-7VTXH+"> The itty-bitty blue Gigabyte GA-7VTH+ has one thing that none of the other motherboards in this roundup have: a great, big Iomega-style poster to walk owners through the installation and setup process. We loved it because it has an almost life-sized, clearly labeled diagram of the board. Newbies will love it: it shows in glossy color pictures how to insert the motherboard, cooler and RAM, and it even goes so far as to show a sample case and what physical challenges one might encounter in installing a board. Likewise, the manual is thick and mostly well-written.
We already know all that stuff, though. There are some other perks that turned our heads, like the excellent layout. All five of the PCI slots can handle full-length boards. It has three DIMM sockets, but their left side clips are impeded while an AGP card is in place. Theres plenty of room for a big CPU heat sink. The northbridge is covered with a passive cooler, which in theory should free up a fan connector--but there are only two.
The onboard audio chip is a Creative Labs CT5580, and features pretty decent quality, hardware accelerated sound. It only supports two channels, though, so if youve been eyeing a 5.1 system youll have to spring for an add-in sound board.
Theres also a RTL8100L 10-base-T 10/100 LAN adapter which works perfectly well. We didnt actually benchmark it, but we used it to download some of the tests for our report and to transfer some of the results over our LAN to the PC upon which this is being written, and it functioned predictably and reliably.
A DIP switch toggles the FSB frequency, and another is provided to manually adjust the clock ratio, so overclockers will need to do some case diving to apply their craft. Inexplicably missing from the motherboard is a clear CMOS jumper! The label is there, and solder caps mark where its pins should be, but the jumper is not to be found. If you ever need to clear CMOS, youll have to manually short the two caps.
The BIOS setup program contains a page dedicated wholly to system performance. Unfortunately, the system is unstable if you set it to its default high performance mode, which sets the DRAM timing to 1T and latency to 2. It hanged and crashed regularly during benchmarking. We able to achieve stability by riding the timing setting back to 2T, and we were able to leave the latency setting at 2.
All that fun stuff aside, the GA-7VTXH+ offered solid performance, turning out impressive numbers in Content Creation Winstone and gaming tests--it completely owned the Quake 3 Arena Windows Me benchmark. The only area in which it faltered was in the SiSoft Sandra SSE memory benchmark, topping only the bandwidth-challenged Soyo K7ADA.
With its outstanding documentation and overall commendable performance, the GA-7VTXH+ is a perfect board for a first-time DIYer. The high quality onboard audio and LAN adapters are terrific value-added components goodies that make the board worth its already competitive price. Overclockers would be better served to check out a more tweakable board, but newbies will really score with this Gigabyte board.
Pros: Incredible documentation; very newbie-friendly; solid performance
Cons: No CMOS clear jumper; default high performance mode isnt stable