Being based in Taiwan has its advantages and disadvantages, in this case we're not at CeBIT, but we've still managed to get to take a look at what some companies are showing at the show and we've actually got better product shots than what you get from a show floor. If you're a regular reader of TweakTown, you'll know that we're very good friends with Gigabyte and we're often invited to their offices to take a look at new kit. We had a chance to get to look at some of the stuff that Gigabyte is showing at CeBIT, but due to limited samples of some of the products, we didn't get to see it all. Some things we've posted about some time ago that's on display at the show and we promise that anything that we missed will be posted about as soon as Gigabyte gets all the kit back from the show.
Let's get cracking with what's at hand though and we'll start with an Nvidia 780a based motherboard, namely the GA-M780SLI-DS5. This is likely to be the top of the line board from Gigabyte and it seems like Nvidia has lost some support when it comes to its high-end motherboards for AMD processors. The reason for this is twofold and it's not all Nvidia's fault.
Problem number one is that AMD isn't doing so well when it comes to high-end processors, at least not in comparison even though there's not really anything wrong with the Phenom range, it just can't compete with Intel's processors at the moment. The second problem is that Nvidia has been a little too strict and in our understanding a bit too arrogant against some of the motherboard manufacturers and with other viable alternatives at a lower cost, it seems like some of them have decided to stick with AMD's 790FX chipset for the high-end.
But back on topic, the DS5-series is one step down from Gigabyte's ultra high-end DS6-series, but we doubt anyone buying this board will feel like they missed out on a lot. Starting around the back you'll notice that Gigabyte has dropped the PS/2 port for the mouse, but there's still one for the keyboard. There are also a total of six USB 2.0 ports, FireWire, eSATA, Gigabit Ethernet, 7.1-channel sound with optical and coaxial S/PDIF as well as a D-sub and DVI connector for Hybrid SLI.
Not a bad start, but it doesn't stop there, as the board also has three x16 PCI Express slots, although there's only a total of 32 PCI Express lanes available, so if you were to use 3-Way SLI on this board, two of the cards would be limited to x8 bandwidth. Oddly enough the board doesn't have any x1 PCI Express slots which we find rather odd, but it has no less than four PCI slots. There are also seven SATA connectors, although one of them is located at the rear of the board and shares controller with the eSATA connector. Finally the board has internal headers for a further six USB 2.0 ports, two FireWire ports and a parallel and serial port and there's also an IDE and floppy connector. Not bad indeed, the only question that remains is the cost.
One final thing about the Nvidia 780a chipset, as it shares one evil secret with the 780i, it relies on the N200 chipset. As the 780a chipset is based on the MCP78-series, it needs the N200 to have enough PCI Express lanes for SLI, but this also means that the 32 lanes of bandwidth are only communicating with the MCP78 via 16 lanes. This shouldn't cause a problem with most cards, but we have a worrying feeling that if you were to invest in a pair of 9800GX2 cards for example, then you won't get the best performance from this chipset, as each of those cards also have an N200 chipset which splits the PCI Express lanes. This would mean that the initial 16 lanes are split into 32 which is then split into 64, which doesn't sound like a very good way of doing things to us, but the future will tell how well this works or not.
Next up we have a board that should give the HTPC crowd a warm and fuzzy feeling, the GA-G45M-DS2H. As the name suggests, this board is based on Intel's upcoming G45 chipset and it's also a mATX board. However, this is as far as we know the first mATX board from Gigabyte to feature all solid capacitors, as the AMD 780G and Nvidia MCP78S board's we've seen before doesn't feature solid capacitors. If you're looking for something to use with say the new dual core Celeron processor as an affordable HTPC this might well be the board you've been waiting for, although we don't know what the final retail price of the board will be.
It has ample connectivity options and just as the previous board, this one has shed the PS/2 mouse port in favour for a pair of USB 2.0 ports. In total this board also has six USB 2.0 ports around the back and it also comes with eSATA, FireWire, Gigabit Ethernet, 7.1-channel audio with optical S/PDIF, a D-sub and DVI connector, but it also adds an HDMI connector. If the onboard graphics would prove not to be up to scratch, then there's a x16 PCI Express slot as well as a x1 PCI Express slot and two PCI slots for expansion.
Looking closely at the picture you'll notice that Gigabyte has added coloured plastic shrouds to the USB, FireWire and the serial port headers, these are slightly smaller than those you normally see on motherboards, although the pin-out for the connectors are the same. The board supports a further six USB 2.0 ports, an additional FireWire port, five SATA ports and it also has a single IDE and floppy connector. The other black slot next to the floppy connector is a parallel port header as oddly as it might seem, but this might be useful for those that still use a VFD that connects via a parallel port interface.
The chipset is passively cooled by a rather large heatsink found on several of Gigabyte's P35 boards while the ICH10 is cooled by a rather small heatsink. We're quite looking forward to this board and hopefully the chipset will live up to what Intel has promised so far, at least when it comes to video decoding, but the chipset isn't expected to launch until Computex in June, or at least this is the official launch date, but we've heard that some P45 products at least will be available before then, just as the P35 chipset was available before the official launch.
