Abit IX38 Quad GT Review

ccokeman - 2007-09-19 19:07:22 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: December 26, 2007
Price: $229.99

Introduction:

A motherboard is not a motherboard, or is it? How does one manufacturer step out in front of another? Is the reason to buy one brand over another just a matter of the company's reputation, or is performance the determining factor? Many times the manufacturer's reputation takes precedence over the actual performance of the motherboard. In today's world, you are only as good as your last product. Abit has had that last success with the IP35 Pro and its performance is still in many peoples' minds when it comes to performance. With Abit stepping into the X38 chipset feeding frenzy with the IX38 Quad Gt, will it garner the same praise that the IP35 series enjoyed, or will it putter off into the distance never to be seen again? With features such as support for the latest 45nm processors (1333MHz and above), 100% solid state capacitors, new generation digital PWM, 8-channel home theater sound, three 16x PCI-E slots (2x, 16x, 1x4x) with Crossfire and PCI 2.0 support, the Abit IX 38 Speedster should not be just your average Sunday drive.

 

Closer Look:

The Abit IX38 Quad Gt comes in a flashy, red box prominently featuring a Formula 1 car emblazoned with the Abit logo and the motherboard name. Flashy and red usually denote speed in my mind. The nickname of the IX38 is the "Speedster," but just how fast will she go? The rear panel details the feature set of the motherboard, really highlighting the new technologies used on the IX38. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once past the flashy packaging of the IX38 Quad GT, the board is housed in a black inner enclosure with a clear cover showcasing the IX38. The bundled accessories are stored in a box under the main compartment. Included in the bundle are the motherboard documentation, a quick start guide, uGuru documentation, a quick reference sticker to display jumper settings inside the enclosure, I/O panel, driver disc and the drive connection cables. The bundle with this high performance board is actually quite spartan compared to some of the others I have seen.

 

 

Closer Look:

The Abit IX38 Quad GT "Speedster" is designed around the Intel X38 and ICH9R chipsets. It features a silent cooling system to cool the chipsets and power regulation circuits. Unlike many of Abit's recent high end offerings, this board does not have the cooling strips built into the PCB to help generate some additional cooling capacity where it really needs it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The I/O panel features enough connectivity to keep most people happy. The "Speedster" has four USB 2.0 connections, PS/2 for both the mouse and keyboard, Optical S/PDIF in and out, 1 IEEE1394 Firewire connection, 7.1 Audio and just a single RJ-45 Gigabit LAN connection. Abit has included a feature on this board that has been on the last few of its high-end offerings, the external CMOS clear button. This is easily one of the coolest features that Abit has used recently. Just power down, push the button, power up and change your settings and you are ready to go for the maximum clockspeed again. I feel this shows Abit's commitment to the enthusiast side of its business.

 

 

The expansion slots available on the Quad GT include three 16x PCI-E 2.0 slots. Two run at 16x (blue) while the third (black) runs at 4x. This should make the folks who run Crossfire (myself included) have the ability to find out the true capabilities of their graphics solution. Additionally, there are two standard PCI slots and one 1x PCI-E slot. Most of the peripheral connectivity is along the bottom and right hand side of the board. The exception would be the onboard 1394 connection.

 

 

Left to right along the bottom of the IX38 the connections are the front panel sound header; above it is the optical SPDIF header. Continuing on to the right are the four onboard USB 2.0 headers. Unfortunately, there is not a supplied USB expansion slot bracket included in the bundle to take advantage of this additional capability.

 

 

Further to the right are the front panel LED and switch header and floppy drive connection. Floppy drives are old technology at this point but still needed to some extent. Above the floppy drive connection is the uGuru header in red. This allows the end user to connect to the uGuru front panel (sold seperately). Like most of Abit's high-end offerings, the Quad GT "Speedster" has an onboard diagnostic LED to help troubleshoot no boot conditions, as well as showing a successful post sequence. Onboard reset and power buttons are great for the enthusiast that runs on a tech bench. No more small screw drivers to jump the front panel power connection. These switches add a little flash to the case when the IX38 is powered up. Each has a bright LED under or built into the switch. One green and one red. If you feel that you have to use a jumper to clear the CMOS, it is at least in a convenient spot next to the power and reset buttons.

