Gigabyte GA-P31-DS3L Review

ccokeman - 2007-09-27 22:41:06 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: November 8, 2007
Price: $ 78.99

 

Introduction:

With each new upgrade, you have a few components that are an absolute must for the upgrade. The video card, processor, memory and last but not least, the base for the whole package: the motherboard. As enthusiasts, we tend to opt for the latest and greatest whiz bang motherboard on the market regardless of cost. Just because it's the thing to do does not always mean it's a smart decision. Sure, it's a guaranteed level of performance on average, but of course your mileage may vary. What about the mainstream folks? The ones who don't want the flavor of the week but just a good stable reliable board to last them for a few years? Is the Gigabyte GA-P31-DS3L that board? It could be with features such as support for the latest Intel processors as well as the next generation 45nm products. Built around the Intel P31 chipset, this board uses solid capacitors for a long durable life, has support for DDR2 1066MHz memory, uses Realtek 7.1 sound, Gigabit LAN and a host of other features that are potent enough to last through the next few years. Will it perform as your average home computer or will it turn out to be an overclocking beast? I don't know, but let's find out.

 

Closer Look:

The product box that the Gigabyte GA-P31-DS3L arrived in has a no nonsense look. It shows the name and series of the product inside on the front of the box, as well as showing off the fact that it features all solid capacitors. The rear showcases the list of included software utilities that the manufacturer sends out with the board. Included are overclocking, system backup, BIOS updating tools, as well as monitoring software.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Opening the box, we can see the included bundle of accessories and how the board is packaged. The bottom of the box is foam lined to help with minimizing the damage to the motherboard in transit. The board is separated from the included accessories by a poorly fitting piece of cardboard.

 

 

With the cardboard separator removed, the board is displayed in the bottom of the box. Highlighted on the board is a sticker, again touting the solid capacitor feature.

 

You have seen the outside, now let's take a look at what makes this board tick.

 

Closer Look:

The GA-P31-DS3L is an ATX form factor motherboard that is designed for Intel socket 775 processors. This board offers support for the current crop of 65nm products, as well as the next generation 45nm products. If you look closely, you will see that the GA-P31-DS3L is a bit smaller than the average ATX form factor motherboard. Is this a positive or negative to the consumer? It really depands on the enclosure it will be going into.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The I/O section of the board shows the connectivity options available to the end user. PS/2 connectors for the mouse and keyboard are still available on this board, as well as a parallel and serial port. Digital sound out is accomplished in two ways, either coaxial or optical. Four USB 2.0/1.1 ports and one Rj-45 jack are available, as well as the analog sound out connections for the onboard 7.1 audio hardware by Realtek. Expansion options include one 16x PCI-E, three 1x PCI-E and three standard PCI slots. Using graphics cards in Crossfire is going to be a no-go here with only the single 16x slot available. But is it really needed for a board that may end up powering a workstation?

 

 

Along the bottom edge of the board you will find all of the drive connection options. Down on this end of the board you will find the two front panel USB connections, the floppy drive and IDE connections. At the bottom right hand side of the board are the front panel connections, the four SATA 3GB/s connections and the standard 40 pin IDE connection.

 

 

This board supports up to four gigabytes of system memory and supports up to DDR2 1066 memory speeds natively. The CPU socket area is quite congested and may prove to be a problem when mounting large aftermarket heatsinks. You will notice that there are no additional heatsinks in the area of the processor socket.

 

 

This board only uses two power connections to supply power to the components mounted to this board. Instead of the 8 pin 12v auxiliary power connector seen on many motherboards out today, this one uses just a 4 pin auxillary 12v supply mounted on the upper left hand side of the board. The main ATX power supply plug is of the 24 pin design.

 

 

Heatsinks used on this board are both aluminum and gold colored. They both seem to take care of the heat generated by the components they were designed to protect. You will notice that the only heatsinks are those on the P31 northbridge and the ICH7 southbridge.

