Final Words

The mainstream motherboard market is unbelievably competitive at this time. The breadth and quality of motherboards available in the $85~$135 price range is just remarkable. A lot of this has to do with Intel driving the P45 as the primary chipset of choice for the mainstream user, then backing it up with great processor performance and pricing to boot. AMD is finally back in the game and we will see an expanded rollout of additional performance/value based Phenom II processors shortly.

In a very crowded market space, it is critical that the manufacturers not only offer a compelling product but also back it up with top-flight customer service, technical support, and warranties. We have many compelling products available from a myriad of motherboard suppliers but what we do not have is consistent customer support.

In the effort to drive costs down and compete in an increasingly competitive market, it seems as though customer support has become a lost art. Companies like EVGA get it; they offer the best customer support and warranty in this industry. It is not always perfect, but there are actual human beings interacting with customers on a real-time basis. You might pay a little more for the product, but it is well worth it in our opinion.

We have seen improvements at ASUS, MSI, ASRock, DFI, and GIGABYTE as of late. We still think they all have a ways to go, but it is not as bad as it was a year ago. Of course, it is not as good as it should be either. We have spent the past few weeks discussing this with each company and explaining our retail experience program that is finally ready to launch. We received a mixed bag of opinions but overall the responses were positive and we truly believe each company when it says they intend to improve. We will see as time goes by.

In the meantime, we did a beta test run with the GIGABYTE GA-EP45-UD3P. We purchased the motherboard from Newegg and tested it with the drivers and BIOS available on the website. We sent GIGABYTE's technical support group various questions over a five-week period and they came through four out of five times. This was a significant improvement over our experiences with GIGABYTE last year. We are still not thrilled with the "fill out a help ticket" and wait for an answer method of technical support. In fact, we will not be as kind in our scoring as time progresses if this does not change. Real-time chat is simple to provide if a company is willing to invest in the necessary support staff, and it can be a great help.

The website page for this board was kept up to date and driver/utility updates have been posted on a regular basis. This is a far cry from last year’s debacle with the 780G boards and we commend GIGABYTE on that improvement. We even received our rebate check within thirty days. Support in the forums is strong for this product and we see very favorable comments about it at various sites. Even if GIGABYTE trips up in technical support, we believe you can count on the user community for a solution. So enough soap box talk, what did we think about the board?

GIGABYTE has produced a stellar product when it comes to the GA-EP45-UD3P. This motherboard has a superior layout, great BIOS, incredible overclocking capabilities, high quality components, and a price that belies its feature set and performance. There are many things to like about this board but we think the layout is special. Just about every slot or connector has been perfectly placed to ensure ease of use and no compatibility problems. Even running CrossFire on the board was easy as all of the SATA ports remain accessible - granted the spacing is tight near the SATA connectors but we could still reach them with the board installed in a case.

Second up is the BIOS and overclocking capabilities of the board. The BIOS is a tweaker’s delight, yet the auto settings will allow a newbie to still extract about 90% of the board’s performance when overclocking. However, we still find ASUS' BIOS layout to be more informative and user friendly. The overclocking capabilities of the UD3P are superb and we still think there is additional potential in the board. This board is truly a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Award

We are excited to present our Gold Editors' Choice award to GIGABYTE for their impressive GA-EP45-UD3P. Where do we start when discussing the attributes of this motherboard? Based on the Intel P45 chipset, GIGABYTE has extracted enormous performance potential from their second-generation design featuring Ultra Durable 3 technology. Impressive overclocking abilities with both dual- and quad-core processors? Check. Excellent stability and compatibility? Check. Feature laden layout and software package? Absolutely. Top all that off with technical support that actually addressed our problems. The performance of this board was consistently at or near the top of our benchmarks and ultimately offered the best overall value we have seen in this market segment.

While performance is important, ultimately the product needs to have the right feature set, stability, compatibility, customer support, and pricing. The GA-EP45-UD3P offers all of this and more to potential buyers. The UD3P offers a flexible layout, a tweaker’s BIOS, CrossFire support, an abundance of storage options, an excellent cooling solution, top-flight electrical components, very good HD audio featuring Dolby Digital Live encoding, and an extensive accessory package along with excellent documentation for about $115 with rebate.

There is no perfect motherboard, but the GA-EP45-UD3P comes just about as close to it as possible for its intended market. At least in our initial experience, GIGABYTE has come a long way in improving their customer support, website information, technical documentation, and warranty support compared to our previous experiences. We would still like to see an improvement in this area - mainly a more interactive approach like EVGA takes in supporting their customers. However, the hardware really delivers and as such we highly recommend it.

Power Consumption
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  • Glenn - Tuesday, February 03, 2009 - link

    On second reading of your original post I wonder if you need to "initialize" that disk within Administrator Tools/computer management/Disk Management ? If it's showing up in device manager that is likely the problem. The cables provided by gigabyte work in any motherboard slot to any internal sata device (HD or Optical Drive) in either orientation. Reply
  • 7Enigma - Tuesday, February 03, 2009 - link

    You solved my problem! I am now in the process of formatting the drive after initializing. I have NEVER had this issue before as I guess this issue is Vista specific.

