Motherboard Guide

Gigabyte GA-965G-DS3 review

Preview: Gigabyte GA-965G-DS3 (Intel G965)

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GA-965G-DS3 - The Board

Features

As mentioned before, the GA-965G-DS3 is identical to the previously reviewed GA-965P-DS3 so you should be familiar with its strengths and pitfalls. However, we'll quickly run through its list of features to refresh your memory. True to its mainstream label, the G965 Northbridge is paired with a lower end ICH8 Southbridge offering a standard set of four SATA 3.0Gbps ports without RAID or AHCI capabilities. To make up for this, a secondary RAID storage controller (JMicron JMB363) is used to provide IDE and extra SATA 3.0Gbps ports. There is one Gigabit LAN port onboard powered by a Marvell 88E8053 PCIe chipset and Realtek's ALC883 CODEC drives the 8-channel HD Audio. The board comes with both surround analog and S/PDIF connection options out of the box. Just like its twin brother, the GA-965G-DS3 is one of Gigabyte's new S-series motherboards and sports the 'Durable' design concept with a full complement of solid type capacitors. For a more detailed analysis of the board's general features, head over to our GA-965P-DS3 review here.

The main feature of the GA-965G-DS3 is the new GMA X3000 integrated graphics engine. The GMA X3000 is the third generation of Intel's GMA series of graphics accelerators and it represents a total architecture overhaul from its predecessors, the GMA 900 and GMA 950. Specification-wise, the X3000 is quite a powerhouse. Not only does it run at a high clock speed of 667MHz, the X3000 finally features and supports hardware Transform and Lighting (T&L) units, Vertex Shader 3.0, Pixel Shader 3.0, Shader Model 3.0 (SM3.0), High Dynamic Range (HDR) and full 32-bit FP compute for graphics processing - all within the graphics engine. These features put the GMA X3000 - on paper at least - on par with the latest mainstream GPUs from the likes of ATI and NVIDIA. Though the GMA X3000 claims it can tackle all these, nobody said anything about how fluid it would be and hence you really have to take the capabilities with a pinch of salt. There's only that much an integrated graphics core can handle, else it would be quite an expensive, complicated and power hungry chip.

The most interesting feature is its new hybrid pipeline architecture. Traditional GPUs have fixed pipelines dedicated to different tasks such as pixel shader, vertex or texture processing. Then there are the dedicated video threads as well for decoding and post-processing. The GMA X3000 features a universal type of pipeline called an Execution Unit (EU) that can be programmed to handle all these different tasks. Not only are the EUs programmable and multi-functional, the X3000 architecture also features dynamic load balancing so that all its EUs are fully utilized.

The general topology for those keenly following GPU developments, would remember that it kind of resembles the Xbox 360 GPU that's powered by the ATI Xenos chip and takes on a unified shader model with multiple dynamically assignable units. The future of GPU design is also heading this direction, as the upcoming DirectX 10 standard will only support such GPU addressing models. In essence, Intel is making sure that their new graphics engine is ready to tackle this standard of operation and from information available at the moment, it seems that the GMA X3000 on the G965 chipset will feature eight EU 'pipelines'. The GMA X3000 runs at 667MHz and can map up to 384MB of system memory. With DDR2-800, you basically have about 12.8GB/s peak memory bandwidth. The GA-965G-DS3 BIOS supports higher memory clock dividers so if you've high-speed memory, all the better for graphics performance.

The GMA X3000 also carries upgraded video capabilities with Intel Clear Video technology. High Definition (HD) playback is now possible with hardware accelerated VC-1 decoding, MPEG-2 acceleration and pixel adaptive de-interlacing. The GMA X3000 is supposed to have HDCP compliance as well as it supports HDMI output. However, the GA-965G-DS3 motherboard only features one analog VGA connection, which is not utilizing the full capabilities of the integrated graphics engine. We expected more output options made available, but the GA-965G-DS3 hints that most vendors may not yet embrace these functionality.

Layout

PCB design on the GA-965G-DS3 is still the same as the GA-965P-DS3. The board uses the same passive heatsink, but surprisingly even with the added processing of the GMA X3000, the GA-965G-DS3 does not operate as hot as the GA-965P-DS3. The board also has the same amount of expansion slots on it. Users can still opt to use discreet graphics, install up to three PCI and three PCIe x1 cards. Spacing on the board is tight, but if you're going with the onboard graphics, there shouldn't be anything extra you need to add on besides maybe a TV Tuner.

Overclocking

  • FSB Settings: 100MHz to 700MHz
  • PCIe Settings: 90MHz to 150MHz
  • FSB/RAM Multiplier: Auto, 2.0, 2.5, 3.0, 2.66, 3.33, 4.0+
  • CPU Voltage Settings: 0.5125V to 1.6000V (in 0.00625V steps), 1.600V, 1.800V
  • Memory Voltage Settings: +0.1V to +0.6V (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)

As our board isn't a final retail board, we were unable to test the overclocking bandwidth of the GA-965G-DS3. Its BIOS options seem to be even more aggressive than the GA-965P-DS3, but we couldn't even POST past a few MHz from the base 266MHz line. Gigabyte has acknowledged this behavior as an issue with the current beta BIOS, so you'll probably have to wait till the retail boards arrive before we can see if the GA-965G-DS3 can match the GA-965P-DS3's overclocking potential.