A trio of affordable Core i7 motherboards

When Intel launched the Core i7 back in November of last year, it was a decidedly exotic high-end platform. Sure, you could get a Core i7-920 for around $280, but it required a motherboard with Intel’s new X58 Express chipset. At the time, those were running $300 and up. What’s more, the Core i7 only works with DDR3 memory and is at its best with a triple-channel configuration, which was another expensive proposition just a few months ago.

Apart from eager early adopters, I suspect few PC enthusiasts were enticed into taking the Core i7 plunge at the beginning—most of us are far too frugal. We also know how quickly prices can drop. And so they have. The free-falling memory market has dragged triple-channel 6GB DDR3 memory kits from reputable manufacturers down to less than $90 online. A new wave of X58-based motherboards has arrived, as well, and this latest collection comes with price tags approaching $200.

In just a few short months, the Core i7’s once-tenuous value proposition has blossomed into something entirely more compelling. Indeed, the platform has become so attractive that it’s migrated down to the ~$1300 Sweeter Spot build in our latest system guide—not bad for a brand-new microarchitecture and the undisputed clock-for-clock performance leader.

The introduction of cheaper X58 boards deserves much of the credit for the Core i7’s newfound affordability. As one might expect, the first batch of LGA1366 mobos were pimped-out flagships brimming with excess. This latest bunch trims extraneous peripherals and unnecessary frills, reducing prices accordingly. Naturally, we had to find out how these cheaper Core i7 boards stack up, so we’ve gathered the Asus P6T, Gigabyte EX58-UD3R, and MSI X58 Platinum and fed them to the wolves.

Lining up the competition

If you’re unfamiliar with the X58 Express, I suggest reading our comprehensive review of the chipset. We’ll be focusing on motherboards today, and while the X58 is essential to Core i7 compatibility and thus the most important part of these motherboards, it’s also the one thing they all have in common, which makes it much less interesting from a comparative standpoint.

The X58 Express is currently the only core logic chipset compatible with the Core i7’s new QuickPath Interconnect. That QPI link is housed in the north bridge chip, and thanks to the Core i7’s integrated memory controller, this chip is largely a PCI Express hub. The chip bristles with 36 lanes of second-generation PCI Express connectivity, which is more than enough for a couple of full-bandwidth PCIe x16 slots. CrossFire is supported, of course, but the SLI situation is a little sticky. Rather than granting the X58 chipset official support for multi-GeForce configurations, Nvidia insists on certifying motherboards on a model-by-model basis.

Most of the first set of uber-expensive X58 boards were SLI-certified. However, support isn’t universal in this latest crop; only Asus’ P6T will let you team up a couple of GeForce cards. Interestingly, Gigabyte and MSI do offer SLI versions of the EX58-UD3R and X58 Platinum. Both are available at Newegg, and they don’t seem to carry a price premium over their SLI-less twins.


Asus P6T

Gigabyte EX58-UD3R

MSI X58 Platinum

Chipset
Intel X58 Express Intel X58 Express Intel X58 Express

DIMM slots
6 240-pin DDR3 4 240-pin DDR3 6 240-pin DDR3

Expansion slots
3 PCI Express x16

1 PCI Express x1
2 32-bit/33MHz PCI

2 PCI Express x16
1 PCI Express x4

2 PCI Express x1
2 32-bit/33MHz PCI

2 PCI Express x16

3 PCI Express x1
2 32-bit/33MHz PCI


Multi-GPU support
CrossFire, SLI CrossFire CrossFire

Auxiliary storage
JMicron JMB363
JMicron JMB322
iTE IT8720
Gigabyte
GSATA2
JMicron JMB363
JMicron JMB322

Networking
Realtek RTL8111C Realtek RTL8111D 2 x Realtek RTL8111C
Audio Realtek ALC1200 Realtek ALC888 Realtek ALC888
Firewire VIA VT6315N T.I.
TSB43AB23
JMicron JMB381
Price


On these boards, the X58 teams up with Intel’s ICH10R south bridge. This chip is little more than a die shrink of the ICH9R, which in turn differed little from the ICH8R and the ICH7R. Welcome to Intel’s tick-tock-tock-tock approach to I/O chip development.

With six Serial ATA RAID ports, a dozen USB ports, an HD audio interface, and even a seldom-used Gigabit Ethernet controller, the ICH10R has just about everything a high-end motherboard needs. However, it doesn’t offer Firewire, forcing mobo makers to seek out auxiliary peripheral chips to provide a little 1394 love. Asus settles on a Firewire chip from VIA, while Gigabyte employs one from Texas Instruments and MSI one from JMicron.

The ICH10R’s HD audio interface requires an accompanying codec, and on this front, we have some agreement between Asus, Gigabyte, and MSI. Fear the crab, baby. But don’t pay too much attention to the model numbers. The P6T’s ALC1200 may sound fancier than the ALC888, but in reality, the capabilities of the two chips are almost identical. Both are eight-channel HD audio codecs, and neither is capable of encoding DTS or Dolby Digital Live bitstreams on the fly like Realtek’s ALC889A. So why does the ALC1200 have a higher model number than even the superior ALC889A? Probably because, if you’re the world’s biggest potential customer for Realtek chips, you can have whatever model number you’d like.

Realtek’s domination continues on the networking front, where each board taps at least one of the company’s Gigabit Ethernet controllers. The X58 Platinum is the only one to offer dual GigE ports, although it does so with older RTL8111C chips. Only Gigabyte’s EX58-UD3R features the newer RTL8111D. Naturally, we’ve tested the peripheral performance of each board. We’ll see how they stack up in a moment.

The ICH10R’s six SATA RAID ports should be enough for most folks, yet all three of these X58 boards offer additional storage options via auxiliary storage controllers. To be fair, these chips are necessary to provide IDE connectivity lacking in the ICH10R. That accounts for the Gigabyte board’s iTE controller and the JMB363 used on the Asus and MSI boards. So what about the JMB322 and GSATA2 chips? They’re meant to bring a measure of additional RAID and 1 support to the boards, and the JMicron chips do it without requiring drivers. Driver-free, OS-independent RAID is a neat trick, but if faced with trusting my array’s integrity to an Intel, Gigabyte (which is just a re-branded Silicon Image chip), or JMicron controller, I’m going to go with Intel every time. Reputation matters when it comes to RAID, and it’s easy to install Vista to arrays connected to the ICH10R’s proven storage controller.

Asus’ P6T
Somewhat less deluxe

Manufacturer Asus
Model P6T
Price (Street)
Availability Now

We reviewed the Deluxe version of Asus’ P6T back in November and recommended it over Intel’s own DX58SO. At $309 online, however, the Deluxe is still a little rich for our blood. For about $70 less, you can get your hands on the vanilla P6T, which is still very well equipped for a high-end motherboard.

Given their shared model designation, one might expect standard and Deluxe versions of the P6T to be based on the same basic board design. However, the two layouts are actually quite different. Slots and ports have been moved, coolers swapped, and power phases juggled to set the vanilla P6T apart from its Deluxe predecessor.

Fortunately, this tweaked board design is free of awkward layout quirks. The P6T’s power plugs are nicely located along the edges of the board where cabling can cleanly be routed away from hot spots like the processor. Those who prefer upside-down enclosures that put the power supply below the motherboard will need plenty of length in their PSU’s auxiliary 12V line to reach the connector, though.

The P6T cuts its Deluxe counterpart’s power phases by half, but that still leaves eight phases for the processor core and two more for the uncore components. That should be plenty for the sort of spirited overclocking that enthusiasts tend to prefer over more extreme, liquid-nitrogen-fueled record attempts. As is all the rage these days, the board is also littered with fancy electrical components, including low-RDS(on) MOSFETs, Ferrite-core chokes, and conductive-polymer capacitors.

I’m an, er, big fan of gargantuan processor coolers with massive and quiet 120mm fans, and the P6T’s socket area leaves plenty of room for such monstrosities. Heatsinks cap the north bridge chip and power regulation circuitry, but they’re low-profile affairs that stay out of the way.

