ECS G33T-M2 Motherboard Review
By Gabriel Torres on July 30, 2007


Introduction

Hardware Secrets Silver Award

ECS G33T-M2 is a socket LGA775 motherboard with on-board video based on Intel G33 Express chipset, which supports the new 1,333 MHz FSB and thus is compatible with the latest Core 2 CPUs. Let’s take a look at the performance and features of ECS G33T-M2.

ECS G33T-M2
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Figure 1: ECS G33T-M2 motherboard.

Intel G33 chipset has the same features of the mainstream Intel P35 chipset with embedded graphics added. The two main features brought by G33 and P35 are the new 1,333 MHz external bus, thus accepting the new Core 2 CPUs based on this new external clock rate, and DDR3 support. Please note that DDR3 support does not mean that all motherboards based on G33 or P35 accept DDR3 memories: since DDR2 and DDR3 sockets are different, is up to the manufacturer to decide which kind of memories the motherboard will accept. In the case of ECS G33T-M2 it only accepts DDR2.

Just like Intel P35 Express, Intel G33 Express uses the new ICH9 chip, which comes in four flavors. The vanilla ICH9, used by ECS G33T-M2, is identical to the “old” ICH8 chip found on Intel P965 and G965 chipsets but supporting 12 USB 2.0 ports instead of 10. The ICH9R variant supports RAID, six SATA-300 ports (the plain ICH9 support only four), Viiv support (i.e., support for Quick Resume technology, which allows the PC to imitate the behavior of TV sets, where by pressing the power button located on the remote control the screen goes dark, the sound is muted and the keyboard and mouse stop responding) and the new “Intel Turbo Memory” technology, codenamed Robson Technology, which is a disk cache technology using flash memories, available through the installation of a x1 PCI Express card. Click here to learn more about this technology. ICH9DH (a.k.a. Digital Home) has the same specs of ICH9R but no RAID support. And ICH9DO (a.k.a. Digital Office) has the same specs of ICH9R but no Viiv support – i.e., no support for Quick Resume technology.

The graphics engine of G33, called GMA 3100, is a Shader 2.0 (DirectX 9) part, running at 400 MHz with two pixel shader engines. Vertex shader isn’t processed by the chipset but by the system CPU, i.e., through software.

One very interesting feature of the on-board video produced by Intel G33 Express is that it automatically chooses how much memory it will “steal” from the system RAM to use depending on the application, a technology called DVMT or Dynamic Video Memory Technology.

Traditionally chipsets with integrated video steals a fixed amount of system RAM to be used as video memory. The main problem with this approach is that you have less RAM available for your applications. This problem is worse when you are not running a game: if your system has 1 GB RAM and you set your video to have 256 MB of memory, you will have only 768 MB available to programs. On a system with less RAM available, like 512 MB, this problem is even worse.

So with this motherboard when you are not running a game, the system will steal only the amount of RAM necessary to process 2D video. This amount depends on the video resolution you are using, see in the table below the possible values for this chipset for the most common resolutions.

Resolution

Memory

800x600x32

4 MB

1024x768x32

4 MB

1280x1024x32

8 MB

1600x1200x32

8 MB

1920x1440x32

16 MB

2048x1536x32

16 MB

If you do the math you will see that 800x600x32 resolution only needs 2 MB of video memory, however this chipset does not provide such configuration.

So on a system with 512 MB of RAM installed and running at 1024x768x32 you will have 508 MB available for your programs. When you run a game, the system will dynamically assign more RAM to the graphics engine, limited to 256 MB.

As you can see in Figure 1, this motherboard provides one x16 PCI Express slot for you to install a “real” video card in the future. It also has one x1 PCI Express slot and two regular PCI slots.

ECS G33T-M2 has four DDR2-DIMM sockets, two orange and two purple, accepting up to 8 GB of DDR2-400/667/800 memory. This is great, because several motherboards with on-board video have only two sockets, restricting your options for upgrading your memory in the future. With this motherboard if you want more memory you just have to buy two extra memory modules and install them on the empty sockets. We are saying “two” because this chipset supports dual-channel feature and on this motherboard to enable this feature you simply need to install the modules on sockets with the same color.

