GA-M59SLI-S5 is the most high-end socket AM2 motherboard from Gigabyte based on the new NVIDIA nForce 590 SLI chipset and targeted to the new Athlon 64 CPUs supporting DDR2 memory. It features three PCI Express x16 slots (although the third one works only at 8x speed) and a copper heat-pipe cooler to cool down the chipset and the voltage regulator transistors. Let’s see how this new motherboard from Gigabyte performs.
Two things immediately caught our attention when looking this motherboard for the first time. The first one was its passive cooling solution, using copper heatsinks with heatpipes to cool down its north bridge, south bridge and MOSFET transistors. It is impossible not to think that Gigabyte copied this idea from ASUS, as ASUS was the first manufacturer to launch this kind of solution some time ago. This also makes ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe the main competitor to GA-M59SLI-S5, as both feature this same design.
The problem, in our opinion, is that this system produces a lot of heat. The whole idea behind passive coolers is to create a noiseless solution, the side effect, however, is that this solution increases the PC internal temperature.
On the other hand, this motherboard features three PCI Express x16 slots, feature not available on ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe. The third one works at x8 speed, as mentioned before, and only exists if you want to have more than four independent displays attached to your system. As nowadays each video card has two independent video outputs, with three video cards you can have up to six independent displays connected to your PC. It is also important to note that this third PCI Express slot isn’t SLI and should be used only to increase the number of independent displays attached to your system, as by installing a third card won’t improve your gaming performance.
The two main (blue) PCI Express x16 slots truly run at x16 and this motherboard also has two x1 PCI Express slots and two regular PCI slots.
[nextpage title=”More Features”]
Another unique feature provided by this motherboard is its dual BIOS feature, a Gigabyte trademark for their high-end motherboards. With this feature if the motherboard main BIOS is corrupted by a bad BIOS upgrade or by a CIH/Chernobyl virus attack you can still turn on your PC and correct the problem, as you will be able to boot up the system through its backup BIOS.
On the storage side, this motherboard has a lot of HDD ports. The south bridge used by nForce 590 SLI brings one ATA-133 port and six SATA-300 ports, supporting NCQ, RAID0, RAID1, RAID0+1, RAID5 and JBOD. The additional “Gigabyte SATA 2” chip (which is actually a Jmicron JMB363) brings two extra SATA-300 ports, supporting NCQ, RAID (0, 1 and JBOD) and Port Multiplier. To use Port Multiplier, you will need to use an adapter bracket that comes with this motherboard, as port multiplier uses a different connector. This bracket is shown in Figure 9 and, as you can see, it also provides one standard peripheral power connector, but the motherboard comes with an adapter if you want to transform this plug into a Serial ATA power plug. Also, even though the bracket has two port multiplier ports, the motherboard comes only with only one port multiplier cable.
Port multiplier is a technology targeted to external hard disk drives, allowing you to connect up to 15 Serial ATA hard disk drives to a single SATA-300 port. In order to use more than one SATA HDDs on this port you need an external port multiplier bridge, which is an external device sold separately. The hard disks are connected to this device, while this device is connected to this port multiplier port, which, in turn, is internally connected to one of the SATA ports controlled by the “Gigabyte SATA 2” chip on the motherboard. Read our Everything You Need to Know About Serial ATA tutorial to learn more about port multiplier. It is sad to see how the motherboard manual fails to mention this feature.
In Figure 8 you can also see a Texas Instruments TSB43AB23A chip, which provides three FireWire (IEEE1394) ports. One of them, miniature-sized, is soldered directly on the motherboard, while the other two are available through I/O brackets that unfortunately don’t come with the motherboard. This motherboard also provides ten USB 2.0 ports but only four of them are soldered on the motherboard and it doesn’t come with I/O brackets for using the other ports.
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On the audio section a Realtek ALC888DD codec is used, which provides an impressive 97 dB output signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), a 90 dB input signal-to-noise ratio, eight audio channels (7.1 format) and SPDIF input/output using up to 192 kHz sampling rate. This motherboard provides an optical SPDIF output soldered on it. For using SPDIF input, an I/O bracket is necessary, which doesn’t come with the board. This codec also features two independent audio channels for audio streamming, available on the audio front panel header. This codec is compatible with Dolby Digital Live and DTS Connect standards.
This motherboard has two Gigabit Ethernet ports, both controlled by the south bridge using two Marvell 88E1116 to make the physical layer interface.
On the memory side, GA-M59SLI-S5 has four DDR2-DIMM sockets, supporting up 16 GB up to DDR2-800. On this motherboard sockets 1 and 2 are yellow and sockets 3 and 4 are red. To use DDR2 dual channel mode just install each module on sockets with the same color.