Asus has arranged most of the P6T’s storage ports along the right-hand side of the board. This placement ensures that even super-stretched graphics cards won’t block off access to any of the SATA ports. The top two Serial ATA ports are located above the highest PCI Express x16 slot, so they’re safe from obstruction, too. As you’ve probably guessed, the orange SATA ports are hooked into the board’s JMicron controller, while the red ports are fed by the ICH10R.

The P6T makes the most of its three PCI Express x16 slots, supporting CrossFire and SLI in both two- and three-way configurations. Asus has nicely arranged the x16 slots to make it possible to run three double-wide graphics cards side by side. Two-way configs are certainly going to be more popular, and with those, you’ll still have access to a standard PCI slot and a physical PCIe x16 slot with four lanes of bandwidth.

’round back, the P6T’s port cluster offers a little bit of everything. Unlike most of Asus’ recent motherboards, this one actually has PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports. In addition, you get six USB ports, Firewire and Ethernet jacks, and an eSATA port backed by a JMicron controller. If that’s not enough connectivity for your needs, there are also onboard headers for one Firewire and six USB ports.

On the audio front, the P6T has analog and digital output options covered nicely. A full complement of analog input and output ports is included alongside TOS-Link and coaxial digital S/PDIF outputs. We’d like to see digital inputs make the port cluster, too, but for most folks, the S/PDIF output flexibility is probably more useful.

Gigabyte’s EX58-UD3R
Flirting with two bills

Manufacturer Gigabyte
Model EX58-UD3R
Price (Street)
Availability Now

When we talked to Gigabyte prior to the Core i7’s launch, the company was quite honest about its intention to first introduce high-end EX58-UD5 and Extreme motherboards in limited quantities before rolling out a more comprehensive lineup of less expensive boards. You can’t really blame a company for wanting to capitalize on eager early adopters, and it’s not like we’ve had to wait all that long for a potentially more sensible alternative in the form of the EX58-UD3R. With a street price hovering around $200, the UD3R costs significantly less than the $330 UD5 we reviewed back in November. That also makes it the cheapest board in this round-up by about $30.
Despite having the lowest price tag of the bunch, I think the EX58-UD3R is the most visually striking. Gigabyte has been trying to make its motherboards look more elegant than obnoxious, and the UD3R’s blue-and-white color scheme has a nice Mirror’s Edge feel to it.

Like the P6T, the UD3R smartly puts its power plugs along the edges of the board, making it easy to keep cables from interfering with airflow between the processor cooler and rear chassis exhaust. However, unlike the Asus board, the Gigabyte only has four DIMM slots. The slots are still spread over three channels, the first of which can accommodate two DIMMs.

Gigabyte says you can run up to 16GB of memory in the board, but that requires pricey 4GB DIMMs. 6GB triple-channel kits are relatively inexpensive, though, and that’s probably plenty of memory for most folks. You can cheaply bump up to 8GB with a fourth memory module, too.

The UD3R’s socket area is ringed by heatsinks that cover the north bridge chip and voltage regulation circuitry. These are relatively short heatsinks, so they shouldn’t interfere with larger CPU coolers that fan out from the socket.

Beneath a couple of those heatsinks you’ll find an effective ten-phase power solution that feeds the Core i7’s, er, core and uncore components with eight and two power phases, respectively. The UD3R is also a member of Gigabyte’s Ultra Durable 3 family, which means it features solid-state capacitors, low-RDS(on) MOSFETs, and a copper circuit board layer that weighs in at two ounces. According to Gigabyte, this two-ounce layer doubles the amount of copper used on other motherboards, reducing impedance and improving signal quality, which the company says should improve overclocking headroom.

Edge-mounted SATA ports are everywhere these days, and I couldn’t be happier. All eight of the UD3R’s Serial ATA ports are located along the edge of the board where they’re not likely to conflict with longer expansion cards. However, keep in mind that edge-mounted ports don’t always play nicely with extremely tight ATX enclosures whose internal hard drive cages snug right up against their motherboard trays.

Although the UD3R stacks an impressive seven expansion slots, the top PCI Express x1 slot’s proximity to the north bridge cooler precludes the use of longer expansion cards in that slot. Even without the top slot, the board still has plenty of expansion capacity, including a PCIe x4 slot notched to accept longer cards. The x4 slot sits between a pair of x16 slots, though, so there’s no way to run a trio of double-wide graphics cards.

If you intend to run a pair of graphics cards on the UD3R, keep in mind that the board only supports CrossFire configurations. You’ll need to seek out the EX58-UD3R-SLI to pair up a couple of GeForce cards. Of course, that wouldn’t be necessary if Nvidia would simply grant the X58 chipset a pass on SLI rather than requiring certification for individual motherboard models.

Just about everything finds its way into the UD3R’s port cluster, including eight USB ports, two flavors of Firewire, and a single Ethernet jack. A full complement of analog audio ports is provided alongside TOS-Link and coaxial S/PDIF outputs. The only modern convenience you won’t find here is external Serial ATA connectivity. Gigabyte has long eschewed eSATA ports, instead opting to ship boards with PCI back plate connectors that allow users to pipe any internal SATA port to an external plug. However, the UD3R doesn’t ship with any such back plate adapters.

The lack of an eSATA bracket is a disappointing omission, especially since with eight internal SATA ports, the UD3R has plenty to spare. The board also beefs up its port complement with onboard headers for one more Firewire and four more USB ports.

MSI’s X58 Platinum
More frills than expected

Manufacturer MSI
Model X58 Platinum
Price (Street)
Availability Now

Although considerably less complex than the myriad model numbers, suffixes, and Special Golden Sample XXX Gamer Extreme Editions that permeate the graphics card world, motherboard model designations aren’t always easy to decipher. MSI’s X58 Platinum, for example, sits below the X58 Eclipse model we tested in November. There’s a more-than-$100 difference between the two boards, and as one might expect, the Platinum model is missing a few luxuries—but surprisingly, not too many.

A closer inspection of the Platinum’s circuit board reveals striking similarities to the Eclipse. The Platinum may have different slots, a more modest cooling solution, and fewer ports than its more expensive cousin, but the two boards do appear to share the same underlying layout. That’s a good thing, because the X58 performed quite well our testing, only losing points for being too expensive with too many unnecessary frills. The X58 Platinum should offer a better balance of value and features.

The X58 Platinum probably won’t win any beauty pageants, but most users are only going to gaze briefly at the board before burying it inside a windowless enclosure under their desks. Of far greater importance is how the board organizes its smattering of slots, ports, and sockets, and the folks at MSI have done a pretty good job with the landscaping. The power plugs are in the right places, for example, and there are few clearance issues to report. You even get six DIMM slots, which is two more than Gigabyte’s EX58-UD3R.

I suppose it almost goes without saying at this point, but like other high-end motherboards, the X58 Platinum is peppered with fancy electrical components. MSI touts the board’s solid-state capacitors and shielded chokes, claiming they should extend the Platinum’s lifespan and improve its power efficiency.

The X58 Platinum’s socket area looks a little bare next to the Asus and Gigabyte boards. Part of the reason for the sparse socket surroundings is the fact that the Platinum uses only five power phases to supply the processor core and just one for the uncore components. The board still supports the full range of Core i7 CPUs, but MSI has opted to save a little money on power regulation circuitry. Having fewer power phases shouldn’t affect the Platinum’s performance at stock speeds; however, it could limit the board’s overclocking potential, particularly when pushing higher processor voltages.

MSI takes a different approach than Asus and Gigabyte when it comes to heatpipes, opting to connect the chipset coolers rather than linking the north bridge chip to the voltage regulation circuitry. Honestly, I’m not sure which approach is better. I’m just happy to see tiny motherboard cooling fans banished, hopefully never to return.

The parade of edge-mounted SATA ports continues with the X58 Platinum, whose solitary IDE channel also rides the right edge of the board. That doesn’t leave room for the red SATA ports tied to the auxiliary JMicron controller, but their location won’t interfere with longer graphics cards.

