With both LGA1156 and AM3 scheduled for termination sooner rather than later, there’s only one safe harbor that will carry you through this year: LGA1366.
Fortunately, it’s no longer a major financial stretch to get into Intel’s enthusiast socket. Yes, you can spend a massive amount of cash on a board that you can boot using the Bluetooth on your phone, but for many DIYers, $200 is the maximum they’ll spend on a mobo. Enter Gigabyte’s GA-X58-USB3. As the name implies, it’s a USB 3.0 board using Intel’s elderly but still quite capable X58 chipset.
Think of the GA-X58-USB3 as a way-cheaper version of the GA-X58A-UD7 board that we reviewed in the October 2010 issue. How much cheaper? With a street price of $170, it’s literally half the cost of the UD7 and about $30 less than the Asus Sabertooth X58 board we reviewed in the Holiday 2010 issue. Gigabyte does that by shaving off a lot of the features from the UD7, such as the water blocks and massive heatsinks. The USB3 also steps back from the UD7’s 24-phase power, the onboard power switches, and POST LED. You get the point. However, as with the Asus Sabertooth X58, the GA-X58-USB3 doesn’t feel like a total strippo motherboard. There are still beefy heatsinks on the chipset and voltage regulation modules. We also like the layout of the GA-X58-USB3 board over the Sabertooth X58. With the Sabertooth X58, the sole PCI slot is covered if you insert a dual-slot GPU into the top x16 slot. With the GA-X58-USB3, you can still access the PCI slot. Only when you go CrossFire X or SLI would you lose access to the PCI slot.
Gigabyte's budget board makes some compromises, but is fast nonetheless.
Given the very maturity of the X58 chipset, we usually don’t expect to see much variation in performance, and we didn’t here. For the most part, the X58 boards were within the margin of error for the benchmarks, or so close it really didn’t matter (hence the very limited bolding in the benchmark chart). As it has been, performance is not the main driver in selecting an X58 board. It’s about features and implementation.
That’s where we have a few quibbles with the GA-X58-USB3. We’re not sure what’s going on, but Gigabyte’s Easy Tune 6 overclocking app always needs permission to launch in Windows 7. The same problem vexed us with the UD7 board. After letting the Gigabyte utility auto-update, it still needed permission to run, but then would fail to launch after the update. Fail. We recommend that you simply not install it.
As we said earlier, the GA-X58-USB3 doesn’t feel like a strippo board, but upon closer examination, it actually is pretty well stripped. Missing from the board are eSATA, SATA 6Gb/s, and FireWire ports. Some of those we can live without, but can we live without all three? Not us. Particularly when $30 more gets you the Sabertooth X58, which offers the full complement of interface options.
The GA-X58-USB3 is best left to budget X58 buyers who need the better slot layout of the Gigabyte board and have no need for any ports other than USB.