Gigabyte GA-EX38-DS4 Socket 775 Motherboard

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Posted by on Tuesday, June 30, 2009 - 3:43pm

overviewBesides the overclocking and Crossfire support the EX38 has been purposefully developed and designed to be incredibly energy efficient. With the current trend towards lower energy usage and lower running temperatures as a result,  this kind of innovation helps to push Gigabyte ahead of the pack.

Introduction

When the X38 chipset was released from Intel a lot of people tried to bad mouth the chipset due to its’ much higher pricing than little brother, the P35 chipset. It seems that many of us will cry foul when manufacturers release a more expensive product that seems to only have a few advantages over the last great release. Things like it overclocking just slightly more than the P35 seemed to get up people’s noses, or how it only outperforms the P35 in some tests. In a few reviews that was the case and those people who talked about it had some factual backing to their opinions. But some failed to realize what else the X38 chipset had to offer, like PCIe 2.0 and  16x PCI express Crossfire support over two full bandwidth links. There are a few more advantages that lie in the X38 chipset which is covered by that massive heatsink.

Gigabyte was nice enough to send us two motherboards, one based on the P35 and the other the X38. We wanted to see how much better it really is over the P35 purely based on benchmarks and overclocking. Not to give the whole review away in the introduction, but I was really surprised with the GA-EX38-DS4 as it took our E8400 to a whole new level.

Besides the overclocking and Crossfire support the EX38 has been purposefully developed and designed to be incredibly energy efficient. With the current trend towards lower energy usage and lower running temperatures as a result,  this kind of innovation helps to push Gigabyte ahead of the pack.

Gigabyte would like to say something

GIGABYTE’s GA-EX38-DS4 motherboard provides the ultimate dream machine for serious overclockers and enthusiasts. Making sure gamers have plenty of future CPU headroom, the GIGABYTE GA-EX38-DS4 supports Intel® Core 2™ multi-core processors as well as the all-new Intel 45nm CPUs. In addition to providing record setting support for 1600MHz Front Side Bus and up to 1200 MHz of DDR2 memory, the GA-EX38-DS4 is further equipped to support ATI CrossFireX™ with dual PCI Express x16 interfaces. The GA-EX38-DS4 also delivers several Unique GIGABYTE innovations including the latest edition to GIGABYTE’s technology arsenal, the Dynamic Energy Saver, providing extensive power savings with one simple click. Featuring the award-winning Durable 2 design, the GA-EX38-DS4 provides additional power savings, ultra cooling and extended system durability for even the most hardcore PC gamers.

 

Specifications

 

CPU
  1. Support for an Intel® Core™ 2 Extreme processor/ Intel® Core™ 2 Quad processor/Intel® Core™ 2 Duo processor/ Intel® Pentium® processor Extreme Edition/Intel® Pentium® D processor/ Intel® Pentium® 4 processor Extreme Edition/Intel® Pentium® 4 processor/ Intel® Celeron® processor in the LGA 775 package
    (Go to GIGABYTE's website for the latest CPU support list.)
  2. L2 cache varies with CPU
  3. 1600/1333/1066/800 MHz FSB

Chipset

  1. North Bridge: Intel® X38 Chipset
  2. South Bridge: Intel® ICH9R

Memory

  1. 4 x 1.8V DDR2 DIMM sockets supporting up to 8 GB of system memory
  2. Dual channel memory architecture
  3. Support for DDR2 1200/1066/800/667MHz, ECC, non ECC memory modules.

Please refer "Memory Support List" for memory support information.

