|Overview and Specifications|
Gigabyte is typically one of the most loyal Intel partners, when it comes to chipsets. While they don’t solely produce Intel motherboards, when Intel does release a new chipset, Gigabyte is almost always there to produce several products on any given chipset. Most often, we’ll see low-end, mid-range, and high-end products, that are usually enough to satisfy the entire spectrum of the market. With Intel’s new P45 chipset though, Gigabyte has simply gone off the deep end.
At the time of writing this, a quick scan at Gigabyte’s website reveals that the company is currently mass producing nine different motherboards based on the Intel P45 chipset. Even for a company of Gigabyte’s size, that is an ambitious undertaking, although it does speak volumes about how popular Gigabyte believes Intel’s new chipset will be. It also showcases how flexible Intel’s new chipset is, as Gigabyte is offering a plethora of boards with DDR2 or DDR3 interfaces, depending on your budget and preferred memory type. While having tons of selection is great for a potential buyer, let’s face it, it can be a little overwhelming for some to choose the correct board out of nine which are all fairly similar. Gigabyte’s board naming schema doesn’t quite help either, as even enthusiasts will stare at you blankly when asked to describe the differences between a GA-EP45-DS4P and a GA-EP45C-DS3R.
However, we’re here to help. Gigabyte has sent over four of their new P45 boards and we're going to show them all to you right here. We’ve got both their high-end and low-end DDR3 based P45 boards, along with their high-end and low-end DDR2 boards. This will provide us with a clear and concise overview of what type of performance and features you’ll be getting at difference price points. We’ve got a lot of questions to answer, such as finding out the performance differences between DDR2 and DDR3 P45 platforms, how features like copper heatpipe cooling and twelve phase power help overclocking, and how power consumption differs between high-end, ultra-packed motherboards compared to trimmed down, minimalist boards.
On the low-end, we have Gigabyte’s EP45-DS3L for DDR2 based systems along with the EP45T-DS3R for DDR3 based systems. On the high-end, we have the much more exciting EP45-DQ6 platform for DDR2 based systems, and for the high-end DDR3 landscape, we have the crème de le crème of Gigabyte’s P45 lineup, the EP45T-Extreme. The low-end boards have simple aluminum alloy coolers and few perks, whereas the high-end boards are lavish, featuring complex arrays of heatpipes, diagnostic functions, piles of I/O connectivity and multiple graphics card expansion slots. Of course, all these extras don’t come free, so it’s our job to tell you if all of them are really worth your hard-earned money. Let’s get started.
Gigabyte definitely makes it clear with their retail packaging which boards are high-end and which are intended for the budget buyer. The EP45T Extreme and EP45-DQ6 platforms both come wrapped in shiny retail boxes which include flip-out covers that showcase various features about the board. As you can also see, Gigabyte is awfully proud of its Dynamic Energy Saver technologies, as it takes prominent placement on three of the four boxes.
High-End / Enthusist DDR2 - Gigabyte EP45-DQ6
So, you want a high-end Intel P45 motherboard, but don’t want to give up your previous DDR2 modules? Gigabyte has a board which might just be up your alley. Competing directly against the Asus's P5Q Premium and Maximus Formula II boards, Gigabyte is now shipping the EP45-DQ6 platform, which is their most expensive DDR2 platform based on the P45 chipset. Gigabyte was so proud of this platform that they actually flew a select group of journalists to Taiwan to look at it months before it was released. It’s quite a platform, although we’re not sure if it’s really worth all that fuss. It sure is nice, though!
Gigabyte might have well just called this motherboard the “Salute to copper”, as a large portion of the motherboard components are connected and cooled by various copper-based components. The primary cooling system runs down the center of the motherboard, which covers the Northbridge, Southbridge, and processor VRM components by a series of five heatpipes. Gigabyte’s SilentPipe heatsink allows for the (fairly-cool running) Intel P45 chipset to run silently and also allows for plenty of overclocking potential. Not satisfied with two truck tons of copper onboard, they also outfitted copper heat routing components to other Southbridge components, including their specially made SATA2 controllers and PCI Express bridge chip.