Don’t pay too much attention to the DLED button in the bottom right-hand corner of the board (bottom left in the picture above). This button would normally control a diagnostic LCD display, and although one is provided with the X58 Eclipse, the display isn’t included with the Platinum model.

Fortunately, the Platinum’s onboard power and reset buttons do prove useful. The dip switches that sit next to them are a curious addition, though. These so-called “Easy OC” switches control the base system clock, allowing the user to set it at 133, 166, or 200MHz. Why anyone would want to poke around inside his system to choose between such limited options when significantly more granular control over the FSB is readily accessible through the BIOS is beyond me.

Above the Platinum’s old-school clock speed switches sits a stack of expansion slots that includes plenty of PCI and PCI Express connectivity. The top PCIe x1 slot is just far enough from the north bridge cooler to accommodate longer cards, and there’s plenty of room for double-wide CrossFire configs. MSI makes an SLI-compatible version of the X58 Platinum, too, but that’s not the board we have in house.

The X58 Platinum is the only one of the three we’re looking at today to feature dual Gigabit Ethernet controllers. It’s also the only one with a CMOS reset button conveniently located in the port cluster. The rest of the cluster is pretty loaded, too. In addition to one Firewire, one eSATA, and eight USB ports, there’s an assortment of analog audio inputs and outputs and an S/PDIF output. Digital audio output is limited to a TOS-Link connection.

Exposing all of the Platinum’s available ports through the rear cluster wouldn’t be prudent, since some of them are best routed to the front of a system where they’ll be more accessible. To accommodate cases with built-in ports of their own, the Platinum has onboard headers for an additional Firewire port and four more USB ports.

A bevy of BIOS options

Asus, Gigabyte, and MSI have been building highly tunable motherboard BIOSes for years, so it’s no surprise that each of the boards we’re looking at today is loaded with tweaking and overclocking options. Behold the entirety of clock speed, multiplier, and voltage options available:

Asus P6T Gigabyte EX58-UD3R MSI X58 Eclipse
Bus speeds Base clock: 133-500MHz in
1MHz increments

PCIe:
100-200MHz in 1MHz
increments
DRAM: 800, 1066MHz (Core i7 920 ES)
Base clock: 100-1200MHz in
1MHz increments

PCIe:
90-150MHz in 1MHz
increments
Base clock: 133-400MHz in
1MHz increments

QPI: 4.8GT/s, slow mode (Core i7-920 ES)
PCIe: 100-200MHz in 1MHz increments
PCI:
37.3, 42MHz

Bus multipliers NA DRAM: 6X, 8X (Core
i7-920 ES)
Uncore: 12X-48X in 1X increments
QPI: 36X, 44X, 48X, slow
mode
DRAM: 3X-7X in 1X
increments

Voltages
CPU: 0.85-2.1V in
0.00625V increments

CPU PLL: 1.8-2.5V in 0.02V increments
Uncore: 1.2-1.9V in 0.00625V increments

DRAM bus: 1.5-2.46V in 0.02V increments
DRAM channel A-C ref: 0.395-0.630X in
0.005X increments
IOH: 1.1-1.7V in 0.02V increments

IOH PCIe: 1.5-2.76V in 0.02V increments
ICH: 1.1-1.4V in 0.1V increments

ICH PCIe: 1.5-1.8V in 0.1V increments

CPU: 0.5-1.9V in 0.00625V
increments

CPU PLL: 1.8-2.52V in
0.02-0.04V increments
DRAM: 1.3-2.6V in 0.02-0.1V increments

DRAM termination: 0.52-1.225V in 0.02-0.025V increments
DRAM channel A-C
data ref: 0.7-0.97V in 0.01V increments
DRAM channel A-C address ref:
0.71-0.97V in 0.01V increments

IOH: 1-1.5V in 0.02-0.1V increments
PCIe: 1-2.14V in 0.02-0.1V increments
QPI/VTT: 1.035-1.615V in
0.02V increments
QPI
PLL: 0.8-1.6V in 0.02-0.1V increments

ICH I/O: 1.05-2.5V in 0.02-0.05V increments
ICH core: 0.92-2.38V in 0.02V
increments

CPU: -0.32 – +0.63V in
0.01V increments

CPU PLL: 1-2.43V in
0.01-0.05V increments

DRAM: 1.2-2.77V in 0.01V increments


DRAM channel A-C CA ref: 0.0.51-1.225V in 0.005-0.025V increments

DRAM channel A-C DQ ref: 0.699-0.985V in 0.002-0.01V increments
QPI:
-0.32 – +0.63V in 0.01V increments

NB:0.8-2.62V in 0.01V increments
ICH: 0.7-2.13V in 0.01-0.05V increments


Monitoring
Voltage, fan status, and
temperature
Voltage, fan status, and
temperature
Voltage, fan status, and
temperature

Fan speed control
CPU, system CPU CPU, system

Get all that? Good. There will be a quiz later.

For overclockers, the most important element of the BIOS is control over the Core i7’s base clock, which is available with all three boards. You can even key in base clock values directly on each board rather than scrolling through a list of options. However, only the EX58-UD3R offers explicit control over the uncore multiplier, at least with our engineering sample Core i7-920.

Unfortunately for us—but by contrast, very good for enthusiasts—Intel is selling retail Core i7 CPUs with unlocked uncore components that allow users greater freedom in manipulating the processor’s memory and QuickPath Interconnect speeds. Engineering sample CPUs like the one we used for testing have these multipliers locked. Among other things, that fact restricts our 920’s QPI link to 4.8GT/s and its memory to either 800 or 1066MHz. Don’t pay too much attention to the above chart’s rundown of available QPI and memory speeds, then; you’re likely to see a more robust suite of options with a retail CPU.

The P6T’s BIOS is classic Asus

The Core i7 looks to be a reasonably good overclocker; my 920 is capable of running at 3.3GHz at its default voltage. If you’re not so lucky, the Asus, Gigabyte, and MSI boards all offer a wealth of over- and under-volting options for not only the processor, but a host of other system components. I wouldn’t worry too much about the slight differences in voltage ranges and degrees of granularity offered by each board, since all three provide more than enough voltage options for even seasoned enthusiasts.

One pertinent difference between these boards’ voltage manipulation options is the fact that the Platinum makes you step through options one-by-one, while the P6T and UD3R allow the user to key in arbitrary values. The Asus and Gigabyte boards are still working with a limited set of actual voltage options, but they try to settle on a voltage close to what the user has entered. That scheme works well on the P6T. With the UD3R, the BIOS pops up a handy list of available options that narrows as you add digits, which makes defining a supported voltage a snap.

Gigabyte serves up more than enough voltage manipulation options

Given the sheer volume of voltage options available on each board, one wonders why the Asus and Gigabyte offerings are missing a rather important memory voltage option of 1.65V. Intel has decreed that pumping more than 1.65V to the Core i7’s memory risks damaging the processor, and memory makers have answered by releasing triple-channel DDR3 kits rated for 1.65V. However, with the P6T and UD3R, users are forced to choose between 1.64 and 1.66V. A 1.66V memory isn’t likely to fry a Core i7 CPU, and feeding DIMMs only 1.64V probably won’t compromise memory stability. Still, the lack of a 1.65V option seems odd.

Years ago, enthusiasts were all about making PCs faster. That’s still the case today, but we’ve tempered our enthusiasm for performance with a dose of desire for silence. To meet this growing interest in quiet computing, all three of these boards feature temperature-based fan speed control for the CPU cooler. MSI even lets you define a temperature target between 40 and 70°C in 5° increments and set a minimum processor fan speed between 0 and 87.5% in 12.5% increments. The X58 Platinum’s fan speed controls don’t stop there, either. You can also set the speed of each of the board’s three system fan headers at 50, 75, or 100%.

Fan speed control done right—or at least better—on the X58 Platinum

Though not as well endowed as the Platinum, the P6T does offer automatic fan speed control for its CPU and system fan headers. You can’t adjust temperature targets or actual fan speeds, but each fan can be configured in silent, standard, and turbo modes. That’s better than the fan speed control available on the UD3R, which just affects the CPU fan and only allows users to choose between profiles designed for three- and four-pin fans.

