01/21/2012 | 05:41 AM
In the end of last year Intel introduced their new high-performance LGA 2011 platform including Sandy Bridge-E processors and a new X79 Express chipset. Our first article in the series called “Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition and Core i7-3930K processors for LGA 2011 Platform” talked about the peculiarities of the internal CPU organization and chipset structure, introduced to you the product lineup, described the design of the cooling systems, compared the performance and power consumption of the new platform against the already existing ones. As always, we followed up with a series of mainboard reviews in order to fully grasp the implementations of the new features and functions by different mainboard makers. Our first review talked about Asus P9X79 Deluxe. This mainboard left a very good impression, but the review may have left you with some questions, because at that time there was no real rival to the new Asus board. Without proper comparison it is hard to judge how good or bad the product is in certain applications. Today Asus mainboard has a more than worthy competitor: the flagship product from Gigabyte – GA-X79-UD7. This comparison promises to be particularly interesting because in their new mainboard family Gigabyte introduces new “3D Power” and “3D BIOS” technologies and even such familiar old features like DualBIOS, for example, will suddenly present themselves in a new light.
Gigabyte GA-X79-UD7 mainboard ships in a large box with a carry handle. Among numerous logotypes on the front side of the box, one stands out – a 3D cube, which serves as the symbol of the new “3D Power” and “3D BIOS” technologies.
The back of the box has a mainboard photograph, a brief list of technical specifications, and a short description of a few mainboard’s features.
The external decorative box is made of thick cardboard, and there is another sturdy white cardboard box beneath it. This second box contains two individual boxes with a mainboard in one of them and all accessories neatly arranged in the other:
It’s been a while since we came across a mainboard with such exceptionally rich accessories bundle. However, we have already seen all components in it before, except for the Wi-Fi/Bluetooth 4.0 kit including an expansion card, two antennas and a USB cable.
The card is designed in PCI Express x1 form-factor, but is based on a mini PCI-E AzureWave IEEE 802.11 b/g/n – BT Combo PCIe minicard (AW-NB100H model).
Even if we hadn’t noticed the “OC Motherboard” logo on the Gigabyte GA-X79-UD7 box, the familiar black-and-orange color scheme would have immediately brought up the image of the Gigabyte GA-X58A-OC mainboard, which we have already tested before. So, despite a pretty simple model name, Gigabyte GA-X79-UD7 is unique: it is designed for overclocking.
What exactly does it mean? First of all, there are two eight-pin ATX12V power connectors for the CPU. They are capable of delivering up to 1500 W of power, which may come in very handy during extreme overclocking experiments. Another thing that also stands out is a pretty serious processor voltage regulator circuitry including 16 phases and built with high-quality components. In particular the voltage regulator uses POScap tantalum capacitors. Moreover, let’s not forget about the new “3D Power” technology. Let’s talk a little more about it now. At first, when I saw the illustration on Gigabyte’s web-site I thought that “3D Power” term was yet another eye-catching trick of the marketing people. As if the processor or memory could do without any power on mainboards from other manufacturers.
However, in reality, there was much more innovation behind this technology. “3D Power” is a digital complex of software and hardware components that allows to flexibly manage the power supply of the processor and memory. It includes not only the new power supply system, but en entire group of the new BIOS parameters and a specially designed utility for working with these parameters from Microsoft Windows. I think I could actually compare it with “DIGI+” system on Asus mainboards, which also includes the same components.
There is a group of electronic components in the upper right corner – “OC-Touch”, which should make overclocking much easier. Besides the traditional Power On and Reset buttons, there is a special button for changing the base clock frequency and processor clock frequency multiplier “on the fly”. A row of voltage probing modules and the included set of adapter cables will allow users to conveniently monitor current voltages using a voltmeter device. A POST code indicator will help identify the problem in case of a failed boot-up.
