EVGA X58 SLI Motherboard
By Gabriel Torres on February 2, 2009
EVGA, a traditional NVIDIA partner, decided to manufacture a motherboard based on Intel X58 chipset with ICH10R south bridge chip, simply called EVGA X58 SLI. This is a high-end motherboard for Core i7 processors, featuring three x16 PCI Express slots, support for SLI (finally), a good 10-phase voltage regulator circuit with ferrite chokes and solid caps, six memory sockets and more. Let’s take a look at this motherboard and what you should expect from it.
The first thing that caught our eye on this motherboard was the use of only solid aluminum capacitors.
EVGA X58 SLI has three PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots, one x1 slot and two regular PCI slots. The third x16 slot runs at x8 speed all the time, as Intel X58 chipset only offers support for two x16 lanes. The second x16 slot can run at x16 (when two video cards are installed) or at x8 (when three video cards are installed). The first slot will always work at x16.
Motherboards with more than one x16 PCI Express slot based on Intel chipsets have always supported CrossFire configuration, but never supported NVIDIA’s SLI, being the major drawback in having an Intel-based motherboard with more than one x16 slot. The only exception was Intel’s very high-end DX5400XS “Skulltrail” motherboard, which has a couple of small NVIDIA bridge chips to make this happen. This board, however, isn’t targeted to regular users, as it has two LGA771 sockets and supports only FB-DIMM memories.
EVGA X58 SLI and some other motherboards based on Intel X58, however, support SLI. SLI support with Intel X58 chipset is possible if the motherboard manufacturer pays a royalty fee to NVIDIA and passes the NVIDIA certification program, which is the case with the present motherboard. So you will see on the market motherboards based on Intel X58 with and without SLI support. By the way, in theory SLI support increases the motherboard manufacturing cost – since the manufacturer needs to pay royalties and go through a certification process – and will surely reflect on the product’s price.
SLI support is enabled at driver level, so no bridge chip from NVIDIA was required on the motherboard.
EVGA says that this motherboard can run SLI with three video cards (three-way SLI), while other X58 motherboards do not claim this capability.
Core i7 CPUs have an embedded memory controller, just like it happens with AMD processors. All other Intel CPUs use an external memory controller, which is located on the north bridge chip (a.k.a. MCH or Memory Controller Hub) from the chipset. This means that with other Intel CPUs the chipset (and thus the motherboard) is the component that says what memory technologies and the maximum amount of memory you can have on your PC.
Since now the memory controller is inside the CPU, it is the processor, and not the chipset, that defines the memory technologies and the maximum amount of memory you can have. The motherboard, however, may have a limitation as to how much memory can be installed.
The Core i7 integrated memory controller accepts only DDR3 memory (up to 1.65 V; memories that require more than that won’t work and may even damage the CPU) and supports the new triple-channel memory architecture. Even though first Core i7 CPUs officially support up to DDR3-1066, EVGA X58 SLI supports memories up to DDR3-1600 (if the BIOS version is SZ1A or higher, thus a BIOS upgrade may be necessary). This is achieved by bypassing the CPU memory clock multiplier (the memory clock is achieved by multiplying a 133 MHz base clock signal).
The triple-channel architecture allows the CPU to access three memory modules at the same time to store or retrieve data, increasing the number of bits that are transferred per clock cycle from 128 (on dual-channel architecture) to 192. Thus this makes a 50% improvement on the maximum theoretical memory bandwidth compared to dual-channel architecture, if both are running at the same clock rate. For example, DDR3-1333 memories running on dual-channel have a maximum theoretical transfer rate of 21 GB/s while on triple-channel they have a maximum theoretical transfer rate of 32 GB/s.
One of the highlights of EVGA X58 SLI is the presence of six memory sockets and not only four, like Intel DX58SO “Smackover”, for example. This allows you to make future memory upgrades without having to replace your current memory modules and keeping the maximum performance possible.
Just to clarify, in order to achieve the maximum performance you have to install three or six memory modules. If you install three memory modules you have to use sockets with the same color (on EVGA X58 SLI three sockets are black and three are green). If you install a different number of memory modules the system won’t achieve its maximum possible performance.
On motherboards with only four memory sockets you have a problem: if you add a fourth memory module this module will be accessed at single-channel performance (1/3 of the maximum transfer rate) so for you to add more memory keeping the maximum performance you have to remove your old three modules and install new ones. This upgrade is more expensive than using a motherboard with six sockets, where you can simply add three more modules and keep your old modules installed.
