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Gigabyte EP45T-Extreme Motherboard

Very nice and very expensive.

February 4, 2009



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Integrated controllers


  • Audio, based on the 10-channel (7.1+2) HDA codec Realtek ALC889A (top codec from this company supporting audio output from HD DVD and Blu-ray in full quality), 7.1-ch audio, front line-ins/outs and S/PDIF-In/Out jacks
  • 2 x Gigabit Ethernet, based on Realtek RTL8111C (PCIEx1), supporting 10/100/1000 Mbps with additional enterprise-level technologies
  • PATA(IDE), based on ITE IT8213F supporting two devices on the ATA133 channel (PCI)
  • FireWire, based on Texas Instruments TSB43AB23 for three devices (PCI)

The integrated audio quality was tested in 16 bit 44 kHz mode using RightMark Audio Analyzer 6.0 and the Terratec DMX 6fire sound card:


Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB+0.01, -0.03Excellent
Noise level, dB (A)-93.6Very good
Dynamic range, dB (A)93.6Very good
THD, %0.0032Very good
Harmonic distortion + noise, dB(A)-84.1Good
Intermodulation distortion + noise, %0.0069Excellent
Channel crosstalk, dB-92.7Excellent
IMD at 10 kHz, %0.0070Excellent

General performance: Excellent -- according to our tests, the analog audio quality is on a very good level even for an HDA codec. This codec offers not only a high signal/noise ratio for recording and playback, but it also allows to transfer audio, including full audio quality, from DVD Audio, HD DVD, and Blu-ray to output via HDMI. This feature is implemented owing to support for the digital content protection technology, which lets certified software players channel the audio stream to a graphics card with HDMI (or any other expansion card) without quality losses. Besides, ALC889A is certified to support Dolby Home Theater, including Dolby Virtual Speaker and Dolby Headphone, as well as stereo signal decomposition into 4-8 channels to produce an effect of surround audio (Dolby Pro Logic II).

Realtek network controllers used in this motherboard can be united into a single two-gigabit interface (teaming), which should significantly increase system bandwidth in cases needing more than 1 Gbps. Moreover, a network driver balances the load in the teamed channel (to distribute the load evenly between both physical interfaces, if possible). When one of the ports (or cables) fails, all the traffic is routed to the other (channel throughput is halved in this case, of course) to avoid disconnecting clients from this server. Additional parameters of Realtek network controllers can be configured with a proprietary utility from this company.

This board uses the ITE IT8213F IDE Controller that produced a nice impression on us. This solution supports only one ATA133 port and does not allow RAID. But most users need IDE only for their optical drives, so it's not really a problem. In return, this motherboard boots up from a CD drive and allows to install an operating system from CD/DVD. It did not require to update specific disk managers or Windows XP drivers. Thus, this controller behaved perfectly during our tests.

Proprietary technologies and peculiarities


  • Xpress Recovery 2 -- 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. However, it certainly has fewer features and a less attractive interface: you can save only one restore image; it does not support hard drives with AHCI, RAIDs, as well as external hard drives plugged via USB or FireWire.
  • DualBIOS -- the motherboard contains a second Flash EEPROM with BIOS backup, which is used automatically, when the main copy is damaged.
  • Ultra TPM -- hardware encryption of hard drives, folders, or selected documents, as well as outgoing email (a USB stick can be used as a key). This technology was developed long ago, and motherboards for Intel processors often use TPM connectors. But full implementation with a TPM controller (Infineon) and proprietary software manager from Gigabyte (based on powerful, but complicated Infineon software) is praiseworthy. The key advantage of this implementation is easy setup for ordinary tasks and access to encrypted data with a key on a dedicated USB drive, not just a password. Moreover, if you lose your flash drive (or the key written in this drive), you can restore the key from BIOS Setup.

