GIGABYTE Z77X-UP7 Physical Review (Preview)
So there is no hiding the fact that all the manufacturers are bringing out their A-Game with the Z77 platform as Ivy Bridge is currently the platform to have if you want to compete in professional overclocking. Thus many manufacturers are bring out boards which have a rich history and a family tree as long as 5 generations ago. In my opinion the Z77X-UP7 is a mixture of the X58A-UD9 and the X58A-OC, two top notch boards GIGABYTE made during the X58 era, some say the best boards GIGABYTE has ever made. Well today I have something to show you, a board of mixture of both the OC board and the UD9, taking lessons from both and integrating them into a final product that actually has come to market. When many saw the Z77X-UP7 at Computex no one thought GIGABYTE could actually make it happen with its 32 phase power design, as the VRM costs as much to make as a mid-range ASRock board. On top of that GIGABYTE added full PLX bypass to re-route all lanes to a single slot or route them all to the PLX, in both cases providing the least amount of latency in single card or multi-card configurations, however requiring so many traces that the PCB had to add two more layers. Thus at launch we now have a 10 layer PCB, after 4 revisions GIAGBYTE has worked out many kinks to provide top notch memory overclocking with 4 DIMMs as well as top CPU overclocking ability and BCLK prowess. So today I will give you a first-hand physical review (preview) of the already famous Z77X-UP7.
The Box, Board, and Accessories:
Front is colorful, like an orange and black rainbow.
Back of the box is chock full of marketing, but it also looks pretty. Being so into the details, I always love artwork which conveys a large amount of information, diagrams like that for me are to die for. But hey, I am already carried away and we are only at the box!
More marketing. A lot of it is actually education on what all the features do and how they perform.
The board is inside a box, which is in a box, which is in a box with a handle.
Tons of SATA6GB/s cables(6 total), and a full eSATA6GB/s external kit which you have seen before if you read any of my G1 reviews.
Here we have GIGABYTE's top model WIFI/BT4 card(with both antennas and internal USB cable), as well as voltage read point connectors, and a I/O shield.
USB 3.0 front panel bay, as well as all the SLI bridge. 4-way included.
That picture doesn't do the board justice. It is even more gorgeous in person.
The back of the board even has a heatsink/retention bracket which sits on top of all the IR3550 powerstages and cools them all as well:
Here we have the backpanel.
- 6x USB 3.0
- Dual NIC (Intel & Atheros)
- S/PDIF Optical
- 7.1 Audio
The two USB 3.0 ports closest to the audio jacks are from Intel, the Intel NIC controls the RJ-45 port not on top of the Intel USB 3.0 ports. I always gets asked which are which, well now you know
Motherboard Layout and Design:
Yes it is a 10 layer 2oz copper PCB, yes that is a crap ton of layers, yes they are all needed.
The X58A-OC and the Z77X-UP7 share an e-ATX layout, in which they are slightly wider than normal ATX, but do not require any extra screws for mounting. SAme length as normal ATX to facilitate installation into the majority of cases. Can you see the inspiration?
From the upper left quadrant we have dual 8-pin 12vESP connectors which can provide up to 2Kw of power(as shown in the video). Ivy Bridge doesn't use that much power, but why not have the possibility just in case? People drive 6.3L V8 and never press full throttle, its called being a player. The heatsinks as you have noticed are optimized for cooling, they have many fins, and provide the best amount of cooling in the nicest possible fashion. Really a great mix of the X58A-UD9 heatsinks and those of the Z68/Z77 giga boards. The heatsinks did not provide any challenge when installing a pot or heatsinks.
Here we have a nice OC area. We have the OC-Touch which is one of the best features to ever be put on any motherboard. On the X79-UD7 many said it was the best feature that board had, well here it is only one of few features that make this board the monster that it is. We also have another switch that says LN2 next to it, that is for a slow-mode function where the board can fall into a failsafe 16x multiplier when the switch is flicked, and then go back to whatever multiplier you had set before, that is for capturing all the joy of your benchmarking endeavors.