Introduction (Cont’d)

This motherboard has four SATA-300 ports and no ATA-133 ports. This is the major flaw of this motherboard. The majority of the optical drives available on the market are still traditional IDE and not SATA. We had a problem to install the operating system, software and drivers on our system; we had to do this task with another motherboard and then switch the boards, since we are still using an IDE optical drive, not a SATA one. This is simply ridiculous. This motherboard does not support RAID since it uses the plain ICH9 south bridge chip, not the ICH9R one.

It has 12 USB 2.0 ports (four soldered on the motherboard) and no FireWire ports (the manual says the FireWire is optional and there is a space on the motherboard for soldering a FireWire controller).
 
It also has Gigabit Ethernet, controlled by a Realtek RTL8111B chip. This chip is a complete controller, so this motherboard does not use the chipset south bridge chip to control its network interface. This chip is connected to the south bridge chip through a PCI Express x1 bus, so it can truly deliver 1 Gbps performance, as PCI Express x1 provides 2.5 Gbps bandwidth.

On the audio section this motherboard has eight channels provided by the chipset together with a Realtek ALC883 codec. While this codec provides a good output quality (95 dB signal-to-noise ratio and 192 kHz sampling rate), it does not provide a good input quality for today’s standards (85 dB signal-to-noise ratio and 96 kHz sampling rate). Thus this motherboard isn’t recommended for professionally capturing and editing analog audio. For this kind of application look for a motherboard with at least 95 dB SNR on its input.

On the other hand, this motherboard provides full 7.1 analog audio jacks on the rear panel, feature not found on all mainstream motherboards, especially the ones with on-board video. So you can easily hook an analog 5.1 or 7.1 set of speakers to this motherboard. But this motherboard does not have any on-board SPDIF connector, which is a pity. The motherboard has a SPDIF out header, but the board doesn’t come with any SPDIF bracket to use it.

In Figure 2, you can see the connectors present on the motherboard rear panel: PS/2 mouse, PS/2 keyboard, serial port, VGA, four USB 2.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet port and analog audio inputs and outputs. There is no parallel port on this motherboard, not even through an I/O bracket.

ECS G33T-M2
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Figure 2: Rear panel connectors.

On G33T-M2, ECS used solid aluminum capacitors on the voltage regulator circuit. The three capacitors that are not solid are from Toshin Kogyo (TK), a Japanese vendor that uses rebranded Taiwanese capacitors, from OST. The capacitors used on the other sections of this motherboard are from Taiwanese vendors – OST and G-Luxon. Of course we think all capacitors could be either Japanese or solid, and they could also have used ferrite coils instead of iron coils.

ECS G33T-M2
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Figure 3: ECS is finally using solid aluminum and Japanese capacitors on the voltage regulator circuit.

In Figure 4, you can see everything that comes with the motherboard, which isn’t much.

ECS G33T-M2
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Figure 4: Motherboard accessories.

Before going to our performance tests, let’s recap the main features of the reviewed board.

Main Specifications

ECS G33T-M2 main features are:

How We Tested

During our benchmarking sessions, we used the configuration listed below. Between our benchmarking sessions the only variable was the motherboard being tested.

Hardware Configuration

Software Configuration

Driver Versions

Used Software

We adopted a 3% error margin; thus, differences below 3% cannot be considered relevant. In other words, products with a performance difference below 3% should be considered as having similar performance.

Overall Performance

We measured the overall performance of this motherboard using SYSmark2004, which is a software that simulates the use of real-world applications. Thus, we consider this the best software to measure, in practical terms, the system performance.

The benchmarks are divided into two groups:

The software delivers specific results for each batch and also an overall performance result, all in a specific SYSmark2004 unit.

We ran this software in two scenarios. First using the motherboard on-board video, comparing its performance to the only other motherboard with on-board video compatible with Core 2 Duo we had available, which was the SiS reference board for the SiS 672FX chipset.

