Articles: Mainboards

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PCB Design and Functionality

It is often hard to spot anything special in a mainboard at first glance. The Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD5 (rev. 2.0) looks very ordinary and needs a closer look to reveal its individual features.

This mainboard supports all modern LGA1366 processors, including six-core ones, and has a 16-phase voltage regulator that can dynamically adjust the number of active phases. The six DDR3 slots can take in as much as 24 gigabytes of memory. The mainboard supports Extreme Memory Profile (XMP) and a wide range of frequencies from 800 to 2200 MHz. If you use one or two graphics cards, they will be able to work in full-speed PCI Express 2.0 x16 mode. Or you can use as many as four graphics cards, each in PCI Express 2.0 x8 mode. There are also two PCI Express x1 and one PCI slot here. A few heat pipes combine the heatsinks on the chipset pieces and power transistors into a single cooling system.

Gigabyte’s mainboards are generally high-quality products with lots of features and technologies, but they also have one advantage if you compare them to other brands’ products. They are functionally richer than same-class competitors. We noted this trend in our comparative review of AMD 890FX-based Socket AM3 mainboards and then once again in our review of several AMD 870-based products. Now we’ve got another proof of that fact. The Intel ICH10R South Bridge allows connecting up to six Serial ATA drives at a speed of 3 Gbps and combining them into RAID arrays. Like the majority of the second-wave mainboards, the Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD5 (rev. 2.0) is equipped with an onboard Marvell 88SE9128 controller to provide two SATA 6Gbps ports. Besides, there is a Gigabyte SATA2 controller supporting two IDE drives and two 3Gbps ports. And finally, you can find two eSATA/USB combo connectors on the mainboard’s back panel which are provided by a JMicron JMB362 controller.

Gigabyte mainboards make very efficient use of the back-panel space. Indeed, you will hardly need additional back-panel brackets when you already have this:

  • PS/2 connectors for keyboard and mouse;
  • Coaxial and optical S/PDIF together with six analogue audio-jacks provided by eight-channel Realtek ALC889 codec;
  • Clear CMOS button;
  • Eight USB ports, including two eSATA/USB Combo and a pair of USB 3.0 (blue connectors), implemented with NEC D720200F1 controller; six more are laid out as three onboard pin-connectors;
  • Two IEEE1394 (FireWire) ports implemented via T.I. TSB43AB23 controller, the third port is available as an onboard pin-connector;
  • Two local network ports (network adapters are built around Gigabit Realtek RTL8111E controllers).

Looking at the component layout, we can note a few more special features of this mainboard. For example, it has two BIOS chips, six fan connectors, Power and Reset buttons, and a POST code indicator. There are also a lot of various LEDs. Four groups of LEDs help monitor the voltage level on the CPU, memory and chipset. They do not shine when the voltage is normal, turn green when the voltage is slightly above the norm, then yellow and red when the voltage gets high and very high above the normal level. Two more groups of LEDs indicate the temperature of the CPU and North Bridge. They are turned off when the temperature is below 60°C, green in the range of 61-80°C and red at a higher temperature. Three rows of multicolored LEDs report the number of active power phases in the voltage regulators of the CPU, memory and North Bridge. And finally, one group of bright blue LEDs is indicative of how high the base clock rate is.

The problem is the LEDs are too numerous and can be easily confused. Of course, you can read up their meaning in the user manual, but you can also use some diagnostic tool instead to get far more accurate data. We guess such LED indication would only be helpful as a means to immediately tell the user that something is wrong. Otherwise, its usefulness is rather limited. Well, we don’t say that all these LEDs are a drawback of the mainboard, yet we wouldn’t count them among its advantages, either.

So, the Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD5 (rev. 2.0) looks most appealing so far. Its functionality is gorgeous, spanning from the legacy interfaces PS/2, FDD and IDE to the cutting-edge USB 3.0 and SATA 6 Gbps. You can refer to the manufacturer’s website for its full specifications. We will show you the key ones in the table.

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