Gigabyte’s DQ6 series is always feature-packed, and today’s sample is no exception. Indeed, the EP45-DQ6 takes the DQ6 series concept to new heights with four Gigabit network ports and support for up to four graphics cards—all at a Web price starting around $250.
We wouldn’t think of using a mainstream chipset that supports only sixteen PCI Express 2.0 and six previous-generation PCI Express lanes to support four graphics cards and four Gigabit network ports, but Gigabyte had a plan to make it all work. The device seen between the x16 slots is a PCI Express hub, and it is able to add four by x4 transfer mode to the chipset’s native two by x8 and one by x16 modes. The two x4 slots are open-ended, allowing PCI Express x16 graphics cards to function by “hanging out” past the end.
Before anyone screams that it’s unfair to give Gigabyte a pass on it’s 4x x4 configuration after criticizing the x4-mode x16 slot on Asus’ P5Q Deluxe, there are two important things to remember. First, since the sixteen pathways from the northbridge are all PCI Express 2.0, Gigabyte’s x4 slots have twice the bandwidth as the third x16 slot of the Asus motherboard. Second, Gigabyte’s x4 slots wont’ be knocked down to x1 transfers if another PCI Express slot is filled.
So the EP45-DQ6 can support one card at twice the speed (2.0 mode) of older chipsets, such as the P35, or it can support two cards in x8 mode at the same transfer rates as the former chipset’s x16 mode, and it can even support four cards in x4 mode while providing each with the same transfer rates as previous found in first-generation Crossfire 2x x8 motherboards. That sounds like a reasonable compromise, but we’d still have preferred Gigabyte to apply this technology to a chipset that had more pathways, such as the X48.
You wouldn’t want to run four HD 4870 graphics cards in x4 mode even though it is as fast as the previous chipset generation’s x8 mode, but you can’t fit four HD 4870 into this motherboard anyway. The cards are too thick. For 4-way CrossfireX, your options will be to run two double-processor cards (such as the HD 4870 X2) with each getting eight pathways, or four single-thickness cards (such as the HD 4850) in x4 mode.
But those aren’t your only options. If your system resembles a home server, the x4 slots can be used for other high-bandwidth devices such as professional RAID controllers, multi-port network controllers, and the like. Given the motherboard’s four onboard Gigabit network controllers, we can guess that RAID would be the most likely use.
There’s also a x1 slot at the top and two legacy PCI slots at the bottom, but the x1 slot is limited to cards with a maximum 4.5” length.
Gigabyte doesn’t move its memory slots as far south as Asus, but its primary PCI Express x16 slot is moved one position up. The resulting layout puts DIMM latches a little close to the back side of longer graphics cards, but skilled hands can still remove modules with a card installed.
A twelve-phase CPU voltage regulator bodes well for voltage stability under high-loads, even if it isn’t quite as overkill as the sixteen phases offered by Asus. Gigabyte cools its transistors with two large sinks, and a double heat pipe connects these to the northbridge.
24-pin and 8-pin EPS/ATX power connectors are well placed for most installations, near the EP45-DQ6’s front and rear top corners. Likewise, Gigabyte kept Windows XP users in mind by putting its floppy header on the front edge, above the motherboard’s center line. The Ultra ATA connection is irresponsibly positioned at the bottom edge, but few will need it for a completely new build.
CrossfireX builders may need to sacrifice a few Serial ATA ports if they want to use super-long graphics cards : The uppermost outward-facing ports are a tight squeeze below a super-long double-slot cooler, and the lower two outward-facing ports are covered up by the same types of cards. Non-X2 versions of the HD 4870 will work, but X2 versions will block at least two ports.
Four more SATA ports face forward, so ATX cases that have a hard drive cage near the motherboard’s front edge will block them. Getting back to the CrossfireX HD 4870 X2 scenario, any case that supports cards this long shouldn’t cause problems with the forward-facing ports.
Two USB and three IEEE-1394 FireWire headers line the bottom edge of the EP45-DQ6, which is the opposite of our preferred ratio. The reason for this oddity is that Gigabyte removed the FireWire port from the back of this motherboard and put two extra USB 2.0 ports there instead.
A little further back on the EP45-DQ6’s bottom edge are Power, CLR_CMOS and Reset buttons. Gigabyte bests its competition in cable convenience in the bottom-rear corner by putting a communications port header there, rather than a front panel connection. The front-panel audio connector typically found here is instead located in front of the rear-panel ports, for easy cable reach to front-panel connectors at either the top or bottom of a case.