Then we disabled the board on-board video and installed an overclocked GeForce 8800 GTS from MSI to compare it with a MSI P35 Platinum, which is a high-end socket LGA775 motherboard based on Intel P35 chipset. Our idea was to see if this motherboard would achieve the same performance level of a high-end motherboard when we installed a high-end video card on it. Since on ECS G33T-M2 we could set our memories to run only up to 800 MHz, we also set our memories at this clock rate with MSI P35 Platinum, even though we were using DDR2-1066 memories and that this motherboard allows them to run at 1,066 MHz, otherwise we would have an unfair comparison.

ECS G33T-M2

With its on-board video enabled ECS G33T-M2 achieved an overall performance 11.22% higher than SiS 672FX, which is really impressive. Its Internet Content Creation performance was 5.68% higher than SiS 672FX and its Office Productivity performance was 17.26% faster, another impressive result.

When we installed our overclocked GeForce 8800 GTS on the reviewed board it kept the same performance level. Under this scenario it also achieved the same performance level of MSI P35 Platinum with the same video card installed, which means that by installing a “real” video card on this motherboard you will achieve the same performance of a high-end motherboard, at least under the programs simulated by SYSmark2004.

Processing Performance

Using the same methodology of the previous test, we measured processing performance using PCMark05 Professional program. This program gives the results in a specific unit and since it includes video performance on its score, the motherboard with the best video will achieve the best results.

ECS G33T-M2

With its on-board video enabled ECS G33T-M2 achieved an overall performance 40.97% higher than SiS 672FX, which is simply outstanding.

When we installed our overclocked GeForce 8800 GTS on the reviewed board it achieved the same performance level of MSI P35 Platinum with the same video card installed, meaning that by installing a “real” video card on this motherboard you will achieve the same performance of a high-end motherboard.

3D Performance: 3DMark2001 SE

To evaluate G33's 3D performance we installed a very low-end video card on ECS G33T-M2: GeForce 6200 TurboCache with 64 MB and 64-bit interface (from XFX).

We also installed a high-end video card, an overclocked GeForce 8800 GTS from MSI, on it and compared its performance to a high-end motherboard with the same video card installed, MSI P35 Platinum. The goal here was to see if by installing a high-end video card the reviewed board achieved the same performance level of a high-end motherboard.

We ran several programs, as you will see in the next pages. The amount of RAM memory the chipset “steals” from the main RAM memory to be used as video memory was left on the motherboard default value, which was “auto” for the reviewed motherboard.

The first one, 3DMark2001 SE, measures 3D performance by making DirectX 8.1 simulations, and the results you can see below (we ran it using its default configuration). All the listed video cards were installed on ECS G33T-M2.

ECS G33T-M2

On 3DMark2001 SE the on-board video produced by ECS G33T-M2 achieved the same level of GeForce 6200 TurboCache with 64-bit memory interface and 64 MB. This is impressive: this was the first time we’ve seen an on-board video solution achieving the same performance level of a “real” video card. ECS G33T-M2 on-board video was also 346% faster than the one produced by SiS 672FX. This is really amazing.

When we installed our overclocked GeForce 8800 GTS on the reviewed board it achieved the same performance level of MSI P35 Platinum, what is great, as it means that you will achieve the same performance level of a P35-based motherboard by installing a “real” video card on this motherboard.

3D Performance: 3DMark03

We followed the same methodology described in the previous page, but now running 3DMark03. 3DMark03 simulates DirectX 9.0 (i.e., Shader 2.0) games, which is fully supported by both Intel G33 and SiS 672FX chipsets.

You can check the results of our benchmarking below. All the listed video cards were installed on ECS G33T-M2.

ECS G33T-M2

On 3DMark03 the on-board video produced by ECS G33T-M2 was 377% faster than the one produced by SiS 672FX. This is impressive. Here the “worst” video card available on the market, GeForce 6200 TurboCache with 64-bit memory interface and 64 MB, was only 8.34% faster than the on-board video produced by Intel G33. This is really good.

