Superfluity and Insufficiency of Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 Mainboard

Gigabyte’s flagship solution has absolutely all, even some unnecessary, features and functions of the previous generation products. However, all real innovations are not too numerous. Today we are going to find out what they are.

by Doors4ever
10/09/2009 | 04:06 PM

We have first met Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 mainboard some time ago already, the company provided us this solution even before the official LGA1156 platform launch. If you have been reading our reviews attentively, you can notice that we used this particular mainboard to test the very first new CPUs (you can check out the review called Second Advent of Nehalem: Core i7-870 and Core i5-750 Processors in LGA1156 Platform for details). However, it could have been an even better article if it hadn’t been for some issues with Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 that took quite a bit of time to resolve especially considering that every minute counted on the last days before launch. The board worked fine only in nominal mode and as soon as we changed the operational parameters, for instance, increased the memory frequency a little, we started experiencing problems. Very early pre-production board revision didn’t even allow us to update the early BIOS version with a new one that is why at that time we gave up the idea of writing a fully-fledged review of this mainboard and decided to wait until the production version becomes available to us. Although we were a little discouraged by some mishaps with the early sample we had, the production mainboard turned out pretty good and our today’s article will help you learn more about its features and functionality.

Package and Accessories

 

Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 mainboard is the top flagship product in Gigabyte’s mainboard lineup based on Intel P55 Express chipset and its packaging confirms the board’s status to the full extent:

There is a front flip-cover with a clear cut-out window behind it, which allows you to see the mainboard inside. The back of the box contains a lot of additional info about the board’s features and peculiarities.

Besides the colorful external cover and internal box made of thick cardboard the board is additionally protected with molded clear plastic casing. All accessories are neatly packed inside a smaller box with two sections:

PCB Design and Functionality

We have already talked about the new look of Intel P55 Express based mainboards in our Asus P7P55D Deluxe mainboard review. However, Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 reminds us of the past days. At first glance it seems that it is just another mainboard modification on the old Intel X58 Express chipset. Six DDR3 DIMM slots contribute most to this initial deception. However, don’t be misled, LGA1156 platform supports only dual-channel memory access.

By the way, the situation with memory is not so simple. Formally, it is an advantage to have six DIMM slots onboard, but you won’t be able to increase the memory capacity above the supported maximum anyway. Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6, just like other mainboards with only four memory DIMMs, supports 16 GB of RAM maximum. In other words, the primary advantage of this mainboard is that it allows using more memory modules of lower capacity. If you decide to use all six memory slots, then you will have to keep in mind certain limitations, such as the need to use single-sided DDR3 DIMM modules.

The cooling system with heatpipes is also built according to seemingly traditional plan: South Bridge, North Bridge, a couple of additional heatsinks over the processor voltage regulator components. However, we know that the North Bridge functions of Intel P55 Express chipset have been moved over to the CPU that is why the cooling system that may look familiar on the outside has a completely different internal structure. Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 mainboard has an enormous number of additional onboard controllers. Besides six SATA ports provided by the chipset, we see another four on one side of the PCB. Two SATA and one PATA port are implemented via Gigabyte SATA2 controller and another two appeared thanks to JMicron JMB362 controller. These two microchips that do not run very hot at all are cooled with a pretty large heatsink located where the South Bridge would normally be. Moreover, there is a heatpipes that leads from this heatsink to an even larger central heatsink over the single P55 Express chip. The second heatpipe that starts at the base of the chipset heatsink goes through two additional heatsinks over the processor voltage regulator MOSFET.

No doubt that this massive and strongly ramified cooling system is surplus. It is absolutely unnecessary the way it is, since the chipset and additional controllers dissipate very little heat. Its major function is not cooling but creating the proper strong and powerful impression from Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 mainboard. The same reason obviously lies behind the increased number of phases in the processor voltage regulator circuitry: there are 24 of them. Luckily, the mainboard knows how to vary the number of active voltage regulator phases depending on the current CPU utilization. Another advantage that the board inherited from the predecessors – twice as thick conductive layers. Due to thicker conductive layers the resistance of the mainboard conductors got lower, which in its turn means that the electronic components will receive more stable power supply. Moreover, thicker metal layers improve microchips heat transfer and dissipation.

Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 mainboard, just like Asus P7P55D Deluxe, is equipped with three graphics card slots that work according to the same structure. Only the top slot can provide full PCI Express 2.0 x16 speed. As soon as you install the second graphics card into the second slot, the bandwidth gets cut down in half. The last connector works at PCI Express x4 speed maximum.

