|Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD7 Motherboard|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Motherboards|
|Written by Olin Coles|
|Thursday, 25 February 2010|
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Gigabyte X58A-UD7 Components
Intel originally launched the X58-Express platform on 3 November 2008, and despite some incremental improvements here and there very little has changed with the original core design. While it shares many of the same feature attributes as other products they offer, the Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD7 motherboard is designed for overclocking hardware enthusiasts through-and-through. Benchmark Reviews has tested several motherboards from many different manufacturers, and Gigabyte continually improves its product design to include new technology and better hardware stability. While our benchmark tests will prove this point later in this article, this section will cover motherboard features and component details.
Surrounding the new Lotes LGA1366 processor socket (which replaced the problematic Foxconn retaining unit) are several high-quality CPU power-management 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 to Gigabyte's Ultra Durable-3 power efficient design. A lower Resistance from Drain to Source rDS (ON) MOSFET array allows for transitional power steps. 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 X58A-UD7 motherboard.
External SATA connectors are not part of the motherboards I/O panel, however Gigabyte has included one SATA expansion bracket with the GA-X58A-UD7 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 X58A-UD7 motherboard offers six Intel ICH10R (colored blue) Southbridge ports capable of RAID-0, 1, 5, and 10. Along side these ports are four SATA-6.0 connections supplied by the Marvell 88SE9128 controller (colored white) which support RAID-0, 1, and JBOD.
Gigabyte is the first (and presently the only) motherboard manufacturer to offer RAID support on the new 3rd-generation SATA 6Gb/s interface. Another note of interest is that all of the SATA ports utilize a transverse-mount orientation that allows cable connections to stem off towards the side of the motherboard for both SATA6G and SATA3G ports. 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.
Like most other Gigabyte X58 motherboards, there are six DIMM slots available for DDR3 memory. The GA-X58A-UD7 accepts up to 24GB of DDR3 system memory. If overclocked 2000MHz DDR3 can be used; otherwise 1600/1333/1066MHz Non-ECC Un-buffered triple-channel memory architecture is supported. Support for Intel Extreme Memory Profile (XMP) memory kits is standard on the X58-Express platform. X58-Express does not retire dual-channel memory mode, so enthusiasts who are already using their favorite DDR3 memory in an older system can upgrade to X58 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.
24GB of available system memory will really add momentum for 64-bit computing support, but the six DIMM slots might also help optimize current 32-bit systems with smaller 1GB modules. 32-Bit Windows Operating Systems for example, offers a 4GB maximum memory mapping space and anything more is ignored. Since most all PCI-E video cards available today offer at least 256MB of vRAM, it's theoretically impossible for enthusiasts to completely realize 4GB of system memory on a 32-bit O/S.
A single nickel-plated copper heat-pipe rod spans from the ICH10 Southbridge of the Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD7 motherboard into the X58-Express Northbridge chip's heatsink/waterblock. From this point two heat-pipe rods continue on to a position above processor power-management components, where they are cooled by two aluminum fin-sinks. For additional cooling at the expense of occupying a single PCI-E slot, the Hybrid Silent-Pipe 2 module can be attached onto the Northbridge heatsink for improved chipset cooling and a more stable system overclock. In addition to the Gigabyte X58A-UD7, the Hybrid Silent-Pipe 2 feature was last seen on the Gigabyte GA-EX58-EXTREME, and the GA-EP45T-EXTREME before that; all of which offer an integrated liquid-cooling waterblock for the X58 Northbridge.
The rear Input/Output panel (I/O panel) receives the first major update: SuperSpeed USB-3.0 support. Color-coded PS/2 ports are available for older keyboard or mouse peripherals, purple for keyboard and green for mouse. Gigabyte includes the high-definition Realtek ALC889A audio controller with DTS Connect capability on the X58A-UD7. 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.
In the image above the two lower yellow ports share dual functionality and double as USB/eSATA combo connectors, while the Firewire ports retain their standard purpose. Because of their unique color, I initially though they might be part of the new USB-3.0 technology, and apparently that's exactly what Gigabyte wants me to think. Sadly, these are basic IEEE-1394a and USB-2.0 ports simply colored to look different. Skip one more set of plain black USB-2.0 ports and you find the only pair of SuperSpeed USB-3.0 ports offered on the X58A-series motherboard. Colored blue, these two SuperSpeed USB-3.0 ports depend on the NEC-D720200F1 controller chip (part number µPD720200).
A total of eight USB ports populate the rear I/O panel (six are USB-2.0, and two are USB-3.0), with another four available from two mainboard header connections. Additionally, there are two more eSATA ports available using the included expansion panel. The Texas Instruments TSB43AB23 processor allows three total IEEE-1394a Firewire ports, with two on the I/O panel and one more via the IEEE 1394a bracket connected to the internal IEEE 1394a header panel. 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. Dual Realtek 8111D Gigabit Ethernet LAN adapter ports are supplied, with activity and link speed indicators at the corner of the RJ-45 port.
Based on Intel's X58-Express chipset, the Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD7 comes with the requisite two 16x PCI-Express 2.0 lanes, and single 8x PCI-Express 2.0 lane. NVIDIA Triple-SLI or ATI CrossFireX video card sets perform their best with X58-Express platforms, which allow extreme-bandwidth graphics processing hardware to take advantage of the 32 total link lanes available. A single-lane PCI-Express slot and two standard PCI slots also offer additional expansion capabilities, if you should need them.
One particular feature the Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD7 SATA 6Gb/s motherboard offers to gamers is a marriage of CrossFireX (Tri-Fire) and Triple-SLI support on the same motherboard. Gigabyte includes a standard and 3-way SLI bridge connector, while CrossFire bridge connectors are usually supplied by respective manufacturers.
Gigabyte offers three PCI-Express 2.0-compliant ports on the GA-X58A-UD7: the first slot offers 16x link lanes, the second operates at 16x lanes or switches to 8x whenever the third slot is occupied, which also operates at 8x. In a two-card graphics setup using either ATI CrossFire or NVIDIA SLI configuration, the first two PCI-E 2.0 ports operating at 16-lanes per video card offers the most ideal bandwidth.
While adding a third video card for triple-SLI or CrossFireX won't come close to bandwidth saturation and should not see any measure of reduced performance for most video games, there could be a penalty for using that third PCIe slot when SATA6G (Marvell 9128) and USB-3.0 (NEC D720200F1) are enabled. Intel's X58-Express offers 32 total PCI-E 2.0 link lanes reserved for graphics, and the Intel X58 IOH provides an additional four lanes that can be used for graphics or I/O for a total of 36 PCI-Express lanes. More likely uses of those four lanes will be the DMI link, Marvell, and NEC chips, which will share those lanes or borrow as-needed for normal operation.
Previous generation LGA775 cooling products are not compatible with the LGA1366 socket. The X58-Express LGA1366 socket increased the distance between CPU cooler mounting holes to 80mm, which is significantly more footprint area than the 72mm used by the LGA775 socket. This has opened the door for several new aftermarket cooling solution, since the Intel Core-i7 desktop processor series is by definition an enthusiast product line made to endure overclocking.
Many CPU cooler manufacturers have designed adapters to fit existing LGA775 coolers onto the LGA1366 socket, which isn't safe because of the enlarged processor surface area. For systems not receiving an overclock, this may not be such a problem. But if you're going to re-use your Core 2 cooler on any enthusiast-grade Nehalem LGA1366 Core-i7 processor, it had better be listed near the top of our Best CPU Cooler Performance list. I'll explain why in my final thoughts section, which should be helpful information for hardware enthusiasts.
Please continue on towards the next section, which how Benchmark Reviews will go about testing the top-of-the-line Gigabyte X58A-UD7 motherboard.