Gigabyte EX38-DS4 Review

Makaveli - 2008-02-10 14:35:12 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: Makaveli   
Reviewed on: February 19, 2008
Price: $199.99 USD

Introduction:

Everywhere you turn, every advertisement you set your eyes upon, you'll see that almost every manufacturer has joined the “green” movement. This movement is one in which the goal is to cut down our impact on this planet and save its natural resources. One method that computer hardware manufacturers use is creating more energy efficient items. Gigabyte is a perfect example of this. The company has just released its all new “Dynamic Energy Saver” technology that actually gives the user up to 70% less CPU power consumption! Gigabyte also boasts that this technology can give the user up to 20% better CPU power efficiency without sacrificing performance. Are these claims true? How will this Gigabyte EX38-DS4 compare to some of today’s elite motherboards? Join me as I thoroughly examine this new motherboard and the groundbreaking “Dynamic Energy Saver” technology from Gigabyte.

 

Closer Look:

The Gigabyte EX38-DS4 comes packaged in a bright, attractive, white and red box showcasing the “DS4” in a clear cube. The front of the box gives you some of the key features while the back side of the box goes more in depth into those features as well as exposing a few more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you open the box, you’ll find an abundance of accessories on top of the motherboard. Gigabyte has included guides and manuals so that you have all of the information you need at your fingertips.

 

Before we get into the accessories, let’s take a closer look at the Gigabyte EX38-DS4 motherboard.

Closer Look:

The Gigabyte EX38-DS4 utilizes the X38 chipset from Intel. The motherboard features a silent cooling system with rather large heatsinks on both the PWM and the northbridge. Notice that the southbridge is not connected via a heat pipe to the northbridge but rather, it is cooled by its own heatsink. On the back of the motherboard, you’ll see a copper backplate where the northbridge is. This setup allows the northbridge to dissipate heat in multiple directions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rear I/O panel has a surplus of connectivity, which is a real plus. The EX38-DS4 has eight USB 2.0/1.1 ports, a PS/2 connector for a mouse and keyboard, a coaxial S/PDIF Out connector, one optical S/PDIF Out connector, two IEEE 1394a ports, two RJ-45 LAN ports, and six audio jacks for 7.1 audio. The eight USB 2.0/1.1 ports are the most USB ports that I have ever seen on a motherboard’s rear I/O panel, so I was impressed by that.

 

The DS4 has two PCI-E 16x slots, two standard PCI slots, and three 1x PCI slots. ATI’s Crossfire X technology is supported by this motherboard as well. Many sound cards and Wi-Fi cards use PCI 1x slots so you can tell that Gigabyte really planned for the future by placing more than one PCI 1x slot on this motherboard.

 

You’ll find six SATA II ports on the bottom of the motherboard, all of the front panel pins, and two onboard USB 2.0 headers. The lime green IDE port is the only IDE connector you’ll find on the DS4 since SATA is the predominant technology for optical drives and hard drives. The southbridge chipset is the Intel ICH9R and is cooled by its very own heatsink.

 

 

Closer Look:

While floppy drives are very outdated, they are still needed. Hence, Gigabyte placed one floppy connector on the motherboard. The DS4 has a 24-pin power connector as well as a conveniently located 4-pin Molex port. This motherboard supports up to 8GB of DDR2 1200/1066/800/667 system memory. You may have already noticed that this motherboard strongly promotes “Ultra Durable 2” technology. What is this technology? Well, according to Gigabyte, this means that the motherboard is designed with top quality and highly efficient materials. For one, it has a Low RDS(on) MOSFET design which keeps the temperature sixteen percent lower than standard MOSFETs. Also, the solid capacitors with Ultra Durable 2 technology last up to 12 times longer than regular solid capacitors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As mentioned earlier, the heatsinks on both the PWM and northbridge are fairly large. They also have a unique style, as you can see. Notice the 8-pin motherboard power connector that has four of the pins capped off. This is a sign that if your power supply doesn’t have an 8-pin cable, you can still use a 4-pin cable to power the motherboard. Obviously, 8-pin is recommended to be sure that the motherboard has everything it needs.

 

 

Now that we’ve thoroughly examined the motherboard, let’s take a closer look at the included accessories.

Closer Look:

Included with the Gigabyte EX38-DS4 motherboard is a manual, a hardware installation guide, an Intel CPU installation guide, and some Gigabyte stickers. The fun stuff that is included is an IDE cable, floppy cable, four SATA 3.0GB/s cables, a rear I/O shield, a driver CD, and an expansion slot that has two connectors for eSATA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next, let’s take a look into the BIOS and examine what kind of features we’re given.

Closer Look:

Standard CMOS Features, Advanced BIOS Features & Integrated Peripherals:

The Gigabyte EX38-DS4 uses an Award BIOS. It actually has “Dual BIOS” technology so that if one BIOS gets really messed up, it has a second available for you to use.  I was very impressed by this feature because I’ve messed up my BIOS countless times. The main categories that open other menus are: Standard CMOS Features, Advanced BIOS Features, Integrated Peripherals, Power Management Setup, PnP/PCI Configurations, PC Health Status, and MB Intelligent Tweaker (M.I.T). Below are screenshots of some of the standard features from within “Advanced BIOS Features” and “Integrated Peripherals”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PC Health & Power Management Setup:

This is where you can find out the temperatures of your system and CPU, as well as your voltages and fan RPMs. Under “Power Management Setup” you’ll find multiple options for you to configure your power settings to your needs.

 

 

Motherboard Intelligent Tweaker:

The M.I.T menu is where you’ll find all of your options to overclock your system as well as tweak any sort of setting for your memory and CPU. You’ll notice that these options are pretty much standardized for most BIOSes.

 

 

Now let's look even deeper into the M.I.T.

Closer Look:

Motherboard Intelligent Tweaker:

The DS4 allows you to change your CPU's multiplier to anything between 6-9. You can also change the FSB to anything between 100-700, which is more than enough for 99% of all users. The stepping that this motherboard gives you for the CPU voltage is quite good and the volts go all the way up to 2.5; again way more than what almost any user will need.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can change your DDR2 overvoltage quite easily. Gigabyte has kindly placed some of the voltages in pink and then some in red to warn the user. Speaking of memory, another important thing to check for is what the user can set their CAS latency to. This motherboard allows you to have it as low as 3 and as high as 7.

 

 

The DS4 allows you to set your motherboard into different modes such as "Turbo" or "Extreme". You can also set it to specific gaming modes such as racing or sports.

 

 

The memory divider option wasn't what I thought it would be. I thought I was going to see divider options such as "1:2" or "1:1" but instead of that, this BIOS lets you change the system memory multiplier. Once you set the multiplier, the BIOS will show you what the new memory clock will be.

 

In addition to being able to change the DDR2 overvoltage, you can also change the PCI-E and FSB overvoltages. I was happy to see the option to be able to change the PCI-E frequency because that can always help while overclocking.

 

Let's move on and check out the new Dynamic Energy Saver feature of the motherboard.

Closer Look:

Gigabyte's Dynamic Energy Saver technology is what really sets this motherboard ahead of the competition. They boast that this software can help you achieve up to 70% less CPU power consumption as well as up to 20% improved power efficiency. What does this do to the actual physical motherboard? Well actually, not much. Gigabyte removed the 4-pin Molex connector to replace it with LEDs that light up to show you how significant your loading is. You can see the original motherboard on the left and the new motherboard with Dynamic Energy Saver on the right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can obtain the Dynamic Energy Saver software either on your included driver disc or on Gigabyte's website. After you install the software, you'll be prompted to restart so that the changes take effect. You'll need to press the "On" button once you load up the software.

 

 

 

You can think of the "Power Savings" readout like an odometer on a car. It just keeps on adding every bit of wattage you save so that you can see it over time. As you can see, it took me about two and half hours to save just over 22 watts. The higher you set the level of your CPU voltage under the "Dynamic Voltage" tab, the faster you'll see the "Power Savings" readout go up.

 

You can see the testing on this particular feature further into the review.

