Today we will be taking our first step with both feet into Intel's latest X79 LGA 2011 platform with Gigabyte's GA-X79-UD3 consumer-level motherboard. It's not entirely accurate to call the GA-X79-UD3 the "lowest" end of the other X79 offerings by Gigabyte, as the family has a rather mixed bag of feature sets, but it's most appealing to that statement in that it has the lowest price, and the greatest ease-of-entry into a not-so-cheap ecosystem.
GIGABYTE X79 series motherboards are designed to unite unrivaled desktop PC performance with a new level of flexibility and hardware control. Based on the latest Intel® X79 Express Chipset, supporting the new LGA 2011 Intel® Core™ i7 processors, GIGABYTE X79 series motherboards bring DIY builders to a new area of performance-oriented computing.
|Internal I/O Connectors||
|Back Panel Connectors||
For an overview of the extensive feature-list before we go over them in detail, refer to Gigabyte's GA-X79-UD3 product page.
Gigabyte's X79-UD3 arrives in a clean white box with all of its included accessories neatly packed, and the board well secured. In addition to the motherboard itself, there are four included SATA cables (two with straight connectors on both ends, and two with one of the connectors having a right-angled connector), a User's Manual and warranty documentation, the motherboard backplate, and connectors for basic SLI/Crossfire up to Quad-SLI/Crossfire.
I'm very fond of Gigabyte's clean color scheme here, especially as the all-black color scheme has taken hold recently. The VRM and Southbridge heatsinks have a more grey-color in more natural lighting conditions, and look less greenish as they appear in the pictures. The heatsink for the VRM just above the CPU Socket has rather tall fins, as there is not a large amount of room near the top portion of the motherboard, while the Southbridge heatsink is wide and covers a fairly large amount of area. During stress tests during overclocking, the VRM heatsink became noticeably warm to the touch, but not hot. The first firmware revisions had issues with MOSFETs blowing up during intense overclocks, and was quickly remedied by Gigabyte, but the VRM does run rather warm due to the power requirements of LGA 2011 chipsets. Adequate ventilation around the CPU socket should be something to take into careful consideration if you're planning to push your chips hard on the X79-UD3. The Southbridge heatsink became mildly warm to the touch, but overall we were happy with how cool it remained.
There are no onboard buttons or switches for power, CMOS reset, or OC options, and the X79-UD3 is also lacking from diagnostic LEDs. CMOS resets are performed in the traditional fashion by shorting two pins, and other boards in a similar price bracket as the X79-UD3 have diagnostic LEDs and other onboard functionality. Gigabyte's included feature-set elsewhere leaves little to desire in most other areas, where these exclusions were likely traded into other features, but we're unsure of Gigabyte's design philosophy for onboard controls most enthusiasts have come to expect in a motherboard, which is the target audience of the Sandy Bridge-E platform.
The board is very cleanly laid out, and is dotted with high quality solid capacitors and MOSFETs. And although it's not immediately obvious, the area surrounding the CPU socket is a bit claustrophobic when it comes time to build. The 4+4 CPU power plugs are in a very nice location at the top of the motherboard, where cable management is made easy by cutouts on the upper portion of the motherboard tray on most new cases. However, the "box" created around the CPU socket by the RAM slots and the upper PCI-e slot put a pretty "hard" limit on cooler sizes for air cooling. The CPU area has three 4-pin fan connections, two on the upper-left of the CPU socket, and another toward the upper right DIMM slots.
The enthusiast crowd that the Sandy Bridge-E targets is likely to be sporting high performance watercooling or one of the many all-in-one watercooling loops, but there are also many enthusiast builders who don't want to use watercooling. Air cooling has become exceptional over the past few years, but carefully choose your air cooler if you're going with the GA-X79-UD3. The Arctic Cooler Freezer i30 cooler butted up against the innermost RAM module (Patriot Viper Xtreme Division 4), which has a large-profile heatsink. It wasn't enough to disturb the RAM sticks, but the fit was as close as could be. Lower-profile RAM would have been easily cleared by the cooler, however. The same was found even with the GPU, which is something we haven't run into before, as the plastic bezel which holds the fan onto the heatsink was butted right up against the graphics card.
