Budget Core 2 Platforms from ECS and Gigabyte
Gigabyte’s ultra-budget Core2 platform is known as the GA-P31-DS3L. It is based on the Intel P31 Express chipset. Much like the ECS platform we just looked at, this board is based on a colorful PCB with a lot of bright components. While it looks somewhat flashy, this board is targeted at the budget market explicitly. However, its core feature set can still make for the basis of a solid mid-range workstation or gaming rig with the right components. With a price tag of well south of $100, so we have no premonitions of any breathtaking high-end features. For its price tag, however, this board isn’t as stripped down as one would expect.
Gigabyte GA-P31-DS3L - Bottom Right
Gigabyte GA-P31-DS3L - Top Left
As mentioned before, this board utilizes Intel’s P31 Northbridge / ICH7 Southbridge combination. Both of these chips feature gold-colored aluminum alloy heatsinks, the larger of which is used on the P31 Northbridge. Neither of these chips get extremely hot during normal operation, and having passive (silent) cooling for what little heat they do create is fine in our books.
The board supports Socket-775 Core 2 / Pentium processors, and (as claimed on the box) fully supports Intel’s upcoming 45nm “Penryn” based processors. Gigabyte has “multi-core” CPU listed right on the box, although there is no direct mention of quad-core support. We would be somewhat shocked if the board didn’t support quad-core processors though, considering Intel’s push for quad-core on the desktop. Gigabyte leaves the CPU socket fairly open, so installing large coolers should not be an issue on this board.
While the P31 Express is designed to be less flexible compared to the more expensive P35 Express chipset, Gigabyte has provided more flexibility with this platform than ECS has with theirs. This P31 Express board supports DDR2-800 and DDR2-1066 memory modules in dual-channel modes, allowing for theoretical peak memory bandwidth levels of 17.0 GB/s (8.5GB/s per dual-channel link). However, the P31 Express only supports 4 GB of memory compared to the P35’s 8 GB, so this might be something to keep in mind.
The board supports a single PCI Express x16 slot along with three PCI Express x1 slots and three 32-bit PCI slots. There are no illusions of multi-GPU processing here, just a simple, singular graphics card slot. The graphics card slot is quite close to the bottom of the memory slots, so if you have a large graphics card you might want to check your dimensions before trying to shove it into this board.
Serial ATA-II/300 Ports and Expansion Slots
CPU, Northbridge, and Memory Slots
Gigabyte opted to use the aging ICH7 Southbridge on this board, which limits the amount of USB 2.0 and Serial ATA ports which they can use. The board supports four Serial ATA-II/300 ports (non-RAID) and a total of eight USB 2.0 ports, which should be plenty for most budget systems. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting choice to opt for ICH7, as we wouldn’t have expected to see this on a new board release considering its age.
Onboard Ethernet is controlled by a small Realtek 8111B chip, which like the ECS platform, connects to the Southbridge via a PCI Express x1 connection and supports TCP offloading. Gigabyte uses the same Realtek ALC888 HD Audio chip which ECS used on their board, however, Gigabyte uses it properly, providing both 8-channel analog audio along with both coaxial and optical S/PDIF digital audio connectors. Considering the board’s price tag, having multiple digital audio options is a surprising feature to see, but one which is much appreciated.
Gigabyte’s I/O panel also sports PS/2 ports, quad USB 2.0 ports, Ethernet, serial, and parallel ports. The retail box bundle is a little better, as Gigabyte provides two Serial ATA cables, floppy/IDE cables, a driver CD, I/O shield, and a few small manual items. Still fairly barebones, but a little more complete than ECS’s platform.
Gigabyte GA-P31-DS3L - I/O Panel
For its price tag, this Gigabyte platform is a better value in our eyes in comparison to the ECS board. A few ports are missing, but Gigabyte’s board feels more complete as a whole, and feels as if it received more polish in comparison to the ECS board. But how does performance of the P31 Express match up to the P35 Express? I guess we’ll just have to find out.