The mainstream Intel 945GZ Express chipset offers up an affordable
platform of complementary technologies for consumers on a budget. Boards like
the Gigabyte GA-8I945GZME-RH are quite inexpensive, come with onboard video,
have high definition content optimizations, and tick off all the major must
have's for a modern day computer: USB2.0, multi-channel audio, serial ATA
support and networking. When a motherboard is cheap and feature packed, it
always stands out.
Gigabyte's GA-8I945GZME-RH motherboard is built around
945GZ Express northbridge and ICH7 southbridge chipsets, and is Core 2 Duo
compatible. The solution is ideal for cash-strapped consumers, particularly
because the Intel
945GZ variant of the 945-chipset family is evenly matched to Celeron or
'Conroe-L' processors that run on an 800MHz Front Side Bus.
The Core 2 Duo natively runs on a 1066MHz FSB, so
there will be a performance penalty running it on the 945GZ Express chipset
at 800MHz FSB. Anyhow, keep an eye out for those Conroe-L CPUs,
they will be the best processors to use with this board.
The microATX-sized GA-8I945GZME-RH accommodates a maximum of 2GB of DDR2 400/533 memory in a dual channel
configuration; just enough to allow Microsoft Vista to squeeze by. The GA-8I945GZME-RH supports all existing Socket 775 processors
on the aforementioned 800MHz or 533MHz Front Side Bus (FSB), including
the Intel Core 2 Duo, Pentium 4/D and Celeron CPUs.
On the short list of the GA-8I945GZME-RH's hardware
goodies we find an integrated Marvel 8001 Gigabit network card, Intel Azalia
High Definition 7.1-channel audio codec (the necessary surround sound cable to
take advantage of all 7.1 channels is an optional extra however), four USB2.0 jacks,
four 3GB/s SATA connections and of course the onboard Analog Intel Graphics
Media Accelerator 950 (GMA950) videocard at the rear I/O.
Compact microATX boards don't traditionally come with a
lot of peripheral expansion slots, but the Gigabyte GA-8I945GZME-RH is pretty
good on this front. On it we find a triplet of 32-bit PCI slots and a
physical PCI Express x16 slot that accomodates a stand alone
videocard, but with just four PCI Express lanes - not sixteen - and
these come from the ICH7 Southbridge. If you're doing anything even remotely 3D
you'll want to look towards a Geforce 7600GT class PCI Express videocard or thereabouts. The board has four 3GB/s SATA channels and one
puny IDE channel that supports two Ultra DMA100/66 devices. Blame Intel for the death of IDE... especially
if you're hanging onto a bunch of IDE HDDs.
For all the wonderful features and options we've just mentioned, you can expect to pay about $115 CDN ($100 US/£55 GBP) for the
Gigabyte GA-8I945GZME-RH motherboard. Married to the right low-budget CPU,
it will make the foundation for a low cost workstation
or basic office PC. With passive cooled heatsinks on both the Intel 945GZ
Express and Intel ICH7 chipsets, there are no fans to add noise or fail in the
long term either. It's always nice to have a quiet platform.
The layout of components on the GA-8I945GZME-RH are organized and generally
easy to access. If a PCI
Express x16 videocard is installed, it will need to removed before
the DDR-2 memory will go in willingly - a common formality with
microATX motherboards. The GA-8I945GZME-RH is equipped with a 24-pin ATX power
(20-pin compatible) and 4-pin auxiliary 12V power connector. Gigabyte recommends using a power supply with a minimum 350W rating.
If all the
hard drives in the computer you are thinking of upgrading are IDE,
it's time for you to pick up some SATA disks. The Gigabyte
GA-8I945GZME-RH has just one IDE channel, and that basically means
it's for optical drives, and optical drives only.
Looking at the
small pile of items bundled in with the board, there's actually nothing particularly special to note.
It certainly would have been nice if a USB header or the 7.1
HDA surround sound bracket were included. Neither are, though we do get a
single SATA, IDE, and floppy cable.
True to form, the user's manual that accompanies the GA-8I945GZME-RH is well written, and will
guide newbie and expert users alike through the pertinent steps of getting this board
up and running in no time. The blue motherboard PCB is well labeled, so headers
and ports will all have a description close by. For a detailed guide on the
subject building your own computer see PCSTATS Beginners Guide to Assembling a PC, or any of the other Beginners Guides
for that matter.
DX9.0 Graphics Built In
One of the nicest
aspect of the Gigabyte GA-8I945GZME-RH motherboard is that is comes with
it's own graphics built right in. There is a PCI Express x16 (with 4 lanes
of PCI Express only) videocard slot if you wish to use
a stand alone graphics card, and if you play a
lot of first person shooter games you will. If you don't need the power of separate videocard there's
always the integrated Intel GMA950 videocard.
The Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950 is DX9.0 compatible and adequately
suited for 2D workloads in Microsoft WindowsXP or Windows Vista.
The GMA950 runs on a 400MHz 256-bit graphics core and has an assortment of
technologies to make playback of 1080i high definition (HD) content on your
computer monitor run smoothly.
High definition output
to an external HDTV is not supported on the Gigabyte GA-8I945GZME-RH,
although devices called Media Expansion Cards (MCE) apparently bring added functionality
in this respect. Intel's GMA950 supports screen resolutions as high as 2048x1536 at 75Hz via
a single analog VGA jack at the rear I/O panel. PCSTATS will be running a pair
of 1080p and 720p high definition video's through the onboard GMA950 graphics
card to see how it handles the work load a little bit later in this review.
Next up is a breakdown on the
full feature set of the Intel 945 Express series chipsets, including the 945GZ
Express used on the Gigabyte GA-8I945GZME-RH motherboard.