Gigabyte GA-EP45T-Extreme: Universal Overclocker Mainboard Review

We are going to review the ultimately best overclocker mainboard for LGA775 processors with DDR3 SDRAM support and the largest heatsink system you have ever seen on a mainboard!

by Doors4ever
12/27/2008 | 01:55 PM

One of the major problems during system overclocking is ensuring proper cooling of all its components – not just the CPU, but also the mainboard chipset, which works at higher frequency and voltage settings. And since overclocked systems are often equipped with liquid-cooling solutions, overclockers are especially interested in mainboards that are designed to become part of liquid-cooling system or are equipped with hybrid chipset coolers that can work as both: liquid and air solutions. Although mainboards like that are not very widely spread for understandable reasons, we managed to get our hands on them quite a few times already. The most memorable platform so far was Foxconn BlackOps mainboard:

 


Foxconn BlackOps

The chipset North Bridge heatsink can function as a regular air-cooled heatsink topped with a small fan for extra efficiency. However, if you use a liquid-cooling system in your computer, you can turn this heatsink into a liquid-cooled unit by using the enclosed lid with connecting pipes in it. Moreover, the mainboard is also bundled with a special plastic stack that allows cooling the chipset North Bridge with dry ice or even liquid nitrogen. Of course, you will not need to go so extreme for everyday tasks, but extreme overclockers will definitely appreciate this thoughtfulness on Foxconn’s part. “4-in-1” cooling system of Foxconn BlackOps mainboard is truly unique; it is more of an exception than a typical example. At this point liquid-cooling is still the most reliable and efficient cooling method for overclocker systems working in extreme conditions for significant periods of time.

The hybrid cooling solution implemented on Asus Maximus Extreme mainboard could be a perfect example:


Asus Maximus Extreme

The water block on the chipset North Bridge can become part of an existing liquid-cooling contour. However, even without it the chipset will stay perfectly cooled: several heatpipes distribute the heat over a set of heatsinks with large combined effective surface. One of these heatsinks even leads to the rear of the system case.

The cooling system of Gigabyte GA-EP45T-Extreme mainboard that we are going to talk about today, looks very similar to the previous example. At first glance it seems to include just a regular air cooler, several heatsinks and connecting heatpipes. The chipset North Bridge heatsink can also become part of a liquid-cooling system if necessary:


Our today's hero: Gigabyte GA-EP45T-Extreme

In reality, the cooling system on Gigabyte GA-EP45T-Extreme mainboard is far from ordinary, as you may have thought from the photo above. The truth is that the picture shows only the base configuration… Our today’s review is going to reveal all the details about the board’s cooling solution, its functionality, numerous BIOS settings and overclocking success.

Package and Accessories

Being one of the top Gigabyte products on Intel P45 Express chipset, GA-EP45T-Extreme mainboard ships in an impressively large box:

 

The box bears a lot of info about the board’s functions and distinguishing features. If you open the front flip-cover, you can see a bit of the board through a clear plastic window and read about the technologies employed in it. The thin exterior package covers sturdy box made of thick cardboard. The mainboard sits inside a clear plastic casing and all the accessories are packed in an individual two-sectional box.

Gigabyte GA-EP45T-Extreme mainboard comes bundled with the following items:

Gigabyte GA-EP45T-Extreme mainboard comes with a DVD disk instead of a CD disk. As a result, they could fit not only a lot of different drivers, but also a plenty of various utilities and tools onto it:

Besides the above mentioned third-party applications, the disk contains a bunch of Gigabyte’s own utilities:

Chipset Cooling System and Its Efficiency

Now that we have successfully removed all the packaging and promo stickers from GA-EP45T-Extreme mainboard, here is what we see:

There are a few things that immediately catch your eye. For example, there are a lot of PCI slots on this board: too many for a contemporary mainboard, especially for one of the top models. However, I would like to encourage you to start discussing the features of this solution with its cooling system. It takes the central spot on the PCB and has a few surprises for us:

Everything starts and finishes quite traditionally. The chipset South Bridge heatsink is a copper plate with a set of fins and a heatpipes coming out of it. The only thing I would like to specifically stress here is its secure screw-retention that replaced the traditional plastic clips.

However, when it comes to the design of the chipset North Bridge heatsink, I can’t figure out Gigabyte’s logic. There is a copper plate at the base with a heatpipe from the chipset South Bridge leading to it – it is the only possibility in this case. It would have been nice if the heatpipes leading to other heatsinks had started here, too. On top there should have been one more plate serving as a base for a water block, however, all we see are thin heatsink fins. Only then there comes a unit with heatpipes, another base plate and a water-cooled block:

I don’t quite understand why Gigabyte engineers separated the main heatsinks on the chipset components and additional heatsinks on the processor voltage regulator transistors? The latter ones work at only half of their potential helping just a little bit to cool the chipset bridges. The situation in our case is yet not so bad because the North Bridge heatsink fins are pretty low, so they transfer the heat well enough… But why did they need them in the first place?

So, the heat that manages to go up the heatsink fins will heat up a massive copper plate and get taken off by the liquid-cooling system. If we are not using one at all, two heatpipes will help transfer this heat to additional heatsinks on the processor voltage regulator components.

The second heatsink looks quite common, and some fins of the first one are a little larger than usual. The heatsink array stands at the rear connector panel and should transfer some of the heat outside the system case.

That seems to be about it, however, Gigabyte GA-EP45T-Extreme mainboard is accompanied by one more plastic box with a huge additional heatsink, a pack of thermal compound and a set of retention screws:

Now it is clear why the copper plate serving as a base for the liquid-cooled water block on top of the chipset North Bridge is so thick, long and features a few additional retention holes. This is where you attach the additional heatsink, so that the two heatpipes could transfer heat directly to it:

As a result, the fully assembled cooling system of Gigabyte GA-EP45T-Extreme looks as follows:

 

The heatsink dissipates some of the heat outside the system case by taking one of the slots in the case rear panel and blocking one of the PCI slots on the board completely:

 

This is not that big of a loss. A much bigger problem is that you may have hard time trying to reach the internal block of audio-connectors that is located right behind the audio-jacks block on the connector panel. The user’s manual warns that you have to connect the internal audio connectors to the case front panel first, and then install the additional heatsink. Of course, I noticed this warning only after I installed the heatsink. However, if your system case has all front panel audio connectors in a single block, you may still plug them in easily. If all the cables are separate, then it will be pretty hard anyway.

Of course, the question is: do we really need this gigantic heatsink? As always, it is pretty hard to answer simple questions like that…

First, I have to say that although I criticized the chipset North Bridge heatsink, the entire Gigabyte GA-EP45T-Extreme cooling system doesn’t heat up much when the CPU cooling fan is on. That includes the additional heatsink, too. And honestly it is not quite clear if it gets warm from the North Bridge heat transferred via heatpipes or from the extremely hot ATI Radeon 4870 512MB graphics card installed next to it. I used a thin booklet to separate the heatsink and the scorching hot graphics card: the heatpipes are working – the heatsink is still warm. Barely warm.

Let’s make a few measurements to illustrate our discussion. There is a thermal diode not too far from the chipset North Bridge. You can check its readings in the GA-EP45T-Extreme mainboard BIOS and monitor using special utilities, such as CPUID hardware Monitor, for instance. To increase the load on the cooling system let’s overclock our quad-core Intel Core 2 Quad Q9330 processor and increase its Vcore as well as the chipset voltage. We are going to run LinX (Linpak) 10 times and take the reading off this thermal diode near the chipset North Bridge. The maximum temperature recorded was only 49°C. Now let’s remove the additional heatsink and run the same test again: the temperature got only 2°C higher: 51°C.

However, we cannot really trust Gigabyte GA-EP45T-Extreme temperature monitoring. The diodes tried to convince me that the temperature of a quad-core CPU overclocked by raising its Vcore over 1.4V varied between 17-19°C in idle mode, while the ambient room temperature was at 22-23°C. I believe that I can do much better by using my own finger as a measuring tool. It felt like the heatsinks and heatpipes temperature got just a little higher once I removed the additional heatsink. They got just a little warmer, but not hot.

