If you've skimmed through the technical specifications, you'll see that the GS-965P-DS3 looks very much like the MSI P965 Neo motherboard from a feature set perspective, but upon a closer look, Gigabyte seems to have made sure that their board is able to top their rivals. The major feature of the DS3 is of course the full use of solid capacitors, which practically ensure that you'll never need to worry about leakage (or so they claim), increasing motherboard lifespan and durability.
The DS3 sports a basic chipset configuration of the Intel P965 with the ICH8 Southbridge - Intel Core 2 Duo support, DDR2-800 up to 8GB of RAM, ten USB 2.0 ports, PCIe, HD Audio and SATA 3.0Gbps, but without AHCI/NCQ or RAID support. Because of this and the fact that the new generation ICH8 no longer feature IDE connections, secondary Gigabyte SATA2 controller provides the needed Ultra ATA port, plus two SATA 3.0Gbps ports that does RAID and AHCI/NCQ.
Onboard Gigabit LAN on the DS3 is powered by a Marvell 88E8053 controller. The PCI Express controller used here should offer better sustainable bandwidth than the PCI-based RTL8110SC on the MSI P965 Neo even though both are Gigabit parts. Audio-wise, the GA-965P-DS3 also features an all too familiar value edition Realtek ALC883 HD Audio CODEC. However, it does come complete with full 8-channel analog audio connections and a set of S/PDIF connections, giving the DS3 more versatility out of the box. Expansion capabilities on the board are very good as well. Besides the PCIe x16 graphics slot, we have three PCI slots and another three PCIe x1 slots, so there should be more than enough leeway for any add-on cards you may like to have.
The GA-965P-DS3 comes in a slightly slimmer ATX PCB design, but Gigabyte has been able to squeeze everything onto the board quite decently. The CPU socket area is pretty free of obstructions and Gigabyte has done a good layout job with the board's main ATX power connections. However, one might find the storage connectors to be a little tight fitting since they are all grouped together at the bottom corner. The topmost PCIe x1 slot also stands a chance to be blocked, depending on the type of graphics card and cooler that is used of course. Another concern we have is the lack of fan headers on the board with only one open header other than for the CPU fan.
- FSB Settings: 100MHz to 600MHz
- PCIe Settings: 90MHz to 150MHz
- FSB/RAM Multiplier: Auto, 2.0, 2.5, 3.0, 2.66, 3.33, 4.0+
- CPU Voltage Settings: 1.0250V to 1.6000V (in 0.00625V steps), 1.600V, 1.800V
- Memory Voltage Settings: +0.1V to +0.3V (in 0.1V steps)
- MCH Voltage Settings: +0.1V to +0.3V (in 0.1V steps)
- FSB Voltage Settings: +0.1V to +0.3V (in 0.1V steps)
- PCIe Voltage Settings: +0.1V
- Multiplier Selection: Yes (unlocked CPUs only)
This is where it gets interesting. Although the DS3 is a mainstream motherboard, it actually packs quite a comprehensive BIOS for overclocking purposes. Not exactly as extreme as the GA-965P-DQ6 of course, but Gigabyte has allowed a good amount of freedom in terms of frequency, voltage and memory timings.
For our overclocking tests on the GA-965P-DS3, we used the infamous Intel Core 2 Duo E6300 processor, reduced the multiplier to 6x and set the memory divider at its lowest before we tried to ramp up the motherboard FSB. Using stock Intel CPU cooling and just a slight voltage bump to the MCH, the GA-965P-DS3 effortlessly clocks right up to 480MHz FSB or a whopping 1920MHz quad pumped PSB. Using a 7x CPU multiplier (highest possible), our little Core 2 Duo E6300 was running at 3.36GHz, 1.5GHz above stock and already exceeding the current retail clocks of the Core 2 Extreme X6800.
At these speeds, the DS3 is able to match up clock to clock with what the DQ6 could do and was completely stable under windows, though we were concerned about how hot the chipset was running. For those that want to know, the GA-965P-DS3 retail board that we got had a C1 stepping P965 chipset and not the supposedly better overclockable C2 stepping.