One things I've long awaited from Intel was a motherboard-integrated mounting method for attaching aftermarket coolers, and they've taken a big step to that with Sandy Bridge-E. The motherboard had a built-in bracket and threaded holes for cooler brackets to fasten onto, which is fantastic for reviewers or others who frequently remove their coolers. It also ensures a certain level of uniformity between manufacturers on how they'll mount their coolers, which should mean greater compatibility across the board. The USB 3.0 header is in a somewhat different location, located directly inward of the the 24-pin motherboard power port, which actually turned our rather nice, as the large USB 3.0 header was easily managed along with the 24-pin power cable.
Four DIMM slots are included with the X79-UD3, which is Gigabyte's way to trade in a lower price for those looking to get into LGA 2011 for as little as possible. Although for some, this may seem to be a big "hit" against the feature set of the X79-UD3, for most users four DIMMs will be plenty, as that gives you at least 8GB of RAM, which is enough for most of us. For professionals, 8 memory slots would have greater utility for the ability to create RAMDisks from the huge memory capacities the X79 platform is capable of accommodating, in which case there are other models in a similar price range, such as the ASUS P9X79, which we will compare the X79-UD3 to in more detail later. Otherwise, Gigabyte has their variety of motherboards to cater to those looking for a very purpose-built machine.
A feature I was happy to find was the abundance of 6GB/s SATA ports. The two beige ports are the 6GB/s ports on the PCH controller, while the four black ports are the 3GB/s SATA ports, also run on the PCH. The two grey ports, and the two along the bottom of the board, are run by separate Marvell 88SE9172 chips, which are 6GB/s connections. A third Marvell 88SE9172 chip is used for the e-SATA connections on the rear I/O ports. These are great inclusions, especially for those who may be wanting to run more than two SSDs or screaming-fast SDD RAID setups. The Marvell chips, however, do no perform nearly as well as those on the PCH, as we will show in the Storage Tests, but definitely offer a substantial boost over the 3GB/s connections. The ports along the bottom also have an associated benefit that they won't be blocked by video cards, unless you have four installed, and even then, with a right-angle connector would still most likely fit under most cards.
The bottom of the board has a neat arrangement of the audio, SPDIF_O, and USB 2.0 ports, as well as the case headers. Two 3-pin fan headers are also neatly arranged along the bottom of the board. The consistent arrangement made it easy to route all of the case headers to the bottom of the board, and the result was certainly pleasing to the eye, and didn't require any additional cable management planning.
Gigabyte uses a clean layout of its 7 PCI-e ports. The uppermost s a x16 port, and moving down the board, we have a x1, x8, x1, x16, x1, x8. This arrangement is nice, as is provides ample separation between the two x16 slots, which each operate at PCI-e 3.0 speeds, and allows for add-on cards in between them. The large number of PCI-e ports are also the reason the uppermost PCI-e port squeezes in on the area around the CPU socket.
The back of the PCB is very clean in a plain black color, and the solder points are very neat and clean. Part of the integrated CPU backplate for mounting coolers is also seen behind the CPU socket.
The rear I/O ports are abundant, with a combination PS/2 port, 8 USB 2.0 ports, two e-SATA ports, and two USB 3.0 ports, optical and coaxial SPDIF outputs, a Gigabit ethernet port, and audio jacks controlled by a great Realtek ALC898 chip. The NIC is made by Intel, and the community has reacted very positively to Intel's NICs over other potential NIC options.
Gigabyte is introducing their own take on the UEFI BIOS with their X79 Platform. I think Gigabyte has done a good job with their first implementation, although I'd like to see a bit more summary information on the main BIOS screen. It's still apparent that Gigabyte's UEFI is in its juvenile stages, as the cursor is a bit jumpy and animations aren't remarkably fluid, but all-in-all, it works fine, and the information layout is simple and logical. Digging deeper into the BIOS has a classic feel to it, so navigating to the options you're looking for when tweaking or overclocking won't have much of a learning curve.
