Gigabyte GA-X79-UD7 Motherboard Review

Tick…tock, tick…tock goes the Intel clock. With another ‘tock’ comes another CPU chipset that everyone wants to get their hands on. In that light, Gigabyte has provided us with their high-end motherboard for their enthusiast class chipset to put through its paces, the GA-X79-UD7. In past incarnations, this board had a good reputation for overclocking well. Let us take a look and see if this board can keep on pushing CPU’s to their limits!

Gigabyte GA- X79-UD7 (Courtesy of Gigabyte)

Gigabyte GA-X79-UD7 (Courtesy of Gigabyte)

 

Packaging and First Look

Like past UD7 retail packaging, the X79 UD7 comes in a larger sized box compared to a lot of motherboards to hold the board and its abundant accessories (which come in two boxes inside the retail box). Unlike past UD7 packaging, this one comes in white and shows the new 3D bios/power symbol (3D cube). Per usual you can see a lot of the major features advertised all over.

Retail packaging (front)

Retail packaging (front)

Retail packaging (rear)

Retail packaging (rear)

Retail packaging (inside)

Inside packaging (inside)

Inside packaging (showing motherboard)

Inside packaging (showing motherboard)

Tour de Board

Taking our first look at the board, you can see Gigabyte chose to deviate just a bit from their P67/Z68 UD7 color scheme and move to their last generation X58A-OC scheme. You still have black dominating the PCB, but now the accent color on two of the RAM slots,  the PCIe (16x physical), and accents on the Southbridge cooler are orange. I can’t say orange would be my first choice, but it wouldn’t be something that would scare me away from buying it as overall the appearance of the board is appealing. Of course, that is just my opinion. The real deal is of course in the performance!

Gigabyte X79 UD7 (Front)

Gigabyte X79 UD7 (Front)

Gigabyte X79 UD7 (Back)

Gigabyte X79 UD7 (Back)

Next, we will take a look at the socket area. If you haven’t seen the size of a LGA2011 Sandy Bridge-E CPU vs. a LGA1155 Sandy Bridge CPU, you need to check it out. It’s a virtual David and Goliath…a monolith if you will. Even my 4 year old son mentioned it when the CPU’s were sitting close to each other on the desk! Notice there are dual retention bracket levers here to hold this beast down.

You can also see the quad channel memory here with the 4 DIMM slots pictured. There are other boards in Gigabyte’s X79 lineup, such as the UD5, which sport eight DIMM slots, but this board isn’t purposed to hold gobs of RAM, it’s made to go fast.

Speaking of fast, it’s difficult to push overclocks with a weak power delivery system. Gigabyte answers that call with a new digital 24-phase PWM for the CPU, QPI/Vtt, IMC (System Agent), and the DIMM slots in a 16+2+2+2+2 manner. You can also see the POScaps pictured here (19 of them, the remainder on the back) which is a feature found on the X58A-OC board. There are also two 8-pin CPU connectors on this board so you know it means business.

Socket Area (closed bracket)

Socket Area (closed bracket)

Socket Area (open bracket)

Socket Area (open bracket)

Dual 8 pin CPU plugs

Dual 8 pin CPU plugs

Since we are talking about power delivery and overclocking, let’s check out some other features setting this board apart from the other mere mortals in the Gigabyte lineup. You can see Gigabyte has added several buttons to aid in overclocking as well as open air (no case) benchmarking. You can see the typical power and reset buttons (red and small blue respectively) as well as buttons for in Windows/on the fly multiplier adjustments as well as bclk. The ‘gear’ button is there for the bclk adjustments. Using this function allows one to raise or lower the bclk by .1 or 1 MHz increments. This is especially nice when overclocking to the brink.

You can also see the voltage read points for everything you need and more. This includes the usual suspects in Vcore, Vdimm (channels A and B), and QPI/Vtt. Then there are some more abstract read points, like DDR Vtt, CPU Pll, and VCCsa. I forgot to mention the kitchen sink. Last but not least is the debug LED, which is a needed feature for those pushing the limits or just trying to troubleshoot why the system will not boot.

