Summary: In this article, Jake takes a look at 3 Gigabyte P35 Bearlake motherboards ranging from the low-end to the high-end. See how well the boards perform and overclock in this article!
Before you can choose a particular motherboard, first youíve got to determine which system chipset is best.
Launched in May, the P35 chipset is Intelís newest, most feature-packed chipset. P35 is Intelís first chipset to support DDR3 memory. DDR3 speeds of up to 1066MHz are officially supported by the chipset, although most P35 motherboards support DDR3 speeds up to 1333MHz.
DDR3 memory itself is currently available in speeds as fast as 1600MHz.
Despite the high latencies (often 7-7-7 and higher), DDR3 begins to surpass DDR2-800 in almost every real world application at around 1333MHz. DDR3 also consumes less power than DDR2, starting at 1.5V, versus 1.8V of DDR2. This also results in less heat produced. Besides higher latencies, the chief weakness of DDR3 is its cost: many of the low latency 2GB DDR3-1333 kits (2x1GB) sell for over $500. Thatís over $250/GB! You can buy up to 16GB of DDR2-800 for $500 depending on the deal. On top of that, DDR3 capable boards are more expensive then their DDR2 counterparts.
Fortunately, the memory controller on the P35 chipset is backward-compatible with DDR2, officially supporting DDR2 speeds of up to 800MHz, although many P35 motherboards provide even higher speed options within BIOS.
Besides its new memory controller, the other feature that sets the P35 chipset apart from previous Intel chipsets is its support for 1333MHz FSB speeds. Many enthusiasts have pushed their Core 2 Duo CPUs to speeds of 1333MHz FSB or higher with older P965 and 975X motherboards, but this is considered overclocking by Intel and isnít officially supported. P35 also supports Intelís upcoming 45-nm Penryn processors, which will be launched later this year.
Apart from these revolutionary features, the P35 Expressí and the new ICH9 Southbridgeís other features are very standard. The ICH9 supports 12 USB 2.0 ports, 6 SATA ports with eSATA capability, 6 PCI Express x1 lanes and gigabit Ethernet. All of these are expected on a top end platform.
In this roundup weíll be taking a look at 3 Gigabyte P35 boards. On to the boards!
The DS3 is Gigabyteís bang for the buck line. It first appeared with Intelís 965 chipset. The Gigabyte P965-DS3 provided stellar overclocking and performance equal to more expensive boards of the same chipset at a reasonable price. While the motherboard did lack features such as external SATA, a second PCI Express Graphics (PEG) slot and other premium features included in Gigabyteís 6-Quad boards, it was a top choice for tweakers. Now comes the second DS3 board, this time with a P35 Express chipset.
As you can see, the Gigabyte P35-DS3R is a no-frills board. There is no ornate heatpipe cooling. The MOSFETS and power management isnít cooled either. Even the two heatsinks covering the bridges are aluminum, not copper.
To further cut costs, one of the PEG slots is removed too. Even though a plastic slot and its connections may not cost much, Gigabyte leaves dual GPU possibility for the slightly more expensive DS3P and the premium DQ6 series. These are all measures taken to reduce the cost of the board. However, all the important features are kept to maintain top notch performance and overclocking.
Around the CPU socket, and everywhere on the board, you can see blue and red solid capacitors. Solid capacitors are much more durable and have a longer life than standard capacitors. They also affect overclocking because of their ability to maintain cleaner voltage. This is a true sign of quality despite the relatively low price.
The CPU socket area is clean and should fit coolers of all shapes and sizes. The expansion slots are standard for this board. As mentioned before, one PEG slot was replaced with a PCI slot to create another board (DS3P) for a little more money. With three PCI Express x1 slots, and three PCI slots, expansion should be no problem.
Another thing that Gigabyte doesnít skimp on is the set of onboard controllers. All the controllers found on the more expensive P35-DQ6 board are found here as well. The ITE monitoring chip takes care of all motherboard sensors. The Realtek ALC889A codec handles the HD audio. Another Realtek controller handles the Gigabit Ethernet. Finally, Gigabyte adds an additional SATA controller for two eSATA ports. Of course any SATA port can be converted to eSATA with an expansion slot bracket, so Gigabyte just adds two extra ports for any use, both external and internal.
