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

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

blog image

Gigabyte has a long history of producing affordable, yet feature-packed motherboards. We examine the Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3, an ATX motherboard designed for Intel Core 2 Duo and Quad processors. The DS3 is now on its third official revision so it’s likely any major quirks or bugs have been worked out. Gigabyte has also provided a steady stream of BIOS updates to fix minor issues and improve overall performance. How suitable is it for the quiet PC enthusiast?


August 25, 2007 by Lawrence
Lee

Product
Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 Rev. 3.3 motherboard
Manufacturer
Street Price
~US$120

 

SPCR forum members took notice of the precise "reader reviews" of motherboards by "Amourek". So did I. It turns out the author resides in Vancouver. Naturally, I invited him to write for SPCR in a more official capacity. Hopefully, it’s the first of many reviews.

Mike Chin, Editor

 

Gigabyte has a long history of producing affordable, yet
feature-packed motherboards.  Their offerings have won over many enthusiasts in recent years. Their
treatment of Intel’s P965 and P35 chipsets shows they are
taking on the likes of DFI and Abit for your hard-earned dollar.
 (Editor’s note: Gigabyte relies almost solely on retail sales to the DIY market, unlike many other brands who do lots of OEM/ODM business. So it’s no surprise that Gigabyte is working hard in this market!)

Today we examine the Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3, an ATX motherboard
designed for Intel Core 2 Duo and Quad
processors.  After several tries, the DS3 is now on
its third
official revision so it’s likely any major quirks or bugs have
been worked out.  Gigabyte has also provided a steady stream
of
BIOS updates to fix minor issues and improve overall performance.

Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3
Rev. 3.3 Product Specifications
CPU 1.
Supports Intel® Core 2 Extreme Quad-Core / Core 2 Duo /
Intel® Pentium® Extreme/ Intel® Pentium® D processor

2. Supports 1333/1066/800/533 MHz FSB

Chipset 1. Northbridge: Intel® P965 Express Chipset

2. Southbridge: Intel® ICH8

3. Marvel 8056 Gigabit LAN Controller

4. GIGABYTE SATAII controller

5. Realtek ALC888 8 Channel Audio Codec

Memory 1. Supports DDR2 800/667/533 memory
2. Dual Channel architecture support up to 8GB by 4 DIMM slots

* Due to standard PC architecture, a certain amount of memory is
reserved for system usage and therefore the actual memory size is less
than the stated amount.

Expansion Slots 1. 1 PCI Express X16 slot

2. 3 PCI Express X1 slot

3. 3 PCI slots

Form Factor 1. ATX form factor, 305 x 210mm
Internal I/O Connectors 1. 1 24-pin ATX power
2. 1 4-pin ATX 12V power connector

3. 1 floppy connector

4. 1 IDE connector

5. 6 SATA 3Gb/s connectors

6. 1 CPU fan connector

7. 1 system fan connector

8. 1 front panel connector
9. 1 front audio connector
10. 1 CD In connector
11. 3 USB 2.0/1.1 connectors for additional 6 ports by cables
12. 1 SPDIF In connector
13. 1 power LED connector
14. 1 Chassis Intrusion connector

Back Panel Connectors 1. 1 PS/2 keyboard port
2. 1 PS/2 mouse port
3. 1 SPDIF Out connection (coaxial+optical)
4. 1 parallel port
5. 4 USB 2.0/1.1 ports
6. 1 serial port (COMA)
7. 1 RJ-45 port
8. 6 audio jacks (Line In / Line Out / MIC In/Surround Speaker Out
(Rear Speaker Out)/Center/Subwoofer Speaker Out/Side Speaker Out)
H/W Monitoring 1. System voltage detection
2. CPU / System temperature detection
3. CPU / System fan speed detection
4. CPU warning temperature
5. CPU / System fan failure warning
6. CPU Smart Fan Control
BIOS 1. 1 4 Mbit flash ROM

2. Use of licensed AWARD BIOS

3. Supports Virtual Dual BIOS
4. PnP 1.0a, DMI 2.0, SM BIOS 2.3, ACPI 1.0b.

Other Features 1. Supports RAID 0, 1, JBOD (2 ports with RAID function supported by GIGABYTE SATA2)

2. Supports @BIOS
3. Supports Download Center
4. Supports Q-Flash
5. Supports EasyTune 5
6. Supports Xpress Install
7. Supports Xpress Recovery2
8. Supports Virtual DualBIOS

Remark 1.
Due to different Linux support condition provided by chipset vendors,
please download Linux driver from chipset vendors’ website or 3rd party
website.

