHz.  The 'Black Series' logo almost seems to be an afterthought, a sticker hastily added to the motherboard on a clean section near the DIMM slots.




     

The X48T-A comes in a nicely designed box, featuring an ice dragon of sorts with some nifty graphics around the model name and two different logos marking the X48T-A as a deluxe limited edition and part of the Black Series of motherboards from ECS . The bundle was a bit less flamboyant, with a handful of SATA and eSATA cables, an IDE cable, and a labeled I/O shield being the sole goodies.  Media consisted of a quick installation guide and user's manual with a support CD-ROM.  The Crossfire section in the manual is seriously outdated, with pictures of exterior dongles and the like describing the installation procedure.

ECS X48T-A 'Black Series' Motherboard
Specifications and Features

CPU
LGA775 socket for latest Intel Yorkfield/ Wolfdale/Core 2 Extreme/Core 2 Quad/Core 2 Duo processor
Supports FSB of 1600/1333/1066/800 MHz
Supports Hyper-Threading technology CPU
      
Chipset
Intel X48 Northbridge
Intel ICH9R Southbridge

Front Side Bus
1600/1333/1066/800 MHz           

Main Memory  
  
Dual-channel DDR3 memory architecture
Supports DDR3 1600/1333/1066/800 SDRAM
4 x 240-pin DDR3 DIMM socket support up to 8 GB


Storage
Supported by Intel® ICH9R:
6 x Serial ATAII 3.0Gb/s devices
RAID0, RAID1, RAID5, RAID 10 configuration
Supported by JMicron JMB361:
1 x SATAII 3.0Gb/s devices
2 x Ultra DMA133/100/66 devices

Expansion Slots

2 x PCI Express Gen 2.0 x16 slots
2 x PCI Express x1 slots
2 x PCI slots

ATI CrossFire multi-GPU platform support
ATI CrossFire technology enables two ATI* graphics cards to work together for ultimate 3D gaming performance and visual quality
Full support of Next Generation ATI Crossfire

Audio
Realtek ALC 888S supports 8-channel HD audio
All DACs support 192K/96K/48K/44.1KHz DAC sample rate
Meets Microsoft WLP 3.08 audio requirements
DirectSound 3D compatible

LAN

Dual Gigabit LAN
Intel 82566DC GigaLAN Controller
Realtek 8111B PCIe GigaLAN Controller

USB

12 x USB 2.0 ports (6 on-board, 6 ports at back panel)

 
On-Board Peripherals
3 x USB connectors support additional 6 USB 2.0 ports
1 x Floppy disk drive connector
1 x IDE connector
6 x SATA connectors
1 x CPU Fan connector 
1 x Chassis Fan connector
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V Power connector
1 x 24 -pin ATX Power connector
1 x Clear CMOS header
1 x IrDA for SIR header
1 x Front Panel Audio header
1 x CD-In header
1 x Front Panel header
1 x Buzzer   

Back Panel I/O Ports
2 x PS/2 (Keyboard & Mouse) 
1 x External SATA port
2 x RJ45 LAN jacks
6 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
1 x RCA S/PDIF-In Connector (yellow)
1 x RCA S/PDIF-Out Connector (orange)
1 x Optical S/PDIF-Out
5 x Audio jacks (1 Line In, 4 Lines Out)
1 x Serial port (COM1)

Special Features
ECS QoolTechII Heat Pipe
   
BIOS
AMI BIOS with 16Mb SPI ROM
Supports Plug and Play 1.0A, APM 1.2, Multi Boot, DMI
Supports ACPI revision 1.0 specification

Dimensions
305mm (L) x 244mm (W) ATX Form Factor
      
Mounting
9 mounting holes



     
     

Front panel and three bright orange USB headers are found near the front, with a handy schematic placed nearby for quick reference.  Touches like these are always welcome, because no one wants to go searching for their manual anytime a cable comes loose.  SATA Ports 1-4 wind up just under the tip of a larger video card, but ECS has anticipated this by throwing in a set of SATA cables that are bent 90 degrees. The IDE port is inexplicably placed on the far edge of the board, furthest from the drives it would connect to.  I guess ECS assumed that most users won't be using it, so placement wasn't an issue, but anyone still using IDE devices will have to run cables up and over their other components.  Front panel audio or CD-In cables, will also need to run to the far corner as well.

ECS' cooling system goes under the name QoolTech II, and consists of two copper heatsinks placed over the North- and Southbridges, connected to a third radiator by means of heatpipes.  Oddly, said radiator doesn't interface in any way with the outside of the case, and will require adequate airflow around the CPU socket to keep temperatures in check.  Closer inspection of the heatpipes reveals that they are simply glued to the heatsinks rather than properly machined in place; this method probably isn't as efficient at transferring heat.
 