The PCI Express chip is an interesting addition, as it’s something we have not seen on other Intel P45 platforms. Basically, as Gigabyte has loaded up so many PCI Express based devices on this motherboard, they added on a dedicated PCI Express bridge chip to handle the load and route it properly through the chipset. Bridge chips are a fine interim solution for chipsets which don’t have enough lanes to support all the onboard devices necessary, although they do come at a price, namely heat production, latency, and power consumption.
Why does Gigabyte need a dedicated PCI Express bridge chip? Because, well, they have gone a little overboard--in a good way. A quick look at the motherboard’s I/O panel shows four (!) onboard Gigabit Ethernet ports, all of which connect to this bridge chip via PCI Express x1 connections. Gigabyte also has implemented their own custom SATA2 logic along with two Silicon Image “Steelvine” controller chips which connect via PCI Express, allowing for the board to handle a massive 12 (!!) Serial ATA-II RAID ports. Steelvine controllers allow for basic RAID-0 and RAID-1 arrays to be setup without driver installations, which make setup much easier for new users. With this much excess, it’s amazing that they were able to cram it all onto a standard ATX sized platform.
Want more? Sure. This motherboard has two full-sized PCI Express 2.0 x16 sized slots (x16 and x8, which drop down to 8x8 for Crossfire multi-GPU systems), along with two additional PCI Express x4 slots and a PCI Express x1 slot. The PCI Express x4 slots are unique in that they are open-ended slots, which allow them to handle larger x8 and x16 cards if need be, albeit at lower bandwidth levels. These PCI Express x4 slots also connect to the onboard PCI Express bridge chip, rather than directly to the Intel chipset. The board also supports three Firewire 400 ports, 12x USB 2.0 ports, along with 8-channel analog/7.1 channel optical/digital S/PDIF digital sound system using Realtek’s ALC889A CODEC. The platform, like most of Gigabyte’s P45 lineup, is Dolby Home Theater certified.
The board supports up to 16 GB of DDR2 memory over 4 x slots, and Gigabyte officially supports DDR2 clock speeds up to 1200 MHz. The platform is also certified to handle front side bus speeds of 1600 MHz, but is capable of much more with a little tweaking. As the board supports (virtual) 12-phase power and Gigabyte’s Dynanic Energy Saver technologies.
Despite all of its fancy heatpipe cooling systems and 12-phase power system, in our tests we found the EP45-DQ6 to be a surprisingly poor overclocking board. The initial BIOS releases were downright terrible, not even allowing us to reach FSB speeds of over 400 MHz (1600 MHz). With the latest F10 BIOS, we were able to take our overclocking test CPU up to a maximum front side bus speed of 433 MHz (1733 MHz) FSB before instability issues started getting into the mix. Knowing what this CPU is capable of, we were highly disappointed at how little we could eek out of this CPU from this motherboard. Perhaps with so many onboard components, one of the other devices was showing itself to be less tolerant of high bus speeds and was failing out on us. Whatever the case is, our experience here was less than optimal in regards to overclocking.
With a street price of about $250, it’s definitely an expensive platform, but the EP45-DQ6 has a downright amazing feature set for a standard ATX sized motherboard. It actually feels worthy of this price tag, despite our lackluster overclocking experience. This is a P45 motherboard for those who want nearly every possible I/O and expansion feature possible, no matter what the cost. It’s definitely one of the most unique platforms Gigabyte has ever created, and should be considered for high-end buyers who don’t want to move up to DDR3 memory.
Low-End / Budget DDR2 - Gigabyte EP45-DS3L
While the Intel P45 chipset is indeed capable of performance levels on par with high-end X48 solutions and is usually highly overclockable, it’s easy to forget that the P45 is indeed a mainstream chipset. It’s designed to have the majority of the features of the X48 but at a much lower price point. While most of the motherboards in this comparison today are designed to help the P45 to appeal to the high-end user, there is one board which goes the other direction, bringing the P45 to its lowest possible price point. That board is the EP45-DS3L.
The EP45-DS3L board retails for a little over $100 now, and in time will likely fall into the two digit range. With a price tag at this level, looking at this motherboard is really an exercise of how much they could strip off the platform to get it down to its very basic level without sacrificing performance and still providing all the raw benefits of the Intel P45 chipset. While it doesn’t look like much on first glance, it surprisingly has most of the basic features which most people will want, at a price rag about half (or even one third) that of Gigabyte’s high-end P45 platforms.
The PCB itself on this board is not as wide as the other P45 boards in our shootout, as it simply doesn’t need the extra space given its feature set. The board still supports all manner of Socket-775 Core 2 processors, including newer 45nm models, and officially supports FSB speeds up to 1600 MHz. This board uses a baseline 4-phase power system for the CPU, and VRM modules are left un-cooled, so don’t expect this platform to be a big overclocker in any way.
The Northbridge and Southbridge chips have very basic aluminum alloy passive cooling, which is plenty fine if you’re running the chipset at stock speeds and voltage levels. The Northbridge connects to four DDR2 DIMM slots, capable of holding 16 GB of DDR2 memory. While this is in-line with other Intel P45 platforms, we just wanted to note that it’s great to see support for such large volumes of memory on a low-end platform. In addition, Gigabyte also certifies the board for DDR2 speeds up to 1200 MHz, and of course, it supports dual-channel operation.
Expansio-wise, one of the notable price slashed features is Crossfire support, as this motherboard only has a single PCI Express x16 slot. Granted, it’s still a PCI Express 2.0 slot, so modern cards will run at full bandwidth levels, but multi-GPU configurations are out of the mix. You’ve got an array of 4 x PCI Express x1 connectors and 2 x 32-bit PCI slots. The board also does not support Firewire, but it does have a full 12 x USB 2.0 ports as the Intel ICH10 Southbridge allows for.
Another price slash happens at the Southbridge level, as this is the only board in our shootout which uses the Intel ICH10 Southbridge rather than the ICH10R. This means that the board cannot support RAID, but it still supports a full 6 x SATA-II/300 ports. We have a single Gigabit Ethernet port in the mix powered by Realtek’s 8111C PCIe x1 Gigabit Ethernet controller, which is plenty for budget users. Realtek’s ALC888 CODEC is used for HD audio, and Gigabyte provides a nice array of audio ports for this low-end platform. You’ve got 8-channel analog audio support along with both optical and coaxial S/PDIF 7.1 digital audio. However, since this board is using the older ALC888 CODEC, it does not have Dolby Home Theater certification like our other platforms, which makes us slightly sad. Just slightly though.
With four-phase power and a smaller 4-pin +12V power connector (all other boards have a full-sized 8-pin +12V ATX power connector), it’s not surprising to hear that this board isn’t great for overclocking. Not only did it reach the lowest peak overclock levels of any of the boards in our shootout, but we could not actually get it to run at FSB speeds of 1600 MHz+, which Gigabyte prints right on the PCB. Our test platform maxed out just shy of that at 390 MHz (1580 MHz FSB). It’s likely we could have hit 1600+ MHz with some more fiddling, but in any case, don’t expect to go beyond this point.
So, you lose the ability to overclock in any significant manner, you lose Crossfire support, you lose RAID support, you lose multiple Gigabit Ethernet Ports, you lose Firewire, you lose Dolby Home Theater support, and I’m sure there are a few more slashes in the mix. Seems like a lot to lose, right? Even so, it’s a pretty nice little platform when you’re looking for the raw basics. It still runs our quad-core testbed platform at the same speeds as our high-end DDR2 platform, and does so at a much lower price tag and with slightly lower power consumption. For $100, it’s not a bad board.
High-End / Enthusist DDR3 - Gigabyte EP45T-Extreme
The EP45T-Extreme is Gigabyte’s high-end DDR3 platform, and as one glance will surely tell, you can see that this board is designed with overclocking as its primary purpose. While it looked as if the EP45T- Extreme was Gigabyte’s high-end “let’s throw every possible feature on here” type of motherboard, it’s actually been slightly stripped out in some ways to allow for more overclocking functionality, rather than to pump up the feature set to try to please everybody. That’s not to say this platform is anything close to resembling bare bones, it definitely has enough features to satisfy power users, which is this board’s primary market.
The board is packaged quite well, in a box roughly twice as thick as Gigabyte’s budget-class motherboards and at least four times as shiny. Everything about the packaging screams “overclock me”, as just about every feature which is highlighted on the box is in regards to the board’s power circuitry, cooling performance, and energy saving technologies. As for the actual features an expansion ports, they're mostly an afterthought here. This is a board with enthusiast-class features at the forefront.
The layout of this motherboard is dominated by its cooling system, which is completely unique to this particular product in Gigabyte’s arsenal. No doubt this motherboard is a trial for this type of system, which weaves together a complex array of copper heatpipes with copper radiators, and throws in optional water cooling support for good measure. Gigabyte also kicks it up a notch by letting you, the buyer, install an extra two heatpipes and a huge copper radiator on to the already impressive cooling array, providing you with the ability to extend cooling surface area onto a block of copper the size of a small graphics cards.
It’s a ridiculous cooling system for all intents and purposes, as Intel’s P45 chipset doesn’t even produce that much heat. However, with a cooling system such as this, you’ll basically never have to worry about the chipset overheating, even being passively cooled and heavily overclocked. This cooling system works in conjunction with what we consider to be an “unlimited” BIOS, which provides every possible option for tweaking your clock speeds and latencies, without any safety locks or anything of the sort. The board also has hardware buttons for power/reset/clear CMOS, which are becoming commonplace on high-end enthusiast boards, along with a set of post-code indicators to let you know what your motherboard is doing during the bootup process.
While we expected the cooling system to be somewhat fluff, we were surprised (and delighted) to see that this motherboard is an extremely good overclocker. With this silent, passive cooling system, we were able to take our standard overclocking-focused processor and crank it up to 2340 MHz FSB (585 MHz x 4), well beyond its stock FSB speed of 1333 MHz, and well beyond Gigabyte’s officially rated 1600 MHz FSB speed. We found the board to be excellent for overclocking, as it handled our overclocked components brilliantly, and gave us a solid, stable feeling, even when dealing with ultra high front side bus speeds. Throw in the fact that this board has 12-phase power for the CPU, along with dual-phase power for both the Northbridge and memory modules, and you’ve got an overclocking platform which is hard to find fault with.
The EP45T-Extreme has four DDR3 DIMM slots and is capable of holding up to 16 GB of memory at speeds up to DDR3-1900. The (oddly pastel colored) DDR3 slots are a bit further South on this platform compared to what we’re typically used to due to the extra power circuitry added for two-phase DDR3 power. While it appears that the DDR3 modules will get in the way of the graphics card, this is not the case, as there is a small amount of breathing room between the two. Gigabyte puts the primary PCI Express graphics card slot one further down compared to most motherboards, in order to accommodate the huge optional copper heatsink which is bundled with the board.
The board has three PCI Express 2 x16 sized slots, the primary running at (PCIe 2.0) x16 speeds along with one running at x8 (for 8x8 Crossfire multi-GPU support) and another running at x4. There are also PCI Express x1 and 3 x 32-bit PCI slots thrown into the mix as well. The board supports six Serial ATA-II/300 devices (with RAID support) through the Intel ICH10R Southbridge. The notable lack of eSATA support is likely one of the features which was axed from this enthusiast-class motherboard in order to cut down on costs and space. 10x USB 2.0 ports and three Firewire 400 ports are in the mix as well.
In terms of connectivity, the board supports dual Gigabit Ethernet ports, which use Realtek 8111C PCI Express x1 interfaces to the Southbridge. In terms of onboard audio, the board uses Realtek’s ALC889A 8-channel HD audio CODEC. Gigabyte provides eight channels of analog output along with both coaxial and optical S/PDIF outputs on the back panel. The board also does support Dolby Home Theater support, which basically says that the audio can support Dolby 7.1 decoding and output properly, although this does not mean Dolby Digital encoding is supported.
At a street price of $260+, the EP45T-Extreme is one of the priciest P45/DDR3 platforms currently on the market. However, this price tag does seem somewhat proper for a board of this nature. Gigabyte has gone above and beyond in terms of board cooling, and provided a platform which is excessively overclockable without cutting down on the raw feature set in any major way.
Mid-Range / Budget DDR3 - Gigabyte EP45T-DS3R
While DDR3 based motherboards have typically been targeted at enthusiasts and power users, as DDR3 prices are dropping steadily, more budget-minded DDR3-based platforms are hitting the market. Case in point, the board we have here, the EP45T-DS3R. This platform is based on the Intel P45/ICH10R platform and uses DDR3 memory modules, but yet is selling at a price tag at about $175. It’s certainly not the cheapest P45 motherboard on the market, but may be one of the more affordable P45 boards with DDR3 support.
Despite its somewhat budget-class looks, the EP45T-DS3R is actually quite feature packed, but has been more or less neutered to support the needs of a more mass market audience. Likewise, the cooling system is drastically stripped down compared to Gigabyte’s enthusiast class mainboards, as this platform only features simple heatsinks on the Northbridge and Southbridge chips, devoid of heatpipes or VRM cooling. Despite this toned down cooling layout, Gigabyte still claims that the motherboard can support vigorous overclocking, including 1600 MHz FSB and DDR3-1900 speeds. Neither are particularly difficult for an Intel P45 platform to do, but it’s still interesting to see them touting these features.
The motherboard has six-phase power components surrounding the CPU socket, and well, not much else. Gigabyte has left a lot of room around the CPU socket for larger coolers on this motherboard, should you choose to go that route. Again, all manner of Socket-775 CPU’s at speeds up to 1333 MHz are supported, and up to 1600 MHz officially through overclocking. Like its bigger brother, the EP45T-DS3R uses funky floral colored DDR3 DIMM sockets which support up to 16GB of memory in a dual-channel configuration at up to 1900 MHz clock speeds.
The board is equipped with two PCI Express 2.0 x16 sized slots, the primary in blue and the secondary in orange. If you’re going to use a Crossfire multi-GPU configuration, these will drop to 8x8 speeds when necessary. The board is also equipped with three PCI Express x1 slots and two 32-bit PCI slots. You’ve also got 12 x USB 2.0 ports and 3 x Firewire 400 ports, including a rarely used mini-Firewire port on the I/O panel.
While the board lacks eSATA support, it does have a full six ports of Serial ATA-II/RAID support through Intel’s ICH10R Southbridge, along with a standard IDE port for you legacy folks. The EP45T-DSR3 is equipped with the same two PCI Express x1 based Realtek Gigabit Ethernet ports and Realtek 889A HD audio connectivity. Like its bigger brother, this platform also features 8-channel analog audio and optical and coaxial S/PDIF digital 7.1 audio outputs, and is also a certified Dolby Home Theater platform. Nice!
While the EP45T-DS3R could not match the overclocking prowess of its bigger DDR3 brother, the EP45T-Extreme, it proved itself to not be a slouch in the overclocking department either. With a simple six-phase power system and passive aluminum alloy cooling, we were able to take our overclocking testing components up to a max front side bus speed of 520 MHz (2080 MHz FSB). That’s pretty respectable for a platform of this nature, as high-end platforms were only just touching the 500 MHz barriers a few months ago. This motherboard has the same BIOS as its high-end brother, so you get all the same controls and access to low-level timings and voltages as one would get in an overclocking-targeted platform.
While it lacks some visual appeal and any sort of heavy duty cooling, the EP45T-DS3 platform has a surprisingly solid feature set, combined with better than expected overclocking, it’s a very nice package for the $175 price point.
|Power Consumption and Overclocking|
Power Consumption and Energy Saving
Gigabyte’s big new “thing” is power consumption. While overclocking used to be the head-turning feature, most consumers today are just as interested in lowering power consumption levels than they are about eeking out an extra FPS or two through overclocking. Gigabyte is heavily promoting their new Dynamic Energy Saver technologies with the P45 lineup, which is their name for an array of technologies that perform on the fly voltage and clock speed monitoring and throttling, dependant upon the system load.
Dynamic Energy Saver Advanced is their new set of technologies which is featured on three of the four boards we’re looking at today. When enabled through software, these motherboards can switch off and tune down various parts of the motherboard which are not in use (the pistons represent power phase components which can be enabled or disabled on the fly). You can also monitor power consumption levels through software, and when enabled, Gigabyte’s software will show you how many watts of power you’ve saved. If you really want to save power, you can cut power to the motherboard's LED lights to save that extra milliwatt or two. I suppose that’s kind of neat. While writing this paragraph, these technologies saved 0.5 watts of power. Thanks, Gigabyte!
