Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3: Extra-Ordinary Budget Mainboard

Today we are going to discuss an entry-level mainboard from Gigabyte on Intel P45 Express chipset. The design of this solution is used as a base for the entire lineup including 14 models. Read about this product in our detailed review.

by Doors4ever
08/18/2008 | 08:50 PM

Our patience has finally been rewarded: Intel P45 Express based mainboards appeared in retail stores! And there was indeed nothing wrong with the previous Intel chipset. Besides, it barely differs from the Intel P35 Express. The two most significant differences are the finer manufacturing process and PCI Express 2.0 support. However, we have been longing for something new and we finally got some variety to choose from when they announced new mainboards. So, with what board could we start? Let’s look through the mainboard makers’ web-sites, before making the choice.

 

I remember for sure that abit had some info of their IP45 Pro launch, but now it is gone for some reason. Sad. ASUS and MSI introduced six models each on Intel P45 Express chipset, which is pretty good variety. However, Gigabyte offers 14 different models!

As we know Intel P45 Express chipset is destined to live a long happy life in the computer world. In a short while we will know all existing mainboards based on it inside out, just as we know everything about the solution on the good old buddy Intel P35 Express. I can say one thing for sure: we will never be able to test all Gigabyte mainboards. 14 models is only the first batch. Then there will be mainboard revision 1.1, 2.0, etc. and different mainboard revisions may differ dramatically, even if their model name is the same. So, in order to cover the current Gigabyte mainboard lineup on Intel P45 Express chipset most fully, let’s take a quick glance at each of them.

Gigabyte Mainboards on Intel P45 Express Chipset

Gigabyte worked really hard and thorough on the lineup of solutions based on new Intel chipsets. They created a special section on their web-site where you can check out the list of existing models and their brief technical specifications and supported technologies. There is even a Downloads section where you can download demos and pretty wallpaper for your desktop.

On closer examination turns out that far not all 14 models differ dramatically from one another. Gigabyte uses very widely spread and very successful production approach when several mainboards are based on the same PCB layout differing only by the number of additional controllers and functionality. This is certainly beneficial for the manufacturer, because there is no need to invest in individual designs for each and every mainboard, which also lowers the production costs. However, it is also very beneficial for the user. First, lower production costs allow the manufacturer to set the end-user price at a lower level. Second, overclockers have always favored those mainboard models that use the same PCB layout as their higher-end counterparts, but have slightly more modest functionality. As a rule, they retain the overclocking potential of their elder brothers, and even if the manufacturer has limited the board’s functionality, it can be often fixed by reflashing the BIOS from the higher-end model.

The 14-model Gigabyte lineup on Intel P45 Express chipset is built around six major models. Let’s start with the lower-end ones. The first group includes the lowest-end mainboard on this chipset called Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3L.

However, it is not actually a group, because there are no other mainboards similar to Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3L. But there is one mainboard on Intel P43 Express chipset based on exact same PCB layout, although, it has nothing to do with our today’s review topic.

In fact, it is the next model that became the base for six other boards. It is Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3.

Although this mainboard is one of the youngest members of the family, it doesn’t look like it lost too many features. Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3 uses all the chipset functions (Intel P45 North Bridge, ICH10 South Bridge) and even had enough room for a second Gigabit network card and an additional IEEE1394 controller. If we replace the South Bridge with ICH10R supporting RAID arrays, then we will get Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3R.

By the way, all mainboards with ICH10R South Bridge come bundled with a bracket transforming two Serial ATA ports into eSATA.

Here we have to remind you that Intel P45 Express supports not only DDR2 SDRAM, but also DDR3 SDRAM. If we replace one memory type with another, we will get Gigabyte GA-EP45T-DS3 model.

Replace the ICH10 South Bridge with ICH10R and you get Gigabyte GA-EP45T-DS3R.

Since we have a universal chipset, why don’t we combine both memory types on the same PCB? Please meet Gigabyte GA-EP45C-DS3.

Using the same principle, we can obtain a new model with RAID support - Gigabyte GA-EP45C-DS3R.

