Intel may be telling buyers to move to the Core i7, but current system prices may convince even performance gamers to stick with a low-cost Core 2 Duo or Quad processor, and take advantage of some emerging deals. The only question is which platform to choose, and although there are a lot of LGA775 chipsets, the X48 Express remains Intel's top performance option in this market. The X48 chipset offers excellent subsystem and memory performance for high-end Core 2 processors, and still provides an excellent base for enthusiasts.
Before the X58 Express was released, the X48 Express was Intel's flagship platform, and remains so for LGA775-based processors. The chipset supports all Core 2 Duo, Quad and Extreme 45nm and 65nm processors, as well as Pentium dual-core and Celeron LGA775 models. The X48 can officially support FSB speeds from 800 MHz to 1600 MHz, and the X48 is the first, and only, Intel LGA775 desktop chipset to officially support the FSB1600 speed.
Unlike the X38, which could use either DDR2 or DDR3, the X48 chipset officially supports only DDR3 memory (with XMP), but DDR2 boards are available. The X48 also upgrades official dual-channel DDR3 speeds to a full 1600 MHz, offering 25.6 GB/s of memory bandwidth. The X48 offers PCI Express 2.0 graphics, with ATI CrossFire in dual-GPU implementations, along with Fast Memory Access, Flex Memory Technology, Intel High Definition Audio, Gigabit LAN, Serial ATA 3.0 Gb/s & eSATA, Intel Matrix Storage Technology, Intel Turbo Memory (ICHR), and Intel Quiet System Technology.
Gigabyte has chosen the high-end X48/ICH9R chipset to power their X48T-DQ6 motherboard, and it is currently the top X48 combination on the Intel chart. This is a standard ATX motherboard, with measurements of 30.5cm x 24.4cm and it has no board overhang from the standard mounts. The X48T-DQ6 motherboard supports only DDR3 memory, with 4 x 1.5V DDR3 DIMM sockets for up to 8GB of system memory. The X48T-DQ6 offers dual channel DDR3 speeds of 800, 1066, 1333, and 1600 MHz, along with XMP support. The Gigabyte board also provides DDR3 speeds up to 2000 MHz, but this involves higher bus speeds and an overclocked CPU.
The Gigabyte X48T-DQ6 includes dual PCI-E 2.0 x16 graphics with support for ATI CrossFire dual-GPU technology, three PCI Express x1 slots, and two PCI slots. Available storage options include 6 x eSATA 3.0 GB/s ports through the Intel ICH9R, 1 x Parallel ATA IDE and 2 x SATA ports from an onboard Gigabyte SATA chip, and a standard floppy drive connector. The Gigabyte X48T-DQ6 features eight USB 2.0 ports on the back panel, with an additional four ports through onboard headers, for a total of twelve. Also included are three IEEE 1394 ports (two on back panel + one using a bracket), Realtek ALC889A 7.1 audio, and Realtek 8111C Gigabit LAN.
The Gigabyte X48T-DQ6 motherboard backplate/back panel features standard PS/2 mouse/keyboard connectors, eight USB 2.0 ports, two IEEE 1394a ports, two RJ-45 LAN ports, one optical digital line-out, one coaxial S/PDIF line-out, and six audio jacks (Center/Subwoofer Speaker Out / Rear Speaker Out / Side Speaker Out / Line In / Line Out / Microphone). The lack of an eSATA 3Gb/s port is bothersome, but Gigabyte has included two brackets that each feature dual eSATA connectors (for a total of four) and a Molex power connector. We also like when USB ports are set at the top of the back panel for the mouse and keyboard, rather than PS/2.
Specialized features of the Gigabyte X48T-DQ6 include an Ultra Durable 2 format with all-solid capacitors, Low RDS (on) MOSFETs, and a ferrite core choke design. The board also supports Dynamic Energy Saver Advanced, which provides energy saving capabilities through the supplied DES software. This features hardware-based Dynamic Multi-Gear Switching, with onboard LED display, that lets the motherboard throttle down the CPU power phase, voltage and clock speed when idle. This feature does work, but care should be taken to keep settings above the minimum, or a performance penalty can result.
Gigabyte has added a nice retail bundle with the X48T-DQ6 motherboard, with all the base requirements and a few extras. Along with the motherboard itself, the retail box includes one Parallel ATA cable, one floppy cable, four SATA 3.0 GB/s cables, one I/O Shield, two eSATA brackets (with cables), a user install manual + quick install guide, and a driver/application CD. One nice extra was a pair of case stickers, one with a standard Gigabyte logo and the other featuring an oval Dynamic Energy Saver design.