03/27/2012 | 12:22 PM
The reviews of flagship mainboards are always increasingly popular. The mainboard makers pursue those, because high-end models allow them to easily demonstrate maximum of their potential. Reviewers also prefer to check out full-featured products and even though potential users enjoy reading these reviews a lot, in the end they still go with something from the mainstream or even low-end segment. The reasons are quite obvious: the extensive functionality of the flagship products is often excessive for regular users. Besides, top models are usually more expensive than regular ones. Therefore, now that we have already discussed almost half a dozen of flagship LGA 2011 products from different makers, time has come to expand our coverage to somewhat simpler products. The main hero of our today’s review is the junior model in Gigabyte’s line-up on Intel X79 Express chipset – Gigabyte GA-X79-UD3.
I have to say that the low-end models usually receive if not contemptuous, but at least understandingly indulgent welcome. Everyone knows that entry-level mainboards usually come with a very limited set of features and for the most part offer only the basic functionality that is why they will suffice only for the least demanding users. However, despite this popular opinion, Gigabyte GA-X79-UD3 is nothing like that. It is a junior model, but in no way a limited one – it is a fully-functional product with a set of unique features of its own. Moreover, in some aspects it is even superior to some of the top products, and its functionality is extended with a lot of additional onboard controllers. Well, enough of teasing, let’s get acquainted with this new product.
Gigabyte GA-X79-UD3 is shipped in a thin cardboard box without any bells and whistles such as a carry-handle or flip covers. Modest design of the front side is very pleasing to the eye and only includes a few logos. The back of the box has a photo of the mainboard, a brief list of technical specifications and mentions a few specific peculiarities.
Note that there is a large yellow sticker in the lower left corner of the box. You may already know that shortly after the launch of the LGA 2011 platform, it turned out that the first BIOS revisions for Gigabyte mainboards could cause a mainboard failure during overclocking accompanied by substantial voltage increase. Therefore, they released an F7 version update, which improved the built-in protection and advised all users to update their BIOS as soon as possible. This sticker informs the user that the board comes with a BIOS version F7 or newer.
Inside the box you find the following accessories:
In my personal opinion, Gigabyte mainboards shouldn’t have given up their traditional blue-and-white color scheme. Now the boards look very dark and solemn. However, the color is not really that important after all. It is the features and functionality that matter.
The board supports all contemporary LGA 2011 processors, which are powered via eight-phase voltage regulator built from high-quality electronic components. Of course, we shouldn’t forget about the new digital technology – 3D Power, which allows flexibly adjusting the processor and memory power. There are four memory DIMM slots with quad-channel access that can accommodate up to 32 GB of RAM. Besides two SATA 6 Gbps ports and four SATA 3 Gbps ports delivered by the mainboard chipset, there are two additional Marvell 88SE9172 controllers providing another four SATA 6 Gbps ports. The third controller like that is responsible for two eSATA ports on the back panel. The chipset SATA 6 Gbps connectors are white, SATA 3 Gbps – black, SATA 6 Gbps provided by onboard controllers – gray. The drives can be connected very quickly and easily, there is even no need to consult the manual, because everything is very intuitive and clear.
Although Gigabyte GA-X79-UD3 mainboard is an entry-level product, it features four PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots and therefore allows building 4-Way/3-Way/2-Way AMD CrossFireX or NVIDIA SLI graphics configurations. Besides that, there are two PCI Express 2.0 x1 and one PCI slot for expansion cards. Although this mainboard has a lot of different slots and connectors, it still fits into the ATX standard dimensions of 305 x 244 mm. However, it is important to keep in mind that very large CPU coolers may interfere with the graphics card installed into the slot next to the CPU.
The backpanel has the following ports and connectors:
As usual, a quality layout will give you a better idea of the components location on the mainboard PCB:
There are five fan connectors, three of which are four-pin ones. Two four-pin system fan connectors are capable of slowing down even the three-pin fans. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no way to adjust the rotation speed of the fans plugged into the two three-pin connectors. Besides, Gigabyte mainboards lost their ability to adjust the rotation speed of the three-pin processor fan. All other features of Gigabyte GA-X79-UD3 mainboard are quite standard for Gigabyte products. There is a special USB 2.0 port for charging mobile devices called “ON/OFF Charge”. The board has two BIOS chips, uses convenient color-coding for the ports and connectors on the front panel, all marking is made not only on the textolite, but also directly inside the actual slot.