    I cannot thank you enough. I wish this article (and hence my question) had been up a couple days ago and saved me the several hours of wasted life. :(

    Now anyone have a good (free?) ghosting program that will allow me to clone my current 80gig drive to the 250gig so I can get rid of the old PATA to use in my old computer build?
    Reply
  • semo - Tuesday, February 03, 2009 - link

    you've probably never had this problem because your drive already came with an os or the first thing you've done with a new hard drive is to install an os on it. either case, the initialization was done for you.

    to mirror a hard disk --> http://www.pcinspector.de/Sites/clone_maxx/info.ht...">http://www.pcinspector.de/Sites/clone_maxx/info.ht...

    to take a snapshot --> http://ping.windowsdream.com/">http://ping.windowsdream.com/
    http://clonezilla.org/">http://clonezilla.org/

    get the source and destination right. you only get one chance!
    Reply
  • 7Enigma - Wednesday, February 04, 2009 - link

    I've never directly swapped drives out like I'm trying to do here, but I have added additional drives before (all old IDE) and other than the Master/Slave issue the drives were always recognized upon reboot (with a drive letter already given). I'm sure this Vista method gives more flexibility (can have multiple drives installed but not actually recognized), but it was new and annoying to me.

    As for the ghost program I think I'm going to use HDclone. While the free version has slow copy times (~1gig/min), I only have an 80gig HD I'm cloning from so I don't mind a bit extra time. And according to their website they claim they now support the extra space when cloning (previously all the freeware ghost programs had the annoying habit of not adding in the rest of the space on the new HD and so you were left with creating another partition, or getting a program like partition magic to do the job the ghost program should have in the first place.

    Once again than you very much for all the help and quick advice!

    I'll be interested to compare boot times of Vista and games with the new drive. My current 80gig is a 7200rpm Maxtor from several years ago and while the new drive is the same spindle speed I'm assuming that the higher density will allow for quite a bit of an improvement. I'm sitting on the sideline for another year or so before jumping on the SSD bandwagon. Too rich for my blood at the moment, but I drool over them.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Wednesday, February 04, 2009 - link

    In XP when adding SATA drives IIRC it was normal to have to format the drive before it could be used. I don't remember initialization being a separate step though, just format the unformatted space and it would work. Reply
  • 7Enigma - Wednesday, February 04, 2009 - link

    Just wanted to say I am no running my system on my new Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 ST3250410AS 250GB 7200 RPM 16MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive, after a 2hour HDclone that worked flawlessly (and free). Not only that but the new/current version of HDclone also expanded the partition for the new larger drive so I literally just unplugged the old drive after the clone and Vista isn't even complaining to validate again (a fear I had since my copy is Vista Home Premium OEM). I didn't want to try to explain why after building my system 2 weeks ago I'm already swapping the HD....

    Thanks again!
    Reply
  • 7Enigma - Wednesday, February 04, 2009 - link

    no = *now* Reply
  • 7Enigma - Tuesday, February 03, 2009 - link

    That sounds exactly like something that may be the culprit. As I mentioned I just made the big switch from XP to Vista, and am not used to some of the Vista policies.

    I thank you very much for the advice and I'll have to try this ASAP!
    Reply
  • 7Enigma - Tuesday, February 03, 2009 - link

    The bios is pretty confusing when it comes to this (and the manual also doesn't help). I have made sure the SATA bios settings are NOT set to AHCI or Raid, I believe the "off" setting is for it to be seen as IDE.

    I kinda figured SATA didn't use the Master/Slave, but my concern is that since my primary OS drive IS a PATA drive, that there is an issue with trying to recognize a Master SATA (it shows up as master in the bios, whatever that means).

    Another thing is since trying to install the SATA drive (I've since taken it out until I can find some answers) right before Vista loads the windows icon and the logon screen my HD now makes a 5-6 second grinding noise like it's searching the entire drive or something. This never happened before trying to get the SATA drive hooked up, and while it doesn't seem to have affected performance once in windows, it is a bit annoying during bootup (I keep my system off most of the time so on average boot up 2-3 times per day).
    Reply
  • The0ne - Tuesday, February 10, 2009 - link

    I'm not entirely sure of this myself not having gone through reliable tests but I've been having similar problems with HD's as of late.

    Make sure you only have one primary HD. If you have multiple HD set as primary, doesn't have to be active, you will run in problems. Vista chokes up as well. Make sure your HD's are labled properly when partition, Simple, Basic, Primary, etc. And then there's the odd external drive like my WorldBook 1TB that, if connected and power on, will 100% prevent XP or Vista to load up fully to the desktop (on my IP35E MB) or 100% crashes and resets the BIOS when XP/Vista tries to load (currently my EP45-DS3R MB). This WorldBook can only be connected once you're on the desktop.

    I have a hate relationship with WD external drives, they just want to die in my arms for no apparent reasons.
    Reply

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