Enthusiasts love high-end hardware, and when it comes to Intel chipsets, that means the X48 and X38 Express platforms. The 910GL Express sits at the polar opposite of the company’s lineup, shoring up sales of entry-level systems where price is the principal consideration. In between, you have a massive list of discrete and integrated chipsets with mainstream appeal. These are Intel’s best sellers—the platforms you can find in everything from sub-$100 value boards to $200+ prosumer offerings.
The P35, in particular, is a solid win for Intel. From Gigabyte’s $75 P35-S3G to DFI’s $230 LanParty P35 T2R, the mid-range chipset is incredibly flexible because it supports the most popular enthusiast features, while keeping a watchful eye on value. There’s no DDR3 memory requirement, for example. So, power users on a budget can score 4GB of DDR2-800 and still run a speedy 1333 MHz front side bus asynchronously.
International media in front of Gigabyte's office
Gigabyte's headquarters in Taipei, Taiwan
Given the P35’s potential, it’s hardly a wonder that Gigabyte is excited about the chipset’s successor: the P45. The company is so enthused, in fact, that it flew a multi-national crew of media from their respective home bases to its own headquarters in Taipei, Taiwan for two days of hands-on testing. During the event, Gigabyte gave us access to four SKUs based on P45 and an early look at a fifth extreme series board that will show off the P45’s flexibility in a $300+ package.
We’ll get the bad news out of the way first. Because Intel hasn’t yet launched the P45 chipset (Gigabyte predicted the official unveiling will take place at Computex during the first week of June), none of the benchmarks we ran were allowed to be published—nor should they be, since all of the P45 boards made available at the event were based on early PCB revisions, not-quite-complete BIOSes, and Eaglelake drivers loaded onto pre-configured Windows XP partitions. Not quite the controlled environment we’d normally use. The same story goes for overclocking results, though to be honest, what we saw wasn’t necessarily representative of what we’d hope to get out of shipping hardware anyway.
The way Gigabyte organized the event put different, randomly-selected boards into each journalist’s hands, along with a miscellaneous bundle of graphics cards, memory modules, and processors. We actually brought our own hardware from our lab, which allowed us to generate numbers (and test compatibility) with Intel’s Core 2 Extreme QX9770, Corsair modules, and an EVGA GeForce 8800 GT graphics card (Gigabyte was distributing Radeon HD 3870s, for the most part).
Back of the EP45-DQ6; notice the quad RJ-45 connectors for Gigabit Ethernet
Two PCIe x16 slots, two PCIe x4 slots, one PCIe x1 slot, and a pair of PCI slots
Our choice in processor turned out to be a good one, since the P45 officially tops out with a 1333 MHz front side bus. As a result we were able to put Gigabyte’s claims of 1600 MHz compatibility to the test on what will turn out to be its flagship at launch, the EP45-DQ6. After burning our first sample during a BIOS update, we got the DQ6 running smoothly on a 1600 MHz front side bus using a string of automatic BIOS settings. Unfortunately, a memory compatibility issue kept us from trying our hand at overclocking, as we later found out the DQ6 would only respond to altered settings with a single memory module installed. Gigabyte assured us the issue would be ironed out before launch.
Beyond its colorful PCB loaded with slots, connectors, and passively-cooled copper heatsinks, the EP45-DQ6 is definitely Gigabyte’s most feature-rich board. You can tell just by looking at it—four Realtek RTL8111C Gigabit Ethernet controllers matched up to a quartet of RJ-45 ports is hard to hide. What could you possibly want out of four GbE connections? Individually, they’d be difficult to employ. However, if you’re somehow pushing the bandwidth of a single Gigabit connection today, the DQ6’s ports can be teamed, letting you harness the bandwidth of two or more of the controllers. That certainly beats an investment into a 10 GbE-over-copper adapter.
Virtual 12-phase power on the EP45-DQ6
Passive copper cooling connected by heatpipes
Also on board you’ll find a Realtek ALC889A audio codec equipped with Dolby Digital Live support. Representatives from both Realtek and Dolby were on-hand to extol the virtues of each company’s respective technologies. There really wasn’t much in the way of new information, though. These are technologies that have been around for at least a year.