The heatsinks on the chipset and the heating components of the voltage regulator circuitry use secure screw-on retention and are tied together into a single cooling contour with a heatpipe. Four memory DIMM slots can accommodate up to 32 GB of RAM and support quad-channel access. Four PCI Express x16 slots support 4-Way/3-Way/2-Way AMD CrossFireX or NVIDIA SLI graphics card configurations. All of them comply with the new PCI-E 3.0 specification. With two graphics cards in the system the slots work at their maximum speed. While with four cards they will work at half the speed. Besides that, the board has three PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots for other expansion cards, such as the Wi-Fi/Bluetooth 4.0 card included another the bundled accessories. The chipset provides support for two SATA 6 Gbps ports (white connectors) and four SATA 3 Gbps ports (black connectors). Moreover, two additional Marvell 88SE9172 controllers add another four SATA 6 Gbps ports (gray connectors).
The mainboard back panel has the following ports and connectors on it:
The “OC Button” will help overclocking the system in automatic mode. As for the “DualBIOS Switcher”, it extends the functionality of the Gigabyte’s proprietary “DualBIOS” technology, allowing the system to switch between two different BIOS chips. There are seven four-pin fan connectors onboard. All of them, except for the processor fan connector allow adjusting the rotation speed of the three-pin fans, too.
We summed up all the major technical specifications in the following table:
The first mainboards designed specifically for overclocking, Gigabyte GA-X58A-OC, could be used as a basis for a personal computer system, but it was primarily intended for experiments in an open testbed. Gigabyte GA-X79-UD7 is just as convenient to work with in an open testbed, but it will be a perfect fit for a fully functional high-performance and feature-rich computer system. The only issue could be large dimensions of this mainboard. Although there are only four memory DIMM slots on it, Gigabyte GA-X79-UD7 mainboard is longer and wider than a standard ATX PCB.
Starting with the mainboard families based on the 7th series Intel chipsets, Gigabyte finally transitions to UEFI BIOS. Now, they use AMI code for their new “3D BIOS”, just like other mainboard makers, but their interface doesn’t look anything like the standard one we know so well already.
Here we see a layout of our mainboard, which can be flipped around for your convenience:
The key knots are highlighted in cycles. If you move the mouse pointer to the selected knot, contextual help info will pop up, explaining what this knot is responsible for and what parameters can be changed.
By clicking on the CPU socket or memory DIMM slot, you can access the “System Tuning” section that allows you to adjust the base clock speed, processor clock frequency multiplier, memory timings and frequency as well as some voltages. Note that in this case there will be an info pane on the right, which will display the current values of different parameters.
If you roll the mouse pointer over the heatsink of voltage regulator components, you can access “3D Power” section by simply clicking on either of them. The informational pane on the right will be different now, displaying a different set of parameters. If you don’t know what is displayed, use the mouse pointer to receive contextual help.
You can access the “UEFI DualBIOS” section by clicking the heatsink on the chipset:
By clicking the ports and connectors on the back panel you can get into the “Integrated Device Control” section:
If you click on the PCI Express slots, you will get access to a modest set of parameters in the “Expansion Slots” section.
And if you point at the SATA ports, you will access the “Drive Control Features” section, where you can select the desired drives mode, which is set at AHCI by default.
When I first saw the new “3D BIOS”, I thought that studying its functionality will be more of a game, something like pixel hunting, trying to find active zones. However, all the zones are pretty large, and are highlighted, so in reality you won’t need to hunt anything. The only not-so-obvious feature that I uncovered was the way to display the current CPU, base and memory frequencies by clicking the “3D BIOS” icon in the upper right corner of the screen.
3D mode is very illustrative and fun, but it obviously provides access to a limited number of basic parameters and settings available in 3D BIOS. You have to press F1 or Esc, or simply click on one of the section icons at the bottom of the screen in order to switch to the “Advanced” mode and get access to a complete set of features. The first one in this list is “M.I.T.” (MB Intelligent Tweaker), which contains all parameters related to overclocking and performance optimizations. The section main screen only lists all sub-sections and reports the basic system data.
Then we see a purely informational “M.I.T. Current Status” sub-section telling you the current operational parameters of the system.
The “Advanced Frequency Settings” sub-section allows you to adjust frequencies and multipliers and there are special informational parameters that will keep you posted about the changes you are making.
The settings dealing with processor technologies are singled out onto a separate page called “Advanced CPU Core Features”.
“Advanced Memory Settings” sub-section allows you to fine-tune the memory sub-system.