So, do we need this additional heatsink unit or not? I doubt it is a vitally necessary component, but we can’t call it useless either, because it does work and dissipate heat. However, even without this heatsink, the cooling system doesn’t get too hot. We performed these tests with the CPU overclocked by raising its Vcore, but the processor fan was working at its full speed. Gigabyte mainboards use very aggressive CPU fan rotation speed management algorithm by default, and most of the time it doesn’t work at all. In this case the additional heatsink will be very handy. A unit like that could become a nice additional to a few other high-end mainboards, like Gigabyte GA-EP45-DQ6, for instance, that uses a very hot additional PCI Express controller heating up the chipset North and South Bridge heatsinks significantly.

PCB Design and Functionality

We continue talking about the features and functionality of Gigabyte GA-EP45T-Extreme mainboard. There is nothing we could seriously pick on in the upper part of the PCB. 12-phase processor voltage regulator circuitry uses very high-quality components: low RDS MOSFET transistors, ferrite core chokes and solid-state capacitors. Power-saving system will only enabler all 12 phases under heavy workload. Under lower loads, some of the phases will be disabled to increase the circuitry efficiency. By the way, DDR3 SDRAM and the chipset North Bridge use two-phase voltage regulators.

There is enough room around the processor socket to accommodate large CPU coolers. The power connectors are in traditional convenient locations.

The lower part of the mainboard PCB may upset you with not the best location of the PATA connectors. However, you will be pleased to find a POST code indicator, Power On and Reset buttons and notice convenient connector marking that uses not only color-coding but also large easy-to-read words. The buttons are located at a distance from one another and are lit when the mainboard is powered on, so you won’t mix them up.

A few more words about lighting. Gigabyte GA-EP45T-Extreme is equipped with a lot of LEDs, over three dozens of them! However, the board doesn’t look like a Christmas tree and they are not that annoying, because they don’t light up all at once and do not blink, but light up as the need arises. Although, at the same time they are not very useful.

Besides slightly lit buttons and processor voltage regulator phase indicators, there are four groups of LEDs that signal if the voltage increases on the CPU, memory, chipset North and South Bridges:

Besides, there are five LEDs showing how much the FSB bus frequency has been increased. These are the most annoying ones: blue and bright.

Finally, another two pairs of LEDs report CPU and chipset North Bridge temperature increase.

Of course, the LEDs referring to the chipset North Bridge are completely blocked by the additional heatsink, and hence are pretty useless altogether. Take the CPU-related LED indicators. The LED groups are very close to one another, the clarifying inscriptions are made in very fine print so they are hard to read, and the colors are similar. I see that the LED is lit, but what does it mean? Does it indicate that the CPU receives very high voltage or that its temperature is too high? A quick look is not enough, you have to spend some time figuring it out, so the mere idea of quick status update for various system components vanishes right there.

The mainboard connector panel has the following ports and connectors:

I would like to remind you that using the enclosed kit you can turn two Serial ATA ports out of six available into eSATA and another enclosed bracket will provide you with two IEEE1394 ports on the rear panel out of three implemented via Texas Instruments TSB43AB23 controller.

By the way, note how creative Gigabyte engineers are when it comes to solving the lack of free space issue. Only the very first top PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot can work at full speed. If your system is equipped with two graphics cards, the number of PCI Express lanes is split evenly between the two, so the second slot can’t physically work faster than PCI Express 2.0 x8. And the third slot has only four PCI Express 1.0 lanes at its disposal provided by the chipset South Bridge. Note that only the first slot is in fact a fully fledged PCI Express x16 slot, while the other lower slots only look like ones. And since they do not use half of their contact pins, why not remove these signal contacts completely? This is exactly what Gigabyte engineers have done. PCI Express x16 graphics cards will still work in these slots, but only at half the interface speed. However, the absence of idling contacts allows saving a bit of the PCB space for other needs. Namely, the Texas Instruments IEEE1394 controller finds itself on the free spot below the second graphics card slot. Another great example of how well each square millimeter of the PCB is utilized is the location of the one of the Realtek 8111C controllers that was placed beneath the battery.

