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Gigabyte G1975X — Unusual Top Motherboard on Intel 975X

February 3, 2006



  • Intel 975X chipset (i975X northbridge and ICH7R southbridge) differs from Intel 955X only in one feature: it allows to "split" PCIEx16 into two PCIEx8 to set up a system with two video cards (ATI CrossFire and NVIDIA SLI)

As usual, Gigabyte was one of the first to announce a motherboard on the recently announced Intel 975X chipset. Interestingly, it's not just a top model with a lot of additional controllers and a luxurious (sometimes excessively) bundle. Gigabyte presented its vision of motherboards for extreme overclockers and hardcore gamers :)). There is only one model in the G1-Turbo series so far. So it's too early to discuss peculiarities of the series, but Turbojet will certainly become one of such features.

A model with Turbojet can be easily recognized at first sight. We know well about the attempts to mount a cooling system on a motherboard itself, which would supplement a CPU cooler and promote better temperature conditions for memory modules and especially for a power unit in an on-board power converter. Nearly all manufacturers use passive cooling for field-effect transistors (MSI was the first company to do it). A simple example of active cooling - ECS Extreme motherboards (a fan with a small air duct at the rear panel) and previous Gigabyte models, which support a DPS module (with an additional VRM, which should reduce load on the on-board power converter, and a cooler). Even more interesting are modern motherboards from ASUS with Fanless Design, which allows to install fans on heatsinks. ABIT Fatal1ty models can be considered direct predecessors of the Gigabyte Turbojet.




Indeed, a power converter on such a motherboard from ABIT was covered by plastic housing. Thus the airduct flowed over a CPU socket. Air convection inside was governed not only by a CPU cooler, but also by two fans on the rear panel. Memory modules and a northbridge (the hottest bridge in the chipset) were cooled by separate devices — a northbridge fan and a complex device with two fans, mounted over DIMM slots, resting on their latches. We should admit that Gigabyte managed to design a more complete system. Engineers installed two "wind tunnels" with 40-mm fans at their ends. The ends of these airducts on the rear panel are shaped like turbines of a jet aeroplane, hence the name (Turbojet).

One of the airducts covers the northbridge with a semicircular heatsink, to use the air flow more effectively. The second one covers a part of a CPU power converter (with a heatsink on field-effect transistors). Field-effect transistors on the other part of the converter are also equipped with a heatsink. This part is cooled first of all by the air flow from the CPU cooler. Forced air convection at the airduct intake cools the adjacent memory module. The situation with the second (third, fourth) module is much worse. Is Gigabyte Turbojet justified? Of course, this solution will greatly improve temperature conditions for memory modules and a power converter inside a small poorly-designed PC case. Choosing a right motherboard should not be the only concern of hardcore overclockers. They also have to buy a good chassis, install one or several large slow-speed fans (and/or use several other solutions). In such conditions a closed cooling system around a processor cooler may be even obstructing.

Besides, Turbojet comes with some disadvantages: one of the main is the noise level. Four running fans outcry a standard (boxed) CPU cooler on top Pentium 4 models as well as a loud cooling system of the ATI Radeon X850. In our opinion, Turbojet's efficiency/noise ratio might have been better. This cooling system will be advantageous only in exotic conditions: a tight PC case without any airflow inside and this expensive Gigabyte motherboard, significantly overclocked.




Speaking of Turbojet's effect on the motherboard layout, there are no problems, except for the one we'll describe a tad later. Of course, if you want to install a non-standard CPU cooler, you should make sure it's compatible, as Turbojet airducts limit free space around the CPU socket. Besides, some retention mechanisms of standard coolers cannot be manipulated freely - you'll have to use a screwdriver to rotate and fix them. In other respects the PCB layout is quite good to much merit of the G1975X functionality.

Functionality is of no importance to overclockers at all. So the choice is governed by gamers' requirements. The motherboard is based on the latest i975X chipset. That's the only arguable point — even though earlier Intel chipsets do not officially support two graphics interfaces, it's actually possible to build a CrossFire/SLI system on i945/955 or maybe i915/925. Is there any performance gain? You can read about it in the end of this review. Thus, in our opinion, a cheaper chipset (even from Intel) would have been a better base for a gaming platform. But the other functions of the motherboard are well balanced.

