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Gigabyte G33M-DS2R
Motherboard Based on Intel G33 Chipset

September 10, 2007



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)

  • Voltage of CPU, memory , +3.3 and +12 V (indication of value correctness only);
  • Rotation frequency of the 2 fans, for one of which automatic rotation frequency control is supported;
  • Temperature of CPU (by built-in CPU sensor) and of the system board (by on-board sensor);
  • The technology of automatic fan rotation adjustment based on temperature is limited to selecting control type (depending on the model - with 3- or 4-pin connector - either by reducing voltage or using CHIM) and an ability to choose Intel QST (using digital temperature sensor in new Core 2 processors) instead of the classical scheme. No explicit parameter values can be set, so the control is truly automatic :)

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

  • Processor socket Socket 775, CPU support: Core 2 Extreme (Quad and Duo) , Core 2 Quad, Core 2 Duo, Pentium Dual Core, Pentium D/EE, Pentium 4/EE, Celeron with bus frequency ranging from 800 to 1333 MHz (with exception of 533 MHz!), declared support of future models based on Penryn core (produced using 45 nm technology);
  • 4 DDR2 SDRAM DIMM slots (up to 8 GB DDR2-667/800; dual channel mode support - even if slots of both channels are occupied asymmetrically), certified modules list is available on manufacturer's web site;
  • PCIEx16 video card slot;
  • PCIEx4 slot with an extra slot on the side, which allows to install any PCI Express expansion card including PCIEx16 video card (in order to set up CrossFire);
  • 2 PCI slots;
  • Power supply connectors: standard ATX 2.2 (24 pins, also supports regular 20-pin ATX 2.03 connector) and 4-pin ATX12V for CPU supply;
  • FDD socket;
  • IDE (Parallel ATA) slot, operated by an additional JMicron controller, supporting 2 ATA133 devices;
  • 6 SATA-II (Serial ATA II) slots for 6 SATA300 devices, operated by chipset, disks connected to them can be combined into a RAID of level 0, 1, 0+1, 5 or Matrix RAID;
  • 4 headers for 8 extra USB ports;
  • 2 headers for 2 extra FireWire ports;
  • A header for and extra COM port;
  • CD/DVD-drive audio-out header;
  • Block of analog audio-in/out connectors for the computer's front panel;
  • S/PDIF audio-In/Out header;
  • A socket for HDMI-video adapter's digital audio cable (outputs audio from the integrated codec in the format necessary for transmitting it over a HDMI-cable);
  • Chassis intrusion detector socket;
  • A total of 2 fan connectors, both 4-pin, support rotation speed monitoring. CPU fan connector provides automatic rotation frequency control functionality.

Board's rear panel (left to right, by blocks)


click to view the board in 3/4 perspective from the rear panel side
  • PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports;
  • 1 COM port, 1 VGA (D-Sub) and 1 LPT port;
  • 2 USB 2.0 ports and 1 FireWire port;
  • 2 USB 2.0 ports and 1 RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet) port;
  • 6 analog audio sockets: Center/Sub, Rear, Side, Line-In, Front, Mic-In.

Package contents

  • Packing: box, a standard one for microATX form factor boards, is decorated in the style of Gigabyte S-series system boards;
  • Documentation: English language user's guide and a multi-language instructions diagram for installing an Intel CPU and the boxed cooler onto the board;
  • Cables: 2 SATA (without power supply adapters), 1 ATA66 cable and 1 for connecting a floppy drive;
  • A kit for bringing two eSATA ports out onto computer's rear panel. It includes a bracket with two eSATA ports and IDE power supply connector, which connectors to the corresponding slots and connectors inside the PC chassis. Also included is an IDE to SATA external power supply adapter-cable, as well as an eSATA to SATA external interface adapter-cable.;
  • Rear panel plug for corresponding connectors;
  • DVD with the necessary drivers and brand utilities, as well as Norton Internet Security 2007 suite (and the latest version of Kaspersky Antivirus).

The set of brand utilities includes the following useful programs:

  • EasyTune 5 - a program for fine-tuning the system settings and system monitoring. It expands the board's abilities in terms of overclocking and allows "on the fly" overclocking.;
  • @BIOS - program for updating the board's BIOS in Windows with ability to search for the latest version on the Internet.;
  • Face Wizard - allows inserting into BIOS a custom logo, which will be displayed at boot-up time;
  • i-Cool - a curious utility for setting CPU performance profiles and reducing its heating (via chipset throttling) in idle state with an accompanying cooler slow down.

