Intel P965 Showdown - Abit vs. GIGABYTE
GIGABYTE GA-965P-DQ6: Board and Bundle
Upon initial inspection, the GA-965P-DQ6 appears to be a very busy board chock full of chips, capacitors and vibrantly colored connectors. The DQ6 is a very cramped board due to the sheer amount of components covering its every surface. Our eyes were immediately drawn to the large full-copper Quad Cooling heatsinks. Combined with large aluminum solid capacitors, the slick looking heat-pipe setup gives the board a high-end, tweaked, and powerful look. This board should feel right at home in a modder's case under the glow of cold cathode lighting. Though very impressive, we question the necessity of such a huge heatpipe system.
Overall, the GA-965P-DQ6 is a well laid out design free of any show stoppers. The DQ6 uses a 24-pin ATX power connector to supply its primary power. It also has an 8-pin secondary power connector located between the LGA-775 socket and the I/O header which is used primarily to supply power to the processor. The secondary power connector accepts either a 4-pin or 8-pin ATX12V power source, depending on your power supply and processor's requirements, although an 8-pin can always be used and is highly recommended. An additional 4-pin molex power connector that can be optionally used to satisfy particularly power hungry video cards is located next to the 24-pin primary power connector. The slew of power connections shows that the DQ6 is ready to supply as much power as your system's components need.
As previously mentioned, the ICH8 South Bridge used in the P965 chipset supports up to six SATA drives. However we can clearly see that there are two additional SATA ports on the board itself, making a total of eight SATA ports. These two additional ports are driven by a Jmicron JMB363 controller chip, which has 'Gigabyte SATA2' printed on it. The JMB363 uses a PCI Express X1 lane to provide support for two 3Gb/s SATA drives and one ATA/133 IDE channel supporting two drives (master and slave). The additional SATA ports are meant to be used with the eSATA headers included in the package.
Gigabyte has color coded nearly every part of the board to make identification and installation easier. The SATA ports controlled by the ICH8 are orange while the ports controlled by the JMB363 are in purple. The PCI Express, RAM and several of the connectors on the external I/O panel are also color coded. Gigabyte even color coded the pins used by the power button, reset button and case LEDs. Small touches like color coding shows a significant amount of thought on Gigabyte's part and really adds polish to this board's presentation.
Considering the vast number of components and connectors on the DQ6's PCB, it's not surprising that there are a couple minor layout issues, many of them caused by the huge heat-pipe system. While Gigabyte has left an acceptable amount of room around the LGA-775 socket to accommodate large after market cooling solutions, the 'Crazy Cool' copper plate under the socket creates a clearance problem. It's not uncommon for larger after market cooling solutions to require a back-plate to be attached to the back of the motherboard to provide additional support. Although the back-plate can be placed against the 'Crazy Cool', the screws provided to mount the back-plate may not be long enough to accommodate the additional space required to clear the 'Crazy Cool'.
Another minor gripe is the placement of the IDE connector near the bottom of the motherboard. Users with tall cases may have their optical drive(s) located high up, well above the motherboard. This means that the included IDE cable will probably be too short to reach the drives. This is an unfortunate oversight since one of Gigabyte's primary motivations for including an IDE controller was to support the PATA optical drives which currently dominate the market.
The biggest layout problem is caused by the size of the Northbridge heatsink and the location of the first PCI-E X1 slot. The first PCI-E X1 slot is much too high on the motherboard. It is directly in line with the Northbridge and a regular sized expansion card will be long enough to bump into the Northbridge's large copper heatsink. The lack of clearance renders the first PCI-E X1 slot useless, unless you have an extremely short PCI-E card. This layout issue means that the board effectively has two usable PCI-E X1 slots. However, most boards this size only incorporate two PCI-E X1 slots so the fact that the first PCI-E X1 slot is nearly unusable isn't a huge loss.
The last issue we had with the DQ6's layout is a very common one seen on many boards from a wide variety of manufacturers over the years. Starting way back in the hay day of the AGP interface, many manufacturers made the mistake of placing the APG slot too close to the DIMM slots. This resulted in larger video cards butting up against the end of the DIMM slots, preventing the DIMM locking levers from opening when the video card was in place, and in some cases, preventing the mounting of certain video cards entirely. This common layout mistake has been carried over to PCI-E slots and the DQ6 is one of the latest offenders. Luckily this usually does not effect the functionality of the motherboard, DIMMs or the video card. It's just annoying to remove the video card whenever DIMMs need to be inserted or removed.
The GA-965P-DQ6 was packaged with a slew of accessories and reading material. Included is a manual, guide on how to connect the motherboard with the rest of the system, and a sheet on how to install the processor. Also included was a Gigabyte case badge. The bundled accessories include an IDE cable, floppy disk cable, four internal SATA cables, two eSATA headers, two external eSATA cables, and two molex-to-eSATA power cables. Lastly, an I/O shield and driver CD is included in the package. We wish a RAID driver disk was also included.
The CD has a wide variety of software, as well as the necessary drivers and Gigabyte's proprietary utilities. The software bundle includes Norton Internet Security suite, Adobe Acrobat Reader v6.01, Gigabyte's EasyTune 5, Gigabyte's C.O.M. system management utility, and Yahoo! toolbar.