GigaByte GA-965P-DS3: Core 2 Motherboard for Everyone

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TEST SETUP

  • Intel Core 2 Duo E4400 - 2.0Ghz (200Mhz x 10), 800FSB, 2MB L2 cache, 1.325V
  • Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 Rev. 3.3 - F11 BIOS
  • 2x1GB Patriot Signature PC2-6400
  • ATI Radeon X300 128MB
  • eVGA Geforce 7950GT 256MB - Cooled with a Zalman VF900-CU modified with a Coolermaster 80mm ST2 undervolted to 5V
  • Western Digital WD3200AAKS
  • Western Digital WD5000AAKS
  • Pioneer DVR-212D DVD Writer
  • BenQ DW1650 DVD Writer
  • nGear Internal USB Card Reader
  • Enhance ENP-5150GH 500W Power Supply
  • Antec P160 Case
  • Thermalright Ultra-120 Extreme - Cooled with a Coolermaster 120mm SI2 undervolted to 5V
  • 2 x Yate Loon DS12L-12 - One intake, one exhaust, both undervolted to 5V
  • Windows XP Professional SP2

OVERCLOCKING & UNDERCLOCKING

Overclocking is generally not a major issue at SPCR, but since modern CPUs are becoming increasingly power efficient, it's quite feasible to overclock a fairly quiet system.  The DS3, with its plethora of BIOS options, is obviously built with this in mind.  The board is an excellent FSB overclocker, topping the sample CPU at +510Mhz with a small voltage boost to the northbridge.  Extra voltage and cooling did not help raise this frequency any higher.  With the right cooling and memory you should be able to overclock to the limits of your CPU. Keeping it silent at that OC speed however is a whole other matter.  As for underclocking, the minimum multiplier available on Intel processors is 6.  Combined with the lowest CPU frequency available (100Mhz), the clock speed can be dropped all the way down to 600Mhz if you dare... or so desire.

UNDERVOLTING

Core 2 processors support Enhanced Intel SpeedStep Technology (EIST) which automatically drops the multiplier and CPU voltage to reduce power consumption when CPU activity is low.  EIST on the DS3 dropped the multiplier of our E4400 processor from 10 down to 6 and the core voltage from 1.325V to approximately 1.200V.  Some guess-work was needed to arrive at this number since CPU-Z consistantly reported CPU voltage approximately 0.025-0.030V lower than set in the BIOS, and EasyTune did the same to a lesser degree.  An important note about CPU voltage: If you select a non-default voltage, EIST will no longer lower CPU voltage; if you select a custom voltage, you are stuck with it. 

Since 1.20V was not much lower than stock we decided to undervolt the E4400 manually to see if power consumption could be lowered further.  At the E4400's stock speed of 2.0Ghz, 1.03125V was the lowest voltage in the BIOS we could select while keeping the system stable.  We used the default multiplier of 10 during power testing to ensure the largest drop in frequency when EIST kicked in.

POWER CONSUMPTION TEST RESULTS
CPU + Video Card EIST Status Idle (AC) Load (AC)
E4400 @ 2.8Ghz + 7950GT Disabled 106W 144W
E4400 @ 2.8Ghz + 7950GT Enabled 102W 144W
E4400 @ 2.8Ghz + X300 Disabled 89W 127W
E4400 @ 2.8Ghz + X300 Enabled 86W 127W
E4400 @ 2.0Ghz + X300 Disabled 77W 107W
E4400 @ 2.0Ghz + X300 Enabled 73W 107W
E4400 @ 2.0Ghz + X300* Disabled 72W 92W
E4400 @ 2.0Ghz + X300* Enabled 72W 92W

* Processor Voltage lowered from 1.32500V to 1.03125V in the BIOS

- Idle and load AC power were measured with an UPM EM100 Energy Meter
- The load test used was Orthos using the Small FFTs setting
- The Enhance ENP-5150GH PSU is identical to the Silverstone ST50EF-PLUS, which Enhance manufactures. Efficiency for the ST50EF-PLUS is 78% at 66W DC, 80% at 89W DC, and 83% at 148W DC.

EIST only reduced idle power usage by 3-4W at stock speed and when overclocked.  With EIST enabled and the CPU undervolted, the voltage did not change, but the multiplier dropped to 6 when idle, resulting in a clock speed of 1.2Ghz.  Even with this 800Mhz drop in core speed, there were no measurable energy savings.  It seems voltage is key when it comes to C2D power consumption.  

With an overclocked E4400 and a Geforce 7950GT video card, idle power was just above 100W.  Underclocking the video card when idle saved an additional 5W, making this a formidable gaming setup for under 100W idle.  

At the opposite end of the spectrum, at stock speed, undervolted, with the low power Radeon X300, power consumption dipped to almost 70W idle and less than 100W on load.  

The test setup included two hard drives and two optical drives as we wanted to duplicate a standard ATX system. Unplugging one hard drive and one optical drive lowered power consumption by an another 14W, for 58W idle. S3 Standby came in at 9W while 8W was drawn during hibernation and also when the system was powered down.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Using the DS3 was an overall enjoyable experience. It was rock solid stable no matter what we threw at it despite the flawed northbridge cooler and the lack of VRM cooling.  So who should buy this motherboard?  Unless you want dual video cards for Crossfire/SLI or a large software RAID array (which is of dubious value), pretty much anyone. Whether you want superb overclocking, flexible underclocking/undervolting, customizable fan control (through EasyTune/Speedfan), or just plain stability, there's very little this board can't do.  The Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 Rev. 3.3 earns a blanket recommendation for mainstream users and enthusiasts alike. And while it is a product that is getting somewhat long in the tooth by today's absurdly accelerated lifecycle for motherboards, it still offers surprising  value; few if any ATX boards in its price range can claim to offer more functionality.

PROS

* Overclocks, underclocks, and undervolts well
* Solid-state capacitors
* 6 SATA ports
* Good fan control with EasyTune/Speedfan
* Passive chipset cooling
* BIOS redundancy
* Low price point

CONS

* No VRM cooling
* No Firewire



HEATSINK UPGRADES

After the testing, I decided to upgrade the cooling on the chipsets with Thermalright HR-05 and HR-05-SL tower coolers, creating a small aluminum condominium park if you will. It was purely a peace of mind move; since I had no really no good way of measuring the temperature of either chip, it's difficult to say whether the improved cooling was worthwhile. The mounting holes on the southbridge were too close together for the  HR-05-SLI, so thermal adhesive was used. Oops, there goes the warranty.



Condo Park South

Condo Park West

Our thanks to Gigabyte for this motherboard sample.

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The author's "reader reviews" in the SPCR forums:

Biostar TF7025-M2: Biostar Raises the Bar
Biostar TA690G: mATX Overclocking Gem

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Discuss this review in the SPCR forums.



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