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By rights we should call this motherboard the Gigabyte EP45-EXTREME but that’s far too shouty for our tastes so we’re sticking with EP45-Extreme for the duration of this review.
The EP45-Extreme is a close relation of the EP45T-Extreme where the T denotes support for DDR3 memory. We’re looking at a DDR2 motherboard which supports up to 8GB of dual channel DDR2 1,200MHz memory, if you believe the manual, or 16GB of DDR2 1,333MHz memory, if you believe Gigabyte’s website. DDR2 that runs over 1,150MHz is as rare as hen’s teeth and 4GB of memory in four modules is more than enough so let’s agree that the EP45-Extreme supports lots of fast DDR2.
The Intel P45 chipset supports the latest 45nm Penryn Core 2 processor and Gigabyte has added support for the 1,600MHz front side bus so the basic specification of the EP45-Extreme is similar to many P45 boards on the market. Added to that you’ve got proper support for CrossFire where the primary graphics slot is fed 16 lanes of PCIe 2.0 if you’re using a single graphics card or you can have eight lanes per slot if you have two graphics cards in CrossFire.
At the foot of the board you have what looks like a third graphics slot so you might have visions of CrossFireX but it’s a bit of an illusion as the P45 supports a total of 20 lanes of PCIe so the third slot actually receives just four lanes of PCI Express and is little use for graphics.
Those features are fine and dandy but we guarantee that you won’t notice any of them when you unpack the EP45-Extreme from its huge box. In all likelihood you won’t even notice the bizarre Gigabyte colour scheme with red and yellow memory slots and pastel shades of orange and blue on the PCI Express slots. Instead we guarantee that you’ll be fixated by the cooling system which appears at first glance to be based on the Asus Fusion Block. It consists of a substantial chunk of copper on the Northbridge of the chipset that carries two 10mm barbs for water cooling. You can use conventional air cooling or you can connect the EP45-Extreme to your water cooling system with the minimum of fuss, however that’s only part of the story.
Gigabyte includes another piece of hardware in the box called a Hybrid Silent-Pipe Module which is an add-on for the cooling system. It’s a huge passive cooler that measures 15cm long and 7cm high and is attached to the Northbridge cooler with four small screws. One end of the cooler attaches to your case, just like any expansion card, to offer it support but the really cunning thing is the way that Gigabyte has positioned the Hybrid Silent-Pipe Module above the main graphics slot where it sits in unused space. The only potential fly in the ointment is the way that the cooler module covers the sole PCIe x1 slot but it’s not as bad as it may seem as the tiny expansion slot is disabled if you plug a card into the PCIe x4 slot, anyway. Too many slots in that last sentence but hopefully you’ll see what we mean.
Other than that the layout looks pretty good. Gigabyte has taken the unusual step of using individual ITE controllers for the floppy and IDE connectors where we are used to seeing a chip from the likes of Promise that can add some eSATA to the equation. Instead Gigabyte has settled with the six native SATA connectors on the ICH10R Southbridge so it has included a pass-through bracket that allows you to convert two of the SATA ports to eSATA. That’s a reasonable approach but for some reason it has only laid down two of the SATA connectors while the other four are perpendicular to the board. If you use a Radeon HD 4870 graphics card you’ll find that two of the connectors are blocked which is just plain silly.