Valve have seemingly been owning our headlines for the past two weeks, with all the announcements and rumors about their push into PC gaming in the living room. If that doesn’t get you interested in Steam Machines themselves, maybe you are at least thinking of building a living room gaming PC. If that’s the case, you’ll probably be looking at small form factor systems based on mATX or mITX.. mITX platforms do exist that can accommodate high end hardware, but you give up a lot to get there. Right now, mATX is the easier way to build a small sized high end gaming PC.
It used to be that mATX automatically meant “budget” and therefore motherboards would have lower end features and cheaper components. That’s no longer the case, as the Gigabyte Z87M-D3H we’re looking at here is based on their ATX sized Z87X-D3H. Perhaps we’ll look at that board separately some time.
In this review, we will be looking at:
- Motherboard layout – is the Z87M-D3H designed well for enthusiasts? Did they have to sacrifice much in their mATX design?
- VRM details – Although not as much as it used to be, the VRM is still the most important part of a motherboard, and we look into everything in detail.
- Component Tour – We will go over the Z87M-D3H with a fine tooth comb, and look at just about every component on the board in full detail.
- Gigabyte software – We review all the software that comes with the Z87M-D3H, including the tweaking and monitoring software, and the BIOS. Everything has been updated for the Z87 series.
- Overclocking – although it’s an mATX board, the Z87M-D3H still offers interesting overclocking options. We’ll see how far we can take our Core i7 4770K with it.
- Software performance – since chipsets are highly integrated nowadays, we will quickly go over performance numbers to make sure everything is running correctly. There is no need to do anything more, unless something is not working properly.
- Peripheral performance – More importantly, we test every integrated component in the motherboard thoroughly. This includes ethernet performance and efficiency, and audio quality.
Here are the most important specs – if you want more details you can check out Gigabyte’s product page.
|Chipset||Intel Z87 PCH|
|Memory Slots||Four DDR3 DIMM slots supporting up to 32 GB
Dual Channel, 1066-3000 MHz
|Video Out||HDMI, Single Link DVI-D, D-Sub|
|Onboard Ethernet||Realtek RTL8111|
|Onboard Audio||Realtek 892|
|Expansion Slots||1 x PCIe x16 Gen3 (Full Length)
1 x PCIe x4 Gen2 (Full Length)
2 x PCI
|Onboard SATA/RAID||6 x SATA 6 Gbps (PCH), Support for RAID 0, 1, 5, 10|
|USB||6 USB 3.0 ports (4 back panel, 2 from headers)
8 USB 2.0 ports (2 back panel, 6 from headers)
|Internal Headers||6 x SATA 6 Gbps
1 x USB 3.0 Header
3 x USB 2.0 Header
4 x Fan Headers
1 x Front Panel Header
1 x FP Audio Header
1 x Trusted Platform Module Header
1 x SPDIF
1 x Serial
1 x Parellel
Power/Reset/Clear CMOS Buttons
|Power Connectors||1 x 24-pin ATX connector
1 x 8-pin 12V connector
|Fan Headers||1 x CPU Fan Header (4-pin)
3 x SYS Fan Header (4-pin)
|Rear Panel||1 x D-Sub
1 x DVI-D
1 x HDMI
2 x USB 2.0
1 x Realtek GbE
4 x USB 3.0
Gigabyte Z87M-D3H Layout
With the Z87M-D3H, Gigabyte introduces a new colorway, as they often do with a new chipset series. The Z77 series were black/blue, and the Z68 before that was all black, and were in my opinion some of the nicest looking motherboards ever made. This black/gold combo looks very sharp as well. The finish is matte black overall, but not quite as matte as prior generations, at least to my eyes.
For expansion slots, the Z87M-D3H has a pair of full length PCI-E slots, one with x16 lanes of PCI-E 3.0 coming from the CPU, and one with x4 lanes of PCI-E 2.0 from the ICH. Sitting between these are a pair of legacy PCI slots. If you’re going to use a dual slot video card, these slots will both be blocked.
Moving to the other corner of the Z87M-D3H, we can see that once again Gigabyte gets it right with the internal header layout. Everything is laid out along the bottom of the board, and very well labeled. However, I’m not sure why they moved away from a colour-coded front panel header.
The Z87M-D3H has six SATA headers, all of which are capable of SATA 3.0 6 Gbps connectivity, all through the new Intel ICH. Two of the ports are mounted horizontally, to keep out of the way of full length video cards.
The Z87M-D3H offers a ton of clearance around the CPU area, mostly due to its small 4-phase VRM. We’ll get to that on the next page. The CPU fan and two AUX fan headers are all within easy reach of the CPU as well, which is helpful for dual fan cooling setup, or liquid cooling systems that need power for both the pump and a fan.
The rear panel features four USB 3.0 ports, and a pair of USB 2.0 ports. Video output from the IGP is handled by an HDMI, a DVI, and an analog RGB port. Notable in its absence is a dedicated digital audio output. If you don’t want to use HDMI for your digital audio output, you are out of luck with the Z87M-D3H. There is an internal SPDIF header, meant to connect to a video card, so you may be able to find an output header for that.
You don’t get much in the way of accessories with the Z87M-D3H aside from a rear panel backplate and a couple SATA cables. What you are paying for here are the software and onboard components, which we’ll look at on the next page.