Articles: Mainboards
 

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Testbed Configuration

We performed all our tests on a testbed built with the following components:

  • Gigabyte GA-Z77-D3H rev. 1.1 mainboard (LGA1155, Intel Z77 Express, BIOS version F18);
  • Intel Core i5-3570K CPU (3.6-3.8 GHz, 4 cores, Ivy Bridge rev.E1, 22nm, 77 W, 1.05 V, LGA 1155);
  • 2 x 4 GB DDR3 SDRAM Corsair Vengeance CMZ16GX3M4X1866C9R (1866 MHz, 9-10-9-27 timings, 1.5 V voltage);
  • Gigabyte GV-T797OC-3GD (AMD Radeon HD 7970, Tahiti, 28 nm, 1000/5500 MHz, 384-bit GDDR5 3072 MB);
  • Crucial m4 SSD (CT256M4SSD2, 256 GB, SATA 6 Gbps);
  • Noctua NH-D14 CPU cooler;
  • ARCTIC MX-2 thermal interface;
  • Enhance EPS-1280GA 800 W PSU;
  • Open testbed built using Antec Skeleton system case.

We used Microsoft Windows 8 Enterprise 64 bit (Microsoft Windows, Version 6.2, Build 9200) operating system, Intel Chipset Device Software driver package version 9.3.0.1026, AMD Catalyst 13.1 graphics card driver.

Operational and Overclocking Specifics

When launched, the Gigabyte GA-Z77-D3H shows a startup picture in the bottom of which you can see a list of active hotkeys. Pressing the Del key will lead you to the mainboard's BIOS. F9 will show a window with system information (the same key displays the same window if pressed in the BIOS, too). F12 opens up a menu to choose a device to boot from. The End key can be pressed to launch the integrated firmware update tool Q-Flash.

There’s no Tab key listed here which is usually used to remove the startup picture. You can disable the latter in the BIOS, but the fact is, unlike most mainboards from other brands, Gigabyte ones do not output any boot-related information on the screen. The only thing you can see is an AMI logo since the BIOS is based on AMI’s code. We would have called it a downside in the past, but today’s mainboards usually start up so fast that you barely have time to press the key to enter their BIOS, let alone peruse any information they may output. We only mention this because we couldn’t find any real downsides about the GA-Z77-D3H. It doesn’t follow the current trend to increase CPU clock rate by default as many other mainboards do. It also sets the default frequency (1333 MHz) and timings for our system memory according to the SPD information. It is easy then to adjust the clock rate manually or via an XMP profile and change memory timings. Every power-saving technology works by default – you don’t have to change BIOS options from Auto to Enabled as on some other mainboards.

The only odd thing we noticed is that the operation mode for disk drives is selected as IDE instead of AHCI by default. In our recent reviews the ECS Z77H2-A2X (v1.0) was the only mainboard to default to IDE while others enabled AHCI. You can easily switch to the required operation mode, but it’s unclear why the mainboard chooses the outdated one by default. By the way, Gigabyte mainboards come with a special Disk Mode Switch utility which lets you change the operation mode of the disk controller from Microsoft Windows. We’ll tell you more about the exclusive software below.

There are no automatic overclocking features in BIOSes of Gigabyte mainboards. You are supposed to use the Easy Tune6 utility instead. It is hardly a downside since automatic overclocking cannot help you achieve the same results as you can get by overclocking manually. The Gigabyte GA-Z77-D3H did well in our overclocking tests, making our CPU stable at its maximum clock rate of 4.6 GHz. Not all mainboards we’ve tested can do that. We also lifted the memory clock rate up to 1866 MHz and adjusted memory timings.

We want to remind you that we prefer “sustained” overclocking, which means that the overclocked system can be used continuously. We don’t disable any features or controllers. We keep Intel’s power-saving technologies up and running so they lower the CPU’s frequency multiplier and voltage, disable unused CPU subunits and switch the CPU into power-saving modes at low loads.

 

 
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