With EVGA X58 SLI you can have up to 12 GB (Intel “Smackover” supports 16 GB) and this is clearly a limitation of the motherboard, not of the Core i7 CPU.
EVGA X58 SLI uses the Intel ICH10R south bridge chip, which supports six SATA-300 ports with RAID 0, 1, 10 and 5. A JMicron JMB363 chip provides two more SATA-300 ports (supporting RAID 0, 1, 0+1 and JBOD) and one ATA-133 port. And a JMicron JMB362 chip provides one more SATA-300 port (near the first PCI Express x16 slot) and one eSATA-300 port. So we have a total of nine SATA-300 ports and one eSATA-300 port. This motherboard does not provide a port for floppy disk drives.
As you can see in Figure 5, this motherboard comes with a POST display, which is useful to detect what is wrong with your PC in case it is not turning on.
This motherboard has two Gigabit Ethernet ports, which are controlled by two Realtek RTL8111C controllers, which are connected to the system using PCI Express lanes and thus able to achieve their maximum performance.
The audio section from this motherboard provides 7.1 audio, produced by the south bridge chip with the aid of Realtek ALC889 codec. This codec provides outstanding signal-to-noise ratios, with 104 dB for its analog inputs and 108 dB for its analog outputs, with 192 kHz sampling rate for both inputs and outputs. In other words, you can use the on-board audio from this motherboard for working professionally editing analog audio sources, like converting LPs, cassette tapes and VHS tapes to digital format.
This motherboard provides 7.1 independent analog audio outputs, which is great. It also features on-board coaxial and optical SPDIF outputs.
This motherboard has 12 USB 2.0 ports with eight of them soldered on the rear panel and four available through headers on the board, and this board comes with an I/O bracket with four USB ports, allowing you to use all 12 ports. By the way, the ICH10 chip has a feature called “USB Port Disable” that allows you to disable individual USB ports. This is a very interesting feature to have on PCs that are used by several different people to prevent users from installing USB devices (for example, an external hard drive or a USB drive, which can contain viruses and also to prevent people from copying data).
This motherboard also has two FireWire (IEEE1394) ports controlled by a Texas Instruments TSB43AB22A chip, with one soldered on the rear panel and another available through an I/O bracket. This motherboard comes with an I/O bracket containing one FireWire port (standard size).
In Figure 7, you can see the motherboard rear panel with PS/2 keyboard connector, clear CMOS button, eight USB 2.0 ports, coaxial and optical SPDIF outputs, one FireWire port, one eSATA port, two Gigabit Ethernet ports and independent analog 7.1 audio outputs.
This motherboard does not provide support for PS/2 mice, so you need to use a USB mouse. EVGA X58 SLI provides one serial port, available using an I/O bracket that comes with the product. A parallel port is not provided.
EVGA X58 SLI comes with other small yet important features. As mentioned before, all electrolytic capacitors used on this motherboard are solid, preventing the infamous capacitor leakage problem.
The voltage regulator circuit uses ferrite chokes, which provide 25% less power loss compared to iron chokes, and MOSFET transistors with low RDS(on), i.e., low leakage current, which provide less consumption and less heat. These transistors are cooled down by a big passive heatsink. This circuit uses a 10-phase design, which provides a lower heat generation, a higher life-span and a cleaner voltage for the CPU. For a better understanding of the importance of such design, read our Everything You Need to Know About the Motherboard Voltage Regulator Circuit tutorial.
Another important thing we noticed was that EVGA fixed the design of their north bridge cooler. On the design used by other EVGA motherboards, like EVGA nForce 790i SLI, the cooler blows hot air on the video card installed on the first PCI Express x16 slot. This causes the overheating of the video card, what can cause the system to crash. Now EVGA is using a fan that blows on the opposite direction, as you can see in Figure 9.
EVGA X58 SLI comes with on-board power and reset switches, plus another clear CMOS button (there is another one on the rear panel).
In Figure 11, you can see all accessories that come with this motherboard, which includes six SATA cables, six SATA power adapters, I/O brackets for four USB ports, one FireWire port and one serial port, and bridges for two-way and three-way SLI modes.
EVGA X58 SLI main features are:
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.
EVGA X58 SLI is surely a high-end motherboard for Core i7 processors. The biggest problem is its price tag: at USD 300 only a few people will be able to afford this product. The main highlights from this product are: