DFI LanParty JR X58-T3H6 MicroATX LGA1366 Mainboard Review

Today we will talk about the features and functionality of a small mainboard with huge potential designed by DFI that belongs to the famous enthusiast LanParty series. Read more in our new review!

by Doors4ever
05/08/2009 | 06:34 PM

DFI LanParty mainboards have long been very popular among computer enthusiasts. The distinguishing feature of this mainboard family is extensive BIOS functionality that allows reaching excellent results during CPU overclocking if used wisely. Besides, we immediately picture fluorescent colors of the cables and connectors that look very impressive in UV light. You can easily recognize DFI LanParty UT and LT mainboard series by the looks of their chipset cooling solutions. Sometime around early 2008 the DK series also joined the LanParty team. DK mainboards features a little simpler but nevertheless highly efficient chipset cooling systems with heatpipes. However, it turned out to be not the only innovation. Closer to the end of last year DFI LanParty welcomed another model lineup called LanParty JR. JR stands for “junior” and describes this new series very well. All DFI LanParty JR mainboards are designed in microATX form-factor, unlike their full-size counterparts. However, since they still bear the LanParty name, we assume that the new mainboard differ only by their physical dimension, but haven’t lost any of the extensive BIOS functionality. Our today’s review of the new DFI LanParty JR X58-T3H6 will prove us right or wrong shortly.

Package and Accessories

 

The front side of a small box for DFI LanParty JR X58-T3H6 has two additional stickers. A round sticker in the upper right corner announces that the board doesn’t need to power off to apply the frequency changes made in the BIOS. A rectangular sticker in the lower left corner informs you that the board comes with Smart Connectors. These are two additional connector panels with info markings that make it easier to connect the indicators, buttons and a USB port of the system case front panel to the mainboard.

The back of the box tells us about a few other features of the DFI LanParty JR X58-T3H6 mainboard, such as convenient Power On and Reset buttons, Nvidia SLI and ATI CrossFireX support, solid-state capacitors, six fan connectors, etc.

Besides the board and the above mentioned Smart Connectors, the box also contains the following accessories:

PCB Design and Functionality

Despite small size DFI LanParty JR X58-T3H6 doesn’t look anything like a useless toy. It is a fully-fledged highly functional solution with an excellent set of features. Moreover, despite the obvious shortage of free space on the mainboard PCB, the developers managed to do a good job arranging all components and connectors where they are supposed to be and are convenient to use and thus avoid the temptation to put them just anywhere. The only sacrifice they had to make was the absence of many additional controllers, which is in fact more of an advantage than a drawback.

When we look at the upper part of DFI LanParty JR X58-T3H6 mainboard PCB, we almost forget about the microATX form-factor: it looks exactly like any other fully-functional Full ATX mainboard. The CPU uses a six-phase voltage regulator; two separate phases power the integrated part of the North Bridge with the memory controller, and two more phases – the memory modules. Six DDR3 DIMM slots can accommodate up to 24GB of RAM – the maximum memory capacity supported by Intel X58 Express chipset. 24-pin and 8-pin power connectors are placed in their common and very convenient spots, just like the PATA connector implemented via JMicron JMB368 controller. The chipset North Bridge is topped with a pretty large aluminum heatsink that is connected to the heatsink over the processor voltage regulator transistors via a heatpipe.

Intel ICH10R South Bridge provides support for six SATA ports that allow building RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 0+1 or RAID 5 arrays of hard disk drives. It is cooled with a traditionally low aluminum heatsink.

By the way, only the South Bridge heatsink is fastened with plastic push-in clips. All other heatsinks use reliable screw-on retention.

Only relatively few expansion card slots on the lower part of the DFI LanParty JR X58-T3H6 mainboard PCB remind us of its compact form-factor. But can we really think it is not enough to have two fully-functional PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots supporting Nvidia SLI and ATI CrossFireX, one PCI Express x4 and one PCI slot? Far not every full-sized mainboard has Power On and Reset buttons, a POST indicator, a set of jumpers for setting startup base frequency and voltage for the part of North Bridge integrated into the CPU. And DFI LanParty JR X58-T3H6 has all of the above.

The mainboard back panel carries all ports and connectors typical of contemporary solutions:

The only thing we have our doubts about is the use of a ClearCMOS jumper instead of a traditional button or switch on the mainboard back panel. In fact, there are three ways of clearing CMOS on DFI LanParty JR X58-T3H6 mainboard: back panel jumper, onboard jumper and EZ Clear function. In the latter case this function will work if you simultaneously press and hold for about 4 seconds the Power on and Reset buttons.

