So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Abit Computer IX38 QuadGT
- Very good performance at its default speed settings; dedicated CMOS, power and reset buttons on the board, ran reliably with a 1520MHz front side bus (supports up to 1600MHz)
- uGuru utility was unstable in Windows, SATA ports might be inconvenient to use in some cases
This is very much a board for enthusiasts. It produced very good performance at its default settings and it is fairly easy to overclock, but it didn't overclock as high as some other recent boards we've tried. All up though, it's well built, has good features and runs quietly.
Price$ 329.00 (AUD)
There is no shortage of "GT" and "GTS" naming conventions for graphics cards and motherboards these days, which, much like sports cars, are supposed to attach a hint of speed and reliability to a particular product. How about a "Grand Touring" version of a motherboard, anyone? Abit's IX38 QuadGT wears the GT moniker with some justification; it was fast in most of our tests and has plenty of features that will tickle many an enthusiasts fancy.
It's an Intel-based motherboard, which runs the Intel X38 Express chipset and it can support Core 2 Duo, Core 2 Quad and Core 2 Extreme CPUs, as well as older LGA775 socket-based Intel CPUs. The X38 chipset controls four DDR2 RAM slots on this board for a maximum capacity of 8GB; the chipset has support for the PCI Express 2.0 standard, which, on this board, includes three full-sized PCI Express slots, two of which are 16 lanes (x16) wide while the other is four lanes (x4) wide. An ATI CrossFire configuration can be used in these slots.
We used an Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6850 CPU for our tests, along with 2GB of Corsair, 800MHz RAM; a 750GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 hard drive, an ATI Radeon HD 3870-based graphics card and an Antec P-190 case. At the default speed of the CPU, the board scored 116 in WorldBench 6, which is a fast result. It took 54sec to encode 53min worth of WAV files to 192Kbps MP3s, which is a couple of seconds slower than expected. However, through the BIOS you can manipulate the front side bus speed and memory speed ratio to make it go faster. (The clock multiplier can be changed if you use a CPU with an unlocked multiplier.) We used a 380MHz front side bus speed (1520MHz effective speed as four signals are processed each clock cycle) and a memory speed of 720MHz to overclock the CPU to 3.4GHz, where it boosted its score in WorldBench 6 to 124. Its encoding time in iTunes improved to 48sec.
Unfortunately, it wasn't all peaches and cream for the QuadGT during our tests. We couldn't get its Windows-based uGuru overclocking utility to run properly on our Vista-based system -- it kept re-starting our machine.
Physically, the board itself is well built and features dedicated power, reset and "clear CMOS" buttons, which are very useful during the building process and when overclocking. While the power and reset buttons are located near the pins for the front panel connections, the "clear CMOS" button is on the rear port cluster, so there's no need to fiddle with jumpers inside the PC case any time a BIOS setting doesn't go to plan.
There are six SATA ports in a cluster on the edge closest to the drive bays (in a typical PC case), and these face forward, rather than upward. If there is little space between your PC's drive bays and the edge of the motherboard, then the SATA cables protruding from the motherboard will cause some clutter. Apart from that, we didn't have any problems with the board's layout.
There is a decent amount of connectivity available: four USB 2.0 ports are on the rear port cluster, as is one FireWire port, but brackets aren't supplied for the single internal FireWire and four USB 2.0 pin headers. Parallel and serial ports have been rightfully left in the past, which makes the rear port cluster look a little sparse except for its two eSATA, PS/2 and one gigabit Ethernet ports, as well as its audio ports.
As usual, digital audio is available, via optical and coaxial connections, as well as analogue audio, and it's by way of the Realtek HD Audio codec. It's suitable for gaming, music and movie output, but if you want to record music, a dedicated sound card, such as a Creative X-Fi, is recommended.
A silent cooling solution draws heat away from the chipset and MOSFET, and the BIOS did a good job of keeping our CPU fan running at almost inaudible levels. Indeed, for peace and quiet while running standard cooling gear, the QuadGT is accommodating. Then again, if you buy this board, you're probably gong to be too caught up playing games or watching movies to notice the lack of noise, but it'll come in handy if you leave your PC on overnight.
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