Most motherboard manufacturers have a myriad of software to help make your motherboard easier to use, and add additional OS-side features. We'll scratch the surface on Gigabyte's offerings here.
Easy Tune 6
Easy Tune 6 provides three different one-click "Quick Boost" overclocking options, for our i7-3930K this meant 4.0, 4.2, and 4.4GHz options. It also allows you to access simplified and advanced BIOS-esque tweaking options to fine-tune your clock. It also features an information readout similar to CPU-z for both CPU and Memory/SPD, as well as GPU overclocking functions. Additionally, you can create fan profiles to fine-tune how your cooler fan responds to increasing thermal loads, and a hardware monitor displays voltage and fan temperature trends, which is nice to see during stress tests.
A new implementation with Gigabyte's X79 motherboards is their 3D-Power software, which offers a simple way to fine-tune a variety of PWM power options. It's a bit daunting when you dive in, and the options will be like a second language to most users, but allows phase, frequency, and voltage tweaking in the comfort of the OS, as opposed to wading through the specified options in the BIOS.
Click Image to Expand
@Bios is an updating utility for updating the BIOS to the latest version. Before testing, we updated to the most current "F9" BIOS and gave @BIOS a run. It worked easily and flawlessly, and really makes flashing your BIOS very easy.
Dolby Home Theater v4
Gigabyte has included Dolby Home Theater v4 to fine-tune your audio output from the Realtek ALC898 codec, and allows up to 6 custom profiles in addtion to three presets (which may also be individually customized). The software is pretty simple, but allows a bit of fine-tuning you might otherwise be lacking, and was a welcomed addition.
SMART 6 provides a simple panel for a variety of options. QuickBoot allows the BIOS QuickBoot option to reduce some of the POST checks, speeding up the POST time by several seconds. There's also an OS QuickBoot option which allows an near instant-on on the press of the power button, as it is essentially the "Sleep" function in Windows. SMART QuickBoost allows similar one-click overclocking like the main tab on Easy Tune 6. The other options allow quick options you might otherwise find in the BIOS. SMART Recovery creates an Image of your hard drive state at set intervals, so you might retrieve files, even if they've been deleted. Gigabyte's DualBIOS has long been one of their staples, as it allows BIOS redundancy in the event that the (previously disastrous) BIOS fails or becomes corrupted during flashing or any other reason. There is also a built-in option to save Passwords in the built-in 16MB BIOS storage capacity. TimeLock enables a "shut off" if the computer has been used for too long of a duration, you know, if your child, friend, or even yourself, needs intervention from using the computer for too long. For more details, click on over to the SMART 6 Summary Page.
CPU: Intel i7-3930K
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-X79-UD3
Comparison Motherboard: ASUS P9X79
OS HDD: OCZ Vertex 3 120GB MaxIOPS
Secondary HDD: Patriot Pyro SE 60GB
Power Supply: Cooler Master Silent Pro Hybrid 1050W
OS: Windows 7 Professional 64-Bit
We will be comparing a variety of performance characteristics to a similarly-priced motherboard, the ASUS P9X79. We will test the PCH and additional Marvell SATA ports, USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 transfer speeds, overall performance via PCMark7, as well as CPU-specific performance. We're currently having some compatibility issues with one of our DIMMS on the ASUS P9X79, and as a result have not been able to complete proper overclocking results. Additionally, our Seagate USB 3.0 drive we use for testing doesn't have a driver compatible with the host controller for the ASUS board, so we weren't able to get any USB 3.0 data from the ASUS board. Each benchmark or test was run three times to minimize variation in the independent test runs, and the average of the three runs are reported.
The overclocked tests were performed by first setting the "Optimized Defaults," in the BIOS, then simply setting the multiplier at x42 and leaving the voltage AUTO. Since the X79-UD3 is a more mainstream-targeted board, we want to test it in a no-hassle setting that nearly anyone could quickly have running out of the box. We avoided the software as different software may make a number of behind-the-scenes changes, and manual settings ensure we best control the test environment to make accurate comparisons.
Overclocking on the GA-X79-UD3 has overall been a great experience with the latest F9 BIOS. Both manually with "AUTO" voltage settings and using the QuickBoost software, 4.2GHz was a breeze, with temps hitting a ceiling at ~70 degrees Celsius, and a relatively low voltage of 1.236V, which is certainly low enough for an everyday overclock. We also bumped it up to 4.4GHz, but we did not stress test that setting for long, as our Arctic Cooling Freezer i30, a fairly basic single-fan air cooler, was being pushed to around 80 degrees Celsuis, which we weren't particularly comfortable with. However, we did not see any instability out of the motherboard, and to be able to literally click a button, hit "Reboot Now," and 30 seconds later have 4.2GHz with tolerable thermal loads and a low enough voltage for an everyday overclock, it was hard not to be happy with it.
We found that the "AUTO" voltage setting, when made in the BIOS and bumping the Multiplier up to 42x and leaving the bclck at 100MHz, that the load voltage was at a slightly lower 1.224V, which is actually very good for the normally overzealous AUTO voltage settings. We didn't run into any troubles Saving or Loading OC profiles, and as we just discussed, the software works as advertised as well.
For the storage tests, we ran our Secondary SSD, a Patriot Pyro SE 60GB through three separate benchmarks, AS SSD, ATTO, and CrystalDiskMark. For the USB tests, CrystalDiskMark was used to measure the transfer speed of our Seagate GoFlex Desktop 2.0TB USB 3.0 hard drive.
One thing is quickly apparent, the Marvell SATA controllers which add an additional four 6GB/s SATA ports do not perform nearly as well as those on the PCH, yielding read performance about halfway in between the 6GB/s and 3GB/s connections. The write speeds of the Marvell controller was also roughly equivalent to that of the 3GB/s SATA ports. Overall, across all of the benchmarks, the ASUS P9X79 and the Gigabyte-X79-UD3 trade blows in SATA performance, as the X79-UD3 is slightly better than the P9X79 in 6GB/s tests, while the P9X79 edges Gigabyte's counterpart in the 3GB/s tests. The Marvell controller on the P9X79 Deluxe is also more geared towards better read speeds, and the write speeds lag.
We see a definitive advantage in favor of the Gigabyte X79-UD3 in the USB 2.0 tests. The USB 3.0 tests were pleasing, with triple the speed being seen over USB 2.0. The USB 3.0 performance on the P9X79 slightly edges out the X79-UD3, but not by a significant amount, and are essentially the same. Both of these USB 3.0 tests are based upon their respective "boosted" performance.
CPU and Memory Testing
Cinebench is a benchmark which has components for testing CPU and GPU performance. We ran the multi-core/thread CPU benchmark five times for each setting, and the best score is displayed. An image is rendered using all 12 threads, and once rendering is complete, an overall score for the run is displayed.
The left image shows runs with the Gigabyte X79-UD3 with both stock and overclocked settings. The best score seen using stock settings was 10.15, and with a 4.2GHz overclock, a score of 12.18, which topples the Octo-core Xeon reference score. The right image shows the slight score increase after 5 runs with ASUS' P9X79, nudging up to 10.18, not a landslide difference.
wPrime is another CPU-intensive benchmark which allows configuration for the number of threads. We ran the 1024M test with all 12 threads enabled, and averaged the completion time over three runs.
As might be expected after the CineBench run, we see a slight advantage in favor of the ASUS P9X79, albeit very slim, as the total time was only .14s shorter, a 0.08% advantage.
We used AIDA 64's memory benchmark to measure latency, read, write, and copy speeds to the RAM.