The big question is, will it hurt performance if I enable this thing? Everyone wants to save power and produce less heat, but if it kills performance, most people won’t give it a second thought. We decided to run some benchmarks with DES disabled and enabled on each of the three levels of power consumption. Amazingly, leaving DES enabled did not hurt our benchmark numbers, but it did cut down power consumption by significant quantities. This is what we like to see. Here's how DES Advanced worked with a Core 2 Q6600 processor @ 2.4 GHz clock speed on the Gigabyte EP45T-Extreme P45 motherboard.
Enabling DES at its highest level saved us 12W of power under full load, without hurting performance. While it may not sound like much, over time, little things like that can add up, and we’re happy to see that Gigabyte has implemented a power saving system which works, pretty much flawlessly. However, we should let you know that if you are overclocking, DES won’t work. The motherboard will lock in your clock speeds and voltage levels where DES won’t touch them.
For the sake of fairness, we did not use DES for our power consumption tests, as we want to give the boards and chipsets a fare shake before adding software-level power consumption fixes into the mix. Here’s how the boards stack up in power consumption against each other and against their peers. Our full system specs can be seen on the following pages.
Backing up our prior numbers, it appears that Intel’s new P45 chipset with DDR2 memory consumes more power than the older P35 chipset with the same memory modules. However, Gigabyte’s new DDR3-based P45 boards seem to be much more power friendly, consuming an average of about 20W less than the DDR2 variants. Interestingly enough, the more feature packed EP45T-Extreme board consumes the least amount of power, but this board also has the more advanced 12-phase power array along with lower-power DDR3 memory modules working for it. It’s good to see the P45 finally showcasing its low-power abilities which we were hoping we would see eventually.
For testing the overclockability of these boards, we equipped each platform with an Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 processor coupled with a huge Coolermaster Eclipse II cooling system with dual 120mm fans. We dropped the multipliers down to their lowest possible (6x), than sought to push the front side bus speed up as far as we could. As this chip is based on a relatively high-clock speed to begin with, along with Intel’s 45nm processor architecture in a dual-core format, it’s proved to be an exceptional overclocker in the past. Here are the peak overclock FSB levels we obtained with each board - keeping in mind the default front side bus speed for this processor is 333 MHz (1333 MHz FSB).
With the exact same components, we found our DDR3-based P45 platforms to be much more solid in terms of overclocking. These boards were easily able to push beyond 500 MHz (2000 MHz FSB) with minimal voltage tweaks, whereas the DDR2-based platforms just struggled to meet minimal overclocking levels. The EP45T-Extreme specifically, proved to be an amazing overclocker, hitting an impressive 580 MHz (2340 MHz FSB) with very little effort and retaining stability. We were able to get our board to hit the 600 MHz (2400 MHz FSB) level for short periods of time as well. For those curious, all the boards have virtually the same BIOS setup and all of the core voltage and timing control sets between the BIOS’s are identical.
|Testbed and Synthetics|
Our basic synthetic benchmarks show us a few things. In terms of raw processing, there is no difference between these boards on various chipsets and designs. However, in terms of their memory interfaces, we see varying performance levels, as Intel CPU’s still rely on the motherboard Northbridge to handle its memory (albeit not for long, as Intel’s next-gen chips move the memory interface on-die).
When loaded up with DDR3-1333 memory, our P45 platforms with DDR3-based memory interfaces perform the best, but only very slightly over Nvidia’s DDR2-based controllers when using DDR2-800 memory. That’s not saying much for DDR3 technology, but it does show a very slight amount of progress. Gigabyte’s P45/DDR2 platforms averaged about 6 GB/s w/ DDR2-800 modules, whereas that gets boosted to 6.3 GB/s w/ DDR3-1333 modules.
|PCMark and 3DMark Vantage|
The GPU heavy 3DMark Vantage test shows virtually no performance difference between these platforms, even though some platforms can support our 9600 GT’s PCI Express 2.0 interface and some cannot – performance as you can see is flat across the board.
