Today we are reviewing the Gigabyte Z77X-UD3H, which sits in the middle of Gigabyte’s new “7 Series” Intel motherboard lineup. It sells for a reasonable $160 as of publication (mid June 2012), and as you’d expect from Gigabyte, offers quite a few features that help it stand apart from others in this price range.
In this review, we’ll start by taking a look at the layout of the board, and talk about its features. From there, we’ll go on one of our famous “Component Tours” which takes an in depth look at all the components that make it what it is – from the individual VRM chips to the audio chip, and everything in between. Then we’ll look at performance, focusing on the peripherals that set it apart from other motherboards in its class.
By the end of this review, you will know enough about it to decide if it is worthy of consideration to build your new Ivy Bridge system around, and what kind of system it belongs in. Let’s get straight to it!
You’ve heard me gush about the gorgeous matte black finish Gigabyte have started using on their motherboards. Thanks to an extra PCB layer, it has a finish that is matched by few; others who attempt to make a black board usually end up with an ugly shiny brownish dung-beetle looking board. Gigabyte’s are truly black – well grey really. The last two boards we looked at also came with matte grey heatsinks, that really set the whole thing off nicely. Sitting in an NZXT Phantom 410 Gunmetal chassis, it just looks awesome.
Unfortunately someone high in Gigabyte’s decision-making chain disagrees with me, because they have replaced the cool looking all-black scheme with, well, Corporate Blue heatsinks.
It isn’t the worst looking motherboard out there, but they certainly took a step backwards from making what I think were some of the best looking motherboards ever made. Hopefully they come to their senses and realize that slapping corporate colours on your products at the expense of aesthetics doesn’t go over that well usually. Aesthetics are subjective, of course, and perhaps I’m in the minority.
As is usual with Gigabyte’s excellently laid out boards, most of the headers are lined up along the bottom edge, and labeled clearly. Among the headers, you’ll find a flip switch that allows you to manually switch between the board’s dual UEFI bios chips, and there is a diagnostic LED as well. This is a nice feature, not often found on boards in this price range.
Another nice addition we’ve been seeing lately is the use of 4-pin PWM fan headers across the entire board, not just the CPU. The Z77X-UD3H has four auxiliary fan headers in addition to the CPU header, and all are PWM controlled.
The slot layout starts with a x1 PCI-E slot above the main x16 graphics slot. Below that are two more x1 slots, and the second graphics slot. When both graphics slots are populated, the top one gives up half its PCI-E lanes, to work in x8/x8 mode for SLI and Crossfire X. This is compulsory for the Z77 chipset. Finally, you get a single PCI slot for legacy devices, and an x4 slot at the bottom (although it is phyiscally a full length slot, it only has x4 lanes going to it).
For $160, you only get the southbridge’s SATA connectivity internally. That is fine, because auxiliary SATA controllers are always slower than the ones found on Intel and AMD controllers. Unfortunately, this means you only get two SATA 3.0 headers, because for some reason Intel’s latest greatest chipset still only offers a pair of them.
The SATA power header you see beside the SATA ports is intended to be used in conjunction with high current video cards, particularly when two are installed. In most cases, you won’t need to use it.
The dimm area is quite busy. We have three buttons on the very far corner – a large power button, a reset switch, and a clear CMOS switch (don’t get them mixed up!). These are usually reserved for high end motherboards, so it’s great to see them making an appearance on this one. Another ‘high end’ feature is found along the bottom right edge. Thos contacts allow manual voltage readings with a multimeter. Also in this vicinity is an external USB 3.0 header. I don’t know why it had to be placed here, where it is almost certainly going to get in the way. USB 3.0 cables are usually quite thick, and in a fully installed system with memory and video cards installed, it is going to get pretty messy.
Moving to the top of the board, we find that the CPU has ample space around it, mostly due to the relatively tiny VRM heatsink. We’ll get to why that is the case later.
As you can see, Gigabyte opted for high graphics connectivity on the Z77X-UD3h. Three digital connections are available – single link DVI and HDMI connections allow for up to 1920×1200, and the DisplayPort allows up to 2560×1600. There is even a legacy D-Sub analog header.
All this video connectivity comes at the expense of USB connectivity, as only 6 ports (all USB 3.0) are found on the rear panel. I suppose this means that they assume this is going to be used in lower end systems, where integrated graphics will be used. For most of us, we will be using the graphics output on the discrete video cards we’d be using. However, the Z77 chipset supports the latest version of Virtu, dubbed VirtuMVP, which may make it worth considering. We’ll be taking a look at that in a separate review soon.
It should be noted that the USB ports on the right are the only two connected to the Intel chipset, so you are reminded to plug the mouse and keyboard into those ports. The other four ports are connected to the auxiliary Via controller, and are useless outside Windows, and even then can’t be used until drivers are installed. The other pair of Intel controlled ports are routed to the external header, which makes little sense to me – it would be better to offer full connectivity to the main ports on the rear panel.
As you might expect from a not-so-expensive motherboard, the contents of the box are somewhat limited. You get four SATA cables (two with L-shaped, and two with straight headers), a SLI ribbon, and the rear panel plate, which is actually nicely labeled. But as we’ve seen with Gigabyte’s sub-$200 boards before, they are all about giving you what you need, and skipping what you don’t. Let’s see if that is the case as we switch lenses on our camera, and go into macro mode to take a much closer look at the Z77X-UD4.