In this week’s episode of our Motherboard Memory Lane series we focus in on the X38 chipset. The Intel X38 was a followup platform aimed at the Extreme or enthusiast segment that arrived on the market just four or five months after the launch of the popular Intel P35 chipset we covered last week. In essence the Intel X38 attempted to woo enthusiasts and Overclockers with a handful of features that include support for PCI Express Gen 2.0, additional PCIe lanes for multi-GPU configurations and an optimized memory controller. Let’s take a look at the X38 chipset in a little detail, the most popular motherboard of this generation and some record scores from the HWBOT database for this era:
Intel X38: Overview
The Intel X38 belongs to the same Bearlake family that also includes P35, G35 and G33 Northbridge designs. In fact, as a performance chipset offering, the X38 not only extends the Bearlake series, but also essentially retired the 975X, which by this stage was looking quite old and largely outdated. In Southbridge terms the X38 was paired with the same ICH9/ICH9R series that we covered with the P35. It brought support for Gigabit Ethernet plus 6 SATA 3Gbps connectivity at the expense of IDE support.
The major point of departure for the Intel X38 is the fact that it actually gave the GPU much more potential bandwidth to play with. Firstly, the chipset offered double the amount of PCIe lanes with x32 lanes coming directly from the Northbridge compared to x16 on all previous consumer chipsets. But was not just the number of lanes available, as the X38 also debuted PCI Express 2.0, a new generation of PCIe that offered a potentially mouthwatering bus speed of 5 GT/s – double that of Gen 1.0 with a potential throughput of 500 MB/sec. Indeed x32 lanes of PCIe Gen 2.0 amounted to a total of 16 GB/s, more than enough for a pair of the most demanding GPUs of this era. Interestingly, PCIe Gen 2.0 made its very first public appearance on the Intel X38 platform. AMD and Nvidia would eventually follow suit, with Gen 2.0 arriving several months later on competing chipset lineups.
Additional PCIe bandwidth was attractive to many enthusiasts in 2007 who were keen to take advantage of AMD’s Crossfire technology. The X38 platform could now offer each GPU substantially more bandwidth – i.e. one x16 PCIe Gen 2.0 slot per card, directly from the Northbridge. In terms of SLI support, it would be several years later until Nvidia finally granted licenses for SLI on non-Nvidia chipsets with the arrival of the Intel X58 chipset.
Aside from PCIe bandwidth and multi-GPU support, the Intel X38 also provided FSB 1333 support for the latest 45nm dual-core Wolfdale, and quad-core Yorkfield processors. In terms of memory controller, the X38 was also optimized to support faster DDR3 modules which were gradually becoming more affordable at this time. Although 1333MHz DDR3 memory eventually became the norm on the next generation X48 chipset, the X38 chipset did indeed support DDR3. DDR2 was the more popular choice with motherboard vendors at launch however with the majority of X38 platform boards supporting DDR2 only. In terms of memory optimization, Intel had this to say back in 2007:
“Intel® Fast Memory Access and Intel® Turbo Memory further improve performance, while removal of overspeed protection1 and ability to easily tune the system for optimum performance enable extreme power users to achieve performance levels beyond its industry-leading baseline performance.”
Most Popular Intel X38 Motherboards
If we take a look at the top ten X38 motherboards on the HWBOT database we see once again that ASUS is by far the dominant player for this platform, even more so than with previous P965 and P35 platforms. Here is the top ten motherboards based on the number of historical X38 submissions posted on HWBOT:
- -ASUS Maximus Formula – 26.32%
- -ASUS Maximus Extreme – 18.22%
- -ASUS P5E – 13.98%
- -GIGABYTE X38-DQ6 – 5.59%
- -ASUS P5E3 Deluxe – 5.30%
- -ASUS P5E3 Deluxe/WIFI-AP – 5.01%
- -ASUS Maximus Formula (Special Edition) – 4.51%
- -ASUS P5E3 WS Professional – 4.24%
- -Abit IX38-QuadGT – 3.60%
- -DFI LanParty LT X38-T2R – 2.41%
If we consider the top three motherboards on the list above, we find that ASUS has virtually cornered the enthusiast X38 market for enthusiasts making submissions on HWBOT. Together, the top three boards account for almost 60% of all X38 submissions. GIGABYTE has one X38 board worthy of a mention in the form of the X38-DQ6. However this accounts for a mere 5.59% of all submissions. Abit make an appearance in 9th place with the IX38-QuadGT board taking 3.60% with DFI showing up in tenth place with their LanParty LT X38-T2R board.