The latest chipsets from Intel have a weak spot (everybody knows it, but for representatives from this company) — just a single channel of the parallel ATA interface for two devices. Gigabyte neatly adds ICH7R IDE controller to expand PATA support to four devices (not to obviously excessive eight devices). SATA HDD support (with RAID) is limited by chipset capacities - reasonable restraint. At the same time, the motherboard is equipped with a FireWire controller and one gigabit network adapter (one network interface will certainly come in handy, but two such interfaces will hardly be necessary in a home computer). And finally, instead of a "large step towards a customer" in the form of a cheap HDA-codec instead of a cheap AC’97 codec, Gigabyte integrates a sterling Creative Sound Blaster Live! 24-bit (including the same ADC and DAC chips) supporting 7.1, 24bit/96kHz audio, EAX 3.0, Surround Sound, as well as Dolby Digital EX, DTS ES (DTS Extended Surround) and DTS Neo:6.

But this motherboard is interesting not only with its interfaces for peripheral devices. In addition to the time-proved popular DualBIOS, the G1975X is the first model (from Gigabyte) to use POST LEDs (which makes it easy to find out why a motherboard fails to start up) as well as power and reset buttons (the latter also resets CMOS). It's a truly well thought and convenient set of tools for an assembler, especially for an overclocker. For all the above features (including but not limited to Sound Blaster Live! 24-bit) Gigabyte G1975X merits the Original Design award of our web site.




And finally, let's enumerate low-level features of the motherboard. The 4-phase switching voltage regulator of the processor incorporates three field-effect transistors per channel, seven 560 uF capacitors, four 1500 uF, and three 1000 uF capacitors. The memory voltage regulator is reinforced with L-elements. Critical circuits mostly use electrolytic capacitors from respected Sanyo, United Chemi-Con, and Nichicon. Of course, there are no unsoldered elements on the motherboard, its PCB layout is unique. Motherboard dimensions — 305x245 mm (full-sized ATX), eight-screw mount, the edge with a processor socket needs an additional support.

System monitoring (ITE IT8712F-A, according to BIOS Setup)

  • CPU and memory voltages, +3.3 and +12 V (correct voltage indication only)
  • RPM of 3 fans
  • CPU temperature (by the embedded CPU sensor)
  • CPU fan rpm control (the fan automatically slows down, when CPU temperature is low, to reduce the noise; no control options in BIOS Setup — you have to use Windows utilities).

Onboard ports, sockets, and connectors

  • Processor socket (Socket 775, supports all existing Celeron D (up to 355), Pentium 4 (570/570J/571 and 670/672), Pentium D (840 and 950), Pentium 4 EE (up to 3.73 GHz), Pentium EE (840 and 955) processors)
  • 4 slots for DDR2 SDRAM DIMM (up to 8 GB DDR2-533/667 with/without ECC supporting dual-channel mode, which requires symmetric installation of memory modules)
  • 2 x PCIEx16 for video accelerators (when a single video accelerator is installed, the slot operates in x16 mode; in case of two cards, both slots work in x8 mode)
  • 2 x PCIEx4 (compatible with x1-x16 cards (there is a slit in the slot for installing x16 cards, there are also standard locks at a proper distance); ICH7R southbridge allows only one slot to work in x4 mode, the second slot must work in x1, but Gigabyte does not give away the details);
  • 2 x PCI
  • Power connectors: standard ATX 2.2 (24 pins) and 8-pin EPS12V to power up a processor — both support connectors of the older standard (20-pin ATX 2.1 and 4-pin ATX12V correspondingly), the only concern is to provide the required supply power (for example, using dual core processors requires a 8-pin CPU power connector); the board also contains a 4-pin ATX connector to power up periphery, which should be used in case of powerful video cards;
  • 1 x FDD
  • 2 x IDE (Parallel ATA): for two ATA100 devices — chipset-based, and for two ATA133 devices — based on an additional controller (you should connect optical storage devices only to the first one)
  • 4 x SATA-II (Serial ATA II) for 4 SATA300 devices — chipset-based, connected hard disks can form RAID 0, 1, 10(0+1), 5, and Matrix RAID
  • 3 connectors for brackets with 6 additional USB ports
  • 2 connectors for brackets with 3 FireWire ports
  • Connector for a bracket with a COM port
  • 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/Out
  • Surround Center connector
  • RF_ID connector for some specific Gigabyte devices
  • Connector for a chassis intrusion sensor
  • PCI_BT1 and PCI_BT2 connectors of an unknown function (according to the documentation, there is a PCIEx16 switch in their place)
  • 5 x fan headers (2 of them are occupied by Turbojet fans, the other three offer rpm control, CPU fan header also allows automatic rotational speed control).