 

 

Last, but not least, are the bundled accessories that come with the GA-P31-DS3L. While the bundle is quite sparse, it does include everything needed to get the average home computer up and running with the basics. Items included are motherboard manual, driver disc, quick start guide, floppy and IDE cables, as well as two SATA cables that feature a positive retention method to keep them from pulling out. The best item, as always, is the case decal.

 

 

Installation:

Putting the GA-P31-DS2L into the chassis is really no different than any other motherboard. Start by installing the motherboard standoffs into the chassis in the correct locations. Install the I/O shield and secure the board down with the screws provided with the chassis. If you use a bolt in heatsink, such as the Tuniq Tower or ZEROtherm Nirvana, you will of course need to install the CPU and heatsink before the motherboard is installed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prepping the P31-DS3L for installation meant installing the CPU and heatsink before the motherboard is installed into the system. Lift up the CPU retaining mechanism, insert the CPU into the socket making sure it is indexed properly to prevent any damage to either the board or CPU. Apply the thermal paste of your choosing and mount the heatsink. Even with the crowded real estate around the socket, the Tuniq Tower fit nicely without any real drama.

 

 

Install the board onto the standoffs and secure it down with the mounting screws. Once secured, you can start with the rest of the hardware that is installed on to the board, such as the system memory and video card.

 

 

Finally, connect the wiring to the board and verify that everything is installed correctly and secured into position so that the all night fragging can begin.

 

 

Closer Look:

The BIOS is one area where a motherboard can be "made" or "broken." For a basic desktop, just the bare bones basics are needed. As an enthusiast, I look for a little more to be there to get the most out of my hardware. Gigabyte has used an Award BIOS for the GA-P31-DS3L. It features seven different tabs to make the adjustments to get the most out of the system used, as well as the quick and easy default and optimized settings tabs.

 

 

Standard:

The Standard CMOS setting tab allows the setting of the date and time, as well as the ability to manually or automatically set the hard drive configuration.

 

 

Advanced:

The Advanced section contains the options to change boot order and the advanced CPU features such as EIST and C1E.

 

 

Integrated Peripherals:

This tab is where the onboard device configuration is done. Sound, USB, LAN and IDE/SATA are configured here.

 

 

Power Management Setup:

This tab is where the ACPI sleep state and resume functions are set up and configured.

 

 

Plug and Play PCI:

In this tab the IRQ settings can be set automatically or manually for the three PCI slots.

 

 

 

Closer Look:

 

PC Health Status:

In this tab, the critical temperatures and voltages can be monitored along with setting up fan control parameters to control the heat buildup in the system components.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Motherboard Intelligent Tweaker:

This section is where the enthusiast will spend the majority of his time as it contains all of the system overclocking options. Processor and memory speeds, voltages, memory subtimings and more are available. The memory timings are accessed by inputting the the command Ctrl+F1 at the main BIOS screen. These settings stay hidden unless the command is used to bring them up. I guess keeping them hidden is a good things when the P31-DS3L is in a novice's hands.

 

 

The P31-DS3L is equipped quite well for life as either an overclocking board or just the average Joe desktop system. The M.I.T. section of the BIOS is where the performance of this board can be increased dramatically. The CPU host frequency, or FSB, can be adjusted up to 700MHz giving enough overclocking headroom for even the most adventurous of us. PCI-E frequency can be taken from 100 to 150 MHz.

 

 

C.I.A.2 allows the novice to use preset overclocking options to dynamically adjust system performance to meet the computing needs of the user. The memory multipliers are preset and dependent on the FSB of the processor that is installed. High speed DRAM DLL provides two preset memory timing configurations to try before manually setting the timings.

 

 

The available voltage options on the GA-P31-DS3L are good enough to allow the enthusiast enough adjustability to make the most of his hardware. One thing I did not like about the voltage options was how the increase amount was set in the BIOS. Instead of allowing the user to see the actual voltage that the increase causes, Gigabyte has chosen to just show the amount of the increase. It leaves the user searching for the defaults. The system voltages can be set automatically or manually, with manual being the preferred method for the enthusiast. With that out of the way, 2.00 volts is available for the CPU core, more than enough to get the results you are after.