The connectors on the back of Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 mainboard are especially interesting. They look very unusual. At first we see two USB ports and a universal PS/2 port for keyboard or mouse. Then come the optical and coaxial S/PDIF; the sound on Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 is implemented via Realtek ALC889A codec. Two local network connectors are also quite common, they are provided by two Gigabit Realtek RTL8111D controllers. And so are the two IEEE1394 (FireWire) connectors implemented via Texas Instruments TSB43AB23 controller; the third port is available as an onboard pin-connector. Two yellow ports in the middle are the regular USB ports, while two lower ones are eSATA ports implemented via another JMicron JMB362 controller. However, these are not standard eSATA. These are the so-called “Powered eSATA” or “eSATA/USB Combo” – the ports that combine eSATA and USB. We saw connectors like that for the first time on ASRock mainboards and now they become widely spread due to additional convenience that they bring to the board. They can be used like the regular USB ports, and the flash-drives with eSATA interface connected to these ports do not require additional power as they receive it though USB.

The complete list of Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 technical specifications looks as follows:

We would like to wind up our design discussion with a schematic components layout:

Overall, the PCB design of Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 mainboard can be estimated as moderately good. Among the advantages we should mention Power On, Reset and Clear CMOS buttons and a POST-code indicator panel. Among the drawbacks, we should list not the best location of the FDD and IDE connectors. The cooling system looks unjustifiably complex, but this is not the only thing that indicates superfluity. I am sure that very few people will need six DIMM slots, two network controllers and twelve SATA hard drives that can be connected to this board. However, not everything will eventually go for a flagship solution and having extras is anyway better that missing something, so we will forgive Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 these extravagances.

BIOS Setup

If we disable the start-up logo or press the Tab key in the beginning of system boot-up, we will see the info displayed at the POST stage:

By pressing the Del key we can get access to the BIOS main menu, which doesn’t see ot have chnaged:

However, this impression is deceptive. If you go to “MB Intelligent Tweaker M.I.T.” section, you will see why: it looks completely different now. Instead of a long list of options taking several screens, we see five sub-sections and a little bit of info on the current system parameters.

I personally prefer one section with a full list of necessary options instead of several sub-sections, although I can’t say that I am a not an ardent antagonist of the latter solution either. I have to admit that in some cases smaller sub-sections will be easier to work with. For example, if you select “Advanced Voltage Settings” sub-section, you will immediately get access to all voltages instead of surfing for the necessary settings in a single humongous list. At the same time, five sub-sections seem like a little too much. I am sure that they could have gotten away with three, for instance.

Let’s take the first and last glance at the informational sub-section called “M.I.T. Current Status”. It is not very important because some info can be found in other BIOS sections, and some is simply useless, because it is not true.

We are being told that the maximum Intel Core i7-860 processor clock multiplier is 22x, while in reality it increased to 26x in the current operational conditions. Also it is very hard to believe that at 22-23 °C room temperature the fourth processor core is only 18 °C warm. And as for the base frequency that shows 136.72 MHz instead of the required 133.3 MHz is not a mistake. Gigabyte mainboards almost always noticeably increase the nominal CPU frequencies in default mode. It must be done in order to ensure that they will have an advantage during performance comparison in nominal mode against other manufacturers’ solutions.

“Advanced Frequency Settings” sub-section is almost an exact copy of the former “MB Intelligent Tweaker (M.I.T.)” section, though in a shorter form.

Just like before, the processor settings are all singled out on a separate page.

“Advanced Memory Settings” sub-section allows to fine-tune the memory subsystem parameters.

“DRAM Timing Selectable” parameter sets memory timings automatically. If you change it to “Expert”, then you can set all necessary parameters manually for each memory channel independently. If you set it to “Quick”, then you can change the settings for both channels at the same time. As you may remember, this is the feature that Foxconn A7DA 3.0 mainboard was missing. We also wish that Asus mainboards had the same convenient presentation of the current memory timings.

The “Advanced Voltage Settings” sub-section allows controlling the voltages. Everything looks just like before: you can disable automatic voltage increase by replacing “Auto” with “Normal”, the critically high values will be highlighted with color. However, it is here that we find one of the few true innovations: now you can not just enable protection against processor core voltage drop under heavy load, but even vary its level. By setting “Load-Line Calibration” to Level1, the system will mildly interfere with Vcore drop, while the Level2 setting will activate more aggressive response.

Two lonely parameters do not look like good candidates for an individual sub-section called “Miscellaneous Settings” of the “MB Intelligent Tweaker (M.I.T.)” section.

Now let’s pass a number of familiar and obvious parameters in the next few BIOS section. I would only like to remind you that Gigabyte mainboards still hide some settings from you, so you have to press Ctrl-F1 to get access to the complete list. Now we have come to the section called “PC Health Status”.

There is nothing special here, except for the unique ability of Gigabyte mainboards to control the rotation speed of four- as well as three-pin processor fans. Other mainboard makers haven’t been implementing this formerly common feature in their products for quite some time now.

We would like to wind up our discussion of Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 BIOS functionality by reminding you of a very convenient system for saving and loading settings profiles.

As well as of a built-in BIOS reflashing tool that was introduced in Gigabyte mainboards very long time ago, among the first ones out there. Today, however, it has already become inferior in convenience of use and functionality to the similar tools offered by other mainboard makers.

Overall, the BIOS functionality of Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 mainboard deserves a high score. We haven’t seen anything new, except extended “Load-Line Calibration” function and new look of the “MB Intelligent Tweaker (M.I.T.)” section. There is nothing to rave about, but this constancy promises reliable and stable operation of our board.

Testbed Configuration

We performed all our experiments on the following test platform:

We used Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate (Microsoft Windows, Version 6.1, Build 7600) operating system, Intel Chipset Software Installation Utility version 9.1.1.1019, ATI Catalyst 9.9 graphics card driver.

Overclocking Specifics

In our article called “Guide: Lynnfield Overclocking on Asus P7P55D Deluxe Mainboard” we described the major overclocking techniques and demonstrated a few typical examples of how the new processors should be overclocked. Of course, everything we said is also true for Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 mainboard, although it does indeed have a few peculiarities of its own. Most importantly, Gigabyte mainboard doesn’t allow overclocking the processor by raising its Vcore with all Intel CPU power-saving technologies remaining up and running. Therefore, there are at least three following overclocking approaches that we should take into account:

At first let’s find out the maximum base frequency at which Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 mainboard remains stable. Just like for Asus P7P55D Deluxe, the maximum was 210 MHz, but we had to raise the IMC Voltage of the North Bridge part integrated into the processor much higher this time: from 1.1 V to 1.3 V. New mainboards based on Intel P55 Express chipset do not require increasing this voltage in order to ensure that the memory will work at high frequencies. However, the boards do require higher voltage setting when the base frequency is increased past 170-180 MHz.

We used static Turbo Boost implementation, i.e. we limited the processor clock frequency multiplier by 22x maximum for our Core i7-860 CPU. In this case we managed to get our system to work stably at 180 MHz base clock. We could formally provide you the screenshots from applications and even benchmark results proving that our system could work at 182 MHz base clock. In this case we get a beautiful resulting CPU frequency of 4.0 GHz. However, there are two reasons why we won’t do it. First, we had to raise the processor core voltage to 1.325 V, which pushed the CPU core temperature to 92 °C during our test session, which was way too high. However, we could have disregarded even this dangerous temperature increase. Anyway, LinX utility that is used as a shell for Intel Linpack application creates extreme processor load. We will hardly see the same high core temperature when we run some of the more common applications. However, this is where the second reason stepped in: at 182 MHz base clock we can set the memory frequency at 1820 MHz, but Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 mainboard wouldn’t let us lower the timings to CAS Latency 7 level in this case. In fact, the memory can work with these timings at even higher frequencies, but in this case we had to increase CAS Latency to 8 in order to successfully pass all tests. I assumed it would be better to sacrifice 50 MHz of processor frequency, which wouldn’t have any noticeable effect on the resulting system performance, in order to ensure that the memory subsystem worked with relatively low timings.

This way we managed to overclock our Intel Core i7-860 processor on Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 mainboard to maximum 3.96 GHz. This is a very impressive number. The processor Vcore only had to be increased to 1.2875 V, which immediately lowered the core temperatures to 85 °C.

You can easily see that this result is even higher than the one we obtained during the same CPU overclocking on Asus P7P55D Deluxe mainboard. Back then we had to work with 177 MHz base clock, which allowed to overclock our processor only to 3.9 GHz. However, do not forget that this time we used a more efficient Cooler Master GeminII CPU cooler instead of Scythe Zipang 2. In exact same testing conditions (with the Cooler Master CPU cooler), Asus mainboard demonstrated the same exact result, as the one obtained today on Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6.

