Gigabyte EX58 Extreme Motherboard
By Rafael Otto Coelho on March 26, 2009
Gigabyte EX58 Extreme is probably one of the most complete socket LGA1366 motherboards based on Intel X58 chipset (with the ICH10R south bridge chip) for Core I7 processors available on the market today, with features not found on most competitors, such as three PCI Express x16 slots with support for SLI and CrossFireX modes, 16-phase voltage regulator circuit, liquid cooling waterblock on the chipset, POST diagnostics display and several other features commonly found on Gigabyte's high-end motherboards, such as passive heatsink with heatpipes for the chipset and voltage regulator transistors, solid aluminum capacitors and ferrite chokes. Let's take a look at the motherboard and see what you should expect from it.
We have published a detailed article about Intel high-end motherboard based on X58 chipset for Core I7 processor, DX58SO "Smackover" and other about ASUS P6T Deluxe OC Palm Edition, so a comparison between the EX58 Extreme and these two is inevitable.
Gigabyte EX58 Extreme has three PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots, one PCI Express 2.0 x4 slot, one PCI Express 2.0 x1 slot and two PCI slots. The third PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot (the orange one) does not work at x16 mode, of course (since the Intel X58 chipset supports only two x16 lanes): it works at x1 when both the x16 PCI Express slots are working at x16 speed or at x8, if you decrease the speed of the second slot to x8. In this case the first slot will continue working at 16x. Using the manufacturer's language, you have two possible configurations: x16/x16/x1 or x16/x8/x8. If you have only one or two video cards, they run both at x16.
Note that this motherboard has one PCI Express x1 slot, but this slot cannot be used if you install the cooling solution that comes with the motherboard. But still, if you have a x1 card you can install it on the x4 slot (or on the third PCI Express x16 slot, if is it still available).
The motherboards with more than one PCI Express x16 slot based on Intel chipsets have always supported CrossFire configuration, but traditionally they do not support NVIDIA's SLI. Gigabyte EX58 Extreme, however, supports SLI with two (like ASUS P6T Deluxe) or even three video cards (which is not supported by P6T). You'll find on market motherboards based on Intel X58 chipset with SLI support and without it - as long as we know, the Intel "Smackover" does not support, for example. This support depends on whether the manufacturer paid license to NVIDIA and passed their certification process or not - which, by the way, increases the cost of manufacturing, which obviously reflects on the cost to the end user. Support for SLI is enabled at driver level, so no NVIDIA bridge chip was necessary on the motherboard.
This motherboard does not require extra power for the PCI Express slots, unlike Intel DX58SO.
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. 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 1.6 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, EX58 Extreme supports up to DDR3-2100 (ASUS P6T Deluxe supports up to DDR3-1600 memory and Intel DX58SO "Smackover" supports memory up to DDR3-1333).
The triple-channel architecture allows 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 the Gigabyte EX58 Extreme is the presence of six memory sockets, not just four, as in Intel DX58SO. With this feature you can make future memory upgrades without having to replace your current modules, while maintaining the maximum possible performance.
For maximum performance with Core I7 processors you need to install three or six memory modules. If you install three modules you must to use sockets with the same color (three sockets on EX58 Extreme are green and three are pink). If you install a different number of memory modules your PC won't achieve the maximum possible performance.
On a motherboard with only four memory sockets you have a problem: if you install a fourth memory module, it will be accessed with the performance of a single channel (1/3 of the maximum transfer rate), so for you to install more memory maintaining maximum performance you must remove your old modules and install three new modules. This upgrade is more expensive than using a motherboard with six sockets, where you can simply install three additional modules and keep your old modules installed. Gigabyte EX58 Extreme accept up to 24 GB, while ASUS P6T Deluxe supports up to 12 GB and Intel "Smackover" supports 16 GB.
Next to the memory modules X58 Extreme has on/off and reset switches, feature found only in motherboards targeted to enthusiast users.
Gigabyte EX58 Extreme uses Intel ICH10R south bridge chip, which supports six SATA-300 ports with RAID 0, 1, 10 and 5. In addition to these ports, it has four SATA-300 ports controlled by two JMB322 chips, supporting RAID 0, 1 and JBOD, so the motherboard has a total of ten SATA-300 ports. Another advantage of this Gigabyte motherboard is the presence of an ATA-133 port (the Intel X58 chipset does not offer one), and a floppy drive controller - both features are not available on Intel DX58SO "Smackover".
This motherboard has two Gigabit Ethernet ports controlled by two Realtek 8111D chips, 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 and 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 has 12 USB 2.0 ports with eight of them soldered on the rear panel and four available through headers on the board. By the way, 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 has three FireWire (IEEE1394) ports controlled by a Texas Instruments TSB43AB23 chip, one soldered on the rear panel and two available via external adapters or ports on the front panel of the computer case.
In Figure 5, you can see this motherboard rear panel: PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports, eight USB 2.0 ports, SPDIF coaxial and optical outputs, one FireWire port, two Gigabit Ethernet ports and 7.1 independent analog audio outputs. But what really drew our attention was the presence of a "clear CMOS" button on this panel, which left no doubt that this motherboard is aimed to overclockers.
This motherboard does not provides serial or parallel ports.
Gigabyte EX58 Extreme comes with other important features. As mentioned previously, all the electrolytic capacitors used on the motherboard are solid from a Japanese manufacturer, which avoids the infamous leakage problem. As for the voltage regulator circuit, it is equipped with ferrite chokes (which causes 25% less energy loss compared to iron chokes), MOSFET transistors with low RDS(on) (low current leakage), wich provide less consuption and heat. But what is really amazing in this circuit is that it uses a 16-phase design (12+2+2, according to Gigabyte, or 12 phases for the processor power line), 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.
According to the manufacturer X58 Extreme has its power copper layers with twice the thickness of traditional motherboards (a.k.a. "2 oz of copper" feature). Therefore, the electrical resistance of these lines is divided by two, which reduces the heat produced by the board, improves efficiency and increases the chances of a successful overclock.
EX58 Extreme also makes justice to its name in the heatsink department, with copper heatpipes on the northbridge, southbridge and voltage regulator transistors. So far so good, this type of heatpipe cooling solution is now common in most high-end motherboards. But this board goes beyond: it leaves the factory with a waterblock already installed on the chipset. So if you have a watercooling system for your processor, you do not need to buy a separated block to also refrigerate your motherboard in the most efficient manner. If you do not use such solution, X58 Extreme provides a "expansion card" passive heatsink to help cooling the chipset, shown on Figures 8 and 9. This solution must be screwed on the northbridge heatsink and uses one of the rear case slots (preventing the use of the PCI Express x1 slot available on the board). Moreover, due to the connection available using the heatpipes, the watercooler (or the "expansion card" dissipator) will also help cooling down the southbridge and voltage regulator transistors.
Another amazing detail is the presence of a two-digit display that indicates the POST status, as well as several sets of LEDs on the board close to the memory sockets that indicate the voltage level of the processor, memory, northbridge and southbridge, helping to prevent damage caused by high voltages. Other two sets of LEDs indicate the level of overclocking and temperature of the processor and north bridge. Indeed, this board is dedicated to people who wants really extreme overclocking levels.
The Gigabyte EX58 Extreme main features include:
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.
Gigabyte EX58 Extreme is certainly one of the more complete motherboards for Core I7 processors available on the market today. It brings several advantages over its competitors if you want extreme overclocking levels using the new Intel processors. The main specifications for this product include: