Articles: Mainboards
 

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PCB Design and Functionality

Gigabyte mainboards for overclockers are usually designed in black and orange color scheme. The Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UP7 packaging sported these particular colors, and so does the mainboard.

The mainboard is built using Ultra Durable 5 technology, which includes everything typical of previous generation Gigabyte boards, such as 2 oz copper PCB, high-quality electronic components, protection against high temperatures and voltage fluctuations, protection against static and excessive humidity. The major distinguishing feature of this technology, which justified the use of a new number in the name, is the updated component base. Voltage regulator circuitry on Ultra Durable 5 mainboards use IR3550 PowIRstage chips from International Rectifier Company with enhanced characteristics. They are much more efficient and therefore consume less power, heat less and can work under high operational loads. The distinguishing feature of Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UP7 mainboard is a digital processor voltage regulator circuitry of unprecedented power, which works as 32+3+2, with 32 phases allocated for the processor alone. Three – for the integrated graphics core and the remaining two power the VTT. The processor can be powered via two eight-pin ATX12V connectors.

The processor voltage regulator components that warm up noticeably during work are covered with two heatsinks. An L-shaped backplate on the reverse side of the PCB also dissipates some of the heat. The central heatsink cools the PLX PEX 8747 hub that provides additional PCI Express lanes, and the lower heatsink covers the chipset. All four heatsinks are connected into a single cooling contour with three heatpipes and work together. All heatsinks are fastened reliably with screws. They sport “Thin Fin” technology, i.e. their numerous thin fins provide very large heat dissipating surface and are highly efficient.

The PLX PEX 8747 hub expands the list of supported graphics configurations making it comparable with what the Intel X79 Express based mainboards had to offer. Not only one, but two graphics cards may work at full PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 speeds, and you can simultaneously use up to four graphics cards maximum at x8 speed. You can build 4-Way/3-Way/2-Way AMD CrossFireX or 4-Way/3-Way/2-Way NVIDIA SLI graphics configurations. We have already seen this additional hub on ASRock Z77 Extreme9, Asus P8Z77-V Premium and Gigabyte G1.Sniper 3. By increasing the slot speed, this hub provides an advantage in multi-card configurations, but lowers the performance a little bit if there is only one card installed, because it produces additional latencies. You don’t really notice this negative effect in the nominal mode, but it does stand out during overclocking. Another important peculiarity of Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UP7 mainboard should eliminate this issue. Namely, the board has a special PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slot for a single graphics card. It is a black slot, unlike the orange slots for the multi-card configurations. It is connected directly to the processor and uses processor PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 lanes without involving the hub thus avoiding performance losses when there is only one graphics card in the system. Moreover, there are two PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots for additional expansion cards.

The Intel Z77 Express chipset delivers two SATA 6 Gbps ports (white connectors) and four SATA 3 Gbps ports (black connectors). The distinguishing feature of all Gigabyte mainboards on Intel Z77 Express chipset is the mSATA connector, which is combined with one of the four chipset SATA 3 Gbps ports. Two additional Marvell 88SE9172 controllers provide another four SATA 6 Gbps ports (gray connectors), thus making the total number of SATA devices that can be connected to the board equal to ten.

Overall, we find the following ports and connectors in the back:

  • Universal PS/2 connector for mouse or keyboard;
  • Two USB 3.0 ports (blue connectors), two internal USB 2.0 pin-connectors and on internal USB 3.0 pin-connector implemented via Intel Z77 Express. VIA VL800 controller adds another four USB 3.0 ports and Etron EJ168 controller – another internal USB 3.0 pin-connector;
  • D-Sub, DVI-D, HDMI and DisplayPort video Outs;
  • Two local network ports (network adapters are built on Intel 82579V and Atheros AR8161 Gigabit network controllers);
  • Optical S/PDIF and six analogue audio-jacks provided by eight-channel Realtek ALC898 codec.

Numerous Video Outs take over a substantial part of the back panel. I doubt they will all be used on an overclocker mainboard, and even more so, on a mainboard that supports an extensive variety of multi-card graphics configurations. Therefore, there was not enough room on the back panel even for eSATA and USB 3.0 ports. However, let’s not forget that that the mainboard comes with a special kit for the back panel including a bracket and cables, which will let you use eSATA devices and power them properly.

Gigabyte mainboards were the first ones to start using two BIOS chips massively, but the DualBIOS technology simply reduced the chances of mainboard failure, but didn’t add any extra functionality to the board, because the user still worked with only one of the BIOS chips and the reserve chip was solely intended for BIOS restore in case the primary one got corrupted. Moreover, this technology would often cause some inconveniences. Sometimes, when the mainboard didn’t start, which was most frequently caused by incorrect overclocking settings, this technology believed that the primary BIOS chip got corrupted and reflashed it. This resulted not only in loss of precious time, but also in loss of all the settings and saved profiles. Other mainboard makers have started using two or even three BIOS chips just recently, but most of them chose a different implementation of this feature. These mainboards have independent microchips leaving it up to the user to decide, which one he or she needs to work with. It is possible to use not only different settings, but even different BIOS versions. The second option is much more user-friendly, because it increases the mainboard’s functionality tremendously. Although in this case, you will have to manually restore the BIOS if one of the chips fails, but it doesn’t happen that often after all, so I am sure users can live with that.

Gigabyte responded to the changing situation immediately, and started equipping some of their mainboards with buttons or switches allowing to select, which BIOS chip to use. Unfortunately, DualBIOS technology continued to work even in this case, and the chips weren’t really independent. For example, during our tests of the Gigabyte GA-X79-UD7 mainboard, we took turns working with the BIOS version F2 and F4. It was very convenient to run tests with different settings profiles, switching instantly between the versions with the help of the “Dual BIOS Switcher” button. However, once we reflashed version F7 into the primary BIOS chip, the BIOS version in the reserve chip was also automatically updated to the latest version. We were simply told that it had been done without any preceding questions whether in fact we needed to do it or not. As a result, we lost all the BIOS settings and settings profiles in the reserve chip. Of course, it was very annoying. However, Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UP7 mainboard we are discussing today, has not only the “BIOS Switcher” switch that allows selecting the active BIOS chip, but also the “DualBIOS Disable” switch, which turns off DualBIOS technology. Moreover, there is also the “LN2 Mode” switch, Power On and Reset buttons, and a set of buttons called “OC Touch”. You can use these buttons to change the base clock and processor clock frequency multiplier on the fly. There is a row of contact point for manual voltage monitoring with a voltmeter, which can be easily arranged with the help of the included adapter-cable set.

I would also like to add that the board has seven fan connectors, five of which are four-pin ones. The POST-code indicator will help identify the problems during startup. The graphics card slots have very convenient wide latches. All connectors are color-coded and are marked not only on the textolite next to them, but also have their names written inside the COM, USB 2.0 and audio connectors. Engineers had to increase the PCB width to 264 mm in order to fit all controllers, slots and other components.

 

 
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