Motherboard Memory Lane: Intel X58, EVGA SLI Classified and the Core i7 920

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Motherboard Memory Lane: Intel X58, EVGA SLI Classified and the Core i7 920

Welcome to the latest in our Motherboard Memory Lane series on HWBOT. It’s a series of short articles that focus on specific motherboard and CPU platforms from the past. We examine chipsets that helped define the platform, the motherboards and CPUs that were popular on HWBOT at the time, and take a peek at some of the records broken.

This week our focus is directed at the Intel X58 chipset, a major component in Intel’s push to reign supreme in the top tier PC segment that we now refer to as the High-End Desktop, or HEDT segment. The X58 platform replaced the relatively short-lived Intel X48 platform and was for most gaming enthusiasts and overclockers, the platform of choice until Sandy Bridge and the P67 platform arrived several years later.


Intel X58: Overview

Launched in November 2008, the Intel X58 chipset was a traditional Northbridge/Southbridge design codenamed Tylersburg. It arrived in tandem with Intel’s latest Core i7 Series processors which were based initially on Nehalem, and later Gulftown architectures. One crucial difference between the X58 design and previous chipsets was that it no longer featured a memory controller – which had been moved to CPU itself. Whereas Intel had previously used the term Memory Controller Hub (MCH) to describe Northbridge chipsets, the removal of the memory controller meant that technically the X58 was an I/O Hub or IOH.

The X58 connected directly to CPU using QPI or QuickPath Interconnect, a bus that replaced FSB and offered system bandwidth between CPU and X58 of up to 25.6GB/s. In terms of memory support, the new platform offered triple channel DDR3 at standard speeds of 1066MHz. The decision to move the integrated memory controller to the CPU improved memory access latency.

The X58 platform was marketed to the enthusiast gaming segment and in particular those gamers keen to improve the experience using multi-GPU configurations. The new platform boasted a mighty 36 lanes of PCI Express 2.0, which for the first time offered sufficient potential bandwidth to support three or even four graphics cards. With PCIe configurations that included 2×16 and 4×8 PCIe lanes, 3-way (and eventually 4-way) graphics had become a reality.

The expansion of multi-GPU options was backed by the move from Nvidia to expand it’s SLI licensing terms to include non-Nvidia chipsets like the Intel X58. Licenses were dealt with on a per-board basis with SLI becoming a marketable feature for motherboard vendors. Indeed we begin to see the term SLI used in model naming for the first time. Having 36 lanes of PCIe meant that 32 lanes could be dedicated to providing PCIe slot bandwidth, with 4 remaining for general I/O purposes.

The Intel X58 Express I/O Hub (to use its technical description) was manufactured using a 65nm process and had a TDP of 24.1W. The chip itself was reasonably large by today’s standards measuring 37.5mm x 37.5mm. It’s partner Southbridge chip, the Intel IC10, remained unchanged from previous generations.


Most Popular Intel X58 Motherboards

If we take a look at the most popular motherboards that were used in the X58 era, the first thing that immediately springs to mind is the fact that ASUS, for the first time in this series, does not own top spot. Instead we see EVGA punching well above their weight with the X58 SLI Classified.

  • -X58 SLI Classified – 15.91%
  • -ASUS Rampage III Extreme – 14.15%
  • -ASUS Rampage II Extreme – 9.66%
  • -GIGABYTE X58-UD7 – 5.53%
  • -EVGA Classified 4-Way SLI – 5.09%
  • -GIGABYTE EX58-UD5 – 3.96%
  • -GIGABYTE EX58-Extreme – 2.63%
  • -ASUS P6T Deluxe – 2.38%
  • -GIGABYTE X58A-UD3R 2.27%
  • -ASUS P6T Deluxe V2 – 2.09%

It’s probably fair to say that the EVGA SLI Classified was the first board to be designed specifically with Overclocking in mind. The GIGABYTE X58A-OC board (which narrowly misses out on a top ten placing) arguably took things a step further, but by the time of its late arrival on the market, the EVGA board had already cornered the hearts and minds of X58 platform overclockers.

