Review: Gigabyte GA-K8N51PVMT-9 motherboard
Reviewer: Jon “Bob The Junkie” Aubrey
Edited by: Ian King
Product cost: $111.55 USD (£63.00 – €91.92)
Product provided by Gigabyte Hands up if you’ve heard of Gigabyte. Everyone got their hands up? Good, I thought so. Gigabyte are one of those brand names you hear again and again in the PC enthusiast market; and we’re here to review another one of their products…erm – again.
This time around though we’re not going to be reviewing the biggest and baddest overclocker’s motherboard, nor are we going to be reviewing the latest technology in keeping all of your vital components cool. This time around we’re going to be looking at a board that would suit a student, business, first time PC owner, or even a media-centre builder, one with latest integrated Nvidia 6150 graphics. So without further ado; I give you the Gigabyte GA-K8N51PVMT
Packaging and accessories:
The GA-K8N51PVMT-9 comes with only a few accessories in the box:
1 x Video Dongle
1 x IDE cable
1 x Floppy drive cable
1 x SATA cable
1 x Driver CD
1 x I/O panel back plate
1 x Manual
Inside the box, the accessories are laid on top of a cardboard separator, and underneath that is the motherboard itself. The board is kept in a static-proof bag and protected from knocks from the bottom of the box by a piece of foam. Even though our review sample was shipped across the USA and then sent to the UK, the board was fine.
Motherboard design: (4.6 / 5)
Considering that Gigabyte have managed to fit a great deal of features onto a Micro-ATX sized motherboard, the layout is quite impressive. The GA-K8N51PVMT-9 is mounted on a dark blue PCB, although with all of the chips and capacitors on the board there is very little blue actually showing through.
Gigabyte have done a good job of using different colours to distinguish the different connectors on the board. The four SATA 2 ports (SATA1 compatible) are red and are placed at the edge of the board. The two IDE ports are white and green respectively and are mounted on the edge of the board, next to the ATX power connector and the black floppy drive connector.
The four memory slots are coloured purple for slots one and two (1 -2 and 3 – 4 have to be used together for dual channel memory mode) and red for slots three and four. The memory slots are placed directly under the PCI-E 16x graphics card slot, which may make removing the memory basically impossible if you have a long graphics card inserted. In fact we did have some problems getting our test graphics card (An X850XT) to fit onto the board, as it kept catching the memory slots. We’re not sure if this is a design fault with the board or with the graphics card, but with a little patience and brute force we managed to get it to fit in the end.
The 12+v connector is located next to the rear ports, as is standard on motherboards now. Gigabyte have chosen to place the PCI-E 1x slot between the PCI-E 16x slot and the PCI ports. This means that you can fit a dual-slot graphics card to the board without losing a PCI slot, however you will lose the PCI-E 1x slot.
The two main chipsets on the board (The Nvidia 6150 graphics and the Nforce4 430) are cooled by passive gold heatsinks, with the 6150’s having a Gigabyte sticker on top of it. Surprisingly these stayed quite cool during our games testing; usually heatsinks get finger-burning hot. The advantage of course of using passive heatsinks is that there is less noise coming from your system, which is perfect for a media-centre PC.
While I’m talking about the layout of the board, I must mention the SATA ports. These are not standard SATA ports; they have a plastic frame surrounding them which helps hold the SATA cable in. On the cable itself, there is a metal clip which locks the cable to whatever it is attached to, preventing the SATA from falling off. This is a fantastic idea and means that you won’t lose hard drive connectivity every time you knock your PC case.
Overall, you can’t fault Gigabyte for the layout of this board. They’ve crammed a lot of features into the space of a Micro-ATX board without compromising on functionality.
BIOS: (3.9 / 5)
The GA-K8N51PVMT-9 uses an Award BIOS and it is laid out generally in the same way as most BIOS’s. One interesting feature to note is that as well as the standard options, Gigabyte have included a set of “Advanced” options that can only be accessed after “Control – F1” has been pressed in the BIOS. I would assume this is to stop amateur BIOS tweakers from doing some damage to their system, but I found it annoying. Once “Control – F1” had been pressed, there was no warning that I had entered the “Advanced” BIOS options at all, simply a screen flash and another menu appeared in the BIOS main menu. It should be noted that this “Advanced” menu can only be accessed from the original BIOS screen. If you wish to access one of the advanced settings in a menu, you have to come back to the first screen, activate the advanced settings and then go back into the menu you wanted.
There are three interesting things to note in the BIOS:
The first is the “PC Health” menu. This shows the temperatures in the system such as the CPU and the System as well as the Fan speeds that are attached to the motherboard. The interesting thing to note though is that although the voltages supplied to the motherboard are listed, their voltages are not shown. The BIOS simply lists the voltage as “OK”. After a quick look through the manual we found that there is no information about this feature. We can only assume your motherboard is ok from problems as long as it is “OK”. We dread to think what the display would read instead of “OK” if there was a problem.