When we installed our overclocked GeForce 8800 GTS on the reviewed board it achieved the same performance level of MSI P35 Platinum, what is great, as it means that you will achieve the same performance level of a P35-based motherboard by installing a “real” video card on this motherboard.

3D Performance: 3DMark05

We again followed the same methodology described previously, but now running 3DMark05. This program measures 3D performance by simulating DirectX 9.0c games, i.e., using Shader 3.0. This programming model is used by the latest games but it isn’t supported by Intel G33 nor by SiS 672FX.

It isn’t fair to use this program to evaluate 3D performance of motherboards with on-board video, as they achieve a very low score on this program. We ran it anyway, basically to see the performance achieved by ECS G33T-M2 using a real video card installed and also to compare it to other motherboards with on-board video.

You can check the results of our benchmarking below. All the listed video cards were installed on ECS G33T-M2.

ECS G33T-M2

Here the on-board video produced by ECS G33T-M2 was 33% faster than the one produced by SiS 672FX. This time the “worst” video card available on the market, GeForce 6200 TurboCache with 64-bit memory interface and 64 MB, was 56.32% faster than the on-board video produced by Intel G33.
 
When we installed our overclocked GeForce 8800 GTS on the reviewed board it achieved the same performance level of MSI P35 Platinum, what is great, as it means that you will achieve the same performance level of a P35-based motherboard by installing a “real” video card on this motherboard.

3D Performance: Quake III

We used the Demo four available on version 1.32 of Quake III to make our benchmarking with this game. We ran this demo three times at 1024x768x32 resolution and all image quality settings on their default configuration and we picked the middle value for our comparisons, i.e., we discarded the highest and the lowest values.

You can check the results of our benchmarking below. All the listed video cards were installed on ECS G33T-M2.

ECS G33T-M2

Here the on-board video produced by ECS G33T-M2 was 314% faster than the one produced by SiS 672FX. This is impressive. This time the “worst” video card available on the market, GeForce 6200 TurboCache with 64-bit memory interface and 64 MB, was only 6.93% faster than the on-board video produced by Intel G33.
 
When we installed our overclocked GeForce 8800 GTS on the reviewed board it achieved the same performance level of MSI P35 Platinum, what is great, as it means that you will achieve the same performance level of a P35-based motherboard by installing a “real” video card on this motherboard.

3D Performance: Quake 4

Quake 4 is very heavy game that uses the same engine of Doom 3. We used the id_demo001 available on version 1.3 of Quake 4 to make our benchmarking with this game. We ran this demo four times at 1024x768x32 resolution and image quality settings on “low”. The results shown on the chart is an arithmetic average of the collected data. The results are in frames per second. For more information on how to use Quake 4 to benchmark a PC, read our tutorial on this subject.

ECS G33T-M2

Here the on-board video produced by ECS G33T-M2 was 365% faster than the one produced by SiS 672FX. This is impressive. This time the “worst” video card available on the market, GeForce 6200 TurboCache with 64-bit memory interface and 64 MB, was 51% faster than the on-board video produced by Intel G33. It is important to note that you won’t be able to play this game with the configurations we set, as the number of frames per second was too low.
 
When we installed our overclocked GeForce 8800 GTS on the reviewed board it achieved the same performance level of MSI P35 Platinum, what is great, as it means that you will achieve the same performance level of a P35-based motherboard by installing a “real” video card on this motherboard.

Overclocking

ECS G33T-M2 has some overclocking and memory timings settings. Here are the options you will find on ECS G33T-M2 (May 31st, 2007 BIOS):

In Figure 5, you can see all memory timings adjustments that this motherboard has.

ECS G33T-M2
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Figure 5: Memory timings adjustments.

This motherboard provides this funny “CPU reference frequency” configuration instead of its external clock rate. This option can be set in 1 MHz steps but since the external clock rate was 2.66 times higher than the reference clock (on our case, where we were using a CPU with 266 MHz external bus – a.k.a. 1,066 MHz), the FSB itself couldn't be increased in 1 MHz steps.

