From the graphics viewpoint Intel took a step backwards from the 975X chipset when it launched the P35. The 975X only delivered 16 lanes of PCI-E, which was great if you had a single graphics card but less wonderful if you fancied using CrossFire as each graphics slot only got eight lanes of PCI-E. Truth be told we never saw any impact from this ‘limitation' but it didn't sound ideal.
The P35 chipset upped the ante and supported 20 lanes of PCI-E but the mains graphics slot got 16 lanes at all times and the other four lanes were used to connect any other PCI Express devices. If your P35 motherboard has dual graphics slots and you plug in a second graphics card it sucks up those four lanes which disables any PCI-E x1 devices that you may be using and also the restricts the bandwidth available to the second graphics card.
If you run Radeon X1950 XT graphics cards in CrossFire you'd do better to stick with your old 975X motherboard instead of changing to a new P35 but the time for an upgrade may have arrived as we've got our hands on the new X38 chipset from Intel.
Gigabyte has come up with two models of X38 that have a great deal in common and which both sell for the same price. The GA-X38-DQ6 supports up to 8GB of DDR2-1066 in four modules, while this full-fat GA-X38T-DQ6 supports DDR3-1600. There's a gotcha here as the options for memory multipliers will limit you to a maximum speed of 1,333MHz with the current crop of processors unless you are overclocking, but there's a good reason for this apparent oddity as the GA-X38T-DQ6 supports future 45nm and 1,600MHz FSB processors.
The layout of the board looks very similar to a high-end P35 design and the area around the CPU looks especially tidy as Gigabyte has specified MOSFETs, Ferrite Cored Chokes and solid aluminium capacitors that are efficient and small in size. We swiped this photo from Bit-Tech's preview of the X38T that illustrates the point.
We nicked the photo because the MOSFETs are covered by part of the extensive passive cooling system which starts at the Southbridge, on to the Northbridge and then to the power regulation hardware and we didn't fancy removing the tinware. All three passive coolers are bigger than you might expect but the reports are that the X38/ICH9R has a power consumption of 35W when you're running CrossFire so we're talking about a serious amount of power and heat for a mere chipset. Intel has fitted the X38 with a proper heat spreader and Gigabyte has installed a heatsink on the back of the board that sprawls from the CPU socket to the Northbridge.
It's called the Crazy Cool, which is quite nauseating, and you can only leave it installed if you're using a stock heatsink. As we use a Zalman cooler during our testing which has a backing plate the Crazy Cool was consigned to the box. Gigabyte includes a couple of alternative fixings for use when you remove the cooler which are horribly fiddly to install.