 

 

Moving up the right hand side are the six SATA 3GB/s ports controlled by the Intel ICH9R southbridge. The lone Ultra ATA 133 IDE port resides next to the SATA ports. The IX38 uses only two power connections to send power to the board, a 24-pin ATX and an 8-pin auxiliary 12v connection. This is an improvement over the last few offerings that used three power connections. The third was a 4-pin molex placed along the bottom of the board in a difficult to connect to position if multiple GPUs with two slot cooling solutions were used.

 

 

 

Closer Look:

The IX38 supports up to eight gigabytes of DDR2 1066/800 system memory. The real estate around the CPU is pretty wide open on the IX38 thanks in part to the new generation digital PWM, no doubt. I did not try the board air cooled with a large heatsink, but with the size of the plate on the water block used, one should not find space to be an issue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The IX38 uses a series of copper based heatsinks to control the temperature of the onboard components. Starting at the southbridge and working up to the northbridge and Extendor are a series of heatpipes used to bring the heat to this tall heatsink to be dissipated by the air from the CPU cooler. The digital PWM cooler is a separate heatsink that can be actively cooled to promote cooler temperatures on the PWM. Notice the holes in the PWM heatsink for mounting clips.

 

 

 

The IX38 uses a Phoenix-Award BIOS. The BIOS chip is located on the bottom right hand side of the board with easy access. Several of the other chips that serve control and or monitoring functions will be shown, such as the Abit uGuru chip. The Winbond W83627DHG is an I/O controller used to control and monitor device for external voltages, fan speed controls, temperature monitoring, PS/2 and floppy control.

 

 

The TSB43AB22A controls both onboard IEEE 1394 ports. The Realtek RTL8110SC controls the onboard gigabit LAN port. The JMicron chip controls the the the E-SATA ports on the I/O panel. Last, but not least, is the clock generator.

 

 

 

Installation:

Installation of a new motherboard into an existing chassis is really not all that difficult to accomplish. The first thing to do, of course, is to power down the existing system and disconnect all of the peripherals. Next open up the chassis and remove all of the components attached to the motherboard, If you are reusing them of course. Once the old system is history, take the time to do a little housekeeping and you are ready to begin.

 

The first thing to do is to prepare the chassis to accept the Abit IX38. Install the motherboard standoffs and I/O plate into the chassis. Getting the right number of standoffs installed is crucial. Next, begin the preperation of the motherboard by installing the processor. Open the socket by lifting the release lever so that the retention plate is open completely, insert the CPU into the socket and correctly index it, and then close the retention plate and lever to lock the processor into place. 

 

 

 

 

 

Mount the IX38 into the chassis and secure it to the standoffs. Apply the thermal interface material of your choice and mount the cooling solution. In this case's build, it is a water cooling solution.

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Follow up by installing the graphics card. Installing all of the power, drive and front panel wiring and system memory and the "Speedster" experience can begin.

 

 

 

Closer Look:

The Abit IX38 Quad GT uses a Phoenix/Award BIOS. The revision number on the BIOS shipped on this board was revision 11. The version I will show below is revision 12.bo6. This is still a beta, but some of the bugs have been fixed, while others have not.

 

uGuru Utility: Let's start off with the uGuru section of the BIOS. This is where all of the system specific parameters can be set to maximize the performance of your combination of parts. The OC Guru subsection is where you can find the CPU speed and multiplier, memory ratio, voltages and more. The hardware monitoring setup and monitoring is accomplished by making changes under the subsection of the uGuru tab labeled Abit EQ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

OC Guru: The clockspeeds that the BIOS enables you to set ranges from 133 to 750MHz. That is enough to keep even the most extreme overclockers busy. The mulitplier is locked to a range of 6 to 9 on my Q6600. 9 is the stock multiplier. Memory ratios, or dividers, are available from 1:1 (400:400) to 1:2 (400:800), allowing the enthusist a fair number of options to run with.