We see a 6.7% increase in RAM read speeds between stock settings and a 4.2GHz overclock. AIDA64 omparisons to the ASUS P9X79 can't properly be made as we're currently having a compatibility issue with one of our DIMMs on the ASUS board. Likewise, we weren't able to make appropriate comparisons with our PCMark7 benchmarks, as the incompatible DIMM affects scores there as well, but we'll be sure to update the charts and our evaluation as soon as that's sorted.
There are several LGA 2011 motherboards out there today with rather enticing prices in the low-$200 range, and on the surface appear to have similar specs to the Gigabyte GA-X79-UD3. The similarly-priced ASUS P9X79 has 8-DIMM slots, more rear panel USB 3.0 ports, and an additional fan header, but the X79-UD3 has an external USB 3.0 header, more SATA 6GB/s ports (albeit 4 are slower than the PCH equivalents), and greater PCI-e port flexibility. In terms of performance, we didn't see anything that scares us away from the X79-UD3 or makes us flock towards it, which puts it, in terms of mere numbers, on a solid playing field in its price range. However, we had no compatibility issues with the latest F9 BIOS, and Gigabyte's suite of software proved very easy to use and it worked great. It enables a wide array of added functionality, and for the casual overclocker, one-click options for a quick and easy 31% clock boost at everyday temperatures and voltages on basic air cooling. Ease of use, for many, can make or break the choice to purchase an item, and we have nothing but good things to say about the stability and compatibility we've seen from the X79-UD3. We also wonder if the choice to only include 4 DIMM slots reveals a mentality in the design of the board, as a recognition that the consumer-level user who wants "in" on the Sandy Bridge-E bandwagon probably won't populate all 8 slots, which may also then follow through to the reasoning for the omission of on-board switches, which is that most mainstream consumers use them, at most, sparingly.
One of our two biggest gripes with the X79-UD3 are the lack of features enthusiasts have come to expect, such as onboard switches for resetting the CMOS, reset, power, automatic overclocking, and, most glaringly, diagnostic LEDs. We're not sure Gigabyte's reasoning for the omission of these features, perhaps the mentality is a board geared toward "entry-level" users to the enthusiast platform that may be using the capability of the LGA 2011 platform for rendering or other tasks, and are not particularly concerned about onboard overclocking tools. However, users at any level certainly notice the absence of diagnostic LEDs when their awesome new rig won't POST. The only other issue we ran into was the rather tight space around the CPU socket, which led our CPU cooler to simultaneously be butted up against the right inner RAM module, as well as the GPU. An all-in-one cooler ships with Intel's highest-end i7-3960X, and that would be a great fit for the X79-UD3 because of these space concerns. Although most tower air coolers should work in the X79-UD3, you should be wary of the size constraints when choosing a cooling solution to accompany the X79-UD3. We also don't foresee any top-flow coolers fitting, as the pipes tend to protrude out one side, which isn't a problem on past chipsets, where the RAM slots are only on the right side of the motherboard.
Overall, what you get with the GA-X79-UD3 is performance which is on-par for its price range and its immediate competitors, with added features such as 7 PCI-e slots and Quad SLI/Crossfire capability, six 6GB/s SATA ports, and an internal USB 3.0 header. It will perform better with overclocking tasks than some of the other boards with plunging price tags, and the software, stability, and compatibility we've experienced make a strong case for it. Gigabyte's X79-UD3 blurs the line of it's "place" in the market and really settles into its own between the budget and enthusiast feature sets, with only 4 DIMM slots but the capability for Quad-SLI/Crossfire. As long as you're careful with the cooler you'd like to use, and can allow yourself to get over the lack of diagnostic LEDs on the GA-X79-UD3, we feel that it's a rock-solid choice and a good value at its current spot in the market, and definitely has a unique feature set.
- Quad-SLI/Crossfire capability
- Intelligent x16 PCI-e placement
- Six 6GB/s SATA ports
- Internal USB 3.0 Header
- Intel NIC
- Latest BIOS stable
- Automatic OC features worked great
- Claustrophobic working area around CPU Socket
- Lack of diagnostic LEDs
- No CMOS-clear button