Intel DQ35JO mATX Motherboard

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Product: Intel Desktop Board DQ35JO
Provided By: MemoryExpress

 

Introduction:

Many enthusiasts build incredible computers that have large, expensive motherboard, fast processors, tons of RAM and one or more graphics cards.  The truth is, the enthusiast makes up for only a small fraction of computer hardware sales around the world.  Standard components sell to OEM PC manufactures in the 100,000's of units, where other specialty motherboards sell 10,000's of units.  Also if you're building a Home Theater PC, you don't need a $300 ASUS Maximus powering a little media center, and mATX boards like the DQ35JO work very nicely.

We are looking at a motherboard today from Intel that is designed and targeted toward the masses of regular consumers and HTPC builders.  The board we are looking at is the Intel DQ35JO, and this is based on Intel's new Q35 Express chipset.  Although the board comes in a mATX form factor doesn't mean it's short on features.  Overall, the feature list is pretty long for a mATX Intel motherboard.  We'll see that although this board is geared toward OEM's and people wanting to build a basic PC, it still offers good value and stock performance for just about any computer.  The main focus of this review is in the HTPC arena and we've got HD-Video playback performance coming up.  We'll also try and find out what makes this an "Executive Series" product.

Mainboard Box
Mainboard Box

First Look:

The Intel DQ35JO is a standard mATX board measuring 9.6" x 9.6".  Although the board measures quite small, the layout is pretty decent and there is plenty of room for vital components.  As you can see by clicking the picture below, the board comes with four DDR2 slots and can support up to 8GB of memory.  The large chipset cooler provides quiet cooling for the Q35 Express chipset.  This chipset is responsible for 12 USB2.0 ports, six SATA ports, two Firewire ports and more.  The large aluminum cooler keeps things under control and should be excellent in most situations.

Bundle
Bundle
Board Profile
Board Profile

 

Specs & Features:

This next bit is clipped from Intel's product page.

Form Factor microATX (9.60 inches by 9.60 inches [243.84 millimeters by 243.84 millimeters])
Processor
Memory
  • Two 240-pin DDR2 SDRAM Dual Inline Memory Module (DIMM) sockets
  • Support for DDR2 800 MHz, or DDR2 667 MHz DIMMs
  • Support for up to 8 GB of system memory
Chipset Intel® Q35 Express Chipset
Audio Intel® High Definition Audio subsystem in the following configuration:
2+2-channel audio subsystem using the RealTek* ALC268 audio codec
Video Intel® Graphics Media Accelerator 3100 onboard graphics subsystem
I/O Control Legacy I/O controller for serial ports
LAN Support Gigabit (10/100/1000 Mbits/sec) LAN subsystem using the Intel® 82566DM Gigabit Ethernet Controller
Peripheral Interfaces
  • Twelve USB 2.0 ports
  • Six Serial ATA IDE interfaces
  • Two IEEE 1394a ports (1 external port, 1 internal header)
  • One Parallel ATA IDE interface with UDMA 33, ATA-66/100/133 support
  • One serial port header
Expansion Capabilities
  • One PCI Conventional* bus add-in card connectors
  • Two PCI Express * x1 bus add-in card connectors
  • One PCI Express * x16 bus add-in card connector
Microsoft Vista* Premium Ready With a PC built with Intel® Core™ 2 Duo or Intel® Core™2 Quad processors, and the Intel® Desktop Board, you can experience a more responsive and manageable environment of Microsoft Windows Vista* including a new visual sophistication of the Windows Aero* interface.

 

 

About the Chipset:

Q35 Diagram

The Intel Q35 and Q33 Express Chipsets will deliver support for Intel's upcoming 45nm processors. Intel is also bringing higher performance in combination with greater energy efficiency and supplying critical building blocks for continued Energy Star* support. The Intel Q35 Express Chipset is continuously advancing capabilities of the Intel® Core™2 processor with vPro™ technology by providing leading security and manageability.