The second interesting thing is the voltage control in the “Frequency/Voltage Control” menu. There isn’t any. We could not find any way to adjust any of the voltages in the system, which is presumably why the Health menu only shows “OK”. This created a problem during our performance testing as our OCZ memory, which is designed to run at 2.8V, refused to let us boot the system properly at 2-2-2-5 timings. We had to resort to looser timings to run stably.
The third interesting thing is Gigabyte’s “Q-Flash” utility which is found by pressing “F8” in the BIOS. This allows very quick and painless BIOS upgrading from a floppy disk, you simply put the disk in the drive, select the option to save the existing BIOS – then select the option to upgrade the BIOS, and then reboot. No more command line switches or finding a DOS boot disk needed.
As mentioned above, the GA-K8N51PVMT-9 features no way of controlling voltages at all, which is very strange as the board features a whole host of overclocking options.
As well as the CPU clock speed being adjustable from 200MHz to 300MHz in 1MHz intervals, the CPU clock ratio can be adjusted; spread spectrum can be enabled for CPU, PCI-E, SATA and HyperTransport.
The HT speed and width can be adjusted and the PCI-E bus speed can be locked.
The GA-K8N51PVMT-9 also offers complete control over the memory timings on the board, including either a 1T/2T DRAM timing.
All in all, the GA-K8N51PVMT-9 offers some good overclocking features. It is just a shame that you won’t get very far overclocking on this board without any voltage control.
The GA-K8N51PVMT-9 offers Nvidia’s latest integrated graphics solution, the 6150. This is Nvidia’s first 90nm retail offering and it is no slouch. With support for DirectX 9 and Shader Model 3.0 (Pixel and Vertex Shader) it is clocked at 475MHz core speed with two pixel pipelines.
The 6150 uses Nvidia’s ‘Turbo-Cache’ to allocate system memory to itself. This can be allocated from 16MB all of the way up to 128MB. The GA-K8N51PVMT-9 does not contain any dedicated frame buffers, so if the onboard graphics are used, then there must be some system memory allocated.
By default, the 6150 disables itself when a separate graphics card is used, but this does not need to be the case. You can force it to stay enabled. Unfortunately whilst trying this we came across some interesting events. Firstly Windows did recognise that another graphics adapter was in the system (Which was an ATi card), which is different from ATi’s “Surround view” which only lets you use the same graphics manufacturer’s (read, their own) with the onboard graphics. However when we tried to use the adapter, Windows informed us that the “currently selected graphics card driver cannot be used. It was written for a previous version of Windows and is no longer compatible with this version of Windows” and so we couldn’t test out multi-display functionality with it. To be fair to Gigabyte, the board is not advertised as being able to do multi-displays when a graphics card has been inserted, but if the onboard cannot be used with another card, why bother giving us the option?
As mentioned previously, overclocking on the GA-K8N51PVMT is very limited due to lack of voltage control. To maximise our chance of success of overclocking on this board, we set the LDT Link to 1X, locked the memory at 200MHz (as there was no way it was going to overclock on these voltages) and simply raised the HTT speed until Windows wouldn’t boot anymore. We then ran SuperPI to ensure the system was stable and recorded the HTT speed.
In the end, unfortunately the maximum speed we could reach was an extra 40MHz, making the top speed for our 3000+ Venice Core 2160MHz (as opposed to 1800MHz stock). Not a bad overclock, but we know with a little more voltage this CPU can quite happily hit 3GHz.
Although it is possible to overclock onboard graphics solutions, past experience has shown us that it is just not worth it. The overclock can only be achieved on the core speed (as it is using system memory) and usually the overclock is only by around 30MHz or so. Combined with this is that the heat sink on the graphics chip gets a lot hotter and so sometimes stability problems can occur after gaming for a little while.
Performance: (4.4 / 5)
Unfortunately, due to time constraints we were not able to test the GA-K8N51PVMT using Windows XP64. All testing was done under Windows XP32 using Service Pack2. This is not a major issue though as the GA-K8N51PVMT uses Nvidia’s drivers for most of its hardware and these have been long usable in Windows XP64. From a benchmarking point of view, it has been proved multiple times that most programs running in XP64 perform slightly better than when running in XP32. Especially more so if they are 64 bit applications. Hopefully we will be able to follow up this review with XP64 installed and see how much difference it makes on these results.
Test Machine Setup
AMD Athlon 3000+ Venice core processor running at 1.8 GHz
OCZ EL DDR PC-3500 Gold GX Dual Channel RAM running with 2.5-3-3-5 timings
Gigabyte GA-K8N51PVMT-9 motherboard
Maxtor DiamondMax 7200rpm 2MB cache PATA hard drive
Seagate 7200.9 7200RPM 16MB cache SATA hard drive
Crucial ATi X850XT 256MB Graphics card
Antec True Power 500W power supply
Antec Titan Server case
50x generic CD-ROM drive
Microsoft Windows XP 32 SP2
Nvidia drivers version nForce4_amd_6.70_winxp2k_english.exe
High Def audio version 1.2
Nvidia Graphics driver 81.95_forceware_winxp2k_english_whql.exe
When the onboard video was tested, we allocated 128MB of the system RAM to it, as this is the maximum amount the board can supply.
CPU testing:To test pure processing speed, we ran the SuperPI benchmark. The GA-K8N51PVMT performed well here, clocking in some fast times. It is interesting to note that using both the onboard graphics and the X850XT returned the same times, showing that SuperPi makes very little use of the system memory.
We copied a large number of files across the network – from small ones, to large DVD sized files and measured how high a performance impact there was on the CPU. For this test the Nvidia firewall was turned off. Here the GA-K8N51PVMT came out well, with the CPU usage not going above 15%
After connecting up the speakers we ran a variety of music and games through the audio subsystems to try to detect and crackling or popping. Even with the volume up at its maximum settings, the GA-K8N51PVMT-9 produced excellent sounds and we could not detect any distortion during music play back. Strangely, we did hear some popping noises in Half Life 2 when running around, and some sound problems in GTA:SA occasionally, but these did not occur in all games.
HDTach Hard drive testing:
Due to our 80GB Maxtor hard drive being on its last legs, we ran the HDTach benchmark (Long Bench) using the brand new 500GB Seagate 7200.9 hard drive. The results were very good and there was very little difference between using the integrated graphics and the X850XT, presumably because HDTach does very little memory accessing.
PCmark05 provides an overall score of a computer system, based on various factors including memory, graphics, and CPU. Here you can see where using the onboard graphics without dedicated video memory affects overall system performance, with the GA-K8N51PVMT turning out a score over 30% better when a dedicated video card was installed.
3DMark03 and 3DMark05:
3DMark03 is getting on a bit now, but it is still good at providing an indication of graphics performance for lower-end cards. Here we can see that the onboard 6150 graphics provide a low score, which just can’t keep up with the larger X850XT.
3DMark05 has just been replaced with the more recent 3DMark06. Unfortunately this was not available during testing, but you can still clearly see that the onboard 6150 graphics just can’t cope, compared with today’s modern graphics cards with dedicated video memory.
Unreal Tournament 2004:
Unreal Tournament 2004 is an interesting game to benchmark with, as although it is only a year old, even older graphics cards can still play it superbly. Here we can see that even the 6150 can play it at a decent frame rate at 1024×768, although it struggles at anything above this resolution.
A short time ago, FarCry was used for benchmarking to really tax a graphics card as it is such an intensive game. Nowadays it has been superseded by games such as F.E.A.R, but it is still a good test to see how a card copes. Here we can see that on maximum settings, even at 800×600 the 6150 just can’t cope. To see if it was capable of playing the game at all, we re-ran the tests on minimum settings, and surprisingly the 6150 did manage to produce a half decent frame rate at 800×600. Not bad for an integrated card.
Quake 3 Team Arena:
Quake 3 is a very old game now, but surprisingly still played by a lot of people. It is also a good test for a low-performance graphics card as it does not require a high-specification PC to play it. As our results show, even at 1280×1024 the onboard 6150 graphics play it superbly, without any lagging or frame dropping, perfect for fragging your friends!
Sandra is a synthetic benchmark for measuring overall system performance. Unlike PCMark it can also test very detailed parts of the PC’s subsystems, giving a more accurate picture of which parts of the computer work well, and where the bottlenecks are.
You just can’t beat the GA-K8N51PVMT-9 on price. At only $111 (£63.00) in most shops you get a fully featured board with onboard graphics and high definition video; for around half what you would pay for a top of the range gamer’s board.
With the Gigabyte GA-K8N51PVMT-9, Gigabyte have produced a nice little motherboard. Supporting fairly powerful onboard graphics, and with support for HD-TV it would be perfect for anyone looking to build themselves a media centre, and due to its Micro-ATX size you would be able to get it inside a fairly small case too. Although it is not a gamer’s board, it would also serve as a good starting point for a student or someone who is not a big gamer, who may wish to upgrade later with the spare PCI-E slot. In our testing the board did quite well, although using the system memory to supply the onboard graphics did drop our benchmarking scores by quite a bit.
The board isn’t perfect though, and we did have two little niggles with it. The first is the lack of voltage control in the BIOS. Not even being able to assign voltages to the system memory is just unacceptable on a motherboard today and means that if you’ve bought high performance RAM that needs 2.8volts you may find it refuses to boot. After speaking to Gigabyte about this they said that a future BIOS update should provide more voltage control. Unfortunately they didn’t say however what adjustments would be available.
The second is the lack of optical S/PDIF connector with the board. If you are going to be using this board as a decent media centre then the chances are you will have an amplifier that is expecting an optical S/PDIF connector for the best quality audio transfer. The interesting thing is, after a bit of searching we did find a connector on Ebay that will connect to this board, which will allow you to have optical S/PDIF, but Gigabyte just didn’t include one in the box. After speaking about this to Gigabyte, they say that the S/PDIF connector can be bought through their customer service centre.
Motherboard design: 4.6/5
Overall score: 17.5/20
• Powerful Onboard Graphics
• Cheaper than most 939 boards
• Good performance
• HDTV support
• No voltage control options
• S/PDIF header for optical audio out has to be found separately