The bottom corner of the P35-DS3R is just as eventful as that of any premium board. Despite only four USB 2.0 ports on the back, there are 4 headers on the board for an additional eight ports. We think a balance (six on the back and six on the front) would have been wiser. The front panel connectors are color-coded for easy attachment. The single green IDE port is strangely placed. It is situated horizontally across the board, not vertically like most boards. This can result in messy cabling.
The rear panel is very standard as well. There are no special ports on the back. There are no Firewire, eSATA, or dual Ethernet ports. The P35-DS3R has a Parallel and a serial port, also known as legacy ports. These would be useful for older printers and accessories. Honestly though, there is really no need for these because of the proliferation of USB. Weíd rather see that space devoted to more USB ports on the back panel.
The Gigabyte P35-DS3R shares the same BIOS as the P35-DQ6. All the M.I.T. (Motherboard Intelligent Tweaker) features are included on both the midrange and premium boards. We were able to hit 487FSB with our E6700. This is a fairly good result when compared to all the boards we tested. The result is even better considering the price and lack of cooling on the bridges, MOSFETS and PWM. For the P35 chipset, this is a little below average though.
The DQ6 line is Gigabyteís premium set of boards. DQ6 stands for 6 Quad. This means there are six features that have something to do with the number four. This could be quad-core support, or quad SLI or something else along those lines. The precise DQ6 features change depending on the chipset used. The P35 DQ6 boards have the best feature set yet.
Right away you can see that the P35-DQ6 is a board of a much higher price range than the P35-DS3R. A quick glance probably brings your eyes on the massive copper heatsink on the P35 Northbridge. This is the first of the P35-DQ6 and P35T-DQ6ís quad features. Quad cooling spans across the Southbridge, Northbridge, and two sets of MOSFETS around the CPU socket.
Unfortunately, the power management chips are not cooled, even though they are right next to the MOSFETS. Cooling them might have obstructed certain heatsinks though, such as Intelís stock cooler for the Core 2 CPUs. If your cooler can sit fine without covering the PWM, we suggest you get some RAM heatsinks, like those found on video card memory.
Second in the six quad features comes quad triple-phase power. This provides extremely stable and clean voltage to the CPU for maximum performance and overclocking. Most motherboards today only have 8-phase or even 6-phase power, versus Gigabyteís 12.
The next quad feature is quad-core support. Of course, this isnít a feature unique to Gigabyteís DQ6 boards, all P35 motherboards support Intelís quad-core Core 2 CPUs. We think Gigabyte may just have run out of quad features and stuck this one in. :)
Moving to the expansion slots, we see two PEG slots. ATIís dual GPU solution Crossfire can be used. NVIDIAís SLI solution can only be implemented on their 680i boards.
The rest of the slots are very standard, consisting of two PCI slots and three PCI Express x1 slots. The battery is here too because of the cluttered bottom corner. This brings up the next quad feature. No itís not quad batteries. Itís quad BIOS. Gigabyte extends their dual BIOS technology by adding a copy of the BIOS on a CD that can be easily used to restore either of the corrupt physical BIOS chips onboard. This makes the board really have four BIOS storage areas, not just two.
All of the controllers found on the P35-DQ6 boards are also found on cheaper Gigabyte boards such as the P35-DS3. The ITE chip handles the monitoring task. The Realtek ALC889A controller takes care of the high definition audio. Another Realtek controller is in charge of the single gigabit Ethernet port. This is very surprising, a top end board like this having only one Ethernet port. Even some cheaper boards have two. They may not be needed, but the concept of lacking basic features isnít a positive thought. Finally we see a new controller onboard, one not on the P35-DS3R. It is a Texas Instruments Firewire controller supporting three ports. One port is provided on the back panel and two more ports come in the form of two headers on the bottom edge of the board.
The bottom corner of the motherboard is full of headers, and connectors. The IDE port is correctly placed, not only vertically along the edge of the board, unlike the P35-DS3Rís strange horizontal placement, but also down 90 degrees for slightly less cable clutter. There are 4 yellow USB headers for 8 ports. Most cases have two to four on the front, so Gigabyte provided two expansion slot brackets for an additional four ports should you need them. On those same brackets are two eSATA connectors. This brings us to the fifth quad feature. With only two eSATA connectors (none on the rear panel), Gigabyte notes that there is a possibility for four eSATA ports if you provide your own brackets. However, in theory you can have as many eSATA ports as you have internal SATA ports. So once again, this quad feature isnít unique to Gigabyte. Gigabyte does provide a SATA controller for two additional SATA ports, making a total of 8. Lastly the front button and LED connectors are color-coded for easy placement in such a small space.
