Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 Motherboard Review
By Gabriel Torres on December 13, 2006


Introduction

Hardware Secrets Silver Award

Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 is a socket LGA775 motherboard targeted to new Core 2 Duo family, as it is based on the new Intel P965 chipset. One of the main advantages of this new chipset is the unofficial support for DDR2-1066/PC2-8500 memories, feature present on this motherboard from Gigabyte. Let’s see how this new Gigabyte motherboard performed against competitors from ASUS and MSI.

Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 Motherboard
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Figure 1: Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 motherboard.

As you can see on the sticker that comes attached to the motherboard slots, Gigabyte used only aluminum solid electrolytic capacitors on this motherboard. This kind of capacitor provides a higher life span and also is immune to the infamous leakage problem.

Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 Motherboard
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Figure 2: Aluminum solid electrolytic capacitors.

This motherboard uses a passive cooling solution on its chipset and does not use any cooling solution on its voltage regulator transistors, as you can see in Figure 2.

This motherboard provides one x16 PCI Express slot, three x1 PCI Express slots and three standard PCI slots.

On the memory side, Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 has four DDR2-DIMM sockets, supporting up to 8 GB officially up to DDR2-800, however this motherboard supports DDR2-1066/PC2-8500 memories (we installed four DDR2-1066 modules and they worked just fine at 1,066 MHz). On this motherboard sockets 1 and 3 are yellow and sockets 2 and 4 are red. Configuring DDR2 dual channel on this motherboard is pretty easy: just install each module on a socket with the same color.

This motherboard has 10 USB 2.0 ports (four soldered on the motherboard and six available through I/O brackets, that didn’t come with the motherboard).

On the storage side, this motherboard has a total of six SATA-300 ports, four provided by the south bridge (ICH8) and two provided by a “Gigabyte SATA2” chip, which is a relabeled JMicron JMB363 chip (see Figure 3). The ports controlled by the chipset do not support RAID, as the south bridge used is ICH8 and not ICH8R, however the two ports controlled by the JMicron chip supports RAID0, RAID1 and JBOD.

Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 Motherboard
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Figure 3: SATA ports.

It is very important to notice that the single ATA/133 port available on this motherboard is controlled by the JMicron chip, not by the chipset. This means that if you still have a parallel IDE optical drive it will only be recognized on Windows after you install the “Gigabyte SATA2” driver. The problem is that this driver comes on the motherboard CD-ROM, and you won’t be able to install it, as the system does not recognize your optical drive. You can download the driver from the net, however the driver for the on-board LAN port is also on the CD-ROM… The only option you have is to copy the JMicron driver from the CD to a floppy disk or a USB pen drive using another PC. This problem happens not only with this motherboard from Gigabyte, but also with all other motherboards based on Intel P965 chipset we’ve seen to date. Of course if you have a SATA optical drive you won't face this issue.

This motherboard has one Gigabit Ethernet port, controlled by the south bridge using a Marvell 88E8053 to make the physical layer interface.

The audio section from this motherboard provides 7.1 audio, produced by the south bridge chip with the aid of a Realtek ALC883 codec. This codec provides a low (for today’s standards) signal-to-noise ratio for its inputs – only 85 dB. So it is not advisable to use this motherboard for professional audio capturing and editing (the minimum recommended for this application is 95 dB), unless you install a professional add-on audio card on it. Also the maximum sampling rate for its inputs is of 96 kHz, while its outputs supports up to 192 kHz. The signal-to-noise ratio for its output is of 95 dB.

On the rear panel (Figure 4) you can find the Gigabit Ethernet port, four USB 2.0 ports, separated analog audio inputs/outputs (7.1 format), SPDIF coaxial and optical outputs, plus one serial port, one parallel port, PS/2 mouse and PS/2 keyboard connectors.

Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 Motherboard
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Figure 4: Motherboard rear connectors.

This motherboard comes with just one CD, containing its drivers and utilities.

Main Specifications

Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 main features are:

* Researched at Shopping.com on the day we published this review.