This motherboard provides an eight-pin EPS12V connector however you can still use a regular 4-pin ATX12V connector on it, as the other four pins of this connectors come closed with a plastic cover, see Figure 11. If your power supply has an EPS12V connector, prefer using it instead of ATX12V.
This motherboard also has an extra 12V power connector using a regular peripheral power plug. Gigabyte does not explain when this extra connector should be used, they only say “depending on your system requirements”. We recommend you using it.
In Figure 12 you can also see a TPM (Trusted Platform Module) connector, which is an optional microcontroller that stores keys, passwords and digital certificates. Click here for more information on this subject.In Figure 13, you can see the SLI bridge and a retainer that must be used to hold the SLI bridge to the case and in Figure 14 you can see all other cables that come with this motherboard.
This motherboard is RoHS-compatible, meaning that no lead was used on its soldering.
Gigabyte also provides this same motherboard without its fancy features. Called GA-M59SLI-S4 it lacks the copper passive heatsink with heat-pipes, the dual BIOS, the two extra SATA-300 ports with port multiplier, the TPM connector, the EPS12V connector, it has only one Gigabit LAN and also the audio codec used is a Realtek ALC883 instead of a Realtek ALC888DD.
The motherboard CD-ROM comes with Norton Internet Security and motherboard drivers and utilities.
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Gigabyte GA-M59SLI-S5 main features are:
- Socket: AM2.
- Chipset: NVIDIA nForce 590 SLI.
Super I/O: ITE IT8716F.
- Parallel IDE: One ATA-133 port controlled by the chipset.
- Serial IDE: Six SATA-300 ports controlled by the chipset (NCQ, RAID0, RAID1, RAID0+1, RAID5 and JBOD) and two SATA-300 ports controlled by “Gigabyte SATA 2” chip – actually a Jmicron JMB363 (NCQ, RAID 0, 1 and JBOD and Port Multiplier).
- USB: 10 USB 2.0 ports (four soldered on the motherboard and six available through I/O brackets that don’t come with the motherboard).
- FireWire (IEEE 1394a): Three ports controlled by Texas Instruments TSB43AB23A chip, one miniature connector soldered on the motherboard and two available through an I/O bracket that don’t come with the motherboard.
- On-board audio: Produced by the chipset together with Realtek ALC888DD codec (eight channels, 97 dB output signal-to-noise ratio and 90 dB input signal-to-noise ratio) with optical SPDIF output soldered on the motherboard.
- On-board video: No.
- On-board LAN: Yes, two Gigabit Ethernet controlled by the chipset together with two Marvel 88E1116 chips.
- Buzzer: No.
- Power supply: ATX12V v2.x (24-pin).
- Slots: Three x16 PCI Express slots (one of them working at x8 rate and two SLI x16), two x1 PCI Express slots and two PCI slots.
- Memory: Four DDR-DIMM sockets (up to 16 GB up to DDR2-800/PC2-6400).
- Number of CDs that come with this motherboard: 1 CD.
- Programs included: Norton Internet Security, drivers and utilities.
- Extra features: Passive copper heatsinks with heat-pipes, TPM connector and dual BIOS.
- More Information: https://www.gigabyte.com.tw.
- Average price in the US*: USD 190.00
* Researched at Shopping.com on the day we published this review.
[nextpage title=”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.
- BIOS version: F4.
- Processor: Athlon 64 X2 5000+ (2.6 GHz) with 512 KB L2 cache.
- Cooler: AMD.
- Memory: Two Corsair PC8500 CM2X512-8500 modules with 512 MB each, installed under DDR2 dual channel configuration (5-5-5-15 timings).
- Hard Drive: Maxtor DiamondMax 9 Plus (40 GB, ATA-133).
- Video Card: XFX GeForce 7800 GTX.
- Video resolution: 1024x768x32@85Hz.
- Power Supply: Antec Neo HE 550.
- Windows XP Professional installed using NTFS
- Service Pack 2
- DirectX 9.0c
- NVIDIA video driver version : 84.21
- All motherboard drivers
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.
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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:
- Internet Content Creation: Simulates the authoring of a website containing text, images, videos and animations. The following programs are used: Adobe After Effects 5.5, Adobe Photoshop 7.01, Adobe Premiere 6.5, Discreet 3ds Max 5.1, Macromedia Dreamweaver MX, Macromedia Flash MX, Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9, McAfee VirusScan 7.0 and Winzip 8.1.
- Office Productivity: Simulates the use of an office suite, i.e., simulates sending e-mails, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, etc. The following programs are used: Adobe Acrobat 5.05, Microsoft Office XP SP2, Internet Explorer 6.0 SP1, NaturallySpeaking 6, McAfee VirusScan 7.0 and Winzip 8.1.
