Intel's 975X Express chipset has been around since November 2005 (that's two thousand and five - Ed.), so you're probably wondering why we're not only revisiting an old chipset, but also a 'reference' board, too. When Intel launched its Core 2 Duo processors, the company naturally became 'trendy' with the enthusiast crowd again after being out of favour for quite some time thanks to AMD's long standing Athlon 64 architecture. Thus, the chip giant wanted to tap into the overclocking / gaming money pit that is becoming increasingly important to tech companies.
The 975X chipset has quite a wide range of usage patterns, as Intel markets the chipset as both a performance desktop and a workstation chipset. Reliability and robustness are both key to the two different usage models in completely different ways and we're assuming that's why the company has two different boards for the two different applications.
Today, we have a look at the performance / desktop version of the board, coined the D975XBX2, to find out if it's any good. It's the second iteration of the Bad Axe, and is more enthusiast friendly than the first edition. The initial Bad Axe board didn't support Core 2, but support was bolted on after revision 304; the reason for this was because Core 2 required a change in the way the board handled power regulation.
Intel D975XBX2 Overview
Support for all Intel LGA775 processors, including Pentium 4, Pentium D, Pentium Extreme Edition, Core 2 Duo, Core 2 Quad and Core 2 Extreme;
Intel 975X (82975X) and ICH7DH (82801GH) chipset;
Support for up to 8GB of DDR2-533, DDR2-667 or DDR2-800MHz memory;
Three PCI-Express x16 slots for CrossFire (top two running either x16 and x1, or x8 and x8, and third slot locked to x4);
Two PCI slots;
SigmaTel STAC9274D High-Definition Audio codec with 8 channel audio, jack sensing, and S/PDIF;
Intel 82573L Gigabit Ethernet LAN Controller;
Four native SATA 3Gbps ports supporting RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 and JBOD with Intel Matrix Storage;
Marvell 88SE61XX RAID controller with four SATA ports (eSATA support on the red SATA plus).
Support for eight USB 2.0 ports (four on rear I/O panel, four via on-board pins/expansion brackets);
Two IEEE1394a Firewire ports (one on rear I/O panel, one via on-board pins/expansion brackets);
One ATA133 connector and one floppy connector.
The package has some really cool cables in it. The SATA and IDE cables are made in a funky clear blue plastic, and the floppy cable is the littlest and, dare I say, the cutest (while attempting retaining some masculinity) one I’ve ever seen. If you install the board into a standard ATX case, the floppy cable should be around the exact length you need to reach a 3.5” bay floppy port, minimising cable mess. If you’ve got any other sort of case then you’re totally out of luck and have to go use your own, but who uses floppy drives anyway, right?
The IDE cable is of normal length, and the SATA are even slightly on the long side. Intel include a Marvell controller as well as the on-board ICH7R SATA ports, so if you want to use the Marvell controller as well as the on-board SATA you have to provide your own cables as only four are included.
There’s also a wealth of information from motherboard manuals and stickers telling you how to install everything. It’s mostly for OEMs to stick to the insides of cases letting the end user know what’s going on, and stickers are sometimes more convenient than manuals, providing your case changes with your motherboard. However unlike most manuals, Intel has gone the extra mile and made it not only colour (OK, a frivolous point) but it has also included a ton of definitions and extra detail to make it one of the most newbie friendly purchases we've ever seen. This is ironic since the front page of the manual explicitly states that "This product is intended to be professionally installed". Hmm.
No extra Firewire PCI brackets are included, and there are only two extra USB ports. The southbridge supports a total of eight USB 2.0, and given the rear I/O only supplies four you’re left with an extra two that will probably be used at the front of the case. The whole package is heavily weighed under the assumption that a standard ATX case will be used.