12/01/2010 | 02:24 AM
We keep on testing new LGA1366 mainboards based on the Intel X58 Express chipset. It would be too much to call them a second generation because they are not fundamentally different from the older ones, but they can indeed be viewed as a second wave of such products. There are two reasons to the release of the new mainboards. First of all, products introduced together with the LGA1366 platform itself have already become outdated. There have been numerous improvements in mainboard making over this time, so improved product revisions are indeed necessary. And second, modern high-performance mainboards have to be equipped with USB 3.0 and SATA 6 Gbps interfaces.
We already reviewed Gigabyte’s flagship GA-X58A-UD9 and later took a look at ASUS’s highly promising P6X58D-E. Today, we are going to check out the Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD5 (rev. 2.0) model.
The mainboard is wrapped into an antistatic pack and lies in an inconspicuous white cardboard box. The thinner external box is embellished with logos of various technologies and features to inform you about the product’s capabilities.
Besides the actual mainboard you also get the following accessories:
It is often hard to spot anything special in a mainboard at first glance. The Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD5 (rev. 2.0) looks very ordinary and needs a closer look to reveal its individual features.
This mainboard supports all modern LGA1366 processors, including six-core ones, and has a 16-phase voltage regulator that can dynamically adjust the number of active phases. The six DDR3 slots can take in as much as 24 gigabytes of memory. The mainboard supports Extreme Memory Profile (XMP) and a wide range of frequencies from 800 to 2200 MHz. If you use one or two graphics cards, they will be able to work in full-speed PCI Express 2.0 x16 mode. Or you can use as many as four graphics cards, each in PCI Express 2.0 x8 mode. There are also two PCI Express x1 and one PCI slot here. A few heat pipes combine the heatsinks on the chipset pieces and power transistors into a single cooling system.
Gigabyte’s mainboards are generally high-quality products with lots of features and technologies, but they also have one advantage if you compare them to other brands’ products. They are functionally richer than same-class competitors. We noted this trend in our comparative review of AMD 890FX-based Socket AM3 mainboards and then once again in our review of several AMD 870-based products. Now we’ve got another proof of that fact. The Intel ICH10R South Bridge allows connecting up to six Serial ATA drives at a speed of 3 Gbps and combining them into RAID arrays. Like the majority of the second-wave mainboards, the Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD5 (rev. 2.0) is equipped with an onboard Marvell 88SE9128 controller to provide two SATA 6Gbps ports. Besides, there is a Gigabyte SATA2 controller supporting two IDE drives and two 3Gbps ports. And finally, you can find two eSATA/USB combo connectors on the mainboard’s back panel which are provided by a JMicron JMB362 controller.
Gigabyte mainboards make very efficient use of the back-panel space. Indeed, you will hardly need additional back-panel brackets when you already have this:
Looking at the component layout, we can note a few more special features of this mainboard. For example, it has two BIOS chips, six fan connectors, Power and Reset buttons, and a POST code indicator. There are also a lot of various LEDs. Four groups of LEDs help monitor the voltage level on the CPU, memory and chipset. They do not shine when the voltage is normal, turn green when the voltage is slightly above the norm, then yellow and red when the voltage gets high and very high above the normal level. Two more groups of LEDs indicate the temperature of the CPU and North Bridge. They are turned off when the temperature is below 60°C, green in the range of 61-80°C and red at a higher temperature. Three rows of multicolored LEDs report the number of active power phases in the voltage regulators of the CPU, memory and North Bridge. And finally, one group of bright blue LEDs is indicative of how high the base clock rate is.
The problem is the LEDs are too numerous and can be easily confused. Of course, you can read up their meaning in the user manual, but you can also use some diagnostic tool instead to get far more accurate data. We guess such LED indication would only be helpful as a means to immediately tell the user that something is wrong. Otherwise, its usefulness is rather limited. Well, we don’t say that all these LEDs are a drawback of the mainboard, yet we wouldn’t count them among its advantages, either.
So, the Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD5 (rev. 2.0) looks most appealing so far. Its functionality is gorgeous, spanning from the legacy interfaces PS/2, FDD and IDE to the cutting-edge USB 3.0 and SATA 6 Gbps. You can refer to the manufacturer’s website for its full specifications. We will show you the key ones in the table.
Comparing the BIOS of the Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD5 (rev. 2.0) to the BIOSes of Gigabyte’s early LGA1366 mainboards, we can see some obvious changes even though these differences are not as numerous as from the newer models based on Intel’s P55, H55 and H57 Express chipsets. The MB Intelligent Tweaker section is now divided into multiple subsections. It is handy that this section, which is the one you need to overclock or fine-tune your system, goes first. By the way, you should press Ctrl+F1 in the main BIOS screen to access all BIOS options of your Gigabyte mainboard.
The first MB Intelligent Tweaker screen opens the list of subsections and reports some basic system information.
We’d prefer the older design of the MB Intelligent Tweaker section which represented the numerous parameters as one long list. On the other hand, the division into subsections may be handy, too. For example, if you just need to adjust system voltages, you can go right into the appropriate section rather than to browse through multiple screens looking for them in a long list.