Making a cameo in one of the pictures is the front USB3 header and an oddly placed SATA power adapter (more on that later).

Overclocking adjustment buttons, Debug LED, and Voltage read points

Overclocking adjustment buttons, Debug LED, and Voltage read points

Close up of the overclocking buttons and voltage read points

Close up of the overclocking buttons and voltage read points

Zooming out a bit and looking at the lower end of the board you can see four 16x Physical PCIe slots and four 1x PCIe slots. There are no legacy PCI slots (or IDE) on this board. In the second picture below you can see the low profile (like all are in order to fit GPUs above it) heatsink on the southbridge area. No fans so its quiet and its larger size makes for a good job at removing the heat generated.

The last picture shows the available SATA ports. You can see (from R to L) two SATA3 ports (white) and four SATA2 ports (black) that are controlled by the chipset, and four more SATA2 ports controlled by the Marvell controller. There are plenty SATA ports available, even if this chipset was watered down.

Speaking of the oddly placed SATA power adapters: what could those be for? A quick glance in the manual shows that these actually have nothing to do with SATA or HDDs aside from the form factor. This is called OC-PEG and is used to run Tri/Quad SLI/Crossfire and is the same concept, but a different approach, than the on board Molex to supply additional power to the cards.

PCIe area

PCIe area

Southbridge area

Southbridge area

Sata ports

SATA ports

Last on the board, but certainly not the least, are the I/O areas of the board. Looking at the rear panel, you can see support for PS/2 keyboards, a handy instant overclock button as well as a BIOS selection button and below that is a button to reset the CMOS. There eight USB2 ports and two USB3 ports as well as the Intel NIC and audio outputs (including optical)/mic in.

On the bottom of the board are the typical power/reset/drive activity light headers, extra USB headers as well as front panel audio.

Rear I/O area

Rear I/O area

Bottom I/O area

Bottom I/O area

Accessories

Here you can see the plethora of accessories that are supplied with this board. SLI and crossfire bridges galore, the combination Bluetooth and Wi-Fi card (with antenna), I/O plate, rear USB hub as well as plenty of SATA cables.

Accessories

Accessories

Specifications and Features

Usually with a new ‘generation’ of CPU’s and chipsets come new features which need added to boards. PCIe 3.0 with double the theoretical bandwidth and quad channel RAM are two major differences between Socket 1155 and the Sandy Bridge CPU’s.

Below are some of the major features of this board:

GIGABYTE X79 series motherboards are the first to take advantage of the exclusive GIGABYTE 3D Power, an all new hardware and software-based Digital Power Engine for both the PWM and Memory that delivers unprecedented power delivery control.

 

 

The revolutionary GIGABYTE 3D BIOS application is based on our new GIGABYTE UEFI DualBIOS™ technology and is available to consumers in two new exclusive modes of interaction never before seen in a BIOS environment. GIGABYTE has re-drawn the traditional BIOS experience providing mainstream and enthusiast users with a choice of unique and powerful graphical interfaces.

UEFI DualBIOS™ Technology
At the heart of this exciting 3D BIOS technology is a pair of 8MB physical BIOS ROMs containing GIGABYTE’s exclusive in-house designed UEFI BIOS technology. With a superior graphical interface capable of 32-bit color imaging and fluid user-friendly mouse navigation, UEFI DualBIOS™ makes BIOS configuration a new and exciting experience for novice and experienced users alike. UEFI BIOS also brings native support for large hard drives on 64-bit operating systems.

 

With a potential data bandwidth of up to 25GB/Sec and 256 Bits memory addressing, the Intel® X79 platform offers unrivaled memory performance. GIGABYTE X79 series motherboards give you the ultimate performance for today’s memory-intensive applications.

