955X-based mobo shoot-out
We test the top LGA755 motherboards
Gigabyte's bundle begins in deluxe fashion. Six SATA cables allows one to make use of the board's full complement of SATA 2 ports immediately, and three molex-to-SATA extenders cover power requirements perfectly. Gigabyte also bundles in some funky IDE cables and, it must be noted, an excellent manual that, for once, is written well. There's a small USB-based Bluetooth key and accompanying driver CD, although Gigabyte hasn't gone the whole ten yards and added Wi-Fi.
The driver CD deserves a mention. Gigabyte's XPress Install makes onerous installation a simple one-touch affair. The install utility correctly identifies which components require driver support and installs them one after another. There's also a plethora of additional, useful software that includes Easy Tune 5 tweaking/overclocking Windows-based software.
Making full use of the feature-set on offer, Gigabyte also bundles in three brackets that take up space usually reserved for PCI boards. An extra six USB 2.0 and two FireWire 800 ports then become available.
All in all, a decent, functional bundle for a deluxe motherboard.
Quick accesses to the MB Intelligent Tweaker section, Gigabyte's name for voltage and speed manipulation, proves to be fruitless. There appears, on first glance, to be no way of inputting desired DRAM timings, thereby potentially hindering performance. However, help is at hand if you press Ctrl and F1 simultaneously. The board manual does a poor job of explaining that one needs to press both keys to access key performance parameters.
CPU ratios will only be present and applicable if, like us, you're in possession of an unlocked Pentium 4 CPU. Robust Graphics Booster is an ASUS-like feature that dynamically overclocks graphics cards in DirectX 8/9 games/applications. For example, setting it to Fast and loading up 3DMark05 highlighted that our test ATI RADEON X850 XT PE card was running at 567MHz core and 1215MHz memory, up from the default of 540/1180. It's something users need to be aware of before implementing, as the RGB feature could overclock a card too far and cause unecessary problems. It was left at Auto (no overclocking) during testing. The CIA 2 function purports to do the same thing with respect to CPU speed.
CPU host frequency ranges from 100MHz through to 600MHz, which is a rather optimistic top-end figure, and you can input any desired frequency without having to cycle through each one. PCI Express frequencies range from 90MHz through to 150MHz, but we urge you to leave it at default speeds. Gigabyte uses system memory multipliers (of FSB) to generate final DRAM speeds. At 200MHz FSB that results with available DDR 2 speeds of 300MHz, 400MHz, 500MHz, 533MHz, 600MHz, 667MHz and 800MHz, although anything above 400MHz is largely unecessary. Voltage-wise, it's all quite good. 0.8375-1.6V for the CPU, up to 0.6V above DDR 2's 1.8V native spec., up to 0.35V above the chipset's and PCI Express' stock voltages. The use of some quality DDR 2 modules from Corsair allowed us to run the board at DDR 2 533MHz with 3-2-2-8 timings.
It's great to see a deal of voltage manipulation on key lines, but then Gigabyte takes a step backward by not providing voltage reporting in the BIOS' health section. It doesn't make a whole heap of sense, does it?