I believe it is pretty clear what we meant when we said that Gigabyte GA-X79-UD3 mainboard was superior to some of the higher-end models in features and functionality. Far not every entry-level board can boast four PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots. For example, Asus Rampage IV Formula also has four of those, but you will have to purchase a bridge for 4-Way NVIDIA SLI configurations separately, while here it is already included with the accessories. There are three Marvell 88SE9172 controllers that translate into four onboard SATA 6 Gbps and two eSATA 6 Gbps ports; two Fresco FL1009 controllers support USB 3.0. I believe some time ago this mainboard would be ranked at least as UD5, but today it is only UD3. However, I personally would call it a least “Gigabyte GA-X79-UD3+”.
We first saw the new 3D BIOS during our Gigabyte GA-X79-UD7 review and discussed all its features and functions in detail back then, including the 3D Mode. This is the mode that is displayed by default when you enter the BIOS.
However, the functionality of the 3D Mode is limited and doesn’t have much of the practical value. The initial curiosity gave way to slight frustration, when an extra key stroke or mouse click is necessary every time on entering the BIOS in order to switch to “Advanced Mode”. Therefore, it would make much more sense to allow the users to choose their preferred mode that will become the default to avoid unnecessary extra actions.
However, once you switch to “Advanced Mode”, you immediately get into the “M.I.T.” (Mainboard Intelligent Tweaker) section that contains all overclocking and system fine-tuning options, which is very convenient. The startup screen only lists all the sub-sections in it and displays basic system information.
The next sub-section serves informational purposes and is called “M.I.T. Current Status”. It reports the current system settings.
“Advanced Frequency Settings” sub-section allows you to control frequencies and multipliers, and with the help of a few informational parameters you will always know what your changes translate into in terms of values.
The settings related to processor technologies are all singled out onto a separate page called “Advanced CPU Core Features”.
“Advanced Memory Settings” page allows to configure the memory sub-system.
Numerous memory timings are all on individual pages. The timings may be set simultaneously for all four memory channels or for each one separately.
“Advanced Voltage Settings” sub-section allows adjusting the voltages. All parameters in it are split into foru pages.
“3D Power Control” page contains new parameters originating from “3D Power” technology. Now you can choose the operation mode for the processor voltage regulator circuitry right in the BIOS, can adjust the intensity of the counteraction to the CPU Vcore drop under load and change a number of other settings.
Different processor voltage can be adjusted in “CPU Core Voltage Control” page. Processor core voltage may be set to a specific value or increased by adding a specific value to the nominal setting.
Processor core voltage may be not only increased, but also set below the nominal value if necessary. For example, it may come in handy if you have to have your CPU working at frequencies lower than nominal or if you are using low-voltage memory modules.
“Chipset Voltage Control” page allows adjusting a few chipset voltages.
“PC Health Status” sub-section reports current voltages, temperatures and fan speeds. You can select one of the preset modes – Normal or Silent – for the processor and two case fans. You may also adjust the settings manually to your liking. I have to stress that these two case fan connectors allow adjusting the fan speed even if you are using three-pin fans. Unfortunately, the rotation speed of the fans connected to three-pin connectors cannot be adjusted in any way. Besides, Gigabyte mainboards lost their ability to adjust the rotation speed of a three-pin processor fan during the transition to AMI BIOS code.
The last sub-section in the “M.I.T.” section is called “Miscellaneous Settings” and it turned out to be empty at this time. So, now let’s continue to the next section called “System”.
This section is in fact similar to the “Standard CMOS Features” section. It will tell you the basic system info, show the list of connected drives on the “ATA Port Information” page, will allow changing the date, time and interface language.
The closest analogue to the current “BIOS Features” section would be “Advanced BIOS Features” available on previous-generation Gigabyte mainboards. Here we set the order of boot-up devices, control the startup image, configure other parameters and technologies, such as virtualization technology, and set access passwords.
“Peripherals” section contains parameters related to external devices and additional onboard controllers.
“Power Management” section contains a common set of parameters dealing with the mainboard power supply and startup.
The BIOS settings profiles can be saved, loaded or replaced with defaults in the “Save & Exit” section. Here you can also apply additional modifications to the BIOS settings profiles.
Unfortunately, all the changes here are more on the negative side. First of all, you can now save and load only four settings profiles instead of eight. The board is no longer capable of saving the settings profile after the last successful POST. Moreover, we can no longer provide profiles with descriptive names, which will remind us of their contents. There is no way to tell if the current profile slot has already been taken or not, which is particularly bad because no warning message will pop up if you are trying to overwrite an existing profile. You also can’t save any profiles on external media.
Some of the functional keys still work the same way. Just as before, F9 will bring up the system information.
