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Gigabyte X48-DQ6 Motherboard
It isn't based on Intel's latest, but if you're looking to grab an "older" X48 but still don't want to part with your DDRs, this board from Gigabyte may be for you.
|Intel's X48 chipset is gaining some steam since its release not long ago. It really isn't a huge leap technology wise over the X38, but added items such as 1600MHz FSB support and keeping full compatibility with all current model Intel CPUs. This is Intel's premium chipset and the added cost of DDR3, which the X48 supports, doesn't make things any cheaper.
The Gigabyte X48-DQ6 Motherboard is interesting not because it's a X48 board, but because it's a X48 with DDR2 support. The Gigabyte X48 board itself isn't that cheap, but the cost of the platform should be less than other X48 motherboards since DDR2 is still al ittle cheaper than DDR3. That, or if you got a stock pile of DDR2, you don't need to throw it out. From an engineering standpoint, this was also a no brainer since the X48-DQ6 design mirrors their own X38 board so a simple chipset swap was all they needed to do at a fab level.
The Gigabyte X48-DQ6 Motherboard is packed in a large box, multi-tiered with smaller compartments to hold all the board accessories. I was pretty impressed with the manual and quick start guide as it does a good job explaining the steps needed to put the system together. I wouldn't say it's beginner friendly, as some experience helps, but everything is clearly outlined and coded. The driver CD contains all the drivers needed and offers a one step install of key board drivers to make installation easy. Some software, such as Kaspersky 6 is included, though the Kaspersky license they provide is only good for 3 months.
There is a custom rear IO shield and a small bag containing some mounting screws for the North Bridge which we will explain later. There are data cables as well as an eSATA bracket which will allow you to hook up a SATA harddrive, without needing a special enclosure. All the SATA cables feature a metal clip which serves to secure the cable to the motherboard and/or the harddrive.
You'll need a full sized ATX case in order to fit the Gigabyte X48-DQ6 into your system. I was a little irritated they put stickers over some parts of the board. I didn't detect any "gum" when I peeled them off, but you never know. I went over these areas with an eraser for good measure to be sure. At first glance, I didn't detect any problem areas with the layout. We'll address each section as we move through the review.
The X48, and hence the Gigabyte X48-DQ6 supports up to 8GB of memory. Where Gigabyte differs from Intel's reference is the X48-DQ6 supports 1.8V DDR2 at 1200, 1066, 800 and 667 speeds.
A detailed list can be found at their website. The slots are colour coded for dual channel. The slots are a bit close to the PCI Express graphics #1 slot, but not as tight as I've seen with other boards. There is enough room to swap out memory without having to remove the video card.
Just below the memory slots is the 24-pin ATX1 power connection. Some more low profile capacitors line around this area, but these should not interfere with installation of any other parts. There is one system fan header in this area above the floppy connection.
As with many enthusiast boards these days, Gigabyte uses copper heatpipes to take care of cooling some of the areas around the board, specifically the North and South bridges. System temperatures remained pretty steady during testing, and we did not find the passive cooling got terribly hot. We do suggest making sure you do have some active cooling, such as a case fan or CPU fan in order to keep air moving around. If you use water cooling, placing a fan in the area would be my suggestion to insure stability and longevity of the board.
The low-profile capacitors and MOSFETS line the surrounding area, but should be a non-factor for heatsink installs. As with their 8800 GT we reviewed earlier in the week, Gigabyte's Ultra Durable2 is present here. Ultra Durable2 is a fab process they use to increase the durability and longevity of their products. Ultra Durable2 is featured on both their graphics hardware as well as their motherboards. Lower RDS (on) MOSFET Design, Ferrite core chokes, and Lower ESR Solid Capacitors are the three main components of their design. These components will create less wasted energy, lower power consumption and last longer.
Speaking about the "top" of the motherboard, heatsink installs appear to be a simple matter at first glance, but it's the underside that will initially cause some problems if you require a cooler that does not use Intel's retention system.
Gigabyte has a feature called "CrazyCool" where they place a couple heatsinks strategically under the motherboard. The idea of course is to wick away heat from the CPU, North and South bridge areas. I'm not a thermal engineer, but I aways thought it was puzzling to remove heat by passing it through the PCB. In the second picture, you'll see an example where you cannot install an aftermarket heatsink that requires a custom plate with the CrazyCool in place.
Fortunently, Gigabyte does allow the user to simply unscrew the CrazyCool and remove it. By doing so, you unscrew the North bridge cooler and the CrazyCool pops off. The bagged screws we mentioned earlier is then used to secure the North bridge back in place. Does the CrazyCool really work? Maybe the test CPU we used isn't hot enough, but we were unable to see much of a difference using an Asetek Vapochill Micro. However, we were able to install the much more efficient ASUS Silent Square with the CrazyCool removed and it performed 3C better than the Asetek.
The Gigabyte X48-DQ6 uses the Intel ICH9R South Bridge which handles most of the storage and connectivity needs. Six SATA II connections are grouped together near the edge of the motherboard. The chip supports up to 6 SATA 3Gb/s devices as well as SATA RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, and RAID 10. The GIGABYTE SATA2 chip takes care of the lone IDE connection, supporting ATA-133/100/66/33 and up to 2 IDE devices. The two SATA connections you see above supports 3Gb/s and SATA RAID 0, RAID 1, and JBOD.
Moving on to the peripheral slots, there are two PCI Express graphics x16 which supports PCI Express 2.0. The PCIE_16_1 slot supports x16 and the PCIE_16_2 supports x4. While there are not a large amount of supported devices, there are three PCI Express x1 slots present on the board. There are two traditional PCI slots as well.
Near the edge of the motherboard is the Realtek ALC889A audio chip. The chip is High Definition Audio compliant and is a flexible 8-channel audio solution that is also jack sensing. This the board can detect which jack you plug a speaker or headphone into provided you install all the required sound software. It also supports DTS.
Rounding things out are the external inputs and outputs. From left to right we have; two PS/2 ports, coaxial and digital S/PDIF, 8 USB 2.0/1.1 ports, two IEEE 1394a ports, two LAN and six audio connections.
The Gigabyte X48-DQ6 uses the familiar AMI BIOS. There was a time I wasn't wild about it but over time it has grown on me. Since we're familiar with it, for the most part, the BIOS is similar to many other boards we've worked with, even when they are from different manufacturers. The menu is very intuitive, with each option opening a new page with further options for modification. Most of the items are straight forward, but there are a few areas of note. The Advanced BIOS features page is the first place you would go to to configure the boot order and some of the basic chipset features. You can enable or disable the boot logo as well as choosing a quick boot or something more verbose.
The Advanced BIOS Features allows the user to make basic configuration changes with storage and some CPU functions. Despite the advanced name in the title, I never felt this was a page to get really excited about.
Under Integrated Peripherals, all of your adjustments to the onboard items can be made here. By adjustments, I mean you're limited to turning things on and off, but this page is important as you do not need to enable features you will never use. Given the power of today's computers, this page won't make a huge impact on system performance, but any little tweak is great.