Gigabyte's implementation of the P35 chipset from Intel is useful and caters well to upgraders. The Intel P35 chipset can be paired with either DDR3 or DDR2 memory slots by motherboard manufacturers, and Gigabyte has paired the P35-DS4 with DDR2 memory slots, which means you don't have to buy new memory if you want to upgrade to it.
It features an LGA775 CPU socket, so it can run all current Core 2 and Core 2 Extreme CPUs, but the P35 chipset also gives this motherboard the ability use Intel's next-generation CPUs, codenamed Penryn.
Front side bus speeds of 800MHz, 1066MHz are supported, as well as 1333MHz for the new Intel CPUs. DDR2 memory speeds of 800MHz and 667MHz speeds can be used, or higher speeds, such as 1066MHz. In the BIOS, there are plenty of ways overclock this board, and as long as your CPU can handle it, you'll get great performance.
Using an Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700 CPU, 2GB of DDR2 800MHz RAM and a 500GB Western Digital Caviar hard drive, it scored 103 in WorldBench 6 under Windows Vista Ultimate. However, when we overclocked the CPU to 3.3GHz and the memory to 833MHz, the score rocketed to 115 and we saw massive improvements in the Adobe Photoshop and 3ds Max 3-D tests, where the time to complete those test was cut by over 50 seconds.
The BIOS lets you adjust the front side bus speed of the CPU very easily, and it also lets you separately adjust the multiplier of the memory speed, which is handy. For example, in our test we used a front side bus speed of 333MHz to overclock our CPU to 3.3GHz (with a CPU multiplier of 10), and we used a separate multiplier of 2.5 for our memory modules, which means that they were running at 833MHz. You'll need to have stable memory, or memory that's rated at fast speeds if you wish to overclock successfully. We used Corsair XMS modules rated at 800MHz for our tests. This board and CPU combination proved to be very reliable at 3.3GHz and it ran all our tests straight through without a fault.
We like the clear layout of the BIOS, which makes it easy to manipulate the speed settings, and it also includes an automatic overclocking setting that can kick in when the CPU load increases (Gigabyte calls this setting C.I.A).
Physically, the board has a huge copper heat sink and heat-pipe array on its chipset, which is worthy of showing off, but which can make CPU heat sink removal difficult. Three PCI Express x1 slots are available for expansion, but if a high-end graphics card is installed in the PCI Express x16 graphics slot, then one of these x1 slots will likely be unusable due to the large heatsinks found on these cards. The graphics card slot also resides close to the memory slots, so you'll have to install the memory modules before you install the graphics card. A full-sized PCI Express x4 slot for CrossFire graphics is also available, as are two PCI slots.
Installing the P35-DS4 was very easy under Windows Vista. After the operating system was installed, the maiden boot-up showed all the board's drivers to have been installed, except for the SM Bus controller. We had to run the chipset installation utility on the supplied driver CD in order to get this component installed correctly.
The board runs very quietly when the CPU fan control is set to 'Auto' in the BIOS. In fact, the standard fan on our Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700 barely spun more than a few hundred RPM when the system was idle. When we overclocked the fan spun faster to accommodate the greater heat being generated as it should.
The P35 chipset is paired with ICH9 (Intel controller hub version 9) and it offers two more USB 2.0 ports than we're used to. This board has 12 USB 2.0 ports available, four of which are on the rear I/O panel and eight of which are accessible via pin-headers on the board itself. There is one FireWire port on the rear panel, as well as two gigabit Ethernet ports. But, it's not totally modern. It still has PS/2, serial and parallel ports. Analogue and optical audio outputs facilitate either a stereo or surround sound connection to your speakers.
Storage is catered to by eight SATA II ports and the board also ships with a bracket that has two eSATA ports and an external power connection, which is very handy if you don't have an external enclosure for a hard drive that you want to connect to it.
All up, this board turned out to be a reliable and quick performer and it's a good choice if you like to tinker with and get the most out of your hardware. It's also a great board to go for if you plan to upgrade to the latest CPUs when they're released, but also keep your DDR2 memory.