2. Due to most hardware/software vendors no longer offer support for
Win9X/ME. If some vendors still has Win9X/ME drivers available, we will
publish on website.

The DS3 supports all current Intel Core 2 Duo and Quad CPUs.  It
does not support Intel’s upcoming 45nm
processors (code name Penryn) as of yet. Rival Asus revealed that
their P965-based P5B line will support Penryn with a BIOS update, so
it’s quite possible that other manufacturers can/will follow suit.
 

P965 is a chipset targeted at the mainstream market with boards
priced at anywhere between $80 and $200 depending on the brand
and feature set. The
DS3 utilizes the Intel ICH8 southbridge — it’s a budget solution
as it does not
offer any RAID functionality.  To supplement
this, Gigabyte added
their own controller for an extra pair of SATA ports (for a total of 6) with
support for RAID 0, 1, JBOD, as well as an IDE channel, which is useful as Intel has
abandoned IDE altogether.  The DS3 also features gigabit ethernet
and high definition 8-channel audio, but Crossfire and Firewire
are absent, as can
be expected for a product in its price range.  Another point of
interest: The board’s listed dimensions indicates it is narrower
than the majority of ATX boards by more than an inch.


LAYOUT

Board Layout

 


The Bad:

  • The color scheme is a motley blend of blue, yellow, orange, and every other color in the rainbow. Admittedly, a minor beef.
  • The
    IDE 
    connector
    is placed horizontally at the bottom of the board, making routing
    an
    IDE ribbon cable to the top half of a tall case quite a stretch.  
  • Due to its small size, the board has only seven mounting holes instead of the usual nine for an ATX board. In some PC cases, only six of these mounting holes can be utilized.
  • A VRM cooling heatsink is noticeably absent.  
  • No Firewire/IEEE1394 interface. Not a big deal unless you specifically need it; generally it’s not found on budget boards.
  • Last but not least, the CMOS battery is located directly below the PCI-E 16x
    slot along with the reset jumper. A video card with a large
    heatsink makes this jumper virtually inaccessible. However you may never need to
    use it because Gigabyte’s “Virtual Dual BIOS” feature works very
    well. Not once was it necessary to reset the CMOS during the course
    of testing, because last stable settings are restored in the event of POST failure.

The Good:

  • The rest
    of
    the connectors are on the edges as they should be to reduce cable
    clutter.  
  • The 3 PCI slots are located at the bottom of the board, which is the standard, preferred configuration. PCI-E 1x cards are still very
    uncommon and many users are hanging onto expensive PCI sound
    cards, TV tuners, and RAID controllers, and ideally you want to keep
    them as far away from the video card as possible.  
  • There are four fan headers, two 4-pin headers (one above
    the DIMM slots and one next to the floppy port) and two 3-pin headers
    (one to the left of the northbridge and another just below the floppy
    port).  
  • Finally,
    the use of solid-state capacitors brings a big grin to our faces.
     Countless number of motherboards have failed over the years due
    to substandard electrolytic capacitors bulging, leaking fluid, and
    sometimes exploding. (See badcaps.net) Gigabyte puts our minds to rest by using 
    solid capacitors made
    with an organic polymer, which reduces impedance, endures more heat while
    maintaining high capacitance, and lasts up to 6 times longer.  This
    is an expensive move on Gigabyte’s part and it makes the DS3’s low
    price even more remarkable.  

Northbridge Heatsink

The northbridge heatsink is not
particularly large, nor does it stand out in any other way aside from
the color and branding.  The middle row of fins is very wide, like
a series of fat razor blades.  Gigabyte would have done well to
chop this row up into multiple fins, and remove the nameplate
altogether for the sake of better cooling performance.  

Southbridge Heatsink

The design of the southbridge heatsink is much more practical with many narrow fins
for increased surface area and airflow.