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 program 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 compared the reviewed board to MSI P965 Platinum, ASUS P5B, Intel D975XBX and Intel D975XBX2. These two motherboards from Intel are based on Intel 975X chipset, while the other boards are based on Intel P965. Since we were using DDR2-1066/PC2-8500 memories, we ran all programs under two scenarios. First with the memory configured at 1,066 MHz when the motherboard supported this speed and then with the memory configured at 800 MHz.

You can see the results on the charts below.

P965 Motherboards

All motherboards based on Intel P965 chipset achieved a similar performance on SYSmark2004 overall score. Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 was 3.67% faster than Intel D975XBX and Intel D975XBX2 motherboards. The use of DDR2-1066 instead of DDR2-800 made no difference here.

P965 Motherboards

On Internet Content Creation all motherboards based on Intel P965 chipset achieved a similar performance as well. Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 was 4.53% faster than Intel D975XBX and Intel D975XBX2 motherboards. The use of DDR2-1066 instead of DDR2-800 also made no difference here.

P965 Motherboards

On Office Productivity we saw a little performance difference between MSI P965 Platinum and Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 when we used DDR2-1066 memories: MSI’s motherboard was 3.06% faster. When we configured our memories to run at 800 MHz, however, all motherboards achieved the same performance level, and the reviewed motherboard achieved the same performance level as ASUS P5B under all scenarios. The reviewed board from Gigabyte was faster than the two motherboards from Intel only when our memories were running at 1,066 MHz (3.14%).

Processing Performance

We measured processing performance using PCMark05 Professional program. PCMark05 Professional measures the system performance by running several tests. The System batch, which was the one we used, performs the following tests: HDD XP Startup, Physics and 3D, 2D Transparent Window, 3D Pixel Shader, Web Page Rendering, File Decryption, 2D Graphics Memory – 64 lines, HDD General Usage and three multithreading tests. The results are given in a PCMark05 specific unit.

P965 Motherboards

All motherboards based on Intel P965 chipset achieved a similar performance on PCMark05 System batch. Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 was 3.62% faster than Intel D975XBX2 and 3.91% faster than Intel D975XBX when our memories were configured to run at 800 MHz, and 4.39% faster than Intel D975XBX2 and 4.68% faster than Intel D975XBX when our memories were configured to run at 1,066 MHz (on Intel motherboards the memories were always running at 800 MHz; it is also important to note that Intel 975X chipset does not officially support DDR2-800).

3D Performance: Quake 4

We upgraded Quake 4 to version 1.3 and ran its multiplayer demo id_demo001 at 1024x768x32 with image quality settings configured at “low” four times. The first result was always discarded, and from the other three values, we discarded the highest and the lowest score, i.e., we used the middle value for our comparison. You can see the results below.

P965 Motherboards

Here is where we could see some performance difference between the reviewed motherboards. When we configure our memory to run at 1,066 MHz, MSI P965 Platinum was 4.83% faster and ASUS P5B was 4.44% faster than Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3. When we configured our memory to run at 800 MHz, these three motherboards achieved the same performance level.

Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 was 6.27% faster than Intel D975XBX2 and 15.36% faster than Intel D975XBX when our memories were running at 800 MHz and 6.71% faster than Intel D975XBX2 and 15.83% faster than Intel D975XBX when our memories were running at 1,066 MHz (on Intel motherboards the memories were always running at 800 MHz; it is also important to note that Intel 975X chipset does not officially support DDR2-800).

Overclocking

Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 provides many overclocking options, including dynamic overclocking, which is called C.I.A. 2 by Gigabyte, and can be set in five different levels: Cruise, Sports, Racing, Turbo and Full Thrust. During our review we disabled dynamic overclocking.

On Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 (F7 BIOS) you will find the following overclocking options:

Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 Motherboard
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Figure 5: Overclocking options on Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 (F7 BIOS).

