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Gigabyte GA-EP35-DS4 - Gigabyte GA-EP35-DS4
The Gigabyte sports a pair of PCI Express graphics slots but doesn't fully support CrossFire as the P35 chipset only feeds four lanes of PCIe to the second graphics card severely limiting its bandwidth. The passive cooling system for the chipset and power regulation hardware is extensive but doesn't go to the lengths of the MSI Circu-Pipe system. During our testing the cooling worked immaculately and remained cool to the touch yet it was so compact that we had no trouble installing a chunky Zalman CPU cooler and GeForce 8800 GT graphics card. The only glitch is that the CPU fan connector is positioned inside the ring of heatpipes so it's quite fiddly to connect the fan once the cooler is in place.
The rest of the layout is reasonable with all of the major components in logical places however the USB headers and front panel connectors seem rather mixed in with the SATA connectors and we would've preferred to see them all nearer the boards edge, like on the Asus Striker II Formula. Gigabyte uses its regular SATA controller chip to support an ATA133 connector and it also adds in two more SATA connectors to bring the total to eight which is heaps more than any of us need so it supplies a bracket that transfers two SATA connections to eSATA ports. It would have been neater to have positioned the eSATA ports on the I/O panel but that prime location has been saved for eight USB ports, two Firewire, Gigabit LAN, analogue and digital audio connectors and a pair of PS/2 for your mouse and keyboard. Lovely job.
You might expect that we'd compare the performance of the Gigabyte with the Abit IP35 Pro but we came across an interesting facet of P35 behaviour. We originally reviewed the Abit with a Core 2 Duo E6750 and it behaved as we expected but for the last few reviews we've been using a Penryn Core 2 Extreme QX9650 and the Gigabyte ran the new CPU like a champ. We plugged the Abit back together for comparison and performance was about 20 percent lower with the QX9650 than the Gigabyte managed which suggests that Abit BIOS support for 45nm CPUs could do with some work. Instead we pulled some figures from an MSI X38 Diamond review where we used the same CPU, graphics card and hard drive.
There's a difference as the X38 runs DDR3 memory but the two platforms have performance that is very, very similar. As we were using a Core 2 Extreme processor we were able to raise the clock multiplier instead of cranking up the front side bus and were pleasantly surprised to find the QX9650 was happy to run at 3.67GHz which seems remarkable for a P35 motherboard.