955X-based mobo shoot-out
We test the top LGA755 motherboards
Who better than the chipset designer to make a fully-fledged i955X motherboard? Intel's desktop motherboards tended to be simple showcases for its newest iteration of chipsets, and, consequently, often miss out on the featured tacked on by the likes of ABIT and EPoX. The D955XBK, however, is designed to change all that.
Intel uses an eight-pin (2x4) 12V power connector that's in line with ATX 2.0 spec. You needn't worry if your power supply only has a four-pin 12V connector, as Intel provides the necessary adaptor in the bundle. There's plenty of room around the CPU socket which is dwarfed, on the left-hand side, by a massive passive heatsink. It's the largest we've seen, and Intel has enough confidence in its cooling ability to forego the usual fan on top.
The heatsink is big enough almost to encroach on the PCB space alloted to the four DIMM slots. Of course, being an i955X motherboard, the D55XBK supports up to 8GB of DDR 2 memory (both non-ECC and ECC) in the preferable, performance-enhancing dual-channel mode. The Memory Controller Hub, covered by the massive heatsink, controls accesses between system RAM and your chosen LGA775 CPU. The location of the primary IDE port and legacy floppy are both good.
Moving on past the CMOS battery and one of the board's four fan headers, we stumble upon SATA galore. The heatsink-covered ICH7/R southbridge powers the four black SATA 2 ports to the right. A further four ports, coloured blue, are available from the tried-and-tested Silicon Image Sil3114 controller; it's kind of hard to miss, situated right in the middle. However, whereas the Intel D955XBK 'outports' both the ABIT and Gigabyte boards, it does so by using a PCI-based controller, and not the preferable PCI Express implementations on the other two. You probably won't soak up the bandwidth available on the PCI bus, but Intel should really have invested in the newer Silicon Image ASIC, the Sil3134.
Complementing the board's eight USB 2.0 ports are three FireWires ports (two 1394a and a single 1394b) run off the same Texas Instruments combination as found on the ABIT AW8-MAX.
Beyond the single x1 PCI Express slot and a trio of PCI slots are two longer PCI-Express slots. SLI or CrossFire compatibility? Unfortunately not for SLI at the moment, but ATI has announced support for its delayed CrossFire dual-card setup. The upper slot is a regular x16 used by every PCI Express graphics card under the sun. The lower slot, although a x16 connector, can only use up to four lanes (x4). There's no present certification for dual-card running, although you can use the x4 slot for expanded display options.
Intel also adds in Gigabit Ethernet support from its 82573V ASIC. The ICH7/R's HD audio is routed via SigmaTel codec. The sound is then routed out to the I/O section.
Speaking of which, Intel goes with a mixture of legacy and high-speed ports. From left to right, we have the ubiquitious PS/2 ports, alongside parallel and serial ports. Intel adds S/PDIF support through coaxial-out. Four USB 2.0 ports sit underneath a single 1394a port and RJ45 connector. Lastly, eight-channel audio support is helped by optical-out.