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EVGA X58 3X SLI Core i7 Motherboard
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Date: Dec 16, 2008
Section:Motherboards
Author: Dave Altavilla
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Introduction, Features and Specs

Intel's recent launch of the Core i7 processor and its accompanying chipset platform, was met with plenty of buzz and splash, due not only to the product's architectural enhancements but also its performance gains.  However, the new serially enabled Core i7 also brought fairly significant platform changes as well. Though some folks may be resistant to it, most times, change is good.  And Intel's new, more scalable QPI serial interface was long overdue.  In fact, the Core i7 marks what could be considered one of the most significant changes in Intel's desktop processor architecture in many years.  Though the new CPU requires a new processor socket and the new X58 Express chipset, end user migration to the new Core i7 desktop chip will be gradual at first but will build momentum as the platform matures into 2009.

Of course, all of these changes mean lots of new product releases from Intel's "ecosystem partners", as they like to call them.   Since our launch article took flight in November, a steady stream of Intel X58 chipset-based motherboards have been filing into our labs here at HotHardware and we're queueing them up for testing and evaluation.  One of the first boards we got in was an offering from EVGA, aptly branded the X58 3X SLI.  Though the board's part number is a bit cryptic (we tested an EVGA p/n: 132-BL-E758-A1 board), the model naming should tip you off that this motherboard not only supports AMD ATI multi-GPU CrossFireX graphics configurations but also NVIDIA SLI graphics setups including 3-way SLI.

 

The EVGA X58 3X SLI motherboard also supports all of the latest features inherent to Intel's X58 Express chipset, including triple channel DDR3 system memory.  Here's a quick look at the X58 Express chipset block diagram, as a refresher.

 

Noteably, 3-way SLI configurations are supported in this motherboard via a x16,x8,x8 lane configuration, in each of the board's three full length x16 slots. You can reference this diagram here from our recent overview of the technology for further details.  However, with each of these lane configurations supporting full Gen2 PCI Express links, there is more than enough bandwidth to support the required graphics processing throughput.

EVGA X58 3X SLI Motherboard
Specifications & Features
Processor and Chipset
Based on Intel X58/ICH10R chipset
Supports Intel Core i7 Processors
133 MHz QPI
   
Memory
6 x 240-pin DIMM sockets
Triple Channel DDR3
Maximum of 12GB of DDR3 1066/1333 MHz
   
Expansion Slot
1 x PCIe x16, 1 x PCIe x8/x16, 1 x PCIe x8, 1 x PCIe x1, 2 x PCI
2 x 32-bit PCI, support for PCI 2.1
   
Storage I/O
1 x UltraDMA133
9 x Serial ATA 300MB/sec with support for RAID 0, RAID1, RAID 0+1, RAID5, JBOD
1 x Floppy disk drive connector
   
Integrated Peripherals
8 Channel High Definition
2 x 10/100/1000 Ethernet LAN
   
Multi I/O
1 x PS2 Keyboard
1 x Serial Ports
12 x USB2.0 ports (4 external + 8 internal headers)
Audio connector (Line-in, Line-out, MIC)
FireWire 1394A (1 external, 1 header)
  
Form Factor
ATX Form Factor
Length: 12.0in - 304.8mm
Width: 9.6in - 243.6mm

Key Features

USB 2.0 Support
A standard plug and play interface providing easy-to-use connectivity for USB devices.
 
PCI Express® 2.0 / 1.1 Support
Allows 500MB a lane or up to 8 GB/s at 16x speeds - allows for full support for new PCI-E 2.0 graphics cards.
Serial ATA - II
Also known as SATA2, features a 3.0 Gbit/s transfer speed, faster than Standard Serial ATA.
 
Solid Capacitors
Offers a longer lifespan, better stability when at high frequencies, can operate at higher temperatures, and no longer runs the risk of exploding.
 
Active Heatsink
Consists of a fan and metal heatsink.

8 - Phase Power Design
For excellent power-stability, an 8 – Phase Power Design is used.
 
On-Board Clear CMOS Button
An onboard clear CMOS button which allows you to easily clear your BIOS without moving a jumper.
 
On-Board Power Button with Integrated Power Light
An onboard power button for easily powering on or off your system. Also shows a power indication light.

On-Board Reset Button with Integrated HDD Activity Light
An onboard reset button for easily rebooting your system as well as gives current status of your HDD via an activity light.
 
On-Board Diagnostics LED Readout
Helpful for when diagnosing a problem is needed.

