Gigabyte GA-8IEXP - Page 4

..:: Layout: Northbridge Area ::..

The Intel 82845E Northbridge is covered by an attractive brownish colored heatsink fan unit emblazon with the Gigabyte logo. The heatsink itself is unique when you take into consideration itís rather large size. Normally we come across smaller heatsinks when we see Northbridge coolers, however Gigabyte has chosen to go with a slightly larger cooling solution to keep things cool. The heatsink is held down by two spring-loaded pins on diagonal corners of the unit. These clips are easy to remove if you would prefer to add some better thermal compound between the heatsink and the chip. The cooler with a thermal pad for heat transfer for Iím sure some of you will prefer to move to a better thermal paste.

Just off to the left of the 82845E Northbridge, we come across the two-pin power connector for the Northbridge fan, along with the voltage controller chip. If youíre one of those types that like to add on a resistor and go for broke with your voltages, then this would be the place to pay attention to. If you do decide to go with a voltage mod make sure you have serious cooling or youíll be in trouble. Other than two small capacitors along the top edge of the AGP slot, the area around the Northbridge is very clean and free of any other major items.

..:: Layout: Expansion Slots ::..

The next stop on our trip around the GA-8IEXP is the expansion slot area. The expansion slot setup will please both enthusiasts and OEMís alike with one AGP 4x slot, six PCI slots, and one CNR slot. Surely enough slots to please every crowd. Weíll start off towards the top with the AGP slot and work our way down to the bottom of the board. If you take a look to the right of the yellow audio I/O connector on the rear of the board, youíll notice a header with two white jumpers on it. This is the header for front panel audio. Iíd prefer to see this connector located more towards the right hand side of the board, or bottom for that matter. To the right of the front panel audio header, we see the usual old brown AGP slot. Unlike most boards whose AGP slots come with a clip, the GA-8IEXP uses a form of pin to lock down the graphics card. Simply pull the pin down, insert the graphics card into the AGP slot and let it lock itself in place.

The first major items that we come across along the left hand side of the board are the main audio components. Located between PCI slots #1 and #2, we see the black, four-pin audio header for CD audio in, while between slots #2 and #3, we can see the white Aux in audio connector. Located to the left of these connectors is the Sigmatel STAC9708 AC97í audio codec. This is the first time I have personally come across a board that utilizes a Sigmatel audio codec. As you can see, there is a marking on the board for the usual 24.5MHz clock crystal although it is placed farther down the board as weíll soon see.

The next major item we come across is the Intel 82562ET LAN controller. We are used to seeing either Realtek or VIA LAN controllers around the testing labs here at the MBR home base, although this chip works just as good as the others we have come across. We donít utilize each and every feature offered up by the various LAN controllers so it is difficult to really compare them to one another. Below the 82562ET chip, we can see the 25.0MHz clock crystal. To the right of the 82562ET chip, we can see the black three-pin connector for the S/PDIF connections on the external bracket.

The last item we come across in the expansion slot area is the Creative CT5880 PCI audio controller chip. Once again, this is the first time I have come across a motherboard that utilizes the CT8550 as the audio controller. Actually, this is the first time Iíve come across a board with a Creative chip in quite some time. However, as mentioned previously, we experienced rather dull sound and poor quality with the GA-8IEXP although this could easily be due to the immense amount of other chips on the board causing signal degradation.