Audio

  1. Realtek ALC889A codec
  2. High Definition Audio
  3. 2/4/5.1/7.1-channel
  4. Support for DTS (dts NEO:PC)
  5. Support for S/PDIF In/Out
  6. Support for CD In

LAN

  1. Realtek 8111B chip (10/100/1000 Mbit)

Expansion Slots

  1. 2 x PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots (The PCIE_16_1 slot supports x16; the PCIE_16_2 supports x16.)
  2. 3 x PCI Express x1 slots (share with the PCIE_16_2 slot)
  3. 2 x PCI slots

Storage Interface

South Bridge:

  1. 6 x SATA 3Gb/s connectors (SATAII0, SATAII1, SATAII2, SATAII3, SATAII4, SATAII5) supporting up to 6 SATA 3Gb/s devices
  2. Support for SATA RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, and RAID 10

GIGABYTE SATA2 chip:

  1. 1 x IDE connector supporting ATA-133/100/66/33 and up to 2 IDE devices

iTE IT8718 chip:

  1. 1 x floppy disk drive connector supporting up to 1 floppy disk drive

IEEE 1394

  1. T.I. TSB43AB23 chip
  2. Up to 3 IEEE 1394a ports (2 on the back panel, 1 via the IEEE 1394 bracket connected to the internal IEEE 1394 header)

USB

  1. Integrated in the South Bridge
  2. Up to 12 USB 2.0/1.1 ports (8 on the back panel, 4 via the USB brackets connected to the internal USB headers)

Internal I/O Connectors

  1. 1 x 24-pin ATX main power connector
  2. 1 x 8-pin ATX 12V power connector
  3. 1 x 4-pin PCIe 12V power connector
  4. 1 x floppy disk drive connector
  5. 1 x IDE connector
  6. 6 x SATA 3Gb/s connectors
  7. 1 x CPU fan header
  8. 2 x system fan headers
  9. 1 x power fan header
  10. 1 x North Bridge fan header
  11. 1 x front panel header
  12. 1 x front panel audio header
  13. 1 x CD In connector
  14. 1 x S/PDIF In header
  15. 1 x S/PDIF Out header
  16. 2 x USB 2.0/1.1 headers
  17. 1 x IEEE 1394a header
  18. 1 x parallel port header
  19. 1 x serial port header
  20. 1 x power LED header
  21. 1 x chassis intrusion header

Back Panel Connectors

  1. 1 x PS/2 keyboard port
  2. 1 x PS/2 mouse port
  3. 1 x coaxial S/PDIF Out connector
  4. 1 x optical S/PDIF Out connector
  5. 8 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
  6. 2 x IEEE 1394a ports
  7. 2 x RJ-45 port
  8. 6 x audio jacks (Center/Subwoofer Speaker Out/Rear Speaker Out/Side Speaker Out/Line In/Line Out/Microphone)

I/O Controller

  1. iTE IT8718 chip

H/W Monitoring

  1. System voltage detection
  2. CPU/System temperature detection
  3. CPU/System/Power fan speed detection
  4. CPU overheating warning
  5. CPU/System/Power fan fail warning
  6. CPU fan speed control

BIOS

  1. Supports DualBIOS Plus
  2. 2 x 8 Mbit flash ROM
  3. Use of licensed AWARD BIOS
  4. PnP 1.0a, DMI 2.0, SM BIOS 2.3, ACPI 1.0b.

Unique Features

  1. Support for Dynamic Energy Saver
  2. Support for @BIOS
  3. Support for Download Center
  4. Support for Q-Flash
  5. Support for EasyTune
  6. Support for Xpress Install
  7. Support for Xpress Recovery2

Form Factor

  1. ATX Form Factor; 30.5cm x 24.4cm

Remark

  1. Due to different Linux support condition provided by chipset vendors, please download Linux driver from chipset vendors' website or 3rd party website.
  2. Due to most hardware/software vendors no longer offer support for Win9X/ME. If some vendors still has Win9X/ME drivers available, we will publish on website.
  3. Duo to chipset limitation, Intel ICH9R RAID driver does not support Windows 2000 operating system.