     
     

The X48T-A also lacks in another area - it only offers a single 3-pin fan header in addition to the 4-pin CPU fan.  Placement of that one fan header was also less than optimal, snuggled in between the 8-pin ATX power (which itself is in the crook of a heatpipe) and the CPU heatsink/fan.

Another gripe we had concerned the retention clip for the graphics adapter.  The clip itself doesn't present a large problem, although we've become accustomed to not seeing them anymore; it's the placement of three capacitors immediately next to the clip that bothers us.  Trying to reach in and push down the clip with fat fingers is one thing, worrying about knocking a cap off the board is another.

Rear I/O features PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports, COM, eSATA and S/PDIF-In and Out, 6 USB 2.0 ports, 2 LAN (one each from Intel and Realtek chips), and 5 audio jacks with TOSLINK thrown in as well.  Overall it's a really good-looking board from ECS that's sure to catch the eye, but it still has a few issues that we would like to see ECS iron out.
 

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ECS BIOS & Overclocking Options
 



 

Many users will feel right at home with the American Megatrends, Inc. (AMI) BIOS that ECS uses for the X48T-A.  With the usual headings of Standard CMOS, Advanced Chipset, and PC Health Status we won't spend a huge amount of time going over areas that we've covered numerous times in the past.  However, we will take a bit longer peek into the M.I.B. which stands for the Motherboard Intelligent BIOS where we found the user options for tweaking system performance as well as a few overclocking tools.

     
     

The standard blue screens ECS uses are all so familiar.  'Standard CMOS Setup' gave us a vertical representation of all kinds of drives installed, including SATA and eSATA, IDE, and even the mode of floppy drive we have connected.  'Advanced Setup' offers a few more, well, advanced topics typically involving CPU-related features, such as Intel Speedstep, a power-saving method that can be applied, or the boot order of our drives.  Unbefitting an enthusiast-marked board, the 'Advanced Chipset Setup' offers very little in the way of options.

'Integrated Peripherals' is completely straightforward and true to its name allows the user to enable or disable each of the integrated components.  Without native support for IDE devices in the ICH9/R Southbridge, one should make sure to enable the on-chip SATA2 controller (actually, the JMICRON JMB361 controller) for IDE mode to provide this functionality.  Finally, 'PC Health Status' features system and fan speeds, temperature, and voltages as well as a Smart FAN sub-section allowing the user to customize the way the fans are utilized based on CPU or System temperatures.

Overclocking the ECS X48T-A
Like bringing a knife to a gunfight

     
     

Entering the M.I.B. part of the BIOS, we were immediately struck by the sheer number of options not present.  By enabling the CPU Overclocking function we expected that more options might become available, and it does, but only by adding CPU and PCIe Frequency inputs.  Voltage options are almost nil: CPU Voltage can be set between 1.1V and 1.6V in 0.05V steps and memory voltage between 1.5V and 2.1V in 0.10V steps.  That's basically it.

DRAM Frequency can also be determined here, using pre-established ratio dividers.  The current timings are displayed and ECS does allow for a full range of timings to be entered by disabling the SPD configuration and opening up a full range of new options.  This includes the main four typically used as well as an additional five used more for overclocking adjustments and the Command Rate.  Oddly, even after using the dividers to set the speed, we often noticed that the memory speeds seemed higher than the desired speeds we had selected in the BIOS.  Without a large range of voltage options, we knew that overclocking the X48T-A could be difficult.

  We didn't make it very far, roughly 375MHz, when we had to first start raising the CPU's voltage.  Raising speeds once again quickly led us back into the BIOS to raise the voltage even higher.  Errors started with BSODs, then to Windows not even launching or missing files, black screens and failed POSTs.  After 3-4 failed POSTs, the system would usually recover, but every now and then the POST screen would simply show nothing at all and required us to power down the system, wait a few minutes, and try again.  At one point, we ran the CPU Voltage as high as 1.55V to try and get a working system, to no avail.  The overall results were not very promising.  Our best attempt only got us to a 383MHz FSB - a mere 50MHz over default speeds  

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Intel DX48BT2 Features
 



As one of Intel's Extreme Series of Desktop Boards, the DX48BT2 natively supports 1600MHz front side bus and memory speeds.  Informally known as Bonetrail2, the DX48BT2 is yet again another motherboard steeped in black, made even more menacing by the Bonetrail skulls found drawn here and there.  Blue and white components provide a direct contrast to the darker board, as shown.




 

Package contents included a relatively odd assortment of a clear blue rounded IDE cable, a clear blue (yet not the same color) SATA cable, non-marked I/O shield, door knob hanger, board layout decal, fan bracket, drivers and applications CD, quick reference guide, a Dolby HD Theater badge for our case and a cute Skull Logo for the Southbridge heatsink.  No formal written guide is included, however.  An optional 40mm active cooler can be also be installed using the included bracket.  Bonus software on the disc were Intel's own Desktop Control Center, Diskeeper 9 Home Edition, DivX, Dolby Control Center, and a 90-day trial version of Norton 360.  Trying to woo over the gaming crowd, our set should have included a copy of Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2, but, alas, it was missing in action.

