Gigabyte X38-DS5 review & X38T-DQ6 revisit

November 6, 2007 | 13:43

Tags: #analysis #benchmark #crossfire #ddr2 #ds5 #ga #heatpipes #motherboard #overclocking #review #testing #x38

Companies: #ati #gigabyte #intel

Layout

The layout is almost identical to the X38T-DQ6, bar some subtle differences we've covered below. Just like the DQ6, the layout is extremely good and we can't really find fault - everything is easy to get to and it's without any obvious conflicts. There are a couple of compromises made here and there, but you can't have everything.

The underlying PCB is very similar on both models, although the solid aluminium capped capacitors are DIP variety (they have legs) on the DS5, whereas on the DQ6 they are SMD (surface mount). SMD capacitors offer a slightly lower ESR (resistance) so it makes the capacitors more ideally suited for heavy usage, however they are both classed as "Low ESR" and both still fall under the Ultra Durable II branding.

There are also fewer power regulation components soldered in around the CPU socket on the DS5; there are half as many square Ferrite chokes and 33 percent of the mosfets have gone. The DS5 simply uses fewer components and slightly cheaper parts than the DQ6 to save money, but by how much? How does this affect overclockability? We'll hope to answer those questions by the end of this article...

Gigabyte doesn't use a specific colour scheme but does offer colour differentiation for the components on the board. It doesn't pander to the gaming or overclocking branding that seems to be very much the favourite bandwagon to jump on in the last twelve months. The focus on durability and reliability means this works and remains consistent with what's gone before, although we're not too much in favour of fuschia pink memory slots for DDR3, as found on the X38T-DQ6.

PCI & PCI-Express

The two PCI-Express x16 lanes are both PCI-Express 2.0 and are far enough apart to allow for some breathing room between two dual-slot graphics cards if you want to run CrossFire. Two PCI-Express x1 slots are placed in between the two X16 slots, with another one located directly above the top slot. Additionally, there are two PCI slots at the bottom which, combined with the selection of PCIe slots, should allow for plenty of upgrade potential. For example, even with a pair of dual slot graphics cards inserted there's still two PCI-Express x1 and one PCI slot to play with.

Gigabyte X38-DS5 review & X38T-DQ6 revisit GA-X38-DS5 Board Layout
Gigabyte X38-DS5 review & X38T-DQ6 revisit GA-X38-DS5 Board Layout

SATA

Gigabyte includes eight SATA ports on the X38-DS5 - six are from the ICH9R southbridge, while the other two are from the extra Gigabyte branded controller chip on the board. They are differentiated by colour: orange for ICH9R and purple for the Gigabyte controller, so you can quickly identify which is which for Intel's Matrix RAID or eSATA use. The sockets are orientated with the bottoms facing each other, so that you can always get to the clips that hold the SATA cables in, rather than try and force a finger between them.

Speaking of eSATA, there's nothing on the rear I/O which means that if you need to use eSATA you will need to use the internal ports combined with the included PCI bracket to use them externally. The orange ICH9R ports need to be set to ACHI mode in the BIOS prior to installing the OS if you want to use them with an eSATA device, however you don't need to do this with the purple ports.

The Gigabyte chipset also provides the single IDE socket which is angled 90 degrees to the motherboard to keep cables out the way and minimise possible conflicts with long graphics cards. Generally speaking, there should be no conflicts with either IDE or SATA ports when you're using them in conjunction with long graphics cards, as all the ports are positioned to not interfere.

Memory

The memory slots are sufficiently high enough not to get in the way of installed graphics cards - so you can get the memory easily in and out. They are also far enough away from the CPU socket to not interfere with most CPU coolers either. The slots are alternately coloured according to memory channel with the DDR2 on the X38-DS5 as yellow and red. On the other hand, the X38T-DQ6 uses green and pink slots to identify the different DDR3 channels.

Cooling

Both boards feature the same conservative heatpipe array - we've seen far more extravagant cooling from other DQ6 boards in the past, and in some small way it's a bit of a disappointment because we always want the DQ6 to be a bit more special. However the differences are far more subtle this time, as the heatpipes are screwed down for a better contact and pressure on the DQ6, but the DS5 only uses standard push pins.

Because of this the CrazyCool on the back of the PCB behind the CPU, northbridge and southbridge is also missing on the DS5, although this does mean you can install a greater variety of CPU coolers: ones that include a rear mounting CPU brace plate. Other than that, all the mosfets are cooled on both models and even if one of the heatsinks is pretty tiny, it's better than nothing and small enough not to enclose the CPU socket making cooler installation harder.

Power Sockets and Connectivity

Unusually the additional Molex socket is positioned right up in the corner by the 24-pin ATX socket, instead of somewhere around the PCI-Express lanes. This is a far better place to put it because it doesn't mean dragging a cable across the board and often wasting several other Molex connectors on that one cable, from the PSU to do so. The 8-pin 12V power socket is at the top corner as well, but it's wedged between the rear I/O and heatpipes, which makes getting a finger in to unhook the plug clip quite tricky. Once this is in an ATX case with the PSU above it as well, it could become an exercise akin to keyhole surgery - a taller socket would make it far easier to get to.

Other than that, all the pin-outs are very neatly arranged and appropriately colour coordinated all along the bottom of the board to keep the extra cables out the way. Only the front panel audio pin-out is half way up the board, behind the rear I/O. There's no discrimination between either board here either, and Gigabyte has done an excellent job in labelling and arranging every socket.

Ethernet

Whether it's just one Ethernet socket on the DS5 or two on the DQ6, they are both powered by the same Realtek PCI-Express Gigabit Ethernet controllers which keeps drivers consistent at least. The DS5 simply doesn't have the second chipset installed on the board. Both lack a WiFi connection, although there are enough USB and peripheral slots available for an upgrade. A single Gigabit Ethernet socket on the DS5 should be enough to satisfy most people, but similarly priced P35 boards in this range will likely have a variety of connections.

Sound

Gigabyte uses its proprietary Realtek ALC889a chipset on both boards - this includes the usual 7.1 channel HD audio support with S/PDIF and analogue out, but also AACS content protection for Blu-Ray and HD DVD. This is only available if the software you're using it with supports it though, of which there's none I know of at the moment. After previous discussions with Cyberlink about using this with its PowerDVD Ultra software, bit-tech was exclusively told that an update is coming but it will be sometime next year before we see it.
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