Settings


With jumpers and buttonsClear CMOS jumperTo be more exact, there are two contacts on the board, which can be closed with any metal object, including a jumper
Clear CMOS button on the rear panel 
Award BIOS 6.00PGAllows to disable specific CPU functions+No-Execute Memory Protect, CPU EIST Function, CPU Enhanced Halt (C1E), C2/C2E State Support, C4/C4E State Support, CPU Thermal Monitor 2 (TM2), Virtualization Technology
Memory timings+By SPD or CAS Latency Time, TRCD, TRP, TRAS, TRRD, TWTR, TWR, TRFC, TRTP, Command Rate
Memory frequency selection+Auto or a multiplier to the FSB frequency: x2, x2.4, x2.66, x3.0, x3.2, x3.33, x4.0 (you choose resulting DDR3 frequency directly)
Peripheral bus frequency control+PCI-E: Auto, 90-150 MHz at 1-MHz steps, Robust Graphics Booster supported
PCI IRQ manual assignment+ 
FSB frequency setup+100-1200 MHz at 1MHz steps, dynamic overclocking with several profiles supported
CPU multiplier+at x0.5 steps
CPU core voltage control+Auto, Normal, 0.50000-2.30000 V at 0.00625-V steps (0.02-V steps above 1.6 V)
Memory voltage control+Auto, Normal, 1.50-2.50 V at 0.02-V steps
Chipset voltage control+Northbridge: Auto, Normal, 0.80-1.80 V at 0.1-V steps up to 1.1 V and at 0.02-V above this level
Southbridge I/O: Auto, Normal, 1.00-2.30 V at 0.1-V steps up to 1.5 V and at 0.02-V steps above this level
FSB voltage control+Auto, Normal, 0.80-1.94 V at 0.1-V steps up to 1.1 V and at 0.02-V steps above this level

We used BIOS F4, the latest available BIOS version at the time of our tests. The mentioned BIOS parameters are available in this version, but the viability of non-standard settings hasn't been tested. You can open full settings by pressing Ctrl+F1 in the main BIOS Setup menu. The motherboard allows to call up a menu to select a boot device with a certain button 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. Traditionally for Gigabyte, Q-Flash is integrated into BIOS. This utility allows to flash BIOS from a floppy, USB drive, or even from a hard drive (it must be formatted as FAT12/16/32) without booting into an operating system. Besides, BIOS Setup allows to save/load up to eight profiles with your BIOS settings (quite a useful feature for overclocking experiments).

After a failed attempt to boot up with new BIOS settings, the motherboard automatically chooses the last good settings to reboot, and thus lets its user make necessary changes in BIOS Setup. This technology has a shortcoming -- the system does not display error messages (it happens only when you open MB Intelligent Tweaker menu (responsible for overclocking) in BIOS Setup). So if you don't pay attention to overloading, a motherboard will pass POST and load an operating system.

In addition to the above-mentioned list of voltages, you can change the reference levels of CPU/NB/memory voltages (separately for data lines and addresses of each channel) as well as CPU PLL Voltage and DRAM Termination. Along with the standard set of timings listed in the table, this motherboard allows to specify a huge number of timings, change signal format and voltage levels, for each memory channel separately. You can adjust the onboard master clock by changing the signal format for a CPU, Northbridge, and PCI Express bus: CPU Clock Drive and PCI Express Clock Drive = 700, 800, 900, 1000 mV; CPU Clock Skew and MCH Clock Skew = 0--750 ps. These settings may come in handy to overclockers.

On a higher level BIOS Setup offers Performance Enhance (Standard, Turbo, Extreme). This option indeed raised performance in our tests (by no more than 5%). However, it damaged operating stability, so our test results published below were obtained on the "standard" performance level. By the way, we found out in the course of our tests that the motherboard set memory voltage to 1.76 V(!) for our absolutely standard DDR3 modules without XMP (which might have been used to read this increased voltage level). That's not a normal situation.

Gigabyte EasyTune 6 may be an alternative to overclocking from BIOS Setup. This Windows utility can modify CPU multiplier and FSB/PCI-E frequencies within the same limits. On the other hand, on-the-fly overclocking is possible only to raise FSB frequency (memory will be overclocked proportionally). In order to use more complex options (for example, a new memory frequency multiplier), you'll have to reboot (but the motherboard will try to boot up with the new parameters). EasyTune does not allow to modify memory timings, but it can control the entire set of voltages.