The jumper or button on the back of the system case is very easy to reach at all times and this way of resetting parameters is evidently very convenient. However, resetting the jumper on the back panel all by touch is not any easier than resetting a jumper on the mainboard itself. Moreover, you won’t ever need to use the onboard jumper due to EZ Clear function. So, the only situation when you might find it convenient to work with a ClearCMOS jumper on the mainboard back panel is when the board is installed onto a testbed.

The components layout from the mainboard user’s manual will once again show how skillful DFI engineers actually are - they created an almost ideal mainboard design in a limited microATX form-factor space:

The schematic layout doesn’t reveal any serious issues, but it definitely helps us uncover a few more advantages: IrDA and COM connectors, a jumper disabling the integrated speaker, Safe Boot jumper for system reboot without clearing CMOS when the system hangs and can’t restart, and as many as six fan connectors. And as you know some full-size mainboards offer only three! And of course, even though you can’t see it on the picture, we have to remind you that all cables and onboard connectors glow in UV light, creating a truly attractive and unique look.

We would like to wind up our discussion of DFI LanParty JR X58-T3H6 exterior layout with a summary of its technical specifications taken from the official manufacturer web-site:

I think DFI definitely scores high for an excellent design and functionality of their LanParty JR X58-T3H6 mainboard. And taking into account the natural difficulties that the developers were facing right from the start because of the limitations imposed by the microATX form-factor and that they have successfully overcome, an additional plus or even full point is well-deserved.

BIOS Setup

DFI LanParty JR X58-T3H6 mainboard BIOS is based on Phoenix-Award code that is why we will not waste our time telling you about all the familiar standard features  of its first and last sections.

MicroATX mainboards rarely become of interest to computer enthusiasts. The value of these small boards and the advantage of one small board over another is in their technical specifications, type and number of interface connectors and ports. As for the BIOS functionality, no one actually things about it at first, because the board will definitely provide the standard base features and no one actually expects anything more from it anyway. However, as you can easily find out, “Genie BIOS Settings” section of the DFI LanParty JR X58-T3H6 mainboard BIOS provides the users with a complete list of parameters for successful overclocking and fine tuning of the system for maximum performance, being just as good in this respect as full-size solutions.

When the manufacturers combine a lot of various settings within a single section, they usually try to arrange them into groups according to certain features, to make working with thi section easy and convenient. That is why some parameters may be singled out into individual sub-sections and DFI LanParty JR X58-T3H6 is no exception here, either. Take, for instance, “CPU Feature” sub-section that contains parameters for configuring the CPU and processor-related technologies.

As you may have guessed from the name, the “DRAM Timing” sub-section deals with memory subsystem configuring.

The largest is the “Voltage Settings” sub-section that offers a lot of voltage-related options and parameters for configuring the work of power-saving technologies.

Look at the first parameter called “O.C. Shut Down Free”. According to the sticker on the mainboard box this is something DFI engineers are really proud of. The owners of Intel based mainboards starting with Intel P35 Express and maybe even Intel P965 Express (I might be wrong here) noticed some very strange changes. Before, when they changed some important parameters in the mainboard BIOS such as FSB frequency, memory frequency or processor clock frequency multiplier, the mainboards would restart putting the new settings into effect. Then things changed. The boards would power off and then power on again proceeding with the booting as usual, without any pauses. Overclocked systems acted similarly when powered on. The board would start for a few seconds, then power off, and then power back on again and continue booting as usual.

Very soon it turned out that this phenomenon was no bug, but a peculiarity of mainboards based on new Intel chipsets. However, most users didn’t seem satisfied with this explanation. The worst that can happen for an electrical device is when it is powered on and then disconnected from the power source, because the increasing currents may damage the device fatally. This is why electric bulbs most often fail at these particular instants. Moreover, the users were concerned that this additional powering up and down may have a negative effect on the HDD mechanics. DFI engineers managed to solve this problem. If you set “O.C. Shut Down Free” to “Enable O.C.S.D.F.”, the board won’t power off and will start or restart normally. This adds a new level of system protection for DFI mainboard owners and eliminates the cause for eternal concern.

And one more note about the “Voltage Setting” sub-section. There are a few informational parameters at the very bottom of the page that report the current voltage readings on the CPU core, memory, North Bridge chip and part of North Bridge integrated into the CPU that contains the memory controller. It is extremely convenient when you are trying to find the most optimal overclocking settings, because you don’t have to switch to “PC Health Status” section and back all the time to check the current voltage readings. As for us, we should check it out right now anyway, because we haven’t yet had a chance to.

And again, everything is marvelous! The first parameters allow adjusting the rotation speed of three fans and setting maximum allowed CPU temperature. Other numerous settings are of informational value, reporting all important voltage readings, temperatures and fan rotation speeds.

Since we have agreed right from the start that we will discuss only the functionality of the most interesting BIOS sections, the last one we have to check out now is called “CMOS Reloaded”. DFI mainboards were among the first to offer the users the option of saving their settings profiles in the BIOS. Since then many mainboard makers implemented similar features in their products that have become superior to DFI solutions in some aspects. But not in all of them.

Well, after every successful boot-up all settings are automatically saved, so you can load the last operational configuration even if you haven’t previously saved it. Some mainboard makers already have this feature in their products, too. You can save a total of four user profiles and provide each of them with a detailed description that will remind you of the nature of the settings inside it. Many mainboards also can do the same; some allow saving even more profiles, although I think four is more than enough. However, if I am not mistaken, only DFI mainboards offer “hot keys”. Other mainboards require you to enter the BIOS in order to load the desired settings profile. With a DFI board you can just press the assigned hot key to launch the profile you need.

And another little bonus. When they announced DFI LanParty JR X58-T3H6 mainboard, there were only three Intel Core i7 processor models available in the market: Intel Core i7-920, 940 and 965 Extreme Edition. The picture above shows that the first profiles aren’t empty. By default, the first three profiles offer settings configurations for slight overclocking of each of these three processors by raising the base frequency from 133MHz to 166MHz. A nice little bonus for “lazy” overclockers. :)

I think I don’t have to convince anyone that the BIOS of DFI LanParty JR X58-T3H6 mainboard offers excellent functionality and is remarkably rich for a microATX mainboard. Now I just have to tell you how easy it is to work with.

Additional Materials

This is for the first time that we decided to include a chapter like that into our mainboard review that is why I would like to explain what it will be devoted to from now on. Chapters like that will discuss the contextual quality of the manufacturer web-sites, quality and informational value of the supporting technical documentation, availability of BIOS and driver updates.

You may think that the web-site layout hardly has anything to with a mainboard review, and the level of detail in the mainboard user manual doesn’t affect its actual functionality. However, we have already touched upon these things in reference to quite a few mainboards and manufacturers. Buying a mainboard is evidently a very important step that will be one of the major factors defining the system performance. You need to be able to compare different models side by side, check out the solution’s technical specifications, read some product and user reviews in order to make the right purchasing decision. However, it may be pretty difficult to accomplish if the manufacturer web-site doesn’t offer any specifications for the chips or doesn’t list the differences between the models; if the BIOS updates are available on one web-site and the user’s manual – on another and besides are quite hard to find.

I won’t point any fingers here, our regular readers know who I am talking about. However, as a positive example I should definitely mention Gigabyte. Take a look at their company web-site, if you haven’t been there yet. Navigation is very simple and intuitive; you can easily find a page for your board of choice. Every page has a detailed description, technical specifications, direct links to BIOS updates and drivers, list of compatible processors and memory modules. You can download user manual in almost any language. You can use a convenient comparison tool for side by side analysis. Everything is made for the user, so that a curious visitor could turn into a happy and satisfied owner of a Gigabyte mainboard or any other product. It is so different from the web-sites of some other mainboard makers! However, we are not talking about just some mainboard manufacturers, but only about DFI here today.

It turned out that things have changed dramatically since last fall when I visited DFI official web-site last. I am not going to argue, which way is easier to read: dark lettering on light background, or the current light lettering on dark background. However, I would definitely prefer to see letters on some interface buttons instead of hieroglyphs.

Besides, I noticed a few other issues while surfing the site. At some point all the company news disappeared somewhere and sometimes is received warnings about some more serious errors.

However, my goal wasn’t to criticize some unknown web-design studio for not the best job they did. I was in fact going to praise DFI.