 

 

 

The GIGABYTE motherboard is fully configured to provide gamers with the latest Gen.3 PCI Express technology, delivering maximum data bandwidth for forthcoming discrete graphics cards.
* PCIe Gen. 3 is dependent on CPU and expansion card compatibility.

 

 

 

 

The GIGABYTE X79-UD7 delivers the industry’s most scalable graphics platform, with support for both 4-way ATI CrossfireX™ and Nvidia SLI™. Providing 4 PCI Express 3.0 x16 connectivity, X79-UD7 delivers ultra smooth 3D rendering, blazing-fast frame rates and enhanced graphics capabilities for users wanting to get the highest level of graphics performance from their system.

 

 

OC-PEG provides two onboard SATA power connectors that provide more stable PCIe power when using 3-way and 4-way graphics configurations. Each connector uses power from a different phase of the power supply, helping to provide a better, more stable graphics overclock. The independent power inputs for the PCIe slots helps to improve even single graphics card overclocking. For 4-way CrossFireX™, users must install OC-PEG to avoid over current in the 24pin ATX connector. The entire board also features POScaps, helping to simplify the insulation process so overclockers can quickly reach subzero readiness.

 

Here is the ‘dry’ specification list from Gigabyte’s website:

CPU
  1. Support for Intel® Core™ i7 processors in the LGA2011 package
  2. L3 cache varies with CPU

(Please refer “CPU Support List” for more information.)

Chipset
  1. Intel® X79 Express Chipset
Memory
  1. 4 x 1.5V DDR3 DIMM sockets supporting up to 32 GB of system memory
    * Due to Windows 32-bit operating system limitation, when more than 4 GB of physical memory is installed, the actual memory size displayed will be less than 4 GB.
  2. 4 channel memory architecture
  3. Support for DDR3 2133/1866/1600/1333/1066 MHz memory modules
  4. Support for non-ECC memory modules
  5. Support for Extreme Memory Profile (XMP) memory modules

(Please refer “Memory Support List” for more information.)

Audio
  1. Realtek ALC898 codec
  2. High Definition Audio
  3. 2/4/5.1/7.1-channel
  4. Support for Dolby® Home Theater
  5. Support for S/PDIF Out
LAN
  1. 1 x Intel GbE LAN (10/100/1000 Mbit)
Expansion Slots
  1. 2 x PCI Express x16 slots, running at x16 (PCIEX16_1, PCIEX16_2)
    * For optimum performance, if only one PCI Express graphics card is to be installed, be sure to install it in the PCIEX16 slot.
  2. 2 x PCI Express x16 slot, running at x8 (PCIEX8_1, PCIEX8_2)
    * The PCIEX8_2 slot shares bandwidth with the PCIEX16_2 slot. When the PCIEX8_2 slot is populated, the PCIEX16_2 slot will operate at up to x8 mode.
    (All PCI Express x16 slots conform to PCI Express 3.0 standard.)
  3. 3 x PCI Express x1 slots
    (All PCI Express x1 slots conform to PCI Express 2.0 standard.)
Multi-Graphics Technology
  1. Support for 4-Way/3-Way/2-Way AMD CrossFireX™/NVIDIA SLI technology
    The PCIEX16 slots operate at up to x8 mode when 4-Way/3-Way AMD CrossFireX™/NVIDIA SLI is enabled.
Storage Interface Chipset:

  1. 2 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors (SATA3 0/1) supporting up to 2 SATA 6Gb/s devices
  2. 4 x SATA 3Gb/s connectors (SATA2 2/3/4/5) supporting up to 4 SATA 3Gb/s devices
  3. Support for RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, and RAID 10
    * When a RAID set is built across the SATA 6Gb/s and SATA 3Gb/s channels, the system performance of the RAID set may vary depending on the devices being connected.

