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.
Efficient power design.
G45 chipset lends media center capability.
Can use onboard IGP and discrete GPU simultaneously.
Plenty of expandability for older PCI devices.
Can’t take advantage of high-performance discrete GPUs.
Suffers from immature chipset and IGP drivers.
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