Today we will be looking at the highly anticipated (and highly delayed) Abit iX38 QuadGT. (Supershanks is also reviewing it here.)
Admittedly, in the last year or so, I have mostly used Asus motherboards, with their hit and miss build quality, but often stellar overclocking capabilities, so, will the Abit be the breath of fresh air that I have been waiting for?.....read on to find out!
This is going to be another ongoing, living review, and I will add to it over the next few days and weeks, and I will also be making direct comparisons to the Asus Maximus Formula SE that I reviewed here.
Firstly, the packaging. Striking red and black graphics with a racing car. Lovely.
Round the back, plenty of info on the various features and we will come to those later.
Inside the red box is another box with a plastic lid, all very solid and highly protective.
Here's a shot of the board itself. The layout of the board looks near perfect at first glance, and should help to keep those cables out of the way. More about the various parts of the board below.
The bottom left corner of the board contains a CD audio header, front panel audio header etc, nothing much out of the ordinary here.
Next we have the USB section. Are those LEDs I see there?
There is more to see in this section of the board. We have:
- µGuru chip (left)
- µGuru front panel connector (bottom centre) (front panel not supplied, which is a bit mean).
- Post code display (centre left).
- Removable BIOS chip (centre right).
- 6x angled SATA ports (far right).
- Onboard reset & power buttons (bottom right).
- Floppy connector (bottom centre).
- Power, reset, HD LED, speaker jumpers (bottom left).
- CMOS jumper (just above the right hand side of the floppy connector)
Another shot of that area from a different angle, you can see the removable BIOS chip, which other manufacturers don't seem to use any more. I have had at least three motheboards in tha last year or so, that have had a corrupted BIOS that could potentially have been fixed by adding a new chip, but the chips were soldered on, so the board had to be RMAd - So, great job so far Abit!
One other thing that struck me while I was taking the pics, was just how fantastic the build quality appears to be. This board oozes quality from the off. The PCB appears thicker than the Asus boards, all the soldering is absolutely pristine, and all the caps are straight, and in general, the presentation is a highly polished one, and it is this kind of attention to detail that impresses me.
Next up, we have the rear I/O panel.
From left to right:
- PS2 mouse & keyboard.
- CMOS clear button.
- A pair of Optical Digital Connectors.
- A pair of E-SATA ports.
- Full set of audio connectors.
- Firewire port.
- 4x USB 2.
- 1 x GBit LAN.
The pair of E-SATA ports are a welcome inclusion, but only 4x USB? and one LAN? Seems like what you would expect from a real low budget board. There are 4x internal USB headers and no PCI type bracket included, which seems like a horrendous oversight on Abit's part. For me to be able to use this board for day to day things, I need at least 6x USB. I would love to hear what Abit have to say about that one.
Now then, going back to what I was saying about the layout being fantastic, here is an example of that, a virtually clutter free CPU area, which should prove easier to insulate for those people that are into their sub zero cooling
The Northbridge cooler is an unusual looking thing. It appears to be made of copper, and is absolutely huge, and very heavy. For people like me that usually water cool their Northbridge, this could be a problem because the mounting holes are non standard, in fact they are unusually far apart for an Intel board (at least all the ones I've owned). If you look at the mounting holes from the top, diagonally, corner to corner is 80mm, and top left corner to top right corner is 75mm, and top right corner to bottom right corner is approx 27mm. I will do some enquiring and see what will fit on this, watch this space.
Next up, we have the PCI-E slots. There are two 16x PCI-E 2 slots, as you would expect, and unlike the Maximus, there is an extra 16x slot that runs at 4x. There is also a 1x PCI-E slot at the top, and 2x standard PCI slots at the bottom - this part of the layout seems perfect, but I will know more, once I get it fitted into the case.
I had to double check that I wasn't missing some stuff here. I have already mentioned that there were no PCI brackets of any kind, for USB or firewire, so, what you see, is what you get. Personally, I think that this is an exceptionally light bundle, for what is ultimately Abit's current flagship board. I would hope that they review this in the future, or drop the price a little bit.
**Update - I voiced my concerns to Sean at Abit about the lack of PCI/USB bracket and he said "Sorry there is no PCI USB bracket with this motherboard. This is because there is not enough room in the box.", "I hear what your all saying but its not my department. I can certianly pass on your comments to the PM department but working for a local office I have no control over the products sold."
So, the final figure for USB sockets on the IX38 QuadGT is a measly 4, but you can buy the PCI brackets quite cheaply from most PC/electronics retailers.
Here's what you get in the acessory box:
- µGuru Manual.
- Motherboard Manual.
- Jumper guide.
- Quick Installation Guide.
- A Don't Touch The Socket Guide.
- Drivers/utils Disc.
- I/O Shield.
- Floppy Cable
- PATA Cable
- 4x SATA cables.
As with the Maximus, I had high hopes for this board, In fact, I wanted this board to be awesome, but unfortunately, it is far from it.
Had this board come with a working BIOS, or at least had a working BIOS waiting on the FTP, then things might have been a little different, a little more positive perhaps, but for a week, there was no updated BIOS and the board was unusable due to the freezing issue.
When the updated BIOS arrived, I had already had enough of my board, and RMAd it, but Supershanks gave the new beta BIOS a run, and in his words was "seriously underwhelmed". The BIOS freezing problems were still there, and so were the Vcore problems, where the CPU required ridiculous amounts of voltage for any given overclock.
Another major concern was the heat generated by the digital PWMs. I saw these hit 112c (three of them, and two of them were 110c), and I was only using 1.5v Vcore, and they had a 92mm fan strategically placed behind the board, as the system wasn't in a case. Had the system been in a case, the PWM temps would have been even higher, and I dread to think what would have happened.
With a modest overclock, the PWMs were averaging 85c, and in my opinion, this isn't good. The manual states that there should be some PWM-heatsink-fan-retention-clips included. Unfortunately, I didn't get any of these, and neither did anyone else that I have spoken to. We also asked about getting some, and Abit UK haven't got back to us yet. Full thread, complete with comedy excuses here.
While we are talking about the comedy excuses, let's just have one last look at the bundle of accessories, or lack thereof. If you have read the thread that I have linked to in the last paragraph, you will have seen the comments about the missing PCI USB bracket. How many people would buy a flagship motherboard for over £150 if there were parts missing? Or, how many people would buy a motherboard if you knew that the manufacturer purposely didn't include some of the accessories because "They wouldn't fit in the box"? That comment just about sums up this motherboard. It is a rushed out, badly thought through, poorly executed package that won't do Abit any favours whatsoever.
Even with the new beta BIOS, I still haven't seen any stable overclocks with a quad <400FSB with any Vcore approaching sane levels. The only people that I have seen, claiming the board is stable are people with dual core CPUs, and even then, looking at the Vcore they were using for the overclock they had, wasn't really anything to be pleased about.
As a reviewer, I am struggling to find a single plus point for the Abit IX38 QuadGT. Initially, I was impressed by the build quality, but that has been overshadowed by the other major problems.
As a consumer (yes, I bought this board), I feel a bit cheated and short changed. I also feel that this board should never have been released to market in the state that it is in.
Will things get better as the BIOS matures? Undoubtedly, yes, although the PWM heat is a major issue, especially if you like to run a quiet/silent PC.