What is one of the main advantages of DFI mainboards? - The extremely extensive BIOS functionality that equips the user with tools for outstanding configuring capabilities. However, it was also the main drawback that scared away quite a few potential customers, who feared they will not be able to find their way around all these numerous settings, which names were not always self-explanatory. User manual also wasn’t always of help. One of the typical examples: the manual said that “Exit Setup Shut Down” parameter may be set to Mode 1 or Mode 2. That is hardly an explanation. Anyone can see the list of possible values for this parameter, and you don’t need a manual for that, but what is the difference between Mode 1 and Mode 2? It used to be a mystery, but not anymore.

If you click the hieroglyphs on the interface buttons one after another, you will eventually find the detailed description of the board, its technical specifications and all BIOS updates including the beta-versions. But most importantly, there is a big list of various instructions.

Now the documents not only describe all BIOS parameters for DFI mainboards, but also contain general information on Intel X58 Express chipset and Nehalem processor family, offer specific examples on how to overclock Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition processors. Now overclocking has become a little easier on DFI boards.

As a result, we can’t give DFI web-site a high mark because of different errors and hieroglyphs that make it real hard to navigate and use this site. However, we were extremely pleased to see the long-anticipated explanations for the BIOS parameters, the description of CPU-chipset functioning and a real example of an overclocking experiment performed on a DFI mainboard.

Testbed Configuration

All our tests were performed in the following system:

We used Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate SP1 x86 OS and ATI Catalyst 9.3 graphics card driver. WE experienced no problems during system assembly. Only our gigantic Cooler Master GeminII cooler looked a little odd on the tiny microATX mainboard covering most of its surface.

Work in Nominal Mode

If the problem occurs even in the nominal mode, then there should be some technical defect involved. Our system based on DFI LanParty JR X58-T3H6 mainboard started and worked perfectly fine in nominal mode. We would only like to point out a few peculiarities.

You may have noticed that DFI LanParty JR X58-T3H6 mainboard can’t work with XMP technology (eXtreme Memory Profile) that is supported by our Kingston HyperX KHX14900D3T1K3/3GX memory modules. At least, we didn’t see any corresponding parameters in the mainboard BIOS. So, we can’t set the memory frequency to 1866MHz and increase the corresponding voltages in the BIOS automatically. However, it doesn’t mean the memory can’t work at high frequencies on this mainboard. We manually increased the memory voltage to 1.65V and CPU VTT Voltage – to 1.28V and our system remained stable with the CPU in its nominal mode and memory – at 1866MHz with 9-9-9-24-1T timings.

The next thing is about “Turbo Boost” technology implementation. It turned out implemented exactly the same way as in ASRock X58 SuperComputer. The CPU clock frequency multiplier has hardly ever reached 22, even during single-threaded CPU load. The multiplier increased to 21, but only if there were four threads maximum. With five threads or more the clock multiplier didn’t exceed 20. However, you can easily change the way mainboard acts if you go the “CPU Feature” section and set the “Set VR Current Limit Max” parameter to “Enabled”. In this case the clock frequency multiplier will increase to 21 even with 5 or more threads.

These are pretty much all the peculiarities typical of DFI LanParty JR X58-T3H6 mainboard in nominal mode. However, the results of our traditional performance tests revealed something very upsetting. Our today’s hero was defeated by Asus P6T in each and every benchmark:

In fact, things are even slightly worse than they seem at first glance. The only reason why we measure the performance of our testing participants in nominal mode is to show how well the mainboards optimize the settings in this mode. Namely, what results the user will get if he loads standard settings into the mainboard BIOS and doesn’t change a thing. We, however, deviated a little from this rule and with the help of “Set VR Current Limit Max” allowed DFI LanParty JR X58-T3H6 mainboard to raise its clock multiplier up to 21 under load of five+ threads to ensure fair testing conditions against the competitor from Asus. Without this adjustment the mainboard working with a lower processor clock multiplier will evidently lose even to itself.

So, if we really don’t change anything and leave all BIOS settings at their defaults set by the boards themselves, the results will look as follows:

Sad and strange. Mainboards usually perform about the same in nominal mode. Let’s see how DFI LanParty JR X58-T3H6 will perform during CPU overclocking.

Overclocking and Performance

At first our overclocking experience with DFI LanParty JR X58-T3H6 was highly positive. First of all we made sure that with the CPU clock frequency multiplier reduced to 12 the board remains stable up until 215MHz base frequency. This is a very good result. It indicates that the board is theoretically capable of overclocking our CPU to its maximum and too high base frequency will not be a problem.

