|Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD4P X58 Motherboard|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Motherboards|
|Written by Olin Coles|
|Saturday, 24 January 2009|
Page 9 of 17
Closer Look: Gigabyte X58
Motherboards haven't seen a lot of change in the past two years, and the GA-EX58-UD4P looks extremely similar to past Gigabyte products. The biggest difference with this X58-Express product is that it updates the socket from LGA775 to LGA1366 in order to support the Intel Core-i7 series of processors. Additionally, the Dual-Channel DDR support that reigned supreme since the Pentium 4 days has also been updated to include Triple-Channel DDR3.
Intel may have introduced DDR3 support on their mainboards almost two years ago, but high costs paired with low adoption by manufacturers led to a reprieve for DDR2. That all ends now, as X58 is built for DDR3 only and Intel has no plans to allow DDR2 back into the game. This might seem like a move which slams the door in the face of mainstream enthusiasts wanting more value from their hardware, but the truth is that P45 and X48 chipsets will continue in production for many more months to come.
Moving to triple-channel DDR3 also adds momentum for 64-bit computing, but also optimizes current 32-bit systems. Windows XP for example, offers a 4GB maximum memory mapping space on the 32-bit variety of the O/S. Since most all PCI-E video cards available today offer at least 512MB of GDDR, it's theoretically impossible for someone to completely realize 4GB of system memory. In fact, only 2GB was available from our 4GB memory kit when we recently tested the Palit Revolution 700 Radeon HD 4870 X2 video card which has 2GB of video frame buffer of its own.
So when you start to replace 2GB (dual-channel) kits with 3GB (triple-channel) kits, there's more available memory and less waste than if the builder used a 4GB memory kit on their 32-bit O/S, and 3GB is going to be more affordable. Alternatively, the X58 chipset does not retire dual-channel memory mode, so enthusiasts who are already using their favorite DDR3 in one system can upgrade to the GA-EX58-UD4P without purchasing additional memory; the drawback is that dual-channel mode only doubles memory bandwidth while triple-channel mode will (you guessed it) triple the original bandwidth. With support for single, dual and quad-bank DIMMs the GA-EX58-UD4P can utilize up to 24GB of DDR3 and keep any 64-bit O/S moving along nicely.
Some of the other features don't appear as outwardly obvious on the GA-EX58-UD4P, such as Green LAN and Dynamic Energy Saver (DES) Advanced. I originally configured the BIOS to enable Gigabyte's Green LAN feature, which is disabled by default, but I came to learn the hard way that if nothing is plugged in (or turned on) to the RJ-45 port it will go into a deep sleep that cannot be recovered from without a reboot.
Gigabyte includes the high-definition Realtek ALC889A audio controller with DTS Connect capability on the EX58-UD4P. This audio chipset may be integrated, but with a featured 106 dB Signal to Noise ratio over eight channels it is anything but low-end. Digital audio outputs arrive in two varieties: optical and coaxial S/PDIF connectors. Realtek's ALC889A with DTS Connect is meant to enable high quality full-rate lossless audio, and offer support for both Blu-ray and HD DVD.
One feature that seems to have been borrowed from the ASUS Striker II NSE nForce 790i SLI Motherboard we reviewed not long ago is the "Clr CMOS" button, which allows the user to clear the custom settings of their BIOS and start over from scratch. I found this function to be very useful, but not at all in a convenient area. I recommend that Gigabyte move this button away from the USB ports which are directly beside it, so that when you're reaching around the backside of the computer case to plug in a cable you don't accidentally reset you hard-earned overclock.
A total of eight High-Speed USB 2.0 ports populate the rear I/O panel, with another four available at the mainboard header connection. One IEEE-1394a Firewire port is also available on the I/O panel, but the Texas Instruments TSB43AB23 processor allows up to two more to be added using brackets connected to the motherboards header panel. Gigabyte includes one dual-port Firewire bracket, which leaves one more port available to your computer case's I/O panel if supported. The remainder of the input/output panel is quite busy, with a wide assortment of ports and connections for everything that is connectable by today's standard. A single Realtek 8111D Gigabit Ethernet LAN port is supplied, with activity and link speed indicators at the corner of the RJ-45 port.
External SATA connectors are not part of the motherboards I/O panel, however Gigabyte has included one SATA expansion bracket with the GA-EX58-UD4P motherboard kit. There are two eSATA ports available with a 4-pin Molex power connector between them for a total of two eSATA ports. In regards to standard integrated SATA ports, the UD4P offers six Intel ICH10R (colored blue) Southbridge ports capable of RAID-0, 1, 5, and 10. Along side the ICH10R ports is another set of SATA-II connections from a JMicron JMB322 'Smart Backup' controller (colored white) which supports RAID-0, 1, and JBOD.
One particular note of interest is the orientation of all eight SATA ports, which utilize transverse-mount connections to stem cables off to the side of the motherboard. This layout works extremely well for all modern video cards, especially the larger GeForce GTX 285 and Radeon HD 4870 X2 video cards which occupy multiple expansion slots. This design has been corrected from a flaw we pointed out on the GA-EP45T-EXTREME, which rendered four of the six SATA ports unusable when a large graphics card was installed.
Gigabyte makes it convenient for hardware enthusiasts to tweak the motherboard without having to reach for a power button, or even have the unit installed inside a computer case. By adding a reset and power button switch directly on the motherboard, overclockers can make quick changes and simply press the closest button. Because of the trials and tribulations I had with finding a stable overclock, these two buttons (along with the Reset CMOS button) came in very handy.
One particular feature the X58 chipset introduces in the marriage of CrossFireX and SLI support on the same motherboard. Gigabyte builds three PCI-Express 2.0 ports into the GA-EX58-UD4P: two 16x expansion slots (colored blue) and one 8x slot (colored orange). While most gamers would stop at two-way SLI or CrossFire, the third 8x slot allows you to combine three video cards for unmatched graphics power. For the first time ever (in my experience) Gigabyte has also included the necessary 2-way and 3-way SLI bridge connectors, although the CrossFireX bridge connector remains absent from this kit.
Surrounding the processor socket are several high-quality CPU power modules that utilize ferrite core chokes to minimize electromagnetic (and radio) interference signal noise and create a cleaner electrical circuit and comprise the finer points of Ultra Durable 3. A lower Resistance from Drain to Source rDS (ON) MOSFET array allows for transitional power steps, which is the heart of Gigabytes DES Advanced feature. Japanese manufactured SMD solid state capacitors, which contain a solid organic polymer and lower equivalent series resistance (ESR), are implemented throughout this board and will likely outlast the useful life of the Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD4P X58 motherboard.
Taken on its own merit, the heat-pipe cooling system does an excellent job for the GA-EX58-UD4P. Sure we've seen bigger an better, especially since this review follows the GA-EX58-EXTREME, but the UD4P sheds a lot of unnecessary weight to deliver mainstream performance without the extra bells and whistles. One other item that didn't make it to this mainstream motherboard is the embedded post code Debug LED, which displays the system status for users wanting to troubleshoot or diagnose their system. Gigabyte probably discovered how few users take advantage of this tool, and cut consumer costs where they could.
Please continue on towards the next section, which reveals a little about our motherboard testing methodology as it pertains to the Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD4P Intel Core-i7 X58-Express DDR3 motherboard.