Page 3 - A Closer Look, Board Layout
The Gigabyte X48T-DQ6 arrives in the trademark Gigabyte blue printed circuit board. Combined with copper heatpipes, this color combination is easily identifiable with the company's unique color scheme -- similar to how DFI and Asus all have their own combination to distinguish physically.
As you can see the design of the heatpipes above, the L-shaped heatpipe implementation routes from ICH9R the Southbridge at the bottom via a single pipe to the large copper Northbridge block. Two separate heatpipes lead away from the central X48 cooler to one dual section heatsink strip for heat dissipation -- this is taken advantage of when airflow is brought over the back by the rear exhaust fan in the case as well as the CPU cooler. During our tests, the heatpipe worked well and adequately cooled our X48 chipset even under overclocking scenarios despite the fact that it's not in the correct upright orientation (We put the motherboard flat by default as we've tested on the Danger Den Torture Rack).
As gained immense popularity for the last couple years, the Gigabyte X48T-DQ6 features 100% Japanese manufacturered SMD solid capacitors on the motherboard.
Also, a little short note -- the ATX 4-pin/EPS 8-pin power connector is located at the top left corner of the motherboard. Instead of the clips facing up, it faces towards the left of the motherboard -- the back I/O connectors -- which I felt it was a relatively careless design because once you have the connector clipped in, you're going to need good luck in order to get it out in a cramped case.
A shot at the back of the motherboard. A relatively clean design, copper plates with fins are installed behind the Southbridge as well as a large plate behind the Northbridge and surrounding CPU socket area. These "Crazy Cool" plates are quite different from what Asus' Stack Cool system; whereas Asus' implementation is using a thin layer of metal to distribute heat more evenly, Gigabyte uses external plates instead. The one behind the ICH9R chip should be good -- but the one behind the CPU socket is not very practical because it may interfere with aftermarket heatsink backplates. Some backplates may wrap around it fine, but others may require you to remove the Crazy Cool copper backplate -- rendering its implementation next to useless. Chances are that, users of the Gigabyte X48T-DQ6 are going to be enthusiasts with large aftermarket heatsinks.
The Gigabyte X48T-DQ6 also uses surface mount for its capacitors, as shown in the image above -- there are no pins sticking out the back of the board; just something that looks like small metal balls at the end.
The heatpipes are routed around the CPU socket; with the large block over the location of the Intel X48 chip and major heat dissipation occurring at the back. Generally speaking, the clearing is OK and should accommodate most CPU coolers -- the capacitors and other components will not interfere with aftermarket cooling devices.
As you can see in the photo above, the CPU features a 12-phase power design -- which is, generally, better on paper than Asus motherboards we've used because high end Asus boards features a maximum of 8 phases for CPU power regulation. The practicality of this is often disputed, but in a generalized sense the more the better -- lower voltage ripples means constant stream of steady power; which contributes to somewhat better overclocking results. Power usage and CPU life may also be improved on a negligible scale.
One of the biggest things on many new Gigabyte motherboards is the Dynamic Energy Saver. Introduced on the X38 series with the "E" prefix, the X48 based Gigabyte X48-DQ6 and X48T-DQ6 has this built in by default. The Dynamic Energy Saver uses an ASIC chip as part of the system like Asus' EPU; however what Asus doesn't offer is the dynamically allocated multiphase power design used in order to optimize power efficiency. Under light load, it drops to 4-phase power regulation, while on high CPU loads it raises to full 12-phase power regulation. The ASIC chip monitors the CPU power usage and how much power you are saving in real time and reports it to Gigabyte's Dynamic Energy Saver utility in Windows. It's pretty cool to watch it in action. The utility also shows how many power phases (Either 4, 8, or 12) are in action. Note that the Dynamic Energy Saver function doesn't work when the CPU is overclocked, and what are the chances of the user not having the CPU overclocked with this motherboard?
The DDR3 RAM slots are color coded in green and pink in correspondence to channels A and B. As far as I can see, it seems that a 2-phase power design is implemented for the RAM for stabler RAM voltages; as we've also seen in the Asus P5E3-Deluxe. The power regulation blocks are located under the DIMM slots.
Personally, I felt that the RAM slots are placed too close to the CPU socket. We've used the Asus Arctic Square in our tests -- not a particular large heatsink -- and the fins of the heatsink touches the heatpipe fins on our OCZ ReaperX DDR3 RAM modules. Any larger heatsink would render the first RAM slot unusable, which translates to making the whole channel A not usable -- leaving only two RAM slots remaining if you still want to run dual channel.
Nicely implemented is the 24-pin ATX power connector above the floppy connector -- we've always been pushing for this kind of layout. It's nice to see the Gigabyte X48T-DQ6 motherboard having it in this order, as the same with the Asus Striker II NSE.
While Intel's ICH9R Southbridge supplies up to 6 SATAII ports and has dropped PATA support since ICH7 series, Gigabyte's SATA2 chip not only adds support for one IDE channel, but also two additional SATA ports for a total of 8 on the Gigabyte X48T-DQ6. The Intel chipset provided SATA2 ports are colored yellow for the connectors, while the two purple ones and distinguished because it's based off the Gigabyte chip.
Interestingly, 6 SATA2 connectors are located at the bottom right of the board -- where case I/O connectors are normally located. To accommodate that, Gigabyte moved them a bit to the left. Meanwhile, the PATA connector is located where SATA ports are located on most motherboards; rotated 90 degrees facing outwards for connection convenience. 2 odd SATA2 connectors are placed next to the Southbridge -- if you have longer graphics cards with large heatsinks, say goodbye to 2 SATA ports.
The backing of the pins for front case I/O connectors are clearly coded for easy connections. An included labeled connector block like Asus' Q-Connect would definitely be nice though.
The expansion slots, in order from the top, are: PCIe x1, PCIe x16, PCIe x1, PCIe x1, PCIe x16, PCI, and another PCI slot. This is pretty much the standard configuration; besides the usual complaint of the RAM slots a bit low and close to the first PCIe connector it's all fine. Many of the latest boards have this problem anyway.
With that aside, I noticed the CMOS battery is placed on the right side of the second PCIe x1 slot -- which would be a bit inconvenient for access since it would probably require the removal of up to two add-on cards in order to pull the battery out for any particular reason.
An array of internal case connectors is placed along the bottom such as 2 USB connectors, 1 Firewire, 1 4-pin fan, and the such. Some of them are placed vertically and because they are so close to the bottom PCI slot, it may interfere with add-on boards with larger capacitors in that section, but that's just a minor concern.
Also shown is the ITE IT8718 I/O controller chip at the bottom right corner that the Gigabyte X48T-DQ6 incorporates.
The back I/O connectors. There's a full array of available connectors; including 2 PS/2 ports, an impressive 8 USB ports, optical and coaxial S/PDIF digital and a total of six analog audio connectors; as well as two Firewire jacks of both sizes. The 2 Realtek based Gigabit network adapters support teaming -- meaning that, it can be set up either for redundancy or theoretically double the bandwidth of the connection (Think something like SLI for network cards). There's no integrated wireless networking like high end Asus boards; which is nice to have -- but personally I rarely use it as far as desktop computing goes.
One of the first things many readers asked when they first saw this board in our preview is the lack of eSATA connectors. I can assure you, it's one of my concerns too; and they aren't missing. They are with the dual eSATA/Molex backplate as I've mentioned on page 2 of this review.
After plugging everything in and getting the computer up and running, Gigabyte's driver CD for installing drivers is quite convenient -- it automatically detects the required drivers for your motherboard, and automatically selects them for the XpressInstall function. It reboots a few extra times than I would do manually, but hey -- it gets the job done unattended. Now, let's move on to our tests and benchmarks.