 

 

System Memory voltage is adjustable up to .7 volts above JEDEC spec of 1.8 volts for DDR2 memory, or a max of 2.5 vdimm. This should allow all but the most hardcore enthusiasts enough adjustability. The rest of the voltage options allow enough flexibility to gain significant performance from your hardware.

 

 

 

Configuration:

Putting the hardware together is just the first part of the system building process. Once the operating system is installed, the drivers specific to the motherboard and hardware must be installed in order to function properly. Manufacturers usually include a disk with all of the drivers for the motherboard as well as any integrated hardware such as the sound and LAN. Many times, the disc will autorun and pop up an installation GUI. If it does not, the user can always do a manual installation of the drivers. The GUI that pops up with the included disc is shown below. Each tab has a submenu to allow for the installation of the hardware specific to your build. You start the process by inserting the driver disc into any of the optical drives in the computer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The install GUI has five separate tabs, each with a wealth of software available to use with this motherboard. Included are many applications and utilities so that they will not have to be downloaded. The first tab includes all of the device drivers specific to this series of motherboards. The second tab is where all the software and utilities are found. Included are some proprietary software as well as some well known software applications.

 

 

The third tab is the driver CD information tab which shows the items on the CD in an easy to read format. The hardware information tab shows just that, the motherboard hardware. It is shown in a format that groups the hardware by device type.

 

 

One of Gigabyte's proprietary applications is Easy Tune 5. This application is a monitoring tool as well as having the ability to overclock the system from within Windows. I will show the installation and configuration of this utility.

 

 

Once Easy Tune is installed and starts up, the application checks for any updates to the program. Turbo mode gives three quick and easy levels of performance. Click it and go.

 

 

CIA 2 mode is where the overclocking with preset profiles is allowed. The overclocking profiles are set to dynamically improve the system performance when needed.

 

 

Overclocking mode allows for manually setting the CPU FSB memory speed and voltages for both items. There are two different modes under this tab; easy mode, which adjusts CPU performance by percenteges, and advanced mode, which allows for manual setting of the CPU and memory FSB and voltages.

 

 

Under the PC Health tab there are three sub headings, Hardware Monitoring, Settings and Alert audio setting. Each has its own list of items to display.

 

 

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/ Intel® Celeron processor in the LGA 775 package
  2. Support for Intel Hyper-Threading Technology
  3. L2 cache varies with CPU
 
Front Side Bus
1333/1066/800 MHz FSB
Chipset
· NorthBridge: Intel® P31 Express Chipset
· SouthBridge: Intel® ICH
Memory
  1. 4 x 1.8V DDR2 DIMM sockets supporting up to 4 GB of system memory (Note 1)
  2. Dual channel memory architecture
  3. Support for DDR2 800/667 MHz memory modules (Note 2)

Because of chipset limitations, when using FSB 1333 MHz CPU with populating all DIMM sockets, memory frequency will be reduced from the original, and system instability or incorrect detection of memory module may be occur. Please refer "Memory Support List" for memory support information.
(Note 1)Based on standard PC architecture, a certain amount of memory is reserved for system usage and therefore the actual memory size is less than the stated amount. For example, 4 GB of memory size will instead be shown as 3.xx GB during system startup.
(Note 2)Some memory configurations will result in memory frequency being reduced from the original frequency.