Intel DX48BT2 Motherboard
Specifications and Features

CPU
Support for both 45nm & 65nm Intel® Core™2 Quad, Intel® Core™2 Extreme, and Intel® Core™2 Duo processors in an LGA775 socket with a 1600, 1333 or 1066 MHz system bus
Support for an Intel® Pentium® dual-core processor in an LGA775 socket with an 800 MHz system bus
      
Chipset
Intel® X48 Express Chipset

Front Side Bus
1600/1333/1066/800 MHz           

Memory  
  
Four 240-pin DDR3 SDRAM Dual Inline Memory Module (DIMM) sockets
Support for DDR3 1600 MHz, DDR3 1333 MHz, DDR3 1066 MHz, or DDR3 800 MHz DIMMs
Support for up to 8 GB of system memory

Storage
Six Serial ATA 3.0 Gb/s ports, including 2 eSATA port with RAID support supplied by a Marvell* controller
One Parallel ATA IDE interface with UDMA 33, ATA-66/100 support (2 devices supported)

Expansion Slots

Two PCI Conventional* bus add-in card connectors (SMBus routed to both PCI Conventional bus add-in card connectors)
One primary PCI Express* 2.0 x16 (electrical x16) bus add-in card connector
One secondary PCI Express 2.0 x16 (electrical x16) bus add-in card connector
One PCI Express* 1.0a x16 (electrical x4) bus add-in card connector

ATI CrossFire multi-GPU platform support
ATI CrossFire technology enables two ATI* graphics cards to work together for ultimate 3D gaming performance and visual quality
Full support of Next Generation ATI Crossfire

Audio

Intel® High Definition Audio subsystem in the following configuration:
8-channel (7.1) Dolby Home Theater Audio subsystem with five analog audio outputs and two S/PDIF digital audio outputs (coaxial and optical) using the Sigmatel* 9274D audio codec

LAN

Gigabit (10/100/1000 Mbits/sec) LAN subsystem using the Intel® 82566DC Gigabit Ethernet Controller

USB

12 x USB 2.0 ports (2 internal headers, 8 external ports)
      
IEEE-1394a
2 x IEEE-1394a ports (1 internal header, 1 external port)

 
On-Board Peripherals
2 x USB connectors support additional 4 USB 2.0 ports
1 x IDE connector
6 x SATA connectors
1 x IEEE 1394a connector
1 x CPU Fan connector 
1 x Chassis Fan connector
1 x Power Fan connector 
2 x Optional Fan connector
1 x S/PDIF Out connector
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V Power connector
1 x 24-pin ATX Power connector 
1 x I/O controller for Consumer IR   

Back Panel I/O Ports
2 x eSATA ports 
1 x IEEE 1394a 
1 x LAN(RJ45) port 
8 x USB 2.0/1.1 
1 x Optical S/PDIF Output
5 x Audio Jacks
   
BIOS
System BIOS Flash with Intel® Platform Innovation Framework for Extensible Firmware Interface, configuration and power interface V1.0b, DMI 2.0, multilingual support, Intel® Rapid BIOS Boot, and optimized POST for fast access to PC from power-on.

Special Features
Microsoft Windows Vista* Premium ready
With a PC built with Intel® Core™2 Duo or Intel® Core™2 Quad processors, and the Intel® Desktop Board, you can experience a more responsive and manageable environment of Microsoft Windows Vista* including a new visual sophistication of the Microsoft Windows Aero* interface.

Dimensions
12 inch (L) x 9.6 inch (W) ATX Form Factor
      
Mounting
10 mounting holes



     
     

Both main coolers are completely passive and unlinked in any way, which resulted in the Northbridge cooler getting a bit hot during our testing.  As you can see, it is quite thick and hefty, even requiring a plate underneath the board to keep it mounted properly. In comparison, the Southbridge heatsink is a very small aluminum chunk that one would ostensibly want to cover with the Skull Logo cover, but would hinder cooling in the process.  The sheer size of the NB heatsink may wind up conflicting with certain graphics cards with reverse mounted heatsinks (we're looking at you, Sapphire Ultimate cards).  There are also two sets of large Voltage Regulator heatsinks surrounding the capacitors in the CPU socket area.