2 x Marvell 88SE9172 chips:

  1. 4 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors (GSATA3 6/7/8/9) supporting up to 4 SATA 6Gb/s devices
  2. Support for SATA RAID 0 and RAID 1
USB Chipset:

  1. Up to 14 USB 2.0/1.1 ports (8 ports on the back panel, 6 ports available through the internal USB headers)

2 x Fresco FL1009 chips:

  1. Up to 4 USB 3.0/2.0 ports (2 ports on the back panel, 2 ports available through the internal USB header)
Internal I/O Connectors
  1. 1 x 24-pin ATX main power connector
  2. 2 x 8-pin ATX 12V power connectors
  3. 2 x PCIe power connectors
  4. 6 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
  5. 4 x SATA 3Gb/s connectors
  6. 1 x CPU fan header
  7. 6 x system fan headers
  8. 1 x front panel header
  9. 1 x front panel audio header
  10. 1 x S/PDIF Out header
  11. 3 x USB 2.0/1.1 headers
  12. 1 x USB 3.0/2.0 header
  13. 1 x Clear CMOS jumper
  14. 1 x power button
  15. 1 x reset button
  16. 1 x onboard voltage measurement module
  17. 1 x Gear button
  18. 1 x CPU BCLK Down button
  19. 1 x CPU BCLK Up button
  20. 1 x CPU Ratio Down button
  21. 1 x CPU Ratio Up button
  22. 1 x Trusted Platform Module (TPM) header
Back Panel Connectors
  1. 1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse port
  2. 1 x CPU overclocking button
  3. 1 x BIOS switch button
  4. 1 x Clear CMOS button
  5. 8 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
  6. 2 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports
  7. 1 x RJ-45 port
  8. 1 x optical S/PDIF Out connector
  9. 5 x audio jacks (Center/Subwoofer Speaker Out, Rear Speaker Out, Side Speaker Out, Line In, Mic In, Line Out)
I/O Controller
  1. iTE IT8728 chip
H/W Monitoring
  1. System voltage detection
  2. CPU/System temperature detection
  3. CPU/System fan speed detection
  4. CPU overheating warning
  5. CPU/System fan fail warning
  6. CPU/System fan speed control
    * Whether the CPU/system fan speed control function is supported will depend on the CPU/system cooler you install.
BIOS
  1. 2 x 64 Mbit flash
  2. Use of licensed AMI EFI BIOS
  3. Support for DualBIOS™
  4. PnP 1.0a, DMI 2.0, SM BIOS 2.6, ACPI 2.0a
Unique Features
  1. Support for @BIOS
  2. Support for Q-Flash
  3. Support for Xpress BIOS Rescue
  4. Support for Download Center
  5. Support for Xpress Install
  6. Support for Xpress Recovery2
  7. Support for EasyTune
    * Available functions in EasyTune may differ by motherboard model.
  8. Support for Smart 6™
  9. Support for eXtreme Hard Drive (X.H.D)
  10. Support for ON/OFF Charge
  11. Support for Cloud OC
  12. Support for 3TB+ Unlock
  13. Support for TouchBIOS
  14. Support for Q-Share
Bundle Software
  1. Norton Internet Security (OEM version)
Operating System
  1. Support for Microsoft® Windows 7/Vista/XP
Form Factor
  1. XL-ATX Form Factor; 32.4cm x 25.3cm

 

BIOS

Gigabyte has finally answered many owner’s calls with implementing a UEFI mouse-supported BIOS. They have went all out as well as the BIOS looks pretty good, is easy to navigate, and feels like a finished product. The options available here are enough to keep even the most hardcore overclocker busy for days and allow you to get that last MHz or point, or millisecond shaved off by tweaking.

One of the only drawbacks I noticed on this BIOS was the slow transition in a field when using the keyboard. For example, if I wanted to manually type in the multiplier of 45, it takes around five seconds for the field to be available and my number ’4′ to populate the field. However once you have used the keyboard, all manual entries on the page are instant as expected.