The third group of mainboard models starts with Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3P. It also uses ICH10R South Bridge, two Gigabit network cards and an additional IEEE1394 controller. Unlike other mainboards from S3 (Smart, Speed, Safe) series from the previous group, one of its PCI slots is replaced with a PCI Express x16 slot working at PCI-E x4 speed. The chipset cooling system also got a heatpipe and a heatsink on the voltage regulator transistors.

The same mainboard with three-heatpipe chipset cooler is called Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS4 and belongs to the S4 series (Smart, Speed, Safe, Silent Pipe).

However, when we got to Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS4P, we couldn’t really tell the differences from the previous model by simply looking at the board. It turned out that this board has an Ultra TPM (Trusted Platform Module) module that prevents unauthorized data access.

Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS5 mainboard is based on its own unique PCB. It has all the features of the previous model, although it has a PCI slot instead of the PCI Express x16 (PCI-E x4) and an additional Serial ATA controller increasing the number of supported devices to 10.

Gigabyte GA-EP45-DQ6 is really close to the previous model in functionality, but still has a unique PCB layout. It has fortified processor voltage regulator circuitry, four (!) integrated Gigabit network controllers, and offers four eSATA ports on the case rare panel with appropriate brackets.

We can argue what Gigabyte mainboard is actually the top in the family. Unlike the previous board we have just discussed, Gigabyte GA-EP45-Extreme has only two network controllers and only six Serial ATA ports, only two of which may be turned into eSATA. However, it boasts three PCI slots, three PCI Express x16 slots (one works as PCI-E x4), POST-indicator and hybrid chipset cooler that can also be connected to a liquid-cooling system.

The same board but supporting DDR3 SDRAM is called Gigabyte GA-EP45T-Extreme.

As you see, there are a lot of models to choose from. All groups are very clearly separated from one another. However, the classical approach favored so much by overclocking fans when the top mainboard design is used for the less functional model has only been applied once here: to Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3P. It uses the same PCB layout as DS4 mainboards and differs only by slightly simpler chipset cooling system. I am sure that everyone will find something for his or her needs here. As for us, we decided to start our Gigabyte Intel P45 Express based mainboard review series with the very first model in the family - Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3.

Closer Look at Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3 Mainboard

I have to admit that I have been fond of Gigabyte mainboards for quite some time now. Although, I have to specify: I am really fond of lower-end models in their lineups. Of course, the price also affects my choices, but not exclusively. The specifications of the lower-end Gigabyte mainboards seem to be less affected by the marketing people. They are not intended to defeat any competition or to impress potential users with the names of supported technologies. Low-end Gigabyte mainboards are real mainboards for work. They may not have numerous onboard controllers, but the chipset functionality is sufficient for a start; they may not have as many transistors in the CPU voltage regulator circuitry, but it is not necessary for reliable and stable operation. Instead, they are very simple to configure and can cope with CPU and memory overclocking pretty well. The youngest model in the lineup doesn’t necessarily have to feature “limited functionality”, but rather be free from anything extra.

The youngest model in the Intel P45 Express based family is Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3L, however, its PCB layout suggests that it may indeed be limited. Of course, exterior looks should never be a reason for definite conclusions, especially when practical experiments may show otherwise. However, we decided to minimize the risk of poor first impression and chose Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3, which is the base board for this entire family of products.

Package and Accessories

Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3 mainboard ships in a cardboard box of standard size. The box is mostly of green color, which is actually not surprising at all. The main focus in the current season is on power-saving technologies. ASUS and Gigabyte were the first to reveal their ideas and solutions, now abit and MSI are talking about saving power, and green color stands for green grass, woods, i.e. healthy environmentally friendly lifestyle.

The reverse side of Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3 mainboard package is devoted fully to the advantages of the technologies it supports.

The mainboard comes bundled with very few accessories. A string of attached plastic bags contains FDD and IDE cables, two Serial ATA cables with straight connectors and two with L-shaped ones. There is also a rare panel I/O/ Shield with color-coded connectors.

Moreover, there is quite a bit of documentation included with the board: user’s manual, multi-lingual installation guide made as a booklet rather than a poster, installation guide for a boxed Intel cooler. There is also a DVD disk with drivers and software tools, stickers for the system case with Gigabyte logo and Dynamic Energy Saver logo.

