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Gigabyte 965G-DS3 — a Motherboard Based on Intel G965

January 23, 2007



  • Intel G965 chipset (G965 Northbridge and ICH8 Southbridge)

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°P) 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)

  • Voltages on CPU, memory, +3.3 V and +12 V (only indication of correct values)
  • Rotational speed of two fans (sound alarm in case of a fan failure)
  • Temperatures of the processor (by the on-chip sensor, a sound alarm when a specified threshold is exceeded) and motherboard (by the on-board sensor)
  • Automatic fan speed control is limited to the choice of a control type (depending on a given model (3 or 4 pins) the choice comes down to reducing voltage or PWM) as well as the Intel QST option (using a digital temperature sensor in new Core 2 processors) instead of the classic scenario. But you cannot specify any thresholds — the control is truly automatic :)

Onboard ports, sockets, and connectors

  • Processor socket (Socket 775, officially supports all existing processors for this socket: Intel Celeron D (325J-360), Pentium 4 (505-571 and 630-672), Pentium D (805-840 and 915-960), Pentium 4 XE (3.4-3.73 GHz), Pentium XE (840, 955, 965), as well as Core 2 Duo (E4300-E6700) and Core 2 Extreme (X6800 and quad-core QX6700))
  • 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; the official web site publishes a list of certified modules)
  • PCIEx16 for video accelerators
  • 3 x PCIEx1
  • 3 x PCI
  • Power connectors: standard ATX 2.2 (24 pins, you can use a standard 20-pin connector, but in this case you shouldn't use powerful video cards without on-board power connectors) and 4-pin ATX12V for a processor
  • 1 x FDD
  • IDE (Parallel ATA), based on an additional JMicron controller for two ATA133 devices (read about its limitations below)
  • 6 x SATA-II (Serial ATA II) for six SATA300 devices, four of them are chipset-based, another two are based on an additional JMicron controller, connected drives can form RAID 0 and 1
  • 3 connectors for brackets with 6 additional USB ports
  • 1 x CD/DVD audio connector
  • Connectors for analog audio ins and outs on the front panel
  • Connector for a bracket with S/PDIF-In
  • Connector for a COM port on a bracket
  • Connector for a chassis intrusion sensor
  • Just two fan headers (4 pins, both support rpm control), CPU fan header allows automatic 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, S/PDIF-Out (Coaxial and Toslink), 1 x VGA (D-Sub)
  • 2 x USB
  • 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: Standard S-series box from Gigabyte
  • Documentation: User Manual in English and a brief installation guide in several languages
  • Cables: 4 x SATA (without power converters), 1 x ATA66, and 1 x FDD cable
  • Rear I/O shield
  • CD with drivers, proprietary Gigabyte utilities, and Norton Internet Security 2006 (antivirus and firewall).

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.

Integrated Controllers

  • Audio, based on 10-ch (7.1+2) HDA codec Realtek ALC883, 7.1 audio support, line-ins/outs, 2 x S/PDIF-Out (optical + coaxial) and S/PDIF-In
  • Network, supporting 10/100/1000 Mbit/s (Gigabit Ethernet), based on Marvell 88E8053 chip (PCIEx1)
  • IDE/SATA-II RAID, based on the JMicron JMB363 chip (Gigabyte), supporting two devices on the ATA133 channel and two SATA300 devices, which can form RAID 0 and 1 (PCIEx1).

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:
+0,15, -0,16
Very good
Noise level, dB (A):
-93,9
Very good
Dynamic range, dB (A):
93.8
Very good
THD, %:
0.0045
Very good
Intermodulation distortion + Noise, %:
0.062
Good
Channel crosstalk, dB:
-92,4
Excellent
IMD at 10 kHz, %:
0.0082
Very good

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

  • Q-Flash - flashing BIOS by pressing a button at startup (you must have a BIOS version on a floppy, in this case you don't need to boot up under your operating system, which may be problematic in case your boot sector is damaged)
  • Xpress BIOS Rescue — booting up from a backup BIOS version saved to a hidden HDD partition (it comes in handy, when the primary BIOS in flash ROM is damaged after a failed flashing attempt)
  • Xpress Recovery2 — restoring a HDD partition image, previously backed up using the built-in BIOS utility (unlike traditional utilities, such as Acronis True Image, you don't have to boot up from a CD to restore a partition, but its interface and features are certainly limited: you can keep only one backup image; there is no support for AHCI hard drives in RAID as well as external drives connected via USB or FireWire).

Settings

Jumpers and switches Clear CMOS jumper  
In Award BIOS v6.00PG Allows to disable specific CPU functions + Hyper-Threading, Execute Disable Bit, Enhanced SpeedStep, Enhanced Halt State, Virtualization Technology, Thermal Monitoring
Memory timings + By SPD, CAS Latency Time, RAS to CAS Delay, RAS Precharge, Precharge Delay, ACT to ACT Delay, Rank Write to Read Delay, Write to Precharge Delay, Refresh to ACT Delay, Read to Precharge Delay
Memory frequency selection + Auto or a specified multiplier to the FSB frequency: ×1, ×1.25, ×1.33, ×1.5, ×1.66, ×2
Peripheral bus frequency control + PCI-E = 90—150 MHz at 1 MHz steps; you can increase the PCIEx16 bandwidth by raising its frequency (Robust Graphics Booster)
PCI IRQ manual assignment +  
FSB frequency setup + 100—700 MHz at 1 MHz steps, dynamic CPU overclocking
CPU multiplier - it's not available for processors that do not allow users to change the multiplier
CPU core voltage control + Normal, 0.85000—2.00000 V at 0.00625 V steps up to 1.60000 V and at 0.2 V steps for higher voltages (nominal voltage is indicated)
Memory voltage control + Normal, up to +0.6 V at 0.1 V steps
Chipset voltage control + Normal, up to +0.3 V at 0.1 V steps
FSB voltage control + Normal, up to +0.3 V at 0.1 V steps
PCI-E bus voltage control + Normal, +0.1 V

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.

Performance

Testbed configurations:

  • CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 (2.4 GHz)
  • Memory: 2 x 1 GB Corsair TWIN2X2048-8500C5 (tested in DDR2-800 mode with 4-4-4 timings)
  • Video card: ATI Radeon X1900 XTX 512 MB
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (SATA, 7200 rpm)
  • Power supply unit: HiPro W460GC31
  • OS: Windows XP SP2

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.

Test Gigabyte 965P-DQ6 Gigabyte 965G-DS3 Gigabyte 965G-DS3 (integrated video)
Archiving with 7-Zip, min:sec 4:10 4:10 4:12
MPEG4 (XviD) encoding, min:sec 3:37 3:37 3:38
FarCry (Low@640x480), fps 359 363 50
FarCry (Highest@1600x1200), fps 152 151 13
Doom 3 (Low@640x480), fps 218 218 5
Doom 3 (Highest@1600x1200), fps 123 121 4

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.

Bottom line

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.

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

The motherboard is kindly provided by the manufacturer





Sergei Pikalov (peek@ixbt.com)
January 22, 2007



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