Nevertheless we could set the external clock rate at 314 MHz (reference clock of 118 MHz) with stability. With this overclocking our Core 2 Duo E6700 which normally runs at 2.66 GHz was running internally at 3.14 GHz, a 18% increase over its standard clock rate. Not bad at all for a motherboard with on-board video.

With this overclocking the performance measured by PCMark05 increased 12.8% and the performance measured by Quake III increased 7.4%.

Keep in mind that we could set a higher clock rate but the system wasn’t stable. We only consider an overclocking to be successful after we could run PCMark05 and Quake III at least four times with no crashes.

We missed several overclocking options on this motherboard, especially CPU voltage adjustments and higher memory voltage adjustments – memory modules targeted to overclocking usually work at 2.2 V or 2.3 V and this motherboard does not provide these voltages.

Of course this is asking too much, as this motherboard has integrated video, a class of motherboards that traditionally comes with limited overclocking capability.

Conclusions

The performance of this motherboard is simply unbelievable. We’ve never seen a motherboard with on-board video achieving this level of 3D performance. On older games (DirectX 8.1) the performance was similar to a low-end video card (GeForce 6200 TurboCache with 64-bit memory interface and 64 MB) and on DirectX 9.0 this video card wasn’t a lot faster. We had never seen this happening before. Usually motherboards with on-board video achieve a 3D performance far lower than the “worst” add-on video card available at the market.

Of course if you want to play games you will probably buy at least a mainstream motherboard and an add-on card. But when a “real” video card is installed on this motherboard it achieves the same performance level of a P35-based motherboard, which is impressive.

So you can do a great deal buying this motherboard if you don’t have the money today to buy a motherboard based on Intel P35 chipset plus an add-on video card: you can buy this motherboard and use its on-board video for a while until you have the money to buy a good video card. Like we said, with an add-on card installed the performance of your system will be exactly the same of an Intel P35-based motherboard. For just using Windows Vista’s new 3D interface, Aero, the performance provided by this motherboard is more than enough.

Also, Intel G33 only steals the necessary amount of RAM from the system. If you are just running 2D programs the on-board video will steal only 4 MB from the system RAM (if you are using 1024x768x32), and not 128 MB or 256 MB like other motherboards with integrated graphics, thus providing a higher performance for 2D programs.

Once again we want to congratulate ECS to be finally using solid aluminum and Japanese capacitors on the voltage regulator circuit from this motherboard. The other caps are from Taiwanese vendors, but at least this is a good start for a manufacturer addicted to low-end components.

Having four memory sockets is another great feature, as if you want to add more memory in the future you won’t need to remove your old modules to install new ones; all you will need is to install two more modules on the two empty sockets. We say “two” because this motherboard features dual-channel technology and doesn’t make sense using less than two modules and adding less than two modules in the future.

This motherboard has some flaws, though. The main flaw is the absence of a parallel IDE port. On this motherboard you can’t install an IDE optical drive – e.g., an IDE DVD/CD burner. You will need a SATA drive, which isn’t as common as IDE models.

Secondly, the audio input quality isn’t good enough for today’s standards. This board provides only 85 dB signal-to-noise ratio on its audio input and you need at least 95 dB there. For this reason, avoid this motherboard if you want to build a system to capture and edit analog audio (e.g., converting VHS tapes, cassette tapes, LPs, etc to digital format).

In third place, this motherboard does not have on-board SPDIF connectors and even though the board provides a header for SPDIF, it doesn’t come with an SPDIF bracket, making it hard for users willing to connect their PCs to their home theater receivers. It should either have SPDIF connectors soldered on the motherboard or come with this bracket. On the other hand this motherboard provides full 7.1 analog outputs on its rear panel, allowing you to hook a 7.1 or 5.1 analog speaker system without killing the mic in and line in inputs.

If the flaws listed above aren’t a problem for you, this motherboard is surely the best socket LGA775 motherboard with on-board video around.

Even with its terrific performance, we think the absence of a parallel IDE port is inexcusable, thus we can’t give our Golden Award seal to it, and that is why we are awarding it with our Silver Award.

Originally at http://www.hardwaresecrets.com/article/ECS-G33T-M2-Motherboard-Review/472


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