PCMark Vantage shows some slight variants between our boards, although the performance differences aren’t large enough to show a noticeable difference. So, for the most part throughout these two tests, we’re looking at only a few percentage points of difference between all of these various platforms, which is pretty impressive considering the architectural differences here.
|Crysis and Half Life 2 : Episode Two|
Interestingly enough, Crysis tends to favor our P45 based platforms compared to our Nvidia based systems, giving a slight edge in performance across the board. Our DDR3 platforms take a very slight edge here, but nothing really noticeable compared to a similarly spec’d DDR2 system. We also see the same scenario for Half Life 2, where our DDR3 platforms again take a very slight edge in the performance numbers in gaming.
|Divx Author and Adobe Photoshop CS3|
For production level workstations, Intel’s P45 w/ DDR3 memory appears to give a slight edge over competing DDR2 platforms. Our Divx Author encoding times were about 20 seconds faster with our DDR3 boards compared to DDR2, and our Photoshop CS3 benchmark numbers were a slight bit snappier across the board as well.
Workstation users should also note that these P45 boards can hold 16GB of memory, whereas P35/780i/680i platforms can only accept 8GB at this time. Considering how cheap memory is and how Vista/XP x64 are mostly mature now, it’s a pretty tempting option.
Intel’s ICH10 series SATA-II controller interface appears to be riding strong, as we see much higher burst transfer rates and lowered CPU utilization numbers compared to our nForce platforms. The big number which matters is indeed sustained transfer rates, and between our platforms, we see virtually no difference overall, so it’s not a sweep across the board. However, for onboard RAID, Intel’s ICH10R is a very solid solution, considering the low CPU utilization and high-performance characteristics, along with RAID-5 support.
While each of Gigabyte’s P45 boards has definite positives and negatives, in the wider view, they’ve got a very impressive array of options here for consumers looking to buy an Intel P45 based motherboard. Even better is that these four boards don’t even represent half of their nine boards which are currently shipping based on this chipset, not to mention the similar G45 based platforms which have just started shipping as well. Basically, no matter what your needs and/or price point, it’s likely that Gigabyte has a board which will work for you.
Of the four boards we’ve looked at today, if pressed to purchase one, we'd likely opt for the EP45T-DS3R, which is their mid-range platform with DDR3 memory support. It’s reasonably priced at $175, showed itself to be a terrific overclocker, showed excellent performance, and it doesn’t have any of the excess features which are nice, but may go unused by many. It’s not the most visually stunning board, but it gets the job done without any hassles.
If money was not an option, the EP45T-Extreme platform is our pick, as this board is completely over the top – in both good and bad ways. The cooling system on this motherboard is excessive, but isn’t all fluff, as we were able to reach our highest overclocking levels on this board. The optional water-cooling support is nice if you have the additional gear needed to hook it up, but even without this, you can have a superbly cooled (and silent) motherboard by using the other cooling components. Again, the board’s feature set isn’t too excessive to introduce problems, but gives you everything necessary for a modern high-end gaming rig.
Somewhat disappointing was the EP45-DQ6, Gigabyte’s rather expensive DDR2 platform. While the board is certainly an impressive release from a technical perspective, just cramming on the maximum amount of onboard components does not make for an excellent motherboard. Gigabyte’s ultra-packed PCB with custom PCI Express bridge will certainly wow some, as will its quad Gigabit Ethernet support and 12 x SATA-II ports, but when it comes down to it, performance was basically on par with our much less expensive EP45-DS3L platform , and overclockability was not as good as expected, considering its custom cooling system.
The inexpensive EP45-DS3L P45 DDR2 platform is just plain affordable. At $100, it’s an inexpensive route to the Intel P45 chipset, and you won’t get much else beyond the basics offered by the P45/ICH10R chips. It didn't overclock well, and you can’t run CrossFire or RAID, but it handles the basics just fine. It’s quiet, has lots of I/O connectivity for its price, and it still supports a full 16 GB of memory. It’s hardly the most exciting motherboard out there, but the EP45-DS3L gets the job done and doesn’t claim to be something more than it is, and we’re just fine with that.
Gigabyte EP45T-Extreme P45 (DDR3)