BIOS, Overclocking, and Power Consumption
As budget-level platforms, it’s unlikely that many will have preconceived notions that either of these boards will be terrific overclockers. Budget level boards rarely have the BIOS-level controls for serious overclocking, and the hardware itself is typically not optimized for such an environment. In our tests of both of these budget boards, we found this cliché to be both true and false.
We tested the less-expensive Gigabyte P31 platform first. The board ships with an Award BIOS, which is quite frequent for Gigabyte platforms. The board supports Gigabyte’s M.I.T (MB Intelligent Tweaker) technology, which basically groups all of the overclocking controls into one central area. Not all of the controls are readily available though. In order to control the memory’s latencies, you have to hit CTRL-F1 to access these advanced options in the M.I.T menu.
The Gigabyte board has surprisingly solid overclocking controls. Gigabyte provides full FSB controls in 1 MHz increments, the ability to adjust PCIe frequencies, CPU multipliers (downwards only on locked processors), and a whole set of over voltage controls. Gigabyte lets you control voltage levels for vCore, memory, PCIe, FSB, and MCH. While there are limits on the voltage levels, they are fairly lax and allow for solid overclocking.
With this motherboard, we were able to take our 1066 MHz FSB processor up to a peak FSB speed of 399 MHz (1596 MHz FSB). Interestingly enough, the board was fully stable at bus speeds up to this level, but as soon as we bumped up the system one notch to 400 MHz FSB, the system would not boot. Gigabyte provides a wide range of memory divisors, which allow you to clock down your memory to acceptable ranges while pushing the front side bus fairly high. All in all, we were quite pleased with the overclocking controls and recovery controls for when you overclock too far. Flexible, reliable, and powerful, all things you don’t typically see in a budget-class motherboard.
ECS’s P35T-A motherboard, in comparison, runs off an AMI BIOS which does not allow for much flexibility.
Gigabyte GA-P31-DS3L - Peak O/C FSB
Gigabyte GA-P31-DS3L - BIOS Info
ECS’s P35T-A, on the other hand, has a BIOS which more commonly mirrors what we would typically expect from a budget level platform. ECS uses an AMI BIOS which strips out many of the controls which power users would typically look for, providing only a very basic menu which allows for low-level overclocking and tweaking.
ECS puts all of their overclocking controls under the Frequency/Voltage Control menu. In this menu, you have control of the front side bus speed in 1 MHz increments (up to 500 MHz), although only when the CPU Overclocking Function is set to “Enabled”. ECS also gives the user control of the CPU vCore, Northbridge, and memory voltages, but at very limited levels. vCore only goes up to 1.5V, Northbridge up to 12% (why this is a percentage and not a static amount is somewhat confusing), and Memory voltage up to a mere 2.0V. ECS does not provide the user with the ability to control the CPU’s multiplier, which is a huge loss for even the most basic of overclocking.
Compounding this, ECS only provides two basic memory divisors (667 MHz and 800 MHz), which limits how far you can push the front side bus without cranking up your memory speed too high. Since Intel platforms still have their front side bus and memory speeds linked, this means that you’ll have to use fairly high-speed DDR2 in order to handle any high front side bus levels.
With this board, we were only able to push our Core 2 Duo E6600 processor up to 1333 MHz front side bus speed (333 MHz FSB). Even more frustrating, the board lacks any sort of real BIOS recovery system for when the user overclocks too far, so if you plan to tweak this board, you’d better remember how to use Clear CMOS jumpers. Considering how the rest of the board looks pretty solid, hardware-wise, the BIOS of the motherboard strikes us as somewhat of a letdown.
ECS P35T-A- Peak O/C FSB
ECS P35T-A- BIOS Info
Another interesting aspect to consider is power consumption. Do these different chipsets vary much in terms of overall power usage? We set up identical platforms to find out. Our systems included Core 2 Duo E6600 processors, Radeon X1950 Pro graphics cards, 2 x 1 GB DDR2-800 memory modules, a single hard disk and optical drive, driven by a Corsair 620W power supply. Consumption numbers are for the entire system, not just the motherboard. We tested when the system was idling and with full CPU and GPU loads.
Our numbers show that the Intel P31 Express based Gigabyte platform does consume a bit less power overall in comparison to the P35 Express based and P965 platforms. The difference is not huge, but certainly substantial considering the platforms are set up with identical hardware.