Articles: Mainboards

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I am not impressed with the new Intel Z68 Express chipset. Its special features are not meant for the general public but rather for specific categories of users only. The Z68-based Gigabyte mainboards I have tested today also didn’t make me particularly happy. First of all, Gigabyte GA-Z68X-UD3P-B3, GA-Z68X-UD4-B3, GA-Z68X-UD5-B3 and GA-Z68X-UD7-B3 do not have video outputs and therefore do not allow using the integrated graphics. They support Intel Smart Response but lack any Lucid Virtu modes.

Their packaging, accessories bundles and PCB design are practically flawless. These mainboards are very well built, offer a full range of modern interfaces and features and on top of that offer a number of Gigabyte’s exclusive technologies. I would like to specifically point out an extremely successful new program called Touch BIOS utility. Although not without some minor shortcomings, this new Windows-based tool offers quick and easy way of accessing and adjusting BIOS settings.

Unfortunately, the new Gigabyte mainboards look so superb only from a distance, until you actually start working with them and come face to face with above pointed problems and shortcomings. Before this review, I could state with certainty that almost all mainboards could overclock my CPU to 4.8 GHz. From now on, I will be more reserved in my statements because these Gigabyte mainboards could only reach 4.7 GHz in terms of the CPU frequency. The success of the Gigabyte GA-Z68X-UD7-B3 model which made my memory modules stable at 1867 MHz with good 7-7-7-20-1T timings was practically leveled by the results of GA-Z68X-UD3P-B3 and GA-Z68X-UD4-B3, which work with the memory worse than any other mainboards we tested so far. However, I wouldn’t be so disappointed if the problems were limited to overclocking only. After all, overclocking is a lottery in which some CPUs and memory modules are simply luckier than others. Besides, as you can learn from our tests, a small difference in CPU frequency, memory frequency or memory timings does not affect the resulting performance much. Of course, the drawback sum up, yet they do not usually add up to a critical mass. Moreover, many users do not overclock their computers at all and will never even know that such problems exist. However, the new series of Gigabyte mainboards have some problems beyond overclocking, in nominal mode, which is very frustrating.

The most serious problem is that they are not set up optimally by default even if you Load Optimized Defaults in the BIOS. When the C3/C6 State Support is set at Auto, these mainboards do not switch to these deep power-saving modes therefore Intel Turbo Boost technology works only partially. The consequence is that the Gigabyte mainboards are slower than others whenever the CPU is not under full load. Moreover, since the mainboards do not allow the CPU to use all of the power-saving features, it consumes more power in idle mode.

At this point I have only one big concern: that Gigabyte might return to where they used to be before. In the beginning and even in the middle of the first decade of this century Gigabyte's mainboards were good just formally, but had poor reputation among enthusiasts for their lower performance and overclockability compared to the competition. The company’s ambitious plans to overtake ASUS could hardly be taken seriously then, yet the situation changed greatly. I’m not a salesperson. I don’t know how many mainboards Gigabyte sells and how much money they make and if they have overtaken ASUS in this respect by now. But I test mainboards and do know that the latest Gigabyte products for LGA775, LGA1366 and 1156 processors were not only as good as other brands' but even better. I liked the simple and problem-free way of configuring those mainboards. It was very easy to find optimal overclocking settings with them. Moreover, once found, the settings could be transferred to another mainboard with the same great effect.

It's sad that Gigabyte’s LGA1155 products have changed in some not only positive ways. They have lost their stability and consistency. None of the mainboards I’ve tested for this review could overclock my CPU to its maximum. And to make it work at 4.7 GHz, I had to increase the voltage from 0.09 volts on the UD5 to 0.13 volts on the UD4, which is a rather large difference and a colossal one for Gigabyte’s older products.

I agree that UEFI BIOS is not a necessity. I’ve seen mainboards where there are almost no differences between the old-style BIOS and UEFI BIOS and even mainboards which have got worse with UEFI BIOS, but there are also good examples like ASUS’ implementation, for instance. ASUS mainboards with UEFI BIOS offer a working option for multi-step counteraction to the CPU voltage drop under load and give you the option of enabling and disabling exclusive power-saving features right in the BIOS menu. Their firmware can be updated from a flash drive as well as from a hard disk even if the latter has NTFS formatting. They support Bluetooth. Unfortunately, Gigabyte’s LGA1155 products have fallen behind their ASUS counterparts at this point. Hopefully, they will get things right soon enough and Gigabyte’s RND team hasn’t lost any of its leading men or resources. I mean that it doesn’t bode well when a manufacturer changes the color of the PCB instead of adding new features and correcting older defects because this indicates the dominance of marketing over engineering. As a result, users will be offered mainboards in eye-catching boxes, with various cute accessories, sophisticated names for simple technologies, etc, but uncompetitive against products from other brands. It won’t be good for all of us if Gigabyte’s mainboards get worse, so I do hope this will not happen.

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