Three PCI-E x16 slots take up the majority of open space with not much room separating them, making CrossFire a riskier option in terms of heat than on some other boards.  The blue-colored slots are PCI Express 2.0 compliant, while the black one is not.  Two PCI slots are also interspersed here as well.  Latches on the slots are there to lock down graphics cards - something of which we have seen less and less on newer boards.  In practice, we found that the DIMM retention latches almost abutted the end of our lengthy 8800 GTS 512 card, requiring that it be removed to successfully switch out modules.  Six SATA ports lie along the front edge, along with the 20-pin power plug and IDE port.  As with other legacy devices, Intel is intent on helping us evolve, and has done away with floppy support as well, so no ports are to be found here.

     
     

Back I/O ports consist of two red eSATA ports in lieu of legacy PS/2 ports, eight USB 2.0 ports, a single FireWire connection, one RJ45 LAN jack, five audio jacks, and an optical line out. A nice mix of five strategically placed fan headers are on the DX48BT2; three 3-pin and two of the 4-pin variety, such as for the CPU fan.  One is unfortunately surrounded by larger capacitors, but can be avoided if necessary.

The 8-pin ATX power connector is far up in the corner, and closer to the I/O shield.  The location might cause an issue with cases such as the Antec Nine Hundred, which mount the power supply unit on the bottom of the chassis rather than the top.  Front Panel and Audio headers are mid-back along the left side of the board, with two additional USB headers placed closer to the front.  Like ASUS' successful Republic of Gamers boards, a power button was placed directly on-board for quick testing.  A reset button also should have been added, as we can see the tracing on the board, but it didn't make the final cut.
 

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Intel BIOS & Overclocking Options



 

Getting to the BIOS for the DX48BT2 requires pressing 'F2', and of the three BIOSes it seems the most straightforward--but first impressions can be deceiving.  Across the top are sections labeled Main, Advanced, Performance, etc.  And all seems to be in proper order...

     
     

Main, at the very least, offers little surprises as it displays information regarding the CPU, Bus Speed, and memory characteristics.  Advanced goes a step further, with configuration options galore regarding boot order, peripherals enabled, even configuring which PCI-e slot to use first.  The first item down, however, is labeled Boot Configuration, which one might immediately connect to boot drive order but actually has more to do with fan control and numlock key status instead.  The order of your drives is handled later, under the less imaginative but more direct 'Boot' tab from the main menu.  Strangely, "Floppy Drive" appears as one of the device types, even though Intel has done away with floppy drive support on this board. 

Hardware monitoring is a section of the BIOS that, while being labeled correctly, is too literal for our tastes.  By this we mean that all you can do on this page is monitor fan speeds, temperatures, and voltages.  There are no options to set up alarms or do anything else but check to see that things are within spec.  Overall, it's a very streamlined assortment of screens with the sole exception of Performance, which we will cover next.

Overclocking the Intel DX48BT2
Picking us up by our bootstraps

     
     
 

Under the Performance menu, users will find all of the overclocking-related options.   By default, everything is disabled which basically means the system is running at its default speeds.  Each override needs to be enabled in order to unlock the tools and the user has to accept a long winded warning about the dangers of "altering clock frequency and/or voltages".

Once unlocked, the processor multiplier can be modified as well as the host clock frequency.  Dialing in the speed desired instantly updates the processor speed below, giving the user an idea of what kind of overclock they will be looking at before saving their changes.   Voltage options fall somewhere in between what is available on the ASUS and ECS boards;  not as expansive as that seen for the Rampage Formula but more than ECS.  Here are the ranges:

CPU Voltage Override:
CPU Voltage Offset:
FSB Voltage Override:
MCH/ICH Voltage Override:
Memory Voltage:
1.2875V-1.60V (0.0125V steps)
"bumps" CPU Voltage .003V
1.10V-1.50V (0.025V steps)
1.25V-1.70V (0.025V steps)
1.50V-2.50V (0.025V steps)

Memory timings and speeds also come into play when overclocking the DX48BT2, and memory configuration allowed us to change the frequency using dividers based on the FSB.  Thus, entering in a value for the frequency here will not necessarily be the true value after rebooting, and this time there is no dynamic update on screen to give you a helping hand.

When an overclocking attempt fails, the system repeatedly and quickly shuts down and reboots repeatedly in a never-ending cycle.  Sometimes this process will get you back into Windows, but only then do you realize that default values have been applied.  Other times it simply requires clearing the CMOS and starting over.  As this process wore on us, it became a bit of a chore to overclock this board.

  Like the others, we were able to get to around a 370-375 MHz FSB without any adjustments, but here we had to raise the VCore to 1.4V to get back into Windows.  We continued on as high as 400MHz at this configuration.  However, at this speed, we could never gain any real stability with application crashes, BSODs, and the rest crippling any attempt to get anything done.  Unfortunately, no manner of voltage bumps to the CPU, FSB, and/or MCH/ICH or other tricks would right the ship, and after a long and arduous run at trying different speeds and voltages, we eventually settled at a 398MHz FSB with 1.4125V for the CPU.