The software delivers specific results for each batch and also an overall performance result, all in a specific SYSmark2004 unit.
Since socket AM2 was just released, we got only two other socket AM2 motherboards for comparison, ECS KA3 MVP Extreme and ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe. You can see the results on the graph below.
The only performance difference was on Internet Content Creation, where Gigabyte GA-M59SLI-S5 was 4.21% faster than ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe. On other bathes all motherboards achieved the same performance level.
[nextpage title=”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.
In this program all motherboards achieved the same performance level.
[nextpage title=”3D Performance: Quake III”]
You may be asking why we are using Quake III, an old game, to evaluate motherboard performance. When we have a high-end video card installed, like was our case, newer 3D benchmarking software measures only the video card performance, and other components – the motherboard, in particular – don’t affect much the measurement taken by these programs. Since we were willing to measure the performance impact the motherboard would have on the system, such programs wouldn’t fit our needs.
Quake III, on the other hand, is very sensitive to any changes on the hardware configuration. So we decided to use this program instead of newer ones.
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.
Check the results below.
Here Gigabyte achieved a performance similar to the other two motherboards included in our comparison.
On Gigabyte GA-M59SLI-S5 (F4 BIOS) you will find the following overclocking options:
- Base clock (HTT clock): Can be adjusted from 100 to 500 MHz in 2 MHz steps.
- PCI Express clock: Can be adjusted as auto or 100 MHz to 200 MHz in 1 MHz steps. This motherboard has separated adjustments for the two x16 SLI PCI Express slots (“NB_PCIE Clock”) and the other PCI Express slots (“SB_PCIE Clock”).
- HyperTransport clock (“NB<->SB Clock”): Can be adjusted from 200 to 500 MHz, from 200 MHz to 210 MHz in 0,5 MHz steps, from 210 MHz to 230 MHz in 1 MHz steps and above that in 2 MHz steps.
- CPU voltage: from 0.8000 V to 1.5500 V in 0.0025 V steps.
- Memory voltage: Normal, +0.1 V to +0.7 V.
- PCI Express voltage: Normal, +0.1 V, +0.2 V and +0.3 V. This motherboard has separated adjustments for the two x16 SLI PCI Express slots (“NB/PCI-E V”) and the other PCI Express slots (“SB/PCI-E V”).
- CPU to HyperTransport link voltage: Normal, +0.1 V, +0.2 V and +0.3 V.
- HyperTransport voltage: Normal, +0.1 V, +0.2 V and +0.3 V.
- HyperTransport Multipliers (see Figure 16).
- Memory timings (see Figure 17).
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 CPU base clock (HTT 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. And this motherboard provides separated clock and voltage configurations for the PCI Express bus connected to the north bridge chip (i.e., the main SLI PCI Express x16 slot) and to the south bridge chip (i.e., all other PCI Express connections, including the second x16 PCI Express slot).
With this motherboard we increased the base clock of our CPU from 200 MHz to 220 MHz and the system worked just fine. We increased the processor voltage to 1.400 V and locked the PCI Express busses at 100 MHz and the HyperTransport bus at 200 MHz but we couldn’t reach a stable overclocking above 220 MHz (we only consider an overclocking successful if we can run PCMark 05 and Quake III three times without facing any problems).
The overclocking we achieved represents a 10% increase on the CPU internal clock, making our 2.6 GHz Athlon 64 X2 5000+ to run at 2.86 GHz. The performance measured by PCMark05 increased 6.91% with this overclocking.
On the other two socket AM2 motherboard we reviewed – ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe and ECS KA3 MVP Extreme – we were able to go up to 221 MHz, not so different from what we got with this Gigabyte model.
Traditionally there is almost no performance difference between motherboards targeted to Athlon 64 CPUs, since processor based on AMD64 architecture have an embedded memory controller, so the chipset doesn’t play any drastic role on performance. Because of this the decision on what socket AM2 motherboard one should buy must be based on extra features, price and overclocking capability.
GA-M59SLI-S5 is the most high-end socket AM2 motherboard from Gigabyte and competes directly with ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe, as both are on the same price range (Gigabyte’s model tends to be a little bit cheaper) and both models provide the same basic features, like two Gigabit LANs, eight SATA-300 ports, eight-channel audio, FireWire ports, SLI and even the passive copper heatsink.
Gigabyte’s advantage is the use of three PCI Express x16 slots (remembering that the third slot is actually x8) for people willing to connect six independent displays to the PC.
This is a killer motherboard that will for sure please AMD fans that are looking for a very high-end motherboard for their socket AM2 CPUs. If you are thinking on buying the now famous M2N32-SLI De Luxe from ASUS, give it a second thought and consider buying this Gigabyte model instead. You will get more and probably save some bucks.