The funny thing is that on two different mainboards, with slightly different voltage settings (Asus mainboard required 1.29375 V processor Vcore), the peak voltage under maximum processor load was still 1.312 V. However, the situation changes dramatically, when the CPU is idle. Asus P7P55D Deluxe has all Intel processor power-saving technologies up and running that is why in idle mode not only the processor clock frequency multiplier but also the core voltage get lower.

As for Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6, only the multiplier lowers, and the core voltage remains excessively high.

If you want to maintain all power-saving technologies on Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6ou have to give up changing the processor Vcore and thus limit the overclocking. With static Turbo Boost and nominal processor Vcore we had to stop at 166 MHz base clock, which produced the resulting CPU frequency of 3.65 GHz.

However, this time both: the CPU multiplier as well as Vcore were lowered in idle mode.

If we are talking about dynamic Turbo Boost that can increase the processor clock frequency multiplier to 26x in case only one of the processor cores is loaded with work, then you will have to lower the base frequency even more: to 154 MHz. But in this case the CPU clock frequency will indeed reach 4 GHz bar.

However, if all cores are loaded to their maximum by multi-threaded calculations, then the maximum CPU overclocking will stall at 3.39 GHz.

Just as in the previous case, when the processor is not heavily loaded, all Intel processor power-saving technologies remain up and running.

Despite everything, our CPU overclocking experiments on Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 mainboard were a success. Of course, the board’s inability to keep processor power-saving technologies up and running, when the CPU core voltage is increased, does tie our hands a little bit. Asus mainboard allows us to keep the voltage at its nominal level, increase or lower it, but if there is no operational load, it will lower not only the multiplier but also the CPU core voltage. On Gigabyte mainboard power-saving will work properly only in case the CPU Vcore remains nominal. However, the maximum overclocking for our Intel Core i7-860 processor we managed to achieve on Gigabyte mainboard was just as good as on Asus, which is a great result.

Performance

Now it is time to check the performance in two different operational modes. First of all we would like to compare the performance of Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 and Asus P7P55D Deluxe mainboards in nominal mode, when both mainboards set the most optimal system parameters on their own without any help from the user. What is so interesting about this comparison? Sometimes the user will only set the date and time in the mainboard BIOS and then choose “Optimal Defaults” and not change anything else. So, we are going to find out how fast the boards are in this case. We used dynamic Turbo Boost for our Intel Core i7-860 processor, which means that its clock frequency multiplier could increase to 26x. Both mainboards set the memory frequency at 1067 MHz, the only difference was in the memory timings: Gigabyte board set 7-7-7-19-60-1T, and Asus set 7-7-7-20-59-1T.

The second type of comparison e are going to be performing today is the mainboards performance during maximum CPU overclocking. It is clear, why a comparison like that might be interesting. We are well aware of situations when during overclocking certain BIOS issues or the manufacturer’s desire to ensure the board’s stability at the highest possible frequencies enforced not the most optimal BIOS settings. As a result, even though the processor frequencies, memory frequencies and timings were formally the same, some mainboard models appeared noticeably slower than the others. This time, we used static Turbo Boost implementation, as the highest-performing one. The maximum processor clock multiplier was 22x, the memory on both boards was overclocked from the nominal 1600 to 1800 MHz with 7-7-7-20-100-1T timings.

In both cases – in the nominal mode as well as during overclocking, the boards performed at very close speeds. However, you can notice that Gigabyte solution is a little faster than Asus almost in every test. There is a logical explanation to this fact: while the CPU really worked at its nominal frequency on the Asus board, Gigabyte mainboard set higher base frequency (136.7 MHz instead of 133 MHz), as we have seen from the BIOS screenshots above. As a result, all connected frequencies, such as CPU and memory, also were higher. For example, with 22x multiplier the CPU frequency on Asus board was 2.93 GHz, while on Gigabyte board – 3.0 GHz. No wonder that Gigabyte turned out ahead of Asus. Not too much, by only 2%, but ahead.

Gigabyte mainboards do not play quite fairly by raising the base clock. However, this micro-overclocking is absolutely harmless for the CPU, memory and the entire system as a whole, so there is no reason to give it up. Just change the “Base Clock (BCLK)” parameter in the BIOS from Disabled to Enabled, i.e. allow changing the base clock frequency, and set it to 133 MHz, and Gigabyte mainboards will play by the rules and use 133 MHz or any other base clock you choose. The results of our performance comparison during overclocking confirm that. In really equal testing conditions the boards perform almost the same. Asus board is faster by about 0.5%, which is negligible.