Here we have a different angle of OC-Touch. The buttons nearest the DIMMs are for increasing the decreasing the multiplier by +/- 1 at a time. The buttons below do the same for the BCLK, however the gear button will allow you to change the BCLK in increments of 0.1mhz instead of 1mhz if it is engaged. You can also see the numerous voltage read points, this time with the connector spot, the connectors are provided, one for each if you wanted to read all the voltages at the same time (you just need a lot of multimeters).
Yet another angle of the board.
Here we have the lower right side of the board where the PCH is situated. The PCH powers the black SATA ports which are 3GB/s and the two white which are 6GB/s. The two gray ports are SATA6GB/s provided by two separate Marvell SE9172 controllers. You can also see an SATA power connector, that is for extra juice for the PCI-E slots for 4-way and 3-way. It isn't required, but rather recommended for multi-GPU overclocking.
Also the POST Code is situated here. The position isn't bad, but it could be better if it was up near the buttons.
You also see two more switches:
Dual BIOS Switch: This can switch between the main and backup BIOS
Dual BIOS Disable switch: This swith does exactly what you think it does, it disables the dual BIOS technology which is the reason behind long OC recovery. Disabling dual BIOS will make restart behavior consistent. When you see the POST code say "db" that is the dual BIOS error, this gets rid of that.
We also have two switches
Another angle of the SATA connectors.
Here we have the PCI-E slots and PLX bridge hidden under the heatsink where the old IOH used to go. The black slot is very self explanatory, it is the bypass lane which will disable all the other orange slots when a GPU is placed in it. There are also two 1x slots which are black and wired to the PCH.
Another shot of the heatsinks.
I think these heatsinks deserve their own little section.
The GIGABYTE letters here have a nice color of their own.
Here is the backside heatsinks that people complained about not having before, well they put it in here.
Ultra Durable written here again in orange.
The heatsinks and all the screws. Really a job well done.
Another angle of the fins.
Here you can see the thermal pads and paste used.
"We have to remove the heatsinks to see the real motherboard" -Steven B. (2010)
Look at how many phases can exist and still leave room for other things!
Here we have the 32 phase VRM which is made up of 32x IR3550 and some of the most shiny mirror finished inductors I have ever seen.
I made a diagram to show you exactly how the VRM is constructed. The IR3563A is an 8 phase PWM, it provides 8 PWM outputs which are then quadroupled by 8x IR3599 which are quadrouplers. They take 1 PWM input and make it 4 PWM outputs. Now the way this quadrupler works is pretty fancy, it can do 3 modes. First it can be disabled if the PWM turns off one of its phases then the quadrupler will shut down and so will 4 phases. Then it can operate normally in which every time the PWM fires at one of its channels(phases) then the quadroupler fires only 1 of its phases, the next cycle it will fire the second phase on the quadroupler, then the 3rd cycles it will fire the 3rd phase. In theory every full cycle only 8 IR3550 will be turned on, one from each IR3599, that would make this 32 phase VRM really a total of four full 8 phase VRMs. That is why the VRM can run very cool as you only heat up phases as needed. However there is one other mode of operation and that is when the IR3599 is told to turn on all of its phases, while doing that the PWM could also harness the power of all its phases and align all the channels and thus turn on all 32 IR3550 for a huge 32 phase VRM, that is how GIGABYTE was able to pull 2000W of power. IR had told me at Computex that the UP7 would be able to have a giant 32 phase waveform, thus it is pretty big VRM and many would say overkill, however it also runs pretty cool for the amount of switching components available. In theory this is a good design for watercoolers who wont have any active cooling on the VRM, as this VRM can run without heatsinks as well and not get into any trouble. Now the quadroupler also cuts the max switching frequency in 1/4 of the original, however this isn't an issue as the IR3563A is capable of 2MHz according to IR, plus you don't' ever want to run the phases at anything over 300KHz anyways, which is what 1.2MHz effective at the PWM would produce.
