Articles: Mainboards

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PCB Design and Functionality

Just like with the packaging, we can easily recognize Gigabyte products from the looks and the blue textolite. And right at first glance it becomes absolutely clear that the design of both boards is almost identical. In fact, heir only visible difference is the chipset: Gigabyte GA-P67A-UD3 is based on Intel P67 Express, and Gigabyte GA-PH67A-UD3 - on Intel H67 Express.

Gigabyte GA-PH67A-UD3

Gigabyte GA-P67A-UD3

The components layout from the user manual also proves that the boards have similar design: the layout is identical for both mainboard models. By the way, here they also mention the third mainboard using the same layout – Gigabyte GA-PH67-UD3. It is also based on Intel H67 Express chipset and differs from GA-H67A-UD3 by the absence of an additional USB 3.0 controller.

As for the additional onboard controllers, both models have very few of them. And the reason for that is not only the intention to lower the production cost, but also the fact that new Intel chipsets have become much more functional. No there is no need to use additional chips to add SATA 6 Gbps support, because both chipsets support up to two SATA 6 Gbps ports and four 3 Gbps ports by default. By the way, note that both mainboards are missing FDD and PATA connectors. It will still be a while before Intel implements USB 3.0 interface support in their chipsets, so they used the usual Renesas (NEC) D720200F1 controller instead. Network interface is implemented via Realtek RTL8111E controller, and eight-channel sound – via Realtek ALC892. The new ITE IT8892E controller is a bridge delivering support for PCI connectors, which are gone for good from Intel chipsets.

In the first paragraphs on our today’s review we mentioned that both mainboard models discussed today were unique and differed from the majority of mainboards on Intel P67 Express and H67 Express. The uniqueness of Gigabyte GA-P67A-UD3 is that it cannot split the 16 PCI Express 2.0 lanes supported by the processor equally between the two graphics card slots. The first slot will always work at full PCI Express 2.0 x16 speed, while the second will only have four lanes provided by the chipset and its speed will drop to PI Express 2.0 x1, if any of the three PCI Express 2.0 x1 expansion card slots is used. So, you still can use both mainboards to build CrossFireX graphics card configurations, but it won’t be the best choice because of the lower speed on the second graphics card slot. You can use the second slot for a discrete RAID controller or for multi-monitor configurations, for instance.

As for Gigabyte GA-PH67A-UD3, it has no video-outs, which take up a lot of space. As a result, there are the following ports and connectors on the mainboards’ back panels:

  • PS/2 connector for keyboard or mouse;
  • Coaxial and optical S/PDIF together with six analogue audio-jacks provided by eight-channel Realtek ALC892 codec;
  • Ten USB ports, including two USB 3.0 (blue connectors), implemented with Renesas (NEC) D720200F1 controller; four more are laid out as three onboard pin-connectors;
  • A local network port (network adapter is built around Gigabit Realtek RTL8111E controller).

The table below shows the overall summary of mainboards’ technical specifications:

Overall, the mainboards functionality looks pretty good. It doesn’t make sense to blame entry-level mainboards for the absence of an additional controller providing IEEE1394 (FireWire) support, but we should definitely give them credit for having USB 3.0. The boards are missing all legacy interfaces, such as LPT, FDD, PATA, but they are equipped with a COM ports and a PS/2 connector can allow either a mouse or a keyboard of your choice. Using the same components layout for all three mainboards lowers the production costs and allows setting lower retail price, which is also an important factor. Unfortunately, this design is not ideal. For example, the processor fan connector is located in the center of the PCB, so it is better to connect the fan well in advance, otherwise, it may be blocked on three sides by the CPU cooler heatsink, graphics card and memory modules. We had some problems during testbed assembly, because the long pins from the chips around the processor socket wouldn’t let us install the backplate for our Scythe Mugen 2 CPU cooler on the reverse side of the PCB. However, I am sure that the low mainboard price will be able to make up for all these little issues.

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