Intel Core i7 Processors: Nehalem and X58 Have Arrived
Core i7 Motherboards
For the purposes of this article, we got our hands on a number of X58 Express-based motherboards. We've got a trio of them pictured below, and we'll be showing you a couple more in a video spotlight that will accompany this article.
First up, we have the Intel "Smackover" DX58SO. This will be Intel's premiere desktop motherboard for Core i7 processors. It features 4 DIMM slots, a 6-phase power array, and obviously an LGA1366 socket. The expansion slots on the board consist of dual PCI Express x16 PEG slots, dual PCI Express x1 slots, a single PCI slot, and a notched PCI Express x4 slot that features a retention clip to accommodate a standard graphics card. As of this time, the DX58SO supports ATI's CrossFire multi-GPU technology, but it does not support SLI.
All of the DX58SO's major components (IOH, SB, VRM) are adorned with aluminum heatsinks, and all of the board's expansion headers and connectors are clearly labeled and situated around the edges of the PCB. The I/O backplane houses two eSATA ports, eight USB 2.0 ports, a single Firewire port, a LAN jack, and analog and digital audio outputs. No legacy connectors are to be found here.
Next up we have the elaborate Gigabyte GA-EX58 Extreme. Of the three motherboards featured here, this one has the most outrageous cooling apparatus, which includes an optional bolt-on, slot mounted array of heat-pipes and heatsink fins and an integrated water-block. The GA-EX58 Extreme is a member of Gigabyte's new Ultra Durable 3 family of products, and as such it supports the company's Dynamic Energy Saver (DES) technology and sports all solid capacitors. The board's slot configuration consists of three PCI Express x16 PEG slots, a single x1, a notched x4 slot, and dual PCI slots. We should note, the GA-EX58 Extreme supports both CrossFireX and SLI.
There are eight internal SATA ports, six DIMM slots, a POST code error reporter, a 12-phase power array, and integrated power and clear-CMOS switches on the board. As you can see, everything is color coded and clearly labeled as well, and overall the layout is good. The I/O backplane is loaded up with PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports, coax and optical audio outputs, a Firewire port, clear-CMOS switch, eight USB 2.0 ports, dual LAN jacks, and six other analog audio outputs/inputs. The BIOS on this board is also very feature-rich and should please even the most hardcore tweakers out there.
Finally, we present to you the ASUS P6T Deluxe. Like the Gigabyte board, the P6T features an elaborate cooling apparatus, but without provisions for water-cooling. We don't think this is an issue, however, as the X58 chipset generates relatively little heat due to the fact that Intel brought the memory controller onto the Core i7 CPU itself minimizing complexity of the NB. The P6T Deluxe features 6 DIMM slots, integrated power and reset switches, 16-phase power, six SATA ports, dual SAS ports, and all of its headers and various connectors are clearly labeled and mounted around the edges of the PCB.
The ASUS P6T Deluxe features three PCI Express x16 PEG slots, dual PCI slots, and a single PCI Express x1 slot. While the board does support SLI and CrossFire, the slots are positioned in such a way that 3-Way SLI is not possible. The P6T Deluxe's I/O backplane is home to a combo keyboard / mouse PS2 port, coax and optical audio outputs, a Firewire port, an eSATA port, eight USB 2.0 ports, dual LAN jacks, and six other analog audio outputs/inputs. The P6T also features a very complete and tweaker friendly BIOS, but perhaps most interesting to overclockers is the included "OC Palm" device. ASUS' OC Palm looks like the Vista slide-show compatible Screen Duo bundled with the company's Vista Edition motherboards last year. While it may look like the Screen Duo, the OC Palm is quite different. With the OC Palm device, user's can alter voltages, multipliers, and the QPI base clock from within Windows, to overclock on the fly.