The built-in Q-Flash utility for BIOS updating can be launched by pressing F8 key. It has become more convenient to work with and now shows you the current BIOS version and the new one you are trying to flash. Although it is still unable to work with NTFS drives and the current BIOS version is now saved only in the root of the drive instead of the location identified by the user.
Overall, 3D BIOS looks OK and seems to have everything necessary for work, although there still are a few drawbacks. Among the obvious inconveniences, we could mention the multi-page internal structure, although on the other hand, it fits all settings into a single screen and eliminates the need for scrolling. Some parameters could use a list of supported values instead of the need to use “+” and “-“ keys to navigate among them. It really helps that you can enter some of the values using your keyboard. However, the most disappointing “modification” is the loss of flexibility when working with BIOS settings profiles, which used to be implemented in a very convenient manner, and now has become absolutely primitive.
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 188.8.131.529, Nvidia GeForce Driver 285.62 graphics card driver.
When we discuss the mainboard design and features we pointed out that there were a lot of expansion card slots onboard, while the ATX dimensions remained within standard that is why the first graphics card slot had to be moved pretty close to the processor socket. We use a large Noctua NH-D14 CPU cooler in our tests, but theoretically, you can install a graphics card into the first slot even in this case. However, you should be careful, because the steel fan retention clips of the cooler may close some of the contacts on the back of the card. That is why we installed our graphics accelerator into the second PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slot, just like on ASRock Fatal1ty X79 Professional where we saw a similar situation. Other than that, the system assembly on Gigabyte GA-X79-UD3 was very simple and didn’t pose any other major problems and the mainboard booted well.
Although the startup image shows that you can use “Tab” key to turn it off and view the startup information instead, it is totally useless. The board doesn’t display any information about the startup processes and the only thing you will see will be AMI BIOS logotype. The “F9” key seems to be a doubtful alternative, though it should display the same info as we see in the mainboard BIOS. In reality there is not that much useful information there at all: the actual CPU frequency is not indicated correctly and the memory frequency is simply missing. So, we have to wait for the OS to boot in order to check which mode is on, and it is very inconvenient.
After the first boot-up we discovered that the board has an opinion of its own about the memory timings. The mainboard set 9-9-11-24 timings for the default 1333 MHz frequency, instead of 9-9-9-24, which is recorded in the modules SPD. At first, Asus boards used to ignore the information written in memory modules profiles, but even though they have already fixed it, Gigabyte mainboards decided to take over.
During our processor overclocking experiments we discovered that the board is unable to boot the operating system with a 47x clock frequency multiplier, which worked perfectly fine on Asus Rampage IV Formula. When the processor frequency increased to 4.6 GHz, the system booted fine, though failed the stability tests. At 4.5 GHz the system remained perfectly stable and functioned flawlessly. Just like on other mainboards, we increased the memory clock to 1867 MHz, but even in this case the mainboard continued to set the third timing to 11 instead of 9, as stated in the X.M.P. Profile.
We always overclock mainboards in such a way that they could be used for a prolonged period of time in this mode. We do not try to make our life easier by disabling any of the mainboard features, such as onboard controllers, for example. We also try to keep the CPU's power-saving technologies up and running normally to the best of our ability. And this time all power-saving technologies remained up and running even in overclocked mode lowering the CPU voltage and frequency multiplier 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 will also include the results of the previously reviewed ASRock Fatal1ty X79 Professional, Asus Rampage IV Formula, Intel DX79SI and MSI Big Bang-XPower II mainboards. The results on the diagrams are sorted out in descending order and Gigabyte GA-X79-UD3 is marked by darker color for your convenience.
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 4.0 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.
Since we do not overclock graphics in our mainboard reviews, the next diagram shows only CPU tests from the 3DMark11 – Physics Score. This score is obtained in a special physics test that emulates the behavior of a complex gaming system working with numerous objects:
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:
We see a great illustration of the known fact that related mainboards working in identical testing conditions demonstrate about the same performance.
Unfortunately, we do not see the same close results in the overclocked mode because all mainboards overclocked the processor differently. The following table sums up our overclocking results:
A 100 MHZ difference in resulting processor frequency produces about 2% performance difference. So, 4% performance difference between Asus Rampage IV Formula, which overclocked the CPU to its maximum, and Gigabyte GA-X79-UD3, which stopped at 4.5 GHz, is quite normal, although a lot depends on the test application, of course. There is hardly any performance difference in gaming applications (less than 1%), where not only CPU, but also the graphics card contribute to the overall performance.