Back panel (left to right, blockwise)





Click the image to open the rear view of this motherboard
  • PS/2 mouse and keyboard
  • 3 x Analog Audio (Line-in, Line-out, MIC-in)
  • 2 x USB and 1 x RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet)

Here is another unpleasant consequence of using Turbojet. The fans take up so much space on the rear panel, that the standard dimensions of the rear wall can accommodate only half of the usual set. You'll have to use brackets to deploy the other connectors (a bracket with a COM port is not included into the bundle), but the number of chassis slots is also limited. So, taking into account a possible installation of two video cards of double width (the motherboard is intended for hardcore gamers), the problem blossoms immediately.

Package Contents




  • Package: a standard-sized showy box of the new G1-Turbo series with a flip cover enumerating features of the motherboard and a handle; contents (the motherboard itself and accessories) are arranged into separate boxes; but it's actually inconvenient to fish out the components
  • Documentation: Detailed user's guide
  • Cables: 5 x SATA (with power converters for 2 x SATA and 1 x SATA + 2 x PATA), 1 x ATA66 and an FDD cable (the last two are proprietary cables of the blue color with Gigabyte logo and pull straps at each connector)
  • Rear panel bracket with 2 x USB, 1 x FireWire, and 1 x mini-FireWire





  • Rear panel bracket with 3 x Analog Audio (Side, Sub/Center, Rear) as well as optical (Toslink) and coaxial S/PDIF-Out jacks (plugged to the on-board connector, which is also used for S/PDIF-In, but this feature is not implemented in a given bundle)
  • A small nameplate for a PC case with the company logo
  • SLI Bridge
  • Rear I/O shield (with two turbine outlets)
  • 2 x CDs with drives, Gigabyte utilities, as well as Norton Internet Security 2005 (antivirus and firewall) and CyberLink DVD Solution: Power2Go (to record data and music discs) + PowerProducer (to create and record DVD).

Here are the most interesting programs for regular users from the proprietary set of utilities: @BIOS (flashing BIOS under Windows, this utility allows to search and download the latest version from the official web site), COM (Corporate Online Manager, remote administration), FaceWizard (changing a graphics logo at startup), EasyTune5 (system monitoring, overclocking, etc).

Integrated Controllers

  • Audio, based on the Creative CA0106-DAT controller (sterling Sound Blaster Live! 24-bit, incorporating the same ADC and DAC chips), supporting 7.1 channel audio, with front line-in/out and S/PDIF-Out (Coaxial and Toslink) jacks
  • Network, based on Broadcom BCM5789KFB chip supporting 10/100/1000 Mbit/sec (PCI-E Gigabit Ethernet)
  • Additional IDE controller, based on ITE IT8211F chip, for two ATA133 devices
  • FireWire, based on the Texas Instruments TSB43AB23 chip, supporting 3 ports.

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:
+0,09, -0,13
Very good
Noise level, dB (A):
-83,4
Good
Dynamic range, dB (A):
83.3
Good
THD, %:
0.0072
Very good
Intermodulation distortion + Noise, %:
0.023
Good
Channel crosstalk, dB:
-84,3
Very good
IMD at 10 kHz, %:
0.020
Very good

General performance: Very good (details). While we already noted the reduction of audio output quality in the Creative Sound Blaster Live! 24-bit controller integrated into MSI P4N Diamond versus the results of a stand alone card (we attributed it to vicinity with noisy devices on the common multi-layered PCB), this situation is unfortunately much worse. The noise level became higher (-96.9→-90.8→-83.4 dBA), the dynamic range was also damaged (93.6→88.1→83.3 dBA), so the Gigabyte G1975X audio quality is approximately on the level of usual motherboards with cheap codecs (especially HDA). A hypothesis about a negative effect of the long distance from DAC to analog outputs is illustrated if not confirmed. But remember that the results of this test only speak of reduced quality of audio output. There must be no problems with audio output through S/PDIF, EAX support, etc.

Proprietary technologies and peculiarities

  • Turbojet — a cooling system for motherboard components that includes airducts with air driving fans requiring special PCB layout
  • DualBIOS — the motherboard has the second Flash EEPROM chip with BIOS backup, which can be used to restore BIOS in case of its corruption
  • Debug LED — the motherboard shows POST codes (the manual contains a detailed description of each code) helping determine startup problems
  • C.R.S. (CMOS Reload Switch) and Power On Switch — there are two buttons on the board (power and reset CMOS) to turn the system on/off easily, when the motherboard is not installed into a PC case or when a PC case is open.
  • 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 Recovery2 — 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

The function of a Clear CMOS jumper is performed by one of the buttons on a board.

In Award BIOS v6.00 Allows to disable specific CPU functions + Hyper-Threading, Execute Disable Bit, Internal Thermal Control, Enhanced SpeedStep, Enhanced Halt State
Memory timings + Top Performance, CAS Latency Time, RAS to CAS Delay, RAS Precharge, Active to Precharge Delay, Refresh Mode Select
Memory frequency selection + Auto or a specified multiplier to the FSB frequency: x1.50, x2.00, x2.0+, x2.50, x2.66, x3.00, x3.33, x4.00
Peripheral bus frequency control + PCI-E = Auto, 90—150 MHz at 1 MHz steps
PCI = Auto, 33.3—37.5 MHz at approximately 1 MHz steps
PCI IRQ manual assignment +  
FSB frequency setup + 100—600 MHz at 1MHz steps
CPU multiplier - it's not available for processors that do not allow users to change the multiplier
CPU core voltage control + Normal, 1.0625—1.7500 V at 0.0125 V steps up to 1.6 V and at 0.05 V steps above
Memory voltage control + Normal, +0.1—0.7 V at 0.1 V steps
Chipset voltage control + Normal, +0.05—0.35 V at 0.05 V steps
PCI-E bus voltage control + Normal, +0.1—0.7 V at 0.1 V steps

We used BIOS F1, the only available BIOS version at the time of our tests. The latest version (F2) has an updated list of processor microcodes. The mentioned BIOS parameters are available in the latest version, but the viability of non-standard settings hasn't been tested. You can see a complete list of settings by pressing Ctrl+F1 in the main BIOS Setup menu.

We had no problems with starting up and testing this motherboard, so we had no opportunity to test the diagnostic system with its POST LEDs :)

Performance

Testbed configurations:

  • CPU: Intel Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 3.46 GHz
  • Memory: 2 x 512 MB Corsair XMS2-4300 CM2X512A-4300C3PRO (DDR2-533, 4-4-4 timings during our tests)
  • Video: Sapphire (ATI) Radeon X850 XT CrossFire Edition (256 MB) in single card mode and PowerColor (ATI) Radeon X850 XT PE (256 MB), added for CrossFire
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (SATA), 7200 rpm
  • AC power adapter: HiPro W460GC31
  • OS: Windows XP SP2

As we haven't tested i975X-based motherboards yet, we cannot assign a direct competitor to the new model from Gigabyte. But considering the insignificant functional difference between i955X and i975X, we decided to compare our today's motherboard with ECS PF22 Extreme. In case of 2D tests these motherboards can be considered based on the same chipset. It's still more interesting to compare their 3D results: we can see the effect of different dual graphics interfaces on performance.

Test ECS PF22 Extreme Gigabyte G1975X
X850 XT CrossFire X850 XT CrossFire
Archiving with 7-Zip, min:sec 7:14 7:14 7:04 7:05
MPEG4 (XviD) encoding, min:sec 5:17 5:17 5:13 5:13
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Low@640x480), fps 70.9 70.2 72.2 71.7
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Highest@1600x1200), fps 65.5 64.6 66.7 66.1
Doom 3 (Low@640x480), fps 111.8 108.8 112.9 111.9
Doom 3 (Highest@1600x1200), fps 60.5 92.5 65.1 95.2

You won't be surprised at the results, if you already read comments on ECS PF22 Extreme performance (in its description). Indeed, some problems in the whole line of reviewed ECS motherboards on i945/955 result in a small performance loss versus the average chipset results. Gigabyte G1975X demonstrates approximately average i955/975 results. A more thorough comparison of performance results, demonstrated by motherboards on the new chipset from Intel, will be carried out in its time, when we test more of the i975X representatives. What concerns performance in CrossFire mode and its comparison with the single card mode, it's up to you to draw final conclusions from the published results. This issue will be reviewed in detail in a separate article. It will be published in the nearest future.

Bottom line

Gigabyte G1975X is a very interesting model. In our opinion, it sets a much healthier trend for top motherboards than the urge (shared by many manufacturers) to add unreasonably many additional controllers and to stuff a lot of proprietary accessories into the bundle. It will be a great comfort to have our manufacturers launch such top (that is expensive) motherboards, where each component is really appropriate in a computer, unlike the majority of modern "exhibitions of achievement", bought solely for prestige. The G1975X manages to accommodate a number of technical solutions for users' comfort, which do not raise the cost very much. Unfortunately, one of the key features of this motherboard in its current implementation — Turbojet — produces a negative impression. It makes it more difficult to assemble the system, though it's not very efficient and very noisy. Let's hope that Gigabyte engineers will improve this element and turn it into a key advantage of the new G1-Turbo series.

This model on the manufacturer's web site

The motherboard is kindly provided by the manufacturer





Sergei Pikalov (peek@ixbt.com)
February 2, 2006.



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