Audio
  1. Realtek ALC888 codec
  2. High Definition Audio
  3. 2/4/5.1/7.1-channel
  4. Support for S/PDIF In/Out
  5. Support for CD In
 
LAN

RTL 8111B chip (10/100/1000 Mbit)

Expansion Slots
  1. 1 x PCI Express x16 slot
  2. 3 x PCI Express x1 slots
  3. 3 x PCI slots
 
Storage Interface
SouthBridge:
  1. 1 x IDE connector supporting ATA-100/66/33 and up to 2 IDE devices
  2. 4 x SATA 3Gb/s connectors supporting up to 4 SATA 3Gb/s devices
iTE IT8718 chip:
  1. 1 x floppy disk drive connector supporting up to 1 floppy disk drive
 
USB
  1. Integrated in the SouthBridge
  2. Up to 8 USB 2.0/1.1 ports (4 on the back panel, 4 via the USB brackets connected to the internal USB headers)
 
Internal I/O Connectors
  1. 1 x 24-pin ATX main power connector
  2. 1 x 4-pin ATX 12V power connector
  3. 1 x floppy disk drive connector
  4. 1 x IDE connector
  5. 4 x SATA 3Gb/s connectors
  6. 1 x CPU fan header
  7. 2 x system fan headers
  8. 1 x power fan header
  9. 1 x front panel header
  10. 1 x front panel audio header
  11. 1 x CD In connector
  12. 1 x S/PDIF In header
  13. 1 x S/PDIF Out header
  14. 2 x USB 2.0/1.1 headers
  15. 1 x chassis intrusion header
  16. 1 x power LED header
 
Back Panel Connectors
  1. 1 x PS/2 keyboard port Connectors
  2. 1 x PS/2 mouse port
  3. 1 x parallel port
  4. 1 x serial port
  5. 4 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
  6. 1 x RJ-45 port
  7. 6 x audio jacks (Center/Subwoofer Speaker Out/Rear Speaker Out/Side Speaker Out/Line In/Line Out/Microphone)
 
I/O Controller
  1. iTE IT8718 chip
 
H/W Monitoring
  1. System voltage detection
  2. CPU/System temperature detection
  3. CPU/System/Power fan speed detection
  4. CPU overheating warning
  5. CPU/System/Power fan fail warning
  6. CPU fan speed control
 
BIOS
  1. 1 x 4 Mbit flash
  2. Use of licensed AWARD BIOS
  3. PnP 1.0a, DMI 2.0, SM BIOS 2.3, ACPI 1.0b
 
Unique Features
  1. Support for @BIOS
  2. Support for DownloadCenter
  3. Support for Q-Flash
  4. Support for EasyTune (Note 3)
  5. Support for Xpress Install
  6. Support for Xpress Recovery2
  7. Support for Virtual Dual BIOS

(Note 3)Available functions in Easytune may differ by motherboard model.

Bundle Software
  1. Norton Internet Security (OEM version)
 
Operating System
· Support for Microsoft®Windows®Vista/XP/200
Form Factor

ATX Form Factor; 30.5cm x 21.0cm

Remark
  1. Due to different Linux support condition provided by chipset vendors, please download Linux driver from chipset vendors' website or 3rd party website.
  2. Due to most hardware/software vendors no longer offer support for Win9X/ME. If some vendors still has Win9X/ME drivers available, we will publish on website.
 

 

Features:

Testing:

Here at OverclockersClub.com, we have put together a series of benchmarks to show real world performance, as well as gaming performance on the items we are reviewing. Without another Intel P31 chipset board for comparison, I will use several boards that feature the more highly touted Intel P35 chiset for my comparison. The GA-P31-DS3L will be compared to several boards that are in what I would call the budget class. Does this board belong with them? Let's find out. All clock speeds and memory timings will be the same on each of the boards to eliminate any variables. All video card settings were left at setup defaults, also to eliminate any variables.

 

Testing Setup:

Comparison System:

 

The system tests we will be using are listed below:

Lets get started with Apophysis. This program is used primarily to render and generate fractal flame images. We will run this benchmark with the following settings:

The measurement used is time to render, in minutes, to complete.

 

Lower is Better

 

WinRAR is a tool to archive and compress large files to a manageable size. We will use 10MB, 100MB and 500MB files and test the time needed to compress these files. Time will be measured in seconds.

