One of our favorite P965 boards in the labs over the course of the past few weeks has been the Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3. It has been a love and hate relationship at times as most first release motherboards are apt to do to a user. Let's be honest about this motherboard, the first two BIOS releases were just good enough that the first owners could get the board working properly but that was about it unless you had a magical combination of components. To be fair, the vast majority of P965 motherboards on launch day had several issues and some still do two months later. While the majority of these launch issues centered on memory compatibility and were easily rectified with either budget or very high-end memory choices, this chipset was designed for the mid-range performance sector, a sector that typically was not going to utilize generic DDR2-533 memory or spend more on DDR2-1000 modules than the cost of the motherboard and CPU combined. Over time the majority of issues have been solved through BIOS releases, updated memory SPD settings, and a more thorough understanding of the Intel P965 chipset and its capabilities.

Getting back to the Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3, upon release we encountered some memory compatibility issues, the JMicron IDE controller caused most optical drives to be stuck in PIO mode, there were sporadic overclocking issues with USB peripherals, and booting at various FSB speeds seemed to be the most common issues with the F1 or F2 BIOS. The memory compatibility issue was a show stopper at times. The primary issue was the board was providing the standard Intel specification of 1.8V for the memory at POST and several memory modules that defaulted to tighter timings with 2.0V or 2.1V would not allow the board to POST. One workaround was to place a 1.8V capable module in the board, boot, enter the BIOS, set the memory voltage at +.3V, save the settings, reboot, shut down, reinstall the original memory, and boot the motherboard. While not a sufficient answer to the problem, it did work for those having this boot issue.


The F3 BIOS release solved the majority of these first release issues along with greatly improving memory capability. We found in our initial testing that the memory compatibility issues were random to a certain degree. These issues or lack of depended upon the BIOS release, memory manufacturer, memory IC utilized, and SPD settings. As an example we had two identical sets of memory from the same manufacturer, one worked fine, the other did not. It turned out the SPD settings were different between the two sets. We blame both parties equally for these issues as some of the memory SPD settings were incorrect along with the fact that the BIOS was not fully optimized yet. We found several motherboards that would not cycle properly when recognizing upon POST that the memory SPD had proper settings to default to in case of an issue. The other memory issue that still exists today is that most Micron D9 based memory modules will not allow the board to exceed a 450 FSB range when operating at a 1:1 memory ratio. This issue does not occur on the Gigabyte GA-965P-DS4 or GA-965P-DQ6 motherboards so we consider it to be a BIOS issue. We have spoken at length with Gigabyte about this problem and it is currently being addressed by their engineering group.

While the F3 BIOS was very stable and addressed many issues, the overclocking capability of the board was still not up to par with its technical specifications. The F4 BIOS improved overclocking for the vast majority of users although the E6600, E6700, and X6800 CPUs were still not clocking to the same levels as on 975X motherboards. Of course, we continue to believe the E6300 or E6400 CPUs are best suited for the P965 chipset. This is especially true for those who want to overclock these processors as the P965 chipset has proven itself up to the 600FSB level to date, although the memory performance penalty at that level is horrendous. The F5 and F6 BIOS releases resulted in additional memory compatibility, performance tweaking, and other minor fixes but the overclocking aspects were not really improved when compared to the F4 BIOS. In fact, the F6 BIOS introduced an issue for users of Creative Labs X-FI cards as the card would not be recognized properly or would just stop working altogether depending upon the combination of other components in the system. Our current F7 beta BIOS does not have this issue.

During our P965 motherboard roundup testing we settled on the F5 BIOS as it offered the greatest compatibility among a wide variety of components while offering the best overall performance with our components. We still had a few issues with this BIOS or the F6 we are testing with today. Our primary issue is the Micron D9 FSB limitation and our ability to operate an E6600 CPU past the 400FSB level in a stable manner with the stock 9x multiplier. We also found any FSB setting higher than 425 when running the E6600 at the 8x multiplier was typically not stable. Although we normally recommend the E6300 or E6400 for the P965 chipset, we find the E6600 to be in the sweet spot for CPU performance at this time. It has the slight performance advantage of the 4MB cache in most applications, a decent multiplier for overclocking, excellent price to performance considerations, and recent E6600 steppings are consistently hitting the 3.6GHz to 4.0GHz range on air cooling now.

Up until recently, most E6600 owners would have opted for the 975X based motherboards but recent BIOS releases from several manufacturers are allowing this processor to spread its wings on the P965 platform. Gigabyte has certainly taken note of this trend and is currently readying their F7 BIOS release that promises additional overclocking headroom for Conroe CPUs and full support for the upcoming Kentsfield processors. Gigabyte graciously provided us the F7 BIOS over a week ago for testing and we are excited to provide some initial overclocking results today with our F7E beta. The final F7 version is due to be released within the week. (Ed: Note that it is now released.)

Let's take a quick look at the overclocking performance of the F7E BIOS now.

Overclocking
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  • Gary Key - Thursday, October 12, 2006 - link

    Not yet, they are still looking at it. It was fixed in our F7E, gone again in the F7 final. Honestly, I feel like F7E should have been the final now. ;-) Reply
  • BillClo - Wednesday, October 11, 2006 - link

    I'm glad that the testers mentioned the requirement for many users to install a 1.8v memory stick just to get the system to POST, change settings, shut down and reinstall the higher-performance memory. The only problem is that I, and probably most people who encounter this problem (with memory that by the way, Corsair says IS compatible), don't have any DDR-533 memory laying around with which to swap out. I find this necessity totally unacceptable, and Gigabyte ought to be ashamed of their product. They say it's the fault of the memory makers, and I think both parties are partially to blame.

    How can one update to the latest BIOS so your memory can work when you can't even POST, let alone get to DOS to update BIOS? Disgraceful situation.
    Reply
  • Marlin1975 - Wednesday, October 11, 2006 - link

    DDR2 specs at 1.8Volts. That is what the boards are made to accept DDR2. If a memory makers wants to set theirs higher then take that up with them. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, October 11, 2006 - link

    Note that POSTing with other RAM is no longer required with the latest BIOS, although if you have a board with an earlier BIOS that doesn't help much. However, even if you don't own any other DDR2, it shouldn't be too difficult to borrow some from a friend for the operation. At least swapping DIMMs is about as painless a task as anything short of external peripherals.

    A lot of local computer stores would probably be willing to help out if necessary. They want your business, so if you explain the situation and bring in your PC, a lot of them will help you out for a minimal charge. Most enthusiasts have at least one other friend that will be into computers, though.
    Reply
  • BillClo - Wednesday, October 11, 2006 - link

    I find myself in the curious position of having friends who don't have a modern system (most are still stuck with AMD XPs or P3/4 Intels) so borrowing a stick of DDR2 isn't an option.

    Nor are the local shops willing to help out. Out of all of them, only one had any interest in helping, and the only way they'd do it was if I brought the system in, they did all the work, and by the way, the usual minimum $50 charge applied.

    I have the choice of paying $50 for a local shop to do what I ought not to have to do, or buy another memory stick of DDR533 for about $40 and PRAY that it's compatible. Shouldn't have to go to such measures to get what is supposed to be an ENTHUSIAST level board to even POST. :(
    Reply
  • modestninja - Wednesday, October 11, 2006 - link

    Go to somewhere like Best Buy and purchase a stick. They have a 30 day return policy, so before that's up return the RAM. There you go, minimal hassel and you can update your BIOS.

    Also, pretty much any DDR2 533 will work because pretty much any stick works at 1.8V.

    Finally, this is hardly the Motherboard manufacturer's fault since all they did was follow a spec. From my understanding, all the memory makers had to do was put in a slower SPD with a standard 1.8V and it would work no problem.
    Reply
  • BillClo - Saturday, October 14, 2006 - link

    As an update, I went to the expense to pick up the only affordable DDR2 stick in this entire town (a 512MB generic stick from Staples). Made absolutely no difference; the system still won't boot. I also tried swapping out power supplies, different video card. I get no beeps from the board when I remove RAM or leave the video card out. Reset CMOS a couple times.

    The only thing strange I discovered is that the PCI slots are rev 2.3, and all the PCI video cards I have on hand are rev 2.1/2.2. I will initially only be using this system for Folding At Home, so a nice video card isn't needed initially (may get an X1900 series to run their GPU client in early '07).

    So ended up RMA'ing the piece of junk board. My first and last time buying Gigabyte.
    Reply
  • OcHungry - Friday, October 13, 2006 - link

    Way to go. Teachem how to cheat. Not even an atheist makes such recommendation. Reply
  • imaheadcase - Wednesday, October 11, 2006 - link

    I will send mine to anandtech, they are my friends. Whats that anandtech "accidently" put in 4gigs of memory when they sent it back?! I love my friends.. :P Reply
  • yacoub - Wednesday, October 11, 2006 - link

    quote:

    although the E6600, E6700, and X6800 CPUs were still not clocking to the same levels of the 975X motherboards.
    Reply

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