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EPoX 5P965+ GLI — a Motherboard Based on Intel P965 Chipset

April 11, 2007



  • Intel P965 chipset (P965 Northbridge and ICH8R Southbridge)

EPoX hasn't presented new products for Intel for a long time: in fact, the manufacturer made a pause after i945-based models. Indeed, these models provided support for dual-core Pentium D processors. And hard-driving enthusiasts (the traditional target audience of motherboards from this company) were much more interested in AMD solutions, so EPoX launched all new models for this platform. The situation has changed drastically with the release of Core 2. Now this segment of the market is of most interest. The announcement of several i965-based motherboards looks only natural. In future we can expect the chipset base to expand — in particular, to use cheap products from the NVIDIA nForce 600i series.

Our today's motherboard belongs to Middle-End and possesses usual (even limited) functionality in terms of additional controllers, which is compensated by several proprietary technologies from EPoX. At the same time, EPoX 5P965+ GLI has one unique feature. Intel removed support for IDE devices on the chipset level (since i965), but motherboard manufacturers keep it this or that way. In this case they use an unusual solution, which we'll describe in detail.




In general, this PCB layout is rather convenient, but the main power connector, traditionally placed by EPoX in the center of the board, can hamper manual installation and deinstallation of a CPU cooler with the standard ("boxed") retention module. In return, we always have access to memory slots - probably the most often upgraded elements. 5P965+ GLI has three PCI slots (quite a lot for these days). Access to them may be blocked only by a large video card installed into the second PCIEx16 slot. As this motherboard does not officially support SLI, all the three PCI slots will be accessible in most cases. There is one more hardly probable problem: as SATA and IDE slots (as well as FDD) are grouped in a corner, very long expansion cards in PCI slots may block them. There is only one absolute drawback of the PCB layout - the Clear CMOS jumper is very close to the second graphics slot: it's difficult to use the jumper even when you hold the motherboard in your hands; it becomes almost impossible when assembled with a large video card.

Northbridge and Southbridge are equipped with passive cooling. We registered no failures in the standard mode. But we cannot speak of any safety margin in this case — the heatsinks are too small. However, according to readings of the external thermal sensor, temperature of the Northbridge heatsink does not rise above 60°C in the hottest spot. The 4-phase switching voltage regulator of the processor incorporates low-profile polymer capacitors (9 × 560 uF, 3 × 330 uF (16 V)). It uses two field-effect transistors per phase (they do not get very hot). Besides, EPoX traditionally pays attention to the memory voltage regulator. It uses high-quality capacitors and is reinforced with L elements. Motherboard dimensions — 305×245 mm (full-sized ATX), it's mounted with nine standard screws + another optional one, all corners are firmly fixed.

The family of EPoX motherboards on Intel 965 is not numerous so far (its first representatives were announced by New Year's Eve): along with this model, there is also its cheaper modification 5P965-J (based on the same PCB), which lacks some brand features (power/reset buttons, thermal sensor), it uses ICH8 Southbridge and just one IDE bridge (for a single device).

System monitoring (EPoX EP1308 (aka Fintek F71882FG), according to BIOS Setup)

  • Voltages on CPU, memory, chipset, battery, +3.3, +5, +12 V
  • RPM of 3 fans
  • Temperatures of a processor (read by the on-chip sensor), motherboard (read by the on-board sensor) and temperature from an external sensor (comes with the motherboard; you can stick it to any surface).

Voltage, temperature, and rotational speed readings are shown when you turn a computer on, but not long enough to see forthcoming problems. Automatic fan speed adjustment is available only for the CPU cooler. Three modes are supported: Full Speed — uncontrolled mode; Duty Cycle — fan speed depends on CPU load; By Temperature — the most convenient mode, when you can specify three temperature thresholds with rotational speeds.




