So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Gigabyte GA-965P-DS4 (rev 3.3)
- Well-built, plenty of connectivity, supports 1333MHz front side bus
- Doesn't ship with an eSATA cable,
Plenty of features, good build quality and zippy performance make this motherboard a good choice for a mid-range PC or even a high-end one.
Price$ 269.00 (AUD)
Gigabyte bills its Intel-based GA-965P-DS4 motherboard as 'Ultra Durable' due to the use of solid capacitors, a robust BIOS design and a heat-pipe cooling solution for the chipset. While we can't say how long this board might last, we can say that it was definitely reliable during our test period.
Despite the high-end components that have gone into construction of this board, it's actually priced competitively when compared against other boards in its class, such as the MSI 965 Platinum. It's based on the Intel P965 Express chipset and it has an almost full complement of connectivity features (it doesn't come with an eSATA port).
The LGA775 CPU socket on this board will accept most Intel CPUs: Intel Core 2 Quad, Core 2 Extreme, Core 2 Duo, Pentium Extreme Edition, Pentium D, Pentium 4 and Celeron D. This makes it a good board to upgrade to if you currently have an older LGA775 socket-based CPU and don't yet have the funds to buy a speedier CPU. This motherboard is revision 3.3, which means that it has support for a 1333MHz front side bus straight out of the box (revision 2.0 boards require a BIOS upgrade). This front side bus speed will be a feature of Intel's next major CPU release, so this motherboard may be able to handle those CPUs when they are released. In the meantime, the front side bus speed makes the board suitable for enthusiasts who want to overclock it. Likewise, the BIOS has a feature called CIA2, which can be used to automatically overclock the CPU by a certain percentage, depending on the load of the system.
When installing the CPU, the heat sinks and heat pipes that surround the CPU socket could be a slight hindrance, depending on the size of your cooler, but we had no problems installing a stock-standard Intel cooler onto our Core 2 Duo E6700 test CPU. The memory slots have a clearance of about two centimetres from the CPU heat sink, but are almost in line with the first PCI Express graphics slot. This means that memory module installation or removal could be hindered if a long graphics card is installed. Nevertheless, we didn't experience any cramping when installing the CPU, the graphics card or the 2x 512MB Corsair DDR2 800 memory modules for our testing.
We used a Palit GeForce 7600GT-based graphics card for our testing, which is not a long graphics card, and we love the design of the PCI Express slots on this board. They have easy-to-access release mechanisms (located on the top of the slot, rather than the bottom) for when you want to remove a graphics card. This board supports ATI CrossFire configurations so it's perfect if you are keen gamer and want to install two CrossFire capable Radeon X1900-series or X1600-series cards. There is a decent gap between the two PCI Express graphics slots, so cards with chunky coolers won't end up too close to each other.
Installing a second graphics card may make it difficult to access some of the SATA ports located near the second graphics card slot, so care will need to be taken when plugging drives into these ports. We installed a 150GB Western Digital Raptor for our tests. The sole IDE port on the board was used to connect an LG DVD burner.
We ran the World Bench 5 benchmark to gauge the reliability and speed of the board, and the results were positive. Over the course of a 24-hour period the board ran the benchmark without any problems. It did record a slightly slower overall score in this benchmark than we anticipated,122. The average for P965-based boards using an Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 is around 135 in this benchmark. However, in the Cdex MP3 encoding test, the board was faster than expected. It encoded 53min worth of wave files to 192Kbps MP3s in just 2min 01secs. Testing with 3DMark 2006 garnered a score of 3447, which was an expected result.
The motherboard supports up to ten USB 2.0 ports and three FireWire ports. It has eight SATA II ports and can be set up in RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 or 10 modes. In a single drive configuration using our 10000rpm, 150GB Western Digital Raptor hard drive, we achieved an average data transfer speed, from one location on the drive to another, of 29MBps. This is an outstanding result.
The rear port cluster of the motherboard, as well as having USB and FireWire ports, also has one Gigabit Ethernet port, analog audio ports and optical and coaxial S/PDIF audio output ports. Legacy ports haven't been omitted on this board and you can find parallel and serial ports in addition to PS/2 ports.
The performance of this board's Realtek ALC888 high definition audio codec was crisp and we couldn't notice and background interference. It should prove to be more than adequate for gaming, movie watching and all-round music listening. Its sound manager interface also has plenty of equaliser settings to choose from, including a karaoke setting.
For a mid-range system or even a high-end one, this board is ideal and it provides good features for future upgrades. Despite a slight misstep in World Bench 5, the encoding test, the hard drive test and 3DMark 2006 all showed that this board can definitely be zippy. We had no problems installing the drivers and the board proved to be reliable during 24-hour application testing.
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