Let’s take a look at the main screens on the BIOS:

UD7 Bios - M.I.T

UD7 BIOS - M.I.T

UD7 Bios - System

UD7 BIOS - System

UD7 Bios - Bios Features

UD7 BIOS - BIOS Features

UD7 Bios - Peripherals

UD7 BIOS - Peripherals

UD7 Bios - Power Management

UD7 BIOS - Power Management

We will dig just a bit deeper and show the overclocking screens just to give you a bit of an idea of the options available. We could bore you for days with all the BIOS screens, but these should be enough to entice you.

BIOS - Advanced Frequency

BIOS - Advanced Frequency

BIOS - Advanced Frequency - Advanced CPU

BIOS - Advanced Frequency (Advanced CPU)

BIOS - Advanced Memory

BIOS - Advanced Memory

BIOS - Advanced Memory - Timings

BIOS - Advanced Memory (Timings)

Here are some additional BIOS screenshots of the voltage options. Notice there is a 3D section as well. The 3D Power area is the same as the windows based software, 3D Power, as you will see below and allows you to change PWM frequencies, voltage and current limits of CPU, PWM, IMC, etc.

BIOS - Advanced Voltage (Main)

BIOS - Advanced Voltage

BIOS - Advanced Voltage (3D Power)

BIOS - Advanced Voltage (3D Power)

BIOS - Advanced Voltage (CPU)

BIOS - Advanced Voltage (CPU)

BIOS - Advanced Voltage (DRAM)

BIOS - Advanced Voltage (DRAM)

Overclocking Software

There really isn’t much that has changed with Gigabyte Easy Tune 6 software though it has clearly been updated to the platform, but the look and layout will be reassuringly familiar for those that have used ET6 in the past. You can go quick and easy with the quick boost buttons, or go down and dirty with all the details available to change at your finger tip.

Easy Tune 6

Easy Tune 6

Easy Tune 6 - Frequency

Easy Tune 6 - Frequency

Easy Tune 6 - Ratio

Easy Tune 6 - Ratio

Easy Tune 6 - Voltage

Easy Tune 6 - Voltage

Something new with this generation of board and bios is the 3D Power Power Management software. This software gives you windows based control over items like CPU, VTT, IMC, and DDR PWM frequencies, voltage response, over voltage protection, load line calibration and phase control. Those are tools that usually are reserved for the BIOS so this is nice to see available in a windows environment.

3D Power

3D Power

3D Power - Frequency (Main)

3D Power - Frequency (Main)

3D Power - Frequency (CPU)

3D Power - Frequency (CPU)

3D Power - Voltage (Main)

3D Power - Voltage (Main)

3D Power - Voltage (LLC)

3D Power - Voltage (LLC)

3D Power - Voltage (OVP)

3D Power - Voltage (OVP)

3D Power - Voltage (Turbo)

3D Power - Voltage (Turbo)

3D Power - Phase

3D Power - Phase

3D Power - Phase (CPU)

3D Power - Phase (CPU)

Overclocking

Test Setup

Test bench

Test bench

After all was said and done I was able to achieve a rock solid 4.8 GHz with my setup without pushing completely unreasonable voltages. Now, if you look at the screenshot you may question that assertion and I don’t blame you. Those are pretty high voltages and only for benching. I was able to lower it later to 1.46 V (from voltage read points). This may be an uncomfortable voltage to some, so at 4.5 GHz I managed 1.40 V which probably seems reasonable to most. Getting there was actually pretty easy, but getting past 4.949 GHz seemed impossible with this CPU and/or cooling or motherboard. I hard locked no matter what at that speed. I’ve been told that to really see how fast these chips go, you should take them cold. This isn’t like the Sandy Bridge days (2600k) where seeing a flashing cursor told you a bad multiplier is there on ambient temperatures. We have seen at least a couple of these things hit 5.7 GHz which isn’t too shabby with a 6 core/12 thread setup. Most seem to hit around 5.2-5.4 GHz it seems, and under cryogenic conditions. I would imagine reasonable overclocks for these chips to be in the 4.2-4.6 GHz range with proper cooling.