The components layout will help you get a better idea of the design strengths and peculiarities of Gigabyte GA-EP45T-Extreme mainboard. I would like to point out that there are only four fan connectors on this board. It is not too much for one of the top mainboards in the lineup. Besides, they haven’t been placed in the best slots: there is no free connector near the case rear panel that you could use for the exhaust case fan. The board has two BIOS chips. If the information in one of them gets corrupt, the BIOS will be automatically restored from the reserve chip.

We would like to wind up this part of our review with the detailed list of Gigabyte GA-EP45T-Extreme technical specifications:

BIOS Setup

Gigabyte GA-EP45T-Extreme mainboard uses BIOS based on Award Software code that Gigabyte engineers have seriously modified and adapted for their products. Some differences can already be noticed in the very first screen. For example, “MB Intelligent Tweaker (M.I.T.)” section containing almost all the settings for computer enthusiasts and overclocking fans is now the first in the list:

This is a totally right thing to do! A regular user accesses the mainboard BIOS only once during the initial configuration process. He or she may have to get there once again to make a few changes and corrections and that’s about it. And when you overclock, you have to access the BIOS over and over again, often on every system reboot, and having the right section on top of the list is definitely great help. A small thing, a little improvement, right? Yes, it is. But contemporary mainboards often offer similar functionality and a combination of several small advantages like that may distinguish a good board from a not very good one and turn a good board into an excellent solution.

“MB Intelligent Tweaker (M.I.T.)” section turned out simply gigantic, you will have to go through at least three screens to see everything it has to offer. However, the user is very unlikely to get lost in there, because it has very well thought-through structure. All parameters are split into groups referring to CPU, chipset, memory and voltages. They used several different colors to make navigation more illustrative, introduced context help and a number of informational parameters, so using “MB Intelligent Tweaker (M.I.T.)” section is very easy and convenient.

I don’t think I need to tell you about each and every parameter. Let me just point out a few peculiarities. For example, note that some parameters dealing with chipset fine tuning are singled out into “Advanced Clock Control” subsection.

The memory frequency is set with multipliers. The letter will indicate what bus frequency this multiplier refers to and context help in the right-hand side of the window will break down the terms for you. You won’t need to calculate the resulting memory frequency, as the informational “Memory Frequency” parameter will display it for you. It is very convenient that the “Memory Frequency” value will change once the bus frequency changes, i.e. you will always know the actual memory frequency.

You can correct the main memory timings if necessary. If this is not enough and you need to access additional timings, you have to open a large nested sub-menu called “Advanced Timing Control”:

Here we can configure a number of general purpose timings and in the next sub-menu we can set individual parameters independently for each memory channel. Among them are a very important parameter called “Performance Level” that can be set directly using “Static tRead Value” setting:

We got to the group managing voltage settings. Gigabyte’s approach to this extremely important aspect of an overclocked system has its advantages and drawbacks. For example, it is brilliant that there is a nominal setting mentioned for each parameter; many mainboard makers often forget about it for some reason. However, knowing defaults doesn’t necessarily mean that we know the actual current values for each of them.

Gigabyte mainboards, like other manufacturers’ solutions, know to increase the voltages on their own, if necessary. As a result, the user may often just set the desired CPU and memory frequencies and the board will take care of appropriate voltage adjustments. It is great and often very convenient, but the board doesn’t know what the particular CPU and memory modules installed into the system are capable of. As a result, it may increase the voltage too much or too little. Both these outcomes may result into pretty negative consequences, so the user should monitor all the changes anyway. However, Gigabyte mainboards BIOS doesn’t give us this opportunity. Some manufacturers repeat the current voltage readings from “PC Health Status” section in the section where voltage adjustment actually takes place. And Gigabyte mainboard, as we will see a little later during the “PC Health Status” discussion, reports only the processor Vcore and memory voltage. Nevertheless, we know that Gigabyte mainboards often raise Termination Voltage and PLL Voltage settings too high, however, we have no idea what their values actually are…

There is a solution, however, you will have to resort to special software. Gigabyte’s brand name EasyTune utility that we have known for a long time has changed significantly by the time it reached version 6. I didn’t have any experience with versions 1 and 2. I believe I was lucky in a way, because all following versions including EasyTune5 looked exactly as any other mainboard maker’s brand name utility would. It meant sophisticated shapes; inconvenient to work with windows, buttons, colors and fonts; limited functionality and various bugs. Gigabyte EasyTune6 is the first utility from a mainboard maker in my experience that is simply great to work with.

