Gigabyte has a frustrating habit of releasing a dozen motherboard models per chipset, and sometimes more—we counted no fewer than 15 Gigabyte boards based on Intel’s X58 chipset. That isn’t the case in 890FX land, where Gigabyte offers just two variants to choose from—the GA-890FXA-UD5, and the board reviewed here.
The differences between the two are big, and we mean that literally. Unlike the UD5, the UD7 ditches the tried-and-true standard ATX formfactor and comes constructed in XL-ATX, which is even larger than Extended ATX (E-ATX). Only folks with full towers need apply, and even then you’ll want to verify with your case manufacturer that an XL-ATX motherboard will fit. Gigabyte’s Chassis Support List of qualified cases is disappointingly sparse, though not all-inclusive.
At first glance, you might think the Asus Rampage III Extreme board has just four PCI-E slots, which would be simply wimpy next to the whopping six slots in MSI’s Big Bang-XPower. But don’t be fooled by the optical illusion. The Rampage III actually has five PCI-E slots capable of fitting full x16 PCI-E cards, and one oddly empty space.
One look at the Big Bang-XPower’s row of six x16 physical PCI-E slots tells you the board is special. PCI? Feh, who the hell needs that in 2010?
MSI has now also adopted the one-clip DIMM slots that let you easily remove RAM without having to pull out the GPU first. The board also includes a somewhat nifty wired remote to monitor system vitals and perform an overclock. Unfortunately, we found the OC Dashboard a bit buggy. While trying to crank up the bclock using the small device, we had to manually refresh the display in order to see the correct frequency.
Want to know how insane the enthusiast motherboard bracket has become? Gigabyte’s X58A-UD7 seems pedestrian next to the other two contenders here. Sure, it has a rakish, liquid-cooling-ready heat pipe to keep the north bridge chilled out, but frankly, without that Hybrid Silent-Pipe 2 in place, the board is damn near boring next to its contemporaries. Where’s the dual 8-pin supplemental CPU power connectors? Or Bluetooth remote-control capability, wired remote overclocking tool, or audio riser card?
Gigabyte’s original GA-P55-UD6 (reviewed December 2009) held the distinction of not only being the first board we tested with Intel’s LGA1156 socket, but also our preferred go-to board for months on end. It was only after Asus’s beautiful Maximus III Formula showed up in our March issue that the GA-P55-UD6 was dethroned.
It didn’t take Gigabyte long to fire a shot back, though, with its GA-P55A-UD6 board. At first glance, you’d think there was no difference between it and its predecessor. But up close, you can see slight changes to the board that make room for USB 3.0 and SATA 6 chips, as well as a slight repositioning of the PCB-mounted reset button. The most obvious physical change is the reduction in the number of inboard SATA ports. The GA-P55-UD6 had 10 ports whereas the GA-P55A-UD6 has eight. Both boards have two eSATA ports, compliments of a JMicron JMB362 part.
In a world where you can get a pretty decent $99.99 motherboard, a lot of consumers don’t understand why you would pay one-and-a-half times more for a board using the same chipset.
That’s because those same consumers don’t seem to understand the attitude and atmosphere you get with a high-end motherboard. It’s about the flair, and the Asus Maximus III Formula offers that in spades.
While some of the flair is extraneous, such as the garish case sticker, some can be truly handy. A set of stickers lets you label your SATA cables, for example. And then there’s the flair that we’ve come to expect of Asus: the ever-useful Q-connector for front-panel connections and the no-snag I/O shield and snag-free RAM slots we first saw on the P7P55D Deluxe. Audio is upgraded over baseline boards with the SupremeFX X-Fi module. The module and drivers give you X-Fi algorithms and the codecs are moved off the noisy motherboard. Since RAM configuration can affect system reliability, the board also includes a handy BIOS-based MemPerfect utility to validate your RAM settings.
Asus takes remote-control monitoring and overclocking to the next level with the MIIIF, too. You can now connect a laptop directly to the motherboard to monitor voltages, temperature, and fans; read POST codes; and even overclock the board. It’s neat, but we wish Asus would build in logging and graphing capabilities, as well.