Parameters controlling numerous memory timings are all on separate pages. You can set the timings simultaneously for all four channels or individually for each one of them.
“Advanced Voltage Settings” sub-section allows you to work with different voltages that are all grouped into four separate pages.
There are a few new parameters in the “3D Power Control” page, which appeared due to the introduction of “3D Power” technology. Now you can set the operational mode for the processor voltage regulator, adjust the level of Vdroop counteraction under heavy load and change a lot of other options right in the BIOS.
The voltages in different parts of the processors can be changed on “CPU Core Voltage Control” page. The CPU Vcore may be locked at a certain value or you may also add a certain value to the nominal setting.
The voltages may be not only increased, but also reduced below the nominal, which may come in very handy sometimes. For example, you may need it if your CPU is functioning at the lower than nominal frequencies or if you are using low-voltage memory modules.
“Chipset Voltage Control” page allows you to adjust a few chipset voltages.
“PC Health Status” sub-section reports current voltages, temperatures and fan rotation 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 the remaining four system fan connectors also allow adjusting the fan speed depending on the temperature, even if you are using three-pin fans. The only thing you can’t do is select the adjustment mode: everything will be done automatically. Unfortunately, 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 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 now be configured in the “Save & Exit” section. Unfortunately, all the changes here are more on the negative side. First of all, you can now save and load only four settings profiles. However, this should be more than enough, especially since we have two almost independent BIOS chips and that gives us a total of eight profiles, just like before. However, it is no longer capable of saving the settings profile after the last successful POST. Moreover, we can’t give the profiles a descriptive name any more, which will remind us of its 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.
It looks like it might be a little too early to draw any conclusions about the new “3D BIOS” just yet. Gigabyte has just transitioned to the AMI BIOS code, so some issues and flaws are inevitable at such an early stage. Our biggest disappointment at this time is the down-grading of the formerly very conveniently arranged work with the settings profiles. Sometimes, you select a parameter and press Enter waiting for the list of available values, but nothing happens as you have to use “+” and “-“ keys to go through the list. It is convenient that you can enter a lot of values using the keyboard. Other than that some things have become a little better, some – a little worse, but we can clearly see that the company is trying to retain the familiar BIOS structure, even some functional keys remained the same. We hope that the new BIOS will eventually become even more convenient to work with. Although I have to admit that we have an example, when our expectations didn’t come true. Almost all issues and inconveniences we pointed out in the first articles discussing the EFI BIOS of Asus mainboards haven’t been fixed up until now.
We were talking about the Advanced mode, which is a preferred mode, but our impressions from the 3D mode were also quite ambiguous. On the one hand, it is a few times better than the completely useless Easy mode on Asus boards, which doesn’t allow configuring almost anything at all. On the other hand, even this more extensive functionality is not enough for productive work. Take, for example, voltage adjustment options. You have to frequently correct them when you are searching for optimal overclocking settings, but in Advanced mode the parameters for voltage adjustment are spread over several different pages, while in 3D mode they are all on the same page.
It could be very convenient to change the voltages on this page, but there is no option that would allow you to add a desired value to the nominal setting that is why after checking out the 3D mode, I returned to the Advanced. Therefore, it could be a good idea to allow the user to select the preferred mode upon entering the BIOS Setup, to avoid wasting time on unnecessary navigation back and forth.
Many things and operational peculiarities show their cons and pros in action best of all that is why I recommend watching this Gigabyte’s video, which illustrates the features and peculiarities of their new “3D 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 220.127.116.112, Nvidia GeForce Driver 285.62 graphics card driver.
When we began reviewing LGA 2011 products, we upgraded our testbed with a new solid state drive, new memory modules and a new CPU cooler. Unfortunately, Thermalright Archon Rev. A with an uneven base, which is a typical peculiarity of the coolers from this manufacturer, proved incapable of coping with hot processors like that that is why we replaced it with Zalman CNPS12X the first chance we got, since this cooler managed to outperform Archon and therefore received numerous awards from reviewers. However, the new cooler is much wider than the previous one, and may conflict with the tall heat-spreaders on the memory modules. It barely fits onto LGA 2011 mainboards with eight memory module DIMMs, like Asus P9X79 Deluxe. If there are only four memory slots, like on Gigabyte GA-X79-UD7, the modules can only be installed into the two farthest slots.
