Let’s have a look on Gigabyte EP45C-DS3R, a mainstream socket LGA775 motherboard for Intel processors, targeted mainly to Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad processors.
This motherboard is based on Intel P45 chipset, which replaced P35 on the mainstream market. Currently the high-end chipset for Intel socket LGA775 processors is X48, while for Core I7 Processors (Socket LGA1366), X58 chipset is the top-of-the-line chipset.
Although not "high-end", this board is equipped with several advanced features such as all Japanese solid aluminum capacitors, ferrite chokes, advanced power management, support front side bus (FSB) up to 1600 MHz (although P45 chipset supports, officially, only up to 1333 MHz) and support for both DDR2 or DDR3 memory modules. It also has some features that clearly differentiate it from value boards, like two Gigabit Ethernet ports, eSATA and RAID support, and others that we will see in detail in the next pages.
It is interesting to know why Gigabyte uses a complex naming system like "EP45C-DS3R" for their motherboards. What seems a complicated name chosen randomly is in fact an internal manufacturer code. The "E" means this board uses Gigabyte’s dynamic energy management architecture. Next, "P45", of course, is the chipset used on the board. The "C" means "combo", i.e., the motherboard is able to use both DDR2 and DDR3 memory (a "T" here means compatibility only with DDR3). After the hyphen, "D" means that all capacitors are solid. "S3" means "smart, save, speed". Other board models from this manufacturer use suffixes "S2" (smart, save) or "S4" (smart, save, speed, SLI). Finally, the "R" identifies this motherboard supports RAID. On some boards there is an "H" that means the presence of an HDMI video output.
Figure 2: Gigabyte EP45C-DSR3 motherboard.
The first thing we noticed about Gigabyte EP45C-DS3R is the presence of two PCI Express x16 2.0 slots. These slots are compatible with ATI CrossFireX. If you have two video cards with NVIDIA chips, you can use them in independent video outputs, but not in SLI mode, not supported by Intel P45 chipset. Note, however, that only one PCI Express X16 slot (the blue one) works at x16 speed, while the other one (orange) is actually a PCI Express x8 slot. The board also has three PCI Express x1 slots and two standard PCI slots. There is no extra power connector for slots.
We can also see in Figure 3 the serial and parallel port connectors. These ports do not exist on the rear panel (see Figure 6), but you can buy connectors in order to use them.
In Figure 4, you can see the memory modules sockets. EP45C-DS3R is capable of running with DDR2 memory up to 1066 MHz or DDR3 modules up to 1600 MHz. Note thtat it is not possible to have the two memory types simultaneously. If the board is powered on with both types of memory modules installed, you can burn them and the motherboard.
Like all current Intel-based motherboards, this motherboard is able to access memory in dual channel configuration. To enable this feature, simply install two (or four) identical modules, in pairs, on sockets with the same color.
Intel P45 chipset supports up to 16 GB of DDR2 memory or 8 GB of DDR3 memory. However, as the EP45C-DS3R has only two sockets for DDR3 memory, it only accepts up to 4 GB of DDR3 memory. If you use DDR2 memory, however, you can install the full 16 GB supported by the chipset.
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Gigabyte EP45C-DS3R uses Intel ICH10R south bridge chip, which supports six SATA-300 ports with RAID 0, 1, 10 and 5. You can still transform one of these into an eSATA port, using an adapter that comes with the board (see next page). Another advantage of this motherboard is the presence of an ATA-133 port controlled by a JMicron JMB368 chip, as Intel P45 chipset does not offer one.
This motherboard has two Gigabit Ethernet ports controlled by two Realtek RTL8111D chips, which are connected to the system using PCI Express lanes and therefore are able to achieve its maximum performance.
The audio section of the motherboard is 7.1, produced by south bridge chip with the aid of a Realtek ALC889A codec, one of the best available, with a signal/noise ratio of 108 dB for analog outputs and 104 dB at its analog inputs. The motherboard provides independent analog audio outputs in 7.1 format, which is excellent. It also has coaxial and optical SPDIF outputs on rear panel.
This board offers 12 USB 2.0 ports, eight of them soldered on the rear panel. By the way, ICH10 chip has a feature called “USB Port Disable” that allows you to disable individual USB ports. This is a very interesting feature to have on PCs that are used by several different people to prevent users from installing USB devices (for example, an external hard drive or a USB drive, which can contain viruses and also to prevent people from copying data).
This motherboard has three FireWire (IEEE1394) ports controlled by a Texas Instruments TSB43AB23 chip, two soldered on the rear panel and one available via external adapters or ports on the front panel of the computer case.
