The Intel X38 is finally here, promising to be the chipset that every hardcore gamer (and Intel fan) has been waiting for, for the last two years. True dual PCIe x16 CrossFire graphics is one thing, but throw in PCI Express 2.0 improvements and you've got a whole lot of bandwidth to spare. Truly, this is a moment to be excited about.
However, you may have noted our seemingly lack of enthusiasm with the Gigabyte GA-X38-DQ6, but this has nothing to do with the X38 chipset itself. In Gigabyte's world, the DQ6 is the flagship series, bearing all the technologies from its Ultra Durable 2, S-Series and 6-Quad motherboards rolled into one. This means that every DQ6 motherboard is packed to the brim. The GA-X38-DQ6 is a logical upgrade to the GA-P35-DQ6 with a new chipset, but the board itself, its features and BIOS doesn't really change much. So, forgive us if we seem a little jaded with the GA-X38-DQ6 after reviewing the GA-P35-DQ6 only a little while ago, but aside from that fact, Gigabyte's X38 motherboard is perfectly in-line with our expectations of a DQ6 class board.
Let's review what is different though. Since the first revision of the GA-P35-DQ6, Gigabyte has had time to revise the PCB design of the board and the GA-X38-DQ6 is very much more cable friendly than before. The small tweaks here and there make the board easier to work with and less cluttered, all good things.
The general performance of the GA-X38-DQ6 has also improved over the GA-P35-DQ6. Benchmark results now put the GA-X38-DQ6 almost on par with the likes of the ASUS Blitz Formula. There were some inconsistencies where the board dropped back down to the P35 scores in PCMark05 and AquaMark3, but it doesn't detract from the overall improvements we saw. We had initially expected the X38 to outperform the P35, as Intel has a history of making sure their enthusiast chipsets have an advantage over its mainstream series, no matter how slight. However, in the case of the GA-X38-DQ6, it may have been due to the DDR2 implementation. Until we are able to fully test out a DDR3 based X38 motherboard, we'll reserve our comments on this topic.
The overclocking capabilities of the GA-X38-DQ6 was impressive enough, but our board was unable to break Gigabyte's own track record from their P35 boards yet. The Intel X38 chipset is supposed to have its overspeed protection removed to facilitate extreme overclocking. However, the overclockability of any motherboard is still very much determined by the overall tolerance of the CPU and RAM as well as the motherboard in question. Considering that the current overclockability of today's Intel chipsets and CPUs, we're already hitting the ceiling for both CPU and memory through stock cooling. The GA-X38-DQ6 may gradually improve through later BIOS revisions, but we do not foresee the X38 to be too much more powerful in this area than the P35 or even P965 when using current Core 2 processors and DDR2 memory.
By releasing a DDR2-only X38 motherboard, Gigabyte is catering to the current batch of enthusiasts who would love proper CrossFire, but still unwilling to part with their expensive high-end DDR2 memory. However, that's where we would draw the line. The Intel X38 was designed to maximize performance using the latest hardware technologies, which users might miss out with a DDR2 version like the GA-X38-DQ6. However, Gigabyte does feature a DDR3-only SKU in the form of the GA-X38T-DQ6. If you're looking to unleash the full capabilities of the X38 chipset, that is the board you probably want to check out instead.