Since they’ve got more space on the DVD disk, they managed to fit in quite a bit of software applications onto this disk besides the drivers:

Besides the above listed applications, the DVD disk also contains the following Gigabyte’s brand name utilities:

PCB Design and Functionality

As we have expected, Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3 looks just like an ordinary mainboard, without any remarkable advantages and eye-catching drawbacks.

However, if you take a closer look at the mainboard, you will see a few interesting and out-of-the-ordinary things. This is where the components layout scheme from the user’s manual comes in handy:

 Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3 mainboard belongs to Ultra Durable 2 series, which means that its six-phase processor voltage regulator uses high-quality efficient components and there are only solid-state capacitors on the board itself. The 24-pin ATX and 8-pin TX12V power supply connectors just like the FDD connector are located very conveniently. There is enough room to install a large processor cooler. This is pretty much all we can say about the upper part of the PCB. Just note that there is a string of multi-color LEDs in the upper right corner that indicate the number of active processor voltage regulator phases.

Contemporary mainboards often boast sophisticated chipset cooling systems, however, Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3 has two simple aluminum heatsinks.

Even the chipset South Bridge heatsink has larger heat dissipating surface due to additional ribbing. As for the heatsink on the chipset North Bridge, its larger heat dissipating surface is not the only improvement: it also has very complex cross-cut profile. However, it still heats up noticeably, even when the CPUs work in the nominal mode, so we topped it with a small 50mm fan for additional cooling purposes right away.

We see three PCI Express x1, two PCI and two PCI Express x16 slots in the lower part of the mainboard PCB. If there is only one graphics card in the system, that latter slot works at its full speed. With two graphics cards, the x16 slots switch to PCI Express x8 mode.

There is a JMicron JMB368 controller not far from the chipset South Bridge. It adds Parallel ATA support to the chipset functionality. The connector is positioned parallel to the board. This way it will not be in the way of a long-bed graphics card installed into the second PCI Express x16 slot. There is also an additional IEEE1394 controller from Texas Instruments (TSB43AB23) and two BIOS chips. All Gigabyte mainboards, not only the ones on Intel P45 Express, support Dual BIOS technology.

All six Serial ATA ports provided by the chipset are in the lower right corner of the PCB, so all connectors had to be shifted to the left, beneath the expansion card slots. However, look how neatly they did it! Of course, color coding of the connectors is a great thing, but you still always had to double-check what each color stands for. Now it has become even easier to assemble systems on Gigabyte mainboards: the connectors are not only color coded and signed right on the PCB. Now you can see large noticeable lettering even inside the connectors:

As you see, Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3 mainboard supports COM and LPT devices, even though these connectors are not laid out on the rear panel. The connectors panel carries PS/2 for keyboard and mouse, coaxial and optical S/PDIF Outs, six audio-jacks (for 8-channel sound provided by Realtek ALC889A codec), two IEEE1394 ports, eight USB 2.0 ports and two RJ45 network connectors provided by Realtek RTL8111C controller.

In conclusion I would like to add that Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3 has four fan connectors, two of which are four-pin ones. As for the evident but not always crucial drawbacks, we have to point out that the graphics card installed into the first PCI Express x16 slot will block the memory slot locks.

Specifications

We are winding up our discussion of Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3 design and functions by the complete list of its technical specifications:

BIOS Setup

Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3 mainboard uses BIOS based on Award code. We got it with an F3 BIOS version. In the end of June the company released F4 version BIOS update that promised higher performance and enhanced overclocking potential. However, some issues with graphics cards compatibility were discovered, so they rapidly released a fixed F5 version. During our test session we used the latest available BIS version at the time: the July F6 version. Here they not only added support for 45nm E0 processor stepping, but also improved compatibility with different memory modules.

