iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






Gigabyte M59SLI-S5 — a Motherboard on NVIDIA nForce 590 SLI (Socket AM2)

A new processor socket is a good occasion for motherboard manufacturers to expand or reposition their product lines. This time Gigabyte decided to try its hand in the segment of elite motherboards on NVIDIA chipsets (it had missed nForce4 SLI X16).

Like models from the main competitors, the M59SLI-S5 is equipped with a passive chipset cooling system with heat pipes, an excessively luxurious set of peripheral interfaces. The central brand option is support for 3 sterling (they can accommodate a video card) PCI Express ports. Two of them operate in x16 mode, the third one is announced as PCI Express x8. Along with a logical option to install three video cards to connect six monitors, in this case two video cards can form SLI, while the third card can be used for computing physics in games.

No doubt, this configuration, already announced by ATI, will be supported by NVIDIA. It will obviously interest only users of top systems. Throughput of the bus for "physical" cards is not that critical, they do not need a full-speed port (the existing accelerator from AGEIA uses PCI, in future the company plans PCIEx1 cards maximum). But we won't be surprised, if the next generation of chipsets has more PCI Express lanes to support three PCI Express x16 ports in top models.

However, even now the most radical enthusiasts have an opportunity to cram a PC case with expensive hardware &mdash install two dual-GPU video cards and activate Quad SLI. The main graphics ports are installed at double distance to allow double-layer video cards. The motherboard officially supports video cards based on GeForce 7950 GX2, you only have to update BIOS to Version D8 or newer.

The PCB layout is very good, peripheral and power connectors are located along the edges of the board. You can see well that engineers tried to eliminate possible conflicts between large expansion cards and cables connected to the motherboard. The only Clear CMOS jumper (to be more exact, two contacts to be connected with a jumper in a Gigabyte fashion) on the motherboard is placed near a battery and is easily accessible after you install the motherboard into a PC case; there is a brief description of its functions on the PCB next to it (quite redundant in this case).

The cooling system resembles devices from ASUS and MSI with copper heatsinks on the core logic and voltage regulator chips, connected with heat pipes. The heatsink is cooled in "cooperation" with a CPU fan. Compared to the ASUS M2N32-SLI, this model has a more compact cooling system of lesser thermal capacity (there is only one heatsink, while the M2N32-SLI has two of them). However, the motherboard coped with our standard tests without cooling the heatsink (a water unit on a CPU).

It's a top model in the line of Gigabyte motherboards on nForce 590 SLI, it's rigged up "to the brim" and has no empty seats. A cheaper M59SLI-S4 model lacks an additional SATA controller and the second network adapter. It uses a cheaper codec - Realtek ALC883. Its cooling system is represented by a passive heatsink on Northbridge and a small fan on Southbridge. There is also no second BIOS chip and a number of minor elements.

The 4-phase switching voltage regulator of the processor incorporates 3 field-effect transistors per channel, four 560 uF capacitors and two 3300 uF ones from Sanyo, three 1000 uF KZJ-series capacitors from United Chemi-Con. The choice is worthy of an elite model. Motherboard dimensions — 305x245 mm (standard ATX), nine-screw mount, all corners are firmly fixed.

System monitoring (ITE IT8716F-S, according to BIOS Setup)

  • CPU and memory (1.8V) voltages, +3.3 V and +12 V (the system only indicates whether the value is correct)
  • RPM of 3 fans
  • CPU and board temperatures (by the corresponding embedded sensors);
  • SmartFan Control — fully automatic CPU fan speed control depending on CPU temperature (manual control is available via Easy Tune 5). Two modes are supported — changing voltage is a universal method for 3-pin as well as 4-pin fans, and a more accurate mode through the Power Management contact (a 4-pin cooler is required).