Socket

Clearance
around the CPU socket is good, and should
accomodate most third party heatsinks.  However, some Scythe
Ninja
Rev. B
owners have reported that the metal rentention mechanism needs
to
be filed down to clear the capacitors around the CPU.  Those
using the Sunbeam Tuniq Tower 120 have discovered they need to
insulate the underside
of the PCB where the metal backplate makes contact with the board, to
prevent a short.  This may apply to other coolers as well.

Themalright Ultra-120 Extreme


Thermalright Ultra-120 Extreme Clearance

We are also happy to report the Thermalright
Ultra-120 Extreme
 fits in
the proper east-west orientation, though the heatpipes come within
millimeters of
touching the northbridge heatsink.


PACKAGE CONTENTS

Gigabyte packs very few accessories with the DS3: Four
orange
SATA data cables, navy
blue 80-wire IDE and floppy data cables, dual-head
SATA power adapter, I/O shield, manual, and driver/utility CD.
 Sparse, but acceptable.  The SATA data
cables were a pleasant surprise as they were of the locking variety, reducing the chance of accidental disloding.  SATA
connectors are notoriously flimsy, so this is a welcome addition.
 There’s something comforting about hearing a nice solid
click when you plug in the cable.

BIOS

From the BIOS main menu, you can save/load up to 8 CMOS
settings and using Q-Flash, you can update the BIOS with a USB device, avoiding the hassle
of a bootable floppy disk or CD. Alternatively you can update the
BIOS from Windows using @BIOS.

BIOS Main Menu   



The PC Health Status menu was somewhat of a surprise.  There were
no actual voltage readings here, just a simple “OK,” if it
was within normal levels (we assume).  
Gigabyte’s EasyTune
utility report vCore, +3.3V, and +12V but not +5V.  
Speedfan
displays +5V but not +12V.  

BIOS PC Health Status

The Smart Fan Control Method
toggles for use with a 3-pin or 4-pin fan, while
Smart Control Mode allows you to select
either straight voltage or PWM control.  Leaving both
settings at
“AUTO” seemed to work fine in either case.  Only the two
4-pin headers were controllable; the 3-pin headers ran at full
speed.  There is no customizable fan control in the BIOS, but you
can use EasyTune or Speedfan in Windows. Normally
Speedfan would be a no-brainer here, but strangely, it does not report
RPMs accurately, unless our CPU fan really was running in the 6-digits.
 Hopefully this will be fixed in a future version.

BIOS MIT1

The MB Intelligent Tweaker menu is where most of
the action happens.  Many of these settings are actually not
visible by default (including all the memory timings).  In
the main menu, users must press CTRL + F1 to unlock more advanced
menus and intricate
settings.  We presume Gigabyte does this to 
prevent
novice users
from accidentally changing an advanced setting that could result in a
dead motherboard.  However,
they leave access to CPU frequency and various voltages open by
default, making this precautionary “feature” ineffective for bumbling neophytes, while annoying for more advanced users.  The range of frequency
selection
is wide.  CPU frequency can be changed from 100-700Mhz in
1Mhz intervals, PCI Express frequency from 90-150Mhz in 1Mhz intervals,
and
flexible memory multipliers of 2.00, 2.50, 2.66, 3.00, 3.33, and 4.00
are
available.

BIOS MIT2

Gigabyte also offers wide open voltage control.  Memory can
be increased up to +0.7V in +0.1V intervals, and PCI-E, FSB, and (G)MCH
(northbridge) can be increased up to +0.3V in +0.1V intervals.
 Astoundingly, CPU voltage ranges from 0.51250V all the way to 1.60V in
tiny 0.00625V intervals, and beyond that, 1.80V and even 2.00V can be
selected.  A lot of these settings will probably never be used
(nor should they), but just the fact they exist is encouraging.  

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.

* * *

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

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

* * *

Discuss this review in the SPCR forums.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Silent PC Review has been providing expert advice and detailed reviews of PCs and peripherals since 2002. Our technical advice has been featured on publications such as: New York Times, O’Reilly, PCMag, Popular Mechanics, Forbes, etc. plus countless trade shows and industry articles. We’re dedicated to providing top-notch advice and reviews for choosing your next PC build.