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.