Then we managed to confirm system stability during CPU overclocking without any Vcore increase. Just like on most other mainboards we had tested before, we managed to overclock our processor to 181MHz base frequency. With the clock multiplier increased to 21 thanks to Turbo Boost technology, the resulting CPU frequency was 3.8GHz.

We didn’t increase the processor core voltage, because only in this case all Intel processor power saving technologies remain intact and working. When there is no serious load on the CPU, its multiplier and voltage will be lowered.

However, things were not so smooth anymore. First, you can see on the screenshot above that DFI LanParty JR X58-T3H6 does increase the processor Vcore under load. This increase is not as significant as we have just recently seen on Foxconn BloodRAGE mainboard, but nevertheless, it is noticeable enough, which is not good. However, the saddest thing is that we couldn’t raise the memory frequency to its maximum. It is normally possible to have the memory working at 1810MHz with CAS Latency reduced to 8 during overclocking when the base frequency is increased to 181MHz. This time the mainboard stopped at 1450MHz memory frequency although we still could lower the timings to 7-7-7-20-1T. Therefore, we couldn’t get the same testing conditions for the DFI and Asus boards, and logically, DFI’s defeat is no longer surprising.

However, we still have hope. During our overclocking experiments on Asus P6T we had to stop at 3.8GHz, while the little DFI LanParty JR X58-T3H6 kept going and let us raise the CPU frequency to 3.9GHz.

Although, in this case we had to increase the CPU core voltage, which affected Intel CPU power-saving technologies. In idle mode the clock multiplier did go down, but the CPU core voltage didn’t. The two screenshots above show different voltages not because the power-saving technologies kicked in, but because DFI LanParty JR X58-T3H6 mainboard increases the CPU Vcore under heavy load, as we have already mentioned before.

However, even in this case the memory on DFI LanParty JR X58-T3H6 worked at a lower frequency, so there was no convincing victory over Asus P6T.

Power Consumption

We used Extech Power Analyzer 380803 for our power consumption measurements. This device is connected before the system PSU, i.e. it measures the power consumption of the entire system without the monitor, including the power losses that occur in the PSU itself. When we took the power readings in idle mode, the system was completely idle: there were even no requests sent to the hard drive at that time. We used Fritz Chess Benchmark to load the CPU and FurMark utility to load the graphics card and recorded the maximum readings.

The results of our DFI LanParty JR X58-T3H6 power consumption measurements also turned out very diverse. DFI mainboard consumed much more power than Asus P6T in nominal mode, no matter what the load is. As we have already mentioned in our previous articles, Asus mainboards for Intel platform suffer from a very typical issue that is why during overclocking the processor core voltage doesn’t lower anymore in idle mode. That is why power consumption comparison during overclocking looks better for DFI LanParty JR X58-T3H6, but even in this case it requires more power than Asus board when the CPU is fully utilized. These problems may be occurring because of the excessive CPU Vcore increase under load that we have already mentioned before.

Conclusion

We have been very enthusiastic about DFI LanParty JR X58-T3H6 right from the start and for a pretty long time, however, by the end the excitement has slightly faded away. The mainboard’s indisputable advantages are its small size, superb functionality and very successful PCB layout. We were very pleased with traditionally extensive BIOS functionality and the description of the DFI’s specific BIOS settings that we have all been waiting for for a long time. It was amazing that a small mainboard like that allowed us to overclock our CPU to 3.9GHz – a result we couldn’t obtain on some full-size boards.

It is a very impressive list of merits, however, DFI LanParty JR X58-T3H6 is not totally ideal and has a few drawbacks that should be mentioned here. We have to start with suspiciously low performance in nominal mode. The board increases the processor Vcore under heavy load. Maybe this is exactly why we couldn’t overclock our CPU to its maximum and registered increased power consumption. Besides, the mainboard didn’t allow us to increase the memory frequency too much during overclocking, which again affected the overall system performance quite negatively.

The total score will depend on the fact how important are the above listed drawbacks of the DFI LanParty JR X58-T3H6 mainboard for your specific situation and how valuable are its advantages. If you asked our opinion, we would recommend this mainboard first of all to the owners of small system cases that need high performance in multi-threaded environments. Today only Intel Core i7 processors can guarantee such high performance and overclocker DFI LanParty JR X58-T3H6 will suit perfectly for them. However, small and compact system cases are usually associated with low levels of power consumption and low noise, which you can hardly count on with a hot and power-hungry Nehalem based processor. Especially, if you intend to overclock it and stick into a small system case.