We have already mentioned multiple times that Intel P45 Express chipset has minimal differences from its predecessor, however, the BIOS of Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3 mainboard differs dramatically from what we saw with the previous generation solutions, such as Gigabyte GA-EP35-DS4, for instance. First of all, you can immediately notice a few differences in the looks of it: the MB Intelligent Tweaker (M.I.T.) section with all overclocking related functions “moved” to the very top of the list:

It could seem like a trifle, really, but I am sure overclocking fans will appreciate it. Mainstream users or system builders only access the BIOS Setup once to set the necessary parameters. And  that’s it. Then they can work for years without even remembering about the BIOS. As for overclockers, they have to access BIOS Setup dozens of times searching for the most optimal frequency, timings and voltage settings. Of course, if the section you need is right there, the whole process will become much simpler and faster. It is a small thing, but a very useful small thing, I should say. Things like that distinguish real overclocker mainboards from those that are only claimed to be designed for overclockers.

We have already praised the functionality of Gigabyte’s MB Intelligent Tweaker (M.I.T.) section multiple times. This section contains all overclocking related functions dealing with adjustment of frequencies, timings and voltages. However, they are not all mixed together or listed one after another, but split into logical groups. The section is usually very convenient to use and very illustrative, however, this time, we were slightly disappointed. In the beginning of this review I already said that I like Gigabyte mainboards for being very easy to configure and work with. However, the entry-level Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3 mainboard boasts so many settings, that even some of the flagship solutions couldn’t offer more. Some of the functions are even a little excessive, IMHO. Of course, there is nothing bad about having a few extras, it could have been much worse if something were missing. However, the board ended up not so simple as we expected. You may disagree with me, but see for yourselves first.

I had to give up the idea of putting together a few screenshots in order to show all the existing parameters and functions of the MB Intelligent Tweaker (M.I.T.) section: the list would have been way too long. So, we are going to discuss one part of this section after another, especially since it is very conveniently split into sub-sections.

Robust Graphics Booster parameter allows to overclock your system graphics card automatically and can be set at Auto, Fast or Turbo. CPU Clock Ratio sets the desired processor clock frequency multiplier. You may think that you won’t be able to set a fractional multiplier, because Fine CPU Clock Ratio parameter is unavailable, but this is not true. 45nm CPUs automatically get +0.5 to their multiplier, and the maximum for our Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 is x9. If we lower our multiplier to x8 or x7, then Fine CPU Clock Ratio will offer you to select x8.5 or x7.5. CPU Frequency parameter will then display the resulting frequency.

If you set CPU Host Clock Control to Enabled, you will be able to select the desired FSB bus frequency using CPU Host Frequency parameter in the interval from 100MHz to… What do you think would be the maximum FSB frequency Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3 mainboard would let you select? You will never guess: 1200MHz!

I would like to refrain from commenting on this value. Let those Gigabyte engineers who decided to use this simple trick to impress us take the heat. However, it immediately reminded me of Gigabyte mainboards from 6 years ago when first Intel Pentium 4 processors on Northwood core just came out. They also claimed the maximum supported FSB frequency to be around 350-355MHz, while processors didn’t overclock even to 200MHz yet. The funniest thing about it was the fact that some Gigabyte mainboards couldn’t even increase the processor Vcore, and even if they could they inevitably lost to their competitors during CPU overclocking. In other words, they tried to get users’ attention by offering unrealistically high maximums.

A lot of time has passed since then, the company now makes excellent mainboards including overclocking-friendly ones. So why did they need to show off now? I doubt anyone will really believe these unrealistic numbers. Even if you lower the processor clock frequency multiplier to its minimum of x6, then with FSB set at 1200MHz it will have to work at 7.2GHz and the memory will have to operate at 2400MHz. Just in case, let me remind you that far not every DDR2 memory module can get past 1GHz mark, however, Gigabyte apparently claims that they have modules working at 2.4GHz.

This is not too funny. Looks like some marketing people have once again interfered with the engineering team. However, the worst thing is that it could be a way to conceal the not very good overclocking potential of the new boards with unreal numbers. So, we will definitely get to checking out the overclocking friendliness of Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3 later one today, however, unfortunately, this “improvement” did discourage us a little bit right from the start. Do they really think we can tell the fairy-tales from reality?