 

 

The PCI clock can be adjusted from 100 to 200 so that the optimal PCI-E speed can be set to optimize graphics performance and bandwidth.

 

Under the voltage control section there are enough voltage settings to please everyone. Some of the highlights are CPU core voltage up to 1.6 volts. Is that all, you ask? But wait, there's more. By using the CPU voltage offset, the CPU voltage can be increased to 2.2 volts. If you need more than this, then you're just looking to burn something up.

 

 

Each voltage has a fair amount of room to offer the enthusiast the ability to use the voltages to gain the maximum performance from the hardware that is installed. Memory voltage up to 3.0 volts is pretty good. Abit has continued this from its IP35 Pro.

 

 

 

 

 

Last, but not least, in this section is the ABbit EQ option. Here is where the monitoring of fan speeds and critical temperatures can be monitored.

 

Closer Look:

There is always more to the BIOS than just the section the enthusiasts frequent. While not as critical to the performance of the build, these sections do contain enough settings to cause you to pull your hair out if you make a few wrong settings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standard CMOS Features: In here you set time and date, as well as verifying the disk size and settings.

 

 

Advanced Bios Features: In this section you can set the boot priority as well as CPU features. Advanced Chipset features setting of the memory latencies and sub timings.

 

 

Integrated peripherals is where the onboard devices are configured. RAID settings are made under this section.

 

 

Power Management is available to set the suspend state as well as the the means of returning the system to operation.

 

 

Configuration:

Installing the hardware and operating system are only part of the system buildup puzzle. Once the OS is installed, the drivers or instruction set for each of the devices on or installed into the IX38 must be installed. To start this process, place the included driver disk into an optical drive to begin the driver installation process. After the auto run process starts, the driver installation GUI opens to give you several options and tabs. The first of these is the "Drivers" tab. This tab contains all of the drivers needed for the onboard devices. The second tab is the "Manual" Tab. Here, the soft copy of the documentation can be found.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Utility tab gives you the option of installing Acrobat reader or the Award flash utility. The final tab is where the installation of the uGuru software is accomplished. Choose your tasks and you too can enjoy.

 

 

By choosing Q Install you can install all of the required motherboard drivers in one shot. The installer will complete each driver install and grey it out as it is completed. Once done, a reboot is required.

 

 

 

One of the useful utilities that is included on the driver disc is the uGuru utility. This program allows the user to monitor voltages, temperatures, fan speeds as well as being able to do some overclocking through the uGuru interface. Again, just choose the installer from the utility tab and the installer takes over from there. Once installed, a reboot is required to finalize the installation.

 

 

After the reboot, the uGuru utility will automatically open. The monitoring functions are available under three tabs, Temperature, Voltages and Fans.

 

 

Manual settings are available under the setup menu. Tabs are available for Abit EQ, Auto Drive, Fan EQ, OC Guru and General.

 

 

 

Specifications:

 

CPU
  • Supports Intel® Core™ 2 Duo / Quad processors with 1600/1333/1066/800MHz FSB
  • Supports Intel® Core™ 2 Extreme/Quad/Duo & Pentium® Extreme Edition, Pentium® D, Pentium® 4 Processors, Pentium® Dual Core
  • Digital PWM Designation provide high quality and efficient power
 
Chipset
Intel® X38 Express / ICH9R Chipset
Memory
  • 4 X 240-pin DIMM sockets support max. memory capacity 8GB
  • Supports Dual channel DDR2 1066/800/667/533 Un-buffered Non-ECC memory
 
LAN

On board PCI Gigabit LAN controller supports 10/100/1000M Ethernet

Audio
  • On board 7.1 CH HD Audio CODEC
  • Supports auto jack sensing and optical S/PDIF In/Out
  • HDMI audio ready header (S/P DIF header)
 
Expansion Slots

2 x PCI-E X16 (support PCI Express 2.0), 1 x PCI-E X16 (x4 bandwidth), 1 x PCI-E X1, 2 x PCI

