We’ve only just reviewed the MSI X38 Diamond but it’s already in danger of being replaced by the X48 Platinum.
That sounds utterly ridiculous so what the heck’s going on? The problem stems from Intel’s roadmaps which rely on a steady release of products so we get 65nm Core 2 processors on a 1,066MHz front side bus, followed by 65nm on a 1,333MHz front side bus, then 45nm on 1,333MHz and next year the 45nm Penryn will move to a 1,600MHz front side bus.
It’s a logical progress and just as night follows day, you can bet that a new processor core requires a new chipset and Intel has kept busy launching a steady stream of core logic silicon. In the past two years we’ve had 975X, P965, P35 and X38 which is one generation of chipsets every six months. Your choice of chipset and motherboard locks you into a specific processor family, front side bus, type of memory and graphics technology and that in turn starts the upgrade clock ticking from the very minute you finish your PC build so AMD, Intel and Nvidia have to tread a very careful path to avoid making their customers feel like mugs.
The X38 chipset is very new and promises support for the latest technologies in the shape of a 45nm Penryn processor with PCI Express 2.0 CrossFire and DDR3 memory with XMP so you might think there’s a degree of future-proofing in your shiny new X38 motherboard. Sure you’ve got to lay out a stack of cash on some DDR3 memory but you can build your PC with a Kentsfield processor and Radeon X1950 Pro graphics card and you’re all set to upgrade with a Penryn CPU and Radeon HD 4000 in a year’s time. The logic is impeccable and also perfectly wrong because the X38 supports a 1,333MHz front side bus and by the time you come to upgrade your processor Intel will have moved to a 1,600MHz front side bus.
Intel’s plans have been a matter of record for many months but it’s chosen to deviate from the plan by releasing the QX9770 ahead of schedule.
It would seem that Intel was so concerned about the quad-core AMD Phenom that it was prepared to unleash the 1,600MHz front side bus a few months early and that led to a vocal demand for motherboards from reviewers in all four corners of the world. Strictly speaking the only chipset that should support the QX9770 was the soon-to-be-released X48 but they were very thin on the ground. The inventive Taiwanese came up with BIOS updates for X38 and P35 motherboards to get QX9770 running and they were incredibly successful at the task.
So now we’ve got a genuine MSI X48 Platinum motherboard on the test bench and it looks near-identical to the X38 Diamond. The only difference that caught our eye is the expansion bracket which carries a single Firewire port in the X48 package while the X38 bracket has one Firewire and two USB ports.