Onboard ports, sockets, and connectors

  • Processor socket (Socket AM2, officially supports all Athlon 64/X2/FX and Sempron processors for this socket)
  • 4 x DDR2 SDRAM DIMM (up to 16 GB DDR2-400/533/667/800, dual-channel mode is available, if slots are filled symmetrically)
  • 2 x PCIEx16 for video accelerators (always work in x16 mode)
  • 1 x PCIEx8
  • 2 x PCIEx1
  • 2 x PCI
  • Power connectors: standard ATX 2.2 (24 pins) and 8-pin EPS12V for a processor (you can use the standard 4-pin ATX12V), as well as a 4-pin peripheral connector for additional power supply of video cards in PCI Express x16 slots
  • 1 x FDD
  • 1 x IDE (Parallel ATA) for two ATA133 devices — "chipset-based"
  • 8 x SATA-II (Serial ATA II), 6 connectors for SATA300 devices are chipset-based, connected drives can form RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5, and JBOD, another two connectors are based on the JMicron JMB363 controller, they can form RAID 0 or 1
  • 3 connectors for brackets with 6 additional USB ports
  • Two connectors for brackets with 2 additional FireWire 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
  • TPM connector (Trusted Platform Module)
  • 3 fan headers supporting rpm control; one of them is a 4-pin header for a processor fan offering smart fan control, which is backward compatible with 3-pin fans.

Back panel (left to right, blockwise)

Click the image to open the rear view of this motherboard
  • PS/2 mouse and keyboard
  • 1 x FireWire (4-pin), 1 x LPT, 1 x S/PDIF Out (optical), 1 x COM
  • 2 x USB and 1 x RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet)
  • 2 x USB and 1 x RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet)
  • 6 x Analog Audio (Center/Sub, Side-Out, Rear-Out, Line-In, Front-Out, Mic-In).

Package Contents

  • Package: a tall box of the familiar design (used for the M57SLI-S4 model) describing proprietary S-options. This time the four options are supplemented with "Silent-Pipe", which stands for a cooling system with heat pipes
  • Documentation: User's Guide in English
  • Cables: 4 x SATA, 1 x ATA66, and 1 x FDD
  • SLI Bridge
  • SLI Bridge holder
  • Rear panel bracket with an external SATA port
  • Rear I/O shield
  • CD with drivers and proprietary Gigabyte utilities as well as Norton Internet Security 2005 (antivirus and firewall).

Proprietary utilities include standard tools to flash BIOS under Windows that can also seek and download the latest versions from the official web site (@BIOS) and EasyTune5 used for monitoring system parameters and "overclocking" (it can change CPU clock and multiplier, memory multiplier, PCI Express frequency, as well as memory, CPU, and Southbridge voltages, but within a narrower range than available in BIOS) and configuring SmartFan modes (you can set the rotational speed from 0% to 100 % and temperatures that correspond to the extreme values).

Integrated Controllers

  • Audio, based on the chipset support for High Definition Audio and Realtek ALC888DD codec supporting 7.1-ch audio and a separate (!) HDA-stereo output available on the front panel, and encoding outgoing digital audio in Dolby Digital format for home theatres, etc
  • Network, based on the chipset and two Marvell 88E1116 PHY controllers, supporting 10/100/1000 Mbit/s, hardware firewall, prioritizing traffic, and other proprietary options (see the details in the chipset description) and its own high-speed interface
  • 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:
+0,02, -0,08
Noise level, dB (A):
Dynamic range, dB (A):
THD, %:
Very good
Intermodulation distortion + Noise, %:
Channel crosstalk, dB:
Very good
IMD at 10 kHz, %:
Very good

General performance: Good (Details). The new codec from Realtek is practically no different from the previous modifications in its analog section (or it's a tad worse, judging from the dynamic range). But the support for Dolby Digital encoding is certainly interesting and vital, considering popularity of multichannel audio devices with this interface.

Proprietary technologies and peculiarities

  • The motherboard offers Q-Flash - flashing BIOS by pressing F8 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 chip; a user can also restore damaged contents of the main chip
  • Xpress Recovery — backing up hard drive partitions and restoring them using a built-in BIOS utility. The difference from the traditional utilities (like Acronis True Image) is that you don't have to boot up from a CD to restore data. But its functions and interface are certainly more unassuming: in particular, you can keep only one backup image.


Jumpers and switches Clear CMOS jumper To be more exact, the motherboard has two contacts, which should be closed with a metal object — screwdriver or a jumper
In Award BIOS v6.00PG Allows to disable specific CPU functions -  
Memory timings + 1T/2T Memory Timing, CAS Latency, RAS to CAS Delay, Row Precharge Time, Min RAS Active Time, Row to Row Delay, Async Latency, RAS to RAS Delay, Write Recovery Time, Read to Write Time, Write to Read Delay, DRAM Refresh Rate
Memory frequency selection + Frequency - 400, 533, 667, 800. You actually specify a multiplier to the HTT frequency
HT bus setup + Multiplier: x1, x2, x3, x4, x5 for both buses; the Southbridge-Northbridge bus has an individual set of multipliers for forward and backward data flows.
Bit capacity: 8 or 16 bit for the CPU-Northbridge bus and 4, 8, or 16 bit for the Northbridge-Southbridge bus.
Clock frequency: 200—500 MHz at 1 MHz for the Northbridge-Southbridge bus
Peripheral bus frequency control + PCI-E = 100—200 MHz at 1 MHz steps
PCI IRQ manual assignment +  
FSB frequency setup + 100—500 MHz at 1 MHz steps
CPU multiplier + from x5, at integer steps
CPU core voltage control + 0.800—1.550 V at 0.025V steps
Memory voltage control + +0.1—0.7 V at 0.1V steps
HT bus voltage control + +0.1—0.3 V at 0.1 V steps (for both buses separately)
Chipset voltage control + +0.1—0.3 V at 0.1 V steps (for both bridges separately)

We used the M3 version of BIOS, provided by the manufacturer. The mentioned BIOS parameters are available in this version, but the viability of non-standard settings hasn't been tested.


Testbed configurations:

  • CPU: AMD Athlon 64 X2 4000+
  • Memory: 2 x 1 GB Corsair TWIN2X2048-8500C5 (DDR1066, 5-5-5-15)
  • Discrete video: ATI Radeon X1900 XTX, 512 MB GDDR3
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (SATA, 7200 rpm)
  • Power supply unit: Chieftec CFT-560-A12C
  • OS: Windows XP SP2

We decided to compare the model under review with the recently tested ASUS M2N32-SLI Deluxe, based on the same chipset.

Test ASUS M2N32-SLI Deluxe Gigabyte M59SLI-S5
Archiving with 7-Zip, min:sec 6:34 6:33
MPEG4 (XviD) encoding, min:sec 6:04 5:57
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Low@640x480), fps 77.7 79.3
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Highest@1600x1200), fps 73.5 75.4
FarCry (Low@640x480), fps 174 183
FarCry (Highest@1600x1200), fps 130 136

The Gigabyte model was not outperformed by the elite counterpart from ASUS. On the contrary, its selection strategy of minor timings was a tad more efficient. In both cases, EPP memory allows automatic selection of an increased frequency and aggressive timings - you can read the details in the description of the motherboard from ASUS.

Bottom line

On the whole, Gigabyte M59SLI-S5 qualifies for the status of a model for enthusiasts in its features. The third graphics port differentiates it from its competitors and is intended for maximum flexibility of the gaming configuration in future. But compared to ASUS M2N32-SLI Deluxe, the model from Gigabyte does not look that brilliant and cannot boast of the same impressive set of attractive features. But it may be turned to advantage (it's no secret that accessory functionality is not important for a gaming computer), but only in case of favorable pricing.

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

The motherboard is kindly provided by the manufacturer

Dmitry Laptev (lpt@ixbt.com)
August 4, 2006

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