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Gigabyte's GA-X38-DQ6
Surprisingly sedate

Manufacturer Gigabyte
Model GA-X38-DQ6
Price (MSRP) $250-300
Availability Now
While Asus' P5E3 Deluxe WiFi-AP @n rides the bleeding edge with DDR3 memory and extras galore, Gigabyte's GA-X38-DQ6 is decidedly more sedate. The company has elected to target DDR2 memory with its first X38 board—a smart move considering the huge price premium that still exists for DDR3 modules. We expect to see a version of the DQ6 equipped to handle DDR3 memory soon, though.

Since the DQ6 favors less expensive memory, it's only fitting that the board is cheaper than the P5E3. Gigabyte has set an MSRP for the board between $250 and $300, and although it's still scarce online, initial offerings appear to be at the high end of that range. As one might expect, this lower price tag means you don't get as many extras as with the Asus board. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though. Plenty of folks don't need or want to pay for onboard Wi-Fi and embedded Linux distros.

Most do appreciate a good layout, and the DQ6 delivers that in spades. I can't think of a single major layout issue that afflicts this board, save for the fact that it's a little difficult to remove memory modules when longer graphics cards are installed. But then that's an issue that pops up with just about every motherboard that has more than five or so expansion slots, so it's easy to forgive.

Of course, the DQ6 has heatpipes and passive heatsinks cooling its chipset and voltage regulation circuitry. This mass of copper pipes and fins is quite a bit more restrained than on the P5E3, and it only rings the CPU socket on two sides. That leaves plenty of room to poke around when installing larger heatsinks, although unlike Asus, Gigabyte doesn't provide auxiliary cooling fans for use in water- or passively-cooled systems with little ambient airflow.

Flipping the DQ6 reveals additional heatsinks below the board's CPU socket and its north and south bridge chips. These heatsinks should help to radiate heat from the back of the board, but at least around the CPU socket, they can also make cooler installation a bit tricky. New processor coolers, particularly those bundled with Intel's retail CPUs, tend to fit a little tightly, warping the motherboard slightly. Motherboards are flexible, so a little flexing isn't usually a problem. With a stiff metal heatsink strapped to the back of the socket, though, the DQ6 has a lot less give.

Topside, the DQ6's storage ports are clustered in the bottom right-hand corner of the board. The ports are arranged so that longer graphics cards with wide coolers shouldn't rob you of SATA connectivity. Color coding differentiates from SATA ports connected to the ICH9R south bridge (orange) and the board's auxiliary SATA chip (purple). It would be more helpful if Gigabyte actually referred to this color coding in the manual, though.

Around the slot stack, the DQ6 provides a couple of second-gen PCIe x16 slots alongside a trio of old-school PCIe x1s and a couple of PCI slots. Installing a double-width graphics card will only cost you a PCIe x1 slot, and double-width CrossFire configs only cannibalize one more PCI slot on top of that, giving this board a good balance of PCI and PCIe expansion options.

Plenty of connectivity lurks in the DQ6's port cluster, including a whopping eight USB ports and two flavors of Firewire. You also get a full assortment of analog audio ports, in addition to coaxial and TOS-Link S/PDIF outputs. eSATA ports are curiously absent, but Gigabyte has an ace up its sleeve to handle external Serial ATA devices.

Rather than arbitrarily binding eSATA ports to onboard storage controllers, Gigabyte provides users with a pair of PCI back plates (only one is pictured) that can transform up to four internal SATA ports into external ones. Users can select whether they want eSATA connectivity hanging off the board's auxiliary storage controller, off the chipset's ICH9R south bridge, or both. If there's no need for eSATA, all the board's storage controllers can be dedicated to internal drives.