It is even more convenient to compare the results of Gigabyte GA-X79-UD3 against those of ASRock Fatal1ty X79 Professional, which managed to overclock the CPU to the same exact frequency. The performance difference between these two systems is around +/– 0.3 %, i.e. is practically missing. Only in Resident Evil 5 Gigabyte mainboard is significantly faster, but it looks like its success can be explained by the suspiciously poor performance of the ASRock mainboard in this particular game. As you can see, minor differences in timings didn’t affect the performance of Gigabyte GA-X79-UD3 in any way.
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 (both at the default and overclocked system settings). The mainboards on the diagrams are sorted out in alphabetical order.
We often point out that on many mainboards certain power-saving technologies are disabled by default. Therefore, besides power consumption in nominal mode with all default settings, we also measured the power consumption of test systems with all power-saving technologies (including the proprietary ones) manually enabled. The difference between these two tests is usually quite obvious, but in case of Gigabyte GA-X79-UD3 we didn’t detect any differences in power consumption between different operational modes. On the one hand, it is great because it means that all Intel processor power-saving technologies work absolutely correctly here. Unlike many other mainboards, we didn’t see any power-related parameters disabled in the BIOS by default. All of them are preset to Auto and they all work correctly, because enabling them manually by selecting “Enabled” doesn’t produce any changes in system power consumption.
It is an obvious advantage of the board, but the situation with proprietary power-saving technologies still remains unclear. Gigabyte mainboards were the first ones to start using rows of LEDs to indicate the number of active phases in the processor voltage regulator circuitry. However, the new boards do not have these diodes anymore, therefore it is unclear if the proprietary power-saving technologies are actually working. Once they introduced new 3D Power technology, it has finally become possible to configure right in mainboards BIOS Gigabyte’s proprietary power-saving technologies, such as dynamic adjustment of the number of active phases in the processor voltage regulator circuitry depending on the operational load. We replaced the “Auto” setting in the “PWM Phase Control” parameter with “Balanced”, but the power consumption remained the same. Well, it could be that all these technologies also work correctly right from the start. To check this out, we set the same parameter to “Extreme Performance”, which should have increased the power consumption, but nothing happened again. Unfortunately, it means that Gigabyte’s unique power-saving technologies still don’t work. The “PWM Phase Control” parameter doesn’t work and is merely a decoration, so enabling “Balanced” mode doesn’t provide any additional power-savings.
As a result, if we compare the power consumption of all our testing participants in the nominal mode, then Gigabyte GA-X79-UD3 is going to be on an average level, if we disregard extremely energy-efficient Intel board consuming significantly less than any other board in our today’s review.
If we turn on all existing power-saving features, then the power consumption of most mainboards drops, but the numbers for Gigabyte GA-X79-UD3 remain the same. In idle mode and under small loads it does pretty well, but under heavy loads it suddenly becomes the most power-hungry of all. The difference, of course, is not dramatics, but it obviously lacks those proprietary power-saving technologies that could help her compete successfully against the other boards.
Energy-efficiency looks way better during overclocking. MSI Big Bang-XPower II mainboard is the No.1 here, because we do not increase the CPU Vcore on it during overclocking. Its overclocking results are the lowest of all, that is why it is not surprising that its power consumption in this mode is also the lowest. However, if we compare Gigabyte GA-X79-UD3 against ASRock Fatal1ty X79 Professional, which overclocked the CPU to the same 4.5 GHz, Gigabyte board will be indisputable ahead of ASRock under any type of operational load.
Like any other mainboard, Gigabyte GA-X79-UD3 is not totally flawless. Even one of its advantages, such as four graphics card slots supporting 4-Way/3-Way/2-Way AMD CrossFireX or NVIDIA SLI configurations may be considered a drawback, because the first slot is located too close to the CPU socket and it may be difficult to use it in systems with large CPU coolers. We also pointed out several concerns and issues uncovered in the BIOS, however, they are also present in other company’s mainboards. Another problem is the board’s inability to overclock our processor to its potential maximum.
However, despite all that we were overall pleased with the Gigabyte GA-X79-UD3 mainboard. We didn’t have any serious problems working with it and responded adequately and predictably to all changes in settings. The board performed at an expected level in nominal and overclocked modes, its power consumption is about the same as on the other boards, although we wish its proprietary power-saving technologies worked correctly. Although it is the junior model in the mainboard series based on the Intel X79 Express chipset, it boasts extensive feature set. So, there is no doubt that a lot of users will choose Gigabyte GA-X79-UD3 mainboard for their systems for this particular reason.