The program reports some info on the system CPU and mainboard, can read info from the memory modules SPD, helps overclock the CPU, memory and even graphics accelerator. You can use CIA2 (CPU Intelligent Accelerator) dynamic overclocking, adjust the rotation speed of the processor fan, check the monitoring reports. However, all the above mentioned functionality is also implemented in the mainboard BIOS and other utilities. The uniqueness of Gigabyte EasyTune6 is that it displays all the actual voltage values that the mainboard allows adjusting on “Advanced” page of the “Tuner” section:

But let’s get back to voltage adjustment parameters offered by Gigabyte GA-EP45T-Extreme mainboard in the BIOS. It can hardly surprise us with its ability to increase voltages on its own, many mainboards from other makers can do exact same thing these days. However, we don’t always need to increase the voltages. Sometimes, a too smart BIOS may do more damage than good.

To explain what I am driving at let me give you an example. Asus mainboards usually overclock processors pretty well, however, they allow doing it “free-of-charge” only in a relatively narrow frequency interval. At some point after another frequency increase a smart mainboard suddenly decides that it is time to increase the processor Vcore, even if your particular CPU doesn’t need it yet. Overclocking goes on fine, the system works, however, processor power-saving technologies are not longer active. In idle mode the system only drops the processor clock frequency multiplier, but not the voltage. In the meanwhile, CPU power consumption and heat dissipation depend primarily on the voltage, and not the frequency. The system starts wasting power turning it into heat, fans spin faster increasing the noise levels.

Gigabyte GA-EP45T-Extreme mainboard does exact same thing. Each voltage changing parameter has a certain fixed numeric value, an “Auto” setting when the board makes the adjustment on its own, and… a so-called “Normal” setting. In the latter case the board leaves the parameter at its nominal setting. Very simple and convenient!

You can select the desired value from a drop-down list, you can use “Page Up” or “Page Down” keys to go through the list faster, or type in the value using your keyboard. Overall, Gigabyte GA-EP45T-Extreme mainboard allows adjusting the voltages as follows*:

CPU:

MCH/ICH:

 DRAM:

* – these are the intervals for Intel Core 2 Quad Q9300 processor with the nominal Vcore of 1.175 V.

As you see, the increments are pretty small, the intervals quite wide and the maximums reach scarily high values. It would be nice to actually warn the users. And it gets done: first some extremely high values are highlighted purple and afterwards – blinking red.

However, what we have just said is true only for the memory parameters. As if sending 2.3V to a CPU with the nominal 1.175V Vcore were not that dangerous at all.

“Standard CMOS Features” section contains usual familiar parameters:

And if you want to see all the parameters available in “Advanced BIOS Features” section, you have to press Ctrl-F1 combination while in the main menu. Our GA-EP45T-Extreme mainboard inherited this atavism from the old Gigabyte boards. Back in the days this sacred key combination hid a lot of useful functions, such as memory timings adjustment, for instance. And although Gigabyte’s user manuals did mention this key combination, it was not always easy to notice these words in a large multi-page document. As a result, this strange secrecy caused users a lot of problems, when they couldn’t find unassisted the settings they were looking for.

Those times are long gone. Today Gigabyte mainboards offer their owners extensive configuration options, sometimes even better than what the other mainboard makers have to offer. But what do they still use this rudimentary Ctrl-F1 key combination? It hides the two parameters of “utmost secrecy” in “Advanced BIOS Features” section: enabling/disabling Num Lock and floppy check on system boot-up.

“Advanced BIOS Features” section has a few options dealing with processor technologies. Ideally, it would be best to move them to “MB Intelligent Tweaker (M.I.T.)” section to all other important system parameters.

