07/18/2011 | 12:41 PM
Gigabyte is one of the largest makers of PC mainboards. Each popular core logic set is used not in 1-3 mainboard models, but in at least a dozen. How can we find our way among all these products? How can we find the best mainboard for our needs? The only correct way to do it is to carefully study all the technical specifications on the manufacturer web-site and then read some product and user reviews. If you are familiar with the way Gigabyte creates model names for their products, it will significantly help and simplify the initial search, as it will allow you to focus only on those mainboard models that suit your needs better. You can find some general principles used for Gigabyte model naming in Wikipedia, however, they are partially outdated and do not include the new indexes that have appeared just recently. A few years ago it was much easier to read their model names. Today things are not so obvious anymore because of great diversity of features and characteristics. However, if you try a little harder, you will be able to see certain logics in it.
We are not going to discuss all Gigabyte mainboards in this article, so let’s focus only on LGA1155 products based the newest Intel Z68 Express chipset. Let’s take, for example, the main hero of our today’s review – Gigabyte GA-Z68X-UD3H-B3. The first part of its model name, two letter abbreviation “GA” is used for all mainboards and indicates that it is a mainboard made by Gigabyte. Then comes the chipset name: in our case it is “Z68” and indicates Intel Z68 Express. The letter “A” after the chipset name means that there are USB 3.0 on the mainboard back panel (Z68A). If there is a letter “X” instead, it means that there are also internal pin-connectors for additional USB 3.0 ports on the PCB (Z68X). The letter “M” marks microATX mainboards (Z68MA or Z68MX). The third part of the model name sometimes starts with a “D” (Durable). These mainboards use all-solid capacitors. However, we more often see “UD” (Ultra Durable), which means that besides all-solid capacitors the mainboard is designed using double copper layering. Then comes a numeric index: the higher it is, the more features and additional onboard controllers the mainboard has (they range from UD2 to UD7 or UD9). In order to distinguish between the very first mainboard models and the new ones based on the B3 revision of Intel Z68 Express chipset with the corrected error, they started adding “B3” to the end of the mainboard model name.
Not so long ago we reviewed four Gigabyte mainboards from UD3 to UD7, but none of them had any video outs on the back panel. If you want to be able to use the graphics core built into the processor, you should go for mainboards marked with the letter “H” in the first part of the model name (UD3H). In this case you will also have all the features and functionality of the Intel Z68 Express chipset available to you, though numerous outs on the back panel will take a lot of space, so the number of other connectors and ports has to be reduced. Mainboards with a letter “P” in the second part of the model name offer a certain compromise between having the entire set of video outs and having none (Z68XP). In this case you will have only an HDMI out, while the rest of the space will be taken over by other ports and connectors.
Yes, it is a little confusing, not very obvious, and we certainly didn’t touch upon all the model name abbreviations used for Gigabyte mainboard model names. However, what we have covered above allows us to state that GA-Z68X-UD3H-B3 mainboard is:
And now let’s take a closer look at the main hero of our today’s review – Gigabyte GA-Z68X-UD3H-B3 mainboard.
Gigabyte mainboards are shipped in similarly designed boxes. There is a model name and numerous logos of supported technologies on the front of the package:
On the back there are even more logos. Besides, there is a photo of the mainboard and a brief description of its key features:
The set of accessories bundled with the boards is also quite standard. We have already come across the same accessories multiple times before:
Mainboards from the same manufacturer not only have similar package and accessories. The exterior design of Gigabyte GA-Z68X-UD3H-B3 is also quite familiar.
Let’s start with the fact that this mainboard supports the entire range of contemporary LGA1155 processors. Some of the heating elements of the processor voltage regulator circuitry are covered with a heatsink fastened using plastic push-pins. The chipset heatsink uses a more reliable screw-on retention mechanism. Four DDR3 DIMM slots can take up to 32 GB of memory and also support XMP (Extreme Memory Profile). The mainboard is equipped with three PCI Express 2.0 x1 and two PCI slots. Two PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots for graphics cards support both AMD as well as Nvidia configurations. A single graphics accelerator will work at full speed, while in case of a two-card configuration the slots will work at only half the speed each.
The additional Marvell 88SE9172 controller delivers support for two SATA 6 Gbps ports (gray connectors). Besides, the board has another pair of SATA 6 Gbps ports (white connectors) and three SATA 3 Gbps ports (black connectors) due to the functionality of the Intel Z68 Express chipset. The remaining fourth SATA 3 Gbps port supported by the chipset is transformed into an eSATA on the back panel.