 

Features

  1. Supports Intel® Core™ 2 multi-core and 45nm processors.
  2. 1600 MHz FSB (Front Side Bus) support.
  3. DDR2 1200 memory with Intel® ECC technology featuring faster speeds and higher data bandwidth
  4. Revolution energy saving design with DES technology.
  5. High quality CPU power module with Ferrite Core Chokes, Lower RDS (on) MOSFETs and Lower ESR Solid Capacitors.
  6. Quad-Triple Phase Power Design for ultimate system stability.
  7. Supports ATI CrossFireX™ with Dual PCI-E 2.0 x16 graphics for extreme gaming performance.
  8. Integrated Dual LAN with Teaming function
  9. Features SATA 3 GB/s with eSATA 2 interface.
  10. ALC889A with DTS Connect enables high quality Full Rate Lossless Audio and support for both Blu-ray and HD DVD.

 

Closer look at the EX38

After the success of their P965 based motherboards with largely the same visual design cues, there is no reason to think that Gigabyte would change their color scheme. The blue PCB with multi-color slots and connectors still remain. This colorful approach to layout was also true in the EP35 DS4 we reviewed about two weeks ago. Besides the cooling and SATA connector placement it is hard to distinguish between the two boards. Loaded with a lot of fan headers, five of them in total,  controllable via the EasyTune software, you have control over all area of the motherboard and not just voltage and frequency settings.

Gigabyte makes it known that they use all solid capacitors which contains organic polymer. Simply translated the caps on this board last longer and are much more durable than the ‘other guys’ caps. This is no longer just a high end feature and it is great to know that the phenomena of exploding, or leaking capacitors is largely behind the enthusiast and overclocker. The only other thing I would have liked to see Gigabyte implement is reset and power buttons directly on the PCB for benchers and overclockers. Or even a CMOS button which would make things awesomely refreshing.

The overall layout of the EX38 is pretty good. The only real negative I have with it is the fact the CMOS pins are located between the two PCIe slots. And when using two graphics cards getting to those two pins to short them out can be pretty eventful.

The DIMM slots are not as close to the edge of the board as they were on the EP35. On the EX38 they are placed a little closer to the CPU socket and Northbridge. This makes the distance data travels much shorter. In any event we still did not have any issues when it came to mounting our test Thermalright Ultra 120.

The one thing many of you will like about the EX38 is that it uses DDR2 up to 1200MHz for overclockers. This allow s for many to keep the price point of the system down as many of us are already using DDR2 in our present system. If you do want to spalash out and upgrade ram to DDR3,Gigabyte does offer the X38T-DQ6 and the X48T-DQ6.

 

The two 16x PCIe slots swallow up the two the smaller PCIe as they sit right between the two larger slots. Don’t fret any as there is one PCIe 1 x slot able to you above the top but depending on the card you are using the larger Northbridge cooler may interfere with installation.

All pins and headers needed for front panel connections, USB, firewire and eSATA backplane plates are located on the bottom edge of the board. Cable management is made easy as the cable can be run from the back of the board and out underneath to get connected.

The six SATA ports onboard supports raid in form of 0, 1, 5 and 10 at SATA II speeds. But if you decide to use the eSATA bracket two of the four SATA ports become useless for internal usage. I would have rather seen Gigabyte make the eSATA ports a permanent fixture in the I/O area.

 

When it came to cooling, like the EP35, Gigabyte used passive cooling with heat pipes connecting two sets of heat sinks. It’s nice to see motherboard manufacturers move away from loud active cooling components. This is really the age of quiet computing.

 

Software and DES

We will not emphasis as much as we normally do in this section as the software package is identical to the one in the EP35 bundle.
But here is some proof that we did get the system to boot at 4.4 gigs. At this speed the system wasn’t stable as it could not finish a complete 32m Super PI session.

The DES software which was also reviewed in the last review only works at default settings. No use to anybody wishing to max that CPU out. DES is really there for the guys out there who want to set their PC up  at stock settings and save on their energy bill. Not a bad idea at all, just not particularly applicable to the overclocker.

BIOS

When it comes to the BIOS of the EX38 the voltage and memory timing settings are exactly like the younger brother. There is no more CTRL-F1 to get into advance settings, yay! Going straight to the MB Intelligent Tweaker or MIT section gives you access to all the settings you need to overclock your CPU.





