The I/O panel is a work of wonder as you get the full complement of audio connectors, a mini Firewire, six-pin Firewire, dual PCI-E Gigabit LAN and eight USB 2.0 ports. The only legacy ports are a pair of PS/2 for your mouse and keyboard so eight USB ports gives you huge scope for connecting your peripherals and if you have ports mounted on your case there are headers for four more USB ports and one more Firewire.
On the downside there are no activity or power lights on the board so you can't be sure whether it's safe to install or remove components, and that's quite disconcerting.
The layout is good but the top graphics slot blocks the memory latches and you can't release a double slot graphics card unless you push the ‘wrong' end of the retention pin. As both graphics slots have equal billing in the BIOS you're better off installing a single graphics card in the second slot. If you do decide to run CrossFire then you'll have to face these minor annoyances and will also lose the use of one PCI-E x1 slot and one PCI slot, leaving two PCI-E x1 slots and a single PCI slot available for expansion.
You don't get any eSATA ports though there are two eSATA brackets that connect to internal SATA ports. Each bracket supports two drives and there are eight SATA ports on the board so that gives you all the storage options you could reasonably want.
Although Gigabyte includes the dual BIOS chips we have come to know and love, it seems that this is not enough so Gigabyte has added a system where you can also update from a BIOS file on a CD or hard drive.
X38 includes some novel features that take the overclocking fight to nVidia. There's support for XMP (Extreme Memory Profile) which is Intel's answer to SLI memory and is reserved for use with DDR3 memory. Compatible memory modules contain SPD settings that are triggered when the memory is used with a compatible X38 motherboard. The significant point is that Intel appears to be embracing overclocking for the first time in living memory.
We're also told that Intel has come up with software named Extreme Tuning Utility as an answer to nTune. Our test motherboard came with the software on a CD-R that appeared to be complete however there was no sign of the utility.
Then there's the point that the dual graphics slots not only support 16 lanes of PCI-E each but they are compliant with the PCI-E 2.0 standard, which has double the bandwidth of the original PCI-E standard. We clearly had stacks of bandwidth in every part of the system so we lined up some top components for your testing including a Core 2 Extreme QX6850 processor, 2GB of OCZ PC3-1600 memory with the all-important XMP profile, two PowerColor HD Radeon HD 2900 XT graphics cards and a Hitachi 7K1000 hard drive, all running on Windows XP SP2.