Configuration:

Once you have the motherboard successfully installed, you’ll need to pop in the included driver disc. You can either do the “Xpress Install” to install everything or you can pick individual items to install. Since we have no drivers installed, I went ahead and did the “Xpress Install” to get everything onto my machine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Included with the drivers is extra software that you can install. With the Gigabyte EX38-DS4, you can install Norton Internet Security, Kaspersky Anti-Virus, Adobe Acrobat Reader, Gigabyte C.O.M. (Corporate Online Manager), Easy Tune 5 Pro, DMI Viewer, Face-Wizard, @BIOS, and System Information Utility. I don’t need most of it but I decided to install Easy Tune 5 Pro to see what kind of overclocking options they have in the program.

 

 

The Easy Tune 5 Pro is a very simple and self-explanatory overclocking utility. It’s easy to change your options and overclock your system but be sure that you know what you’re doing before you alter any settings.  I’m glad to see a hardware monitor included in this program because when I have any questions about what’s going on with my hardware, I don’t have to go into the BIOS to look.

 

 

On the remainder of the disc, you’ll find the driver CD information, as well as hardware information and a contact link.

 

The selection of software to install is robust but I personally don’t need most of them.  

Specifications:

 

CPU
  1. Support for an Intel® Core™ 2 Extreme processor/ Intel® Core™ 2 Quad processor/ Intel® Core™ 2 Duo processor/ Intel® Pentium processor Extreme Edition/ Intel® Pentium D processor/ Intel® Pentium 4 processor Extreme Edition/ Intel® Pentium 4 processor in the LGA 775 package
  2. L2 cache varies with CPU
  3. Support 1600/1333/1066/800 MHz FSB
Chipset
  1. Northbridge: Intel® X38 Express Chipset
  2. Southbridge: Intel® ICH9R
  3. T.I IEEE 1394 Controller
  4. Realtek 8111B chip (10/100/1000 Mbit)
  5. 8 Channels ALC889A Audio controller
Memory
  1. 4 x 1.8V DDR2 DIMM sockets supporting up to 8 GB of system memory
  2. Dual channel memory architecture
  3. Support for DDR2 1200/1066/800/667MHz, ECC, non ECC memory modules.
Expansion Slots
  1. 2 x PCI Express x16 slots supporting ATI CrossFire™ technology
    (The PCI Express x16 slots conform to PCI Express 2.0 standard.)
  2. 3 x PCI Express x1 slots
  3. 2 x PCI slots
Form Factor
ATX form factor, 305 x 244mm
Internal I/O Connectors
  1. 1 x 24-pin ATX main power connector
  2. 1 x 8-pin ATX 12V power connector
  3. 1 x 4-pin PCIe 12V power connector
  4. 1 x floppy disk drive connector
  5. 1 x IDE connector
  6. 6 x SATA 3Gb/s connectors
  7. 1 x CPU fan header
  8. 2 x system fan headers
  9. 1 x power fan header
  10. 1 x North Bridge fan header
  11. 1 x front panel header
  12. 1 x front panel audio header
  13. 1 x CD In connector
  14. 1 x S/PDIF In header
  15. 1 x S/PDIF Out header
  16. 2 x USB 2.0/1.1 headers
  17. 1 x IEEE 1394a headers
  18. 1 x parallel port header
  19. 1 x Trusted Platform Module (TPM) header
  20. 1 x serial port header
  21. 1 x power LED header
  22. 1 x chassis intrusion header
Back Panel Connectors
  1. 1 x PS/2 keyboard port
  2. 1 x PS/2 mouse port
  3. 1 x coaxial S/PDIF Out connector
  4. 1 x optical S/PDIF Out connector
  5. 8 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
  6. 2 x IEEE 1394a ports
  7. 1 x RJ-45 port
  8. 6 x audio jacks (Center/Subwoofer Speaker Out/Rear Speaker Out/Side Speaker Out/Line In/Line Out/Microphone)
BIOS
  1. 2 x 8 Mbit flash
  2. Use of licensed AWARD BIOS
  3. Support for Dual BIOSTM
  4. PnP 1.0a, DMI 2.0, SM BIOS 2.3, ACPI 1.0b
Unique Features
  1. Ultra Durable 2 Motherboard
  2. All Japanese manufactured solid capacitors
  3. Over-clocking Enhanced
  4. Support for @BIOS
  5. Support for Download Center
  6. Support for Q-Flash
  7. Support for EasyTune 5 Pro
  8. Support for Xpress Install
  9. Support for Xpress Recovery2

