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EVGA X58 3X SLI Classified Motherboard
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Date: Jul 01, 2009
Section:Motherboards
Author: Chris Connolly
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Overview

Nearly every motherboard manufacturer on the market today makes at least one line of products for the "enthusiast" market. Typically, these motherboards are a bit flashier, offer better cooling, enhanced overclocking, more features and are priced significantly higher than their mainstream variants. In the majority of cases, these boards are half-hearted attempts to cash in on unknowing buyers who think that these boards will overclock better than their mainstream siblings. One of the brands that has been producing motherboards, which are actually in tune with what high-end users are demanding, has gained quite a loyal fan following over recent years. That brand is EVGA.

While they are relatively new in the motherboard space, EVGA has quickly developed a very positive relationship with the high-end overclocking community by offering unique features for their boards, both on the hardware and software fronts, to really push systems further than they are intended to go. Throw in the fact that they have very active forums, are eager to engage with users of their product, and are quick to release BIOS updates to resolve issues and introduce new features, and it's not hard to see why many have flocked to their product lineup.


EVGA commonly produces their mainstream motherboard products first, while in tandem, begins work on their high-end enthusiast product. It's taken roughly four months since the time EVGA launched their first Intel X58 motherboard (the more than worthy X58 3X SLI) to follow it up with their enthusiast-class product, which we'll be looking at today. That board is EVGA's new X58 Classified motherboard. With a whopping $425 price-tag, $125 higher than their baseline X58 motherboard, EVGA is confident that they have a board which can out-class all others in order to demand such a price premium. What do you get for that extra $125?



EVGA X58 3X SLI Classified Motherboard - Retail Shipping Box

As far as we can tell, the bulk of these extra features are aimed at the ultra-high-end market. The X58 Classified has a true 3X SLI PCI Express x16 configuration, utilizing NVIDIA's NF200 PCI Express bridge chip, along with an additional PCI Express slot that they claim is for dedicated PhysX. Overclocking features abound here as well, including support for dual +12V connectors to pump more power to the CPU, on-the-fly vCore alterations through a hardware control panel, higher-grade capacitors, 10-phase digital PWM, and a monstrous custom designed (passive) cooling system. These features are certainly designed for an extremely small niche market of buyers, but those who need these features are willing to pay for them. Let's see if EVGA's efforts have paid off with the X58 3X SLI Classified.

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Specifications

The X58 3X SLI motherboard has a laundry list of high-end features, but we feel the best way to break this down is to look at EVGA's "regular" X58 3X SLI motherboard and show what they've added to the platform to make the "Classified" version. Here goes.

 


  EVGA X58 3X SLI EVGA X58 3X SLI Classified
CPU Intel Core i7, Socket-1366 Intel Core i7, Socket-1366
Chipset Intel X58, Intel ICH10R Intel X58, Intel ICH10R, Nvidia NF200
Memory Capacity 6 x Slots, 24 GB Maximum 6 x Slots, 24 GB Maximum
Memory Speed DDR3-1333 MHz "+" DDR3-1600 MHz "+"
PCI Express 2 x PCI Express 2.0 x16
1 x PCI Express 2.0 x8
1 x PCI Express x1
3 x PCI Express 2.0 x16
1 x PCI Express 2.0 x8
1 x PCI Express x1
SLI Support 2-Way, 3-Way 2-Way, 3-Way, 3-Way+PhysX
PCI 2 x 32-bit PCI 1 x 32-bit PCI
Serial ATA 7 x SATA-II/300 RAID, 1 x eSATA 9 x SATA-II/300 RAID, 1 x eSATA
USB / Firewire 12 x USB, 2 x Firewire 400 12 x USB, 2 x Firewire 400
Ethernet 2 x Gigabit Ethernet 2 x Gigabit Ethernet
Audio 8 Channel Analog
Optical/Coax 7.1 Digital
8 Channel Analog
Optical/Coax 7.1 Digital
Power 8 Phase PWM
24-pin/8-pin ATX
10 Phase PWM
24-pin/Dual 8-pin ATX
Cooling Active Passive Heatpipe


The big things here are an additional PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot powered by the Nvidia NF200 Northbridge, enhanced chipset and PWM cooling, better power regulation and support for additional power, additional Serial ATA ports, and faster memory speed support. Seems like a pretty solid list of upgrades to us. Let's see the what the final product looks like.

