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Gigabyte 8I955X Royal — a Motherboard Based on Intel 955X

July 12, 2005



  • Intel 955X chipset (i955X northbridge and ICH7 southbridge)

Motherboard manufacturers often use big words in the names of their products, pretending to be top-level. However, the "entry" level (Gold etc) has been devalued in time. Such a motherboard name usually does not adequately reflect its properties, functions, and bundle (manufacturers' desire to color the truth is quite natural). The motherboard from Gigabyte we are going to review today has nothing to do with such half-done products. While MSI has recently spiraled to the new heights with its Diamond model, the marketing department of Gigabyte "has struck back" by christening the senior motherboard from its two 8I955X models "Royal". The motherboard with such a name is quite naturally based on the top chipset (Intel 955X) supporting dual core processors from Intel. By the way, we are going to review the other Royal model soon — Gigabyte 8N-SLI Royal (NVIDIA nForce4 SLI (Intel Edition)).

What's so royal about the Gigabyte 8I955X Royal? Except for multiple features of the chipset (including the support for four DDR2 modules with the total capacity of up to 8 GB with/without ECC), it also means additional IDE and SATA II [RAID] controllers, three GigaWire ports, and two gigabit network adapters. This motherboard is certified as a basis for Dolby Master Studio, that is it allows to use Dolby technologies not only when you listen, but also when you create multiple-channel music compositions. The excellent bundle is striking: it includes cables for all drives supported, as well as rear panel brackets with additional ports, an attractive U-Plus DPS module, and even an USB Bluetooth adapter. Among necessary drivers, the bundled CDs also contain Norton Internet Security 2005 (a very good personal firewall) and, of course, proprietary Gigabyte utilities that facilitate your operations with the motherboard.




Despite all its multiple integrated controllers, the PCB layout is quite convenient and does not seriously hamper the assemblage. The only trouble we had during tests is a very bad contact between the heatsink and the northbridge (the heatsink is loose, it's especially noticeable, when a cooler is installed). Access to the only jumper may be hampered, when long extension cards are installed into PCI slots. A brief description of its functionality is provided on the PCB. Gigabyte offers another 8I955X model, the Pro modification: it lacks an additional SATA II RAID controller, the second gigabit network adapter (the only controller is based on a different Broadcom chip), U-Plus DPS support; it also uses a different HDA codec (Realtek ALC882 instead of ALC882M).

The 4-phase switching voltage regulator of the processor incorporates eight 3000 uF capacitors and ten 560 uF ones. The board also contains a voltage regulator for memory (eighteen 1000 uF capacitors reinforced with L elements). In general, critical circuits incorporate electrolytic capacitors from Sanyo and United Chemi-Con (high quality and reliable components). The board incorporates a proprietary Gigabyte technology — DPS: when an additional VRM is installed into a special slot (in this case it's U-Plus DPS), the number of phases in a CPU voltage regulator is increased to 8. Theoretically, such a scheme provides better operating stability, which is very critical for overclocking. Motherboard dimensions — 305x245 mm (full-sized ATX, nine-screw mount, all motherboard edges are firmly fixed).

System monitoring (ITE IT8712F-A):

  • CPU and memory voltage, +3.3 V and +12 V
  • RPM of 3 fans
  • CPU temperature (by the embedded CPU sensor).

Onboard ports, sockets, and connectors

  • Processor socket (Socket 775, it's claimed compatible with all existing top processors from Intel at the time of the announcement: Celeron D (351), Pentium 4 (570 and 670), Pentium D (840), Pentium 4 Extreme Edition (3.73 GHz), Pentium Extreme Edition (840))
  • 4 x DDR2 SDRAM DIMM (up to 8 GB DDR2-400/533/667 with/without ECC; supports dual channel mode, if 2/4 modules of the same capacity and organization are installed in pairs)
  • PCIEx16 for video accelerators
  • 2 x PCIEx1
  • 3 x PCI
  • Power connectors: standard ATX 2.2 (24 pins, you can connect a regular 20-pin connector, but in this case it's not recommended to use powerful up-to-date componentry like top PCIE video cards) and 4-pin ATX12V for a processor
  • DPS connector (in this case it's U-Plus DPS)
  • 1 x FDD
  • 3 x IDE (Parallel ATA) for 2 ATA100 devices (chipset based connector) and 4 ATA133 devices (based on the additional ITE controller), the latter can form RAID 0, 1, and 0+1
  • 6 x SATA II (Serial ATA II) for 6 SATA300 devices, hard disks connected to four chipset connectors can form RAID 0, 1, 10(0+1), 5, and Matrix RAID. Hard disks connected to the two additional connectors, based on the Silicon Image controller, can form RAID 0 and 1
  • 2 connectors for brackets with 4 additional USB (2.0) ports
  • 2 connectors for brackets with 3 Gigawire ports (FireWire-800)
  • 1 x CD/DVD audio connector
  • Connectors for analog audio ins and outs on the front panel
  • S/PDIF-In
  • RF_ID connector for some specific Gigabyte devices
  • Connector for a chassis intrusion sensor
  • 4 x fan headers (three of them support rpm control, the CPU fan connector also allows automatic rpm control).

