Intel G965 based motherboards did not hurry on their way to users. The reasons will be discussed in a separate article. But here is a review of the first model based on this chipset. Motherboards with integrated video are traditionally considered as poor models for offices — home users are not supposed to buy them. Price lists are full of external video cards, which in this case can be called a "slot gag", nothing more! Our readers could see that neither i945G nor ATI Xpress 200 (integrated video in these chipsets offers the best performance these days) can outperform even ATI X300 SE. But the price of an integrated chipset is just a farthing more expensive than for a discrete modification, while a stand-alone ATI X300 SE will cost at least $40. At the same time, such a card will be a tad faster in tests, but still not fast enough to play those games, where integrated video failed. Thus, a motherboard based on an integrated chipset supporting 3D (for example for games that do not have strict requirements to shader performance), unloading a processor during video playback and offering a vacant graphics slot (in case you want to play "serious" games), is an excellent choice for most users, who usually passed the age of gaming. Intel (Viiv) and NVIDIA are actively trying to persuade users in the above-said - these companies offer excellent integrated chipsets for Intel and AMD platforms correspondingly.
Gigabyte has a curious approach to 965G-DS3: it seems like a usual
motherboard from the S-series
with a budget bundle and a mediocre set of additional controllers.
S3 in the model name stands for three S-technologies. But in practice,
it means nothing, because Speed/Smart/Safe can be easily interpreted
by marketing specialists as they please. And it's very difficult to
find a motherboard, which cannot automatically adjust fan speed,
flexibly overclock the system from BIOS by raising voltages, flash
BIOS under Windows, etc. But "D" means a lot. "D" in the current nomenclature
of this company stands for "Durability", that is increased stability
and reliability. This is achieved by using high-quality polymer capacitors
in all circuits of the motherboard. We have first come across this
feature in Gigabyte 965P-DQ6.
But it was a top model. And now we can see the same approach in a
middle end, if not budget, motherboard - we can only welcome it. I
repeat, in our opinion it's much better to attract customers in this
way than to build Babylonian towers with on-board cooling systems
or to add the tenth RAID controller. Fortunately, most new motherboards
from Gigabyte (only for Intel so far) boast of the D suffix, though
there are counterparts that lack this feature.
This motherboard has a narrow ATX PCB. But its compact dimensions do not deteriorate usability, only audio jacks for the front panel are close to side elements on the PCB, and it will be hard to get access to the Clear CMOS jumper with a wide video card installed. But all the other connectors are easily accessible, and the layout of expansion slots deserves an award: there are three PCI slots, all of them are accessible no matter how huge your video accelerator is. The video slot is moved not only from PCI, but also from the chipset heatsink, so is can accommodate a video card with a big heatsink on the back side. In fact, the only thing we are concerned about in the PCB design is a relatively small aluminum heatsink on the Northbridge, which gets very hot, especially if you use integrated video! Gigabyte usually bundles heatsinks of this typical form with fans. But there was no fan in this bundle, and the mass of this heatsink used to be sufficient only a couple of Intel chipset generations ago (unfortunately, the latest products get hotter). Yes, temperature tolerance of modern chips is steadily growing. But along with a chipset, there are other devices inside a PC case. And the PCB around Northbridge is just red hot! We insist that you should cool this heatsink actively. But it should be admitted that the system passed all lengthy tests (in an open PC case) without additional cooling.
The 3-phase switching voltage regulator of the processor incorporates four field-effect transistors per channel, four 16V 470 uF capacitors and five (4V) 560 uF capacitors. The motherboard also contains a memory voltage regulator (3 x 560 uF capacitors, 3 x 470 uF ones, and several ones of lesser capacitance), reinforced with L elements. All circuits without exception use high-quality capacitors from Sanyo (Japan) — polymer SEPC models, which are notable for durability in extreme operating conditions (guaranteed 3000 hours of service under the maximum admissible temperature of 105°Pí) and Low ESR. Access to the only jumper is not hampered even when the motherboard is installed in a PC case. Its description is published on the PCB, even though it's not necessary. Motherboard dimensions — 305x210 mm (narrow ATX), seven-screw mount, the nearest edges are not fixed, which poses some problems, e.g. when you install memory modules.