“Integrated Peripherals” section allows configuring peripheral devices and integrated controllers. I only wish that they enabled by default USB keyboard and mouse support, as these devices have already outnumbered their PS/2 counterparts.

Then come two sections with almost standard functionality: “Power Management Setup” and “PnP/PCI Configurations”, so we won’t dwell on them here.

We have already mentioned that “PC Health Status” section can’t offer us satisfactory voltage control tools. The argument that it used to be even worse before, is barely encouraging, we really want to have full access to all parameters here and now. However, this section does have a few advantages worth mentioning. We can control the rotation speed of all four fans that can be connected to the board. But most importantly, Gigabyte mainboards can adjust the rotation speed of any fans! To adjust the rotation speed of a four-pin processor fan depending on the CPU temperature you should set the “CPU Smart FAN Mode” parameter to “PWM”, and for three-pin fans – to “Voltage”. At this time Gigabyte mainboards are almost the only mainboards out there that support this, although there are still a lot of fans with three-pin connectors out there these days.

Unfortunately, we have to slightly spoil the impression here. By default, Gigabyte mainboards offer very aggressive fan rotation speed management. As a result, the processor fan doesn’t rotate at all most of the time. Quiet system is great, but the board reports much lower quad-core processor temperature for some reason, and it is the temperature readings that determine the fan rotation speed. As a result, if you enabled “CPU Smart FAN Control”, the fan stops and never rotates again. In this case the mainboard cooling system heats up a lot and an additional heatsink will certainly be a good thing to have. You should better resort to software adjustment and Gigabyte EasyTune6 utility can offer you the tools to do it. I wish it could be possible to set the desired CPU temperature intervals with the corresponding fan rotation speeds.

So, we have checked out all major BIOS Setup sections, but that is not all Gigabyte GA-EP45T-Extreme mainboard has to offer. By pressing F11 you can save all BIOS settings in one of the 8 available profiles and name it accordingly. You can load the desired profile later: just access the list by pressing F12. The current settings are saved automatically after each successful system start, so you can always go back to one of the recent configurations, even if you haven’t saved it. Unfortunately, you will lose all your profiles if you reflash the BIOS.

By the way, if you used Clear CMOS button or jumper, but didn’t access the BIOS to adjust the settings, the board will display the following menu, similar to what you will see by pressing F12. This way you will be able to select the desired profile even without entering the BIOS.

By pressing F9 you get system info report:

You can also press F8 in the main menu to open Q-Flash utility for reflashing the BIOS. You can update the BISO using various media, but the base BIOS version is available on the DVD disk bundled with the board.

However, you don’t really need to access the BIOS to launch this utility. When you start the system, you see a start-up image reminding you of the major functional keys: “End” – Q-Flash launch, “F12” – boot menu, etc.

If you disabled the startup image, you will see the POST (Power-On Self-Test) progress, but the functional keys are still working.

I have to mention one more issue I uncovered that is closely connected with a great advantage: the board very carefully monitors startup POST. If the booting is interrupted for some reason, the board would automatically restart in safe mode, but all the BIOS settings will be saved.  Clear CMOS button on the back panel is extremely convenient, but I didn’t have to use it even once throughout the entire test session. The downside is that the user is not informed about transition to safe mode; the board doesn’t stop, and continues loading the OS as if nothing happened. Only when you access “MB Intelligent Tweaker (M.I.T.)” BIOS section you will receive a late message:

Of course, if you disabled the startup image, you may notice that processor frequency is lower and have just enough time to press “Del” to enter the BIOS. During the test session I ended up telling by sounds if it was a successful start or the parameters have been reset. However, it could be much more convenient if Gigabyte mainboards behaved a little more correctly and informed the user of their actions, like the other manufacturers’ solutions.

So, the BIOS of Gigabyte GA-EP45T-Extreme mainboard designed by human beings is not totally ideal. However, it still has more advantages than drawbacks, offers a pleasing variety of options and is very convenient to work with. Now it is high time we checked out how well the board can overclock CPUs.