Performance

Testbed configurations:

  • CPU:

    • Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 (2.4 GHz, 1066 MHz FSB)
    • Intel Core 2 Duo E8200 (2.66 GHz, 1333 MHz FSB)
  • Memory:

    • 2 x 1 GB Kingston KHX13000D3LLK2/2G (DDR3)
    • 2 x 1 GB Corsair CM2X1024-9136C5D (DDR2)
  • Graphics card: PowerColor ATI Radeon HD 3870, 512 MB
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (SATA, 7200 rpm)
  • PSU: HiPro W460GC31
  • OS: Windows XP SP2

We decided to compare Gigabyte EP45T-Extreme with MSI X48C Platinum based on the X48 chipset supporting both memory types. We were interested in DDR3 in the first place, because only a few models we tested can boast of this feature. Besides, we added results of a typical P45-based motherboard (Biostar TPower I45) with DDR2 in the nominal mode.


Test Core 2 Duo E6600 Core 2 Duo E8200
Gigabyte EP45T-Extreme (DDR3-1066, 7-7-7-2T) MSI X48C Platinum (DDR3-1066, 5-5-5-1T) Biostar TPower I45 (DDR2-800, 4-4-4-2T) Gigabyte EP45T-Extreme (DDR3-1333, 7-5-5-2T) MSI X48C Platinum (DDR3-1333, 7-5-5-1T)
Archiving with 7-Zip, min:sec 4:14 4:12 4:16 3:43 3:39
MPEG4 (XviD) encoding, min:sec 3:37 3:36 3:36 3:04 3:03
FarCry (Low@640x480), fps 351 351 348 471 475
FarCry (Highest@1600x1200), fps 181 181 181 182 182
Doom 3 (Low@640x480), fps 208 211 208 256 261
Doom 3 (Highest@1600x1200), fps 180 181 180 194 196

Even though these testbeds differ a little, their performance is practically the same in all modes (they differ by no more than 2%). So our tests did not reveal differences between these motherboards as well as their chipset or DDR2 and DDR3 (this conclusion does not hold true for absolutely all modes). We found out that other things being equal and processors operating in nominal modes, it makes no sense to buy more expensive DDR3 memory (and a motherboard for DDR3), unless you want a gradual upgrade to Intel Core i7.

Conclusions

Unfortunately, before we proceed to praises -- Gigabyte EP45T-Extreme produces the best impressions -- let's take a look at its price. Alas, this is a top motherboard not only in features, quality, and technologies, but also in price. What will you get for $300 and is it worth it? Its functionality is certainly great, although the board lacks eSATA and FireWire on the rear panel (we do not mean those ports on brackets). On the other hand, there are practically no redundant functions, and this chipset remains the best solution for Core 2 processors.

What concerns other characteristics, the situation is contrary. Apparent excesses -- all-copper cooling system and an additional module in the bundle. The choice of electronic components is excellent, but it hardly justifies a motherboard with 12 (virtual) VRM phases, while processors overclock well even on motherboards with 4-phase PWM controllers. A huge number of on-board LEDs can be replaced with a simple Windows utility. Besides, you don't see these indicators, when you close the lid on your PC enclosure.

It's interesting to review this board and to evaluate its proprietary technologies (especially as its proprietary software is very convenient and nice-looking, unlike similar programs from some other manufacturers). However, we would recommend it only to users who are ready to spend that much on a motherboard, and who are willing to please themselves with the purchase. Anyway, we'd still recommend to take a look at the DDR2 modification of this motherboard (EP45-Extreme).


The motherboard provided by the manufacturer,
ATI Radeon HD 3870 graphics card provided by PowerColor.

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Page 1: Introduction, design

Page 2: Interfaces, bundle

Page 3: Controllers, BIOS, performance



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