 

 

 

 

The results for Apophysis are within a tenth of a second, so there is no clear winner here. The CPU at stock speeds is going to give repeatable results across platforms.

Testing:

Specview is a benchmark designed to test OpenGL performance. The tests used for comparison are listed below. The default tests were chosen to be able to compare across platforms. In these tests, higher scores equate to better performance.

 

 

 

Higher is Better

 

Higher is Better

 

Higher is Better

 

Higher is Better

 

At stock speeds, none of the boards really stand out from one another. I looked to find some disparity between the chipsets but so far, the results are very close.

Testing:

PcMark05 is used to measure complete system performance. We will be running a series of tests to gauge performance of each individual board to see which board, if any, rises above the others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher is Better

 

Higher is Better

 

Higher is Better

 

Higher is Better

 

On six out of eight benchmarks, the P31-DS3 performs as well as, or better than, the competition.

Testing:

Sisoft Sandra is a diagnostic utility and synthetic benchmarking program. Sandra allows you to view your hardware at a higher level to be more helpful. For this benchmark, I will be running a broad spectrum of tests to gauge the performance of key areas of the motherboards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Processor Arithmetic

 

Multi-Core Efficiency

 

Memory Bandwidth

 

Memory Latency

 

Cache and Memory

 

File System

 

Physical Disks

 

Power Management Efficiency

 

The P31- DS3L did fairly well in the memory test section but fell down in a few areas. Overall, it had a strong showing.

 

Testing:

Sciencemark tests real world performance instead of using synthetic benchmarks. For this test, we ran the benchmark suite and will use the overall score for comparison.

 

 

 

 

 

Higher is Better!

 

Cinebench 10 is useful for testing your system, CPU and OpenGL capabilities using the software program CINEMA 4D. We will be using the default tests for this benchmark. Cinebench recently distributed release 10. In order to keep pace with newer hardware, this benchmark will be used to further stress the components in each test system. Because this is a new addition, we will test only the hardware currently being reviewed. The results will be both stock and overclocked.

 

Higher is Better

 

HD Tune measures disk performance to make comparisons between drives or disk controllers.

 

Higher is Better

 

 

Lower is Better

 

Performance across the system suite of benchmarks is comparable, some of the results are within a margin of error while others are clearly superior. Let's move to the gaming benchmarks to see if the performance continues to be close or if the P31 chipset has some more in the tank.

Testing:

Now that the system benchmarks are complete, we will move on to the video benchmarking portion of the review. I will be using an EVGA 8800GTS 640MB as the video card of choice for today's test. We will be using an assortment of games to test performance across manufacturer's boards to look for any performance advantages.

 

The game tests that we use are as follows:

 

First up we have Far Cry. This game makes extensive use of pixel shaders and features Polybump normal mapping technology to increase character details.

 

We will be using the Hardware OC Benchmarking Utility version 1.8 with the following settings.

 

 

 

Testing:

F.E.A.R. is a newer game that includes its own benchmarking utility. We will be using this test to benchmark the game. This game introduces a new AI model that emulates real squad behavior. It has the ability to counteract the moves you make rather than having a predictable routine.

 

The settings we will use are below:

 

 

 

 

 

The GA-P31_DS3L holds its own in F.E.A.R..

 

Testing:

Benchmark: BioShock

BioShock is one of the newest games on the market. It is a demanding game that will make your hardware scream for mercy. This first person shooter allows for an infinite number of weapons and modifications to them, to provide a unique experience each time it is played. BioShock is a new addition to our game benchmarking suite, so comparison data will be stock vs. overclocked on the P31-DS3L.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Settings:

 

 

 

Overclocking the P31-DS3L offered a benefit at the highest resolution.

 

Testing:

Call of Duty 2 is a WWII first-person shooter game that is dated, but still maintains a tremendous online following. This test will consist of a timed run on the Stalingrad multi-player map, measured by Average FPS (frames per second).