While most graphics cards of this era capable of 3-way graphics support, EVGA were the only graphics card vendor to offer 4-way with the EVGA GTX285 Classified card. The X58 SLI Classified and its followup, the EVGA Classified 4-Way SLI, were built with 4-way configurations in mind and featured 7 PCIe slots and Nvidia NF200 switch chips which allowed four x16 PCIe configurations.

This is what guru3D had to say about the EVGA X58 SLI Classified back in 2009:

”Heaps of features, performance, tweakability, looks and options. That’s the bottom line I’m closing this article with. The eVGA X58 3X SLI Classified without doubt among the very best motherboards we have ever tested. It will serve a very small niche market and sure, it is really expensive. But as far as hardware goes … it won’t get much better than this, no Sir.


Most Popular Intel X58 Compatible Processor: Intel Core i7 920

The Intel Core i7 920 is a quad-core, eight thread processor manufactured using 45nm lithography with a TDP of 130 watts. As with all X58 platform processors it used the 1366 LGA socket, a socket design that was used almost exclusively with this platform. The Core i7 920 was based on the Bloomfield architecture (a desktop variant of the Nehalem architecture) and retailed for just under $300 USD upon launch in late 2008.

The X58 platform in fact launched with only three options, the Core i7 920, Core i7 940 ($560 USD) and the Core i7 Extreme 965 ($999). Despite having a locked multiplier, the Core i7 920 offered tons of Overclocking potential with base clock adjustments alone. With a decent cooler it was possible to push the Core i7 920 from its 2.66GHz base configuration to a stable 4GHz without really breaking sweat. At one third the asking price of its Extreme Edition brethren, it easy to see why it was such a popular processor with HWBOT members.

Image Source: Bit-tech

The Core i7 920 represents 30.76% of all X58 platform submissions. However if you hone in on exactly how many members actually owned or ever used one, that figure soars to more than 57% of all X58 users. Indeed the Core i7 920 will for many overclockers be synonymous with the ‘good old days’ of Overclocking.The second most popular chip in terms of submissions is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the top dog of the platform, the Core i7 Extreme Edition 980X ($990 USD), a Gulftown based CPU that arrived in time to extend the life of the X58 platform in 2010. It is responsible for 23.37% of all X58 platform submissions.


EVGA SLI Classified: Record Scores

We now take a look at the highest scores posted using the most popular X58 platform motherboard, the EVGA SLI Classified.


Reference Clock

The job of overclocking an X58 platform CPU involved pushing the reference frequency of the chip. As with all overclocking however, thermal and voltage constraints plus the availability of settings in the motherboard’s BIOS would ultimately determine the upper limitations of the reference clock, and therefore the CPU clock.

The highest reference clock submitted on HWBOT using an EVGA SLI Classified came from Italian Extreme overclocker Mafio. He managed a reference clock of 256.36 MHz using an Intel Core i7 920 with a multiplier of x16 and a clock of 4,101.7MHz.

You can find the submission from Mafio here on HWBOT: http://hwbot.org/submission/2185568_mafio_reference_frequency_x58_sli_classified_256.36_mhz


CPU Frequency

Even though today we don’t pay too much heed to raw CPU frequencies or treat them as true benchmarks, in era of the X58 platform it was an important performance metric for most overclockers.The highest CPU frequency ever submitted to HWBOT using the EVGA SLI Classified came from Russian legend slamms who managed to push a Core i7 Extreme Edition 990X to a massive 6,947MHz, +100.20% beyond stock settings.

You can find the submission from slamms here: http://hwbot.org/submission/2138347_slamms_cpu_frequency_core_i7_extreme_990x_6947_mhz


SuperPi 32M

Finally we come to the classic SuperPi 32M benchmark, one of the most important in terms of historical relevance. The fastest SuperPi 32M run submitted on HWBOT using an EVGA SLI Classified was submitted by another legendary overclocker with NickShih completing a run in just 5min 33sec 594ms using a Core i7 Extreme Edition 990X ramped up to 6,584MHz (+97.72%).

Check out the submission from Nick here: http://hwbot.org/submission/1026323_nickshih_superpi___32m_core_i7_extreme_980x_5min_33sec_594ms

Thanks for joining us for our latest trip down Motherboard Memory Lane. Join us again next week when we take a look at the classic Intel P67 platform.





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