Internal I/O
  • 1 x Floppy Port supports up to 2.88 MB
  • 1 x ATA 133/100/66 IDE connector
  • 6 x SATA 3Gb/s connectors
  • 1 x IEEE1394, 4 x USB header (support 8 ports)
  • 1 x FP-Audio
 
Back Panel I/O
  • 1 x PS/2 Keyboard, 1 x PS/2 Mouse
  • abit Silent OTES™
  • 1 x S/P DIF In, 1 x S/P DIF Out
  • 2 x eSATA
  • 7.1 CH Audio connector (Front, Line-in, MIC-in, Center/Subwoofer, Surround, Rear Surround)
  • 1 x 1394, 4 x USB 2.0, 1 x RJ-45 LAN connector,
  • Clear CMOS Button
 
Serial ATA
  • 6 x SATA 3Gb/s offer by Intel® ICH9R support Intel® Matrix Storage Tech(AHCI & RAID0/1/5/10)
  • 2 x eSATA 3Gb/s through JMicron® JMB363 support 0,1JBOD RAID
 
IEEE 1394
  • Supports 2 Ports IEEE 1394 at 400Mb/s transfer rate.
 
Form Factor
  • ATX form factor 305 x 245mm
  • PCB Color: Blue
 
RoHS
  • 100% lead-free process and RoHS compliant
 
abit Engineered
  • abit mGuru™ Technology
  • abit Silent OTES™ Technology
  • 100% Low ESR and high ripple conductive polymer aluminum solid state capacitors
  • New Generation digital PWM EZ for CCMOS
  • On board LED Lighting
  • Quick Power On/Off & Reset buttons right angle SATA connectors
 

 

 

 

Features:

Testing:

The Abit IX38 Quad GT "Speedster" will be put through our benchmarking suite to see what kind of performance the motherboard delivers. The OverclockersClub series of benchmarks include both system tests and gaming benchmarks to verify the performance of this product. I will be comparing the performance of the Abit offering against some of its stiffest competition to see which one of the offering is the better performer. Testing will be a direct comparison of our stock speed benchmarking; all clock speeds and memory timings will be as close as possible to offer a fair comparison of each of the boards. All motherboard and video card settings were left at setup defaults, again to eliminate any variables.

 

Testing Setup:

Comparison System:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

 

Overclocking the IX38 Quad GT was a trying experience. I hit a hard wall at 405 FSB for benchmark stability with my Q6600. Reducing the multiplier did not help increase the FSB when the maximum CPU speed was reached. I was able to boot all the way up to 490 FSB but could not get into Windows at anything higher than 410 FSB. At this clockspeed I would get a BSOD right after Windows would finish loading. Quite frustrating, but kind of like the Intel 975 chipset AW9D MAX I have. The IX38 takes a lot of tweaking when running a Quad core CPU but if you stay at it, you will be rewarded with a great final result. In my testing, it was not a FSB monster but did well at the final number it reached. Since I contribute to the Folding @ Home project for team 12772 (OCC), stability is one of my primary goals on any buildup. For that reason, I look for the highest possible stable overclock I can get to increase daily production. To find this limit, I use Prime 95 version 25.4 to load all four cores and the system to find the upper limit. For Prime 95 stability, 400 x 9 was the max possible combination when it came down to the bottom line max number.

The hard limit encountered on the CPU showed up when raw memory speed was tested. The Mushkin HP2 6400 used in this build is good for 536 FSB across several chipsets at 5-5-4-12. Unfortunately, at right over 1000MHz (500 FSB 1:1.25 ratio) stability went out the door. Loose timings and voltage on the memory and increased chipset voltages had no positive affect on stability. Does the IX38 overclock well? Yes it does! Just be prepared to put in the tweak time to get it there. The experience reminds me of a comparison of the 965 to 975 Intel chipsets with high FSB on the 965 and lower FSB but higher performance with the 975 chipset. Will this hold true in this comparison? Let's find out!!