It’s no secret that we haven’t exactly had great love for Intel’s motherboards of late. Heck, we once openly wondered why the hell Intel even bothered to make enthusiast boards anymore.
Intel’s LGA1156 DP55KG, aka Kingsberg, board doesn’t erase all of our misgivings, but it does make us think that Intel is at least trying rather than phoning it in.
Take the SATA-port placement. Most enthusiast boards use forward-facing SATA ports to get around today’s honking-big graphics cards. But Intel’s X48 and X58 boards had all SATA ports pointing straight up. It was as though Intel was in denial over the size and importance of today’s GPUs. The DP55KG finally remedies that flaw by aiming all eight SATA ports forward. Want more proof that Intel is learning? The DP55KG even includes an Intel-branded SLI bridge—something we thought we’d never see.
Other nice enthusiast touches include a surface-mounted power-on switch and a decorative skull backlit by blue LEDs. Even cooler, the skull’s eyes are lit by red LEDs that indicate drive access. We also like the PCI-E slots Intel selected. The slot size corresponds to the signaling, so you can easily figure out that the x4 slot is x4, and the x8 is x8. Those same slots, however, also accept a full-length physical x16 card. Most boards use full-length x16 physical slots with x4 or x8 electrical plumbing, which leaves you guessing about which is which.
In motherboards—as in life—it’s the little things that bring the greatest pleasure.
Take the new Core i5/i7 LGA1156 board, the Asus P7P55D Deluxe. Enthusiasts are used to the flashy heatsinks and tons of ports and slots, but small touches like Asus’s innovative RAM slots will make you take notice. Instead of using the typical latch connectors that can snag the GPU, Asus has designed a system that requires only one side of the RAM to be latched in.
But adding unexpected conveniences is Asus’s M.O. of late. The board also features snag-free I/O shields, a quick-connect for front-panel connectors, and ExpressGate—the somewhat handy pre-OS boot environment. Besides adding such extras, Asus said it spent an inordinate amount of time making sure the board overclocks like a champ. There are multiple ways to overclock: using the Turbo V function, AI Suite, and the OC Tuner in the BIOS. If that’s not enough, the company even includes three ominous switches to let you override BIOS limits on RAM, memory controller, and CPU voltage. Even more interesting is the Turbo V remote. This wired remote lets you power up or down and select from three overclocking profiles or crank up the Bclock in real time.
If you thought Intel’s new budget Nehalem meant rock-bottom, feature-stripped motherboards to match, think again.
Gigabyte’s GA-P55-UD6 jams just about every feature you could think of into the new LGA1156 platform. There are the de rigueur updated power-saving utilities and the dual BIOS, which can save your bacon should your BIOS get corrupted.
And then there’s a whole kitchen sink of new features, such as the ability to secure the system using the onboard TPM module and then have it unlock when the computer detects your Bluetooth phone nearby. The same Bluetooth phone can also be used to put the system in standby or hibernate if you walk away, to save power.
Two other features are probably a bit more useful: As part of the board’s Smart Six apps, the BIOS QuickBoot feature allows you to set the BIOS to initialize much faster if no hardware has been changed. With the feature turned on, we saw the system go from a 30-second POST-to-OS load to 15 seconds. That’s pretty spectacular. The OS QuickBoot promises faster boots, too, but as far as we can tell, it’s simply a different way to invoke Vista’s Hybrid Sleep mode.
The four horsemen may be saddling up and Gozer the Gozerian might soon appear, but that doesn’t mean it’s all bad news. With people digging in the couch crevices for dropped coins to build a new system, AMD’s back on the menu again. Don’t believe us?
We recently added up the cost differential of building a Core i7 machine versus a Phenom II rig and the AMD system saved us at least $200. Sure, the Core i7 will whup any Phenom II up and down the block, but $200 gets you a hell of a lot more videocard, hard drive, or power supply. If you’re thinking, “Why not Core 2?” our reasons are simple: legs. We don’t have faith Intel will push out faster and better Core 2 procs, but AMD will support AM2+ for at least 12 months through newer and faster AM3 CPUs.