For a pair of budget-class platforms, both the Gigabyte GA-P31-DS3L and ECS P35T-A motherboards can provide the performance necessary to be the backbone of a high-speed machine. With a quad-core processor installed, at least two gigabytes of RAM, a speedy PCI Express x16 graphics card and SATA-II/300 hard drive, you can dignifiedly put together a very competent gaming or workstation class platform here. With that in mind, there are differences which set the two boards apart.
Of the two platforms, we’re actually more impressed with the Gigabyte GA-P31-DS3L board. This board is actually less expensive and is based on older technology with its ICH7 Southbridge. However, despite the technology limitations, this board delivers (for the most part) identical performance to that of more expensive P35 Express boards. Gigabyte’s experience in the enthusiast market drifts down and we can certainly feel the effects on this board, as Gigabyte offers a much more flexible BIOS configuration (especially in regards to memory speeds) and provides a much more enjoyable overclocking experience. The board overclocked further and with less hassles compared to the ECS board. We also like that we see two types of digital audio support on a budget-level motherboard, as it’s nice to see this technology drift down to the mainstream.
ECS’ board works just as advertised, and delivers solid performance at a very good price. The board has a ton of storage and expansion port capabilities, and we like having a secondary PCI Express x16 sized slot for multi-GPU gaming. The eSATA port and additional SATA-II/300 and USB 2.0 ports will likely come in quite handy as well. If you don’t plan to overclock, ECS' P35T-A might offer a better overall bang for your buck. However, if you to overclock, the basic BIOS configuration will certainly limit one’s abilities to push this board as far as it can go. We’re also disappointed that ECS didn’t fully utilize the onboard audio functionality like Gigabyte has (they use the same audio chip onboard). Overall though, this board has a very solid feature set for its price tag, and just flat out works.