Closer Look at Gigabyte Mainboards
The packaging of the Gigabyte GA-Z68X-UD3P-B3 is covered with various logotypes. A picture of the mainboard and a brief description of its features can be found on the back of the box.
The mainboard is shipped with the following accessories:
- Four SATA cables with metal connector locks, two with L-shaped locks and another two with straight ones;
- A flexible bridge for two-way SLI graphics configurations;
- I/O Shield for the back panel;
- User manual;
- A booklet with brief assembly instructions in 18 languages;
- A leaflet warning the users that the board is incompatible with LGA1156 processors;
- DVD disk with software and drivers;
- “Dolby Home Theater” and “Gigabyte” logo stickers for the system case.
Gigabyte has retained its traditional blue-and-white color scheme for its junior mainboard models only. The rest of the company’s products have acquired a somewhat gloomy appearance due to the black color of the PCB and connectors. Color is not a parameter that’s usually counted among a mainboard’s highs or lows, but I think that the new color scheme makes it somewhat more difficult to assemble computers around Gigabyte's mainboards. For example, the memory slots are all the same black color now whereas earlier you could easily tell which slots belonged to the same memory channels without even looking up this info in the user manual because the first-channel slots used to be colored white and the second-channel ones, blue.
While not being an entry-level product, this mainboard is one of the junior models in its series. Despite this fact, it features a rather advanced CPU voltage regulator that incorporates as many as 12 power phases. The number of active phases can be dynamically changed depending on CPU load, which is indicated by the row of Phase LEDs (you need to install the Dynamic Energy Saver utility for this technology to work). The CPU voltage regulator features highly integrated components: a couple of MOSFETs and a driver are all packed into a single Driver MOSFET chip. Hot components of the regulator are cooled with two aluminum heatsinks. The mainboard is equipped with two graphics slots and supports CrossFireX and SLI technologies. One graphics card will work in full-speed PCI Express 2.0 x16 mode. When two graphics cards are in use, each will have half the 16 PCIe lanes. The chipset is responsible for the mainboard’s two SATA 6 Gbps and four SATA 3 Gbps ports. An onboard Marvell 88SE9172 controller adds two more SATA 3 Gbps ports. The mainboard has four fan connectors, two of which are of the 4-pin variety, and can regulate the speed of the connected fans (even 3-pin ones) depending on temperature.
Considering Gigabyte's vast experience in developing mainboards, it is no wonder that the GA-Z68X-UD3P-B3 is designed cleverly and is very easy to use. There is nothing to find fault with in the component layout. On the contrary, I did find a number of small things that make user's life easier:
- Two BIOS chips;
- An installed graphics card will not block the memory slot locks;
- Both PCI and PCI Express x1 slots for expansion cards are still available even if you install two graphics cards;
- Graphics cards will not prevent you from plugging SATA cables in;
- It is easy to tell the chipset’s SATA 6 Gbps ports from the chipset’s and the extra controller’s SATA 3 Gbps ports;
- There are labels not only on the PCB next to connectors but also inside some connectors;
- The IEEE1394 (FireWire) connector has a cap;
- The connectors for the buttons and indicators of the system case are all color-coded.
These are small things indeed, but you will surely notice if they are missing, like on mainboards from some other brands.
Winding up this discussion, let's take a look at the mainboard's back panel:
- PS/2 connector for keyboard or mouse;
- Eight USB 2.0 ports, six more are laid out as three onboard pin-connectors;
- Two USB 3.0 ports (blue connectors) implemented via EtronTech EJ168A controller; a second controller like that provides two additional internal USB 3.0 ports;
- IEEE1394 (FireWire) port implemented via VIA VT6308P controller, a second port is available as onboard pin-connector;
- A local network port (network adapter is built around Gigabit Realtek RTL8111E controller);
- Optical S/PDIF together with six analogue audio-jacks provided by eight-channel Realtek ALC889 codec.
All in all, the GA-Z68X-UD3P-B3 looks almost immaculate. I cannot find any serious flaws but there are a few things that might be improved even more. For example, the two SATA ports provided by the extra controller may be redundant considering the chipset's six, yet there is no eSATA port. The mainboard offers an optical S/PDIF but lacks a coaxial one, although the latter might be fitted into its back panel. Well, as a matter of fact, the next model in this review seems to be a GA-Z68X-UD3P-B3 improved in the way I’ve just mentioned.