 

Benchmarks:

  1. Apophysis
  2. WinRAR
  3. SpecviewPerf 10
  4. PCMark Vantage Professional
  5. Sandra XII
  6. ScienceMark 2.02 Final
  7. Cinebench 10
  8. HD Tune 2.54
  1. Crysis
  2. Knights of the Sea
  3. Bioshock
  4. Call of Duty 4
  5. World in Conflict
  6. Call of Jaurez
  7. 3DMark 06 Professional

 

Testing:

The first part of our testing regimen will be the system specific benchmarks.

 

Let's get started with Apophysis. This program is used primarily to render and generate fractal flame images. We will run this benchmark with the following settings:

 

 

The measurement used is time to render, in minutes, to complete.

 

Lower is Better

 

WinRAR is a tool to archive and compress large files to a manageable size. We will use 10MB, 100MB and 500MB files and test the time needed to compress these files. Time will be measured in seconds.

 

ZIP:

 

 

 

RAR:

 

 

 

The IX38 Quad GT took four out of seven tests decisively and tied on one, while only losing to the Asus Maximus in the WinRAR 100MB and 500MB tests.

 

 

Testing:

Specview 10 is a benchmark designed to test OpenGL performance. I will be using the multi-threaded tests to measure the performance when run in this mode. The tests used for comparison are listed below. The default multi-threaded tests were chosen to be able to compare across platforms. In these tests, higher scores equate to better performance.

 

 

 

Higher is Better

 

Higher is Better

 

 

 

Higher is Better

 

PcMark Vantage is used to measure complete system performance. We will be running a series of tests to gauge performance of each individual board to see which board, if any, rises above the others.

 

Performance in these benchmarks shows how close the respective platforms really are with stock performance.

Testing:

Sisoft Sandra is a diagnostic utility and synthetic benchmarking program. Sandra allows you to view your hardware at a higher level to be more helpful. For this benchmark, I will be running a broad spectrum of tests to gauge the performance of key areas of the motherboards.

 

 

 

 

 

Processor Arithmetic

 

Multi-Core Efficiency

 

Memory Bandwidth

 

Memory Latency

 

Cache and Memory

 

File System

 

Physical Disks

 

Power Management Efficiency

 

The results for Sandra are split overwhelmingly in favor of the IX38. The Formula pulls ahead in the file and disk system testing. The IX38 pulls ahead in most of the CPU and memory tests. Decreased latencies and higher memory bandwidth equal better performance.

Testing:

Sciencemark tests real world performance instead of using synthetic benchmarks. For this test, we ran the benchmark suite and will use the overall score for comparison.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher is Better!

 

Cinebench is useful for testing your system, CPU and OpenGL capabilities using the software program CINEMA 4D. We will be using the default tests for this benchmark.

 

Higher is Better

 

HD Tune measures disk performance to make comparisons between drives or disk controllers.

 

Higher is Better

 

 

Lower is Better

 

In Cinebench, the IX38 pulled ahead on both measures. The Abit X38 solution finished above the Asus X38 solution in three out of the four tests in HDTune. In Sciencemark, the Abit edged ahead of the Asus offerings. To summerize the results of the system benchmarks, the Abit IX38 Quad GT took twenty-four of thirty-five benchmark tests. Which means that in over seventy percent of the tests, the Abit was the higher performer. Pretty impressive!

 

 

Testing:

Crysis is a new addition to the gaming benchmark suite used at OverclockersClub.com. This game is one of the most anticipated and system intensive games to be released to the market right now. The Crysis single player demo includes a GPU benchmark to test the performance of the video card installed in the system. 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The benchmark scores for the IX38 show it is beaten at both the high and low end of the scale.

Testing:

PT Boats: Knights of the Sea is a new DX10 title that features its own proprietary graphics engine currently in development. The game is a combination of real time strategy and simulation. You have the ability to control the entire crew or just a single member. Play as the German, Russian or Allied navies and prove your mettle on the open seas.