Onboard ports, sockets, and connectors

  • Processor socket (Socket 775, supports the following processors: Core 2 Extreme (up to QX6700/X6800), Core 2 Quad (up to Q6600), Core 2 Duo (up to E4300/E6600), Pentium 4 XE (up to 3.73 GHz), Pentium XE (up to 965), Pentium D (up to 840/960), Intel Pentium 4 (up to 571/661), Celeron D (up to 356))
  • 4 x DDR2 SDRAM DIMM (up to 8 GB DDR2-533/667/800; in case of processors with the 533 MHz bus, the memory will operate in DDR2-533 mode; memory modules below 256 MB are not supported; dual channel mode is supported, when slots of both channels are filled (including such variants as (A+B)+C, A+B=C); in case of different memory sizes in channels (A+B, A<B), dual-channel access is granted only to 2A memory, the other memory is used in a single-channel mode)
  • 2 x PCIEx16 for video cards: x16 and x4 slots supporting GLI (Graphic Link Interface) — you can install two video cards for a multi-monitor configuration (up to 4 monitors) there is no official information about CrossFire support (except for a cursory mention in press release), SLI is officially not supported)
  • 1 x PCIEx1
  • 3 x PCI
  • Power connectors: standard ATX 2.2 (24 pins, you can use a regular 20-pin connector, but in this case it's not recommended to use top video cards without on-board power connectors) and 8-pin EPS12V for a processor (you can use a standard 4-pin ATX12V connector even without an adapter)
  • 1 x FDD
  • 2 x IDE (Parallel ATA) supporting two ATA133 devices with two SATA connectors to plug integrated SATA-IDE adapters to chipset SATA connectors
  • 6 chipset-based SATA-II connectors for six SATA300 devices, which can form RAID 0, 1, 0+1, and 5
  • 3 connectors for brackets with 6 additional USB ports
  • 1 x CD/DVD audio connector (CD-In)
  • Connectors for analog audio ins and outs on the front panel
  • Connector for a chassis intrusion sensor
  • 1 x standard IrDA connector
  • Connector for a temperature sensor
  • 3 x fan headers, the 4-pin header (processor) offers automatic fan speed control.

Back panel (left to right, blockwise)





Click the image to open the rear view of this motherboard
  • PS/2 mouse and keyboard
  • 1 x LPT, 1 x COM, 2 x S/PDIF-Out (coaxial and optical)
  • 2 x USB 2.0
  • 2 x USB 2.0 and 1 x RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet)
  • 6 analog audio jacks: Line-In, Front, Mic-In, Side, Rear, Center+Sub.

Package Contents




  • Package: a glossy black box with a convenient handle
  • Documentation: User Manual in several languages
  • Cables: 6 x usual SATA + 2 x short (for EZ-IDE), 1 x ATA 66/100/133 and 1 x FDD cable
  • Rear panel bracket with 2 x USB
  • External thermal sensor
  • Eight small copper heatsinks (you are probably supposed to use them on the field-effect transistors in the switching voltage regulator of the processor)
  • Rear I/O shield
  • CD with EPoX drivers and utilities.

The set of proprietary utilities includes:

  • Thunder Flash — a utility to update BIOS (it can also check for updates over Internet) and change the boot logo
  • Thunder Probe — a system monitoring utility, it reads all existing sensors and allows to control CPU fan speed, to set temperature thresholds for alarms and automatic shutdown in case of overheating.

Integrated Controllers

  • Audio controller based on 7.1-ch HDA codec Realtek ALC883, 7.1 channel audio, a connector for front line-in and S/PDIF-Out jacks (coaxial and optical)
  • Network controller supporting 10/100/1000 Mbps (Gigabit Ethernet), based on the Realtek RTL8111B chip (PCIEx1)
  • Two SATA-IDE bridges based on Silicon Image SiI3811 chips supporting two ATA133 devices.

The integrated audio quality was tested in 16 bit, 44 kHz using the RightMark Audio Analyzer 5.5 test application and the Terratec DMX 6fire sound card:

Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB:
+0,14, -0,21
Very good
Noise level, dB (A):
-88,0
Good
Dynamic range, dB (A):
87.9
Good
THD, %:
0.0031
Very good
Intermodulation distortion + Noise, %:
0.013
Very good
Channel crosstalk, dB:
-86,1
Excellent
IMD at 10 kHz, %:
0.0099
Very good

General performance: Very good (details).

IDE support is based on two SATA-PATA bridges. On the whole, there would have been nothing strange in this solution (manufacturers would use IDE-SATA bridges to support the first Serial ATA hard drives). But the EPoX 5P965+ GLI solution is notable for its scalability: instead of just removing two (chipset-based) SATA ports and installing IDE, engineers use the following solution. PATA devices are connected with a standard cable to standard connectors (there are two of them on the motherboard, but each of them supports only a single device). Then corresponding special SATA connectors must be connected (with a usual or bundled short cable) to any usual SATA ports as shown in the picture.




The approach itself is certainly interesting and rather convenient, but its implementation… Firstly, extra SATA connectors and connecting them with a cable look like meccano (or a funny computer game) — why not switch between the modes with a jumper or in BIOS Setup? As for now, the motherboard is a local chaos of cables. Secondly, a potential advantage of the lack of additional controllers (Silicon Image bridges are "transparent") is that no drivers are required — according to some forum posts, it solves the problems with ATAPI devices and RAID modes of the ATA controller in the chipset. It's hard to say why our sample refused to boot up from a drive connected to the PCI controller. But it may be a system error that has to do with peculiarities of the disk system in this motherboard. As a result, we have an unusual and, unfortunately, problem solution.

