Intel X58 Motherboard Roundup - What does $300 Get You?by Gary Key on December 5, 2008 3:00 PM EST
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All of our motherboards performed admirably today, some better than others, but in the end any motherboard sporting an X58 will perform the same when it comes to standard performance attributes. Which board is better really comes down to your needs, budget, and for some, product brand loyalty. We are willing to recommend any of our boards at this point in time.
The BIOS releases we utilized are stable now, offer excellent performance, and have addressed the majority of our usability problems. That said, each manufacturer still has tuning work left to accomplish for improved memory and overclocking performance. We might even see some minor improvements in power consumption shortly although our numbers reflect an almost best case scenario right now.
We still have several boards to review, ranging from the $220 MSI Platinum up to the $400 Foxconn Bloodrage with several in-between. Our next review will focus on the "lower" end X58 boards from Intel, Gigabyte, Biostar, and MSI. Our final review will feature the upper end boards from ASUS, Gigabyte, DFI, and Foxconn. In between, we will provide a comprehensive OC guide along with a detailed look at memory performance with several DDR3 tri-channel kits from Corsair, OCZ, Patriot, GSkill, Kingston, Crucial, and Mushkin. Look for these in the coming weeks after we return from our final IGP roundup.
So, let's just dive straight into our board recap. Additional details about each motherboard can be located in the features section.
We are proud to present the ASUS P6T-Deluxe with our Gold Editors Award. We highly recommend this board for beginners and advanced users alike. The Deluxe is not perfect, no board is, but it was by far the easiest board to use on a daily basis. Regardless of whether we wanted to setup a stable 24/7 folding machine or push the board to its limits trying to reach a new overclock record in the labs, it was a simple process to do either. We especially liked the ASUS BIOS as it is very informative, lists out the min/max and standard settings for the major BIOS options, and makes it possible for new users to quickly get the most out of the board. Yet, it still retains enough options to satisfy most tweakers and always recovered from settings that made us look for the clear CMOS button on the other boards.
When it comes to performance, the word balanced was the first thought in our minds. The P6T Deluxe offers the best video performance of the boards we tested while providing class leading performance in the majority of our application benchmarks. The board also features an array of options including Serial Attached SCSI controller support, SLI and CrossFire, very good on-board audio capabilities, eSATA and Firewire, and enough USB ports to make one forget about needing a hub. Based on the layout, this is the board we would recommend for 2x SLI or CrossFire users, plus you get the bonus of class leading video performance.
We are excited to present our Silver Editors award to Gigabyte for the GA-EX58-UD5. What else can we say, this board is a tweaker's delight and has tremendous performance potential. Based on the progress that Gigabyte has made with the latest F4K BIOS, we feel like this board could ultimately offer the best overclocking experience in the mid-range X58 market. The performance of this board was consistently near the top and ultimately offered the best overall memory performance. While performance is important, ultimately a board needs to offer the right feature set, stability, support, and pricing in a very competitive market.
The GA-EX58-UD5 offers all of this and more to potential X58 buyers. The UD5 offers an abundance of SATA ports, flexible layout, an excellent cooling solution, very good HD audio featuring Dolby Digital Live encoding, and an extensive accessory package along with excellent documentation.
We almost placed this board ahead of the ASUS P6T-Deluxe. There were just a few items that we felt like Gigabyte could improve upon to reach the next level. We wish Gigabyte could match the usability and informational features of the ASUS BIOS, the x16 slots are spaced too close to each other for our liking when using a 2x CrossFire or SLI setup since heat generation could be a problem in cases without proper ventilation, and losing the first DIMM slot when utilizing large CPU heatsink/fan designs means 12GB users are out in the cold. Regardless, the GA-EX58-UD5 is still an excellent board and one we highly recommend.
The MSI Eclipse X58 is the most expensive board in the roundup at $322 with rebate and offers an extensive set of features and accessories. We loved the layout, color scheme, and overall quality of the board. We like to think of the MSI Eclipse as a Grand Touring Coupe in the automotive world, it offers an excellent blend of features and performance. The board performed equally to the other offerings with a 3GB or 6GB memory load but buckled underneath the pressure when overclocking with 12GB. Based on the progress MSI has made in the past couple of weeks, we expect this problem to be solved shortly.
We are not crazy about the BIOS layout as several of the voltage settings in the BIOS are rather cryptic since MSI utilizes a +/- setting for changes. The base voltage information is not always listed so the user has to have prior knowledge of base settings before making an informed decision when overclocking. MSI tries to make up for this with auto settings that almost allow the user to overclock exclusively by just setting the Bclk rate and letting the board do the rest. However, while this system worked well, it sometimes drove voltages past the rate we could effectively utilize with air cooling.
In the end, we still recommend the MSI Eclipse X58 for users who want a feature rich, stable, and well supported platform but do not plan on tweaking or heavily overclocking the system. This could all change with another BIOS update and we will be the first to let you know if it does.
The EVGA X58 SLI is an excellent motherboard and one that we have throughly enjoyed working with the past few weeks. EVGA's support has been phenomenal and we expect that to continue to end users. This board has award worthy status written all over it, just one snag, memory multipliers. Unlike the other boards in our roundup and in the labs, the EVGA board tops out at a 10x memory multiplier (DDR3-1333) for the i965. Even though 10x is available, the i920/i940 are regulated to the 6x (800) or 8x (1066) multipliers. While we can live with these multipliers when raising Bclk to the 200+ level, we just find it a hindrance that the other multipliers are not available in a board designed for the more extreme users.
Otherwise, the quality of components, layout, and BIOS design are very good. Performance is also very good and in off-line testing it comes extremely close to the Gigabyte board up high. We have seen continual performance improvements and expect this board to do very well in the overclocking market once the memory multiplier problem is solved. If overclocking is not of primary importance, for a lot of us it is not, then the ease of use, stability, support, and features of this board make it a highly desirable product in the $300 range. At the end of the day, this board simply performs well and never makes a fuss about doing it.