If you have read our article called “DDR3 SDRAM for LGA 2011: Which Memory Is Best?”, then you should remember, that in LGA 2011 systems DDR3 SDRAM frequency matters the most. This parameter has greater effect on the overall system performance than the number of memory channels, and a much greater effect than the timings. Therefore, if you are using a dual- or triple-channel DDR3 SDRAM kit in your LGA 2011 system, you will end up with almost the same level of performance as you would get with quad-channel memory. This is good news for those who already have a good dual- or triple-channel high-speed memory kit at their disposal. They will not need to invest into a special quad-channel kit. However, for test purposes it makes more sense to use a special quad-channel memory set that is why we had to resolve the compatibility issue between the CPU cooler and memory modules with tall heat-spreaders in a different way.
DDR3 SDRAM modules, like our Corsair Vengeance CMZ16GX3M4X1866C9R, which work at the nominal voltage of 1.5 V, get barely warm. Their tall heat-spreaders perform primarily an aesthetic function, so we simply removed the heat-spreaders from two of the modules and this way could fit all four of them and the CPU cooler onto the board just fine.
Unfortunately, the cooling efficiency of Zalman CNPS12X is only a little bit better than that of the previous cooler, so we didn’t really improve our CPU overclocking results. However, we are still very happy with this upgrade, because the new cooler works significantly better than the old one. The CPU under this cooler works in smoother and more comfortable thermal conditions. The temperatures of individual cores differ by 1-2°C under heavy load, while with the old cooler this difference could reach as much as 10°C!
When we power up Gigabyte GA-X79-UD7 mainboard, we see a startup image, which also lists all “hot” keys for your reference.
It doesn’t make sense to disable the startup image or use the “Tab” key. The mainboard doesn’t display any information about the POST progress. The only thing you are going to see is the AMI BIOS logotype. The F9 key for displaying system info seems like a doubtful and unequivalent replacement. Primarily, because the board starts up very fast and you often don’t have enough time to press it. Moreover, you don’t get that much useful info anyway: the actual CPU frequency is displayed incorrectly, and the memory frequency is not displayed at all.
There are, however, a few positive improvements, too. For example, during the first boot up after resetting the BIOS parameters the mainboard stops and offers you to adjust the settings:
At first we were alternating BIOS versions F2 and F4. It is very convenient to test different settings profiles switching between BIOS versions with the “DualBIOS Switcher” button. However, once we updated the BIOS with version F7, the mainboard also updated the BIOS in the reserve chip:
This update was performed automatically, we were just informed about it post-factum, we weren’t asked whether we wanted to proceed or not. As a result, all the settings and saved profiles in the reserve chip were lost. Unfortunately, unlike Asus mainboards, the two BIOS chips on Gigabyte GA-X79-UD7 turned out not so independent after all. Looks like we still don’t have the ability to work with each of them completely separately.
We were not impressed with the results of automatic overclocking performed by pressing the “OC Button” on the back panel of the mainboard. At the same time the maximum clock frequency multiplier for our processor, 39x, which is used when only one or two cores are utilized, was increased to 42x, while all other multipliers remained the same. Moreover, power saving technologies partially stopped working: the processor clock frequency multiplier still dropped to 12x in idle mode, but the core voltage always remained high. All in all, the current implementation of the automatic overclocking on Gigabyte GA-X79-UD7 mainboard is inefficient, and it would make more sense to use manual overclocking options, because in this case everything went flawlessly and we didn’t have a single issue.
We have already mentioned that even though we used a new cooler from Zalman, the CNPS12X, we couldn’t improve the maximum overclocking results for our processor. However, we managed to reach the current maximum of 4.4 GHz for our specific sample without any problems. The memory in this case also worked at its nominal frequency of 1866 MHz with the proper timings.
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.
From our previous reviews we are already well familiar with Gigabyte’s brand name utilities that come with their mainboards. “@BIOS” utility will help update the BIOS, “On/Off Charge” will help charge mobile devices, “Smart6” suite includes six different utilities. Unfortunately, the functioning of some utilities was negatively affected by the transition to AMI BIOS. For example, “Easy Tune6” utility now always displays the maximum possible CPU frequency, and not the actual one.
