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Gigabyte EP45-DS3R P45 Motherboard Review

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Eldonko

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3D / Gaming Benchmarks



This section will provide an overview of stock vs. overclocked 3D results in synthetic benchmark and gaming situations. CrossFireX is enabled for all tests and comparisons will be made to show performance increases in overclocked situations.

3DMark Vantage Benchmark:

3DMark Vantage is the latest release by Futuremark, creators of the 3DMark suite. This program is the first Futuremark version of 3DMark designed exclusively for Windows Vista. 3DMark Vantage consists of 2 CPU and 2 GPU tests as well as and 6 feature tests all of which are very hardware intensive. Four presets are available to allow for those with older PCs to benchmark just as easily as those with cutting edge hardware. For our testing, we will use the Performance setting with all other settings at default. The build version is the latest patched version of Vantage v1.0.1.


Results: Similar to 3DMark 2006 upon it’s release, Vantage performance relies heavily of graphics card performance, with modest gains going from 3000Mhz on an E3110 to 4203Mhz, an improvement of about 6%.


3DMark 2006 Benchmark:

Futuremark 3DMark 06 has been the worldwide standard in advanced 3D game performance benchmarking for a few years now. A fundamental tool for PC users and gamers, 3DMark06 uses advanced real-time 3D game workloads to measure PC performance using a suite of DirectX 9 3D graphics tests, CPU tests, and 3D feature tests. 3DMark06 tests include all new HDR/SM3.0 graphics tests, SM2.0 graphics tests, AI and physics driven single and multiple cores or processor CPU tests and a collection of comprehensive feature tests to reliably measure next generation gaming performance today. The tests below use 3DMark 2006 default setting and a resolution of 1280x1024.


Results: 3DMark 2006 has a bit more reliance on CPU power so we see more of an improvement with a CPU overclock than we do with Vantage. A gain in 3DMarks of 16% is noted in 3DMark 2006, not bad for only an increase in CPU speed.


World in Conflict Benchmark:

The World in Conflict in-game benchmark is a great test to show video card performance in real gaming situations. Under the Graphics menu in options, you can choose a variety of video settings and there is a "Run Benchmark" button. The actual benchmark uses all of the game’s graphic capabilities and is a good indication which settings will be optimal for a user’s system. For the tests below resolution was set to 1680x1050 and graphics was set to “High” which gives fullscreen anti-alias at 2x and anisotropic filtering at 2x.


Results: The World in Conflict benchmark shows a respectable gain in frames per second, an improvement of 27% or an extra 10 FPS. This tells us that not only overclocking a video card will improve your gaming experience; those extra CPU Mhz also contribute to FPS.


Crysis Benchmark:

Since Crysis is one of the latest games that is also among the most popular, we thought we would take a look performance increases in an overclocked system. Luckily Guru3d.com provides a robust front-end to benchmark Crysis downloadable from their website. It provides the ability to queue up many runs and will provide detailed results for each test as well as an overall summary with accurate averages.

For this test we looped (3 times) and recorded a standard timedemo on the Demo Map Island level which goes through jungle, over water and in vehicles. Resolution used was 1680x1050 and other settings included: AA=2x, Vsync=Disabled, DX9, 64 bit test, FullScreen, and Global Game Quality was Medium.



Results: The Crysis benchmark shows a similar FPS gain on an overclocked system to World in Conflict. An improvement of 20% or an extra 12 FPS is noted.
 
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Eldonko

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Crossfire Benchmarks



This section will provide an overview of single card vs. CrossFireX performance. For CrossFireX testing, two HIS IceQ HD4670s were used, both running at a speed of 750/1000. All tests were completed using Catalyst 8.10 drivers and Windows Vista Home Basic 64bit. Additionally, all CrossFire comparisons will be ran at overclocked CPU settings (4203Mhz/467Mhz 4-4-4-4).



3DMark Vantage Benchmark:

The first 3D benchmark test for CrossFireX is quickly becoming the new standard among benchmarking enthusiasts, Futuremark 3DMark Vantage. Performance settings will be used and all other settings remain at default to allow other users to compare their results.


