Articles: Mainboards
 

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Testbed Configuration

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

  • Mainboards:
    • Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD3H rev. 1.0 (LGA1155, Intel Z77 Express, BIOS version F11);
    • Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD5H-WB WIFI rev. 1.0 (LGA1155, Intel Z77 Express, BIOS version F8);
  • 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);
  • Scythe Mugen 3 Revision B (SCMG-3100) CPU cooler;
  • ARCTIC MX-2 thermal interface;
  • CoolerMaster RealPower M850 PSU (RS-850-ESBA);
  • Open testbed built using Antec Skeleton system case.

We used Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 64 bit (Microsoft Windows, Version 6.1, Build 7601: Service Pack 1) operating system, Intel Chipset Software Installation Utility version 9.3.0.1020, AMD Catalyst graphics card driver version 12.4.

Operational and Overclocking Specifics

Both mainboards boast very convenient and well thought-through design, so it was easy to assembly systems on them. Upon system boot-up you see a start-up logo, with a reminder about active hot keys.

It doesn’t make much sense to disable the start-up image, because unfortunately, the mainboards do not display any start-up information on the screen. The only thing you will see in this case is the AMI BIOS logo. We didn’t uncover any serious issues during the mainboards’ performance in the nominal mode as well as during overclocking, although each board had a few unique peculiarities, which are worth pointing out here.

We were surprised when we didn’t get the sound working right away on our Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD5H-WB WIFI mainboard. Microsoft Windows 7 OS usually uses standard integrated sound driver and there is no need to install any special drivers as long as you are satisfied with the basic sound functionality. Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD5H-WB WIFI uses a common and very popular Realtek ALC898 codec, but there was no sound, even though Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD3H with a pretty rare VIA VT2021 codec worked fine. However, as soon as we installed Realtek’s audio drivers, the sound on Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD5H-WB WIFI started working perfectly fine, so we wouldn’t call it a problem. It was just a little weird.

We experienced more of an issue (which was also easily resolved in the end) with the Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD3H mainboard. During our mainboard tests we install and remove various applications, and during overclocking experiments we may often face unplanned system overloading and may even see a blue screen of death. Of course, it has its toll on the operating system functioning that is why we reinstall it fresh right before we start our performance and power consumption tests. Microsoft Windows 7 is very easy to install and this process doesn’t take long, it is the system configuring that is usually more time consuming. To save some time and at the same time ensure that all products are tested in identical conditions we use backup/restore function integrated into the OS. Even before we started the testing we installed the OS, configured it as needed, installed all necessary test applications. After that we created an image of the system partition without installing any of the drivers. So, now all we have to do is restore the image and install the drivers required for each specific mainboard and we have a clean OS install ready for the test session.

It is very quick and easy to restore the system from an image and there are rarely any issues with that. After rebooting the system we select the keyboard layout and select the default image in the next screen (although you may select any other image if you have to). Then we point out the destination partition and wait. However, the problem we faced was that neither the mouse nor the keyboard were working, so we couldn’t actually move beyond the start-up screen.

There are six USB ports on the back of the Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD3H mainboard, but four of them are implemented using VIA VL800 controller. They will only work after the drivers have been installed, which is mentioned in the manual and on a special sticker on the board itself. Of course, we connected the mouse and keyboard to the remaining two ports implemented through the chipset. We didn’t have any problems neither in the BIOS, nor in Windows, but both these ports got disabled in the pre-installation backup/recovery mode. We also tried the “incorrect” ports, tried using another BIOS version, but no luck. In the end we were about to give in and run the mainboard performance tests without the “clean” OS that remained after the Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD5H-WB WIFI test round, when suddenly everything started working. It turned out that switching the mouse and keyboard ports did the trick. Who could have thought?

Speaking of overclocking, the boards behaved differently, although their BIOS functionality is almost identical. We already know that our Intel Core i5-3570K processor at about 1.2 V Vcore can work at 4.6 GHz frequency, but it is important to find the voltage settings for each specific board individually. Both mainboards had no problem ensuring processor stability at 4.6 GHz with the memory frequency increased to 1867 MHz at the same time.

 

Now I just have to remind you that we always overclock mainboards in such a way that they could be used permanently in this mode. Therefore we do not try to make our life easier by disabling any of the mainboard’s features, e.g. onboard controllers, and try to keep the CPU’s power-saving technologies up and running. This time we did exactly the same thing. All Intel power-saving technologies remained enabled and automatically lowered the processor Vcore as well as clock frequency multiplier in idle mode.

 

 

 
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