Articles: Mainboards

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Quite a bit of time has passed since Intel announced their Ivy Bridge processors and new 7th series chipsets. Since the launch day we have already got acquainted with many mainboards from the largest makers, including, of course, Gigabyte. Strange as it might seem, but this still doesn’t give us the right to claim that we are familiar with the basic features of mainboards from all the major names in the mainboard market. In particular, Gigabyte G1.Sniper 3 mainboard is a special product that belongs to the G1-Killer gaming series, while the conventional Gigabyte mainboards will have a completely different look and feature set. In order to get a complete picture of what Gigabyte mainboards on Intel Z77 Express chipset have to offer, one would have to check out all 16 models available these days, which is, obviously, almost impossible to accomplish. We believe, however, that checking out an entry-level and a high-end board will allow us to cover most of the functional spectrum. Therefore, we decided to go with Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD3H for the entry-level, and Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD5H-WB WIFI for the more advanced level of products.

Closer Look at Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD3H

Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD3H is shipped in a small box with the design typical of this mainboard series. The front of the package has the model name of the board and the icons of all supported technologies. The back of the box has a mainboard photograph, a brief list of technical specifications and short descriptions of a few selected features illustrated by graphs and diagrams.

The accessories bundle is quite modest and includes only the necessary minimum:

  • Four SATA cables with metal connector locks, half with L-shaped locks and another half with straight ones;
  • A flexible bridge for Nvidia 2-Way SLI graphics configurations;
  • I/O Shield for the back panel;
  • User manual;
  • Brief installation guide in different languages;
  • DVD disk with software and drivers;
  •  “Gigabyte” logo sticker for the system case.

As for Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD3H mainboard, it looks pretty common, but has a number of peculiarities, which are worth pointing out here.

I would like to mention reliable screw-on retention used for the cooling heatsinks, but the only additional heatsink available on this board covers only some of the electronic components in the six-phase processor voltage regulator circuitry. However, 3D Power voltage regulator that powers not only the processor, but also the memory and the integrated graphics core, doesn’t heat up too much even during overclocking, therefore, we can’t consider this a serious issue. However, this mainboard boasts a very extensive variety of additional features, which isn’t typical of the entry-level products. These features include such useful things as Power On, Reset and Clear CMOS buttons, POST-code indicator, and special voltage control points for manual voltage monitoring. For many years Gigabyte has equipped their mainboards with two BIOS chips, and recently they also introduced a special switch that allows the users to select any of these chips manually. However, the major distinguishing feature of this mainboard is undoubtedly the mSATA connector that allows using Intel Smart Response or Intel Rapid Start technologies. Intel Z77 Express chipset provides the board with two SATA 6 Gbps ports and four SATA 3 Gbps ports, though one of the latter won’t be available if you are using the mSATA connector, as stated on a red warning sticker on the PCB.

There are no USB 2.0 ports on the back panel, but there are six USB 3.0 ports. The chipset supports two of them and also an additional onboard pin-connector. Another four ports are implemented using VIA VL800 controller. There is another red sticker warning that these ports won’t be available until the drivers have been successfully installed. Among other peculiarities of Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD3H mainboard we should also mention the rarely employed high-quality VIA Vinyl VT2021 sound codec and an integrated network adapter built using another rare chip – a Gigabit Qualcomm Atheros ETHOS AR8151 controller. Overall, the mainboard back panel offers the following connectivity:

  • Universal PS/2 connector for keyboard or mouse;
  • Six USB 3.0 ports (blue connectors) implemented via Intel Z77 Express and a four-port VIA VL800 controller. There is one internal pin-connector for additional two USB 3.0 ports, and three pin-connectors for six USB 2.0 ports;
  • D-Sub, DVI-D, HDMI and DisplayPort video Outs;
  • Optical S/PDIF and six analogue audio-jacks provided by VIA VT2021 HD audio codec;
  • Two eSATA 6 Gbps ports implemented via Marvell 88SE9172 controller;
  • A local network port (network adapter is built on Gigabit Atheros AR8151 network controller).

There are two PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 graphics card slots on the mainboard, which work as 1x16 or 2x8 and support AMD CrossFireX and Nvidia SLI graphics configurations. The third PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot can work at x4 maximum speed, as it shares its lanes with three PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots. There is also a PCI slot for additional expansion cards. The board can also accommodate a TPM module and has connectors for five cooling fans. You can clearly see all the distinguishing features of this mainboard on the traditionally impeccable layout:

The board is designed following Ultra Durable 4 technology principles that imply the use of double copper layer, high-quality components, has implemented protection against higher temperatures and voltage fluctuations, EMI and excessive humidity. You may have noticed that it says “Ultra Durable 3” on the mainboard PCB right next to the memory DIMM slots, but Gigabyte claims that it is none other but a typo.

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