04/25/2011 | 12:18 PM
Almost two long months of waiting since they discovered the notorious bug in the chipsets are finally over and new LGA1155 mainboards based on the B3 chipset revision, which is totally bug-free started appearing in stores. You can still feel some shortage resulting from the new wave of postponed consumer demand as well as from the need to replace old mainboards with the new ones. However, as time passes by, they should resolve he shortage in supply of certain mainboard models, unless other factors start playing their crucial part in the overall market situation, such as the tragedy in Japan, where production has been significantly slowed down because of power shortages. So far all the leading mainboard makers have already arranged new mainboard shipments and made sure that they can be easily distinguished from the old mainboard models. The first replacement board we got our hands on is Gigabyte GA-P67A-UD4-B3, and it is going to be the main hero of our today’s review.
All Gigabyte mainboards based on the new chipset revision have received a special “B3” index in their model name, so the former Gigabyte GA-P67A-UD4 model is now called Gigabyte GA-P67A-UD4-B3. Moreover, they have also changed the packaging design, so now the users can tell right away whether the mainboard is based on the “correct” chipset stepping.
Besides the actual mainboard, there are also the following accessories inside the box:
The exterior of Gigabyte mainboards has also changed quite noticeably, although these changes have nothing to do with the different chipset revisions anymore. The typical blue textolite didn’t go anywhere, but is now used only for entry-level products, such as the previously reviewed Gigabyte GA-P67A-UD3 and GA-PH67A-UD3, for example. Higher-end mainboards are now made using black textolite with all the other components changed accordingly.
Black looks more serious than the fun blue color, the board looks very solid, but now its design has become less informative in a certain way. For example, we used to be able to tell right away what memory channel the DIMM slot refers to, as some of them were white and some – light-blue. Now we will have to consult the manual to determine that. However, it’s been a while since we ever had any issues with Gigabyte’s ability to deliver all the necessary technical details about their products, and the carefully drawn layouts from their manuals are true works of art.
Those of you who do not like to consult manuals (that is probably the overwhelming majority), the manufacturer now offers photos of their mainboards with all the major features marked on them. You can check out these photos on the company web-site.
Gigabyte GA-P67A-UD4-B3 mainboard features a 12-phase processor voltage regulator that can change the number of active phases dynamically depending on the load, which you can see from the row of LEDs called the “Phase LEDs”. This feature can hardly surprise us, as we have seen similar functionality on other mainboards before. A much more interesting thing, however, is the use of new voltage regulator electronic components with higher levels of integration present. A pair of MOSFET transistors and a controller are now combined inside one chip, which leads to a whole lot of advantages: electronic components occupy less space on the PCB and boast improved characteristics. We used to see chips like that only on MSI mainboards before.
The board supports dual-card ATI CrossFireX or Nvidia SLI configurations. A single graphics card will work at full PCI Express 2.0 x16 speed, while a pair of cards will work at half the speed. Among other expansion slots we should definitely mention three PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots and two PCI slots. The chipsets supports two SATA 6 Gbps ports and four SATA 3 Gbps ports. Two additional SATA 6 Gbps ports on the back panel are provided by Marvell 88SE9128 controller. Two USB 3.0 ports on the back panel are almost a must these days and are implemented via NEC D720200F1 controller. Another controller like that provides two more USB 3.0 internal ports. Overall the board has 14 USB 2.0 ports (8 on the back panel and 6 more can be connected to internal pin-headers). One of the internal connectors is specifically designed to be able to charge mobile devices using “ON/OFF Charge” technology.
The mainboard back panel carries the following ports and connectors:
The table blow sums up all the features and specifications of Gigabyte GA-P67A-UD4-B3 mainboard:
We didn’t mention some peculiarities, which we have already come across on other Gigabyte mainboards. For example, this mainboard is designed with “Ultra Durable 3” technology, it uses two BIOS chips, it supports Gigabyte’s “Smart 6” utility suite, it can save power due to “AutoGreen” feature and be managed remotely via “CloudOC”, and last but not least, ensures lower power consumption in off mode being a “EuP Ready” product.
Unlike many other mainboards that have already transitioned to UEFI, Gigabyte boards use the so-called “Hybrid EFI” technology. It implies that there is the conventional and familiar BIOS based on Award microcode, that only uses EFI technology to implement the support for HDDs with over 3 TB storage capacity.
Since there is nothing principally new in this BIOS, we would like to refresh your memory by reminding you of the main features it has to offer, which we are totally happy with. Namely, there is everything necessary to set up the operational mode for the processor and all corresponding technologies.
Working with the memory is very convenient, we can change only the necessary parameters and leave everything else at mainboard’s discretion. Note that you can see all current parameter values as well as the new ones.
Voltage adjustment is arranged in the same convenient way. By default the mainboard can increase the voltages when necessary, you can also lock the voltages at their nominal values, or set the desired ones. If the setting is too high, the system will warn you by highlighting the setting in question.
I would also like to remind you of a few other advantages typical of Gigabyte’s mainboard BIOS. There is Q-Flash utility integrated into the BIOS that serves to update the BIOS and also allows saving up to eight settings profiles. These profiles can also be saved on external media, if necessary. The boards still allow adjusting the rotation speed of three-pin fans, and it is now possible to configure the fans right from the BIOS.
We carried out our tests on a testbed that included the following components:
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 126.96.36.1995, Nvidia GeForce/ION Driver 266.58 graphics card driver.
Like all good mainboards, Gigabyte GA-P67A-UD4-B3 worked perfectly fine in nominal mode, which, unfortunately, wasn’t the case during overclocking. However, first we have to mention a function, which we have already come across on Gigabyte mainboards in a slightly different representation and which now has been implemented in the form of Turbo USB 3.0 technology. This function works only when you use one graphics accelerator, because when it is enabled, the available 16 PCI Express 2.0 lanes are split evenly between the graphics card and the USB 3.0 controller. In other words, the USB 3.0 controller gets connected directly to the processor, and not to the chipset.
However, we didn’t detect the promised 10% performance boost this technology was supposed to deliver. In our case the Buffalo Drive Station HD-HX1.0TU3 (with about 130 MB/s read and 120 MB/s write speed) limited the performance, which was far from the theoretical maximum of the USB 3.0 interface. At the same time, when this technology is enabled, the graphics card functionality may be affected, so you should be careful with it. Only on H67 based mainboards you can use Turbo USB 3.0 without any concerns when the integrated graphics core is working, because in this case the free PCI Express 2.0 lanes in the CPU aren’t used anyway.
Gigabyte mainboards are so far the only mainboards that display correctly the current frequency of the overclocked processor during start-up. Al other mainboards can only display the memory frequency correctly, while for the CPU they would indicate its nominal clock rate.
Just like in case of Biostar TP67XE mainboard, we had to give up the “Load-Line Calibration” technology counteracting the processor core voltage drop under heavy load, because in this case the voltage was set way too high. In this respect, Asus P8P67 Pro mainboard offers better implementation, because it allows administering a necessary “doze” of counteraction.
I am sure you already know that the new processors are very easy to overclock. All you need to do is to increase the processor clock frequency multiplier and the voltage accordingly. However, it is difficult to check processor stability at overclocked speeds. LinX utility based on Intel Linpack test creates very high CPU load, but it is not a reliable tool for testing LGA1155 processors. After each setting adjustment we have to run Prime95 program for at least an hour, but even this program couldn’t guarantee stability. Our CPU overclocked to 4.8 GHz passed all the tests successfully, but then during our performance tests the system crashed in a less than a minute long Photoshop benchmark. As a result, we had to lower overclocking to 4.7 GHz with the memory frequency set at 1600 MHz.
As for the power-saving technologies, they all worked in full swing lowering the voltage and frequency in idle mode.
As usual, we are going to compare the mainboards speeds in two different modes: in nominal mode and during CPU and memory overclocking. The first mode is interesting because it shows how well the mainboards work with their default settings. It is a known fact that most users do not fine-tune their systems, they simply choose the optimal BIOS settings and do nothing else. That is why we run a round of tests almost without interfering in any way with the default mainboard settings. For comparison purposes we are going to also include GigabyteGA-P67A-UD4. This mainboard is exactly the same as our today’s hero, GigabyteGA-P67A-UD4-B3, the only difference being the previous version of the chipset it is based on. The results of GigabyteGA-P67A-UD4-B3 are marked with darker color on the diagrams.
We used Cinebench 11.5. All tests were run five times and the average result of the five runs was taken for the performance charts.
We have been using Fritz Chess Benchmark utility for a long time already and it proved very illustrative. It generated repeated results, the performance in it is scales perfectly depending on the number of involved computational threads.
A small video in x264 HD Benchmark 3.0 is encoded in two passes and then the entire process is repeated four times. The average results of the second pass are displayed on the following diagram:
We measured the performance in Adobe Photoshop using our own benchmark made from Retouch Artists Photoshop Speed Test that has been creatively modified. It includes typical editing of four 10-megapixel images from a digital photo camera.
In the archiving test a 1 GB file is compressed using LZMA2 algorithms, while other compression settings remain at defaults.
Like in the data compression test, the faster 16 million of Pi digits are calculated, the better. This is the only benchmark where the number of processor cores doesn’t really matter, because it creates single-threaded load.
There are good and bad things about complex performance tests. However, Futuremark benchmarking software has become extremely popular and is used for comparisons a lot. The diagram below shows the average results after three test-runs in 3DMark11 Performance mode with default settings:
Since we do not overclock graphics in our mainboard reviews, the next diagram shows only CPU tests from the 3DMark11 – Physics Score.
We use FC2 Benchmark Tool to go over Ranch Small map ten times in 1920x1080 resolution with high image quality settings in DirectX 10.
Resident Evil 5 game also has a built-in performance test. Its peculiarity is that it can really take advantage of multi-core processor architecture. The tests were run in DirectX 10 in 1920x1080 resolution with high image quality settings. The average of five test runs was taken for further analysis:
And now let’s run the same exact tests in overclocked mode, when both - processor and memory – work at higher frequencies. The CPU was overclocked to 4.7 GHz and the memory worked at 1600 MHz with 6-6-6-18-1T timings.
As we have expected, there is barely any performance difference between the two boards of different generations. They both work at practically identical speed in nominal as well as overclocked mode.
We performed our power consumption measurements using an Extech Power Analyzer 380803. This device is connected before the PSU and measures the power draw of the entire system (without the monitor), including the power loss that occurs in the PSU itself. In the idle mode we start the system up and wait until it stops accessing the hard disk. Then we use LinX to load the CPU. For a more illustrative picture there are graphs that show how the computer power consumption grows up depending on the number of active execution threads in LinX.
And once again we see that the results are about the same: both mainboards are very close in their power consumption readings, no matter what operational mode we take into consideration.
In conclusion to our reviews we usually sum up everything by listing the product’s advantages and drawbacks. GigabyteGA-P67A-UD4-B3 mainboard has a lot of advantages. We have mentioned most of them in our today’s article, although if we were to list them all, the review would have been way longer. As for the drawbacks, there are barely any. The only thing that comes to mind at this point is the extremely aggressive “Load-Line Calibration” technology. It would be really nice to have the ability to adjust the amount of this calibration, like on some other mainboards. However, this technology is not a must and even when we disabled it completely we managed to overclock our processor successfully and boosted the speed in some applications by about 40%. GigabyteGA-P67A-UD4-B3 mainboard boasts convenient layout and great functionality expanded with a number of additional controllers. The board has everything you may ever need, is free from useless bonuses and therefore comes at a moderate price, so it will obviously be quite popular among potential buyers.