Support for multiple BIOS configuration profiles has gained popularity in recent years. The P6T and Platinum allow users to save two and four different profiles, respectively. The UD3R doesn’t support multiple profiles, but the board does come with a backup BIOS chip that should save you in the event of a failed flash attempt, which is always nice for peace of mind. All three mobos also feature handy BIOS update utilities that can flash directly from USB thumb drives, too.

Speaking of flash memory, like just about every new Asus motherboard these days, the P6T comes with an embedded ExpressGate instant-on operating system. This dumbed-down Linux-based OS offers a web browser, Skype client, and instant messaging capabilities, but it lacks the sort of file browsing, hardware monitoring, data recovery, and stress testing applications that could make such a flash-based OS useful—even indispensable—for PC enthusiasts.

Zotac’s X58SLI-A-E

We had originally intended to include Zotac’s X58SLI-A-E motherboard in this round-up, but it wasn’t meant to be. The X58SLI just popped up for sale at Newegg, where it’s listed at $199 with instant savings and a mail-in rebate that bring the price down to a tantalizing $170. That doesn’t buy much in the way of frills and extras, but you do get dual PCI Express x16 slots with CrossFire and SLI support, six DIMM slots, Firewire, Gigabit Ethernet, and digital audio output, along the same X58 chipset as everyone else.

Unfortunately, the board’s BIOS is a joke, at least from an enthusiast’s perspective. Not only does it completely lack voltage options and overclocking controls, but you can’t even adjust memory timings. At its factory defaults, the board wouldn’t boot with three channels of the OCZ DDR3-1600 memory we use for Core i7 motherboard testing, either. Given that the OCZ DIMMs require 1.65V, it’s not surprising that the Zotac board can only handle one of them at a time. Honestly, though, I couldn’t see the point of digging into extensive troubleshooting.

These days, overclocking, voltage, and memory timing controls are staples of even low-end motherboards. Not having them present on a $200—or even $170—board based on a high-end chipset is simply inexcusable. We’ve asked Zotac when it expects to bring the X58SLI’s BIOS up to speed, but have yet to hear back after more than a week. Clearly, PC enthusiasts should avoid the X58SLI. We’ll revisit the board when its BIOS is compatible with the same hardware that runs without issue in the seven other Core i7 boards we’ve tested to date.

Our testing methods

In addition to pitting the EX58-UD3R, P6T, and X58 Platinum against each other, we’re throwing them into the cage with a collection of much more expensive rivals. With all these platforms sharing the same chipset and a processor with an on-die memory controller, don’t expect much difference in application performance. However, pay particular attention to the results of our overclocking, power consumption, and peripheral performance tests—that’s where most of the gaps are these days.

All tests were run three times, and their results were averaged.

Processor

Intel Core i7-920
ES
System bus QPI 4.8GT/s (2.4GHz)
Motherboard

Asus P6T


Asus P6T Deluxe


Intel DX58SO


Gigabyte EX58-DS3R


Gigabyte EX58-UD5


MSI X58 Eclipse


MSI X58 Platinum
Bios revision 0703 0703 SO2624 F5B F3 123 1.1
North bridge Intel X58 Express Intel X58 Express Intel X58 Express Intel X58 Express Intel X58 Express Intel X58 Express Intel X58 Express
South bridge Intel ICH10R Intel ICH10R Intel ICH10R Intel ICH10R Intel ICH10R Intel ICH10R Intel ICH10R
Chipset drivers Chipset: 9.1.0.1007

AHCI: 8.1.5.0.1032

Chipset: 9.1.0.1007

AHCI: 8.1.5.0.1032

Chipset: 9.1.0.1007
AHCI:
8.1.5.0.1032
Chipset: 9.1.0.1007
AHCI:
8.1.5.0.1032
Chipset: 9.1.0.1007
AHCI:
8.1.5.0.1032
Chipset: 9.1.0.1007
AHCI:
8.1.5.0.1032
Chipset: 9.1.0.1007
AHCI:
8.1.5.0.1032
Memory size 3GB (3 DIMMs) 3GB (3 DIMMs) 3GB (3 DIMMs) 3GB (3 DIMMs) 3GB (3 DIMMs) 3GB (3 DIMMs) 3GB (3 DIMMs)
Memory type OCZ OCZ3G1600LV6GK DDR3
SDRAM at 1066MHz
CAS latency
(CL)
7 7 7 7 7 7 7

RAS to CAS delay (tRCD)
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
RAS precharge
(tRP)
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
Cycle time
(tRAS)
20 20 20 20 20 20 20
Command rate 1T 1T 1T 1T 1T 1T 1T
Audio codec
Realtek ALC1200 with
2.07
drivers
Analog Devices AD2000B
with 6.10.1.6520

drivers
Realtek ALC889 with
2.07
drivers

Realtek ALC888 with
2.07
drivers
Realtek ALC889A with
2.07
drivers
Creative X-Fi Xtreme
Audio with 6.10.0.200 drivers

Realtek ALC888 with
2.07
drivers
Graphics

Nvidia GeForce 9800 GTX
with ForceWare 178.24 drivers

Hard drive


Western Digital Raptor WD1500ADFD 150GB
SATA

OS


Windows Vista Ultimate x86
with Service Pack 1

All of our test systems were powered by OCZ GameXStream 700W power supply units. Thanks to OCZ for providing these units and our DDR3-1600 DIMMs for our use in testing

Finally, we’d like to thank Western Digital for sending Raptor WD1500ADFD hard drives for our test rigs.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

The test systems’ Windows desktop was set at 1280×1024 in 32-bit color at an 85Hz screen refresh rate. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests.

All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.

Power consumption

We measured system power consumption, sans monitor and speakers, at the wall outlet using a Watts Up Pro power meter. Power consumption was measured at idle and under a load consisting of a multi-threaded Cinebench 10 render running in parallel with the “rthdribl” high dynamic range lighting demo. Results that fall under “No power management” were obtained with Windows Vista running in high-performance mode, while those with power management enabled were taken with Vista in its balanced performance mode.

MSI’s X58-based motherboards come with GreenPower software that lowers several system voltages by a smidgen to save power. We tested those boards with and without GreenPower enabled since, unlike some other power-saving schemes we’ve seen, it doesn’t impede system performance by lowering or otherwise capping clock speeds.

And wouldn’t you know, GreenPower is good for a few watts saved. The X58 Platinum doesn’t really need the help, though. Even without GreenPower enabled, the Platinum consumes less power than the EX58-UD3R and the P6T. The differences amount to about ten watts under load, with the Gigabyte board proving slightly more frugal than the Asus.

Overclocking

Although the Core i7-965 Extreme offers an unlocked upper multiplier that makes overclocking a breeze, you can’t increase the CPU multiplier on more affordable i7-920 and 940 models. To overclock those chips, one must increase the system’s base clock speed, which runs at 133MHz by default. Think of this as old-school front-side bus overclocking, but with the base clock replacing the FSB.

To see how high we could get the base clock running on each board, we dropped our Core i7-920’s processor multiplier to 12X—its lowest value—and started turning up the base clock. We also dropped the memory multiplier to 6X to take our DIMMs out of the equation. The OCZ modules we used for testing are good for up to 1600MHz. With a 6X memory multiplier, that gives us base clock headroom up to 266MHz.

Since the Core i7 likes to overclock itself when thermals permit, we disabled the processor’s “turbo” mode to keep variability to a minimum. We tested each base clock speed step for stability with a punishing eight-way Prime95 load.

165MHz on the X58 Platinum

Our quest for higher base clock speeds began with the X58 Platinum, which started running into problems when we hit 160MHz. At that speed, the board would crash on the way to Windows, even with its QPI link set to slow mode. We tried bumping up the voltage for the processor, its uncore components, and even the north bridge, and finally got the system stable with a 165MHz base clock. 170MHz spit out Prime95 errors almost instantly, though, and no amount of gentle coaxing seemed to help.

