The first model based on Intel G33 chipset that was tested in our lab has turned out to be rather interesting. This model's form factor is microATX, which is typical of integrated boards, but the similarity ends there. It is not limited in functionality (like the "office" models), neither is it multimedia-oriented (like the "digital home" models). The first part becomes obvious when one looks at the list of the board's additional controllers and peripheral ports. In fact, it provides all of the modern functionalities (though not an abundance thereof). The second part is less evident. The lack of digital video-out sockets (there is only one, and an it is an analog D-Sub at that) and digital audio-in and -out sockets, which are in high demand for household media centers, weakens the position of Gigabyte G33M-DS2R in comparison to its competitors from the user's point of view. On the positive side, the board offers a quality set of electronic components and even an ability to install two video cards.
Of course, you are not going to see two full-size graphics slots on a microATX board. Besides, it is unlikely that anyone would want to set up CrossFire specifically on Gigabyte G33M-DS2R when plenty of more convenient options are available on the market. Nevertheless, the use of PCIEx4 slot (the maximum possible option that utilizes all free PCI Express chipset lines) along with an extra slot on the side, which in theory allows installing a PCIEx16 form-factor card in it, speaks for itself. Despite its small size the system board aspires to being called a top product. Indeed, there is no free space on the board's surface, which diminishes convenience of assembling and upgrading the system. One of the main design disadvantages is the fact that memory modules are blocked in their slots by the video card. Also, the particular placement of IDE socket makes it difficult to connect a cable to it.
Two rather small aluminum heat sinks are responsible for cooling the chipset. The way they heat up brings back the unpleasant memories of system boards based on G965, although G33 produces much less heat. However, the board exhibited no failures and no overheating symptoms while operating in this mode. At the same time, relatively small heat sinks are not likely to cause any trouble during installation of large components.
The 6 channel impulse CPU supply voltage stabilizer uses 2 field transistors per channel, 4 capacitors of 470 microfarad and 16 V each as well as 9 capacitors of 820 microfarad and 2.5 V each. Even in the first generation of Ultra Durable board series quality polymer capacitors with low ESR value (equivalent series resistance) were used not only in the CPU supply circuit, but all across the board. Therefore, we predictably find the products of well-respected Nippon Chemi-con company used everywhere on G33M-DS2R's surface. In addition to that quality, Ultra Durable 2 boards use chokes with ferrite cores instead of iron ones, and field transistors (although only in CPU supply circuit) with low RDS ON value (drain/source resistance in open state). Such technology reduces power consumption and, consequently, heating of these components. Thus, Gigabyte, though it is no longer the sole trendsetter in choosing electronic components for high-end boards, still remains among the leaders, who keep utilizing the latest improvements.
Board size is 245x245 mm (standard microATX). It is mounted using 8 screws with all corners firmly secured. Gigabyte traditionally produces a multitude of models for every new chipset. Hence, it is peculiar that except for the G33M-DS2R/G33M-S2 pair (the latter one, as it follows from the name, lacks the advantages of Ultra Durable (2) series and uses ICH9 southbridge without RAID functionality) the company doesn't have any system boards based on G31/G33 with a common PCB design. Among the most interesting ones are the G33-DS3R - a full-size ATX board with rich functionality, improved overclocking capabilities and system settings, and G33M-S2H, which has DVI and HDMI sockets on the rear panel.
System monitoring (ITE IT8718F-S, from BIOS Setup data and Windows-based utilities)
A brand Gigabyte EasyTune utility significantly expands automatic control capabilities. While running this utility in Windows one can set the upper and the lower temperature bounds (within which the rotation frequency changes proportionally to temperature change), as well as desired cooler rotation speed for the temperatures below the lower bound (including an ability to completely stop the fan). Of course, specialized utilities like SpeedFan, which offers complete support of this system board, have a wider range of capabilities in terms of adjusting cooler rotation frequency as well as monitoring temperature and voltage (apart from the ones mentioned above this includes voltage of battery, +5 V and +5 V Standby).
Ports, connectors and sockets on board surface
Board's rear panel (left to right, by blocks)
click to view the board in 3/4 perspective from the rear panel side
The set of brand utilities includes the following useful programs:
Overall rating: Very good - the quality of the analog audio output according to our test results is very high even for an HDA codec. The utilized audio codec is appealing not only due to the high signal/noise ratio for playback and recording, but also because of its audio signal transmission function, which provides full quality sound for DVD Audio, HD DVD and Blu-ray DVD with HDMI interface output. The latter is achieved by supporting content protection technology, which allows certified software players to stream audio without loss of quality to a video accelerator (or another expansion card) with HDMI port. In addition to that, ALC889A implements DTS Connect technology, which provides several ways of connecting a computer to a multi-channel audio system in order to get 3-D sound. DTS Neo:PC technology is also implemented. It decomposes regular stereo signal into 4-8 channels to create a 3-D sound effect when a multi-channel system is connected via analog connection.
By all means, since the release of i965 an important issue for any system board is the IDE controller being used (because the chipset no longer includes one). In this case JMicron's PCIEx1-IDE bridge, which we were very pleased with, was utilized. Sure, the users of Gigabyte G33M-DS2R get just one ATA133 port without the capability to set up a RAID, but since the overwhelming majority need IDE support only for optical drives it is hardly a disadvantage. Besides, the system board had no trouble booting up from CD-drive and allowed installing the OS from a CD/DVD. It required no updating of special managers in order to work with disk images and no updating of Windows XP drivers. All in all, the controller passed our tests perfectly well - "clean and clear". It is curious though, how the usually scrupulous Gigabyte user's guide has no mention of this JMicron's controller and the block diagram shows IDE interface to be provided by the chipset.
Brand technologies and features
For testing we used BIOS F4 version, which was the latest available at that time. The aforementioned BIOS capabilities are available in the specified version of the BIOS. Non-standard settings were not tested for operability. The motherboard allows accessing a boot-up device selection menu by pressing a specified key during POST procedure. This makes it possible to perform a single boot-up, from a CD-drive for example, without the inconvenience of having to make changes in BIOS Setup. According to Gigabyte's tradition BIOS has an integrated Q-Flash utility, which allows to update to a new version from a floppy disk, USB flash card or even a hard disk (given it is formatted as FAT12/16/32) without having to load the OS. Also BIOS Setup implements an ability, which is now becoming popular, to save the current set of all parameter values and quickly load it later (useful for experiments with overclocking).
In addition to the specified list of voltages the system board allows to change the ratio between VGTLREF and VTT: 0.636 (default value), 0.603, 0.566, 0.54. Overclocking fans might find this setting useful. For fine-tuning and successfully overclocking the memory BIOS offers one of two schemes of High Speed DRAM DLL Settings (specific parameters are not disclosed). Finally, there is Performance Enhance option (Standard, Turbo, Extreme), which, perhaps, operates with additional memory timings and is really effective when turned on (details will be discussed below in testing results section).
As an alternative to overclocking through BIOS Setup one can use a brand Windows utility Gigabyte EasyTune. In addition to the BIOS capabilities mentioned above (except adjusting PCI Express bus frequency, for some reason) it also allows to flexibly regulate memory voltage (up to 2.5 V) as well as clock rate (all multipliers are available: x1.5, x2.0, x2.5, x3.0, x4.0). However, in order for the new memory multiplier to come into effect one has to reboot the system. We were never able to start the system in this way with a memory multiplier that wasn't allowed for the given FSB frequency by the latest version of BIOS. Thus, the benefit from using EasyTune reduces to being able to monitor the temperatures, voltages etc.
In terms of speed characteristics we shall of course compare Gigabyte G33M-DS2R with the only representatives of Intel 3x tested so far - MSI system boards based on Intel P35. Since Performance Enhance option in BIOS has actually proven itself to be effective, we present results for the model being examined in Standard and in Extreme mode separately. Besides that, the table lists results for Gigabyte G33M-DS2R operating with enabled integrated graphics core while using a discreet ATI video card in game tests. Therefore, such configuration demonstrates a drop in performance due to additionally operating GMA 3100.
Well, Extreme Performance Enhance mode does accelerate the system board by almost 5%. Unfortunately this is true only relative to Standard Performance Enhance mode, in which this system board's performance is just about the same 5% below that of the best of competitor boards. As a result we can cheer Gigabyte G33M-DS2R being in the lead of the already tested system boards based on Intel 3x, but we can't help pointing out that such leadership is a mere formality. Nevertheless, it is pleasing to note once more how enabling integrated graphics has nearly no effect on system performance.
Comparing integrated graphics core of G33 with that of its formal predecessor G965 in game tests we can only state that the more modern board has turned out to be significantly faster. Despite the much earlier release and the higher model number of the integrated video accelerator GMA 3100 used in G33 has a much simpler architecture than X3000. A discussion of the reasons why the latter model loses in game tests is beyond the scope of this article and is a good subject for a separate one. We shall highlight that the speed data presented here are absolutely correct in the sense that under equal conditions a system board based on G33 will finish showing a Doom 3 gameplay demo scene before a system board based on G965 given the same game engine settings.
So we have gotten acquainted with a system board that provides solid modern functionality despite its small size. How attractive is such a product for the buyers? Frankly speaking, we can't quite picture its target audience: compact chassis are primarily used for building quiet systems for playing films and music, while not having to use an outboard video adapter is essential in such cases. This particular model has no digital video- and audio-out sockets and clearly requires an installation of extra expansion cards and brackets. Perhaps, we should think of Gigabyte G33M-DS2R as a full-fledged foundation (but nothing more!) for a work or gaming computer and disregard the unusual form factor. It that case the system board really turns out to be interesting, because in comparison to its full-sized competitors it lacks only the two expansion slots. Considering the current level of controller integration it will hardly be a problem for many users.
On the bright side: it is fast (formally even the fastest of the ones tested to present day), inexpensive (with a decent package content), well designed and manufactured (see the Ultra Durable 2 section). It is curious that while supporting nearly all modern peripheral interfaces (including an eSATA bracket) the board still implements COM and LPT ports (as well as a second COM port bracket). Perhaps, the users of old interface devices will find this solution appealing. In general the system board is good. It's a pity the integrated graphics adapter has turned out to be essentially useless, while the chipset could have had a better cooling system.
The reviewed model on the manufacturer's website
The motherboard was provided by the manufacturer.
The memory modules were provided by Corsair.
Sergey Pikalov (firstname.lastname@example.org)
September 10, 2007
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