IR3563A is a true 8+0 phase VRD12/12.5 certified DIGITAL PWM, a REAL DIGITAL PWM. This is IR's Latest and greatest, and has only been used on two other GIGABYTE boards before this one, each of those times in 8phase VRMs. The fact that everything in this VRM is made by IR except the PCB, the chokes, and the capacitors means that they all will work seamlessly and efficiently together. The best IR has to offer has been put on this motherboard.
Can you see me???
The chokes here are each capable of 30A, and they are a very nice ferrite SMD choke. SMD chokes are used here b/c of their size. The normal 60A Ultra Durable 5 chokes couldn't be used b/c of their size, however 30A is more than enough considering boards in this category from other top brands only can do about 35A. However here we have a ton more phases than any other z77 board.
A lot of backside IR3550.
IR3599 and IR3550 in an up-close shot.
An IR3570 is a 3+2 phase Digital PWM, here all 3 phases are used for the memory VRM, where GIGABYTE chose to use three IR3550, that is A LOT of power for the DIMMs.
The other +2 is routed for the iGPU.
Another IR3570 is routed to the VTT(VCCIO) and IMC(VCCSA) for independent control over each of those rails. They also use the IR3550.
Here is the last VRM I am going to show, it is used for the PEX8747 PCI-E switch chip, a single phase Richtek PWM and Rensas FETs.
Let me start off this section with the PCI-E Layout and Design.
The PEX8747 is a 48-port PCI-E switch with a buffer. Basically at IDF I met with PLX and they told me that the PEX8747 is NOT a MUX, instead they said it is a FIFO design switch which will route information as it is provided. It has a buffer for overflow which will happen is you have 32x ports downstream and 16x upstream, and that is what causes the delay. However this chip provides excellent performance with more than one GPU, and thus it is the chip of choice for this board and others like it as it is also PCI-E 3.0 certified. However the fact that it causes a small delay makes it undesirable for single card operation, that is why GIGABYTE decided to bypass all the PCI-E lanes to that single black slot.
You see so many PCI-E 3.0 2x quick switches, We have 16 of them in total, this is one of the reasons 10 layers had to be harnessed.
I have taken the time to draw out how it works. It is very simple, either put a card in the black slot or in any of the orange slots, but not in both.
You get the best of both worlds, as giving the PEX8747 less than 16x lanes will cause a greater delay, however giving it all the 16x lanes will give you the best multi-GPU performance. Giving all the lanes to the single slot for a single GPU is also the best you can do, this method just requires the highest amount of PCI-E lanes. Other than the single lane bypass, the layout is the same as the G1.Sniper 3 when it comes to operation modes.
Clock generator for the PEX8747.
Next we move to the PCH.
The Z77 PCH is a 6.7W part with 4 USB 3.0 ports and 8 PCI-E 2.0 lanes. It uses a DMI 2.0 4x uplink to the CPU.
ALC898 is a codec which is the best Realtek has to offer. It has 112dB SNR, and GIGABYTE has provided two DRV632 600ohm amplifiers for the green jack and internal header.
EtronTech EJ168A is a 2 port USB 3.0 controller which provides the bottom USB 3.0 header.
VIA VLI800 4-port USB 3.0 controller provides the 4 USB 3.0 ports on the back panel.
Intel NIC and Atheros NIC. Remember Intel is the top most port when the board is installed in a case.
Marvell SE9172, there are two of these for the two sets of gray SATA6GB/s internal connectors.
iTE8729F is a superIO for the fan control, voltage, and temperature monitoring. PS/2 stems from here.
Up close of the quick switches and the dual BIOS.
ASM1442 Digital video to DVI/HDMI level shifters provide the HDMI and DVI ports as the native video output is digital display port.
Texas Instruments serial port IC.
I got this memory in for this board:
Much more OCing to come, including memory. This board has a lot of nice potential I will display very soon. I will let these pictures end this preview.
In my opinion October is an excellent month to start selling the Z77X-UP7, GIGABYTE's flagship, ultimate overclocking beast.