The PCI Express clock configuration is very important, as you can lock the PCI Express clock at a given value (100 MHz, for example). Usually when you increase the FSB clock you will automatically increase the PCI Express clock as well, and sometimes your overclocking will be limited not by the CPU but by the devices connected to the PCI Express bus. Thus with this option you can increase the probability of setting a higher overclocking.

We could only one feature missing: a separated clock configuration for the x16 PCI Express slot. But we think that the features present will satisfy almost all users. Of course if you want even more overclocking options, you will need to buy a high-end motherboard.

A very obscure thing about this motherboard is that to adjust memory timings you need to press Control F1 at the setup main menu. Only after doing this memory timings options will be available on the same screen shown in Figure 5.

With this motherboard we could increase the FSB clock of our Core 2 Duo E6700 from 266 MHz to 308 MHz and the system worked just fine. We locked the PCI Express bus at 100 MHz and configured the memory as DDR2-800 in order to keep them under their specs.

The overclocking we achieved represents a 15.79% increase on the CPU internal clock, making our 2.66 GHz Core 2 Duo E6700 to run at 3.08 GHz. The performance measured by PCMark05 increased 8% and the performance measured by Quake 4 increased 3.87% with this overclocking.

Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 Motherboard
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Figure 6: Our 2.66 GHz Core 2 Duo E6700 running at 3.08 GHz (308 MHz x 10) on Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3.

This was a better overclocking than the one we achieved with MSI P965 Platinum (306 MHz) but worse than the one we could achieve with ASUS P5B (316 MHz).

It is very important to keep in mind that our overclocking is limited by the overclocking capability of the CPU we used, a Core 2 Duo E6700. Also, the CPU overclocking capability is not only defined by the CPU model, but also by its production batch. You may achieve better results with different CPUs and even with the same CPU model but from a different batch.

We didn’t play with voltage adjustments or any other fancy adjustments, so you may achieve a better overclocking than we did with more time and patience.

Conclusions

Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 is a good choice for the mainstream user building a Core 2 Duo-based system willing to achieve the best performance at the lowest price point possible. In other words, this motherboard is targeted to users that want a high-end performance but don’t want to spend a lot of money on a high-end motherboard.

This motherboard is faster than boards based on Intel 975X chipset, which is great. It also supports DDR2-1066/PC2-8500 memories and has a good overclocking potential for its market segment, features that will surely attract users wanting to pump the maximum performance possible from their systems.

It also features SPDIF optical and coaxial outputs, allowing you to connect its on-board audio to digital speakers or to your home theater receiver. Keep in mind that this motherboard has a low (for today’s standards) signal-to-noise ratio on its audio inputs (85 dB), so this board isn’t a good choice if you want to capture analog audio and edit it on your PC professionally (for this task we recommend a minimum 95 dB SNR ADC, i.e., for the inputs).

It also comes with aluminum solid electrolytic capacitors, which will prevent you from suffering from the infamous capacitor leakage problem.

Its direct competitor is ASUS P5B, which has exactly the same features, but Gigabyte model can be found a little bit cheaper – however we could achieve a higher overclocking with P5B.

The problem, however, is that MSI P965 Platinum has more features and costs the same thing as this motherboard from Gigabyte (even worse, you can get a USD 15 mail-in rebate at Newegg.com and this board from MSI will cost you only USD 120). MSI P965 Platinum uses ICH8R chip instead of the plain ICH8 used by Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 and ASUS P5B, supporting six SATA-300 ports with RAID0, 1, 10 and 5, plus one extra SATA-300 port. It also has FireWire ports and a second x16 PCI Express slot (working at x4 though), allowing you to connect a second video card for attaching three or four video monitors to your system or even to increase the 3D performance, as it supports CrossFire technology.

Even though Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 is a good product, MSI P965 Platinum offers a better cost/benefit ratio, as it provides more features for the same price. That is the only reason we are giving this motherboard our Silver award instead of our Golden award.

Originally at http://www.hardwaresecrets.com/article/Gigabyte-GA-965P-DS3-Motherboard-Review/406


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