But let’s put crazy numbers aside for a while and return to MB Intelligent Tweaker (M.I.T) functionality. PCI Express Frequency parameter allows changing PCI-E bus frequency from 90 to 150MHz with 1MHz increment. C.I.A.2 enables automatic CPU overclocking under higher workload and can be set at Cruise, Sports, Racing, Turbo and Full Thrust.

You can fine tune the frequency settings in the Advanced Clock Control section:

CPU Clock Drive allows changing the frequency amplitude of the bus between the chipset North Bridge and the CPU, and PCI Express Clock Drive – of the bus between the chipset North Bridge and PCI-E. CPU Clock Skew and MCH Clock Skew parameters set the time shift between the processor and chipset North Bridge clocks. These are the parameter descriptions we took from the mainboard user’s manual. Now we have to figure out their practical value.

DRAM Performance Control group contains memory related settings:

Despite the name, Performance Enhance parameter hardly affects the actual performance. By default it is set to Turbo. You may set it to Extreme, but you will be able to hit the highest frequencies during overclocking if it is set to Standard. If the system is equipped with memory modules supporting Extreme Memory Profile (X.M.P.), i.e. featuring enhanced settings profiles in their SPD, they can be enabled with the help of a special parameter.

(G)MCH Frequency Latch parameter sets the bus frequency: 200, 266, 333 or 400MHz, that will determine the available memory dividers. If it is set to Auto, then System Memory Multiplier (SPD) parameter displays all existing dividers.

The letter after the multiplier indicates the bus frequency it is associated with:

You will not need to multiply the bus frequency and the multiplier yourselves. The special Memory Frequency info field will display the resulting frequency for you.

The mainboard allows changing major timing settings. it is very convenient that the resulting values are immediately displayed for your reference:

Parameter

Supported range

CAS Latency Time

3 – 7

tRCD

1 – 15

tRP

1 – 15

tRAS

1 – 63

All additional timings are available on a separate page called Advanced Timing Control.

As you see, not all of them are here. The screenshot above shows only Channel A timings, below there are Channel B timings. Frankly speaking, functionality like that is not common for entry-level mainboards.

Finally we get to the last group within MB Intelligent Tweaker (M.I.T) section called Mother Board Voltage Control. The parameters there allow adjusting different voltage settings. All these parameters are split into groups referring to the processor, chipset and memory.

It is really cool that they have standard parameter values in a separate column, but it is a pity that the board doesn’t display the actual set voltages. The thing is that now Gigabyte mainboards also have “smart” BIOS like ASUS boards. In other words, if the CPU, chipset and memory voltages are set to Auto, the mainboard will increase them on its own during overclocking: the more you overclock, the higher will they be. However, Gigabyte’s mainboard seems to have this feature implemented more conveniently than ASUS. I was very upset that way too smart BIOS cannot be disabled on any ASUS boards, because Intel’s power-saving technologies do not work any more once the processor Vcore increases. Gigabyte did it in a much simpler way: you can set each and every parameter to a specific value or Auto, but also to Normal. In this case, the voltage will remain default, no matter how far you are trying to overclock and hence the power-saving technologies will keep working just fine. Excellent solution!

All voltages can be adjusted with variable increments. The supported intervals are the following:

These are very broad intervals, the maximums may amaze even experienced overclockers. As for inexperienced overclockers, they will be warned against dangerous settings with special colored highlighting: purple for very high and blinking red for dangerously high values. Very thoughtful.

We can’t say that only the very first section of the mainboard’s BIOS received all the exciting new overclocking-friendly settings. While Standard CMOS Features section remained pretty standard, the next one called Advanced BIOS Features will please you wit the selection of parameters. We only wish they had also included an option that would allow out-of-order boot up from a USB flash drive.

Integrated Peripherals section has quite a few settings, but USB keyboard and mouse support is disabled by default. Once I cleared CMOS and started installing Linux from a disk I discovered that I can’t select the installation mode. So, I had to reboot.

Well, we little by little got to the PC Health Status section that has changed dramatically since the previous generation of Gigabyte mainboards, but still needs some work done before it will fully satisfy overclockers’ needs. Remember how many voltages Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3 can control? As for us, we can only control the processor and memory voltages.