AMD ATI CrossFire Support
AMD ATI CrossFireX Support
2-Way NVIDIA SLI Support
3-Way NVIDIA SLI Support

EVGA bundles the X58 3X SLI with a healthy offering of connectors, cables and related hardware to support all of the salient features of this motherboard.  In the kit you get an I/O backplane faceplate and three slot connectors for USB, Firewire and even RS232 serial connectivity (though we can't imagine anyone actually using this).


 

 

 

You also get three 4-pin molex to SATA converter cables, six SATA cables, a single EIDE ribbon cable and both two-way and three-way SLI bridge connectors.  EVGA also includes both a full manual and a quick install guide for reference and of course the standard drivers and utility CD is in there as well.  On the CD is EVGA's ELEET tuning software for overclocking, which we'll cover in more detail later but it's safe to say the bundle is both cost-efficient and well put together, all told. 

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A Closer Look

EVGA X58 3X SLI Motherboard
A Closer Look

The X58 3X SLI itself is a nicely assembled board that has a reasonably well thought out layout, with perhaps one rather glaring exception.  The board's 8-pin ATX power connector is mounted behind the MOSFET power array heatsink, between it and the back I/O port connectors.  This makes for a tight fit and rather awkward cable routing.  Though not unsurmountable by any stretch, we much prefer to have this connector located on the board edge next to the CPU socket.  In its current location, it's very hard to work in this tight area and cable positioning can be pretty frustrating.  Beyond that, the board is nicely appointed in a number of areas.


 
 
 

The EVGA X58 3X SLI comes equipped with a relatively robust cooling system that is comprised of a large heatsink and fan unit on the chipset IOH (IO Hub) connected with a thin heatpipe to the Southbridge (ICH).  These are aluminum assemblies and while we've seem some pretty elaborate all copper solutions, this system employed by EVGA seems to do the job well enough.  There is also a large stacked, passive heatpipe assembly on the CPU socket power array that we alluded to earlier.  This sink also proved to be more than adequate for the job and only got slightly warm to the touch.
 



 


 

 

 

The slot configuration of the board offers a pair of standard PCI slots and three full length PCI Express slots.  If you're intent on running a two card SLI or CrossFire configuration, it's advisable to plug the second card into the third PCIe slot, leaving the middle PCI slot for expansion if need be and a bit more room for your graphics cards to breathe.  There is also a x1 PCIe slot, which we prefer for things like audio cards, if your favorite brand is available in that interface type.




 

There are six DDR3 DIMM sockets on the board which are color coded for easy installation in a triple channel setup.  EVGA also provides a detailed instruction sticker over the sockets, that informs the installer where to plug modules in, depending on your configuration.  Triple channel setups in slots 1,3, and 5 will likely be the most common and are also what's best for performance.


The X58 3X SLI has a full decked-out IO panel on the backside of the board, complete with dual Gig-E NICs, 8 of the total available 12 USB 2.0 ports (an additional 4 are available on an included backplate), Firewire, eSATA and S/PDIF audio ports. Finally, probably our most favorite feature is the tiny, red on-board clear CMOS button--just the thing to get you out of an overclocking jam, should the need arise.

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BIOS and Overclocking With EVGA ELEET

A Look At The BIOS
Tweakers Delight

EVGA's X58 3X SLI motherboard employs a standard issue Phoenix Award BIOS that is dialed in with a myriad of options for enabling and disabling features and peripherals, as well as overclocking and voltage adjustments. 

Voltage levels of all the major interfaces around the CPU, chipset and system memory can be adjusted in extremely granular increments.  As you can see we have the ability to to tweak CPU VCore, VTT, and PLL voltages, as well as QPI and IOH voltage levels.  We found that minor adjustments in QPI voltage levels added stability when overclocking, along with the traditional Vcore tweaks.  


This BIOS also has the same basic individual per-core CPU clock ratio adjustments that we demonstrated in our Intel Core i7 video spotlight, as well as Intel's Turbo Mode, dynamic clock ratio adjustments that can be set.  In the case of an Extreme edition processor, you can of course dial up the core clock multiplier to a higher setting, as well as turn it down.  In addition, there are three available ratios to choose from for the QPI link speed up to 6.4GT/s.  The system reference clock (which should no longer be considered an FSB clock) also drives timing for system memory which also can be dialed in with a number of clock ratio settings.

The EVGA X58 3X SLI certainly has a wealth of tweakability under the hood for BIOS-driven overclocking and performance tuning.  However, we found the board's bundled EVGA ELEET tuning software to be even more interesting.

