After a very successful DFI P35 T2R motherboard launch, DFI endeavored to apply the same level of engineering expertise to Intel's X38/X48 chipsets. We did not review the DFI X38 motherboard, but instead decided to look at the X48-based motherboard from DFI in DDR2 form. Finally, after a slew of delays, Intel's X48 chipset is available in large enough quantities to manufacturers to allow full retail rollout. Intel delivered the initial batches of X48 chipsets to preferred launch partners such as ASUS and Gigabyte who were first to market, but now we are seeing this chipset in boards from other suppliers.

Expectations placed on the LANParty series from DFI are always high, but it has become more difficult for companies like DFI to stay ahead of the pack as boards from ASUS's ROG line have also begun to employ many of the additional BIOS functions that provided DFI with elite status among overclocking circles in the past. Although some of the competitors are now within a whisker of DFI's approach to BIOS options, a slight gap still remains in ultra fine voltage and memory clock skew control ranges; these allow users to dial in the last few MHz of stability while using lower levels of memory and chipset voltages (with some perseverance).

While this level of control to return ratio may not interest most users, DFI still enjoys a loyal following of people who regard tuning a DFI BIOS as a hobby and notable pastime. This does not mean that DFI's current boards only favor users who have vast levels of BIOS tuning experience or masses of time. In fact, DFI has improved the auto default settings of their boards considerably over the past year. So much so, that it is now no longer necessary to hold a masters degree in BIOS manipulation just to get the boards to boot and work in a stable manner. Online communities serve to provide additional information for those who are just starting out and want to learn more about the finer tweaking options that DFI provides.

In spite of DFI making these stock setting 'ease of use' advancements, we still have to concede that users of a 'tweaking' oriented mindset will lean towards this kind of motherboard. If instead you subscribe to the belief that all boards are the same, or if fine tweaking options do nothing to float your boat, there's a whole host of sub-$200 motherboards based on Intel's P35 chipset that fill the role of a good overclocking board perfectly. Boards priced above $200 must fight fiercely not only to provide masses of BIOS options and functionality, but also justification for their price tag against a competitively priced product. Ultimately, the boards are often so closely matched that winners emerge based upon the ease at which a user can attain high FSB speeds that can be run in a stable manner. The question is: can DFI topple ASUS's X38/X48 DDR2-based boards such as the Maximus Formula and superlative Rampage Formula?


Interested to learn as much as we could about this X48-based offering, we spoke with DFI recently about their latest foray with Intel's chipsets. We were surprised to learn that Intel did not provide much support to DFI when it came to revealing the nature and use of performance related chipset registers that are available for manipulation via BIOS coding. So here, we have Intel claiming to be overclocking friendly on one hand and yet failing to provide full support to a key enthusiast manufacturer on the other. We are told this situation is set to improve - and rightly so. With rapid changes in processor architecture, B-tier manufacturers need all the support they can get to reduce development time and cut research costs in order to provide a competitive product in the market.

With release of Intel's P45 looming, DDR2-based X48 boards have their work cut out, especially if the P45 improves in areas such as low voltage requirements, reduced thermals, and tRD performance along with FSB overclocking headroom. If these conditions are met, a trump card of dual 16x PCIE slots on the X38/X48 chipsets may not hold enough allure to prevent users from looking at the P45, which can be simply teamed with any single slot dual-GPU solution to provide similar performance.

Reader feedback regarding our extensive BIOS guide on the DFI P35 UT T2R was very positive and we are back with a similar level of information today. Luckily, for us, the BIOS on the X48 board we are reviewing today bears many functional and naming similarities to the DFI P35 board - only the ranges really need changing, together with some additional work on the VTT/GTL reference voltage tables to get the most from it.

In keeping with our quest for continual improvement, we will present our first video BIOS setup guide that can be viewed easily if your computer has the latest version of Adobe's Flash Player loaded. We really feel that this will help users who have never used a DFI BIOS to obtain a reference point for setup when overclocking the latest dual-core CPUs from Intel. We will provide quad-core results shortly and look forward to your comments and suggestions with the new format. In the meantime, let's look at the DFI X48 LT T2R and see what this board offers for the enthusiast.

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  • Ephebus - Tuesday, April 29, 2008 - link

    I remember a time when I was considering the purchase of a midrange ASUS motherboard with a reasonable set of overclocking options in the BIOS but no PCI-E clock setting, and there was no information on the specifications page or the manual as to how that setting would behave when overclocking. I then wrote to ASUS asking if the PCI-E clock was always locked by the board at 100 or if it would vary according to the CPU clock setting, and was actually told by an ASUS support "technician" to "go read a book on overclocking". I managed to get the info later on a forum from a person who owned the board and was kind enough to check it out for me. And that is, when ASUS support doesn't simply delete your support inquiry.

    With DFI I've managed to actually have short conversations with the technical support staff in the past, was able to report minor BIOS bugs and see them fixed on the next release, etc., so at least for me it's not just a question of whether a DFI motherboard can reach a few MHz more than an ASUS competitor or not on this or that benchmark, it's also all about the feeling of satisfaction from owning a product made by a company that has this kind of attitude towards users, and that always does their best to meet the needs and wishes of enhusiasts. I'll gladly pay more for a DFI product anytime.
    Reply
  • Intelman07 - Monday, April 28, 2008 - link

    Is there a reason Anandtech reconmends ~400FSB for quad core, does a lower multiplier and a higher FSB increase performance more in a quad core chip? Reply
  • Rajinder Gill - Monday, April 28, 2008 - link

    Hi Intelman07,

    This applies in relation to the FSB limits of the quad cores only ON THIS board; 400 FSB at a trd running near 5-6 will give you a read delay time of around 13ns. Anything over 420 FSB needs a hike in trd while 440+ you need to be looking twoards a trd of 8 which is a delay of 17ns. The drop in write/copy speed bandwidth by reverting to 400FSB is only 500mbs while reads gain 500mbs running the lower tRD (swings and roundabouts). Now factor the VTT and VMCH requiremnts of the higher FSB and it becomes to click.

    For more insight into this, 2 of our articles here will explain the fundammnetals and reasoning a little better.

    http://www.anandtech.com/mb/showdoc.aspx?i=3208&am...">http://www.anandtech.com/mb/showdoc.aspx?i=3208&am...

    and also logical approach to system tuning using Kris' excellent groundwork.

    http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?...">http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?...

    Other boards which vcan hit higher FSB's and low tRDs change these rules a little. But for the most part, the truth is that FSB overcloking on the quads and Joe Public - 400FSB really is realistic and attainable with real stability - and this is important to a majority of our readers. Of course, we still use our cascades from time to time and hammer the boards real hard without any of the logic written here applied.


    The interetsing part comes as no surprise - yup - this all favors unlocked multiplier processors aka QX9650 and 9770 class, just up the FSB - keep the tRD low and hey presto!

    The beauty of this board is that it gets close to that tRD 12.5ns latency time at 400FSB at 1.25VMCH and 8GB of memory with no need for GTL tuning- easy as pie- with performance that you can't swing anywhere else using a 12mb cache quad on this board.

    Hope that clears it up a little..

    regards
    Raja
    Reply
  • Bozo Galora - Monday, April 28, 2008 - link

    Another great article by AT's best reviewer.

    I have read somewhere DFI's top X48 board gonna have ICH10R and cost ~$400??
    Reply
  • Slash3 - Monday, April 28, 2008 - link

    Page 2 states "The expansion slot layout is comprised of three PCI Express x16 slots (two x16 and one x4 slot), and three PCI slots."

    The board itself has 3 physical PCI-E 16x slots and 1 PCI-E 4x slot though, so the sentence is kind of ambiguous.
    Reply
  • takumsawsherman - Monday, April 28, 2008 - link

    It's the wicked fast 400Mbps version, rather than 800Mbps. Wouldn't want to advance the field. Nope, let's use the 10 year old ancient variety, rather than the 5 year old less ancient variety.

    I've got an even better idea... Why not throw in some USB 1.1 ports.
    Reply
  • Rob94hawk - Monday, April 28, 2008 - link

    I got all excited and then I saw DDR2....

    Might as well just replace PCIE with AGP while their at it.
    Reply
  • Rajinder Gill - Monday, April 28, 2008 - link

    Just contacted DFI, they are aiming at retail launch of the DDR3 version on the 20th May..

    Review sample boards should ship within the next week..

    regards
    Raja
    Reply
  • Rajinder Gill - Monday, April 28, 2008 - link

    EDIT: Make that early June for full retail (allowing for shipping time etc)..

    regards
    Raja
    Reply
  • Rob94hawk - Wednesday, April 30, 2008 - link

    Will be looking forward to it. Thank you. Reply

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