The biggest disappointment is CPU Smart Fan Control parameter that is useless for those who have a CPU cooler with a three-pin connector. Gigabyte was one of the few companies whose mainboards could adjust the rotation speed of any processor fans. Now they have also lost this feature.

I have to remind you that by pressing F11 in the main BIOS menu screen you can save and by pressing F12 – load the complete settings profile. You can save up to 8 profiles, and each can be given a detailed description. After every successful POST the board saves the current settings profile, so you can always go back to the last successful configuration, even if you forgot to save it in time. Excellent work!

We have suddenly experienced some issues with Q-Flash technology. In fact, built-in BIOS reflashing tool with pseudo-graphics interface is one of indisputable advantages of all Gigabyte mainboards. Besides them, only ASUS mainboards boast a similar feature. This time, however, the comparison will be not in Gigabyte’s favor. By pressing F8 you load the utility that allows reflashing the BIOS or saving the current BIOS version.

And that’s all. And where can we check what version we are reflashing and what version we are saving? And one more thing, the board supports Dual BIOS. It turned out that only the BIOS in the primary chip will be reflashed. The backup chip will retain the old BIOS version.

WatchDog Timer technology that watches over successful POST procedure works impeccably fine on Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3. I haven’t used Clear CMOS jumper even once. Although the board would still boot with default settings after a failed start without even notifying the user about it. However, the BIOS settings will not be reset and next time you access the BIOS you will get a red warning about having over-overclocked your system. Well, it is nice to have it at least this way. Before that, they didn’t do even this, and after a while Gigabyte mainboards may finally start acting humanly and notify you about over-overclocking immediately.

However, after one failed start I noticed a message that the BIOS had been corrupted and was being restored. After that the board rebooted. I accessed the BIOS. So where do I check what version I am running? I remembered about an undocumented F9 key. By pressing this key you can display your system info including the BIOS Version.

The BIOS version on the screenshot above is F6, however, at that time I saw version F3. In other words, the mainboard restored the BIOS version on the backup chip, i.e. the version we got the board with initially and not the one that we reflashed before our test session. As far as I remember, the Q-Flash utility of Gigabyte mainboards used to be much more functional. You could choose what chip to boot from, copy the BIOS from one chip to another. How could we get this functionality back so that we wouldn’t be taken back to the old BIOS version any more?

Well, this is where we are going to end our discussion of Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3 BIOS Setup. There are quite a few great advantages, but also a couple of disappointing things. Something was definitely improved, something changed for the worse. But the most important thing is how the board is going to work and overclock. However, before we get to practical experiments, let’s check out the peculiarities of Gigabyte EasyTune utility.

Gigabyte EasyTune 6

As you remember, the BIOS of Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3 mainboard got smarter. In fact, it turned out smarter than ASUS mainboards’ BIOS. Now during any overclocking the mainboard increases the CPU, memory and chipset voltages set to Auto on its own, and the higher you overclock, the higher it raises the voltages. But how could we check what values it actually sets? HWMonitor utility that I would normally use in this case could only show processor Vcore and Vmem, i.e. those that we can actually see in the PC Health Status section of the BIOS Setup. SO, I had to pull myself together and resort to Gigabyte’s brand name EasyTune 6 utility that I installed from a bundled DVD disk. However, I was very pleasantly surprised: this utility turned out quite nice and functional.

First of all, we no longer see any rockets, dragons or anything like that in the boot-up screen. Instead there appears a very decent interface window with acceptable color scheme and fonts. Everything is clear at first glance and you don’t need to search for any hidden buttons or menus. The first window of Gigabyte EasyTune 6 utility reports all the details about our system CPU:

The next page tells us about the memory. Unfortunately, it reports the SPD info and not the actually set values:

Tuner page in Easy mode allows us to adjust only the FSB frequency:

If we switch to Advanced mode, we will be able to also change the processor frequency multiplier, the memory frequency and PCI Express bus frequency.

When we switch to Advanced mode we also get access to Voltage page. Unfortunately, this is not monitoring data yet, not the actual parameter values but the BIOS settings. However, it was here that we managed to see what settings the mainboard uses during overclocking.