Gigabyte manufactures a range of products even on G965 - microATX models (965GM-S2 and 965GM-DS2), far from the budget level, as well as full-size 965G-DS3 (two revisions) and 965G-DS4. The latter is a top model, because it supports FireWire and CrossFire, and its cooling system is based on heat pipes. At the same time, 965G-DS3 rev1.0 and 965G-DS3 rev2.0 differ only insignificantly (PCB and functions are the same, only additional controllers may vary and rev2.0 has an overhauled CPU power circuit, for example, it now offers 6 phases). In fact, the second revisions of P/G965-based motherboards from this company are launched to support quad-core Core 2 processors. Moreover, models with similar names on P965 and G965 are actually based on the same PCB, so this review also applies to Gigabyte 965P-DS3. The 965G-DS3 has an empty seat for the TPM connector (Trusted Platform Module, a device with a controller to check authenticity of digital signatures and keys, as well as to perform other encryption and security functions) and the third fan header.
System monitoring (ITE 8718F-S, according to BIOS Setup)
Onboard ports, sockets, and connectors
Back panel (left to right, blockwise)
Click the image to open the rear view of this motherboard
The bundle includes standard tools to flash BIOS under Windows and to check for updates on the official web site (@BIOS) and EasyTune5 to monitor and adjust system parameters (including overclocking). It's an evidently budget bundle. I don't understand why the box contains a coupe of extra SATA cables.
General performance: Very good (details). This motherboard uses a budget 10-ch audio codec ALC883, which looks good only due to its number of channels even compared to mediocre Realtek models. Integrated audio of the Gigabyte 965G-DS3 offers no functions, which can interest a home user (like the in-driver support for DTS and AC-3 encoding "on-the-fly" to output via S/PDIF). However, quality of the analog output is on a decent level, typical of all modern motherboards with HDA.
We again establish a fact that the lack of IDE support by the chipset (ICH8/R) makes the motherboard manufacturer use an additional IDE controller. Gigabyte's choice here is traditional — it's JMicron JMB363 chip (marked as Gigabyte) that supports one ATA133 channel and two SATA300 ports with RAID. We are already familiar with drawbacks of this design as well: when the RAID or AHCI mode is selected for SATA ports (even if no drives are connected), devices on the IDE channel go to PIO mode - unforgettable impressions if you install OS from a CD. If you install a motherboard into a ready system and are not going to reinstall OS, the problem is insignificant, because you can get back to UDMA under Windows. Anyway, you may choose not to use RAID and AHCI, hardly a serious sacrifice to a regular user.
Proprietary technologies and peculiarities
We used BIOS F4a, provided by engineers as the latest available version (later on this version was officially released as F4, BIOS F5 just adds support for Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700). 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. As it usually happens with Gigabyte products, additional settings appear in BIOS Setup if you press Ctrl+F1 (you mostly get memory timings as well as integrated video options). By the way, the motherboard offers an interesting integrated video mode — it can work together with a video card so that you get an additional video output.
We haven't tested motherboards on Intel G965 yet, so comparison with one of the models on a new discrete modification of the new chipset from Intel seems like a good choice. Today's competitor to our contender is a model from the same stables — Gigabyte 965P-DQ6. It's one of the fastest motherboards on Intel P965 we've ever tested. We also publish test results of integrated video in Gigabyte 965G-DS3 in games, detailed analysis of this issue will be published in the nearest future.
Differences between the motherboards are expectable: similar chipsets, the same manufacturer (the same tweaks and settings), comparable positioning - as a result we've got similar pictures, the difference does not exceed 1%. Integrated video does not slow Gigabyte 965G-DS3 much in 2D (it's also a good tradition in Intel chipsets). But unfortunately, 3D performance will not let owners of the X3000 even to run more or less modern games, to say nothing of enjoying them. On the other side, the G965 offers hardware acceleration of video playback. The situation is complex, it will be analyzed in a separate article as well.
We've examined a Middle-End model with a budget bundle, support for Core 2 processors, and some interesting features - e.g. high-quality polymer capacitors in all circuits. Plus an interesting chipset, which integrated video will be reviewed in detail, and good overclocking capacities. Considering that the price is not as high as in typical P965 representatives (you can find it for $130 or more), this model can be an excellent choice for practically any unpampered buyer. But you should pay due attention to chipset cooling.
The motherboard is kindly provided by the manufacturer
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