Integrated controllers

  • Audio controller is based on 10-channel (7.1+2) Realtek ALC889A HDA-codec (company's top codec that supports outputting audio from HD DVD and Blu-ray media in full quality mode) with a capability to connect 7.1 audio systems. It has front audio-in/out connectors and S/PDIF-In/Out.
  • Network controller based on Realtek RTL8111B (PCIEx1 interface) microchip supports rates of 10/100/1000 Mbit/s (Gigabit Ethernet).
  • IDE controller based on JMicron JMB368 microchip supports 2 devices via the ATA133 channel (PCIEx1 interface).
  • FireWire controller based on Texas Instruments TSB43AB23 microchip supports 3 devices (PCI interface).

We have evaluated quality of the integrated audio in 16-bit 44-KHz mode using RightMark Audio Analyzer 5.5 testing suite and Terratec DMX 6fire sound card:

Frequency response (40 Hz to 15 KHz), dB: +0.01, -0,09Excellent
Noise level, dB (A): -92.5Very good
Dynamic range, dB (A): 91.8Very good
THD, %: 0,0022Excellent
IMD + N, %: 0.012Very good
Channel crosstalk, dB: -91.9Excellent
IMD at 10 KHz, %: 0.0075Excellent

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

  • Xpress Recovery 2 - restoring a previously saved image of a hard disk partition using an integrated BIOS utility. This method is different from using the traditional utilities like Acronis True Image only in that one doesn't have to boot-up from CD to perform restoration. However, its abilities and interface are certainly more modest: it is possible to save only one disk image for restoration, hard disks with AHCI that are combined into RAID are not supported, neither are the ones connected via USB or FireWire.

Settings

Based on jumpersCMOS reset jumperto be exact, the system board has two contacts that one can short with a metal object, including a jumper
Through BIOS based on Award 6.00PG versionAbility to turn special CPU functions off+Hyper-Threading, No-Execute Memory Protect, CPU EIST Function, CPU Enhanced Halt (C1E), CPU Thermal Monitor 2 (TM2), Virtualization Technology
Setting memory timings+By SPD or 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, TRD, TRD Phase Adjustment
Memory clock rate selection+Auto or can set multiplier relative to FSB frequency: x2.5, x3.0, x4.0 for FSB 1066 MHz (the frequency at which FSB Strap switching takes place is specified)
Ability to set frequencies of peripheral buses+PCI-E: Auto, 90-150 MHz in 1 MHz increments, with automatic bus overclocking Robust Graphics Booster functionality
Manual distribution of interrupts by slots+ 
Adjusting FSB frequency+100-700 MHz in 1 MHz increments
Adjusting CPU multiplier+ 
Adjusting CPU core voltage+Normal, 0.50000-1.60000 V in 0.00625 V increments (with nominal value indication) and 1.8 V increments
Adjusting memory voltage+Normal, +0.1-0.4 V in 0.1 V increments
Adjusting chipset voltage+for the northbridge: Normal, +0.1-0.3 V in 0.1 V increments and separately -0.05-0.15 V in 0.05 V increments
Adjusting FSB voltage+Normal, +0.1-0.3 V in 0.1 V increments and separately -0.05-0.15 V in 0.05 V increments

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.

Performance

Testbed configuration:

  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 (2.4 GHz)
  • RAM: 2 Corsair CM2X1024-9136C5D modules 1 GB each (tested in DDR2-800 mode with timings of 4-4-4)
  • Video card: ATI Radeon X1900 XTX 512 MB
  • Hard drive: Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (SATA, 7200 rpm)
  • PSU: HiPro W460GC31
  • OS: Windows XP SP2

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.

Test Gigabyte G33M-DS2R (PE=Standard) Gigabyte G33M-DS2R (PE=Extreme) Gigabyte G33M-DS2R (+integrated graphics) MSI P35 Platinum MSI P35 Neo
Data compression using 7-Zip, min:sec 4:21 4:10 4:11 4:14 4:17
MPEG4 (XviD) encoding, min:sec 3:40 3:37 3:37 3:36 3:37
Doom 3 (Low@640x480), fps 210 218 218 216 215
Doom 3 (Highest@1600x1200), fps 121 121 121 121 121
FarCry (Low@640x480), fps 343 359 358 357 353
FarCry (Highest@1600x1200), fps 151 152 152 151 152

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.

Test Gigabyte G33M-DS2R (G33, integrated graphics GMA 3100) Gigabyte 965G-DS3 (G965, integrated graphics X3000)
Data compression using 7-Zip, min:sec 4:11 4:12
MPEG4 (XviD) encoding, min:sec 3:37 3:38
Doom 3 (Low@640x480), fps 23 5
Doom 3 (Normal@800x600), fps 14 5
FarCry (Low@640x480), fps 85 50
FarCry (Normal@800x600), fps 57 43

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.

Conclusions

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 (peek@ixbt.com)
September 10, 2007

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