 

The settings used are listed below:

 

 

 

 

 

At stock speeds, the P31 board was kind of a wash. It just did not give up the FPS like the other boards did. Its performance was just slightly better in one benchmark.

Testing:

Quake 4 is next up for testing. We will be using the Hardware OC Quake 4 Benchmark Utility version 1.5 to complete the testing with this game. You will need to update to the most current version for the latest time demo and bug fixes. Average FPS (frames per second) will be the measure used.

 

The settings we will use are listed below:

 

 

 

 

The P31 is either on par with, or better than, the competition in all three categories.

 

Testing:

Need For Speed: Most Wanted. For this test, we will time each race and record the average FPS (Frames Per Second) achieved.

 

The settings we will use are listed below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At least in the gaming benchmarks the P31 chipped board holds its own, sometimes giving better performance.

 

Testing:

3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up during a bragging contest. 3DMark06 presents a severe test for many of today's hardware components. Let's see how this setup fares. The settings we will use are listed below.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

Clearly the P31-DS3L has soundly beaten the competition in this benchmark. Picking up points in this benchmark is tough, but the Gigabyte board pulled it off.

 

Testing:

RyderMark is a new benchmark developed by Candella Software. The benchmark illustrates a speed boat race through the famed canals of Venice, Italy. There are many options that can be changed in the benchmark, the settings we have settled on to complete this benchmark are listed below. Please check back for a full review on this new benchmark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

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It looks as though RyderMark was a bit too much for this board. It performed well enough, but was still soundly beaten in the resolutions tested.

Overclocking:

Overclocking:

Pleasantly surprised is the phrase of the day. Going into this review, I did not have high expectations regarding the performance of the board. When taking into consideration the more highly touted P35 chipset on the comparison boards, I felt this would be a good workstation board. It is sparsely featured and has few things to lead you down the performance path. Boy was I wrong! This board is a sleeper. Those who know a bit about street racing know the term well. Maybe the Walking Tall reference will bring it into perspective, "Walk softly but carry a big stick!" This board delivered the goods when it came time to ramp up the speeds on the memory and processor. I achieved an overclock of 465x9, or 3720MHz, on my E6750. Figuring I have a Q6600 as well, I put it in and booted to prime stability at 427X8, or 3416MHz. Something the other boards in this review could not do. This result was gained within 15 minutes of booting the board, pretty amazing stuff for such an inexpensive motherboard, if you ask me. At this speed, the board was not only benchmark stable, but also Prime 95 stable. That may not mean a whole lot outside the enthusiast community, but the stress imposed on system components makes this test one of the more demanding utilities to run. If it's Prime stable, it's stable enough to run 24/7.

 

 

 

 

Conclusion:

The GA-P31-DS3L acts like both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. As a budget desktop offering, it is the mild mannered Dr. Jekyll. Start playing in the M.I.T. section of the BIOS and Mr. Hyde comes out to play. That can be taken one of two ways, very good or very bad. In this case, it is very good. I was pleasantly surprised to see a budget offering overclocking like some of the better known hardware on the market. I was able to adjust the front side bus up to 465MHz with the default multiplier on the E6750 and stopped at 425x8 with my Q6600 used in this review. In no way was I expecting the overclocking results that I pulled from this board. It was not the best in every benchmarking category, but it was at least comparable to its big brothers' performance when it was not exceeding their results. The two things that I really did not like were the hidden performance options in the BIOS, and the voltage settings. It really is more of a nuisance to find the performance settings without doing the research in the manual. Once found, they do offer enough flexibility to get the job done. If you don't know what the beginning voltages are for the chipset and memory, it makes it difficult to make sane adjustments to the voltages. If you are looking for a motherboard that is inexpensive yet has excellent overclocking potential, you may just want to check out the Gigabyte GA-P31-DS3L. It has the neccesary tools to function as both the little desktop that could, as well as performing like a thoroughbred purpose-built overclocking board if it needs to.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: