Articles: Mainboards

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Lately, we have been testing mainboards in batches. Once Intel X58 Express and the corresponding CPUs came out, we tested mainboards based on that chipset one after another. When we found we had covered basic models from all brands and satiated our interest, a new platform was already announced and we began to test mainboards based on Intel P55 Express. This research method has both pros and cons, so we are going to try another one soon. We are going to take a few mainboards and compare them all in a single large roundup. But as we haven’t yet accumulated enough products for such a comprehensive roundup, we want to return to the already discussed group of mainboards and check out new models that have appeared after our original series of articles.

The senior P55 Express based product from Gigabyte, the GA-P55-UD6 mainboard, was among the first to be tested in our labs but there is now a new model available called GA-P55A-UD6. The additional letter A indicates that the mainboard supports new USB 3.0 and SATA 6 Gbps interfaces. Besides, the role of the flagship product has been transferred to the Gigabyte GA-P55A-UD7. These two mainboards will be described and tested in our today’s review.

Closer Look at Gigabyte GA-P55A-UD6

Gigabyte GA-P55A-UD6 comes in a large box with a carry handle. You can flip the flap back and take a look at the mainboard through a large clear plastic window.

You can go through a brief list of specifications, features and benefits of the mainboard and Gigabyte’s exclusive utilities at the back of the box.

The accessories are packed into a separate box and include the following items:

  • A PATA cable;
  • Four SATA cables without metal connector locks, two with L-shaped locks and another two with straight ones;
  • A set of cables and brackets for two external Serial ATA devices;
  • Flexible bridge for SLI graphics card configurations;
  • I/O Shield for the back panel;
  • A booklet with brief assembly instructions in 18 languages;
  • User manual;
  • Smart TPM manual;
  • A booklet on Smart 6 utility suite;
  • DVD disk with software and drivers;
  • Gigabyte and Dolby Home Theater logo stickers for the system case.

The mainboard itself is protected by a tight-fitting plastic casing. It looks very much like its junior cousin we tested before.

The key feature of this model strikes the eye immediately: it has as many as six DIMM slots for memory modules. You must be aware, however, that it doesn’t mean a three-channel access mode like in mainboards based on Intel X58 Express. Even the total amount of DDR3 SDRAM this model can support is not above the ordinary level. Like every other Intel P55 Express based product, it allows to install no more than 16 gigabytes of system memory. You can just hit this amount using more memory modules, which is the single advantage of this solution. There are a few limitations even. For example, you have to use single-sided modules if you want to fill all six slots with them.

There is one more peculiarity about this mainboard that reminds us of Intel X58 Express based mainboards. We mean the cooling system. It looks as if the mainboard had a traditional two-piece chipset design with a North and a South Bridge whereas Intel P55 Express chipset is known to consist of only one chip. Judging by the component layout, GA-P55A-UD6 is designed differently unlike most other mainboards with that chipset. The chipset itself has moved closer to the CPU, to the spot where the North Bridge used to be. It is cooled by the central heatsink. The heatsink in the South Bridge area now only cools a couple of additional controllers. One of them is a Marvell 9128 that provides support for SATA 6 Gbps (the white-colored connectors) and the other is an iTE IT8213 chip which supports PATA. The cooling system looks impressive but also redundant. The chipset components as well as the additional controllers do not call for such a complex and bulky cooling solution.

We like the mainboard’s back panel because the developer has made full use of the available space here. There are no empty places like in some other mainboards. With the help of a few additional controllers they got the following:

  • PS/2 connector for keyboard or mouse;
  • Coaxial and optical S/PDIF together with six analogue audio-jacks provided by eight-channel Realtek ALC889 codec;
  • Two IEEE1394 (FireWire) ports implemented via T.I. TSB43AB23 controller, the third port is available as an onboard pin-connector;
  • Two eSATA/USB Combo ports implemented via JMicron JMB362 ;
  • Ten USB ports, including two eSATA/USB and a pair of USB 3.0 (blue connectors), implemented with NEC D720200F1 controller; four more are laid out as two onboard pin-connectors;
  • Two local network ports (network adapters are built around Realtek RTL8111D controllers).

Winding up our overview of the Gigabyte GA-P55A-UD6 features and functionality, here is a list of its technical specs:

Gigabyte put a lot of effort into developing the first flagship mainboard and their efforts were generally not vain: the mainboard is truly impressive. The PCB design differs from the usual layout of most other mainboards, particularly by the location of the chipset and presence of six memory DIMM slots. The standard functionality of the chipset is complemented by a large number of additional controllers that provide IEEE1394 (FireWire), USB 3.0 and SATA 6 Gbps interfaces as well as the eSATA/USB combo ports at the back panel. The mainboard has a 24-phase CPU voltage regulator that can dynamically change the number of active phases depending on load. It also features onboard buttons, a POST code indicator and informational LEDs, a high load capacity of the USB ports, and thicker copper interconnects. You can check out the flowchart to see how the individual components are connected with each other, how the controllers and their outs are laid out.

We will now move on to the new flagship product of the Gigabyte mainboard series based on Intel P55 Express chipset.

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