Starting off on our trek through our first two P45 boards to hit our labs, we start on the EP45-DS3R. It is GIGABYTE's mainstream version of the P45 and as always the board is based around the same blue coloured full size ATX 24x30cm PCB.
GIGABYTE has really put a lot of work into its research and development of their boards. Layout and proper placement of connectors is necessary for optimal performance as well as good aerodynamics for the case cooling, and the DS3R board has all the goods here. Following their standard layout design, the 24-pin ATX power connector along with the black floppy disk connector are located on the right hand side of the board near the top, just behind the four DDR2 memory slots. The 4/8 pin EPS power connector gets located in its usual spot just behind the PS/2 rear I/O ports at the top left of the board, this keeps most of the larger cables clear of the CPU.
A single green IDE connector gets placed at the bottom right hand edge of the board, just above the six SATA ports supplied by the ICH10R Southbridge. The SATA ports support RAID 0, 1, 10 and 5 though its software RAID components. The IDE port is run off a separate chip since Intel has not had any IDE channels on it's the 8 and 9 series of ICH's.
The CPU area on the DS3R is extremely clean and allows for the installation of large heat sinks - our OCZ Vanquisher test heatsink fit without a problem at all. The CPU is fed its voltage though a six phase regulation system using all solid state capacitors and chokes, making is a more energy efficient design as well as running cooler. Now add to this GIGABYTE has included its DES power management technology in order to further reduce the amount of energy the board uses at idle as well as throttling the CPU and ower phases down at load to keep the power drain as low as possible without hampering too much on performance. This new version is supposed to support overclockers so if you do decide to go the overclocking route, when the CPU hits idle state the board will power down some of its extra phases to save energy. If you prefer not to have DES and go the full manual route, you can simply turn it off thought the DES Advanced applet in Windows, allowing all of the phases to operate at once.
Moving onto the cooling side of things, the DS3R has only two heat sinks on the board, one of the Northbridge and one on the Southbridge. There is no cooling for the Mosfets on the DS3R.
Moving along we have the rear I/O ports. The back looks identical to that of the newer DQ6 series of boards, in fact it's identical in layout to the X48T-DQ6 boards I/O arrangement. The lack of e.SATA on the rear I/O is disappointing however GIGABYTE does provide SATA to eSATA PCI expansion cover brackets with their boards.
Now we move down to the expansion slots on the board. If you're a Crossfire user, this board is definitely for you, and if you've got a P35 board, this will be a good upgrade for you. There are two PCI Express x16 slots on the board, a blue one and a yellow one. If you plan to simply use one graphics card, placing it in the blue slot will give you the full 16 lanes. If you're going to go Crossfire route placing a graphics card into the yellow slot will divert 8 of the 16 lanes away from the blue slot to the yellow, giving you in affect two PCI Express x8 slots - same as how the older 975X chipset used to support Crossfire.
Three PCI Express x1 slots make up the last of the PCI Express expansion slots and are run off the ICH10R Southbridge. We don't have a huge amount of information on ICH10R yet but we believe these slots are PCI Express 2.0 compliant. Lastly there are two PCI legacy slots; we also have rumours that this will be the last chipset from Intel to support PCI. We are not sure how true this is but we are hoping to see more PCIe and less PCI very soon as PCIe TV tuners, sound cards and others flood the market.
In terms of expansion components on the board, GIGABYTE has used two Realtek Gigabit Ethernet controller chips that allow you to combine the two into a virtual 2GB Ethernet connection. For the Firewire support a Texas Instruments PCI Firewire 400 controller chip is included.