Oddly, our problems didn't end there.  Even after reverting the settings to their defaults, we had issues rebooting the system.  Possibly this stemmed from some left over heat issues, as the Northbridge was startlingly hot to the touch, but eventually we were able to get back into Windows and use the system normally.
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Test Systems and PCMark Vantage
 

 

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 DDR2-1066 with 5-5-5-18 or DDR3-1066 with 7-7-7-20 timings. The hard drive was then formatted, and Windows Vista Ultimate was installed. When the Windows installation was complete, we updated the OS, and installed the drivers necessary for our components. Auto-Updating and Windows Defender were then disabled and we installed all of our benchmarking software, defragged the hard drives, and ran all of the tests.

 HotHardware's Test Systems
 Intel Head To Head

System 1:
Core 2 Duo E6550
(2.33GHz - Dual-Core)

Asus Rampage Formula
(Intel X48 Chipset)

2x1GB OCZ Reaper HPC PC2 9200*
CL 5-5-5-18 DDR2-1150

GeForce 8800 GTS 512
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

Seagate Barracuda 7200.10
7,200 RPM SATA 3GB/s 

Windows Vista Ultimate
INTEL INF Update v8.3.1.1010
NVIDIA Forceware v175.16

System 2:
Core 2 Duo E6550
(2.33GHz - Dual-Core) 

ECS X48T-A Black Series
(Intel X48 Chipset)

2x1GB Corsair CM3X1024*
CL 7-7-7-21 DDR3-1066

GeForce 8800 GTS 512
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

Seagate Barracuda 7200.10
7,200 RPM SATAII

Windows Vista Ultimate
INTEL INF Update v8.3.1.1010
NVIDIA Forceware v175.16

System 3:
Core 2 Duo E6550
(2.33GHz - Dual-Core)

Intel DX48BT2 "Bonetrail 2"
(Intel X48 Chipset)

2x1GB Corsair CM3X1024*
CL 7-7-7-21 DDR3-1066


GeForce 8800 GTS 512
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

Seagate Barracuda 7200.10
7,200 RPM SATAII

Windows Vista Ultimate
INTEL INF Update v8.3.1.1010
NVIDIA Forceware v175.16

 Futuremark PCMark Vantage
 http://www.futuremark.com/products/pcmarkvantage/

For our first round of benchmarks, we ran all of the modules built into Futuremark's PCMark Vantage test suite which was updated using the November 2007 Hotfix.  Vantage is a new Windows Vista-only benchmarking tool that we've incorporated into our arsenal of tests here at HotHardware.  Here's how Futuremark positions their new benchmarking tool:

"The PCMark Suite is a collection of various single- and multi-threaded CPU, Graphics and HDD test sets with the focus on Windows Vista application tests. Tests have been selected to represent a subset of the individual Windows Vista Consumer scenarios. The PCMark Suite includes CPU, Graphics, Hard Disk Drive (HDD) and a subset of Consumer Suite tests."

The overall PCMark Vantage score is derived from the subset of individual scenarios and suite tests, calculated in total "PCMarks".  Here are the overall results:
 



Looking at the large picture, there's really one board that stood out from the others in the total number of PCMarks: the ASUS Rampage Formula.  As we go on, you'll notice that it didn't necessarily blow away the competition in each and every module, even coming in last at least one time, but at the end of the day it won out. 
 



"Our memories are often kept in digital form. Here, large digital photos in HD Photo format are stretched, flipped and rotated using the CPU. Plenty of system memory is highly beneficial for manipulating large images. Importing digital photos to Windows Photo Gallery is where a high performance HDD shines. More and more image manipulation is being done using the GPU, enabling instantaneous color correction, sharpening and softening of images. Home video editing with Windows Movie Maker can be very time-consuming – unless you have a high performance HDD. Home videos recorded on digital video cameras are sometimes transcoded and transferred to a portable media player. High definition videos are often archived in media servers. It may, however, be handy to have them transcoded and transferred to a portable media player. A fast CPU with many cores can handle transcoding swiftly." -
Futuremark

The PCMark Vantage "Memories" suite includes the following tests:

Memories 1 - Two simultaneous threads, CPU image manipulation and HDD picture import
Memories 2 - Two simultaneous threads, GPU image manipulation and HDD video editing
Memories 3 - Video Transcoding: DV to portable device
Memories 4 - Video Transcoding: media
server archive to portable device



 

The Memories suite was a very close affair for all of our boards.  The Rampage Formula just squeezes ahead of the pack at 3486 PCMarks, while the other four all hover around 3430 to 3450.  It calculates to less than a percent difference, but it's a good start for ASUS.
 


"High definition TV broadcasts and movies have arrived. Playing an HD DVD with additional HD content, a Blu-ray movie, or watching HDTV smoothly (while making a backup of an HD DVD by transcoding to a media server or transcoding from a media server archive to a portable media player) requires lots of computing and graphical power. Windows Media Center with a high performance HDD can handle simultaneous video recording, time-shifting, and streaming to an Extender for Windows Media Center, such as Xbox 360™."

