What We Used
Before we get into the testing, we wanted to give a bit of info on what components we used and a little bit of a rundown on each. We have a couple of repeat products from our AMD HTPC build, but our motherboard is brand new.
The board we decided to use is GIGABYTEs new low cost, low power GA-EP31-DS3L motherboard. It's based around a standard ATX layout on the traditional blue PCB that GIGABYTE use for all its boards. While aiming at a low power and lower cost market, it still manages to impress. The board's layout is exemplary; the 24-pin power connector is placed behind the four DDR2 memory slots while the 4-pin power connector goes behind the PS/2 slots on the left hand top corner of the board. The IDE and SATA ports are at the bottom right of the board, just below the ICH7 Southbridge.
The CPU area is extremely clean thanks to the use of solid state components for the power regulation system. While these components are still higher in cost compared to the older electrolyte capacitors and copper wound chokes, the amount of energy saved using these is incredible. Not only is power saved thanks to the solid state nature, but they also run a lot cooler than traditional voltage regulation systems which allows for a quieter PC.
The CPU is fed voltage through a 4-phase voltage system that can be controlled through GIGABYTEs DES system, allowing the system to run at either two, three or four phases depending on load and the settings that the user applies. Cooling for the board's components comprise a passive heatsink on the P31 Northbridge and a passive heatsink on the ICH7. However, the ICH7 is a much older and cooler running Southbridge; its need for cooling is mute. The P31 is a new addition from Intel to its budget chipset fleet, and while it's aimed at value segments, it's a discrete-only graphics option. There is no Intel GMA based IGP here. Also, given it's a newer chipset, why it's paired with ICH7 and not ICH8 or 9 is beyond us.
Moving to the rear I/O ports, we don't get a huge abundance of ports like we expect with the big boys boards. However, there is enough to keep most satisfied here. We see the return of a Serial and Parallel port on this board. While there are no eSATA ports which are more useful in today's digital market, we are a bit disappointed that at least one eSATA wasn't added through an external chip.
Thanks to the full ATX size of the board there are enough slots for you. The P31 chipset supports a single PCI Express x16 graphics slot using 1.1 specs. If you were hoping for PCIe 2.0, you're going to be left out here. However, all PCIe 2.0 graphics cards work just fine in this board, but at the reduced rate of 8GB/s bandwidth. Two PCI Express x1 slots run off the ICH7 Southbridge which give you additional PCIe expansion possibilities for RAID controllers or eSATA controller cards if you would like to add one in. And lastly, three PCI legacy slots are included for older sound cards and TV tuners if you prefer to use them.
Unfortunately the board doesn't come with any additional controllers onboard; no extra RAID, eSATA or FireWire controller chips to be found, which is a bit disappointing considering we are moving into the digital media world. FireWire is a must for DV cameras, and iPod users will be annoyed at the lack of it too.