The Intel Q35 and Q33 Express Chipsets
Desktop PC platforms based on the Intel Q35 and Q33 Express Chipsets, combined with either the Intel Core 2 Duo or Intel Core 2 Quad processor, and with support for next-generation 45nm Intel® Core™2 processor family, deliver innovative capabilities and usages for digital home consumers and new levels of 3D and media performance while enabling lower power and quieter systems.

On the next page we'll take a closer look at this board.


Closer Look:

The Intel DG33BU packs quite a few features into such a small package.  The heart of this board is the newer "Bearlake" Q35 chipset.  This chipset provides the board with integrated graphics in the flavor of GMA3100.  Video out on this board is taken care of by independent D-Sub VGA and DVI-D connectors.  This means that you can hook up this motherboard to your favorite 30" LCD for a spacious desktop environment, while using a nice 27" display on the VGA adapter for a large "Extended Desktop" experience.

CPU Socket
CPU Socket
RAM and Power
RAM and Power

 

The CPU Socket area is pretty clear of obstructions and there are absolutely no issues with the stock cooler as well as most large after-market coolers.  The Q35 Chipset HSF is quite close to the CPU socket, but many coolers go up instead of out and this shouldn't present any issues.  In the picture above and left you can see the 4-pin auxiliary power connector.  To the right of the CPU Socket are the four DDR2 slots and even farther right is the main 24-pin power connector.  As with most Intel motherboards, the CPU fan header is 4-pin PWM and that is located in close proximity to the top edge of the board.

The rear IO is devoid of PS/2 keyboard mouse connections and in turn provides you with a total of 6 USB2.0 ports.  There are DVI-D and D-Sub video connectors that should take care of any displays you want and need to hook up to your little motherboard.  Also on the back of the board is a single Firewire 400 port and a 1GB Ethernet port for additional connectivity.  Audio is taken care of by Intel HD Audio and provides 2+2 support (quadraphonic) only.  If you want some real surround sound you'll have to drop $40 on a PCIe 1x Audigy X-Fi.

Rear I/O
Rear I/O

While this board has adequate video performance for watching movies and surfing the web, if you want to do any gaming on this little board you'll want to drop in a new graphics card.  Thankfully this is possible thanks to the presence of a PCIe 16x slot.  There are also a couple of PCIe 1x slots below the large PCIe 16x and a single PCI slot at the bottom of the board.  Beneath all of these is the single IDE connector that will allow you to hook up a couple of optical drives or older IDE hard drives.

 Slot I/O
Slot I/O
 Southbridge and SATA
Southbridge and SATA

The ICH9R Southbridge chipset offers up support for 6 SATA devices and the DQ35JO has all of these available for you to use.  They've color coded the eSATA connector which can easily be hooked up to the eSATA PCI Slot adapter pictured in the bundle image.

 

About the BIOS:

This little motherboard offers absolutely nothing in terms of BIOS tweaks for overclocking and while it has some custom RAM options and boot devices listed, I thought I'd save you the pain of reading about the dull BIOS that ships with this board.  Clearly, this board is not for the enthusiast, but rather for the mainstream user who simply wants a computer to work.


Windows & Software Installation:

Intel claims that the DQ33JO has full support for Windows Vista so we thought we'd use the latest OS from Microsoft for this review to see how well it works and if this board supports Vista as much as Intel says.  To do a Vista Install, you will need a boot disk if you are installing a RAID array or if you have the SATA connections set to anything other than IDE mode.  We chose native IDE mode as we only have a single 200GB drive to use for testing.  The Vista Ultimate x64 installation went smoothly and in a matter of 15-20 minutes we were at the desktop ready to install some drivers from the included driver CD.

Driver installation was smooth and we weren't met with any "Driver Warning" screens.  Windows and software installation was a breeze.  After a quick run through of Windows Update, we are set to start testing this little motherboard.

 

Audio Testing:

The High Definition Audio supports playback of 32-bit 192 kHz audio and offers many other features as well.  This all sounds good on paper, but how does it actually playback?  The major bummer here is the fact that it only supports 2+2 Stereo channels.  There is not 5.1 or great surround supported on this board.  Regardless, we've posted some information from RightMark's Audio Analyzer below:

 RMAA Output
RMAA Output
RMAA Results
RMAA Results

 

For "High Definition" Audio, the results are less than I'd like to see but much better than the results from the G33 Intel mATX board we reviewed a while back.  If you enjoy good audio, you likely already have an add-in soundcard in mind that will greatly improve upon the on-board solution.


Network Performance:

Before we jump into our full Test System Setup on the next page I wanted to mention the performance of the integrated Marvel Network.  In our testing here at BCCHardware we've seen some motherboards with 1000b network show pretty dismal throughput numbers as well as high CPU loads.  Running iPerf has become standard issue for our motherboard tests.  The Intel DQ35JO didn't actually fare very well in our tests and only provided 26.6 MByte / sec performance although with a relatively low CPU load of 7%.  Most GB Ethernet motherboards run in excess of 30MB/s and we are a little disappointed with the results of the DQ.

Head on over to the next page as we cover our test setup and information and jump into testing.


Test Setup:

We've been using Windows Vista for our software platform for a while now and while we've had some issues in the past, these seem to have been resolved over the past few months.  While Vista is still a slower OS due to higher overhead, it is here to stay and we'll continue to use it as it is the only option for DX10 game testing.  Intel has claimed full support so we thought we find out how full their support really is.  The Intel motherboard has worked flawlessly under Vista.  Below is the test setup as it stands for this review.

  • Intel Core 2 Duo E4300 CPU @ 1.8GHz (Stock)
  • 4GB Crucial PC2-6400 (DDR2-800 @ 5-5-5-15)
  • Samsung 245BW 1920x1200 LCD
  • Intel DQ35JO Motherboard
  • Western Digital WD2000JB 200GB SATA HDD.
  • LG 18x SATA DVDRW
  • Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit w/ all updates

Our goal was to if the Intel DQ35JO could be a capable HTPC motherboard so we ran some benchmarks in that regard.  We tested out the HDD system, Memory Performance and CPU load when playing back HD-Video content.  We also fired up a few games on the GMA 3100 to see if it had enough power to actually play anything.  The results are below.

 

HDD Testing:

We used HD-Tach and SiSoft to measure HDD performance on this machine.  We are using an older 200GB Western Digital HDD so the performance numbers are quite up to speed with a 1TB Hitachi drive.  Still it's fast enough to serve up videos and music.  The older HDD manages to pull off an average read speed of 41.6MB/sec with a burst rate peaking at 98.8 MB/sec.  Access time is at 13.9ms with CPU load of 2%.

 HDTach
HDTach

 

Memory Performance: 

For testing out memory performance we used SiSoft Sandra XI as well as Everest Ultimate 4.0.  You'll have to keep in mind that we are using a 4GB kit of DDR2-800 that has relatively slow timings of 5-5-5-15.  Tighter memory would provide better benchmark scores, but a solid kit of 4GB memory is fantastic for a HTPC running a 64-bit OS.

Memory Performance

SiSoft Sandra gives us an overall score of 4086MB/sec while Everest breaks things down further.  Check out the chart above for all the details.

HD Video Playback:

We've seen some pretty interesting results when it comes to HD Video playback over the past year or so.  Some graphics cards do the processing which frees up the CPU for other tasks.  Even systems with fast CPUs can bog down if the video card doesn't help processing the video.  We ran several Windows WMV-HD videos at 720p and 1080p as well as a Quicktime HD 720p video to find out how the DQ35JO would operate as a HTPC without an additional graphics card installed.  We are running a mere E4300 CPU which is one of the slowest Core 2 Duo desktop CPUs so it's definitely not a power house.

HDVideo

CPU load when playing WMV-HD video at 720p was the highest when viewing the Half-Life 2: Episode 2 Teaser video.  It averaged right around 33% and never exceeded 40%.  Watching WMV-HD at 1080p took a little more CPU power when watching "Coral Reef Adventures" but there was no stuttering or dropped frames.  QuickTime h.264 video took a bit of power at 35% CPU load when watching "Ruby - Whiteout", and again there were no dropped frames or playback issues.  I believe the X3100 is taking some of the burden as playing back these videos on my laptop (Core 2 Duo T5500 @ 1.66GHz) put the CPU up to 50% - 75% at times.  Out of the box, this board is very capable of HD Video playback - even with a slow E4300 CPU.

On the last page, we'll try and play some games to see how this board's integrated video holds up to a little 3D action.


Gaming Performance:

We tried to some gaming on this integrated graphics solution but found it to be very lacking on today's games.  While no one in their right mind will try to do any serious gaming with on-board graphics, I thought it would be interesting to see how it works.  I installed a few games to play, but was unable to run several of them (UT3, CoD4, Crysis) as they wouldn't even load.  I'm not surprised at all, and in fact would be surprised if any of those had actually loaded.  Instead, I installed Steam and loaded up a couple of games to play on different resolutions to see how they behaved.

Right off the bat, it's not looking that good.  Steam installed fine and updated okay, but when I tried to load I game I was met with the message posted below.

UnknownVideo

I had a little faith that Valve knew what they were doing though and selected "Continue Anyway" and loaded up Counter Strike: Source.  It worked - at least it loaded.  The default resolution had been turned to 640x480 due to the unknown video card, but the settings remained on HQ.  I ran the Source Stress Test and managed a solid 24FPS at 640x480 with detail turned to high.  I knew I wouldn't be able to actually play the game at this resolution so I fired up some old school Counter Strike 1.6.  This played much better and I was able to run at 1280x720 and average 71FPS.  I went for broke and pushed up the resolution to 1920x1200 with all detail on high and managed a very playable 45FPS average.

Gaming

The graphics chipset is no replacement for an 8600GT, but you can have some fun on older games.  Unreal Tournament (99) also played fine at maximum resolution and detail.  If you're into some nostalgic gaming or have Gametap installed and a couple of wireless controllers handy, you'll have tons of fun playing the classics when using this as your HTPC.

 

Final Thoughts:

Intel motherboards have a reputation of being solid performers and from what we've seen on the DQ35JO this board is no exception.  Performance is good and the board is rock solid throughout testing.  It has a nice layout, adequate cooling and runs virtually silent with the stock cooler on our little E4300.  HD Video playback seems to work very well using the integrated video and thanks to the DVI-D and D-Sub out, you can hook HDTV and a computer monitor to this at the same time for some extra fun.

6 USB2.0 ports on the back are quite nice, although Intel could have put a couple more on the back as they left off the legacy PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports.  The added eSATA bracket is also a nice addition as it allows you to hook up external eSATA devices without losing any performance in comparison to internal drives.  Overall, I'm very pleased with the results on this board and if you're building an HTPC on a budget, you should really take a look at this board.

If you're serious about quality, you'll want to drop in a soundcard however as the quality and lack of 5.1 audio is a bit disappointing.

Pros:

  • Nice Layout on mATX board
  • Rock solid stability
  • Works with every CPU from Celeron to 45nm "Wolfdale" Quad Core CPUs
  • DVI and VGA output
  • Lots of USB/Firewire/SATA ports

 

Cons:

  • "Hi-Def" Audio is not High Quality
  • Only 2+2 Stereo Audio
  • No BIOS tweaking options

 BCCRating
 
I'd like to thank MemoryExpress for sending this board our way for a review.  Make sure you check out their web store for lots of great hardware at fantastic prices.
 
If you want to comment on this review, you can do so at the "Comments" link below.  We'd love to hear your feedback!