Graphics page allows increasing the graphics core and memory frequencies:

Smart section offers to enable C.I.A.2 automatic overclocking technology and adjust the dependence of processor fan rotation speed on the temperature. However, this option will only work if the fan has a four-pin power connector.

Finally we get to the very last page called HW Monitor, but unfortunately, it reports only the info that we can already get from the BIOS PC Health Status section o with the help of other utilities.

As you understand, there is a lot Gigabyte can do to improve its EasyTune 6 utility. For example, I was not very happy with the way this utility behaves: it installs immediately without even asking for a path. However, it is the first utility from a mainboard manufacturer that proved really useful. Great job, Gigabyte!

Processor Overclocking 

All overclocking experiments were performed in an open testbed configured as follows:

At first we lowered the Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 processor clock frequency multiplier to the minimal x6 in order to determine at what maximum FSB frequency Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3 can remain stable. We decided to start with 480MHz and the board did well at this frequency. However, we couldn’t move any further than that for a while. The board would most often boot, but failed to load Windows and if it did, it would immediately terminate any stability tests we ran.

I have to say that the log of my numerous attempts suggested several theories explaining this strange behavior of Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3 mainboard. AT first I thought that I had to disable all processor power-saving technologies to improve the result, however, practical experiments proved this supposition wrong. Then I discovered that the memory voltage could not be raised beyond 2.1V, however, test results eliminated this supposition, too. The real reasons turned out much simpler and sadder. Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3 mainboard simply couldn’t work stably at FSB frequencies approaching 500MHz and nothing can actually change that.

Sad, but not fatal. New processors keep coming out pretty regularly, their frequencies and clock multipliers increase, so successful overclocking doesn’t necessarily require the system to work at high FSB frequencies. For example, our Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 can overclock to 4.1GHz, so if you leave its default clock multiplier at x9, then all you need is 455MHz FSB to achieve this maximum CPU frequency. Let’s check it out? Unfortunately, this attempt failed. No problem, we actually know quite a few cases when mainboards couldn’t get the CPU to work stably at 455MHz, while at 450MHz everything worked fine. It is not that big of a difference. However, we failed again. Only at 445MHz FSB the mainboard could go through with the tests. In other words, Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3 mainboard not only failed to hit high FSB speeds, but also failed to overclock the test CPU to its maximum.

The interesting thing is that when we switched to quad-core Intel Core 2 Quad Q9300 processor overclocking, Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3 did well and reached 465MHz FSB frequency. Of course, it is not 475MHz that we managed to squeeze out of abit IP35 Pro, and definitely not the 490MHz demonstrated by ZOTAC nForce 790i-Supreme. However, it is indeed very close to the average FSB frequencies that other mainboards reach during quad-core processor overclocking.

Conclusion

Well, I am very glad to admit that I really like Gigabyte mainboards. The company worked really hard to get their boards as close to the best solutions out there and even to surpass them. Moreover, they do not stop at this and with every new mainboard generation we see new improvements and changes for the better.

During our test session we discovered a lot of advantages that distinguish this mainboard not only from its competitors, but also from its predecessors. Among them are the “smart” BIOS that will help during overclocking, but that can be disabled if necessary. We were definitely very pleased with EasyTune 6 utility with pleasant interface and acceptable functionality. Of course, we can’t disregard a few negative changes, such as the elimination of the board’s ability to control rotation speed of fans with a three-pin power connector. Another thing I didn’t really like that much was the fact that this board turned out not as simple to configure as I would expect an entry-level mainboards to be. And even though many of you may disagree with this opinion of mine that entry-level mainboards should be simple, it is the result that matters in the end. And the result is not that promising, unfortunately. Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3 failed to overclock a dual-core processors, though coped fine with quad-core CPU overclocking.

By the way, the flagship Gigabyte GA-EP45-DQ6 mainboard that we have in our lab also doesn’t do very well in overclocking stalling somewhere around 450MHz FSB. Is it just a coincidence or a tendency? Of course, it is a new platform and the BIOS versions are still quite raw, however, the latest available BIOS at the time of tests was version F6. So why did they claim that the board can work at 1200MHz FSB? Is it an attempt to mask the weak overclocking potential of the solution? Time will show…