Gigabyte EP45-EXTREME Page: 1
IntroductionGA-EP45 EXTREME
 
All together now, shout EXTREME! Today we get the opportunity to review Gigabytes latest high end motherboard in the guise of the EP45-EXTREME. As its name suggests, the motherboard is based on Intel's P45 chipset and is sure to provide some goodies if the EXTREME part is to be believed.
 
Gigabyte have never been ones to fade away into the background. With their bright colour schemes and proven reliability along with exceptional performance, they have been at the forefront of PC component manufacturing since Bill Gates was popping spots. A firm favourite with enthusiasts and system builders alike, Gigabyte have always been seen as a brand you should consider before any other and most recently, Gigabyte have become very popular with EXTREME overclocking thanks to their no gimmick, hassle free and uncluttered motherboards, not to mention the great BIOS features Gigabyte provide.
 
So then may I present you with the EP45-EXTREME. Capital letters usually mean shouting on the Internet but I feel Gigabyte want to shout about this board. With the excellent overclocking abilities of the P45 chipset,  sumptuous copper heatpipe cooling (with the optional watercooling block) and a feature packed motherboard it is clear Gigabyte are aiming for the top of the pile with his release. With a price tag to match the EXTREME name, I hope that the Taiwanese manufacturer can justify spending such an extreme amount especially so close to i7. Lets see what the motherboard has to offer...
 
 
Specifications
 
The specifications were taken directly from the Gigabyte website:  
 
 
CPU
  • Support for an Intel® Core™ 2 Extreme processor/ Intel® Core™ 2 Quad processor/Intel® Core™ 2 Duo processor/ Intel® Pentium® Dual-Core processor/Intel® Celeron® processor in the LGA 775 package(Note) This motherboard is designed with VRD11.1 power phase, and cannot be compatible with VRD10 designed CPU. Please refer to "CPU Support List" for details.
  • L2 cache varies with CPU
Front Side Bus
  • 1600/1333/1066/800 MHz FSB
Chipset
  • North Bridge: Intel® P45 Express Chipset
  • South Bridge: Intel® ICH10R
 
Memory
  •  4 x 1.8V DDR2 DIMM sockets supporting up to 16 GB of system memory
  •  Dual channel memory architecture
  • Support for DDR2 1333+/1066/800/667 MHz memory modules (Refer to Memory support list for more information)
 
Audio
  •  Realtek ALC889A codec
  •  High Definition Audio
  • 2/4/5.1/7.1-channel
  • Support for Dolby Home Theater
  •  Support for S/PDIF In/Out
  • Support for CD In
 
LAN
  • 2 x Realtek 8111C chips (10/100/1000 Mbit)
  • Support for Teaming
 
Expansion Slots
  • 1 x PCI Express x16 slot, running at x16
  • 1 x PCI Express x16 slot, running at x8 (The PCIEx16 and PCIEx8 slots support ATI CrossFireX technology and conform to PCI Express 2.0 standard.)
  • 1 x PCI Express x4 slots
  • 1 x PCI Express x1 slot
  • 3 x PCI slots
 
Storage Interface South Bridge:
  • 6 x SATA 3Gb/s connectors (SATAII0, SATAII1, SATAII2, SATAII3, SATAII4, SATAII5) supporting up to 6 SATA 3Gb/s devices
  • Support for SATA RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, and RAID 10
 
iTE IT8213 chip:
  • 1 x IDE connector supporting ATA-133/100/66/33 and up to 2 IDE devices
 
iTE IT8720 chip:
  • 1 x floppy disk drive connector supporting up to 1 floppy disk drive
 
IEEE 1394a
  •  T.I. TSB43AB23 chip
  •  Up to 3 IEEE 1394a ports (via the IEEE 1394a brackets connected to the internal IEEE 1394a headers)
 
USB
  • Integrated in the South Bridge
  • Up to 12 USB 2.0/1.1 ports (8 on the back panel, 4 via the USB brackets connected to the internal USB headers)
 
Internal I/O Connectors
  • 1 x 24-pin ATX main power connector
  • 1 x 8-pin ATX 12V power connector
  • 1 x floppy disk drive connector
  • 1 x IDE connector
  • 6 x SATA 3Gb/s connectors
  • 1 x CPU fan header
  • 2 x system fan headers
  • 1 x power fan header
  • 1 x front panel header
  • 1 x front panel audio header
  • 1 x CD In connector
  • 1 x S/PDIF In header
  • 1 x S/PDIF Out header
  • 2 x USB 2.0/1.1 headers
  • 3 x IEEE 1394a headers
  • 1 x serial port header
  • 1 x chassis intrusion header
  • 1 x power LED header
  • 1 x power switch
  • 1 x reset switch
Back Panel Connectors
  • 1 x PS/2 keyboard port
  • 1 x PS/2 mouse port
  • 1 x optical S/PDIF Out connector
  • 1 x coaxial S/PDIF Out connector
  • 1 x clearing CMOS switch
  • 8 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
  • 2 x RJ-45 ports
  • 6 x audio jacks (Center/Subwoofer Speaker Out/Rear Speaker Out/Side Speaker Out/Line In/Line Out/Microphone)
I/O Controller
  • iTE IT8720 chip
 
BIOS
 
1. 2 x 8 Mbit flash
2. Use of licensed AWARD BIOS
3. Support for DualBIOS™
4. PnP 1.0a, DMI 2.0, SM BIOS 2.4, ACPI 1.0b
 
Bundle Software
 
1. Norton Internet Security (OEM version)
 
Operating System
 
1. Support for Microsoft/ Windows/ Vista/XP
 
Form Factor
 
1. ATX Form Factor; 30.5cm x 24.4cm
 
Well the specification is certainly distinguished. Everything you could possibly want from a motherboard is there with a massive array of features included the EXTREME name is certainly showings its worth thus far.
 
Lets head over to the next page where we will take a look at the motherboard itself....


Gigabyte EP45-EXTREME Page: 2
Packaging & Appearance
 
When the EP45-EXTREME first arrived at OC3D towers everyone was quite amazed at how big and heavy the package was. Being three times the width of a standard motherboard box and weighing perhaps three times we were very interested in what lay beneath the monolithic package.
 
The outer sleeve of the box is well designed with the main features displayed on the front of the package. To the rear the feature list is explored in greater depth. Thankfully, Gigabyte have opted to provide a sturdy carry handle making transportation easier although with the weight of the box, a fork lift truck wouldn't seem over the top.
 
Front back
 
Side 1 Top
 
The outer sleeve has a flip over 'page' that, once again delves further into the massive array of features this board possesses. The other side of the box has a cutout showing th board itself behind a plastic cutout Taking the outer sleeve off we are presented with 2 further boxes. One containing the accessories and manuals, the other being the moulded plastic case holding the motherboard itself. All the accessories are there that you would expect from a high-end motherboard package complete with a colour coded I/O backplate.
 
Inner box Cut-out window
 
Inner Box Accessories
 
Now we see why the package is so heavy! It appears Gigabyte have mined half the worlds copper mines to make the motherboard heatpipe cooler. In typical Gigabyte style the motherboard resembles an explosion in a kiddies crayon factory. I have made my feelings clear on Gigabytes choice of colour scheme in past reviews so I will not dwell on the subject this time. The heatpipe however most certainly is lush. Being full copper throughout, it will certainly cool the Mosfets, Northbridge and southbridge chips very effectively and being a part push-pin/screw down type fixing the mount should be perfect.
 
The rear of the motherboard is a much more somber affair. Using Gigabytes trademark blue PCB there are perhaps two noticeable difference between the EXTREME and standard gigabyte P54 motherboards. Holding the Northbridge and South bridge heatsinks are a set of thin backplates to ensure the motherboard is not bent. Less obvious are the chips on the back of the mosfets. They are far enough away from the CPU HSF mounting holes not to interfere with any CPU backplate but care should be taken when mounting the board in the case as one slip could knock one of those chips off which will cause havoc with the motherboards power regulation.
 
GA-EP45 EXTREME Motherboard back
 
The socket area is very busy with 12 phase power regulation. With the amount of chokes around the CPU socket it will not be long before manufacturers adopt the DFI method of power regulation with digital PWM. For now though, Gigabytes analogue 12 phase solution is more than adequate to ensure your CPU gets clean and stable power.
 
The DIMM area is anything but. Bright red and yellow memory sockets hint at which channel is which should you wish to run your memory sticks in dual channel. Up to 8GB of 1200MHz DDR2 is supported which is more than enough for todays applications and this is  provided with 3 phase analogue power delivery. Anyone paying £180 for a motherboard should have the funds available for a suitable 24+8 pins PSU which this motherboard demands.
 
 
There is plenty of connectivity provided in the PCI area with 1xPCIe, 3 x PCI and 3 x PCIe 16x (8+8+8). Being crossfire capable in 8+8 configuration it is doubtful the bottom port would be utilised with todays dual slot cards but it is a welcome gesture none the less. As with most modern top end motherboards, Gigabyte have elected to provide on board power and reset switches which illuminate blue when power is attached. This is a great feature as it allows the use of the motherboard outside of a case for either testing purposes or EXTREME benchmarking.
 
On board diagnostic LED is also provided which is a godsend when trying to decipher why any given overclock has failed or why the motherboard will not boot up. Worthy of note is that if you intend on using a dual slot GPU such as 260/280GTX then this will block all of the SATA ports bar the two sat at a 90 degree angle. This is a poor choice of SATA positioning by Gigabyte. The ports can still be used if you have 90 degree SATA cables but the card will be sat at a slight angle which is less than ideal.
 
PCI section  Onboard switches
 
If video editing floats your boat then you will be pleased with the EP45 Extreme as it has 3 on board firewire ports along with 2 USB ports to further the 8 USB ports already situated on the I/O panel. A nice addition to the I/O panel is the inclusion of a CMOS clear switch. As there is no CMOS clear jumper and with the battery situated under the heatpipe assembly this is your only viable option of resetting the BIOS to a stock state. P/S2 mouse and keyboards are still provided for along with SP/Diff outputs. 7.1 Dolby audio 3.5mm analogue ports are also catered for.
 
USB/Firewaire Side panel
 
Lets take a closer look at the cooling of the board which deserves a special mention...


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Motherboard cooling accessories
 
Being a motherboard that is aimed squarely at the enthusiast market it should come as no surprise that Gigabyte have seen fit to include to shiny goodies to tempt you with this product.
 
Waterblock Unrestrictive design
 
First off is the waterblock. Being of a solid copper design it will fit in well with most any watercooling setup and unlike other motherboard manufacturers who took the cheaper route of providing aluminium/copper mix block, the Gigabyte block is pure copper throughout ensuring that there is no possibility of galvanic corrosion here.
 
The silver look top is simply a sticker and is not actually an integral piece of the block itself. I was disappointed to discover that there are no included adaptors for the barbs, so unless you already have a 3/8" watercooled loop you will have to purchase your own. The block is unrestricted, having a flat surface area so will have minimal effect on your watercooling loops flow.
 
Contact area NB mount
 
Removing the waterblock is a very simple task as there are only four screws holding it down. You shouldn't need to do this however as the above picture shows, the contact area is near perfect and the paste used is not the usual thermal cement used. Taking the heatsink assembly off of the motherboard again is a pretty straightforward with 4 screws holding the Northbridge and Southbridge blocks and push pins around the Mosfet area. Top marks all round Gigabyte!
 
Heatsink assembly Mosfets
 
Northbridge Southbridge
 
Above we see the heatsink assembly itself. Good contact was made all round with thermal tape covering the Mosfets and a solid paste TIM covering the P45 Northbridge and ICH10r Southbridge cores. So then we see that the EP45-EXTREME is a very well cooled motherboard if watercooling is to your tastes but what if you prefer EXTREME overclocking on air? Gigabyte have that base covered too...
 
Air cooler Rear Cooler
 
May I present to you Gigabytes answer to P45 heat. A massive cull copper heatpiped air cooler. This cooler is the size of a standard graphics card and weighs just as much. Dual copper heatpipes are soldered to a multi fin array which should provide superb cooling to the Northbridge. The jaw dropping size and looks of this cooler are matched by its weight. Good of Gigabyte to provide a PCI backplate to take some of the strain then!
 
Copper Top Southbridge
 
Mosfets Gigabyte Cooling
 
The Air cooler can be attached to the Northbridge with the waterblock in-situ. The block is held in place with four screws and with the provided TIM, a solid mount is achieved. This is the most extravagant aircooled setup we have seen at OC3D and we applaud Gigabyte for the thought that has been dedicated into creating such a fine piece of cooling equipment.
 
Looking at the cooling setup and the amount of copper used, it is becoming clear why the board is so expensive (and heavy!) However, all that copper cooling means nothing if the board cannot perform at EXTREME levels. Let's take a look at the BIOS to see what's in store...


Gigabyte EP45-EXTREME Page: 4
BIOS
 
Being an AWARD BIOS and possessing the M.I.T (Motherboard Intelligent Tweaker) section, overclockers will feel right at home. Skipping past the usual deluge of BIOS options we head straight for the jugular, in particular the M.I.T section itself.
 
POST Screen
 
The initial splash screen is attractive enough with a camouflage theme. This screen can be changed via windows software to any picture of your choosing though which is a nice feature. Personally, I prefer the standard boot up screen confirming your overclocked settings but for those who like a splash of colour the option is there for you.
 
M.I.TCPU Ratio
 
Like all high end enthusiast motherboards, the first section in the BIOS is where you will usually find the overclocking settings, in the EP45 Extremes case, the M.I.T (Motherboard Intelligent Tweaker) section. From the top, you will find frequencies and clock ratios as well as C.I.A.2, which is Gigabytes automatic overclocking utility. Settings can be input either manually or via the scroll method. The sheer number of tweaks available will most likely force you to use the manual input though as it is less time consuming than scrolling down through the array of frequencies and voltages available.
 
FSBClock Drive
 
Memory performance, can be enhanced either automatically via Standard, Turbo or Extreme or again you can configure the memory yourself using a massive settings list which covers every possible divider and CPU to Northbridge strap.
 
Performance EnhanceMemory Multiplier
 
Memory DividerMemory Subtimings
 
Onto the voltages, I was very pleased to see that there is almost every possible voltage setting you could wish for along with GTL (Gunning Transceiver Logic) reference voltages to fine tune those voltages in the hope of gaining stability at the highest frequencies available. Below are the maximum voltages available, which if you intend to utilise would no doubt kill your hardware without some extreme cooling. Still, it is nice to have that option available if you fancy a dabble with some liquid Nitrogen!
 
VoltagesHealth Status
 
All in all, the EXTREME BIOS is a very thorough and well laid out BIOS from AWARD. Notable by its absence is the omission of  Vdroop compensation setting. With our test Q6600 overclocked to 3.6Ghz and a Vcore of 1.5v set, the actual voltage reported in windows was 1.43v under 100% load which, while abiding by Intels specification may be a concern for those who like a stable Vcore. 
 
Navigating the M.I.T section can also be a little frustrating as the page does not refresh smoothly and can make navigation a little jerky. This maybe resolved with an updated BIOS in the future (BIOS version F8 used for this review) but I felt it was noteworthy at the time of the review. 
 
Lets see if we can put the EP45-EXTREME BIOS to some use in the overclocking tests...


Gigabyte EP45-EXTREME Page: 5
Test Setup
 
Matching our previous reviews of P45 based motherboards, we used the same setup to guarantee a fair review.
  
During the testing of the setup above, special care was taken to ensure that the BIOS settings used matched whenever possible. A fresh install of Windows Vista was also used before the benchmarking began, with a full defrag of the hard drive once all the drivers and software were installed, preventing any possible performance issues due to leftover drivers from the previous motherboard installations.
 
Processor: Intel Core2Quad Q6600 2.4Ghz @ 3.6 Ghz
Motherboard: Gigabyte EP45-Extreme
Memory: Cellshock DDR2 PC-2 6400 5-5-5-18 @ 800mhz
Graphics Card: ATI X1950 pro
CPU Cooling: Scythe Ninja
Power Supply: OCZ 780w ModXstream
Hard Disk: Hitachi 7K160 7200rpm 80Gb
Display: Dell 3007 WFP-HC 30" LCD
BIOS: F9
Chipset Drivers: Latest Intel P45 series.
Graphics Drivers: Cat 8.10
Operating System: Windows Vista 64bit SP1
 
To guarantee a broad range of results, the following benchmark utilities were used:
 
Synthetic CPU & Memory Subsystem
• Sisoft Sandra XII 2008c
• Lavalys Everest 4.0

File Compression & Encoding
• 7-Zip File Compression
• River Past ViMark

Disk I/O Performance
• HDTach 3.0.4.0
• Sisoft Sandra XII 2008c

3D / Rendering Benchmarks
• Cinebench 10
• 3DMark 05
• 3DMark 06

3D Games
• Oblivion
• F.E.A.R
• Call of Duty 4
 
 
Overclocking
 
All of the motherboards on the overclocking test today have Intels P45 chipset as a base and thus far have performed pretty much on par. Kentsfield CPU's are tricky to get anywhere near 500FSB and out test Q6600 'G0' is no different. If ultra high FSB is your bag then you would be much better using a Wolfdale CPU but as we like to use the same system throughout our motherboard tests we will stick with our 'difficult' Q6600.
 
 
 
Predictably, the Quad core was very stubborn once 475FSB was reached and the motherboard took 1.65v on the Norhtbridge to stabilise the 485 FSB attained. Rest assured though as there are plenty of reports of this board hitting 600FSB+ with the dual core 45nm but as our results show, it is not the best board for the older 65nm Quads, at least where Front Side Bus speeds are concerned.
 
For the maximum overclock, as we are on air cooling, we prefer to use a maximum cpu core voltage of 1.55v. However, because of a 0.03v vdrop and a further 0.04 droop, we had to set the vcore to 1.62 in the BIOS to compensate when testing for stability. I ran a 'quick' 2 hour prime95 session to prove basic stability and once I figured out the vdroop problem, a maximum overclock of 3924mhz was attained.
 
Lets take a look at how this motherboard performs in our standard set of benchmarks against a variety of other chipsets on offer today.


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SiSoftware Sandra (the System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is an information & diagnostic utility capable of benchmarking the performance of individual components inside a PC. Each of the benchmarks below were run a total of five times with the highest and lowest scores being discarded and an average being calculated from the remaining three.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Everest is in many ways similar to Sisoft Sandra. Focusing mainly on software and hardware information reporting, Everest also comes with a benchmark utility suitable for testing the read, write and latency performance of the memory subsystem. Each of these benchmarks were performed a total of 5 times with the highest and lowest scores being discarded and an average calculated from the remaining three.
 
 
 
 
Results Conclusions
 
The Gigabyte board made a poor start to the benchamrk runs finishing last in the majority of the synthetic tests. Innitially I thought I may have set something (or not set) in the BIOS but checking, double checking aswell as confirmation with CPU-Z compounded the fact that the EP45 Extreme was simply 'slow'. I was surprised at this as previous P45 boards showed very good performance but alas, the figures do not lie.


Gigabyte EP45-EXTREME Page: 7
 
ViMark is the latest addition to the OC3D motherboard testing process and a relatively new benchmarking application in general. Designed to take the inaccuracies and guesswork out of measuring the time taken to encode video files, ViMark produces easily comparable and consistent results for encoding raw video into Windows Media, Quicktime, AVI and Gif formats. As always, a total of 5 benchmark runs were performed with the highest and lowest scores removed and an average calculated from the remaining 3 scores.
 
 
 
 
 

 
7-Zip is an open source Winzip-style file compression utility that has the ability to compress and decompress many file formats including its own .7z compression scheme. 7-Zip also comes complete with its own benchmarking utility for gauging the compression and decompression speed of the system that it is installed on.
 
 
 
Results Observations
 
A solid showing this time around for the Extreme proving that synthetic benchmarks are not everything. The EP45 Extreme simply blew away the competition in both the Quicktime and Decompression tests and performed well in all other benchmarks in this section.


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HDTach is a free hard disk benchmarking program from SimpliSoftware. This benchmark is not only capable of producing results on hard disk access times but also CPU usage required during disk access. The "Long bench" was run a total of 5 times with the highest and lowest results being omitted and an average calculated from the remaining 3 results.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
SiSoftware Sandra (the System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is an information & diagnostic utility capable of benchmarking the performance of individual components inside a PC. Each of the benchmarks below were run a total of five times with the highest and lowest scores being discarded and an average being calculated from the remaining three.
 
 
 
 
Results Conclusions
 
The Gigabyte performed well in the HD benchmarks scoring above average in the majority of the tests, especially in the disk read department.


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Cinebench 10 is a benchmarking tool based on the powerful 3D software Cinema 4D. The suite uses complex renders to guage the performance of the entire PC system in both single-core and multi-core modes. Testing was performed a total of 5 times with the highest and lowest results being omitted and an average created from the remaining 3 results.
 
 
 
 
 
 
3DMark is a popular synthetic gaming benchmark used by many gamers and overclockers to gauge the performance of their PC's. All 3DMark runs were performed a total of 5 times with the highest and lowest results being removed and an average calculated from the remaining 3 results. Also included are the CrossfireX results to give an indication of how 8x PCIe lanes perform.
 
 
 
Results Observations
 
Another good showing for the Gigabyte board. Notable is the poor performance when all the cores are utilised, show in both the 4x CPU test in Cinebench and 3DMarks 06. There was however no worries in the other benchmarks with the Gigabyte board outstripping its competitors bar the X48 DFI.


Gigabyte EP45-EXTREME Page: 10
 
Quake 4 is a game built on the Doom 3 engine. Benchmarking was performed using Quake4Bench and a custom timedemo recording along with 0xAA, 0xAF settings at a resolution of 1024x768. The benchmark was set to run a total of 5 times, with Quake4Bench automatically calculating an average result at the end of the run.
 
 
 
 
 
 
F.E.A.R. is a game based on the Lithtech Jupiter EX engine. It has volumetric lighting, soft shadows, parallax mapping and particle effects. Included in the game is a benchmark facility that taxes the entire PC system. This benchmark was run a total of 5 times, with the highest and lowest results being excluded and an average being calculated on the remaining 3 results.
 
 
 
Bioshock is a recent FPS shooter by 2K games. Based on the UT3 engine it has a large amount of advanced DirectX techniques including excellent water rendering and superb lighting and smoke techniques. All results were recorded using F.R.A.P.S with a total of 5 identical runs through the same area of the game. The highest and lowest results were then removed, with an average being calculated from the remaining 3 results.
 
 
 
Results Observations
 
A mixed bag of results was to be had in the gaming section of our benchmarking suite. Almost perfectly matching the X48 based board, the EP45 Extreme performed well in Quake and Bioshock but lagged behind the competition in F.E.A.R. These results seem to echo the whole benchmarking that took place today - hit and miss.
 
Let's head over to the conclusion where I will try and put these results into perspective...


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ConclusionGigabyte EP45 EXTREME
 
When the Gigabyte board first landed on my doorstep, I was amazed at the size of the package. I was eager to rip the box open to see what Gigabyte had included with the board and I was not disappointed. The board is smothered in copper and with the additional HUGE Northbridge cooler it is clear where most of your money has gone in purchasing this board. Suitable for both aircooling fans and watercoolers, this board seems to want to cater for everyone.
 
Sure enough the board cooled very well but sadly it never really got the chance to get hot enough to be considered useful. Herein lies my confusion with the EP45 Extreme. Managing very little performance over the DS3P, I do wonder why anyone would pay double for this board when the perfectly adequate DS3P gives more or less very similar results. Gigabyte then, seem to be a victim of their own success, releasing such a good budget board makes buying the top end EXTREME board all the more difficult. 'Surely I am missing something' - This is something that played on my mind throughout the testing and writing up the conclusion I think I have finally got it. Wolfdale.
 
This board was born to have EXTREME voltages slammed through the chipset. The EXTREME Northbridge cooling depicts that excess heat will be developed there. Wolfdales, with their new 45nm fabrication, can reach some EXTREME FSB's but sadly, the Q6600 is not the best for FSB overclocking and is now getting a little tired when compared to the current crop of dual cores. I would bet my bottom dollar this board would scream along with a dual core Wolfdale but for the tried and tested 65nm Quads, I would think very carefully before splashing out so much on a board when there are other, cheaper models that can do the same for much, much less.
 
The Good
- Best cooling on a motherboard to date
- Optional air or watercooled northbridge
- Excellent Packaging
- On board switches
 
The Mediocre
- Hit and miss performance
- Price
 
The Poor
- SATA port positioning
 
 
Thanks to Gigabyte for providing the EP45 EXTREME for todays review. Discuss in our forums.