The P6T sails up to 200MHz

Overclocking the P6T proved much easier. The board effortlessly sailed up to a 200MHz base clock without additional voltage, QPI tweaks, or other meddling. At 210MHz, however, it failed to boot into Windows. Posting wasn’t a problem, but even with additional voltage applied all around, the P6T would blue-screen or otherwise hang before we were greeted by the Vista desktop.

A 200MHz base clock is nothing to sneeze at, especially since the P6T hit the mark with default voltages and without the aid of a “slow mode” QPI link—not that we had a choice on the QPI front. The P6T’s BIOS lacks QPI link speed control, which is why, in the screenshot above, you can see the interconnect running at a much higher speed than on the EX58-UD3R.

The UD3R grabs an extra 10MHz

Like the P6T, the UD3R scaled up to a 200MHz base clock without issue. We didn’t need to apply extra voltage or touch the QPI link speed. 210MHz, however, proved a little more demanding. At that speed, we had to put the QuickPath Interconnect in slow mode and raise the processor voltage by a touch to get the system stable under load. Adding voltage didn’t enable us to hit 220MHz, though. The board wouldn’t even POST at that speed.

To put these base clock speeds in perspective, consider what they’ll do for a Core i7-920 with a 20X multiplier. The X58 Platinum’s 165MHz base clock would yield a core clock speed of 3.3GHz, while the P6T’s 200MHz would take you up to 4GHz. An extra 10MHz from the UD3R’s base clock would net a 4.2GHz processor clock on the Gigabyte board—if your i7-920 were so inclined, of course. As is always the case with overclocking, your mileage may vary.

Memory performance

The Core i7’s integrated memory controller largely takes the motherboard out of the equation when it comes to memory subsystem performance. However, mobo makers do have some freedom when it comes to tuning the CPU’s memory controller.

The boards we’re looking at today are all using newer BIOS revisions than those reviewed previously, which may explain the 2GB/s jump in memory bandwidth. That said, there’s little difference in peak memory bandwidth between the Platinum, P6T, and UD3R. We don’t see much of a difference in memory access latencies between the three boards, either. In fact, only a fraction of a nanosecond separates the fastest X58 board from the slowest in our latency test.

STARS Euler3d computational fluid dynamics

Few folks run fluid dynamics simulations on their desktops, but we’ve found this multi-threaded test to be particularly demanding of memory subsystems, making it a good link between our memory and application performance tests.

As one might expect from a test that hammers the memory subsystem, Euler3d shows the Platinum, P6T, and UD3R on even footing. The Asus board is technically the fastest here, but it’s only ahead of the MSI and Gigabyte boards by the slimmest of margins.

WorldBench

WorldBench uses scripting to step through a series of tasks in common Windows applications. It then produces an overall score. WorldBench also spits out individual results for its component application tests, allowing us to compare performance in each. We’ll look at the overall score, and then we’ll show individual application results alongside the results from some of our own application tests.

You can expect equivalent performance in everyday desktop applications from the boards we’ve assembled today. They’re locked in a three-way tie for the lead in WorldBench, which is impressive considering that the rest of the field costs significantly more.

Gaming

In the real world, game performance is frequently gated by your graphics hardware. At these lower resolutions, however, we can tease out some differences between the boards, at least in some games. Enemy Territory has always scaled well at lower resolutions, and the Gigabyte board has a healthy edge there. The results of the remainder of our gaming tests are a wash, however.

Motherboard peripheral performance

Some of the biggest performance differences you’ll find between motherboards come on the peripheral front, where it’s easy to spot where mobo makers have skimped on auxiliary peripheral chips.

Ethernet performance
Throughput (Mbps) CPU utilization (%)

Asus P6T
935 6.2

Asus P6T Deluxe (1)
939 4.2

Asus P6T Deluxe (2)
939 4.4

Gigabyte EX58-UD3R
941 4.5

Gigabyte EX58-UD5 (1)
943 4.2

Gigabyte EX58-UD5 (2)
939 4.1

Intel DX58SO
941 3.8

MSI X58 Eclipse (1)
943 6.2

MSI X58 Eclipse (2)
941 6.5

MSI X58 Platinum (1)
941 7.7

MSI X58 Platinum (2)
942 7.0

The days of cheap PCI-based Gigabit Ethernet controllers appear to be behind us, at least with high-end offerings like the ones we’re looking at today. All three boards offer solid throughput with low CPU utilization, with the Gigabyte board’s newer RTL8111D requiring fewer cycles than the revision-C chips used on the Asus and MSI boards.

HD Tach
Firewire performance

Read burst

speed (MB/s)


Average read

speed (MB/s)


Average write

speed (MB/s)


CPU utilization

(%)


Asus P6T
41.3 37.4 28.7 0.7

Asus P6T Deluxe
33.2 30.7 15.9 1.0

Gigabyte EX58-UD3R
42.1 37.5 28.7 1.3

Gigabyte EX58-UD5
30.3 28.6 17.1 0.7

Intel DX58SO
40.4 34.5 25.3 0.0

MSI X58 Eclipse
41.3 37.0 19.3 1.3

MSI X58 Platinum
41.5 37.2 25.6 1.3

Firewire performance looks good across the board. In fact, these cheaper boards actually offer better Firewire write speeds than their more expensive counterparts.

HD Tach
USB performance

Read burst

speed (MB/s)


Average read

speed (MB/s)


Average write

speed (MB/s)


CPU utilization

(%)


Asus P6T
32.9 32.6 28.6 3.0

Asus P6T Deluxe
32.9 32.6 28.7 2.3

Gigabyte EX58-UD3R
33.0 32.6 28.6 2.3

Gigabyte EX58-UD5
32.8 32.6 28.6 3.0

Intel DX58SO
30.9 27.9 26.5 1.3

MSI X58 Eclipse
32.9 32.3 28.7 2.7

MSI X58 Platinum
32.9 32.1 28.7 2.3

With all these boards sharing the same ICH10R USB controller, it’s no surprise that they all offer equivalent performance here.

HD Tach
Serial ATA performance

Read burst

speed (MB/s)


Average read

speed (MB/s)


Average write

speed (MB/s)


Random access time (ms)

CPU utilization

(%)


Asus P6T (ICH10R)
248.1 110.5 108.4 7.2 1.0

Asus P6T (JMB322)
148.8 110.5 81.5 7.1 2.0

Asus P6T Deluxe (88SE6320)
181.3 110.5 79.6 7.1 2.3

Asus P6T Deluxe (ICH10R)
248.6 110.5 109.8 7.1 2.0

Gigabyte EX58-UD3R (GSATA)
131.4 92.3 68.1 7.5 8.0

Gigabyte EX58-UD3R (ICH10R)
247.2 110.5 110.3 7.2 2.0

Gigabyte EX58-UD5 (GSATA)
113.4 83.4 69.0 7.4 7.0

Gigabyte EX58-UD5 (ICH10R)
245.3 110.5 109.2 7.2 1.7

Intel DX58SO
203.9 106.9 108.7 7.4 1.3

MSI X58 Eclipse (ICH10R)
245.0 110.4 110.3 7.1 2.0

MSI X58 Eclipse (JMB322)
2402.0 108.9 110.4 7.2 1.7

MSI X58 Platinum (ICH10R)
246.1 110.5 108.9 7.2 1.7

MSI X58 Platinum (JMB322)
151.0 109.5 0.4 7.1 2.0

First, the obvious. If you’re going to use the ICH10R’s integrated Serial ATA controller, there’s essentially no difference between the P6T, Platinum, and UD3R. The performance picture gets a little more muddled when we look at the secondary storage options on each board, all of which post slower transfer rates than the ICH10R. I’m not sure what’s up with the incredibly slow write speed on the X58 Platinum’s JMB322 controller, but it was consistently slow across multiple test runs. Given the overall performance of these secondary SATA controllers, you’re better off sticking with the ICH10R, whose six Serial ATA ports should be more than enough for most folks.

