On the test bench today, we have Gigabyte’s latest Micro ATX offering, the Intel G45-based EG45M-DS2H. This board carries the typical Gigabyte enthusiast charm, but also caters towards those looking to build a media center. But how does it stack up against the other Intel mATX boards we’ve tested recently?
Gigabyte’s EG45M-DS2H motherboard takes a novel approach to the design of an affordable integrated-graphics motherboard that’s capable of supporting multiple displays. Rather than focus on providing the installed video card with maximum bandwidth, the EG45M-DS2H sources the PCI-express bandwidth from another device entirely, ensuring that the onboard G45 chipset can run to the fullest of its potential while still feeding a secondary graphics device.
In addition, the EG45M-DS2H boasts a full set of features designed to improve system performance while minimizing energy usage. The board’s 4-stage power supply nets some power efficiency gains, but that’s not the only power-saving feature on the board.
The Intel G45 chipset can handle the processing load of decoding HD video more efficiently than a CPU-bound decoding process, a factoid we picked up at this year’s fall Intel Developer Forum where a G45-equipped notebook PC was shown that could play an entire Blu-ray movie on a single charge. When it comes to media center PC applications, the EG45M-DS2H has what it takes to get the job done efficiently.
Efficiency aside, we were somewhat disappointed in the raw performance of the EG45M-DS2H, even in view of the tradeoffs involved in its design. Whether it was our synthetic benchmark tests, our real-world application testing, or our direct hardware tests, the EG45M-DS2H managed to come up just shy of the Intel DG45ID’s already underwhelming performance from our last ‘budget’ motherboard review.
We did, however, see a marginal uptick in gaming performance from the G45 chipset, but you’d have a hard time convincing us that the tiny improvement in gaming performance was worth the loss of application performance that we observed.
The difference in app performance is probably not make-or-break in this case, but it was measurable. When we tested the EG45M-DS2H with a modest midrange GPU installed, we experienced first-hand the performance penalty paid for using the southbridge to feed the video card’s PCI-Express slot. The approach has potential merit if a low-end GPU is installed, but don’t even think about installing anything more than a bare-minimum card if you want to get the performance you paid for.
Even with the slow rollout of Intel’s new-generation Core i7 CPUs onto the market, the Core 2 microarchitecture and its 45nm process variants will continue to provide an important presence for Intel in the bang-for-the-buck CPU arena. For that reason, it’s unlikely that the Intel 4-series of chipsets are going to slip into irrelevance anytime soon. Gigabyte’s EG45M-DS2H is a versatile motherboard that can perform well in the role of a media center platform or as the basis for an inexpensive business PC workstation, but if you’ve got gaming on your mind, it’s best that you steer clear.
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