Vantage TV and Movies suite includes the following tests:

TV and Movies 1 - Two simultaneous threads, Video transcoding: HD DVD to media server archive, Video playback: HD DVD w/ additional lower bitrate HD content from HDD, as downloaded from the net
TV and Movies 2 - Two simultaneous threads, Video transcoding: HD DVD to media server archive, Video playback, HD MPEG-2: 19.39 Mbps terrestrial HDTV playback
TV and Movies 3 - HDD Media Center
TV and Movies 4 - Video transcoding: media server archive to portable device, Video playback, HD MPEG-2: 48 Mbps Blu-ray playback


 

The TV and Movies test also has the Rampage Formula on top with about the same range separating the boards as before.  Interestingly, other than the Rampage's meager leads in these first two modules, we don't see the X48 boards really raising the bar above the 780i or P35 based boards.

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PCMark Vantage (continued)
 

 

We continue our test coverage with the remaining modules from the comprehensive PCMark Vantage suite of benchmarks.

 Futuremark PCMark Vantage
 Synthetic Benchmarks

Courtesy, Futuremark:  "Gaming is one of the most popular forms of entertainment for all ages. Today’s games demand high performance graphics cards and CPUs to avoid delays and sluggish performance while playing. Loading screens in games are yesterday’s news. Streaming data from an HDD in games – such as Alan Wake™ – allows for massive worlds and riveting non-stop action. CPUs with many cores give a performance advantage to gamers in real-time strategy and massively multiplayer games. Gaming Suite includes the following tests: "

Gaming 1 - GPU game test
Gaming 2 - HDD: game HDD
Gaming 3 - Two simultaneous threads, CPU game test,
Data decompression: level loading
Gaming 4 - Three simultaneous threads, GPU game test, CPU game test, HDD: game HDD

 

Vantage's gaming benchmark also has the boards closely grouped, with two of the three X48 boards pulling just slightly away from the rest.  Our overall leader was Intel's Bonetrail 2 board at 3969 PCMarks followed closely behind by the ECS X48T-A.  Oddly, ASUS' Rampage Formula not only fell behind the other two X48 boards, but ultimately wound up behind the older P35 and 780i boards as well.



"Online music shops have changed the way we purchase music, letting us buy exactly the tracks we want, right from home. Cataloguing your music library is a breeze for fast and powerful HDDs. The most common audio file formats decrease your music’s audio quality which is undesirable. Luckily, lossless audio file formats are becoming more popular. Transcoding from non-compressed audio to a lossless format is heavily taxing on the CPU. Transcoding your audio files from one format to another is much quicker and easier using high performance CPUs."

Vantage Music suite includes the following tests:

Music 1 - Three simultaneous threads, Web page rendering – w/ music shop content, Audio transcoding: WAV -> WMA lossless, HDD: Adding music to Windows Media Player
Music 2 - Audio transcoding: WAV -> WMA lossless
Music 3 - Audio transcoding: MP3 -> WMA
Music 4 - Two simultaneous threads, Audio transcoding: WMA -> WMA, HDD: Adding music to Windows Media Player


When it came to the music module within PCMark Vantage, the newer boards found themselves at a complete disadvantage.  The highest scores were achieved by the tandem of ASUS boards not using the X48 chipset.  In fact, it was the ASUS Rampage Formula that once again placed last.  ECS had the best performance of the newer boards at 3680 PCMarks - 20-25 points behind the leaders.


"To compress and encrypt all personal information is vital for safe computing. Emails are the most important type of communication, whether it is personal or business. To keep the workflow smooth and enjoyable, high performance CPUs and HDDs are recommended. Reading news online while having your cup of coffee is quality-time. Often one site isn’t enough, so tabbed browsing is a perfect solution for news-hungry people. Spyware is very common on systems without protection against it, letting Windows Defender scan & protect your system is recommended. Voice over IP – with Skype™ or Windows Live Messenger – is very popular these days. Encrypted messaging for home and workplace gives additional security."

Vantage Communications suite includes the following tests:

Communications 1 - Three simultaneous threads, Data encryption: CNG AES CBC, Data compression, Web page rendering: graphics content, 1024x768, windowed
Communications 2 - Three simultaneous threads. Web page rendering: open various news pages from IE 7 Favorites in separate tabs, close them one by one, Data decryption: CNG AES CBC, HDD: Windows Defender
Communications 3 - Windows Mail: Search
Communications 4  - Two simultaneous threads, Data encryption: CNG AES CBC, Audio transcoding: WMA -> WMA - to simulate VOIP


 

Performance in the Communications test was all over the place, but in general the x48 boards reasserted their position at the top.  Our Intel board came out on top, followed by the Rampage Formula and then a close match between the ECS X48T-A and Blitz Formula.  The sole NVIDIA board in our round-up, the Striker II Formula, was well off of the mark.


"Starting various applications can take a long time – unless you have a high performance HDD. Editing text with WordPad is a breeze when done with fast CPUs and graphics cards. Often one site isn’t enough, so tabbed browsing is a perfect solution for highly productive people. Spyware is very common on systems without protection against it, letting Windows Defender scan & protect your system is recommended. Starting Windows Vista is a rather demanding task for the storage device, but a fast HDD will notably decrease the loading time. Our busy lives find us hard at work, balancing multiple tasks; with little time for breaks. It’s the same for our computers. Multiple tasks, running simultaneously, put your system under a lot of stress. Having a modern, up-to-date CPU, HDD, graphics card and board full of system memory increases your computer’s productivity and reduces your stress."

Vantage Productivity suite includes the following tests:

Productivity 1 - Two simultaneous threads, Text editing, HDD: application loading
Productivity 2 - Two simultaneous threads, Windows Contacts: search, HDD: Windows Defender
Productivity 3 - HDD: Windows Vista start-up
Productivity 4 - Three simultaneous threads, Windows Contacts: search, Windows Mail: Run Message Rules, Web page rendering: simultaneously open various pages from IE7 Favorites in separate tabs, close them one by one.


 

Finally, the Productivity Suite also had its ups and downs with no real rhyme or reason as to board placement.  X48-based boards ran from first to middle to last, with ECS garnering the top spot this time around.  The Intel DX48BT2 ran into a rare spot, placing last amongst the five boards, 10 PCMarks behind the ASUS Striker II Formula.

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POV-Ray & Cinebench Testing

 



 

POV-Ray, or the Persistence of Vision Ray-Tracer, is an open source tool for creating realistically lit 3D graphics artwork. We tested with POV-Ray's standard included benchmarking model on all of our test machines and recorded the scores reported for each.  Results are measured in pixels-per-second (PPS) throughput.


POV Ray Performance
Details: www.povray.org

 

 

POV-Ray benchmark performance varied from a low of 747.91 PPS to a high mark of 755.85 PPS, resulting in a mere 1 percent difference between the best and worst performers. The x48-based boards didn't seem to fare all that well with this application, with the ASUS Rampage Formula producing the lowest score overall.

 Cinebench R10 Performance Tests
 http://www.maxon.net/pages/download/cinebench_e.html

Cinebench R10 is an OpenGL 3D rendering performance test based on Cinema 4D. 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.  It's very demanding of system processor resources and is an excellent gauge of pure computational throughput.  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.



Again, we find that the five boards are performing at quite similar levels with the single and multi-threaded rendering runs in Cinebench.  Performance deltas for the Single-threaded runs are even smaller than what we saw with POV-RAY with just about half a percent separating the results.  This difference nearly triples, however, during the multi-threaded run with the ECS X48T-A outgunning the Intel DX48BT2 by 72 points.

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3DMark06 and LAME MT MP3 Encoding

 



3DMark06's built-in CPU test is a multi-threaded DirectX gaming metric that's useful for comparing relative performance between similarly equipped systems.  This test consists of two different 3D scenes that are processed with a software renderer that is dependent on the host CPU's performance.  Calculations that are normally reserved for your 3D accelerator are instead sent to the CPU for processing and rendering.  The frame-rate generated in each test is used to determine the final score.

 Futuremark 3DMark06 - CPU Test
 Simulated DirectX Gaming Performance


3Dmark06's CPU performance module reported scores that coincedentally followed our list of boards.  That means the Bonetrail 2 board gave us the lowest score, with the ECS X48T-A just a shade above it.  From there it was the three ASUS boards, with the Blitz Formula on top overall.  Again we found that the x48 boards were performing at similar levels.

 LAME MT MP3 Encoding Test
 Converting a Large WAV To MP3

LAME-MT is an open-source mid to high bit-rate and VBR (variable bit rate) MP3 audio encoder that is used widely around the world in a multitude of third party applications. In this test, we created our own 223MB WAV file and converted it to the MP3 format using this multi-thread capable application in single and multi-thread modes. Processing times are recorded below, listed in seconds. Here, shorter times equate to better performance. 

 


There's really not much that can be said regarding the Lame Multi-Threaded encoding times: they're all too similar to make any kind of judgment.  If there's anything that does stand out, it would be that the two blips in the single-threaded testing both came when using ASUS boards.

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Crysis & ET: Quake Wars Framerates
 

 

Benchmarks with Crysis and ET: Quake Wars
DirectX 10 and OpenGL Gaming Performance

For our next set of tests, we moved on to some in-game benchmarking with Crysis and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. When testing processors with Crysis or ET:QW, we drop the resolution to 800x600, 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 rather than GPU.