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Board Design and Layout

To say that this board is meticulously thought out in terms of layout and design would be an understatement. EVGA enlisted the help of the overclocking community to make this board a reality, and the attention to detail certainly shows through. The X58 classified is designed for worst case scenarios, meaning every possible feature plugged in and active at this same time.  Even if you're one of the few who would implement a configuration in such a scenario, the board still appears as if it would handle it with a shrug and a nod. The overall board design is simply excellent. The board is based slightly longer than a traditional ATX motherboard, which means you're best off installing this motherboard in an Extended ATX class chassis rather than a standard ATX.  Be sure to check your chassis motherboard area dimensions regardless, if you're considering this motherboard.



Starting off at the CPU socket, we have our traditional 1366-pin socket with Intel-defined mounting holes. Here we see the first touch of high-end class, as the CPU socket itself is anodized to be black and shiny, the first treatment of this component we have seen to date. Certainly not necessary, as one will install a cooler on top of the socket and not see this aspect until they install a new CPU, but hey, we're talking high-end here, it's the details which count. EVGA does an excellent job of keeping components out of the way in this area, allowing you to mount obscenely large CPU cooling systems on to this board if need be. Folks who might consider this board will frequently use water cooling, huge air-coolers, and in rare cases, LN2 to keep their CPU's cool, Rest assured, the board will be able to handle just about as a cooler as you can throw at it.

EVGA's custom 10-phase digital PWM functionality is housed to the left of the CPU, sitting under its own custom fitted heatsink, complete with heatpipe. The heatsink will work without issue even when not actively cooled, but is placed in such a way that it airflow will likely be moving around it, from either the CPU cooler or from the case's rear exhaust fan.


Anodized Black CPU Socket, Memory Sockets and Multiple Heatpipe Coolers

For those needing to push a ton of power through their motherboard, EVGA offers another unique feature in that this is the only X58 board to date offering dual 8-pin +12V ATX power connectors. Typically only offered on dual-socket motherboards, this allows you to drive up to 600W of power to a single Core i7 processor, although there's no way we could imagine the CPU would ever need such power. The system certainly doesn't need both 8-pin connectors to operate, as it will run perfectly fine with one connected along with your standard 24-pin ATX connector on the right side of the board. Still, if you need it, there it is.

On the top right, we have six DDR3 DIMM sockets, in line with other X58 platforms. EVGA officially supports 24 GB of DDR3 memory on this board (4 GB max per socket) and clock speeds up to "1600+".  Of course, the platform supports triple-channel DDR3 memory, so combinations of three or six are your best choice in terms of performance.

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Cooling and Features

The centerpiece of the X58 Classified is its custom cooling system which sits on top of the X58 Northbridge. EVGA custom designed this solution to provide excellent cooling for this component while at the same time, keeping noise levels to a minimum. The custom unit features three heatpipes and a tall series of aluminum thin fins. The top of the unit has a custom plastic cover, which houses a red LED light which pulses under an EVGA logo whenever the motherboard is actively receiving power, somewhat akin to a heartbeat. When the motherboard is powered on, the unit stays lit. The cooler is almost a work of art, as it provides excellent cooling performance while not interfering with other components and not adding noise and potential un-reliability from a cooling fan.


Multi-Heatpipe X58 Cooler


Low Profile ICH10R and NF200 Heatsinks

The other chipset level components, the Intel ICH10R Southbridge and an NVIDIA NF200 PCI Express bridge chip, are covered by their own heatsinks. The large, smooth heatsink which is "Classified" cools the Southbridge whereas the large heatsink to the north of it covers the NF200. These various heatsinks are short enough to fit underneath large PCI Express graphics cards installed above them, but have enough surface area to keep their respective chips operational under excessive heat loads.

The NVIDIA NF200 chip allows the EVGA X58 Classified to support massive amounts of PCI Express connectivity. The board is equipped with four PCI Express 2.0 x16 sized slots, marked in red. Not all support true x16 speeds, as the bottom slot only connects at x8 speeds. However, with three full PCI Express x16 slots, you can have full-speed three way-SLI connectivity and still have an extra PCI Express slot for a physics card or an additional graphics card. EVGA includes the proper bridges for both two-way and three-way SLI connectivity in their box. There is also a teeny-tiny PCI Express x1 slot near the Northbridge cooler, and a single 32-bit PCI slot for good measure.


