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Wrapping Up Our Look at the First Crop of X58 Motherboards

written by: •edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 5/19/2011

We have already covered the X58 offerings from Gigabte, MSI, and Asus. In this article, we finish off with a look at Intel’s own motherboard, and pick our favourites

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    The Intel DX58 Smackover

    Intel Smackover  UKP: 200 EUD: 260 CAD: 350 AUD: 470

    Even with an exciting new chipset, Intel still manages to put out a mobo that is at least mundane, if not outright boring. The BLKDX58SO, or Smackover, looks fine, with a fashionable black PCB and blue slots, actually similar to the MSI Eclipse. That is where the goodies stop. No 3-way graphics, no SLI.

    Visually obvious is that Intel settled for heat-sinks when all the cool kids are using heat-pipes or even liquid blocks. Also easy to see is that where the other offerings all have 6 memory slots, the Intel has 4, and using the fourth obviously takes away triple-channel benefits. The rear panel reveals only one Ethernet connector.

    While it wouldn’t be fair to describe Intel’s boards as anti-overclocking the way they were in days of yore, the BIOS and other features just can’t compete with what the other manufacturers are offering. You won’t be able to tweak as many things, in increments as fine, over as wide a range, from the BIOS; let alone on-the-fly from inside Windows or via a little doohickey with an LCD screen.

    Some might feel, particularly in enterprise circles, that Intel boards are the safe bet in terms of manufacturing quality and BIOS stability; and the argument is somewhat valid. A lot of the feeling definitely comes from people’s assumption that being innovative is dangerous, though.

    Asus executes on its new products with surgical precision, and anyone who dismisses Gigabyte and MSI as “no-name” brands just hasn’t done their homework. The only tangible advantage of the Smackover is that it is the cheapest X58 board currently available for pre-order, so it can help your new Core i7 rig from going Smackover budget.

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    So Which Board is Best?

    If you can get by with 2 instead of 3 graphics cards, a single Ethernet port, 4 memory slots, 6 internal and 2 external SATA connections, and aren’t going to do any overclocking, save yourself (or, since you aren’t overclocking, most likely your company) some money and go with Intel for around $300 (all figures are USD approximation from here on in).

    If you want to overclock, dropping another 10 bucks gets you the Gigabyte EX58-UD5. You get dual gig Ethernet, heat-pipes, 2 more memory slots, 4 extra SATA ports, 3-way SLI and crossfire, etc.

    The MSI Platinum comes in between the two, sometimes even lower than the Intel Smackover. Depending on exactly how it is priced by your retailers, it might be a good deal. The Gigabyte has a much nicer power system and components, plus a bit more SATA goodness. The MSI Platinum and Eclipse both don’t have the memory slots centered beside the CPU slot, while the other mother boards all do. The different length of the wire traces from one to the other can affect stability at high speed; centered memory slots means symmetrical traces, which are obviously equal in length.

    The only big advantage MSI brings to the table is that their memory slots accept 4 GB sticks for a whopping 24 GB total, while ASUS’ slots will only take up to 2 GB for a total of 12 GB. Gigabyte boards can also handle 24 GB, and even if the Smackover takes 4 GB sticks, you can only get three of them in there in triple channel. The Eclipse also has 12 SATA ports; someone with very specific, bordering on fetishistic, approach to memory and storage might be able to make a case for it.

    If you need that many SATA ports though, you might want to think about SAS storage, for which the ASUS P6T Deluxe has two ports. Coupled with the fact that MSI’s Eclipse is showing up at prices at or higher than the P6T with the OC Palm device ($365), and the Eclipse is far from attractive.

    Without the OC Palm, the ASUS board can be had for about $330, 20 bucks more than Gigabyte’s UD5. But the UD5 seems a hair faster. At about $360, the Extreme product from Gigabyte is a solid buy for someone planning to use liquid cooling. The non-liquid option for the Extreme looks pretty ungainly and certainly doesn’t justify the $50 dollar premium over the UD5, the $30 premium over the Asus without Palm, or the $5 dollar savings from the Asus with the Palm.

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    In Summary

    Intel has the cheapest entry and it is entirely serviceable, but an extra 10 bucks gets you the much nicer Gigabyte EX58-UD5. Gigabyte’s Extreme is a good plan for someone that can make use of the liquid cooling block. The ASUS P6T is great board, particularly if you can see yourself making good use of the Palm OC, or at least thinking it’s really cool. The SAS is also very attractive to the workstation buyer and a nice piece of insurance for the enthusiast that never knows what his gear will end up doing.

    UPDATE Jan 26/09: Now that more boards have come out and prices have stabilized, we've narrowed the field to the three best X58 motherboards, here.

    Luckily there is a enough data about the Nehalem Core i7 it self’s performance to provide some meaningful information, which we do in the next article.