RightMark Audio
Analyzer audio quality

Overall score

Frequency response

Noise level

Dynamic range

THD

THD + Noise

IMD + Noise

Stereo Crosstalk

IMD at 10kHz

Asus P6T
5 5 4 4 5 3 4 5 4

Asus P6T Deluxe
4 5 4 4 4 3 4 5 4

Gigabyte EX58-UD3R
5 5 4 4 5 3 5 3 5

Gigabyte EX58-UD5
5 5 5 5 5 4 5 4 5

Intel DX58SO
5 5 5 5 5 3 5 5 5

MSI X58 Eclipse
3 2 4 4 1 1 1 2 1

MSI X58 Platinum
5 5 4 4 5 3 5 5 5

I’m just about convinced that the P6T’s ALC1200 codec chip is, apart from its label, identical to the ALC888 found on the Platinum and UD3R. RightMark Audio Analyzer doesn’t detect much of a difference in signal quality between these boards when looping back 24-bit, 192kHz audio from their front analog outputs to their line inputs.

Conclusions

Clearly, this second wave of Core i7 motherboards offers far better value than the first crop of X58 offerings. We’ve gone from mobos priced between $300 and $350 to ones in the $200-240 range, and performance hasn’t skipped a beat. Sure, you don’t get quite as many extras with these more affordable models, but they’re hardly hurting when it comes to onboard peripherals.

As the only board with dual Gigabit Ethernet controllers, MSI’s X58 Platinum is technically the most loaded from a peripheral standpoint. The Platinum also has the lowest power consumption of the bunch, likely due to the fact that it’s running fewer power phases to the processor. That might also be why our sample didn’t overclock as well as the Asus and Gigabyte boards. At least MSI did a better job than its rivals with the Platinum’s BIOS-level fan speed controls, though.

Although the vanilla X58 Platinum model we tested seems to be rare online, SLI-compatible versions of the board can be had for as little as $225. At that price, the Platinum is a solid contender.

With a street price hovering around $240, Asus’ P6T is a little more expensive than the X58 Platinum. The extra cash does buy you a third PCI Express x16 slot with three-way CrossFire and SLI compatibility, though. It also gets you a board that, at least in our labs, effortlessly cruised up to a 200MHz base clock.

The P6T is a good board, but I wish its BIOS offered more control over the Core i7’s uncore components, such as its QPI link speed. I also can’t get past the fact that the only justification for this board being more expensive than the others is its support for three-way CrossFire and SLI configurations that simply aren’t attractive to most enthusiasts. The P6T may be cheapest X58-based motherboard to support three-way configs, but I don’t expect those looking to run three graphics cards are too concerned with the cost of such a setup.

That brings us to the EX58-UD3R. As the least expensive board of the bunch, the Gigabyte should be the most appealing to budget-minded enthusiasts. You can nab standard versions of the UD3R for just under $204 and SLI flavors for around $210. The UD3R’s bargain price tag comes with its own share of baggage, however. Not only does the board lack external Serial ATA connectivity, it also has only four DIMM slots—two fewer than the Asus and MSI offerings.

Of course, the UD3R also hit the highest base clock speed of the bunch, and its BIOS has the most generous assortment of overclocking and voltage tweaking options. The cheapest board of the lot is every bit as fast as its rivals, too, so you don’t have to sacrifice performance to save a few bucks.

Were I building a Core i7 system for myself, I’d be torn between the Gigabyte EX58-UD3R and the MSI X58 Platinum. Both are great boards that offer good value. I’d recommend the UD3R to serious overclockers and the Platinum to those who want to load up on memory. If it were my money, though, I’d buy the UD3R on the strength of its overclocking potential. My Core i7-920 easily runs at 3.3GHz, and while that requires all of the base clock headroom in our X58 Platinum sample, it’s well within the capabilities of the UD3R we tested.

Comments closed
    • Cannyone
    • 11 years ago

    I’m not sure if you were aware of this… but their is a BIOS for the Platinum SLI that can be flashed to this board should you desire SLI support.

    For the record I decided to go with the P6T. However, if that does not work well, I’ll resort to the MSI X58 Platinum SLI.

    • RagingDragon
    • 11 years ago

    I’d like to see how much power each board used at its maximum overclock. That piece of information would be very helpful in choosing an optimally sized power supply for overclocking.

    • sigher
    • 11 years ago

    Watch out for that realtek ACL1200 asus uses, it’s a custom version of the ACL888 but because it’s custom and ASUS is secretive about it it means linux users are looking at issues, and the rest of the people either have to use asus drivers, which are never that good/up-to-date as most people familiar with asus know, or use the regular realtek ACL888 ones, but in that case you don’t know if future one will work and if it gets the most out of it, I read they do actually work so far without issues though.
    And I won’t even mention the long history of realtek not doing occlusion correctly in 3D (EAX) games in their drivers.

    On the other hand ASUS did make their own soundcard and it’s pretty good, so perhaps their custom realtek chip is in actual fact much better than the normal one, but still propriety and thus a bit too apple-eque in that case I feel.

    But in the end it’s just a soundchip, if need be you can buy a cheap or expensive soundcard to fit your needs so it’s not too critical.

      • deruberhanyok
      • 11 years ago

      The AD2000 they’re using in some boards is similar; basically a customized AD1989. As far as I’m aware the main issue with that was the digital output not being detected correctly, for which a fix was found and implemented in kernel 2.6.28.

      I couldn’t speak about issues with the ALC1200 (I have an M3A78-EM which uses it but haven’t installed any sort of Linux on that system) but hopefully the bugs will be ironed out in time.

      Asus also apparently has a customized Via sound chip in use on the M4A78T-E, the VT1708S, which isn’t listed on Via’s page but might just be an altered VT1708A. Haven’t read much about that yet.

      Dunno why they’re going for these “custom” sound chips but, as you said, hopefully they know what they’re doing.

    • zagortenay
    • 11 years ago

    200$ mobo affordable?
    Either INTEL fans love to be milked or they spend their fathers’ money. He he!

      • Meadows
      • 11 years ago

      It’s affordable, as in, you can likely buy it without missing any bills or meals. Or something.

      • sigher
      • 11 years ago

      Although motherboards are getting a bit over the top I always comfort myself with thinking that you do get a lot of extra devices basically, RAID controllers, gigabit NICs, soundcards, many USB ports, firewire, etc.
      If you added those things to a motherboard via plugin cards you’d be looking at quite some money spent.
      Of course with the cost of baking chips and the easy of adding a lot of functions to them that argument needs more and more self-delusion to work, but what are you going to do? Admit it’s all about bullshit licensing and monopolies? That would be painful.

    • glacius555
    • 11 years ago

    Thanks, great review!

    Page 4, table: Are the specs for X58 Eclipse or for X58 Platinum?

    Will you correct me, is P6T the only board that will accept a LGA775 cooler?

      • JokerCPoC
      • 11 years ago

      There’s the Foxconn Bloodrage, If You can find It in stock, It does LGA775 and LGA1366 too.

    • alex666
    • 11 years ago

    I don’t really need a new system, as my e3750 system running at 3.6GHz gives me pretty much what I want for my PC needs. But I’ve been itching to try a quad and have been impressed with the Phenom II performance and price ratio. But I absolutely crave speed, and with the i7 920 being reasonably affordable, ddr3 more price-reasonable, and now these boards, especially the gigabyte, I’m reconsidering an i7 build. Plus, will the actual prices be lower from places like newegg et al?

    All that said, I really don’t want AMD to go out of business, so I may have to consider their newest Phenom II (not that their financial future is dependent solely on my purchasing decisions). But that borders on a pathetic reason for buying a product.

      • moshpit
      • 11 years ago

      Pity purchases always hurt the buyer and rarely do much good in the end.

      If your considering a Core i7 920, if there’s a Microcenter in your area, you can get the CPU for under 240 bucks. Another 200 on the Gigabyte UD3R, and another 100 for 6Gb of DDR3 1333 and your set for the core components. If your just replacing the guts of an existing rig, 540 bucks gets you into i7. You can even cut costs WAY further if you don’t have to have 6Gb or a fancy motherboard..

      MSI X58 Pro = 180 bucks (only one X58 cheaper out there, Zotac)
      i7 920 (from MC) = 240 bucks
      3Gb DDR3 1066 = 75 bucks.

        • UberGerbil
        • 11 years ago

        your = possessed by you
        you’re = contraction of “you are”

        Normally I don’t play grammar nazi, but you got that one wrong three sentences in a row.

        • WaltC
        • 11 years ago

        /[

    • UberGerbil
    • 11 years ago

    So I have a question, looking at this pic of the ASUS:
    §[<https://techreport.com/image.x/cheaper-x58-mobos/big_asus-slots.jpg<]§ Why does the PCIe x1 slot and the /[

      • SomeOtherGeek
      • 11 years ago

      Good question… Maybe for a side clip-on board?? The RAID card or RAM card that just can’t be moved? Researching it now. Good find!

      • Palek
      • 11 years ago

      Erm… Different component supplier, different design? The first two x16 slots are blue and also have a different locking tab.

        • UberGerbil
        • 11 years ago

        Yes, but why did that other supplier design it differently? The design looks to have a purpose, so what is it?

          • Palek
          • 11 years ago

          I got curious so I looked at the PCI Express documentation. (Company perks!) The ridge you noticed is actually part of the specification:

          “A ridge feature is defined on the top of the connector housing on one side. This feature can be used to facilitate card retention. A retention clip may be mounted on an add-in card and latched on the ridge.”

          Well spotted!

            • JokerCPoC
            • 11 years ago

            I don’t know of any card that does use that feature, No wonder It has started to go away.

    • moshpit
    • 11 years ago

    Something this review should look into by asking Gigabyte (I already know the answer) is how long SLI support will be kept to a seperate model.

    The answer is, not long. SLI support is on it’s way to vanilla UD3R owners very soon according to Brandon at Firingsquad. In fact, you can flash the non-SLI board to the SLI version using the SLI bios. The boards are identical, so no technical problems will arise. It is warranty voiding right now since it’s not officially supported yet, but patience will pay off on this one.

    • Stefan
    • 11 years ago

    Excatly. “Affordable” is something I associate with a sub $120 motherboard. Not twice that price. Then, of cource, everything depends on perspective – and from the target market’s point of view, $240 might be a bargain. It’s just that today more than ever we do not all live in the same world…

    • tejas84
    • 11 years ago

    LOL @ Corei7 and the word “affordable” in the same sentence. Surely that notion is ridiculous?

      • 0g1
      • 11 years ago

      Yeah, I don’t think $200 is exactly cheap for a mainboard. You can get a good graphics card for that much.

      • flip-mode
      • 11 years ago

      Well that invokes a discussion on the meaning of “affordable”. Personally, I think the term is intentionally vague. But I guess that it is supposed to mean something that is not disproportionately expensive for the *[

        • MadManOriginal
        • 11 years ago

        The affordable thing is all relative imo. If you read the first four introduction paragraphs of the article that’s the angle Geoff is going for, especially in regards to the total platform price when you factor in memory. LGA1336 is still a high-end enthusiast platform so it’s not going in to value or true bang-for-buck systems regardless. ~$600 for CPU+mobo+RAM versus ~$800 is notably more ‘affordable’ in this sense and not a big jump up from other (Intel) quad core systems like it originally was.

        Also in the grand scheme if you want to go back a few years ~$600 for those components is very good, of course that’s the nature of computer technology.

          • flip-mode
          • 11 years ago

          Yes, well said.

        • SomeOtherGeek
        • 11 years ago

        Yes, MadMan said it well. Also the other factor can be that when they first came out the prices were quite high and now that prices are down, people “see” the prices as more affordable. It is a psych thing, IMO. When people see $100.00 they think it is a lot more expensive than $99.99. It is weird, but…

        To me, I see it as a lot more affordable and something to seriously think about now. Of course, I can’t get it all at one time, but I can now buy it in parts. I can afford 200 a lot more than 300 or 350. The only thing that is holding me back is the non price-drop for the processors. It has not moved since it came out and that is psyching me out!

          • MadManOriginal
          • 11 years ago

          FYI Microcenter has the i7-920 on perpetual sale at $230.

            • SomeOtherGeek
            • 11 years ago

            So, are you telling me that this store is selling them at a lost? Cuz from yesterday Intel CPU price list (PDF here on the TR shortbread) all the prices are the same since the day they came out.

            Looking into it… Funny how when the E8400 first came out I bought the CPU first before anything else. Now, I just might do the same with the i7… Back to begging the wife… Any good suggestions or excuses?

            • MadManOriginal
            • 11 years ago

            Quite frankly I don’t know why or how they sell them for that much but they’ve had it at that price on and off, usually more on, for maybe two months now. Sometimes it was an instore only deal. In any case it’s a real deal from a legit store and the gift horse wonders why you’re giving him an oral exam 😉

            • SomeOtherGeek
            • 11 years ago

            Yes, whatever, their lose and our gain. I just checked and it is off or am I looking at the wrong place? Thanks for sharing!

            • MadManOriginal
            • 11 years ago

            It’s tricky to find, I can’t find it searching their website normally so I used Google 🙂 Here’s the link: §[<http://www.microcenter.com/single_product_results.phtml?product_id=0300438<]§ It's under 'private label processors' whatever the heck that means but everything I've read and that page also indicates that it's a regular retail box CPU.

            • SomeOtherGeek
            • 11 years ago

            Wow!! Thanks man!!

      • swaaye
      • 11 years ago

      I paid ~$200 for a DFI nF4 Ultra-D in 2005. Paid ~$300 for the fancy-new dual core Opteron 165 to accompany it. And >$200 for 2GB of DDR-500. An i7 sys goes for less than that total. Core i7 isn’t all that expensive until you look at the prices of the other modern options. It certainly isn’t ridiculous in any way.

      Hell, go back to the ’90s for a moment. I paid ~$600 for a Pentium II 233 (that was the cheapest model) and $200 for a Supermicro motherboard in 1997.

      Sure there have always been cheaper options, but the costly stuff commands the prices it does because it offers some sort of value that makes it worth that price. Not for everyone, of course.

      I’m waiting to see what the “mainstream” Core i7 looks like before considering any upgrades for myself.

        • sigher
        • 11 years ago

        Please also consider the markup above production cost they have to add due to all the licensing and monopolies on chipsets when considering if it’s reasonable, do not just consider prices of 20 years ago because it doesn’t cost the same to produce things as it used to.

      • Freon
      • 11 years ago

      Yeah I wouldn’t consider $200+ for a motherboard an “affordable” motherboard. More affordable than pervious i7 boards? Yes. I still think $200+ is hardly a reasonable price.

      I’ve never spent more than maybe $140 on a motherboard, and that has still always been for what I would consider an enthusiast-oriented board with better cooling (fanless NB, heatpipes), more ports, 6+ channel audio, overclocking options, sometimes better power regulation, and higher quality components, etc. I also think the boards I typically buy are usually not bleeding edge, so perhaps that is the disconnect. For example, my current Asus P5Q Pro only cost me $120 and comes with copper heatpipe cooling, 6 channel audio, extra IDE ports, extra USB ports, two closed-loop fan controllers, two PCI-Ex 16x slots, extra power management software, and a bazillion BIOS tweaks for overclocking most of which I don’t even understand. And it happily overclocks my CPU by 25%. What more do I need?

      I’ve never understood the market for more expensive motherboards. It seems like the i7 has been around long enough that the prices should fall back in step.

    • flip-mode
    • 11 years ago

    This is a good article and all (of course), but if I spend $200 or more on a mobo I’d expect that mobo to be very high end, not “affordable”. The price move is in the right direction though.

    • HurgyMcGurgyGurg
    • 11 years ago

    Intel really misjudged the market. Wasn’t Core i7 suppose to stay high in price. At the rate that prices are falling Core i7 is eating into Intel’s performance segment and Core i5 is looking to be pushed towards the lower end of performance?

    I remember originally Intel claimed i7 would only be 2% of 2009 processor shipments or something around there, sure $300 for mobo $200 for ram and $350 for processor is 2%, but at $200 for a mobo $90 for ram and $290 for processor that sounds like 5-10% of the market.

    Has Core i5s market changed?

      • green
      • 11 years ago

      did you notice the i7 hasn’t dropped in price?
      motherboards and ram obviously have, but the chips aren’t budging

      overall i don’t get it. you’re complaining about things getting more affordable…

        • Meadows
        • 11 years ago

        Indeed, and he’s asking questions with a full stop.

      • UberGerbil
      • 11 years ago

      Intel hasn’t misjudged anything (though I’m sure the worldwide economic situation is as surprising to them as everyone else). The i7 was always intended to be a niche product for high-end workstation users. Intel is quite happy if crazed enthusiasts buy it and beta test if for them, but the chip is really just shaking out the bugs for the Gainestown Xeon — it’s essentially the same chip, in the same socket… it even carries two QPI links though it only uses one. Because of this, and because AMD can’t offer anything at that performance level, Intel has seen no need to cut prices on it. It’s not hurting their margins at all, and it’s doing a good job of preparing the field for the imminent Gainestown DP Xeon introduction — and that’s the market Intel really cares about.

      The i5 is the mainstream desktop/mobile iteration of this microarchitecture, and as it starts displacing Penryn from the top down Intel will price it more reasonably, especially if they feel any competitive pressure from AMD’s chips. With DDR3 prices now falling closer to DDR2 (another reason Intel was in no hurry to introduce i5) the total platform cost will be close to parity with current systems and the mobo prices will reflect that. And in the meantime, the mobo vendors are getting the kinks worked out with i7.

        • derFunkenstein
        • 11 years ago

        l[

      • smilingcrow
      • 11 years ago

      “Intel really misjudged the market. Wasn’t Core i7 suppose to stay high in price. At the rate that prices are falling Core i7 is eating into Intel’s performance segment and Core i5 is looking to be pushed towards the lower end of performance?”

      Has Intel actually dropped the price on the i7 CPUs and the X58 chipset? If not I doubt that they care as their margins are the same. It

      • sigher
      • 11 years ago

      You can make a CPU $20 if you have the only chipset that works with it and you can sell that for $500.

        • HurgyMcGurgyGurg
        • 11 years ago

        I guess I misstated my question.

        What I was trying to get at is that because i7s entry price has fallen (Motherboard and DDR3) won’t Core i5’s high end make the 920 and possibly 940 obsolete? Intel doesn’t want this happening since i7 is there big money maker, or was i7 suppose to be phased out this early?

        What I don’t get is I thought there was definite line between i7 and i5, with i5 being mainstream/performance and i7 being enthusiast. But due to the price falls i7 is now near the performance segment.

        I’m not complaining about prices, I like the fact that i7 has dropped, just asking has Intel changed i5’s target segment due to i7’s drop?

          • UberGerbil
          • 11 years ago

          No. The i7 isn’t, and was never intended to be, “Intel’s big moneymaker.” It’s nicely profitable on a per-unit basis, but it was never expected to be a big-volume product. It’s the proving ground for the Gainestown DP server chip, which Intel does expect to be a big volume (and highly profitable) product, and it helps drive demand for DDR3 (which the memory mfrs want if they’re going to start producing in the quantities that Intel needs for volume i5 adoption.)

          The drop in total platform cost for the i7 would not have caught Intel by surprise. That’s how it always works. It just offers Intel an opportunity to capture more of the total system price down the road.

          And yes, that does mean the 920 and 940 will be obsolete. Why is that surprising? What made you think they would still exist when Intel introduces the i5? The cheapest i7 system will always cost more than the most expensive i5 system, because Intel will price the chipsets and the CPUs to ensure that (not to mention the cost of buying a third stick of memory).

          When it arrives, the i5 will slot into the top of the current Core 2 quad lineup, in the ~$300 range, pushing the Core 2 quads down the price ladder (you’ll know i5 is on the way when the Q9x50 suddenly gets affordable). Over time the i5 range will extend downwards as new i5s get introduced at the top of the ladder and the former leaders drop in price, eventually pushing the Core 2 quads off the bottom altogether.

          Meanwhile, the i7s will sit comfortably above that group. You can already see this happening with the coming i7-975 at $999 and i7-950 at $562. The bottom chip in the i7 line will be $50+ (and probably more like $100+) more expensive than the top chip in the l5 line. And the cheapest i7 mobos will cost more than the cheapest i5 mobos also. Unless AMD finds a way to compete with the i7 on performance, and not just price, the i7 will remain the way Intel gouges the people who absolutely have to have the best workstation CPU performance at any cost.

          §[<http://www.digitimes.com/news/a20090319PD210.html<]§

    • Meadows
    • 11 years ago

    Page 10, “MSI X58 Eclipse (JMB322)” read burst speed: are you serious?

      • VILLAIN_xx
      • 11 years ago

      2402.0 isnt enough for ya? lmao. thats gotta be a typo!

    • DrDillyBar
    • 11 years ago

    Will cards larger then 4x clear the battery in that orange slot?

    • Fighterpilot
    • 11 years ago

    I’m really looking forward to the Core i5 dual cores coming this summer.
    DDR3 memory seems to be hitting its stride now and prices are looking better every week.
    Good article TR.

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 11 years ago

    Corei7 up to 4ghz? Man was not meant for such power…

      • moshpit
      • 11 years ago

      And nobody will ever use more then 640K memory… 😉

        • indeego
        • 11 years ago

        And TR will never be available in a color other than blueg{<.<}g

          • Meadows
          • 11 years ago

          That’s actually good. Much better than some sites parodying the gay flag several times per page.

      • UberGerbil
      • 11 years ago

      I still have the Byte magazine review of the first Compaq 386, all 16MHz of 32bit awesomeness. The last paragraph talks about using it as a sever, and then offers “But does any single user need this much power?”

        • SomeOtherGeek
        • 11 years ago

        That is the same computer that I bought working my ass off all summer for. For the cheap price of $2,500 you get this awesome computer! (I need to lookup the details of what was inside, but they were awesomely big and fast) I had that mag from that spring and drooling over it until I bought it. Man, talk about a kid in a candy store! Of course, I was not happy with 1 MB of RAM! I must have 2 MBs! It only took me a year of saving for that!

        Ah, the good ol’ days…

        And here we are bitching about top-end system for under 1000 bucks! Ahhh, the bad new days…

        Are we spoiled or what??

      • Krogoth
      • 11 years ago

      Nah, it is still not enough power for serious number crunching. XD

    • DrDillyBar
    • 11 years ago

    This is the first time I’d choose a Gigabyte over an Asus.

      • Konstantine
      • 11 years ago

      A Gigbyte board is as good as an Asus one, if not better.I don’t like MSI. I had a single ugly experience with them.The board was the K9N4 Ultra with Nvidia’s Nforce 500 ultra sli chipset though..”a nvidia chipset”.

        • DrDillyBar
        • 11 years ago

        2 mobo’s and a CD-ROM for me.

      • Krogoth
      • 11 years ago

      The higher-tier motherboard guys are pretty solid for the most part. It depends more on individual product lines for them. They all make golden eggs and rotten apples. It is usually in the middle range for the most part.

      Never had any significant problems with defunct Abit, Ep0X, ASUS, Gigabyte, DFI. At most it was just a glitch or new feature that gets added with a BIOS update.

      as always YMMV.

    • jonybiskit
    • 11 years ago

    Not to mention the fact that zotac had their pcie16 slots named… go to the pic if you don’t believe me… it was odd and slightly disturbing.

      • UberGerbil
      • 11 years ago

      Looks like a good idea to me. Not really necessary, maybe, unless for some reason you’re worried about which slot you’re putting your GPU in.

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