So, first goes an informational subsection called M.I.T. Current Status where you can view the current system parameters.
The Advanced Frequency Settings include clock rates and multipliers. A few informational parameters help you be aware of the results of your changes.
CPU-related settings can be found in the Advanced CPU Core Features page.
The Advanced Memory Settings allow you to fine-tune your memory subsystem.
There are individual pages for the numerous memory timings. You can adjust the timings individually for each of the three memory channels or for all of them simultaneously.
The Advanced Voltage Settings are for controlling system voltages. You can enable a two-step technology that counteracts the CPU voltage drop under load. The option is called Load-Line Calibration. Level 1 will increase the voltage a little while Level 2 will increase it more. The CPU voltage can be fixed at a desired level or increased above the default value. In the latter case the mainboard will be able to use the power-saving technologies implemented in Intel’s CPUs when you increase the voltage while overclocking: not only the frequency multiplier, but also the voltage of the CPU will be lowered in idle mode. By the way, the voltages can be not only increased but also decreased below the default values, which may be useful in some situations.
If you prefer to leave the voltages at Auto, the mainboard will automatically increase them at overclocking, sometimes even too much. To avoid that, you can select Normal instead of Auto to leave the voltages at their defaults or specify the desired values explicitly. You can enter a number directly from your keyboard and the mainboard will automatically adjust it to the closest value possible, depending on the adjustment step of the particular parameter. Dangerously high values are highlighted in a different color. Default values are indicated for all the parameters.
Skipping over the Standard CMOS Features which contain a long list of storage devices you can connect to the mainboard, we move on right to the Advanced BIOS Features.
The numerous parameters of the Integrated Peripherals section allow managing the onboard controllers.
Here is the Power Management Setup screen:
The PC Health Status lacks some important voltages, e.g. the voltage of the integrated memory controller (QIP/VTT Voltage). It would be handy if there were an option to specify the speed of the CPU fan manually. Instead, Gigabyte’s mainboards can manage 3-pin fans whereas nearly all other mainboards for Intel CPUs have lost this capability.
In the main BIOS screen you can use some functional keys to access extra features. For example, pressing F8 will evoke the integrated BIOS update tool called Q-Flash Utility.
Pressing F9 reveals system information.
You can also press F11 to save up to eight profiles with full BIOS settings. Each profile can be given a descriptive name. A warning message is shown if you try to rewrite an existing profile. To load a profile, you should open a menu by pressing F12. Besides manually saved BIOS profiles, the mainboard automatically remembers configurations which successfully passed the POST procedure and you can restore them, too. You can work with the profiles not only in the mainboard’s internal memory but also using external storage devices.
The following table summarizes the key BIOS capabilities of the Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD5 (rev. 2.0), showing the ranges and adjustment steps of the available parameters.
We carried out our tests on a testbed that included the following components:
We used Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate 64 bit (Microsoft Windows, Version 6.1, Build 7600) operating system, Intel Chipset Software Installation Utility version 126.96.36.1995, ATI Catalyst 10.9 graphics card driver.
We want to note that there are changes in our testbed configuration. We replaced our old OCZ GameXStream OCZGXS700 power supply with a higher-wattage and higher-efficiency CoolerMaster RealPower M850. Our quiet, fast and high-capacity (2 terabytes) hard disk drive Seagate Barracuda XT ST32000641AS is now replaced with a 128GB Kingston SSD Now V+ Series SNVP325-S2/128GB solid state drive, which is faster and absolutely silent. We have also switched back from the new but not quite perfect memory kit Kingston KHX12800D3LLK3/6GX to our old and time-tested Kingston HyperX DDR3-1866 KHX14900D3T1K3/3GX.
We didn’t have any problems assembling our testbed configuration around our Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD5 (rev. 2.0) mainboard and running it in default mode. However, there are a few peculiarities that must be mentioned as they may have a certain effect on performance and power consumption. You can see one as soon as you launch some diagnostic utility. The mainboard sets its base clock rate higher than usual in default mode.
The difference is small as the base clock rate is set at 135 MHz instead of 133 MHz, but the related frequencies grow up as well. We mean the CPU, memory, QPI and Uncore frequencies. There is nothing wrong with that and we have seen many mainboards from many manufacturers do the same. Such overclocking has no effect on stability. However, if this Gigabyte mainboard turns to be slightly faster than its opponents in default mode, we will know why.
A second thing we must mention is not specific to this mainboard. It is about the Intel Turbo Boost modes as they are implemented in nearly all LGA1336 mainboards: the CPU works not at its default frequency most of the time. The Turbo Boost technology increases its frequency multiplier by x1 even at maximum load.
It doesn’t mean there is a conspiracy among mainboard makers who violate the principles of Intel Turbo Boost and make CPUs work at higher clock rates by using some tricks. The multiplier should be increased by x1 even when all the CPU cores are working if the CPU’s power consumption and heat dissipation do not go beyond certain limits. During our tests we use high-performance CPU coolers and junior CPU models, so we suspect we meet that requirement. Therefore, Intel Turbo Boost indeed has a reason to keep the CPU frequency increased.
Then, there is a BIOS parameter that allows the CPU to enter deeper power-saving modes, but it is usually turned off by default. This option comes under different names: “Intel C-STATE Tech” in ASUS mainboards or “C3/C6/C7 State Support” in Gigabyte ones. The point of the technology is in switching more CPU subunits into power-saving mode when the CPU is idle. These changes can be easily spotted without any tools. For example, we have shown you above a screenshot of the AIDA64 program where the CPU is idle, its multiplier is reduced to x12, and its voltage is 0.928 volts. It’s because we had enabled the C3/C6/C7 State Support before capturing that screenshot. If we had left that option at its default, the voltage would have been 0.944 volts. The difference in voltage seems negligible, yet the resulting difference in power consumption for our CPU is about 6 watts. Saving this much power for months and years will sum up to large numbers eventually, especially as there are millions of computers in the world whose CPUs are idle most of the time.
Moreover, with that power-saving technology turned off by default, Intel’s Turbo Boost cannot perform fully. It’s only when you enable C3/C6/C7 State Support that idle CPU cores may be turned off when only one core is necessary for the current task. The frequency multiplier of the single active core is increased by x2 rather than x1 then, which improves the CPU’s performance in single-threaded applications. So, we can have lower power consumption and higher performance – why aren’t the mainboards set up this way by default? The single explanation we can find is that recovering from the deep-sleep modes takes more time. However, the difference is just a fraction of a second and can hardly affect your everyday computer activities.
In our tests we always allow the CPU to switch into the deep-sleep modes when benchmarking at the default frequencies to make full use of Intel’s power-saving technologies and Turbo Boost. However, the periodic increase of the CPU frequency multiplier by x2 may provoke some instability in an overclocked system, so we turn the Intel C-STATE Tech option (or its equivalent) off and use Turbo Boost only for overclocking.
The Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD5 (rev. 2.0) had no problems overclocking our CPU to 3.9 GHz, just like other mainboards we had tested.
When the CPU is idle, its multiplier and voltage are reduced by means of power-saving technologies.
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. In this case, however, we did enable “Intel Turbo Boost”. We will also perform the same exact tests in overclocked mode in order to determine the performance gain resulting from overclocking our processor to 3.9 GHz.
We started using the recently released Cinebench 11.5 program version. 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:
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, 3D Mark Vantage has become extremely popular. The diagram below shows the results after three test runs:
Since we do not overclock graphics in our mainboard reviews, the next diagram shows only CPU test from the 3D Mark Vantage suite.
We use FC2 Benchmark Tool to go over Ranch Small map ten times in 1280x1024 resolution with medium and 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 1280x1024 resolution with medium image quality settings. The average of five test runs was taken for further analysis:
The diagrams are usually very illustrative, but this time it makes more sense to check out the numbers in order to really grasp the performance boost during overclocking:
In some applications which depend on the graphics card’s performance we can see but small benefits. However, our overclocking boosts the system performance by a third across all the tests and even to a higher value in 7-Zip which responds eagerly not only to an increased CPU frequency but also to memory subsystem settings. That’s quite a good result for overclocking with a very small increase in voltages.
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 Intel Core i7-930 CPU. For a more illustrative picture there are graphs that show how the computer’s power consumption grows up depending on the number of active execution threads in LinX (both at the default and overclocked system settings). We performed the test in four modes: idle mode, single-thread load, four-thread and eight-thread load.
Of course, power consumption increases during overclocking, but this increase is well compensated by the performance boost.
We have discussed a very appealing mainboard from Gigabyte today. The GA-X58A-UD5 (rev. 2.0) comes in a robust and informative package with good accessories. It has a handy PCB design and broad functionality, traditionally surpassing that of same-class mainboards from other manufacturers. Thanks to its numerous onboard controllers, you can connect as many as 12 SATA drives to it. It also offers three rather than two FireWire ports. Besides legacy interfaces (PS/2, FDD, IDE), the GA-X58A-UD5 (rev. 2.0) provides USB 3.0 and SATA 6 Gbps connectivity. Making full use of its back-panel space, the mainboard helps you do without additional back-panel brackets with interface ports. Its BIOS is user-friendly, informative and rich in settings and we could easily overclock our CPU to achieve a substantial performance boost. Added to that, the GA-X58A-UD5 features a number of exclusive utilities and tools to make it even more pleasurable to use. In fact, we didn’t have any single problem with that mainboard during our tests.
Still, there are some things we might wish to see even in this very good product. For example, we’d want to have more detailed information about system voltages besides the CPU and memory ones. An opportunity to set up the speed of the connected fans right in the BIOS would also be handy. There are also no BIOS-based options for automatic CPU overclocking in Gigabyte mainboards. Available in other brands’ products, such overclocking options may be handy for inexperienced users.
We might find some other things to cavil at, but you can see we can’t discover any really serious downsides. Therefore, the Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD5 (rev. 2.0) should surely be on your list when you go shopping for an LGA1366 mainboard.