The only difference between the P35-DQ6 and the P35T-DQ6 is the memory they support. The P35 accepts DDR2 in four 240-pin slots. The P35T relies on DDR3, also in four 240-pin slots. This also brings up the DQ6ís last quad feature. Both boards have four memory slots. Unfortunately, just like quad core support, almost every motherboard has four memory slots. This quad feature was just added to make a total of six.
The rear panels of Gigabyteís P35-DQ6 and P35T-DQ6 boards are surprisingly dated. As we mentioned before, there is only one Ethernet (RJ45) port. Gigabyte also includes Parallel and Serial ports, both gone on many modern boards. In their place Gigabyte could have added a couple of extra USB ports, another Ethernet port, and some eSATA connectors.
We tested both boards to see how high their FSB wall was. Even though the two boards are nearly identical from layout to BIOS, we got slightly different results. This is because overclocking is the luck of the draw. Anything above the 333MHz FSB that the DQ6 boards are certified for is a gamble. Our gamble for both boards ended relatively high. For the DDR2 based P35-DQ6 we hit 512MHz. This is average as far as 680i and P35 boards seem to go. The previous Gigabyte DQ6 board based on NVIDIAís 680i chipset we tested hit 528MHz. The DDR3 based P35T-DQ6 hit 510MHz. So itís safe to say that the Gigabyteís DQ6 boards with the P35 chipset will hit just over 500MHz. Of course you may not hit anything over 350, or even get over 550. Itís all the luck of the draw. Our testing gives you a rough idea of how well your board might do.
Intel Core 2 Duo E6700
ASUS P5K Deluxe
ASUS P5K3 Deluxe
Gigabyte GA-965P-DQ6 (P965)
Shuttle SD37P2 (975X)
2GB Corsair PC2-6400C4 (DDR2-800 4-4-4-12 2.0V)
2GB Kingston PC3-11000 (DDR3-1066 7-7-7-20 1.7V)
250GB Samsung SATA2
Strange IDE Port Placement Ė Weíre not nit picking here. The strange placement can ruin cable management setups. IDE drives are to the right of the port, not below or above. Gigabyte should have avoided such messy placement.
Gigabyte P35-DQ6 & P35T-DQ6
Naturally, the cheaper the product the more it will sell. So the budget performance market is much larger than the premium enthusiast market. Therefore, Gigabyte will sell more P35-DS3R boards than P35-DQ6 boards so they have to work extra hard to win a bigger market niche. Gigabyte delivered with the P35-DS3R just as it has with the previous DS3. All of the P35ís features were packed into a light $130 package. Some premium features such as eSATA, a second PEG slot for Crossfire, Firewire, and good cooling are missing of course, but those features are what separate the enthusiast and budget performance classes.
The P35-DS3R also holds its own in benchmarks. It lags behind no more than 3% the behind leader in any benchmark. (-3% in Call of Duty 2)
The smaller and more expensive niche in the motherboard is the enthusiast line of boards. Gigabyte covers this with their P35-DQ6 and P35T-DQ6 boards. Everything that might appeal to an enthusiast is included. Great cooling and a nice layout help keep the case clean, your components cool, and your overclock at its max. Gigabyte provides a second PEG slot for Crossfire and 8 SATA ports. Some unique features not found on other boards are Quad BIOS for protection against corruption from overclocking and Quad Triple Phase (12 phase) power producing more stable voltage for higher overclocks.
However, there are some features on the P35-DQ6 boards that are uncharacteristic of the high-end motherboard segment. Gigabyte chose to place a parallel and a serial port on the back panel instead of a second Ethernet port and eSATA connectors. More USB ports on the back plane of the motherboard would have been more useful as well.
In terms of performance, the Gigabyte P35-DQ6 boards are on top of the list. Though they donít win many benchmarks, both boards stayed at the top of the pack. The P35T-DQ6 tended to perform worse than the P35-DQ6 in the synthetic benchmarks, but better in real world applications. Both motherboards also provided high overclocking numbers. The P35-DQ6 reached 512MHz while the P35T-DQ6 reached 510MHz. These boards are solid choices for any use.
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