New Mainboard: Intel DX58SO Smackover
For our tests of the Core i7 processors Intel sent us their own new LGA1366 mainboard – DX58SO also known as Smackover. I have to say that we used to prefer other vendors’ mainboards for testing new processors, however things have recently changed. Intel started working harder on their own mainboard designs, and as a result, the consumer qualities of Intel mainboards have significantly improved. They became as fast as the competitors’ solutions and even started to offer extensive overclocking related functionality. Intel DX58SO proved absolutely up to our expectations. It is a totally appropriate enthusiast platform, although it not completely problem-free, unfortunately.
The first thing that catches your eye when you first look at Intel DX58SO is its slightly unusual layout. The memory slots have been moved above the processor socket. We have seen similar location of the memory slots only on a few mainboards for AMD processors, but never on Intel solutions. However, Intel is now using a memory controller built into their CPUs, so they can also locate the DIMM slots like that. Especially since this placement has certain advantages. It allows to better cool DDR3 SDRAM modules because they are now turned along the typical airflow inside the system case. Moreover, the memory slots above the processor socket are now very close to the CPU, which lowers the harmful EMI.
By moving the DIMM slots away from their traditional spot, Intel engineers could put the chipset North Bridge also closer to the CPU. So, QPI interface connections are also not very long.
I have to say that Intel laid out only four memory slots out of six possible on their new mainboard. So, the first memory channel allows two DDR3 SDRAM modules connected to it, while the remaining two channels can only accommodate one module per channel. Therefore, Intel DX58SO, just like LGA775 mainboards, supports only 8GB of RAM, while the majority of LGA1366 mainboards from other manufacturers will be able to work with up to 12GB of DDR3 SDRAM.
The chipset North Bridge is cooled with a relatively small aluminum heatsink. The board will also come bundled with a fan and a retention frame for it, which we strongly advise to install right away on top of the North Bridge heatsink, because we are somewhat concerned about its thermals with passive cooling.
The chipset South Bridge is also equipped with a small aluminum heatsink that is efficient enough in this case.
Processor voltage regulator module has a six-phase design. It uses solid-state capacitors with polymeric electrolyte that have already become common and its MOSFET are topped with aluminum heatsinks. All this indicates that mainboard developers decided not to pay too much attention to mainboard components cooling and used the simplest solutions on them.
However, since there is no bulky cooling system there remained enough room around the processor socket to accommodate conveniently most efficient CPU coolers that will for most part be the same as those for LGA775 CPUs. At least, cooling solution makers are announcing not the new cooler models, but modified retention kits for their existing cooling solutions that would allow using them on LGA1366 platforms.
I have to say that Smackover layout has a few hard to notice peculiarities. For example, it uses 8-layer PCB instead of a 6-layer one. According to the manufacturer, it ensures more stable processor power supply and improves the layout eliminating harmful EMI effects.
However, not all the developers’ solutions are as pleasing as the above mentioned ones. For example, the electronic components used on this board showed that the developers were a little overly economical. There are quite a few capacitors with liquid electrolyte, which are known to be less reliable than solid-state capacitors used everywhere now.
Speaking of Intel DX58SO features we have to say that it has two fully-functional PCI Express x16 slots supporting 2.0 protocol with twice the bandwidth. The mainboard can work with two graphics cards in ATI Crossfire configuration, but not Nvidia SLI.
The mainboard also has a PCI Express x4 slot implemented via the chipset North Bridge. Thanks to its tricky design you can install the third graphics card into it that will be responsible for physics effects, for instance.
Overall, when they designed Intel DX58SO, they tried to make it simple and affordable. Almost all external interfaces work through the controllers built into the chipset South Bridge. However, there are two additional chips on this board, too. They are a Texas Instruments Firewire controller and a Marvell SATA II controller providing support for eSATA ports. So, on the mainboard rear panel there are 8 USB 2.0 ports, an IEEE1384 port, a Gigabit network port, two eSATA ports and audio jacks: five analogue ones and an optical SPDIF Out.
Other ports on the PCB are laid out as pin-connectors. There can be four more USB 2.0 ports, Firewire port and 6 SATA-300 devices connected to this board. The funny thing is that Intel seems to be encouraging the community to give up legacy interfaces by setting an example. At least, Smackover board has no serial or parallel ports, and more importantly, no FDD connector and no connectors for devices with PATA interface.
However, Smackover developers decided to take care of testers and installed a Power On button and a HDD activity LED.