 

Although the ASUS Rampage Formula seemed to lag behind in much of the previous benchmarks, it shines where a "Republic of Gamers" board should: in the straight-forward testing of gaming frame rates.  Its 119.3 frames per second in ET: Quake Wars were nearly a frame or more faster than the other two X48 boards, which came in at exactly 118.6 fps each.  The performance delta was even a bit better during the Crysis CPU benchmark routine.  All three boards saw an improvement over the other two RoG boards from ASUS in both game engines.

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Performance Summary & Conclusion

 

Performance Summary: Each of the three motherboards we tested performed similarly in our benchmarks, and we don't think we could pick a winner outright based on performance alone.  The ASUS Rampage Formula seemed to do a little better in the game tests, ECS' X48T-A typically did well in the rendering tests, and the Intel DX48BT2 fell somewhere in between.  And in comparison the the two boards running on NVIDIA's 780i or Intel's older P35 chipsets, the three X48-based motherboards didn't offer much in terms of additional performance.
 



ASUS Rampage Formula:
In typical ASUS fashion, the Rampage Formula was a pleasure to deal with, from the installation of the board, to its stable operation, and better yet its strong overclocking.  ASUS really targets the PC enthusiast market well, providing features that help their boards stand-out from the rest of the pack.  Whether it's powering up the system from clearly marked and lit power buttons, diagnosing system issues with the LED poster, or overclocking the board with the ample options in the BIOS, ASUS is almost always on the ball.

We managed to hit a 520 MHz FSB while overclocking the Rampage Formula, and while that might not be the highest speed attainable due to the memory we chose, it was clearly faster than the competition.  The bundle is first rate, even going so far as to include a retail copy of S.T.A.L.K.E.R., the aforementioned LCD poster, and a branded and labeled I/O shield, for people who like those kinds of things.  Pricewise, the Rampage Formula is the highest of the three and will set you back almost $300 dollars, but it's money well spent if you're in need of a high-end Intel-based motherboard. 

 

  • Stability was never an issue
  • Extreme Tweaker has multitude of options to choose
  • Awesome overclocker
  • Member of the Republic of Gamers series of boards
  • This board will set you back 300 clams
  • Only two cards can be used in CrossFire




ECS X48T-A:
When we received word from ECS that they were shipping the X48T-A, we weren't sure what to expect.  Here was a company that typically offers more mainstream products targeting the X48T-A to PC enthusiasts.  Our first impressions were good, from the packaging down to the layout of the board itself.  It was only when we started looking a bit closer that we had some concerns.  Things like a single fan header and less than optimal heat-pipe adhesion turned us off.  Hopefully ECS can improve on issues like these in the future.   

BIOS options were also lacking by comparison, and were probably the reason we couldn't overclock the baord very far.  Gaining an additional 50MHz on the FSB isn't terribly exciting, and won't garner the X48T-A any performance enthusiast fans.  The X48T-A's redeeming quality was that it's an capable performer at default speeds, and at $200 it comes in as the lowest priced of these three models by far.  It's actually one of the cheapest X48 boards out there.  If overclocking is not your bag, and you want all of the features offered by the X48 chipset, then the ECS X48T-A might be a good place to start.


  • Good Stock Performance
  • Aesthetically pleasing 
  • Supports 1600MHz DDR3
  • One of the lowest-priced high-end boards out there
  • Glued-on Heatpipes
  • Lack of fan headers
  • Overclocking
  • Some odd component placement choices




INTEL DX48BT2: 
Which brings us to the Intel DX48BT2.  Of the three boards tested here, Intel was perhaps the most forward-looking, killing off legacy components and adding in things like a third PCI-Express x16 slot for CrossFireX and eSATA.  As it was with the ECS X48T-A, however, we found that Intel's board had some of the same issues: curious placement of some onboard components, less robust cooling, and the least inspiring overclocking experience of the three.  The package contents were also a bit questionable; we'd prefer a manual and more than a single SATA cable, over the doorknob hanger any day.

While the DX48BT2 did manage to reach a higher FSB than the ECS board, the process of getting there was somewhat difficult, and the instability afterwards was cause for concern.  The DX48BT2's BIOS options were fairly complete, so we had hoped for a better outcome. Heat may have been an issue here as well, as the passive standalone heatsinks were quite hot to the touch.  To sum it up, the DX48BT2 is a decent follow-up to the original Bonetrail, but just doesn't measure up to what other companies such as ASUS are putting out there in the high-end enthusiast market.


  • Three PCI-Express slots for CrossFireX
  • Fully-featured BIOS
  • Intel brand name and support
  • Overclocking
  • Passive coolers get really hot even during normal operation
  • Negligible gains over older boards
  • Lackluster bundle



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