“Touch BIOS” also displays the processor and memory frequencies incorrectly.
The functionality of this program hasn’t really changed since we first discussed it in our reviews. The only difference we noticed today is that there appeared a new “L” button in the lower panel. It allows changing the interface language.
Besides a number of well-familiar utilities, there is a completely new one called “3D Power”. Once the program is launched, the 3D cube will persistently jump up and down the screen until you stop ot with the mouse pointer.
Now you can aim and shoot for one of the three visible cube sides. For example, the section called “Voltage” at the very top of the cube.
The “Frequency” section is on the left.
The “Phase” section is on the right.
It is clear that this utility allows you to use the same functionality as we have just seen in the new BIOS section called “3D Power Control”. In fact, “Touch BIOS” program was originally developed in order to allow changing the BIOS settings directly from Microsoft Windows. I think it could be more convenient to add new features to this program instead of writing a new one, because “Touch BIOS” utility still needs to be modified in order to adapt to the new UEFI BIOS.
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 Asus P9X79 Deluxe mainboard. The results on the diagrams are sorted out in descending order.
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 an excellent illustration of the popular fact that related mainboards working in identical conditions demonstrate almost the same levels of performance. the performance difference between the two mainboards doesn’t ever get even to 1%. The same results were obtained in overclocked mode, when both the processor and memory worked at overclocked frequencies. Only in 7-zip test Gigabyte board fell behind a little bit more than usual, which could result from the difference in memory timings settings.
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 test is usually quite obvious, but we couldn’t detect any difference at all with Gigabyte GA-X79-UD7 mainboard. Therefore, we have good and bad news for you. The good news is that all Intel processor power-saving technologies works absolutely correctly on this board that is why manually enabling them doesn’t affect the system power consumption in any way. This is an indisputable advantage of this mainboard, but there are also a few drawbacks. The new “3D Power” technology finally made it possible to configure in the 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 current CPU utilization. Unfortunately, this function is currently non-operational that is why you won’t get any additional power savings from enabling the optimized power mode.
As a result, is we compare the power consumption of mainboards working in the nominal mode, then Gigabyte board will be more energy-efficient under any type of load, because it has all power-saving technologies up and running by default, unlike the Asus board.
Things change if we enable all power-saving technologies manually. Gigabyte mainboard will remain more energy-efficient under low operational loads, while under heavy loads Asus board will step forward, because besides Intel’s power-saving technologies, its proprietary power-saving tools will also kick in.
Only overclocking returns things to where they were in the beginning: Gigabyte mainboard is again more energy-efficient under all types of loads.
During our review of Gigabyte GA-X79-UD7 mainboard we uncovered a lot of advantages as well as a few issues. However, despite these issues the board left a very positive impression. We should keep in mind that the manufacturer was facing a very difficult task to perform smooth transition to UEFI BIOS and overall, which was an overall success. At least, we were expecting to reveal more serious issues than the ones we ended up finding. Of course, the new “3D BIOS” as well as the proprietary utilities suite still need some work done. It is a real pity that the new “3D Power” technology is not yet fully functional. At the same time we can’t help mentioning that the company is working very hard on resolving these issues in a timely manner. For example, Turbo technology didn’t work correctly and the counteracting processor’s voltage drop under heavy load didn’t work at all in the earlier BIOS versions. Now these issues have been successfully fixed. Two large heatsinks over the voltage regulator components on Asus P9X79 Deluxe remained very hot under heavy load despite an additional fan, while on Gigabyte mainboard one small almost decorative heatsink did its job perfectly even without additional airflow, which indicates that its voltage regulator circuitry is exceptionally efficient. In fact, even though the proprietary power-saving technologies didn’t work, the board still remains very energy-efficient, as you can see from our power consumption tests. At this point it is still too early to rate the new features and functionality of Gigabyte GA-X79-UD7, because they are still work in progress. However, we are very pleased to see them introduced, and on the technical side we have every reason to state that Gigabyte GA-X79-UD7 mainboard is a very high-quality product, which will serve you long and well.