The conclusion from our performance comparisons is that in equal operational conditions both mainboards perform similarly. Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 is not any slower than Asus P7P55D Deluxe during overclocking, although it used to be an issue with Gigabyte problems a while back. In nominal mode Asus is even a little slower, but only because Gigabyte mainboard uses slightly higher frequencies. Now it would be interesting to compare the power consumption of both boards.

Power Consumption

We measured the power consumption using Extech Power Analyzer 380803 device. This device was connected before the system PSU, i.e. it measured the power consumption of the entire system without the monitor, including the power losses that occur in the PSU itself. When we took the power readings in idle mode, the system was completely idle: there were even no requests sent to the hard drive at that time. We used LinX program to load the Intel Core i7-860 CPU. For more illustrative picture we created a graph showing the power consumption growth depending on the increase in CPU utilization as the number of active computational threads in LinX changed in nominal mode as well as during overclocking.

And here a pleasant surprise awaits us. There is nothing strange about the equal power boards consumption in nominal mode, but also during overclocking the two graphs almost coincide. Yes, we do see that during overclocking, when there is no CPU load Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 mainboard consumes a little more than Asus P7P55D Deluxe, but the difference is minor: only 7 W. It happens because Asus mainboard keeps all processor power-saving technologies up and running when we change the processor core voltage, while Gigabyte doesn’t know how to do it. However, the CPU doesn’t work, even though it receives higher core voltage. It doesn’t spend any power, so the total system power consumption makes 159 W by Gigabyte versus 152 W by Asus. And under different types of workload both mainboards send about the same voltage to the CPU that is why they again demonstrate the same power consumption.

When we discussed different overclocking methods on Asus P7P55D Deluxe, we compared not only the performance, but also the power consumption with dynamic and static Turbo Boost technology implementation. It turned out that in idle mode the dynamic version is more energy-efficient offering almost 30 W advantage. The thing is that when we enabled C3-C7 states for dynamic implementation in the BIOS, we allow the CPU to go into deeper power-saving modes in case there is no load and thus disable more units. This way, if we compared the boards during overclocking using dynamic Turbo Boost, the power consumption difference between them in idle mode would be way greater and would exceed 30 W. In this case the CPU on Asus board could go into deeper power-saving states, unlike the CPU on Gigabyte board.

The results of our power consumption comparison are quite good for Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6. Despite its obviously disadvantageous position because of non-operational power-saving technologies in case of modified CPU core voltage, it does lose a little, but nevertheless, not as much as we would expect it to.

Conclusion

I have to admit that I was not very enthusiastic when I started reviewing the PCB design, functionality and BIOS Setup of Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 mainboard. Yes, we did come across a few innovations, but they were new only for Gigabyte mainboards, and we have already seen them implemented in other manufacturers’ solutions before. We were really happy to see them offer Powered eSATA or eSATA/USB Combo ports on Gigabyte mainboards, but we are already familiar with them from ASRock solutions. Overclocking fans will obviously like the ability to vary the processor Vcore under heavy load, but this feature has also first emerged on DFI and Intel solutions. The new looks of one of the BIOS sections is also hardly a serious innovation. The board lacks some bright ideas or really unique technologies that could place it a step or even half a step ahead of the competitors. Instead we see some superfluity, some excessive functions and features. As for the really serious drawbacks, we could probably only mention a super-powerful cooling system, which is not really necessary and affects the price. Far not everyone will need three additional controllers providing up to 12 SATA ports, very few users will work with all six DIMM slots, and not everyone needs two network adapters. But not all of you will go and buy a top of the line flagship product. I am sure that there will be users among you, who will need these particular features.

However, Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 has seriously improved our impression about it after a series of performance tests and overclocking experiments. We expected it to show really good overclocking results, and the board proved up to our expectations. We also assumed that it wiould work fast and again Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 confirmed our assumptions. And even the tested boards’ power consumption turned out very close in our testing conditions, which was a nice surprise. Of course, Asus board offers more flexibility in choosing the optimal operational mode. With Asus board you can overclock you processor by raising its core voltage, you can build a quiet system with the Vcore set below the nominal value, and in all these cases the board will remain as energy-efficient as before. That is why our preferences at this point will stay with Asus solution. But it is not because Gigabyte mainboards suddenly became worse. They have all the features that we have been raving about over the past few years, they even acquired a few additional ones. Gigabyte mainboards are just as good, and that is the problem, because they are the same and Asus mainboards have just got better. But nevertheless, a number of really unique features, like the ability to connect up to 12 SATA hard drives, will ensure that Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 solution finds its niche and its customer.