-All information gathered from Gigabyte's site: http://www.gigabyte.us/Products/Motherboard/Products_Spec.aspx?ClassValue=Motherboard&ProductID=2630&ProductName=GA-X38-DS4

Testing:

The Gigabyte EX38-DS4 will be put through our rigorous tests to see how it compares to other motherboards with the X38 chipset. I'll be comparing this motherboard to the Abit IX38 Quad GT, the ASUS Maximus Formula, and the Foxconn Mars. All of the motherboards, video cards, memory, and CPUs will be set to stock. All of the latest drivers were installed for each motherboard.

 

Testing Setup:

Comparison Motherboards:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

For the overclocking on the DS4, I wanted to see just how high I could get the FSB on this motherboard. It turns out that when I used a multiplier of 7, I got the highest FSB, which was 466. The highest clock that I could get out of the CPU with this DS4 was 3.5GHz, which was 388x9. I found the BIOS to be useful but more complicated than it should be. It wasn't as easy as Abit's OC Guru that I've used on a previous motherboard. The voltage stepping was very low which was nice because you could change the voltage from say 1.5500 to 1.55625, which is decent stepping in my mind. Overall, it wasn't too hard to overclock on this motherboard but I just didn't feel like it was as easy as previous motherboards that I've overclocked on. Without further ado, let's get testing!

 

Benchmarks:

  1. Apophysis
  2. WinRAR
  3. SpecviewPerf 10
  4. PCMark Vantage Professional
  5. Sandra XII
  6. ScienceMark 2.02 Final
  7. Cinebench 10
  8. HD Tune 2.54
  1. Crysis
  2. Knights of the Sea
  3. Bioshock
  4. Call of Duty 4
  5. World in Conflict
  6. Call of Jaurez
  7. 3DMark 06 Professional

 

Testing:

The first half of our benchmarking gauntlet consists of system specific benchmarks.

 

First up is Apophysis. We're going to use this program to render our very own custom fractal flame image. The settings that we'll use are as follows:

 

 

The results show how long it took for the image to render, in minutes.

 

Lower is Better

 

WinRAR is a very handy tool that archives files into a single smaller file. At OverclockersClub, we use 10MB, 100MB and 500MB files and record the time it takes to compress these files. The results are in seconds - lower is better.

 

ZIP:

 

 

 

RAR:

 

 

 

The Gigabyte EX38 came out on top in almost all of the WinRAR tests and finished almost the same as the other motherboards in Apophysis. It also did very well while overclocked.

 

Testing:

Specview 10 is the next benchmark we'll be running. Specview is designed to test OpenGL performance. We used the multi-threaded tests for the benchmarking. In all of these tests, higher is better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher is Better

 

Higher is Better

 

 

 

Higher is Better

 

PcMark Vantage is the new PCMark for Windows Vista and like the previous installments, it is used to measure complete system performance.

 

The Gigabyte EX38-DS4 looked impressive at stock in the Catia part of SPECview and PCMark Vantage but didn't take the top spot in the other stock tests.

Testing:

Sisoft Sandra is a synthetic benchmarking program as well as a diagnostic tool. Sandra allows you to see every little detail about your hardware. We will be running multiple benchmarks so that we can see how different aspects are affected by the new motherboard.

 

 

 

 

 

Processor Arithmetic

 

Multi-Core Efficiency

 

Memory Bandwidth

 

Memory Latency

 

Cache and Memory

 

File System

 

Physical Disks

 

Power Management Efficiency

 

All of the motherboards seemed to be neck-and-neck during all of these tests. This surprised me because I was expecting the Gigabyte EX38-DS4 to pull ahead of the other boards.

Testing:

Sciencemark is a great program for testing real world performance. We ran the benchmark suite and recorded the overall score below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher is Better

 

Cinebench is great for testing your CPU, system, and OpenGL capabilities using 'CINEMA 4D'.