The ASUS Maximus Formula (above), feature in more HWBOT submissions than any other Intel X38 motherboard.
It’s interesting to note that the top two ASUS boards are both Republic of Gamers boards, pointing to time in history when the ROG brand was gaining momentum in this new ‘Extreme’ enthusiast space being cultivated by Intel at this time.
Most Popular Intel X38 Compatible Processor: Core 2 Extreme QX9650
Looking at the X38 era and the CPUs that were popular at that time, we find three processors that between them represent more than 40% of all X38 platform score submissions on HWBOT. The most popular is the Yorkfield-based Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650 processor, the first black box chip from Intel branded as an ‘Extreme’ processor. It used the same HEDT style branding that we is used today with Broadwell-E processors. In terms of popularity with users however it represents only 17.77%, largely due to its prohibitive $1,000 USD price tag.
The more affordable Yorkfield-based Core 2 Quad Q6600 processor represents 14.73% of all X38 submissions and is in fact the most popular chip mong users, 29.92% of whom made a submission with this chip. Dual-core Wolfdale offerings were also popular with 20.64% of HWBOT members making submissions with a Core 2 Duo E8400 processor, a chip that represents 12.31% of all submissions on X38.
ASUS Maximus Formula: Record Scores
We can now take a look at some of the highest scores posted using the most popular X38-based motherboard, the ASUS Maximus Formula.
When considering the task of pushing a CPU in the X38 era, the job almost always involved raising the reference clock as high as possible. This in turn would alter the Front Side Bus (FSB) speed i.e. reference clock x4 = FSB. The final parameter of adjustment was the CPU multiplier i.e. FSB x multiplier = CPU clock. As with all Overclocking, thermal and voltage constraints, plus the availability of settings in the motherboard’s BIOS would eventually determine the upper limitations of the reference clock, and therefore the CPU clock.
The highest reference clock ever achieved on an ASUS Maximus Formula motherboard was submitted by Swiss Overlocker Christian Ney (our current HWBOT Community Leader) who managed to hit a reference clock of 665.01 MHz. This was achieved using a Wolfdale Core 2 Duo E8500 processor.
You can find the submission from Christian Ney here:
In modern Overclocking we tend to focus less on actually CPU frequencies as bonafide scores. However, looking back to the X38 era of the mid-noughties it was a highly contested benchmark for many of the world’s top overclockers. The highest CPU frequency ever submitted on an ASUS Maximus Formula motherboard comes from Georgian Overclocker POWER_VANO. He managed to push an LN2 cooled Cedar Mill Intel Celeron 356 processor to a staggering 8,322.4 MHz, a whopping +149.70% beyond stock settings.
Here’s a shot of the LN2 cooled Celeron 356 rig:
You can find the submission from POWER_VANO here:
Finally we come to the absolute classic CPU benchmark, SuperPi 32M. It’s a benchmark that remains one of the most important in terms of historical relevance, going way back to the early days of the game. The fastest SuperPi 32M run submitted on HWBOT using an ASUS Maximus Formula board was submitted by T0lsty of the Ukraine. He opted to use a Core 2 Duo E8500 processor which he pushed to 5,584MHz (+76.32%) to complete a SuperPi 32M run in just 8min 51sec 437ms.
Thanks for joining us for our third Motherboard Memory Lane article. Join us again next week when we take a look at the classic Intel P45 platform.