Quad PCI Express 2.0 x16 Slots


Eight SATA-II/300 RAID Ports

To the right of all the expansion slots, we have a nice array of 90-degree mounted Serial ATA ports, eight of them in fact, all of which run at SATA-II/300 speeds. The ports in black run off the Intel ICH10R Southbridge and support RAID levels 0/1/0+1/5, whereas the ports in red run off a JMicron onboard controller and only support RAID levels 0 and 1. There are also an additional two more SATA-II ports controlled by an additional JMicron controller chip, one port is on the back panel for eSATA support and one port between the PCI Express x1 slot and primary PCI Express x16 slot.  In the event that you wanted a SATA port located in quite possibly the most inaccessible spot on your motherboard, there you go.

Not surprisingly, the I/O panel of the motherboard is pretty stuffed, although in terms of features, it's surprisingly normal considering all the other high-end components on this motherboard. The I/O panel includes eight USB 2.0 ports, a Firewire 400 port, an eSATA/300 port, a single PS/2 port, dual Gigabit Ethernet ports, and onboard audio w/ 8-channel analog and optical/coaxial S/PDIF output. The onboard Ethernet ports are controlled by dual Realtek 811C PCI Express chips, whereas onboard audio is controlled by a Realtek ALC889 codec, which is one of Realtek's most modern codecs, and delivers excellent quality audio. The only interesting oddball here is the little red dot, which acts as an external Clear CMOS button, but that's only the first bit of overclocking-focused hardware on this board.


X58 Classified I/O Panel

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Overclocking and Power Consumption

As this board is born and bred for overclockers, it's not surprising to see that there are some toys for overclockers to play with on the hardware level, not just through the BIOS and software. Beyond the Clear CMOS button on the I/O panel, EVGA includes large, easy to press buttons for hardware power and reset control at the bottom of the motherboard, in addition to another Clear CMOS button.

If you want more hardware level control, EVGA has a unique little daughterboard capped the ECP. The ECP module connects to your motherboard's case connectors and a special block of nearby pins to allow for some flexible options which can be used for on the fly overclocking control. The module gives you remote power/reset/cmos reset controls, but also gives you a BIOS diagnostic code display, along with a set of toggles to let you push up your CPU's core voltage up by 0.1V increments on the fly. Toggle all three upwards and you have an extra 0.3V which you can push to the CPU at any time, which can be handy if you're cranking up your processor as far as it can go.


EVGA ECP Overclocking Daughterboard and Cabling

There are other nice bits, too. EVGA claims to use more gold content (3x) in their CPU socket pins to improve signal quality between the board and the CPU. There are spots on the motherboard where you can directly monitor voltage levels. Solid state capacitors, digital PWM, vDroop controls, support for "extreme" cooling throughout the BIOS. Yep, it's got all the toys.   Here's a few shots of the BIOS in action during our overclocking efforts.


Temperature and Voltage Monitoring


Clock Controls


Voltage Controls


Memory Timings

Do all these bits actually help deliver higher and more stable overclocks? Our answer would be yes, although don't expect this board to perform miracles. It can't break the laws of physics or suddenly make your processor quality better, although the board does tend to allow you to plow through many of the typical hurdles on lower-end motherboards. Most Intel X58 motherboards which we've used here in the labs tend to tap out at about 185 MHz+ base clocks, whereas the EVGA X58 Classified board was able to push up to 200 MHz+ and retain stability. At its peak, we were able to push our system up to 212 MHz base clock using pretty standard air cooling methods and a little voltage upping, which we feel is quite impressive.


Peak 210 MHz Base Clock


Peak 4.1 GHz Overclock

In our testing of the EVGA X58 Classified, we were able to push our little 2.66 GHz Intel Core i7 920 processor up to 4.1 GHz, which is the highest overclock we've been able to obtain from this particular chip. We're certainly just scratching the surface of what this board is capable of as well. With liquid cooling and LN2 cooling, we're going to see some amazing things from this board. EVGA also recently announced a liquid cooled version of this motherboard for those who want to cool the X58/ICH10R/NF200 chips with their existing water cooling setups. This board, dubbed the X58 SLI Classified Hydro Copper, is $120 more than the already pricey X58 classified, retailing for $569. Ouch but again, if you've got to have it, you've got to have it.

As you might expect, throwing all these components on board does indeed push up the power consumption levels of this motherboard. Here are the numbers we saw with our testbed configurations of a Core i7 920 processor, 3 GB of DDR3-1600 memory, and an NVIDIA GeForce GTS 260 graphics card.



Yep, drains more power as expected. There you go. On to performance numbers!

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Testbed and Synthetics
Test System Details
Specifications and Revisions

  • EVGA X58 3X SLI Classified Motherboard, Intel X58 Chipset
  • EVGA X58 3X SLI Motherboard, Intel X58 Chipset
  • Asus P6T Motherboard, Intel X58 Chipset

  • Intel Core i7 920 Processor (2.66 GHz Quad-Core)
  • 3 GB Kingston DDR3-1600 Memory (3 x 1 GB, CAS 8-8-8-18)
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTS 260 896 MB DDR3
  • Western Digital VelociRaptor 150 GB SATA-II/300 Hard Drive
  • Plextor PX-755SA DVD+/-RW Drive
  • Corsair HX620W 620W Power Supply
  • Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate Edition (64-bit, SP2)

Synthetic CPU and Memory Benchmarks
SiSoft Sandra XII and Cinebench R10




At stock speeds, the X58 Classified will perform virtually identically to other X58 platform boards on the market. Interestingly, EVGA is somewhat conservative with their clock timings, as our board had the tendency to run about 10 MHz slower in overall clock speed compared to our other X58 boards, which affects its benchmarks slightly.

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3DMark and PCMark
Synthetic Benchmarks
Futuremark 3DMark Vantage and PCMark Vantage



Spot on -- application performance and gaming performance are both excellent, as one would expect from a Core i7/X58 based system configuration.

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Crysis and Half Life 2
Crysis Demo
Integrated CPU Benchmark, Average Of Five Runs


Half Life 2 : Episode Two
Custom Designed CPU Intensive Benchmark


Gaming performance is solid through and through. The X58 SLI Classified can make for the basis of an excellent game rig. We're certainly curious of how the NF200 affects 3-way SLI performance compared to a non-NF200 equipped platform, although we didn't have the necessary hardware on-hand to test this at the time of publication. The numbers we've seen elsewhere have shown little performance difference.

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HD Tune
HDTune Pro Storage Benchmark
Version 3.0 (x32)



The ICH10R delivers solid SATA storage performance, so no worries here.  As you can see, variability between designs with the X58 chipset platform, are well within this test's margin of error.

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Conclusion

The EVGA X58 3X SLI Classified is one hell of a motherboard. It is the most refined, most feature packed, and most overclockable X58 motherboard we've seen to date.  Frankly, it will be a tall order for a better X58 motherboard to be released in the lifespan of the chipset. It is clean, quiet, and gets the job done.

Of course, with the massive amount of on-board features and connectivity, the price tag goes through the roof. EVGA recently dropped the price on this motherboard from a sky-high $450 to a slightly lower sky-high $425, which is still a huge chunk of change to pay for a motherboard. This puts the X58 Classified roughly on par with the Asus P6T7-WS Supercomputer, which is more or less the only motherboard which can compete in terms of feature-set. While there is no doubt that the X58 Classified is a great motherboard, $400+ is an extremely difficult price tag to swallow. For the vast majority of users, an X58 motherboard in the $250 range will provide similar performance and will have the features most users need.


All that and the kitchen sink...

The X58 Classified motherboard will appeal to extreme overclockers, who want the crème de le crème X58 platform which will give them the least amount of overclocking limitations. This board will certainly give these users what they demand. It will also appeal to those who want massively powerful triple SLI graphics card configurations without any PCI Express bandwidth limitations getting in the way. Finally, it will again appeal to that small group of users who want absolutely everything. The configuration of this board allows for Tri-SLI graphics, along with a dedicated PCI Express x1 audio board, an extra X16 slot (X8 connected), up to 9x internal SATA-II drives and up to 24 GB of memory - which is an awful lot of potential power that can be loaded up on any motherboard solution.

Outside of the price tag, we honestly have nothing but good things to say about the board. Its target of being a fully feature-packed, highly overclockable board for enthusiasts rings true in every regard. They don't claim the board is for the budget or mainstream markets.  EVGA is pretty straight forward about this being a high-end board. It's pricey, without a doubt, but if you want everything that the Intel X58 platform has to offer, the EVGA X58 3X SLI Classified will deliver it and then some.

  • Meticulously Clean Board Design
  • Effective Passive (Quiet) Cooling
  • Extremely Overclockable
  • Quad PCI Express x16 2.0 Slots
  • Pricey at $400+
  • May Not Fit In Smaller ATX Cases
  • Increased Power Consumption
  • Did we mention that it's pricey?



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