CPU Overclocking

We tested Gigabyte GA-EP45T-Extreme mainboard in an open testbed with the following hardware and software components:

The initial test with Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 processor with the clock frequency multiplier lowered to the minimal x6 showed that that the board can boot the OS at up to 590MHz FSB frequency. This is very good result. Our CPU sample can overclock up to 4320MHz (480 x 9). Simple calculation revealed that you can obtain this frequency at 576MHz FSB and x7.5 multiplier (576 x 7.5 = 4320). Our test applications confirmed that the system was operational in these conditions*:

* - the utility “doesn’t see” that the processor clock frequency multiplier was lowered; it believes that the multiplier is still at its nominal value that is why it reports higher CPU frequency.

In was a little upset with the fact that x3.2 memory multiplier didn’t work during overclocking. In this case we could get our memory to work at 1843MHz. This multiplier does work in nominal mode. Moreover, it is a default multiplier setting the memory frequency at 1067MHz for CPUs with 333MHz bus. However, we could use x2.66 multiplier and in this case the memory worked at 1536MHz. In the end, it was totally pleasing that even with the minimal memory multiplier of x2 when it worked “only” at 1382MHz, the timings could be lowered to 6-6-6-18 and Performance level set at 9. The system remained stable and Prime95 needed only 2 minutes 14 seconds to calculate 8 million digits – our little lab record. This is the first time we see numbers like that. When we overclocked the same processor to the same 4.32GHz frequency in a system with DDR2 SDRAM, the result was much lower.

Far not every mainboard can work with CPUs overclocked to their maximum at 576MHz bus frequency. However it is not very hard to find a good board that can overclock a dual-core CPU to its maximum speed, even if it has to work with lower FSB frequency. When it comes to quad-core processors, things are not as rosy any more. Most mainboards that cope quite well with dual-core processors overclocking usually stall at around 450MHz FSB with quad-core ones. Rarely a board can work with a quad-core CPU at 470MHz FSB; and only two solutions could hit the maximum – 490MHz FSB – with our Intel Core 2 Quad Q9300 processor. Gigabyte GA-EP45T-Extreme mainboard has become the third one to succeed: it conquered 490MHz FSB speed with a quad-core CPU!

Conclusion

From a formal specification standpoint, Gigabyte GA-EP45T-Extreme mainboard is pretty similar to a few other solutions on Intel P45 Express chipset. It offers all the features provided by the chipset including a South Bridge supporting RAID configurations. It has a number of additional controllers offering eight-channel sound, PATA, IEEE1394 and two gigabit network ports. Of course, this mainboard boasts unique cooling system with an additional heatsink and an option to turn the chipset North Bridge cooler into a water block. As for other distinguishing features, we could also point out the use of high-quality electronic components and a number of Gigabyte’s brand name technologies, such as DualBIOS and Dynamic Energy Saver Advanced.

However, there is nothing free in this world, and the price of Gigabyte GA-EP45T-Extreme mainboard is still quite high: over $300. Many of you may prefer a simpler and more affordable model and that will be an absolutely justifiable decision, especially if you are not going to overclock your CPU. But if you are, we would strongly recommend to pay special attention to Gigabyte GA-EP45T-Extreme mainboard. The unique thing about it is that it allows overclocking both - dual- and quad-core processors very easily, very quickly and to significant heights. So far we have only worked with one mainboard that could offer the same: GA-EP45-DQ6. It must be quite logical that it was also made by Gigabyte. One good mainboard could be just good luck, but two good mainboards is a great tendency. The top Gigabyte mainboards on Intel P45 Express chipset are a true work of art!

Now we have Gigabyte GA-EP45-DQ6 mainboard that works with DDR2 SDRAM and overclocks processors, and we also have Gigabyte GA-EP45T-Extreme mainboard that overclocks just as well but supports DDR3 SDRAM. We have found two boards that are almost ideal test platforms for Intel LGA775 processors. Now we have to find a solution like that for the new Intel LGA1366 CPUs. Maybe we should first check our Gigabyte mainboards on Intel X58 Express, don’t you think so?