Proprietary technologies and peculiarities

  • Post Port to help users to detect boot-up problems. After the POST stage is completed, it displays CPU temperature
  • Two buttons on the PCB to power and reset the system - very popular among overclockers
  • A standard thermal sensor to monitor temperature of any component at your choice
  • Ghost BIOS — BIOS back up utility, which can restore damaged BIOS from a floppy or a bundled CD with drivers (a counterpart of old ASUS CrashFree BIOS).

Settings

Jumpers and switches Clear CMOS jumper  
Jumper to apply voltage to USB ports in Standby mode To be able to wake up a computer from USB devices
In AwardBIOS v6.00PG from Phoenix
Memory timings + CAS Latency Time, DRAM RAS# to CAS# Delay, DRAM RAS# Precharge, Precharge Delay
Memory frequency selection + Auto, 533/667/800 MHz (you actually change a multiplier to FSB clock)
Peripheral bus frequency control + PCI-E: 100—150 MHz at 1 MHz steps
PCI IRQ manual assignment -  
FSB frequency setup + from the nominal value to 510 MHz at 1 MHz steps for processors with 266 MHz FSB, to 350 MHz at 1 MHz steps for processors with 200 MHz FSB, to 199 MHz at 1 MHz steps for processors with 133 MHz FSB
CPU multiplier - it's not available for processors that do not allow users to change the multiplier
CPU core voltage control + 1.3250—1.7250 V at 0.0125 V steps
Memory voltage control + 1.80—2.55 V at 0.05 V steps
Chipset voltage control + 1.5—1.8 V at 0.1 V steps for Northbridge

We used BIOS dated 20.12.06, the latest available BIOS version at the time of our tests. The mentioned BIOS parameters are available in this version, but the viability of non-standard settings hasn't been tested. The motherboard allows to call up a menu to select a boot device during the POST procedure, a convenient way for a once-only boot-up, for example from a CD drive, without making changes in BIOS Setup.

According to the manufacturer, BIOS versions released after this article have fixed the problems with manual configuration of memory timings and installing OS on a chipset RAID. A number of users' complaints must decrease after they flash the new BIOS versions.

Performance

Testbed configurations:

  • CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 (2.4 GHz)
  • Memory: 2 × 1 GB Corsair XMS2-6400 CM2X1024-6400 (tested in DDR2-800 mode, 5-5-5 timings)
  • Video card: Sapphire ATI Radeon X1900 XTX, 512 MB GDDR3
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (SATA, 7200 rpm)
  • Power supply unit: Delta Electronics GPS550ABA
  • OS: Windows XP SP2

The motherboard was very stable in the standard operating mode, not a single failure, freeze, or reboot were registered. As we used memory modules operating in DDR2-800 with timings 5-5-5 and higher, let's compare our results with those demonstrated in similar conditions by other motherboards based on Intel 965 chipsets.

Test EPoX 5P965+ GLI Gigabyte 965G-DS3 Foxconn P9657AA-8EKRS2H
Archiving with 7-Zip, min:sec 4:18 4:14 4:14
MPEG4 (XviD) encoding, min:sec 3:39 3:38 3:38
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Low@640×480), fps 78.0 79.2 79.8
FarCry (Low@640×480), fps 352 353 355
Doom 3 (Low@640×480), fps 211 215 214

We should mention that EPoX 5P965+ GLI with one of the old BIOS versions demonstrated slightly higher performance. But even in case of the latest BIOS, the difference between the contenders is insignificant and cannot be the reason to choose this or that model.

Bottom line

What concerns advantages, EPoX 5P965+ GLI features support for all modern processors for Socket 775, a good bundle, and a number of proprietary functions to make your experience with this motherboard even more pleasant. However, functionality of this motherboard is rather limited for Middle-End, where this model belonged at the time this article was written: no FireWire or additional RAID controllers, just four SATA ports if you use IDE connectors, and no eSATA. Thus a user should make a choice between more interfaces or such EPoX features as POST port and an external sensor - not as a free addition to a cheap model. We should also mention passive cooling for Northbridge - it's a small heatsink, which makes us consider additional cooling, especially during overclocking experiments and when the motherboard is installed into a small PC case. While this comment is debatable, problems with IDE cannot be ignored. Thus, we call it another questionable solution (these things abound in modern products on Intel 965), but not a triumph of engineering minds.

Summing it all up, this motherboard is an interesting, but not problem-free, Middle-End solution. It offers an alternative for manufacturers to attracting users with integrated peripheral controllers.

This model on the manufacturer's web site


Eugene Smirnov (esmirnov@ixbt.com)
April 11, 2007

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