 

The settings we will use are below:

 

 

 

 

 

The results in Knights of the Sea are dead even at the highest resolution. At the lower resolutions the Asus Maximus beats it out by around three and six FPS.

Testing:

Benchmark: BioShock

BioShock is one of the newest games on the market. It is a demanding game that will make your hardware scream for mercy. This first-person shooter allows for an infinite number of weapons and modifications to provide a unique experience each time it is played.

 

Settings:

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

At 1024 x 768 the IX38 was soundly beaten by 11 FPS. The gap narrowed as the resolution increased.

Testing:

Call of Duty 4 : Modern Warfare is the successor to the Call of Duty crown. This iteration of the game is fought in many of the world's hot spots with modern armaments and firepower. You can play as either a U.S. Marine or British S.A.S. trooper. SInce this game does not feature an in-game test, I will run through a section of the game and measure average FPS using Fraps 2.9.3.

 

The settings used are listed below:

   

 

 

 

 

 

At 1024x 768 and 1280x 1024, the IX38 was the king of the hill and finished dead even at 1680 x 1050. Almost 100 fps at 1024 x 768 with maxed out settings is not too shabby.

Testing:

World In Conflict is a newly released DX10 real time strategy game that simulated the all out war that the world hopes never comes. The difference in this RTS game is that it is not the typical generate wealth and build type of game. You advance by conquering your foe.

 

The settings we will use are listed below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Performance is dead even across the board. None of the offerings stepped out away from the crowd to establish itself as the winner.

Testing:

Call of Juarez is a DirectX10 First Person Shooter set in the Wild West of the late 1800's. The game is inspired in part by the movies of the Wild West genre of the seventies and eighties. The game can be played as both single player and multiplayer. The game focuses on realistic graphics and gameplay designed to take advantage of the latest video cards on the market.

 

The settings we will use are listed below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Testing between the three boards showed the level of performance by each board to be similar. In the end, at the 1680x1050 resolution the performance was equal. In the lower resolutions the difference was one frame per second or less.

Testing:

3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest is begun. 3DMark06 presents a severe test for many of today's hardware components. Let's see how this setup fares. The settings we will use are listed below.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 3dMark06 the IX38 eeked out a win at 1024 x 768. The IX38 fell short in both the 1280 x 1024 and 1680 x 1050 resolutions.

Conclusion:

With known commodities there are expectations to be met. Did the Abit IX38 Quad Gt meet those expectations? Yes and no. Does it run a super high FSB? Not yet. Does it run super high memory clocks? Not yet. But will it eventually? Probably! After shooting through the whole slew of beta BIOSes finishing up at the latest 12 bo6, I have found the same results across the board. The drop dead limit of the board for me was between 400 and 410 front side bus on my Q6600. 400 FSB was benchmark stable all day long and provides a nice performance increase over the stock speeds of 266 x 9 or 2.4GHz. In today's world of ever increasing front side bus speeds, the expectation is that the next product will raise the bar even higher. What happens when the latest and greatest does not meet that expectation? Usually it is considered a failure by many. You can't always look at it that way. What if the arena it plays in is a little lower down the scale but it performs better in that realm? Is it then a failure? By all means no. In over 50% of the tests run by OverclockersClub the IX38 Quad GT came out even or better than the two comparison products. With the product lineup that was tested, the Abit offering performed admirably. When the Intel 975 chipset motherboards came out the lack of high FSB performance made many people make the same comparisons. The max FSB speeds were lower with the 975 verses the 965 chipset. The 975 was quicker due to the reduced latencies on the chipset. Hmm...max FSB or faster performance at a lower core clock speed? The choice is yours to make.

When overclocking the CPU, one of the things I keep track of is the CPU core voltage. On some of the boards I have used, the vcore droop has been as bad as .1 volts. That does not seem like a lot of juice but it can make a substantial difference in the potential overclock of your hardware. During testing, I observed the voltages and noticed a droop of only .03 volts. If a good, stable board is what you are looking for, then the Abit IX38 Quad GT "Speedster" fits the bill.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: