|Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD7 Motherboard|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Motherboards|
|Written by Olin Coles|
|Thursday, 25 February 2010|
Page 8 of 17
BIOS and Overclocking
Let's face it: Intel X58-Express is the platform of choice for enthusiast hardware overclockers and extreme-performance gamers. This is why Intel only offers the Core i7-965EE and Core i7-975 Extreme Edition LGA1366 processors and triple-channel DDR3 memory exclusively on X58-Express motherboards. With a solid foundation provided by Intel, manufacturers such as Gigabyte are responsible for feature-added services and BIOS optimizations.
Every user has their personal preferences, and mine have always favored Award BIOS software, such as the revision F6 firmware that came on the Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD7. For clarification, Award Software merged with Phoenix Technologies Ltd. back in 2008, and now exists as the Award Software brand under the Phoenix name. The combination of two BIOS-focused companies has led to several key advantages over their competition, namely American Magatrends, Inc (AMI), which designs less-ergonomic BIOS software. After all, hardware is only as functional as the software that controls it and the BIOS firmware can make a major difference in overclocking experiments.
First and foremost, every chip is different. Despite close production tolerances and identical architecture, not all same-model computer hardware will perform the same. For example, the Intel Core i7-920 processor used for testing on this Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD7 motherboard may overclock better on another GA-X58A-UD7. Likewise, a different Core i7-920 CPU might overclock better than the processor we've used. Furthermore, firmware revisions will generally alter all these results even when retested using the same product sample. To avoid an unfair evaluation of overclocking performance, we will instead concentrate on the overclocking features available within the BIOS.
Beginning with the MB Intelligent Tweaker menu, both easy to understand basic settings and more advanced options are readily available. Serving both novice and experienced overclockers is a must for manufacturers of desktop hardware to survive into the age of portable computing. Gigabyte does an excellent job of keeping the options easily discovered, and adding detailed information when an item is highlighted (using the arrow keys).
As most overclockers know, the key to success is finding the right combination of component voltage and hardware settings to run stable at their higher speeds. Gigabyte goes into deep detail for the advanced hardware overclocker who enjoy the myriad of optional configuration settings available to them, while at the same time the X58A-UD7 delivers enough basic menu options to beginners for decent OC results without all of the tedious trail-and-error. Gigabyte also provides their own C.I.A.2 (CPU Intelligent Accelerator 2) feature on the X58A-UD7 which is designed to automatically adjust CPU computing power to maximize system performance. C.I.A.2 allows your system bus to be changed dynamically based on CPU loading through the use of 5 preset states:
Gigabyte CIA2 is fine for novices, but more experienced hardware enthusiasts will leave the feature disabled and work the settings themselves. This is where Gigabyte's OV-Control integrated circuit comes into play. The OV-Control IC allows fine voltage stepping of 6.25 mV (+/- 0.00625 volt increments) for all hardware components.
For memory tweakers, the DRAM Timing Selectable (SPD) option allows Quick or Expert settings which reveal all DRAM timing control items to be configured. Options are: Auto (default), Quick, Expert. Profile DDR Voltage. When using a non-XMP memory module or Extreme Memory Profile (X.M.P.) is set to Disabled, this item will display as 1.5V. When Extreme Memory Profile (X.M.P.) is set to Profile1 or Profile2, this item will display the value based on the SPD data on the XMP memory. XMP options offer the easiest method to achieve an instant memory overclock, but most experienced hardware enthusiasts will choose to define their own settings using the manual Quick or Expert options.
While CPU overclock settings run moderately deep depending on your end-goal, system memory configurations become highly complex with options that travel well-beyond CAS latency, CAS-RAS delay, RAS pre-time, RAS act-time, and RAS delay. In fact, with over 31 different configuration options, it might be easier to keep within the 'Quick' set of variables to avoid spoiling the overclock.
The real challenge begins when you work with component voltages, and this is where Gigabyte's use of the Award BIOS pays dividends. Displayed to the immediate left of all configuration variables is the default value, which can be a voltage rating, memory latency, or clock multiplier. As we've recently discovered in our review of the ASUS P6X58D-Premium, without the default values committed to memory you'll be forced to move between pages and make your overclocking experiment less enjoyable. On the Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD7 all default voltage, timing, and clock settings are displayed beside the new optional configuration.
In summary the Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD7 motherboard offers the best of both worlds: basic entry-level overclocking options for novice hardware enthusiasts, as well as some very complex BIOS options for fine tuning minutia hardware settings. Default hardware variables are located beside their optional setting, giving Gigabyte's Award BIOS design and edge to hardware overclocker.
Current and future GA-X58A-UD7 BIOS firmware updates are available for download directly from the Gigabyte product website.