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The I/O panel is a work of beauty with two legacy PS/2 ports (something of a surprise there), digital outputs for the audio, a Clear CMOS button, eight USB ports, dual Gigabit LAN that can be teamed together and six analogue mini jacks. There are headers for four more USB, a bracket with a six-pin Firewire port and a mini Firewire and a third Firewire header on the board which gives you heaps of options.
We updated the BIOS from a USB key, which was as quick and simple as it is with all Gigabyte motherboards, and then installed Windows Vista Ultimate Edition. After that we installed drivers, patched Windows and then installed Gigabyte’s Dynamic Energy Saver Advanced utility v1.0 which appears to be an update of the software we first saw on the Gigabyte EP35-DS4. Unfortunately we hit a glitch as we started the utility and the PC immediately restarted so we bravely uninstalled the software and left it to one side.
It was time to get busy with our Core 2 Extreme QX9650 processor and 2GB of fast Corsair DDR2 memory. Once again we found that the graphics element of PCMark05 didn’t score very well so the Overall score for the EP45-Extreme looks poor however the CPU and Memory elements scored well and in 3DMark06, the Gigabyte performed very well.
The next step was to overclock the EP45-Extreme by raising the multiplier on our unlocked processor but we were only able to raise the multiplier from 9x to 10x for a speed of 3.33GHz rather than the 10.5x and 3.50GHz we previously saw with the Asus P5Q Deluxe.
Plan B was to lower the clock multiplier and raise the front side bus speed and we were staggered to see that the Gigabyte managed settings of 7.5x500MHz for a clock speed of 3.75GHz on Auto settings.
Efforts to raise the front side bus to 520MHz were a failure, even with a lower clock multiplier, despite extensive work with the voltage settings. This was a particular shame as the Gigabyte BIOS is absolutely splendid and displays voltage settings in two columns with the original figure on the left and your chosen setting on the right. When you change a bus speed or clock multiplier the new figure is displayed so you can see the result of any change that you make. When we overstepped the mark the Gigabyte would restart and the BIOS would rescue the last set of good settings.
Despite those good points we found that the best policy was to leave all the settings on Auto and to simply adjust the clock multiplier, front side bus and memory multiplier.
So how did the funky Gigabyte cooling system perform? This is where things get strange as the passive cooling system ran at a steady temperature in the low 30’s Celsius at standard speeds and also when we overclocked.
Adding the enormous Hybrid Silent-Pipe Module made no difference to the temperature but the system was so cool that this didn’t come as a surprise. In some respects this is what you expect as Core 2 is incredibly efficient so unless you plan on cramming your new Gigabyte into a tiny case with awful cooling we’re not at all sure why you would need the Hybrid Silent-Pipe Module. That’s all well and good but this motherboard costs an absolute fortune and the cooling system must surely be responsible for a large part of the price and that’s the main stumbling block with this model.
The overclocking ability of the EP45-Extreme is hugely impressive but the fancy cooling seems to add little except to the epic price, which blots its copy book quite severely.