Articles: Mainboards

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PCB Design and Features

It is easy to identify an overclocker-friendly mainboard from Gigabyte by its orange-colored elements. The GA-Z87X-OC has a number of special and even unique features, but let’s start with what it has in common with other LGA1150 products. Its digital power system with International Rectifier’s PWM controllers and PowIRstage regulators consists of 16 phases and ensures stable power for the CPU and memory. It supports each and every modern LGA1150 CPU while its four memory slots can take in up to 32 gigabytes of DDR3 SDRAM and clock it at frequencies up to 3000 MHz. Some of the special features can be noted already: the memory slots have one-sided latches while the CPU is powered via two ATX12V connectors, one of which is 8-pin and another is 4-pin. There are quite a lot of PSUs that offer two such connectors, so you will be able to do without any adapters.

The mainboard has no additional disk controller. Its Intel Z87 chipset provides six SATA 6 Gbit/s ports, which should be enough for most scenarios. There are two onboard USB 2.0 connectors that make it more convenient to use the mainboard as an open testbed: you can connect USB devices easily irrespective of how you orient the mainboard on your desk.

There are other mainboards with four graphics slots, but the GA-Z87X-OC doesn’t rely on an additional PCIe controller to provide them. Its three PCIe 3.0 x16 slots make full use of the chipset’s capabilities in sharing CPU-integrated PCIe lanes. Depending on the number of installed graphics cards, the slots will use the following speed formulas: x16, x8/x8, x8/x4/x4. The fourth slot is based on the chipset’s PCIe 2.0 lanes, ensuring a max speed of x4. Graphics cards can be combined in 4-/3-/2-way CrossFireX or 2-way SLI configurations. The graphics slots are equipped with handy broad latches. Besides them, the mainboard offers one PCI Express 2.0 x1 and two PCI slots for expansion cards.

There’s a number of additional elements in the top right of the PCB, including a large group of buttons and switches. In the top row, there is a POST indicator followed by an OC Tag button. The latter loads user-defined settings previously saved in the BIOS. The OC Turbo button is for automatic overclocking. The “+” and “-“  buttons step the CPU frequency multiplier and base clock rate up or down on the fly whereas the Gear button selects the adjustment step: 1 MHz or 0.1 MHz. Next goes a Power On button and a set of OC PCIe switches that let you selectively disable your PCI Express 16 slots. After you’ve secured your graphics cards with the OC Brace, it is easier to use the switches to change your graphics subsystem configuration than to physically remove unnecessary cards.

The second row starts with the Clear CMOS button followed by the OC Trigger Switch which lets you load your computer at lowered clock rates and then switch to higher ones. There are two switches referring to the mainboard’s two BIOS chips. The DualBIOS switch lets you choose the operation mode: two independent chips or DualBIOS (i.e. one chip serves as a backup for the main chip). You select the active chip with the BIOS switch. The Settings Lock button saves the current settings so you could return to them even after pressing Clear CMOS. The next two buttons have self-explanatory names: Direct to BIOS opens the BIOS interface automatically when you next restart your computer whereas Memory Safe will help you start up with slackened memory subsystem settings. The last button in the row is Reset. The bottom row includes connectors and check points for measuring voltages with a voltmeter.

That’s not all about the buttons. In the bottom right of the mainboard there is a button that has the same effect as removing the battery. And the OC Ignition button on the mainboard’s back panel shuts the computer down, leaving the fans and drives powered up. It may come in handy when you need to warm the CPU up to a temperature necessary to start up or while deploying your liquid cooling system or to show your modding without turning on the whole computer.

Overall, the mainboard offers the following components on its back panel:

  • Two USB 2.0 ports (there are also two onboard OC Connect ports and two onboard headers for four more USB 2.0 ports)
  • OC Ignition button
  • Six USB 3.0 ports (blue-colored connectors) based on the Intel Z87 chipset and two Renesas uPD720210 splitters (there are also two onboard headers for four additional USB 3.0 ports)
  • One DisplayPort and two HDMI outputs
  • PS/2 connector for keyboard or mouse
  • LAN connector (based on a Gigabit Ethernet controller Intel WGI217V)
  • Optical S/PDIF and six analog audio connectors based on an 8-channel Realtek ALC892 codec

We can count up as many as eight fan connectors in the scheme. Four of them are 4-pin. There are two CPU fan connectors, which may come in handy for dual-fan CPU coolers or liquid cooling systems where you have to connect both the fan and the pump. Both can regulate 3-pin fans, which is not typical of modern mainboards from other brands. One more feature of this mainboard is that the CPU, memory, power and PCIe slots and connectors are all gold-plated.

Gigabyte mainboards based on Intel’s 8 series chipsets feature the Ultra Durable 5 Plus set of technologies. Ultra Cool is a reference to the new design of the heatsinks which ensure efficient cooling of key mainboard components. Depending on the particular model, it can be passive, active or liquid cooling. Ultra Performance refers to the use of PWM controllers and PowIRstage voltage regulators from International Rectifier in the mainboard’s digital power system. Ultra Safe means the exclusive DualBIOS technology whereas Ultra USB3+ refers to the ten USB 3.0 ports available on the mainboard. Besides the mentioned four Ultra technologies, Ultra Durable 5 Plus includes a lot of other features such as long-lasting solid-state capacitors, short circuit and electrostatic discharge protection, double-thickness copper interconnects, and resistance to high humidity.

You can see the specifications of the Gigabyte GA-Z87X-OC in the summary table.

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