Why virtualise your NAS environment?
- Inexpensive, supports CPUs with a 1333MHz front side bus, good performer, dynamic CPU fan control
- Doesn't have FireWire, has only four SATA ports
All up, the GA-P31-DS3L is a decent motherboard for anyone looking to build an inexpensive, yet fast-performing PC. It doesn't have as many ports as many higher-end models, so it's best to consider how many drives and peripherals you need to attach before purchasing it.
Price$ 189.00 (AUD)
If you're looking for an inexpensive motherboard that can handle Intel's latest CPUs (even ones with a 1333MHz front side bus), Gigabyte's GA-P31-DS3L is a good choice.
It's a mainstream motherboard that's based on Intel's P31 chipset, which isn't as extravagant as the P35 chipset. For example, it can only run DDR2 memory, not DDR3; it can't handle 8GB of RAM, only 4GB; it has less USB ports, eight compared to 12; it has fewer SATA ports, four compared to six.
Intel states that the P31 can only run a front side bus as fast as 1066MHz, but Gigabyte states that the board does support CPUs with a 1333MHz front side bus. Indeed, we ran Intel's Core 2 Extreme QX6850 on this board without any problems and while using 800MHz DDR2 memory modules. That means the board will handle CPUs such as the Core 2 Duo E6550.
The board performed well in our tests. A score of 107 was attained in World Bench 6, with a configuration consisting of the aforementioned QX6850 CPU, as well as 1GB of RAM, an ATI Radeon HD 2900XT graphics card and a 7200rpm Seagate hard drive. This is a particularly good score, which keeps up well against P35-based boards using the same configuration. Using the X38 chipset and an identical configuration, it's only three points lower than what a top of the range board can achieve.
Those of you looking to get more out of your CPU can tinker with the BIOS's front side bus speed, which can be adjusted in 1MHz increments, and the memory speed can also be set to run at various ratios of the front side bus speed (so the memory doesn't need to run at 1333MHz).
For connectivity, the GA-P31-DS3L has everything a modern PC requires, except for FireWire. If you want to transfer video from a camcorder, or if you have an older iPod, you'll have to purchase a PCI expansion card with FireWire ports on it. Apart from that, gigabit Ethernet is present, as is high-definition audio, and it also has a full complement of legacy ports, including parallel, serial and PS/2. Windows Vista found all the motherboard's components, so we didn't even have to use the supplied driver disc.
Physically, the board is of the ATX form factor, but it's not as wide as a full-size ATX motherboard, which means that it should fit easily into a smaller-than-usual case. It doesn't have an exorbitant heat-pipe cooling system, nor any beefy heat sinks on the chipset and power circuitry, which Gigabyte's more expensive models often flaunt. However, it does have the dynamic CPU fan control (Smart Fan) that Gigabyte boards use so effectively, and when this board is running, it keeps the CPU fan at a very low speed, which makes for a very quiet computing experience.
There are enough expansion slots for current and new-generation devices; three PCIe x1 (PCI Express) slots are present, along with three PCI slots, and there is one full-sized PCIe x16 graphics card slot. The graphics card slot doesn't impede the memory slot levers, so you can install new memory modules without having to remove the graphics card first, plus the SATA ports are located just behind the PCI slots. One IDE port is present, for a DVD burner or an older hard drive, and a floppy port, which is located on the bottom edge of the board, appears to have been included as an afterthought.
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