Using the buttons on the motherboard was my method of clocking and it worked quite well up until the bitter end (limit) of this chip. You will notice next to the power button is a “gear” button that changes the MHz increments from 1 to 0.1 MHz. This was a really nice feature to have when pushing the absolute limit or just some on the fly clocking for specific sections inside benchmarks.

One other item I do want to mention is the vdrop/vdroop on this board. It’s significant… at least on this particular sample. For example I set 1.50 V in bios and get an idle of 1.45 V then on load it drops down to 1.41 V. Make sure you are checking voltages using the supplied read points so that you know the actual voltages.

Check out the numbers below.. look at how the 6c/12t monster eats up Wprime!

Super Pi 1M @ 4.8GHz

Super Pi 1M @ 4.8GHz

Super Pi 32M

Super Pi 32M @ 4.8Ghz

Wprime 32M/1024M @ 4.8Ghz

Wprime 32M/1024M @ 4.8Ghz

Pifast

Pifast @ 4.8Ghz

You can see below that AIDA64 and their memory bench are single threaded and are not showing the bandwidth possible with quad channel RAM; the same goes for Maxxmem2. However, Maxxmem2 multi goes up to triple channel and shows the scaling that way. I guess Maxxmem2 and other apps need an update to see quad channel do its thing. I wont spend a lot of time discussing quad channel as for the most part, little real world applications require the sort of bandwidth that quad channel is capable of. All one needs to know is its there, and most IMC’s on this chip (and the 3960X) are really solid pushing clocks to 2400 MHz and up.

Memory Benchmarks

Memory Benchmarks

Conclusion

When you have what is considered a high-end board your expectations are pretty high as to what you can achieve. Sadly I wasn’t able to break my personal goal of 5 GHz with this board, but rumor has it this may be temperature related (even though it was a pretty hard wall at 4.949 GHz even at idle). Personally, I’m thinking it might be that and a little more quality time is needed with myself and the platform. Locking down a 4.5 GHz 24/7 overclock though was pretty easy to accomplish though. Soon I will take this thing cold and see what the chip and board really have to offer… as really that is what its made for.

Finally, Gigabyte has brought a UEFI BIOS to the people. This BIOS looks great and has plenty of options to squeeze every MHz or second out of your overclock. The 3D Power options in windows are a great addition to have when pushing overclocks and wanting to make adjustments from the OS. Welcome aboard the UEFI BIOS train Gigabyte… a lot of people have been waiting!

The features of this board such as the improved audio chip, Intel based NIC, to the formidable power delivery, and board voltage read points and clock speed buttons, make this a board that should please a wide variety of enthusiasts.  Coming in at $369.99 at Newegg, it’s not a cheap board, but then again, neither is the rest of the X79 lineup. But this motherboard seems to have what it takes to get the job done.

~Earthdog

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Discussion
  1. Could someone confirm if this board does x16-x8-x16 in 3-way SLI? Their own manual has conflicting information about this:

    http://www.overclockers.com/forums/showthread.php?t=695763

    ^- details of the conflicts.
    My favorite X79 mobo by far. Too bad they are all already sold. These were made in extremely limited numbers from what I understand.

    The LLC / vdroop is perfect on this board from what I have found. setting 1.45 in bios nets a 1.45 v load under load and idle
    EarthDog
    Yep. That is the point of those buttons. They do not work in the bios I wouldnt imagine (havent tried).


    That is very cool indeed.
    EarthDog
    As far as the buttons go, It was easier than software, yes....and they work quite well.

    After going sort of cold (terrible SS that barely kept it sub zero at idle) I was able to push through that 5Ghz wall and sit at 5.2Ghz. It needs more cold!!


    I haven't had a chance to read the review fully but can you utilize those buttons with the OS booted?
    As far as the buttons go, It was easier than software, yes....and they work quite well.

    After going sort of cold (terrible SS that barely kept it sub zero at idle) I was able to push through that 5Ghz wall and sit at 5.2Ghz. It needs more cold!!