 

Higher is Better

 

HD Tune is useful to compare your hard drives performance was well as your drive controllers.

 

Higher is Better

 

 

Lower is Better

 

Again, the motherboards all performed very closely with one another but the Abit IX38 pulled ahead in most of the tests.

 

Testing:

Crysis has recently been added to our gaming benchmarks. This game is a very difficult on a system and requires some of the best hardware to be able to play on the higher video settings. We will be using the GPU benchmark included with the Crysis Demo.

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gigabyte EX38-DS4 performed a few frames per second better than most of the competition in this benchmark. Let's see how it fares in other games!

Testing:

PT Boats: Knights of the Sea is a new game that features DirectX10 title and it also has its own graphics engine currently in development.

 

The settings we will use are below:

 

 

 

 

 

As patches come out for this game, it'll be interesting to see if the DS4 will perform any better.

Testing:

BioShock is a fairly new Sci-Fi game that is quite popular. Let's see if the intense graphics will take a toll on the test system.

 

Settings:

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

The DS4 fared well in the higher resolutions but was sub-par in the other resolutions.

Testing:

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is the latest installment in the Call of Duty series. This game is extremely addicting and is very hard to stop playing because of the amazing graphics and the great mission line up. Since there is no in-game benchmark, we'll measure the average FPS using Fraps 2.9.3.

 

The settings used are listed below:

   

 

 

 

 

 

Again, the DS4 does better at higher resolutions.

Testing:

World In Conflict is another new title that features DirectX10. It's a real time strategy game that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

 

The settings we will use are listed below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

The DS4 didn't do so hot in this game. Maybe it'll pick up in the remaining gaming benchmarks?

Testing:

Call of Juarez is a DirectX10 wild-wild-west-style First Person Shooter. The game's graphics are extremely realistic and you know what that means, right? It's very system-intensive.

 

The settings we will use are listed below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gigabyte DS4 held its own here and remained at the top during all of the resolutions.

Testing

Company of Heroes (Opposing Fronts) is the most recent in the Company of Heroes series. The game takes place in World War II and you're given the choice to either play as the British or the Germans.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The results show us that this game is quite graphically challenging. However, all of the results were almost the same amongst the boards.

 

Testing:

3DMark06 is the common ground for all enthusiasts to show off their system and earn bragging rights.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The board did really well here and that's something I was really hoping for with the 3DMark06 test.

Testing:

Dynamic Energy Saver: To test this feature, I installed the Gigabyte EX38-DS4 without the Dynamic Energy Saver software and took the power wattage readout for idle and load. I then overclocked it and did the same thing. After I had those numbers, I went back and installed the software and took the readings after I let it run for about two and a half hours. When I went to check the overclock results with the DES software, I was denied. The software prompted me that it could only run at stock frequencies which was a major disappointment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below are the stock power wattage readout for idle and load; with and without the Dynamic Energy Saving software installed.

 

The Dynamic Energy Saver shaved off about 20 watts in each test, which isn't bad at all.

Conclusion:

Overall, I felt as though the Gigabyte EX38-DS4 was about average in terms of performance because a majority of its results were neck-and-neck with the other motherboards. This parity in performance across manufacturers boards with similar features and chipsets is to be expected at stock speeds. The real test is when it comes to the enthusiast market and the torture testing begins. The overclocking ability was quite good considering that I was able to get the CPU to a 466 FSB with a 7 multiplier. On some motherboards, I've had to fight for 400 FSB but this motherboard clearly went above 400 with ease. The Dynamic Energy Saver technology is what really set this motherboard ahead of the other motherboards. It shaved off roughly 20 watts from both my idle and load power wattage. On the downside, this software doesn't work while the board is overclocked - it only functions at stock frequencies. I believe that Gigabyte will fix that issue but for now, that's how it is and for an enthusiast, such as myself, who has his system overclocked a majority of the time, it's not very convenient. The technology is up to date, the performance isn't disappointing, the board is quite overclockable, and you'll be able to save power all at an affordable price. Who knows, down the road, we could all be bragging about how much power we've saved with Gigabyte's Dynamic Energy Saver software.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: