The LGA1366 is getting near the end of its cycle now, but that doesn't mean to say that there isn't plenty of life left in the absolute performance behemoth that is the X58 Chipset.
Indeed so much potential still exists that Gigabyte have recently released a new X58 motherboard, the OC.
There might be a bit of a clue in the name because, apart from looking more desirable than Blake Lively holding a pint, this board is designed for one this above all others, overclocking. It would be very easy therefore to just slap the old Noctua NH-D14 on and go through the usual rigmarole.
However after some discussion it was decided that the proof is most definitely in the pudding. If this is the best overclocking board around, designed especially for the more exotic cooling methods available, then it should allow us to dip our toes into the sub-zero world with ease. Shouldn't it?
Initially the technical specifications look like every other high-end X58 board you've seen. Some SATA-III, some SATA-II, PCIe lanes and a couple of BIOS chips. But like so many things in life the whole is way more than the sum of its parts.
|Storage Interface||South Bridge: |
|USB||South Bridge: |
|Internal I/O Connectors|
|Back Panel Connectors|
Let's grab a look at the board shall we.
To say the X58A is singular in its purpose is doing it a disservice, but the box reflects this hardcore ethos by being one of the most minimalist affairs we can recall. Around the front at least. Round the back there is a plethora of elements highlighting the parts of the board that really matter for those world-breaking overclocks.
Let there be no doubt that this board can supply more power than you could ever possibly hope to need. 1.2 KW of CPU power sir? Combine this with the exceptional quality of the power-phases employed on the X58A-OC and you start to get a glimpse of the levels that the Gigabyte board can attain.
As we shall see later on, the ability to tweak the board to a near infinite degree is absolutely vital. We've seen a few boards that come with BCLK adjustments, but the amount that have a ratio adjuster built in are less than a handful. It's some measure of the board that there is an automatic 4GHz button. When the LGA1366 was first upon us 4GHz was a magical benchmark that only the finest could hit. Here it's considered such a given that it's a one-button base-camp before you begin to climb Everest.
Of course heat is the absolute killer when it comes to overclocking, and so it's no surprise to find the X58A-OC is replete with 7 fan headers, all of them the 4-pin variety. Rather than cut corners, Gigabyte have sharpened them.
At the potentially incredible (insane?) speeds available power is the other primary concern and fantastic amounts are available on both the CPU side of things and, as we see here, on the PCIe side too.
The Board Itself
Damn it's a looker. This board, clad in black and orange, is so gorgeous that we had to keep VB locked in a cage to stop him slavering over it too much, being the orange and black lover that he is. He isn't alone. If red and black apes the classical hot-rods it's something we've grown used to. We can only recall one other black and orange board, and by god does the X58A-OC look the absolute Daddy.
Many manufacturers claim they have a good overclocking motherboard, or even that theirs is specifically designed for overclockers. Gigabyte have stolen a march with the X58A-OC though, as it's specifically designed for extreme overclockers. Rather than simply give an extra couple of power phases, the whole CPU area has been designed to be as flat as possible to ensure that the important protective putty is easy to apply, and also that even enormous pots for DICE or LN2 can be accommodated without any fuss at all.
Here we see the overclock buttons and voltage monitoring points in all their glory.
It is such a beautiful board that we really can't stop ogling it. Everywhere you look there is something to catch your eye from the clever heatsink design to the placement of the CMOS battery well away from any potential sub-zero covering.
Even the PCIe slots have an extra large space between them to ensure either great airflow, or easy application of the board-saving putty.
Just take a look at the CPU area one more time. When you compare it to any similar socket area you can really get an appreciation for the thought behind the X58A-OC.
Now you can't just slap dry ice (DICE) onto your motherboard. It requires both patience and a fair bit of bravado. Especially as it's the first time we've done this. Protecting the circuitry with putty is the first job once the DICE pot mounts and CPU are in place.
It's a combination between mad science and Playschool.
With the pot securely in place it needs insulating to ensure that your coolant doesn't heat up any more rapidly than it does naturally. With cooling being the vital element to huge overclocks, it's vital that this part is done with care. Lots of pressure and lots of insulation.
And here it is, all ready to have the hell beaten out of it.
Intel Core i7 990X and 980X
Mushkin Redline DDR3
Corsair AX1200 PSU
Windows 7 x64
Firstly we needed to establish the general performance of the OC board. To put things into perspective the last time we thoroughly thrashed this chip on our Rampage Extreme we managed to obtain a fairly stable 4.5GHz. Here 4.6GHz was obtained with hardly any effort at all. Unquestionably this board does exactly what it sets out to do.
A Moment of Silence
Ladies and gentlemen of the congregation, at this moment we ask that you all bow your heads and take a moments reflection to remember a fallen comrade. Our Core i7-980X had been with us over a year and in that time had provided us plenty of pleasure. It was young, but it was eager. I first met it when it was just a wafer. Little did we imagine then that it would grow into the Hexcore beast that it was. Who can forget its place as the heartbeat behind our Quad-SLI GTX480 test?
Sadly it is no longer with us having gone to that silicone graveyard in the sky. The combination of some very frosty temperatures and some serious overclocks were too much for its weak heart. It died at 5.9 GHz with friends and family by its side and will be fondly remembered by all.
The King is dead, long live the King. Recalled from the war-room and into the frontlines our testing continued apace with the Core i7-990X.
One of the biggest failing points when attempting leading-edge overclocks is actually booting into Windows. Speeds that could be either stable, or at least stable enough for the required CPU-Z screenshots, can often blue screen just because the OS load is particularly harsh. It was here that the OC buttons on the Gigabyte X58A-OC really come into their own, as you can boot up in a stable state, and then use the onboard adjustments to start gaining those precious extra MHz.
With the pot stuffed with DICE, and resembling some B-movie scientists lab, the 990X was coaxed gently past the point at which its predecessor joined the choir invisible, and onwards until we hit an extremely impressive milestone. This milestone just happens to be (at the time of going to press) The fastest 990X on DICE in the world and also the fastest 990X on any cooling in the UK, not bad for a subzero beginner! We'll let the CanardPC validation screen tell the rest of the story.
Now considering this is our first attempt with non-standard (water/air) cooling, and certainly the first time we've reached such giddy heights, the ease of which we obtained this clock cannot be underestimated. The Gigabyte X58A-OC was an absolute joy to use, being as bombproof as one could possible hope.
Of course, even with Dry Ice serving to keep everything extremely cool (although when dealing with sub-zero cool is obviously relative) this isn't a stable enough overclock to run some of our tests with, and having lost one chip we certainly didn't want to lose two thousand pound chips in a day. So with that in mind things were backed off to a mere (!) 5.4GHz.
With these speeds available, our tests aren't really comparable to anything we've previously run, so our results will be very different to what we normally show at this point. But still very worthy of your attention.
3D Mark Vantage
Naturally there isn't really anything we can compare this too, so our results today are more of a comparative indication of things generally. The extra two cores and 1.6 GHz only improve the GTX590 by 4300 points of P-Score, showing that even at these medium settings the GTX590 isn't exactly CPU limited. In 3D Mark Vantage anyway. 43000 from a single card is pretty spectacular though.
In case you ever wonder how your setup compares to something as stupendously expensive and overclocked as this 990X/GTX590 combo, here is the 3D Mark Vantage screenshot.
PC Mark Vantage
To quote the famous American statement, there is no replacement for displacement. The X58A-OC with a Hex Core i7 990X destroys our Quad Core i7-950 by such a large margin as to be almost beyond belief. It's not like the Core i7-950 is a slow chip, just that this setup is so amazing.
Once again you can compare your own system if you like.
PC Mark 7
With PC Mark 7 we step away from comparing like for like, and look at the current latest specification options. There is no doubt at all that the soon to be replaced LGA1366 is still the performance king, and the Gigabyte X58A-OC is the king of that socket. Of course cost plays a large role, the 990X alone is nearly worth more than a full system built around the other two comparison setups, but it shows what performance is available if money isn't an object.
Got a copy of PC Mark 7 to hand? Go wild.
We finish up with the ever reliable wPrime 95. The results show two real things here. Firstly that the X58A-OC is completely bonkers when it comes to providing exceptional performance. 4.6 GHz on air is incredible. Secondly that once you enter the realms of sub-zero cooling, whilst it is awesome for getting outstanding clockspeeds it really is a case of diminishing returns. All the faff involved in puttying up your motherboard and supplying it with fresh dry ice is only worth an extra 15 seconds over a bog standard air setup.
That is somewhat missing the point because nobody would ever claim sub-zero cooling as a sensible option, but it does show that the "OMG 6GHz" factor really is more about the numbers and achievement than providing something useable.
However that isn't the only things we did whilst we had the pot bolted on....
We've often said that as great as a processor is, your money is usually better spent of a good GPU if you plan on gaming. A great GPU can overcome even a lowly processor, whereas the opposite isn't really true.
With 5.4 GHz of Hexcore goodness powering our GTX560Ti, we end up with a score pretty much identical to that we obtained on our 4GHz i7-950. The rest of the Intels power is just generating heat and sitting twiddling its thumbs.
Can we go lower? Of course we can. How about an ATI HD5500? So low on power that it's passively cooled. So there definitely is a balance between having a mental CPU and having a good GPU.
Finally there is a reason that so much validation is necessary when going for extremely high clocks. Sometimes things don't quite report back correctly. However this is a nice little tombstone for our Core i7-980X which died during the making of the review. 73 GHz everybody :)
Wow. There really isn't much else to say that isn't blatantly obvious. In fact we debated whether to just make the conclusion simply "6GHz, Gold" and be done with it.
Where do we start with the Gigabyte X58A-OC?
Looks are certainly a good point. The board is absolutely tent-inducing. Black and orange always work well together and they've never looked better than they do here. It's the little touches across the whole board that really bring home the attention to detail with which this has been crafted.The fan headers are black. Power inputs are black. Even the SATA-III ports are grey rather than the more standard blazing hues. Everything is exactly how you'd want it to be. Utterly without compromise.
The design doesn't just stop at the looks like so many have though. Fan headers are spread around the board ensuring you're never too far away from having somewhere to plug one in. The CMOS battery has been relocated from its usual "anywhere will do" place to right in the bottom corner ensuring that if you've smothered the board with putty for a full-on attempt at the world 3D Mark record and everything goes wrong, you can still get at the battery to enable things to reboot.
Things would have to go very wrong though, the X58A-OC is so user-friendly as to be quite surprising. There was a time, not that long ago, when 'overclocking' motherboards were very unstable and required near endless tweaking to get remote stability from them. Even then you were never quite sure if that tiny tweak was assisting things or making it worse, or even more likely not actually doing much at all. The X58A-OC is as easy to live with as a subservient mute, and makes the whole overclocking process as simple as you're likely to find on a LGA1366 board. There is plenty of room to tinker and tweak should the mood take you, but equally if you just fancy throwing an overclock at it then it can deal with that handily.
This is the point in the conclusion where we normally point out that you get what you pay for, and as you're getting so very much you might need to sit down for the price. Well you still might need to sit down for the price, but that's because it's only around £250. Yes you really can get the zenith of X58 motherboards for an exceptionally reasonable amount of cash.
Not only are you getting the very best X58 board around, but you're also getting one that is unlikely to be confused with any of its contemporaries. Very important for that "wow I see you've got a ... " factor in your windowed rig should that be how you decide to use it although I think the majority of these will live on a test bench.
Demonstrating, should the pudding require further egg, that this board really does make the whole overclocking thing a breeze, our first attempt at sub-zero cooling saw 6GHz. That's not a month spent deeply contemplating where to squeeze and extra ounce. That's out the box, CPU, putty, DICE, tweak, 6GHz. Barely an afternoons work.
This thing is absolutely stunning. A good price. Drop-dead gorgeous looks. Brilliant performance. Of course it wins the OC3D Gold Award and, for the simplicity and brutality of its results, the OC3D Performance Award too.
Thanks to Gigabyte for providing the X58A-OC for review. Discuss in our forums.