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During CES 2008 Foxconn displayed the prototypes of two motherboards targeted to overclockers: F1, which we have already talked about here, and Blackops. Blackops is based on the forthcoming Intel X48 chipset, have three PCI Express x16 slots, a myriad of overclocking options and a cooler that refrigerates the chipset and the transistors from the voltage regulator circuit that can operate as a simple passive cooler, as a water cooler or adapted to accept dry ice or liquid nitrogen. Sounds impressive? Read on.
The main new features of Intel X48 include support to PCI Express 2.0, support to DDR3 memories up to DDR3-1600 (Intel X38 only supports up to DDR3-1333), support for the new 1,600 MHz external bus and support for the new Intel XMP (Extreme Memory Profile) memory standard, which competes with NVIDIA’s EPP (Enhanced Performance Profile). Just like Intel X38 and P35, X48 will be paired with ICH9 family of south bridge chips.
Of course the most distinguish feature of Blackops is the heatsink that comes on top of the north bridge chip (see Figure 2), which is a central point to cool down the chipset and the MOSFET transistors from the voltage regulator circuit, since this heatsink is also connected to the heatsinks from the south bridge chip and from the voltage regulator transistors through heat-pipes (see Figure 1).
This heatsink can be operated as a regular passive cooler, you can add a cover that will come with the product and transform it in a chipset block for a water-cooling system (Foxconn is still studying the material they will use for this cover, acrylic or copper) or you can add a tube that also will come with the product to cool down the motherboard components using dry ice or even liquid nitrogen.
As we mentioned, this motherboard has three PCI Express x16 slots supporting CrossFire, two of them truly working at x16 and the third one working at x4. This motherboard also has three standard PCI slots but no PCI Express x1 slots.
Using Intel ICH9R south bridge chip, this motherboard has six SATA-300 ports supporting RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10. An additional JMicron JMB363 brings two eSATA-300 ports located on the rear panel of the board and one ATA-133 port.
The south bridge chip provides 12 USB 2.0 ports (six on the rear panel and six available through headers on the motherboard) and this board also has two FireWire (IEEE1394) ports (one on the rear panel and another available through a header on the motherboard).
In Figure 6 you see the rear panel from this motherboard: PS/2 mouse connector, PS/2 keyboard connector, two eSATA-300 ports, six USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire (IEEE1394) port, two Gigabit Ethernet ports and optical and coaxial SPDIF outputs.
As you can see this board doesn’t have serial or parallel ports on the rear panel, even though one serial port is available through a header on the motherboard and you will need to install an I/O bracket to use it.
If you paid close attention in Figure 6 you noticed that this motherboard doesn’t have on-board analog audio connectors (SPDIF outputs are produced by the south bridge chip). Audio is available through a riser card, which has the audio codec and the analog audio connectors.
This audio card is based on Realtek ALC885 codec, which provides an outstanding audio quality: eight channels, 24-bit resolution, up to 192 kHz sampling rate for both the inputs and outputs, 101 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the inputs and 106 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the outputs. We always complain that almost all motherboards available on the market have a very low signal-to-noise ratio on its inputs (i.e., lower than 95 dB) and this motherboard is a good exception, meaning that you can use it to capture and edit analog audio without worrying about noise.
On this prototype all electrolytic capacitors are solid, as expected on a high-end product, and all coils from the voltage regulator are ferrite coils, which provides a lower power loss compared to the traditional iron coils. Unfortunately Foxconn didn’t use solid aluminum capacitors on the audio card, but regular electrolytic capacitors from Chemi-Con (Japanese) and Evercon (Taiwanese). They should have used solid capacitors on the audio section as well or at least only Japanese caps.
This motherboard also has on-board power, reset and clear CMOS switches, which are quite handy for overclockers, and a POST diagnostics display, which allows you to find out through a two-digit code what is wrong with your computer if it doesn’t turn on.
[nextpage title=”Overclocking Options”]
Besides the unique cooling system that comes with this motherboard, it has a lot of overclocking options on its setup. With this board you can configure the CPU external clock rate up to 600 MHz and several other adjustments. Instead of listing all available settings, just look them on the pictures above.
According to Foxconn the final product will have three more options not available on the prototype we saw, including the possibility to monitor the temperature and the current being drawn by e
ach MOSFET transistor (a.k.a. “phase”) from the voltage regulator circuit.
Another interesting thing about the setup that will be available on this option is that the help screen will really tell you what each option does, instead of just telling you the options that are available – nothing is more frustrating that finding an option on setup that you don’t have a clue about its use, hit F1 for help and get “Enable/Disable” as an answer.
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
Foxconn Blackops main features will be:
- Socket: 775.
- Chipset: Intel X48 Express.
- Super I/O: Fintek F71882FG
- Parallel IDE: One ATA-133 port controlled by JMicron JMB363 chip.
- Serial IDE: Six SATA-300 ports controlled by the south bridge chip (ICH9R), supporting RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10 plus two eSATA-300 ports controlled by JMicron JMB363 chip.
- USB: 12 USB 2.0 ports (six soldered on the motherboard and six available through I/O brackets).
- FireWire (IEEE 1394a): Two ports controlled by Texas Instruments TSB43AB22A chip, one soldered on the motherboard and another available through an I/O bracket.
- On-board audio: Coaxial and optical SPDIF outputs controlled by the south bridge chip. This motherboard comes with a riser card based on Realtek ALC885 codec (eight channels, 24-bit resolution, up to 192 kHz sampling rate for both the inputs and outputs, 101 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the inputs and 106 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the outputs).
- On-board video: No.
- On-board LAN: Two Gigabit Ethernet ports, one controlled by the chipset together with a Broadcom chip to make the physical layer interface and the other controlled by a Broadcom BCM5788 controller (connected to the PCI bus).
- Buzzer: No.
- Power supply required: EPS12V.
- Slots: Three PCI Express x16 slots supporting CrossFire (two of them working at x16 and one – white slot – working at x4) and three standard PCI slots.
- Memory: Four DDR-DIMM sockets up to DDR3-1600/PC3-12800.
- Extra features: Cooling solution that can be configured as passive, water cooling or dry ice/liquid nitrogen, aluminum solid capacitors, POST diagnostics display and power, reset and clear CMOS switches.