In Figure 6, you can see the rear panel of the motherboard: PS/2 keyboard and mouse connectors, eight USB 2.0 ports, SPDIF coaxial and optical outputs, two FireWire ports, two Gigabit Ethernet ports and independent 7.1 analog audio outputs.
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Gigabyte EP45C-DS3R comes with other important features. As previously mentioned, all electrolytic capacitors used on this motherboard are solid from a Japanese manufacturer, which avoids the infamous leakage problem. The CPU voltage regulator circuit is equipped with ferrite chokes, which offer 25% less energy loss compared to iron shokes, and MOSFET transistors with low RDS(on) (low current leakage), that consume less energy and generate less heat. Furthermore, this circuit uses a six-phase design, which generates less heat, has greater life
-span and offers a cleaner voltage to the processor than "common" regulators that use three phases. For a better understanding of the importance of such design, read our Everything You Need to Know About the Motherboard Voltage Regulator Circuit tutorial.
The set of accessories that comes with this motherboard is relatively simple: in addition to the manual, installation guide, driver CD, SATA, IDE and floppy cables, rear plate and a pair of stickers, the only thing that really drew our attention was an adapter that lets you transform a regular SATA port into an eSATA and a set of cables that allows you to connect a SATA hard disk on your computer without opening the case.
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Gigabyte EP45C-DS3R main features are:
- Socket: 775.
- Chipset: Intel P45 with ICH10R southbridge.
- Super I/O: ITE IT8718.
- Clock generator: ICS 9LPRS914EKLF.
- Parallel IDE: One ATA-133 port controlled by a JMicron JMB368 chip.
- Serial IDE: Six SATA-300 ports, controlled by ICH10R southbridge, supporting RAID 0, 1, 0+1 and 5.
- USB: 12 USB 2.0 ports (eight soldered on rear panel and four available as internal headers).
- FireWire (IEEE 1394a): Three ports controlled by a Texas Instrument TSB43AB23 chip, two soldered on rear panel and one available as an internal header.
- On-board audio: Produced by the chipset with the aid of a Realtek ALC889A codec (ten channel, 24-bit resolution, up to 192 kHz sampling rate for both the inputs and outputs, 104 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog inputs and 108 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog outputs). On-board coaxial and optical SPDIF outputs.
- On-board video: No.
- On-board LAN: Two Gigabit Ethernet ports controlled by two Realtek RTL8111D chips, which are connected to the system through PCI Express lanes.
- Buzzer: No.
- Power supply required: EPS12V or ATX12V.
- Slots: One PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot, one PCI Express x8 (compatible with x16 video boards, supporting CrossfireX), three PCI Express x1 and two standard PCI slots.
- Memory: Four DDR2-DIMM sockets (up to 16 GB of DDR2-1066/PC2-8500) and two DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to 4GB of DDR3-1600/PC3-12800).
- Number of CDs/DVDs provided: one drivers/utilities CD.
- Extra features: Japanese aluminum solid capacitors, 6-phase voltage regulator circuit with ferrite chokes and low RDS(on) transistors, dual BIOS.
- More information: https://www.gigabyte.com.tw.
- Average price in the US*: USD 133.00
* Researched at Shopping.com on the day we published this First Look article.
Gigabyte positions EP45C-DS3R as a mainstream motherboard, targeted to Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad processors. But what is the criterion used to differentiate a mainstream motherboard from a high-end one?
Initially, the chipset. Its manufacturer (in this case, Intel) classifies the chipsets as performance, mainstream or value. In many cases this classification changes with new releases. P45 chipset was considered a "performance" one, but with the introduction of X38 and X48, it was downgraded to "mainstream". But that does not mean that its performance has dropped, of course.
Another characteristic that generally classifies a motherboard as high-end is the presence of fancy cooling features, which sometimes have more aesthetic value than real high-performance cooling capability. In this aspect, EP45C-DS3R is not a high-end model. Ditto for accessories, as many motherboards are classified as high-end merely because of special boxes, extra displays or other fancy accessories that only increase the price of the product for the end user.
However, another high-end characteristic is the presence of high quality components, especially the electrical ones (capacitors, chokes, MOSFET transistors) and the auxiliary chips (audio codec, south bridge with resources like RAID, firewire ports, etc). In this matter EP45C-DS3R can be easily compared to the best motherboards available.
Thus, although not officially classified as "high-end", Gigabyte EP45C-DS3R is full of features that will satisfy the needs of almost any user. These features, however, come with a price: this motherboard comes with a price tag more than twice higher the one from value motherboards. It, however, cost less than half the price of a "real" high-end board.
So, if you need a resourceful motherboard providing an excellent performance and you can pay a little more than the price of a value motherboard but don’ t want to sell a kidney to buy a high-end product, EP45C-DS3R is an excellent option.
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