The complete list of ports and connectors on the mainboard back panel includes the following:
The handy component layout from the manual reveals a few other peculiarities of Gigabyte mainboards: Phase LED diodes that show the number of active processor phases in the voltage regulator and two BIOS chips. Out of our available fan connectors only two four-pin ones offer adjustment option, although they can handle even three-pin fans.
We summed up all the mainboard features and technical specifications in the table below:
Our today’s hero differs from the previously reviewed four other Gigabyte mainboards on Intel Z68 Express not only by the video outs on the back panel, but also by LucidLogix Virtu technology support.
Unlike many other mainboards that started using UEFI, Gigabyte mainboards use the so-called “Hybrid EFI” technology. It implies the use of traditional well-polished BIOS based on AWARD micro-code, where only support of hard disk drives with over 3 TB storage capacity is implemented using EFI technologies. However, we would like to start with the start-up screen anyway, because only Gigabyte mainboards are capable of displaying the actual frequency of your overclocked processor, while all others will display the nominal CPU frequency no matter what mode it is.
Just in case, let me remind you that Gigabyte mainboards allow full access to BIOS functions only if you press Ctrl-F1 key combination in the main BIOS window.
It is very convenient that the first on the list is “MB Intelligent Tweaker (M.I.T.)” section that contains all parameters related to overclocking and system performance fine-tuning. The main section window has a list of available sub-sections and reports the basic system info.
Then comes a purely informational sub-section called “M.I.T. Current Status”, which reports the current system settings.
The “Advanced Frequency Settings” sub-section allows adjusting frequencies and multipliers and a number of informational parameters will keep you updated about the effect from the latest changes you’ve made. Here we see the first differences from the previously reviewed LGA1155 mainboards from Gigabyte: we see an option that allows us to change the frequency of the graphics core built into the processor and an information line that reports its current frequency.
The settings related to processor technologies are all summed up on a separate page called “Advanced CPU Core Features”.
“Advanced Memory Settings” sub-section offers options for configuring the memory sub-system.
The memory timings can be adjusted on individual pages. The timings can be set for each memory channel individually or for both of them simultaneously.
“Advanced Voltage Settings” sub-section allows adjusting the voltages. The processor core voltage can be set at a certain fixed value or we can just add a certain value to the nominal setting. In the latter case even if you overclock by changing the CPU Vcore, the mainboard will keep all Intel power-saving technologies up and running. In idle mode it will lower not only the CPU clock frequency multiplier, but also the core voltage. By the way, the voltages may be not only increased, but also reduced below the nominal, which may be handy in some cases.
“Standard CMOS Features” section is pretty standard, just like the name says:
“Advanced BIOS Features” section allows adjusting the boot-up devices order during start-up and a few other parameters:
The diverse parameters in the “Integrated Peripherals” section allow configuring additional onboard controllers.
“Power Management Setup” contains pretty common options:
“PC Health Status” section reports current voltages, temperatures and fan rotation speeds. Gigabyte mainboards retained the ability to adjust the rotation speed of three-pin fans. They used to do it automatically only, but since not so long ago they started offering manual adjustment option, too.
You can use some functional keys in the main menu of Gigabyte mainboards BIOS to get access to additional options and functions. By pressing F9 you can open system information window:
By pressing F11 you can save one of the eight full BIOS settings profiles. Each profile can have a detailed name, and if the profile already exists, you will be warned. You can load a profile from the menu that pops up after pressing F12. Besides profiles saved manually, the mainboard automatically saves configurations once the POST has been successfully passed. These configurations may also be restored if necessary. You can save and load profiles using not only the built-in memory, but also external storage media.
If you press F8 you will launch Q-Flash Utility for BIOS updating.
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 22.214.171.1245, Nvidia GeForce/ION Driver 266.58 graphics card driver.
We didn’t have any problems assembling a system on Gigabyte GA-Z68X-UD3H-B3, except for the installation of the Scythe Mugen 2 CPU cooler, which has becomes a common issue for almost all mainboards these days. The capacitor pins hanging off the back of the PCB make it difficult to install the cooler backplate. In our previous article where we discussed four different Gigabyte mainboards from UD3 to UD7 at the same time, we paid special attention to one of the typical problems, which we saw in all of them. Namely, by default Gigabyte mainboards did not let the CPU to go into deep power-saving modes and therefore they consumed more power than necessary when the processor was idling. Moreover, for the same exact reason Intel Turbo Boost technology didn’t work to the full extent of its ability and therefore the boards turned out slower than their competitors in those applications where the CPU was not maximally utilized. It is very pleasing to see that Gigabyte GA-Z68X-UD3H-B3 mainboard is free from all these issues.
