Articles: Mainboards

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PCB Design and Functionality

Even if we hadn’t noticed the “OC Motherboard” logo on the Gigabyte GA-X79-UD7 box, the familiar black-and-orange color scheme would have immediately brought up the image of the Gigabyte GA-X58A-OC mainboard, which we have already tested before. So, despite a pretty simple model name, Gigabyte GA-X79-UD7 is unique: it is designed for overclocking.

What exactly does it mean? First of all, there are two eight-pin ATX12V power connectors for the CPU. They are capable of delivering up to 1500 W of power, which may come in very handy during extreme overclocking experiments. Another thing that also stands out is a pretty serious processor voltage regulator circuitry including 16 phases and built with high-quality components. In particular the voltage regulator uses POScap tantalum capacitors. Moreover, let’s not forget about the new “3D Power” technology. Let’s talk a little more about it now. At first, when I saw the illustration on Gigabyte’s web-site I thought that “3D Power” term was yet another eye-catching trick of the marketing people. As if the processor or memory could do without any power on mainboards from other manufacturers.

However, in reality, there was much more innovation behind this technology. “3D Power” is a digital complex of software and hardware components that allows to flexibly manage the power supply of the processor and memory. It includes not only the new power supply system, but en entire group of the new BIOS parameters and a specially designed utility for working with these parameters from Microsoft Windows. I think I could actually compare it with “DIGI+” system on Asus mainboards, which also includes the same components.

There is a group of electronic components in the upper right corner – “OC-Touch”, which should make overclocking much easier. Besides the traditional Power On and Reset buttons, there is a special button for changing the base clock frequency and processor clock frequency multiplier “on the fly”. A row of voltage probing modules and the included set of adapter cables will allow users to conveniently monitor current voltages using a voltmeter device. A POST code indicator will help identify the problem in case of a failed boot-up.

The heatsinks on the chipset and the heating components of the voltage regulator circuitry use secure screw-on retention and are tied together into a single cooling contour with a heatpipe. Four memory DIMM slots can accommodate up to 32 GB of RAM and support quad-channel access. Four PCI Express x16 slots support 4-Way/3-Way/2-Way AMD CrossFireX or NVIDIA SLI graphics card configurations. All of them comply with the new PCI-E 3.0 specification. With two graphics cards in the system the slots work at their maximum speed. While with four cards they will work at half the speed. Besides that, the board has three PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots for other expansion cards, such as the Wi-Fi/Bluetooth 4.0 card included another the bundled accessories. The chipset provides support for two SATA 6 Gbps ports (white connectors) and four SATA 3 Gbps ports (black connectors). Moreover, two additional Marvell 88SE9172 controllers add another four SATA 6 Gbps ports (gray connectors).

The mainboard back panel has the following ports and connectors on it:

  • PS/2 connector for keyboard or mouse;
  • Eight USB 2.0 ports, six more are laid out as three onboard pin-connectors;
  • “OC Button” and “DualBIOS Switcher” buttons;
  • Two USB 3.0 ports (blue connectors) implemented via Fresco FL1009 controller, second controller like that provides an additional internal pin-connector for two more USB 3.0 ports;
  • A local network port (network adapter is built around Gigabit Intel 82579V network controller);
  • Optical S/PDIF and five analogue audio-jacks provided by eight-channel Realtek ALC898 audio codec.

The “OC Button” will help overclocking the system in automatic mode. As for the “DualBIOS Switcher”, it extends the functionality of the Gigabyte’s proprietary “DualBIOS” technology, allowing the system to switch between two different BIOS chips. There are seven four-pin fan connectors onboard. All of them, except for the processor fan connector allow adjusting the rotation speed of the three-pin fans, too.

We summed up all the major technical specifications in the following table:

The first mainboards designed specifically for overclocking, Gigabyte GA-X58A-OC, could be used as a basis for a personal computer system, but it was primarily intended for experiments in an open testbed. Gigabyte GA-X79-UD7 is just as convenient to work with in an open testbed, but it will be a perfect fit for a fully functional high-performance and feature-rich computer system. The only issue could be large dimensions of this mainboard. Although there are only four memory DIMM slots on it, Gigabyte GA-X79-UD7 mainboard is longer and wider than a standard ATX PCB.

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