Next up we have a picture of Gigabyte's passively cooled GeForce 9600GT which goes under the name of NX96T512HP which features the latest incarnation of Gigabyte's Silent-Pipe passive cooling with a new feature that Gigabyte calls Multi-Core which allows for vastly improved heat transfer from the heatpipes to the heatsink. But what we didn't expect was when the graphics cards guys told us that the card will also be overclocked but still run cooler than Nvidia's reference cooler. This looks like it'll be a kickass card for those looking to get a 9600GT, especially as we were told that it should only cost about US$20-25 more than a card using the reference cooler.
We'd just like to point out one thing here for those looking to buy one of these cards, the heatsink should get hot, if it wasn't obvious. That's the great thing with the way these cards have been designed, they draw the heat away from the GPU so it runs cooler and then the heat is transferred to the heatsink quicker than in the past thanks to the extra copper surface that Gigabyte has added between some of the heatsink fins. This copper surface improves the heat transfer from the heatpipe to the heatsink and as such this card is likely to have a much hotter heatsink than most passive graphics cards, but this is a good thing, as the heatsink is meant to dissipate the heat, which in other words means that a cold heatsink is most likely not working all that well.
We knew that Gigabyte made mini ITX motherboards, but the next board we have to show you is something rather spectacular. We were impressed with what Albatron had managed to put together, but this one is even better in most ways. The GA-6KIEH-RH is unlikely to hit the retail market in exactly the way this demo board appears on the picture below, but never say never. It's based on the Intel GM965 chipset just like the one from Albatron and the two have a lot of similarities such as dual Gigabit Ethernet, four USB 2.0 ports, DVI and D-sub as well as component video, but then things start to differ.
As you can see from the picture, the Gigabyte board also has an HDMI connector, but it lacks somewhat in the audio department with only 5.1-channel analogue sound, although it does have a coaxial S/PIDF out. This board doesn't have a x16 PCI Express slot like the Albatron board, so you can't really upgrade the graphics, but it does have a mini PCI slot. It also has a standard PCI slot and a mini PCI Express slot. Add to this a bottom mounted Compact Flash slot which accepts Type I/II cards and you've got a pretty solid board.
However, it doesn't stop there, as Gigabyte has added a Silicon Image 3114 RAID controller to this tiny board which adds support for a wide range of RAID configurations all the way up to RAID 5. It's not hardware RAID and it's an older controller which only supports 150MB/s transfer rates, but it's still an interesting option for those looking to build a compact media server. The board has a total of five SATA ports of which one is connected to the Intel chipset and there's also an IDE connector.. It also has two DIMM slots for DDR2 memory, although the GM965 chipset is limited to DDR2 667MHz memory. Still, it should make for a reasonably affordable platform for a wide range of applications.
Well finish off with a real monster board, the GA-7NSCV1-RH. This is a new dual Xeon board using Intel's recently launched 5100 MCH chipset. The difference here is that this is a low cost solution relying on good old fashioned DDR2 memory rather than the toasty hot FB-DIMM's that most Intel server chipsets use. It's also paired up with the ICH9R which is found on many desktop motherboards using a wide range of Intel chipsets. Although it's great to see an affordable dual Xeon solution, this isn't the major feature of this board as odd as it might seem, neither is the fact that you can stick 48GB of registered ECC DDR2 RAM into the six slots, instead it's something that doesn't come from Intel at all.
If you look carefully just behind the fourth PCI Express x8 slot, you'll see a rather large black chip. This is what sets this board apart from pretty much any other entry level server board. It's a System on a Chip or a SoC from ServerEngines and this allows you to remotely log in and restart the server, so no matter how badly it has crashed, you'll always be able to restart it remotely. Part of the secret here is also the small black connector that you can see just below the 24-pin power connector at the top of the board, as this needs to be attached to a suitable PSU for the SoC to be able to restart the server. As a rather peculiar side note, the SoC features graphics from Matrox and this G200 derived graphics core is also used when the server is used with a screen. The Ethernet port above the two USB 2.0 ports is connected to the SoC while the other two Gigabit Ethernet ports are for connecting the server itself to the network.
Other features include no less than four x8 PCI Express slot for expansion as well as a x1 PCI Express slot and a PCI slot. The board also has six SATA connectors as standard thanks to that ICH9R and as the R in the model name suggests, it comes with Intel's RAID controller built in. There's also a version of this board available with SAS for those requiring something a bit more powerful in the storage department. Overall this looks like it should be a very appeal solution for small and medium sized business looking for an affordable but expandable server motherboard with remote management built in. Considering that most data centres charge you every time you want access to your server, this could save a lot of money in the long run thanks to the built in server management features.
That's it for this time, but we will be checking in with Gigabyte for some more stuff once all the kit has got back from CeBIT and hopefully we'll also get to see some stuff that wasn't at CeBIT.