Intel and their Core 2 processor line have made a startling comeback against AMD, taking back the performance crown, while maintaining a very competitive pricing structure. Power and heat requirements also dropped, and the Core 2 Duo and Extreme processors are certainly at the top of any gamer's shopping list. The choice of platform is still an open question, and Intel really needed a corresponding mainstream choice to go alongside the powerful i975X. Enter the 965 Express-based family of chipsets, including the Q965 and G965 (with onboard graphics) and the more powerful P965. In this review, we're looking at the Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 motherboard, which features the Intel P965 chipset, and offers performance levels rivaling the i975X.
The Intel P965 chipset is one third of the 965 Express family of chipsets, and offers a nice transition between the high-end i975X and the more mainstream Q965/G965 chipsets with integrated graphics. In the product specifications, Intel even lists the P965 as a performance mainstream option, while the Q965 and G965 are purely mainstream chipsets. This is not just a naming or marketing difference, and the P965 does offer additional performance and feature enhancements over the standard 965 Express platform, while maintaining an attractive price-performance ratio.
The Intel P965 supports the 533, 800, and 1066 MHz system bus speeds, and can support all Core 2 Duo, Pentium D, Pentium 4/Extreme, and Celeron D LGA775 processors, along with headroom for upcoming Intel models. The P965 platform supports dual-channel DDR2 at up to 800 MHz, with 8 GB of memory addressability and 12.8 GB/s of available bandwidth. The chipset also supports Intel Fast Memory Access, which improves performance by lowering memory latencies and optimizing overall bandwidth, and Flex Memory Technology, a feature that allows differing sizes of memory modules to be installed, while maintaining the dual-channel DDR2 operating mode.
Other important features of the Intel P965 chipset is its support for PCI Express x16, PCI Express x1, and PCI interfaces, allowing a great deal of flexibility with system configurations. SATA 3.0 Gb/s is a standard option, as is support for Intel Viiv Technology, which enhances multimedia capabilities, and Intel Quiet System Technology, a feature that provides advanced cooling with optimized fan speeds and noise. Intel High Definition Audio is also a standard feature, and this upgrades standard AC'97 onboard audio solutions with support for up to eight channels at 192 kHz/32-bit quality. There are a few optional features of the P965 chipset, such as Matrix Storage Technology and Intel GbE LAN.
The only area that the Intel P965 chipset falls a bit short on, revolve around support for NVIDIA SLI and ATI CrossFire dual-video card technologies. The Intel 965 Express family only offers a single PCI Express x16 link, does not have inherent support for dual PCIe x16 or x8 graphics slots. Suffice it to say, the Intel P965 is not designed with dual graphics cards in mind. There has been some movement in getting ATI CrossFire working with a P965 motherboard with PCIe x16 and x4 slots, but this is still a far from optimal solution. There is also no native Firewire support in the Intel P965 chipset, so expect motherboard vendors to rely on 3rd-party chips to cover this functionality.