Overclocking the EVGA X58 3X SLI with EVGA ELEET Software
Look familiar?

If you got the chance to check out our initial Core i7 launch coverage, you'll know that Intel's new 45nm processor with integrated memory controller and QPI serial link, also has a lot of headroom with respect to clock speed.  Fortunately, EVGA not only gives you the ability to push the Core i7 via traditional BIOS options, they also provide a really slick overclocking utility they call "ELEET" tuning software.  Look closely at the screen shots below.  Though you may pause with a double-take thinking that you're looking at screens from CPUID software, in fact EVGA ELEET is CPUID and a lot more.  

   
EVGA ELEET System Monitoring

   
EVGA ELEET Overclocking and Tuning

It appears the folks at CPUID have been busy at work developing an SDK that allows not only for diagnostic read-out of processor, system memory and motherboard vital signs but also clock timing and system voltage adjustments to boot.  EVGA obviously licensed this technology, has fleshed out a nice utility here and it's the first glimpse of an implementation like this that we have seen to date.  This small footprint utility lets you look at all of the various health monitor readings that are available in the BIOS with voltage and temperature data, right down to the individual core level on a quad-core Core i7 processor.  About the only control or reading you don't get with this software is fan speed.

However, you can also adjust all available voltage options in the BIOS from within the convenient control panels of this utility, as well as adjust PCI Express link speed, QPI link speed, and processor multiplier settings.  In short, this is one handy, easy to use and powerful piece of software.  We applaud EVGA for bringing this utility bundle to market with their new motherboard.


 
Core i7 Extreme 965 @ 4GHz, Full Load

And of course, with the help of a Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme RT cooler for the Core i7, we were able to execute on some pretty blistering overclock speeds with our Core i7 965 Extreme CPU.  Though this processor's standard clock speed is 3.2GHz, we were able to hit 4GHz with this standard air cooler and EVGA's ELEET tuning software.  We achieved this by bumping up the processor's reference clock speed (leaving the QPI link ratio at the 6.4GT/s setting) and bumping up both Vcore and QPI voltage settings by a couple of tenths of a volt.  A QPI link voltage setting of around 1.25V actually proved to add a bit more stability under heavy overclocking conditions when using the method of bumping up the reference clock and thus the QPI clock as well.  Again, all of this was accomplished in software and through the ease of a this simple desktop utility.  The whole experience was quite enjoyable actually and made for quick work in determining top end clock speeds and stability ceilings.

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Test System and SANDRA Tests

Test System Configuration Notes: 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  (AMD) with 5,5,5,15 timings, DDR3-1333 with 7,7,7,20 timings (Intel Core 2), or DDR3-1066 with 7,7,7,20 timings (Intel Core i7). The hard drives were 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, performed a disk clean-up, defragged the hard drives, and ran all of the tests.

 HotHardware's Test Systems
 Intel and AMD - Head To Head 
System 1:
Core i7 Extreme 965

(3.2GHz - Quad-Core)

Intel DX58SO
Asus P6T Deluxe
Gigabyte GA-EX58-Extreme

(X58 Express Chipset)

3x1GB Qimonda DDR3-1066
CL 7-7-7-20 - DDR3-1066

GeForce GTX 280
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD150 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows Vista Ultimate
NVIDIA Forceware v180.43
DirectX Redist (August 2008)
System 2:
Core 2 Extreme QX9770

(3.2GHz - Quad-Core)

Asus P5E3 Premium
(X48 Express Chipset)

Asus Striker II Extreme
(nForce 790i Ultra SLI)
** High Res Game Tests Only

4x1GB Corsair DDR3-1800
CL 7-7-7-20 - DDR3-1333

GeForce GTX 280
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD150 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows Vista Ultimate
NVIDIA Forceware v180.43
DirectX Redist (August 2008)

System 3:
AMD Phenom X4 9950

(2.6GHz Quad-Core)

Gigabyte GA-MA790FX-DQ6
(AMD 790FX Chipset)

2x2GB Corsair PC2-8500
CL 5-5-5-15 - DDR2-1066

GeForce GTX 280
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD150 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows Vista Ultimate
NVIDIA Forceware v180.43
DirectX Redist (August 2008)

SiSoftware SANDRA 2009 SP1
Synthetic Benchmarks

We continued our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA 2009, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran three of the built-in subsystem tests that partially comprise the SANDRA 2009 suite on the test motherboards (CPU Arithmetic, CPU Multi-Media, and Memory).









In these quick synthetic benchmarks, as you'll note in the graphs, the EVGA X58 3X SLI is right on top of the Intel board, in terms of CPU performance.  However, we did notice a slight variance in memory bandwidth, which isn't that surprising.  X58 Express chipset-based boards and BIOSes are still very much being tuned from virtually all the major manufacturers.  You'll likely see these variances tighten up a bit more as things mature.  That said, let's journey on with respect to the numbers and see where the rest of the chips fall for this new board from EVGA.
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Futuremark PCMark Vantage

Futuremark PCMark Vantage
Simulated Application Performance

We then ran our test motherboards through PCMark Vantage, Futuremark’s latest system performance metric built especially for Windows Vista. PCMark Vantage runs through a host of different usage scenarios to simulate different types of workloads, including High Definition TV and movie playback and manipulation, gaming, image editing and manipulation, music compression, communications, and productivity. Most of the tests are multi-threaded as well, so they can exploit the additional resources offered by multi-core CPUs.


There aren't any major revelations to take away here with PCMark Vantage.  However, our EVGA X58 3X SLI board did post the second highest PCMark score of the four X58 Express boards we tested.  Beyond that the EVGA motherboard traded spots with the other boards in our mix, sometimes winnning a few, other times losing.
  

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Cinebench and Kribibench

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.

Cinebench R10
3D Rendering

This is a multi-threaded, multi-processor aware benchmark that renders a single 3D scene and tracks the length of the entire process. The rate at which each test system was able to render the entire scene is represented in the graph below.


Cinebench is solid gauge of raw CPU throughput with its software rendering workloads.  As you can see, the EVGA X58 3X SLI is in the hunt with the rest of the Core i7 boards.  On a side note, this tests also shows how much faster the new Intel Core i7 processor can be versus legacy Core 2 chips.  Both the Core i7 Extreme 965 chip and the Core 2 Extreme QX9770 are clocked at 3.2GHz, yet the Core i7 offers roughly a 28% performance advantage.

Kribibench v1.1
CPU-Bound Rendering

For this next batch of tests, we ran Kribibench v1.1, a 3D rendering benchmark produced by the folks at Adept Development. Kribibench is an SSE aware software renderer where a 3D model is rendered and animated by the host CPU and the average frame rate is reported. We used two of the included models with this benchmark: a "Sponge Explode" model consisting of over 19.2 million polygons and the test suite's "Ultra" model which is comprised of over 16 billion polys. 
 


Like the Cinebench test, our Kribibench rendering test shows that the EVGA X58 3X SLI offers performance in lock-step with its X58-based competition.  In fact, it was the fastest board by a slight margin under our Sponge Exploded model rendering workload.

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LAME MP3 Multi-threaded Encoding

In our custom LAME MT MP3 encoding test, we convert a large WAV file to the MP3 format, which is a 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 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.

LAME MT MP3 Encoding Test
Audio Encoding with Up To Two Threads of Processing

In this test, we created our own 223MB WAV file (a hallucinogenically-induced 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, listed in seconds. Shorter times equate to better performance


In this test there was very little separation between the X58/Core i7-based motherboards in our test group.  However, the EVGA board, for whatever reason, was able to complete the multi-threaded run a couple of seconds faster than the Gigabyte and Intel boards and offer a photo-finish win versus the Asus board.  Obviously this performance variance in negligible though.  It's also interesting to note that the Core i7 is close to 20% faster than the Core 2 Quad in this usage model.

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3DMark06 CPU and 3DMark Vantage CPU


3DMark06's built-in CPU test is a multi-threaded DirectX gaming metric that's useful for comparing relative performance between similarly equipped systems.

Futuremark 3DMark06 CPU Testing
Synthetic DirectX Gaming

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.
 


Here again the four X58 boards we tested all clock in at about the same score with small variances between them.  Honestly, this metric from 3DMark 06 is a bit nebulous in our opinion but we strive to give you lots of different looks at performance in our test results and this is just another angle to roll up and complete the picture.

Futuremark 3DMark Vantage CPU Testing
Synthetic DirectX Gaming

3DMark Vantage's CPU Test 2 is a multi-threaded test designed for comparing relative game physics processing performance between systems. This test consists of a single scene that features an air race of sorts, with a complex configuration of gates. There are aircraft in the test that trail smoke and collide with various cloth and soft-body obstacles, each other, and the ground. The smoke spreads and reacts to the planes as they pass through it as well, and all of this is calculated on the host CPU.


