Articles: Mainboards

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PCB Design and Functionality

When we said that Intel DX58SO mainboard struck us as unique and unusual, we implied its layout as well. This is the only mainboard of all LGA1366 solutions we have tested so far that has memory DIMM slots located above the processor socket and not to the right of it. If you take a closer look at the mainboard PCB, you will, however, notice that the relative location of the processor voltage regulator circuitry, processor socket, memory DIMMs and chipset North Bridge didn’t really change compared to the traditional layout. It actually looks like they simply turned the upper part of the PCB by 90 degrees counterclockwise:

It is hard for me to explain why they decided to do it this way, but I am sure Intel engineers had their reason, because dramatic modifications like that are never performed without a really good one. However, you can easily notice the negative effects this “turn” had on the layout, the biggest one being fewer memory DIMM slots: four instead of six. The length of the mainboard PCB is limited by existing standards that is why they would have to cut down on the expansion slots, if they decided to keep all six DIMMs onboard. Besides, they also had to move the 8-pin ATX12V power supply connector into a very inconvenient spot: a little below the chipset North Bridge. We can’t say that these are very serious drawbacks, but they are indisputable, while the advantages of this particular design solution still remain unknown to us.

The photograph shows very well the heatsinks over the processor voltage regulator and chipset components. Intel as always uses very secure retention for chipset heatsinks that consists of metal brackets and clips. As for the heatsinks over the voltage regulator MOSFET, they are attached using push-pin spring clips. By the way, Intel DX58SO only has solid-state capacitor with polymer electrolyte in the voltage regulator circuitry for the processor, chipset North Bridge and memory. Otherwise, we see mostly regular liquid electrolytic capacitors.

The lower part of the PCB looks more traditional, except a lonely Power On button for those users who like to experiment in open testbeds. However, I have to correct myself: there are a few pretty unique things here as well. For example, they usually recommend using a special four-pin power connector on the PCB, the same as on PATA hard disk drives or optical drives, to provide additional power to PCI Express x16 slots when there are high-end graphics cards installed into them. There is a connector like that on Intel DX58SO, but you can also use a second power connector just like the one on SATA HDD together or instead of it. The pins for front panel buttons and indicators are located not in the traditional lower right corner, but close to the center of the bottom edge of the PCB. We did connect all of them, but it required some effort on our part, because the cables were at their maximum stretch.

You can install two graphics cards into PCI Express x16 slots. Besides, there are two PCI Express x1 slots, one PCI and one PCI Express x4 slot. The mainboard officially supports ATI CrossFire as well as Nvidia SLI graphics configurations. It is pretty interesting that PCI Express x4 slot has an open connector end and there is a special retention lock a little farther, which means that if you need, you can use this slot for the third graphics card.

As you can see, Intel DX58SO doesn’t support PATA drives and FDD. There are also no PS/2 keyboard and mouse connectors on the back panel. Instead there are two eSATA ports implemented via Marvell 88SE6121 controller. Besides, there are eight USB ports and one IEEE1394 port implemented via Texas Instruments TSB43AB22A. Gigabit network is delivered by Intel WG82567LM chip, while eight-channel sound is provided by Realtek ALC889.

Intel DX58SO mainboard is equipped with four small LEDs. One of them indicates that the board receives power, other two will report CPU or processor voltage regulator overheating. The fourth LED shows HDD activity status.

It is easier to estimate the quality of PCB design with the schematic components layout, but it seems to me not too informative (click on the image to see components description):

The photograph on the back of the box is not so detailed, but much more illustrative:

We are going to wind up our Intel DX58SO PCB design discussion with a detailed list of technical specifications taken from the manufacturer’s web-site.

Overall, the functionality of Intel DX58SO mainboard meets contemporary requirements quite well. You just have to remember that it doesn’t support FDD and PATA and keep in mind certain design drawbacks that we have already pointed out above.

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