Results: CrossFire results are really where the EP45-DS3R shines with gain in Vantage 3DMarks (performance preset) of 2,598 or an improvement of 75%!


3DMark 2006 Benchmark:

The second 3D benchmark test for CrossFireX is among the most common in the enthusiast world, Futuremark 3DMark 2006. To be comparable to other users’ systems, all settings remain at default, including the resolution which is 1280x1024.


Results: On par with the impact CrossFire had on Vantage, we see a 76% gain in 3DMarks when adding a second HD4670 and running the 3DMark06 benchmark in CrossFireX.


World in Conflict Benchmark:

For World in Conflict tests, resolution is set at 1680x1050, Detail is set to High, all other display options remain at default settings.


Results: In a gaming benchmark that simulates gaming situations, the performance gained when running CrossFire vs. a single card is nothing short of outstanding. When adding a second HD4670, FPS improves 88%!


Crysis Benchmark:

For Crysis benchmark tests we looped (3 times) and recorded the Demo Map Island level which goes through jungle, over water and in vehicles. Resolution used was 1680x1050 and other settings included: AA=2x, Vsync=Disabled, DX9, 64 bit test, FullScreen, and Global Game Quality was Medium.


Results: Similar to the World in Conflict results, the performance gained when running CrossFire vs. a single card in Crysis is excellent. A second HD4670 in the Crysis benchmark gave an improvement of 67% or 29 FPS!
 
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Eldonko

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Voltage Regulation & Heat Analysis



Voltage Regulation:

An crucial determinant of a motherboard’s performance is its ability to handle and regulate voltage without losing stability. But before we jump in, we first need to know what a few voltages refer to. More specifically vcore - BIOS set vcore, vcore in windows, and vcore under load. In theory these numbers should all be the same but load line droop (commonly known as Vdroop) is an intentional part of any Intel power delivery design specification.

Droop by definition is the real voltage delta from idle to load on a motherboard. Vdroop is usually larger for quads due to the extra power going through the voltage regulation integrated circuits and some boards have larger vdroop than others, depending partly on the quality of the voltage regulation of the board.

What we will look at on the Gigabyte EP45-DS3R is vdroop and how smooth the voltage line on an overclocked system is over a 5 hour period. For these tests OCCT monitoring is used.


Voltage set in the BIOS for the Xeon chip is 1.52v, giving 1.47v idle and 1.43v-1.44v under load. Ideally we like to see .02-.03v droop from idle to load and the EP45-DS3R gives pretty close to this at .03v-0.4v droop on a 45nm chip. However, it is important to note the more voltage used, the harder the motherboard voltage regulation ICs must work and the higher the droop will be. This also holds true for quad core CPUs with higher power requirements.

It is however, a little concerning that the amount of actual voltage utilized under load is low compared to what the user may expect from a BIOS setting (1.52v vs. 1.44v). Additionally, when looking at the vcore fluctuations over the five hour test period, some minor concerns arise. There are fluctuations of 0.2v (1.43v to 1.45v) while on many other boards we have seen an almost perfectly straight voltage line. This may be attributed to the fact that the EP45-DS3R does not have Load Line Calibration which tends to counter vdroop and provide more stable voltage overall.


Heat Analysis

Consistent with most other P45 chipset boards, the Northbridge on Gigabyte’s EP45-DS3R runs remarkably cool, even with a simple aluminum cooler. Measuring the Northbridge heatsink with a digital thermometer, temperatures hover around 32-35C, even when the system is at full load.


For CPU and board temperatures, everything things looks good. There are a few warmer spots on the board around the voltage regulation areas, but even at a 40% overclock (4203Mhz), stressed for five hours, CPU temperatures remained in check (around 65C load).
 
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Eldonko

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Long-term Impressions & Conclusion



Long-term Impressions

Before we wrap this all up, we are going to go over our long-term impressions after using this board for a few weeks. Overall, we feel Gigabyte did a great job putting together a solid board with not many issues at all. Solid capacitors and overall build quality are quite strong, the chipset very runs cool, and voltage is rock solid. The only negative attribute to the DS3R that we can see is that the auto voltages set when running 500+ FSB are excessively high. Potentially high enough to do some serious damage to your system if you don’t double check voltages. The safe voltage levels are open for debate, but we are going with what has been stated across the industry since the release of 45nm for now. Hopefully in a future BIOS update Gigabyte will put a cap on the voltages the auto settings implement even if it is only for the peace of mind for novice users.

Gigabyte has been using solid caps for a while now and it is nice to see solid caps even in this series of board. Solid capacitors are said to be more durable than older style caps so taking this into account and looking at the overall build quality of the board, we must say the design seems to be quite strong overall. Chipset and MOSFET temperatures remain very low, even after adding higher voltages and running orthos to produce heat. We have no long-term worries whatsoever seeing a chipset running under 40C and the DS3R never exceeded 35C. Add the power saving options for when your system is at idle to all of this and the board should do great in the long run.


Conclusion

Even with the arrival of the new Intel Nehalem platform and the increasing popularity of DDR3 boards, Gigabyte is still moving the s775 DDR2 boards at full speed. Why is this? Well it’s simple: the boards are selling, and selling well. Economies of scale from producing a ton of DDR2 boards bringing down the price, the dirt cheap prices of DDR2 memory, and minimal performance gains from switching to DDR3 help it all to make sense. Not to mention that switching to Nehalem involves upgrading your CPU, memory (to tri-channel kits), buying a very expensive immature board, and can cost upwards of $1000 for even a “cheap” system. That said, we don’t expect DDR2 board sales to drop off anytime soon.

In terms of target audience, Gigabyte made the EP45-DS3R to appeal to the masses. The entry level PC builder will like the durability of the board, the mid range user will like the features, and the enthusiast will like great overclockability at a cheap price. Looking at motherboard features, the EP45-DS3R has variety indeed: CrossFireX, HD audio, 45nm 1600 FSB support, power saving options, and DDR1333 support. EasyTune6 was really a pleasure to work with and we feel that Gigabyte has an advantage over all competitors with this tool. It worked flawlessly and made overclocking and hardware monitoring easier than we ever thought it would be.

DualBIOS is also a practical addition, and we only really have two minor BIOS complaints. First, the default settings would not allow the board to POST with our PC8500 kit in dual channel, and second, a bank to save BIOS settings is sorely missed. It would be more convenient for users if clearing CMOS did not require removing one memory stick and there was a place to save BIOS settings.

Layout wise, we only have positive comments for the DS3R. Gigabyte did an excellent job in designing the layout of the board and there is even plenty of room between the PCI-E slots - something often lacking. SATA connectors are in a convenient spot, the 24 pin ATX connector is out of the way on the right and there is plenty of clearance around the CPU socket.

The overclocking process for the board was relatively quick and painless. After learning a few quirks with auto settings and finding the best settings for GTL, VTT, and PLL settings, the rest was straightforward. Our final overclock was only limited by the CPU and not the board, and we were able to achieve a 24/7 stable overclock of 40%! An overclocker can’t ask for more than that. Reruning our benchmarking and gaming suite displayed that an overclocked system will be much faster than a stock system (of course) but add CrossFireX to that and you have sufficient power to do just about anything you need. CrossFireX results made the DS3R shine with huge gains in benchmarks and games when moving to two cards.

To sum this all up, the features on the board work great and the ton of Gigabyte extras like EasyTune6, DualBIOS, and high speed CPU and memory support are icing on the cake. The price of the board (~$150) makes it a viable alternative to ASUS P5Q series and the DS3R meets or exceeds any benchmarks that have been set. Overclocking went smoothly and the downsides of the board are few and far between. For those looking for a reasonably priced P45 DDR2 board, that overclocks well and has plenty of features, we feel the EP45-DS3R would be a smart choice. For that reason and many others, Gigabyte’s EP45-DS3R receives Hardware Canucks DAM GOOD award.


Pros

- CrossFireX support
- EasyTune6
- Quality design, with solid capacitors
- Very cool running chipset
- Excellent overclocker
- Strong BIOS & DualBIOS
- Well worth the price

Cons

- Selecting "auto" can lead to dangerous voltages
- Default BIOS settings would not allow the board to POST in dual channel
- Availability is dropping fast




Thanks to Gigabyte for making this review possible!
 
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