Our sample does not have an additional power connector (4-pin peripheral) for PCIE video cards, though the PCB provides a seat for this element. The latest user's manual (for the time of this article) does not mention this connector. Nevertheless, motherboard photos, published on the official web site, show this connector. If production-line motherboards possess this connector, the problem of insufficient PSU power capacity will be less critical. But models with a 24-pin connector are still preferable.

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, Coaxial and Toslink S/PDIF-Outs
  • 2 x USB and 1 x RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet)
  • 2 x USB and 1 x RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet)
  • 6 x analog audio jacks (Line-In, Front, Mic-In, Rear, Center/Sub, Side)

Package Contents




  • Package: a standard box of the i-DNA series (Intelligent Dual Nano Architecture)
  • Documentation in English: User's Guide, SATA RAID Setup Guide, poster with brief instructions on installation and setup
  • Cables: 6 x SATA (with power converters for 6 devices), 1 x ATA66 and an FDD cable (both cables are blue, with the company's logo)
  • Rear panel bracket with 2 x USB and 2 x FireWire/GigaWire
  • Rear panel bracket with 2 x USB





  • USB adapter (BTD02) to setup Bluetooth 1.2 (connection range - up to 100 meters)
  • USB extension cord (about 1 meter long)





  • U-Plus DPS (an additional VRM that can potentially increase operating stability, including overclocked modes)
  • Fan that can be latched on the northbridge heatsink
  • Rear I/O shield
  • CD with drivers and proprietary Gigabyte utilities, as well as Norton Internet Security 2005.

Note the skillful design of the U-Plus DPS module that provides high quality passive cooling for all field-effect transistors in the power converter circuit. It even incorporates a cooler with a heat pipe. But field-effect transistors in the main circuit of the on-board power converter (which can operate without DPS) enjoy no special cooling withal (they have to do with an airflow from the CPU cooler), so U-Plus DPS is rather a marketing move. The bundle of proprietary Gigabyte utilities includes applications to overclock and monitor your system, to change a graphics logo at startup, to search for the latest BIOS version via Internet and to flash it, etc. Nothing unusual or really interesting.

Gigabyte 8I955X Royal motherboard is awarded with Excellent Package for its complete bundle (with U-Plus DPS and BTD02 USB adapter):




Integrated Controllers

  • Audio, based on the HDA codec Realtek ALC882M (7.1+2) supporting 7.1 surround sound audio with front line-in/out and S/PDIF-In/Out jacks
  • 2 x LAN, based on Broadcom BCM5751KFB chip supporting 10/100/1000 Mbit/sec (PCI-E Gigabit Ethernet)
  • IDE RAID controller, based on the ITE IT8212F chip, supporting four ATA133 devices that can form RAID 0, 1, and 0+1
  • An additional SATA II RAID controller based on the Silicon Image SiI3132CNU chip, supporting 2 SATA300 devices that can form RAID 0 and 1
  • GigaWire, based on Texas Instruments TSB82AA2/TSB81BA3 chips supporting 3 GigaWire ports (FireWire-800, IEEE 1394b).

The integrated audio quality was tested in 16bit, 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, -0,24
Very good
Noise level, dB (A):
-82,0
Good
Dynamic range, dB (A):
81.3
Good
THD, %:
0.0043
Very good
Intermodulation distortion + Noise, %:
0.035
Good
Channel crosstalk, dB:
-81,9
Very good
IMD at 10 kHz, %:
0.022
Good

General performance: Good (Details). The standard good quality of the analog audio output, no peculiarities.