Only some contemporary mainboard models have the drives working in AHCI mode by default, most mainboards still have the old IDE mode. Gigabyte mainboards work differently: they offer users a choice. During the very first boot-up they offer the user to accept or deny switching the drives to AHCI mode. Once the choice is made, this message will no longer pop up.
CPU and memory overclocking on Gigabyte GA-Z68X-UD3H-B3 produced average results. We failed to hit the maximum CPU frequency and had to stop at 4.7 GHz. The memory also refused to work at 1867 MHz, but accepted very good timings of 6-6-6-18-1T at 1600 MHz frequency.
All Intel processor power-saving technologies were up and running during all our overclocking experiments. In idle mode the system automatically lowered the processor core voltage and clock frequency by dropping its frequency multiplier.
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 the results from our reviews of Asus P8P67 Deluxe, Asus Sabertooth P67, ECS P67H2-A and P67H2-A2, Foxconn P67A-S, Gigabyte GA-P67A-UD4-B3, four Gigabyte mainboards on Intel Z68 Express (Gigabyte GA-Z68X-UD3P-B3, GA-Z68X-UD4-B3, GA-Z68X-UD5-B3 and GA-Z68X-UD7-B3), Intel DP67BG, MSI P67A-GD80 (B3) and MSI Z68A-DG80 (B3). The results are sorted out in descending order on the diagrams. The results of GigabyteGA-Z68X-UD3H-B3 are marked with darker color on the diagrams 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 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:
You can clearly see that the results demonstrated by GigabyteGA-Z68X-UD3H-B3 mainboard do not differ too much from those of other mainboards, but are quite different from the results of other Gigabyte solutions in our tests – there is no hit in SuperPi test, no suspiciously high results in 3DMark11. We have already said that this is die to the mainboard working normally in default mode with Intel Turbo Boost technology being fully functional, just like on the majority of other boards.
Now let’s run the same tests with the CPU and memory overclocked. You can see the difference in the system parameters in the following table:
And again we see that GigabyteGA-Z68X-UD3H-B3 mainboard performs quite expectedly and takes the well-deserved spot among the other participants of the comparison. It is not at the top, because the CPU and memory didn’t overclock to their maximum, but it is not at the bottom either, because the processor frequency and timings are aggressive enough.
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’s power consumption grows up depending on the number of active execution threads in LinX (both at the default and overclocked system settings). The mainboards are sorted in alphabetical order on the diagrams.
In both modes – nominal as well as overclocked – the power consumption of GigabyteGA-Z68X-UD3H-B3 is at the anticipated normal level under heavy load as well as in idle mode.
Summing up the results of our GigabyteGA-Z68X-UD3H-B3 review, we can conclude that it is a very stable board that makes great impression. It didn’t work any wonders, but the most important thing for a mainstream product is to deliver on the users’ expectations and not to disappoint them with anything major. And the board did it well. It supports a variety of contemporary interfaces, such as eSATA, USB3.0, SATA 6 Gbps and IEEE1394 (FireWire), including an entire range of video outputs: D-Sub, DVI-D, HDMI and DisplayPort. Our today’s hero, GigabyteGA-Z68X-UD3H-B3, differs from the four previously reviewed Gigabyte mainboards not only by the available video outputs, but also by LucidLogix Virtu technology support. So, if you do not intend to use this technology or the built-in graphics, so maybe it would be better to go for one of the other four options, just to save some space on the back panel.
By the way, I can’t help mentioning that GigabyteGA-Z68X-UD3H-B3 is the first Gigabyte mainboard we tested so far that by default allows the processor to go into deep power-saving modes that is why its power consumption doesn’t differ too much from that of other manufacturers’ products, when the CPU is idling. Moreover, this ensures that Intel Turbo Boost technology works to the utmost of its capacity, just like Intel had planned for their processors, that is why the performance of the system based on this particular mainboard will be good in any operational mode and under any type of operational load. As a result, GigabyteGA-Z68X-UD3H-B3 will be a good choice for very different user groups.