The follow-on to 3DMark06, 3DMark Vantage, shows similar results in its CPU test module.  Regardless, amongst the X58-based board we tested, there is less than a 5% differential between the fastest score recorded and the slowest score.  On this test the EVGA X58 3X SLI board pulled up the rear but not by much. 

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Low-Resolution Gaming

For our next set of tests, we moved on to some in-game benchmarking with ET Quake Wars and Crysis. When testing processors and motherboards in these games, 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, any 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.

Low-Resolution Gaming: ET:  Quake Wars and Crysis - CPU-Bound Tests
Taking the GPU out of the Equation




These two benchmarks, by all rights, should show the same performance progressions we saw in the 3DMark06 and 3DMark Vantage tests and as you can see, they do correlate pretty well. Again, all of our X58-based boards, along with the EVGA X58 3X SLI, are tightly coupled performance-wise. This time the EVGA X58 3X SLI edges out even the Asus P6T and there is a much larger variance between the Core i7 and the Core 2 Quad systems we tested. 

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High-Resolution Gaming

High-Resolution Gaming: SLI Frame-Rates with Crysis and ET:  Quake Wars
Taxing the Whole Rig - Core i7 and X58 Vs. Core 2 and X48

We started our high-resolution 3D testing with ET: Quake Wars again.  This time we have the resolution dialed up in the game to 1920X1200, the native resolution for our 24" test LCDs.  We also turned up all quality settings and anisotropic filtering for textures to maximum levels.  Benchmarks were then run with super-crisp 8X and 16X AA levels. 

Finally, as you'll note in the graphs below, we're comparing just the EVGA X58 3X SLI board with a Core i7 Extreme 965 (3.2GHz) processor to the Core 2 Quad QX9770 on an Asus 790i SLI-based motherboard.  Here will see just how the X58 Express chipset and Core i7 processor stack up against Intel's legacy Core 2 Quad architecture driving a GeForce GTX 280 SLI setup. 

Please recall that our test system specs listed an Asus Striker II Extreme nForce 790i Ultra SLI board that we used for this one set of benchmark runs only, in combination with the Core 2 Extreme QX9770.
 







We came away with a couple of interesting datapoints here.  First, our ET: Quake Wars tests are largely GPU bound at the higher resolution.  We should also note that due to id software's use of their proprietary "megatexture" technology, more efficient use of frame buffer memory is possible and likely reduced overhead with respect to SLI and PCI Express-based multi-GPU transactions.  Here, there is less of an advantage for a more powerful CPU or motherboard platform.

On the other hand, our Crysis testing shows something very different, with the EVGA X58 3X SLI and Core i7 combination chalking up a 14% performance lead.

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Performance Summary and Final Thoughts

Performance Summary: The EVGA X58 3X SLI performed on-par with the other X58 Express motherboards we tested and with less than a 5% variance faster or slower, depending on the tests we ran.  As a platform, Intel's Core i7 processor, coupled with this new motherboard from EVGA, offers a healthy performance gain (sometimes in excess of 25% or more) over legacy Core 2 processors and previous generation chipset platforms.

The EVGA X58 3X SLI is a solid example of the new round of motherboards for Intel's new Core i7 processor based on the X58 Express chipset.  Though we have at least one major gripe with the board's awkward 8-pin ATX power connector location, the rest of our experience with the board was first class.  One pleasant surprise was EVGA's re-branded ELEET tuning software with CPUID technology driving the interface.  We were able to dial in an impressive overclock at 4GHz on standard air cooling with the ELEET tuning utility and were able to get their quickly with its intuitive control panel menu screens, all on the fly on a Vista desktop.

In terms of integrated features, the X58 3X SLI has just about all you could want in a new X58 board, including both internal reset and power button switches, and a highly appreciated external clear CMOS switch peeking through its back IO panel.  At $299 currently, the X58 3X SLI is right in the middle of the pack price-wise, as X58 boards go, which is still of course a little lofty due its recent introduction.  As a total package however, with EVGA's cable and connector assortment that includes both 2-way and 3-way SLI connectors, the X58 3X SLI is definitely worth your short list consideration, if you're considering a migration to the Core i7 platform.

•  Solid Core i7/X58 performance
•  ELEET Tuning software
•  Great overclocking
•  Good features and bundle
•  External Clear CMOS switch
•  Poor 8-pin ATX power connector location
•  Still pricey at this point



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