According to the manufacturer, the motherboard incorporates the ALC882M audio codec, but the corresponding chip is marked as ALC882. There are no essential differences between ALC882 and ALC882M, the only difference is that the latter is certified for the "Designed for Dolby Master Studio" program and its drivers support as many Dolby technologies as possible (Dolby Digital EX, Dolby Digital Live, Dolby Pro Logic IIx, Dolby Headphone, Dolby Virtual Speaker).

Proprietary technologies

  • DualBIOS — the motherboard has the second Flash EEPROM chip with BIOS backup, which can be used to restore BIOS in case of its corruption
  • U-Plus DPS — an additional VRM is installed into a special connector on the motherboard
  • CIA (CPU Intelligent Accelerator) 2 — dynamically changes CPU clock (to be more exact, FSB) depending on the current load
  • MIB (Memory Intelligent Booster) 2 — optimizes memory operations by reckoning with properties of known chips/modules
  • EasyTune 5 — a proprietary Windows utility to overclock and monitor system parameters in real time
  • Q-Flash and @BIOS — these utilities can flash a new BIOS version without booting a computer from a floppy
  • Xpress Recovery — this utility backs up the data in the hidden area of a hard drive and then allows to restore this data
  • Xpress Install — automatically installs necessary drivers and applications from the bundled CD.

Settings

Jumpers and switches Clear CMOS jumper  
In Award BIOS v6.00 Memory timings + CAS Latency Time, DRAM RAS# to CAS# Delay, DRAM RAS# Precharge, Active to Precharge Delay, Refresh Mode Select, Top Performance
Memory frequency selection + Record-breaking number of frequency multipliers: Auto, 1.5, 2.0, 2.5, 2.66, 3.0, 3.33, 4.0, and a special multiplier for each FSB frequency supported
Peripheral bus frequency control + PCI-E = Auto, 90—150 MHz at 1 MHz steps
PCI IRQ manual assignment +  
FSB frequency setup + 100—600 MHz at 1MHz steps
CPU multiplier + If a processor does not allow CPU multiplier control, it's fixed at the minimal value for the series (x14)
CPU core voltage control + Normal, 0.8375—1.6000 V at 0.0125 V steps
Memory voltage control + Normal, +0.1—0.6 V at 0.1 V steps
Chipset voltage control -  
FSB voltage control + Normal, +0.05—0.35 V at 0.05 V steps
PCI-E bus voltage control + Normal, +0.05—0.35 V at 0.05 V steps

We used BIOS F5, 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.

Preliminary test results

Testbed configurations:

  • CPU: Intel Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 3.46 GHz
  • Memory: 2 x Corsair XMS2-4300 CM2X512A-4300C3PRO (DDR2-533, 3-3-3-8)
  • HDD: Samsung SP1213C (SATA), 7200 rpm
  • OS: Windows XP SP2

The table below compares the results of Gigabyte 8I955X Royal with those of the fastest (according to the roundup of six motherboards on Intel 925XE) i925XE representative — Gigabyte 8AENXP-D. The fact is that the Gigabyte 8I955X Royal is actually the first model on i955X that we tested in our lab, the rest will be dealt with later. Nevertheless, this comparison is quite logical and correct, it takes into account those minute functional differences between i955X and i925XE.

Test Gigabyte 8AENXP-D (i925XE) Gigabyte 8I955X Royal (i955X)
Archiving with 7-Zip, min:sec 7:18 7:12
MPEG4 (XviD) encoding, min:sec 5:15 5:15
Processing images in Photoshop, min:sec 33:05 32:32
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Lowest@640x480x32), fps 72.6 72.6
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Medium@800x600x32), fps 68.0 67.7

Both motherboards expectedly demonstrated similar results, the new model is a tad faster, but the difference is insignificant. So we cannot obviously expect a performance leap from i945/955 compared to the previous generation of Intel chipsets.

Conclusion

Gigabyte 8I955X Royal is a typical top motherboard from this company. It does not offer any unique features, but it traditionally qualifies for the level, which is worthy of the royal status. If you keep in mind that the "Royal" suffix in the title is just a new marketing term, you will not be disappointed with your purchase - its features and bundle are on the excellent level, but it's pricey.

This model on the manufacturer's web site (Russian mirror)

The motherboard is kindly provided by the manufacturer





Vladimir Senchihin (sench@ixbt.com)
June 30, 2005.


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