CPU Frequency: 100-700MHz
PCI Frequency: 90-150MHz
CPU ratio: 6 to CPU default
CPU voltage: 0.70-2.35V
DRAM voltage: default- +1.55
MCH voltage: default- +0.375
System Memory Multiplier: 2, 2.4, 3.2, 3.33, 4.0, 2.5, 3, 4

From changing the CPU multiplier to adjusting the PCIe frequency the EX38 has it all. In our time with the board we find it overclocked best when the memory timings were set to 5:6. All the other settings results in half the gains we had at the end.

 

Testing

We ran our standard suite of test to get final performance numbers from the EX38. We ran all the settings the same we did on the EP35 just to see if there was any performance difference, with memory at 4-4-4-12 and everything else at default. And just like we suspected the EX38 did outperform in most cases. We were not disappointed.

Testing Hardware:
Intel Core2Duo E8400
DDR2 Crucial Ballistix PC6400 (4-4-4-12)
Maxtor 100GB SATAI
Leadtek 6800GT
Thermalright Ultra 120
Thermaltake TP1000

Testing Software:
Futuremark PCMark05
Futuremark 3DMark06
SiSoftware Sandra
Everest Ultimate
SuperPi 1.5 mod
Prey
F.E.A.R.

Competition:
Asrock 4Core1600P35-WiFi+ (DDR2)
Asrock 4Core1600P35-WiFi+ (DDR3)
Gigabyte GA-EP35-DS4

 

CPU results

Futuremark PCmark05 Build 1.1.0
PCMark®05 is everything you need to reliably and easily measure the performance of your PC and determine its strengths and weaknesses. With PCMark05, you will be able to select the optimal upgrades for your existing PC, or choose the right new PC that fits your specific needs. This easy-to-use product gives you the same tools and knowledge that virtually every professional tester in the industry uses.

Super PI Modded 1.5
In August 1995, the calculation of pi up to 4,294,960,000 decimal digits was succeeded by using a supercomputer at the University of Tokyo. The program was written by D.Takahashi and he collaborated with Dr. Y.Kanada at the computer center, the University of Tokyo. This record should be the current world record. (Details are shown in the windows help.) This record-breaking program was ported to personal computer environment such as Windows NT and Windows 95. In order to calculate 33.55 million digits, it takes within 3 days with Pentium 90MHz, 40MB main memory and 340MB available storage.

 

Ram results

Futuremark PCmark05 Build 1.1.0
PCMark®05 is everything you need to reliably and easily measure the performance of your PC and determine its strengths and weaknesses. With PCMark05, you will be able to select the optimal upgrades for your existing PC, or choose the right new PC that fits your specific needs. This easy-to-use product gives you the same tools and knowledge that virtually every professional tester in the industry uses.

SiSoftware Sandra Lite 2007 SP1
SiSoftware has announced the availability of Service Release 2 (SR2) for SiSoftware Sandra 2005, the latest version of its award-winning utility. The focus of this service release has been improved support, compatibility and reliability rather than new features. We have been working closely with more hardware vendors than before to be able to bring greater direct support of an increased market share of commodity and server technologies.

Lavalys Everest
Lavalys EVEREST Home Edition is freeware system information, system diagnostics and benchmarking solution for home PC users, based on the award-winning EVEREST Technology. It offers the world's most accurate system information and diagnostics capabilities, including online features, memory benchmarks, hardware monitoring, and low-level hardware information. EVEREST Home Edition is uniquely available for home users without any charges, based on the freeware license.

 

HDD results

Futuremark PCmark05 Build 1.1.0
PCMark®05 is everything you need to reliably and easily measure the performance of your PC and determine its strengths and weaknesses. With PCMark05, you will be able to select the optimal upgrades for your existing PC, or choose the right new PC that fits your specific needs. This easy-to-use product gives you the same tools and knowledge that virtually every professional tester in the industry uses.

Simpli Software HD Tach 3
HD Tach will test the sequential read, random access and interface burst speeds of your attached storage device (hard drive, flash drive, removable drive, etc). All drive technologies such as SCSI, IDE/ATA, 1394, USB, SATA and RAID are supported. Test results from HD Tach can be used to confirm manufacturer specs, analyze your system for proper performance, and compare your performance with others. HD Tach is very easy to use, quick, and presents data in easy to read graphs, including the ability to compare two storage devices on screen at the same time for easy analysis.

 

Video and Gaming results

Futuremark 3DMark06 Build 1.0.2
3DMark®06 is the worldwide standard in advanced 3D game performance benchmarking. A fundamental tool for every company in the PC industry as well as PC users and gamers, 3DMark06 uses advanced real-time 3D game workloads to measure PC performance using a suite of DirectX 9 3D graphics tests, CPU tests, and 3D feature tests. 3DMark06 tests include all new HDR/SM3.0 graphics tests, SM2.0 graphics tests, AI and physics driven single and multiple cores or processor CPU tests and a collection of comprehensive feature tests to reliably measure next generation gaming performance today. Futuremark's exclusive Online ResultBrowser web service tracks and compares 3DMark06 scores.

Sierra F.E.A.R. Update 1.08
F.E.A.R. ™ (First Encounter Assault Recon) is an intense combat experience with rich atmosphere and a deeply intense paranormal storyline presented entirely in first person. Be the hero in your own spine-tingling epic of action, tension, and terror… and discover the true meaning of F.E.A.R.

3drealms Prey
PREY takes full advantage of the Sound Blaster® X-Fi™ sound card. PREY supports OpenAL hardware acceleration, EAX® ADVANCED HD™ 5.0 features of 4 reverberation effects at once, and uses Sound Blaster® X-Fi™ XRAM feature to load audio samples on the cards with 64 megs of RAM.

 

Overclocking

If you read the EP35 article you will see that we were not totally pleased with the overclocking of the board. 456MHz seemed to be the max with it.  But with the EX38 our experience was totally different. We decided from the start to use the 5:6 ratio which was the best setting from the other board. Anyways, we started the whole process at 400MHz to see if it had any stability problem which thankfully there weren’t. Slowly we jumped in different increments until we found the sweet spot which was 480MHz. An excitement level from a retail board, and a level we were very happy with.

Conclusion

Ok lets be honest here, the Gigabyte EX38-DS4 motherboard is right there with the its’ little brother, EP35 in performance at default settings. Well, maybe a tiny bit better. But where it pulls away and pulls away fast and hard was in the overclocking department. This board surpassed the limited 456MHz we achieved on the EP35 and kept going. A 480MHz FSB is nothing to sneeze at on an Intel E8400 CPU. After some tinkering we may see better numbers from it. But that time and energy could be saved for the X48 we will be bringing to you soon.

There are features inside and out on this board. The inside brings the Easy Tune and DES software. Both are very useful but to two different group of people. Easy Tune for the overclocker and DES for the conscientious energy saving builder as it only works at default settings.

The features are rich and plentiful. Loads of USB and firewire ports when you add in the headers on the mainboard, but eSATA is added via a bracket. This was just one more piece of equipment we had to attach to the mainboard during the build and an unnecessary one it should have been a permanent attachment to the I/O area. And speaking of SATA ports the EX38 could stand to use more of them if you decide to use the eSATA bracket. More is better in this case.

The Gigabyte GA-EX38-DS4 can be had for about $205 from Newegg.

So, overall the GA-EX38-DS4 performed pretty damn well in our test lab, coming away with a great overclock, which while not the highest we have seen in terms of FSB, is definitely one of our highest performance level overclocks ever. With the ability to use two quick ATI graphics cards in Crossfire, or two 3870X2s in CrossfireX, this motherboard would be an outstanding choice for a high performance gaming rig. I really like this board and I think it has found a new home in my main rig.

 

 

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