Table of Contents
With the recent launch on Intel’s second generation CPU architecture named “Sandy Bridge”, we have seen quite a few P67 motherboards hit the market. Gigabyte has not disappointed us with their flagship motherboard, the Gigabyte P67A-UD7 which will be the focus of this review. The board follows similar nomenclature as the X58 platform allocating the flagship the “UD7” code at the end of the product name. This board is targeted to cater for the needs of the “enthusiast” class of overclockers in our computer hardware community.
The main focus of this review will be to look at the overclocking capabilities of the board with an unlocked i7-2600k CPU. As an enthusiast and keen bencher, a board in this class should have the power and kick to get the most out of the high-end CPU’s, including the ability to get the most out of the benchmarks you run.
I have worked with many Intel chipsets ranging from P35 all the way to X58 and the recent P55 series, however this will be my first experience on the new Sandy Bridge platform, makes me very excited and anxious at the same time. Initial information brought some reservations to the overclocking community as far as overclocking capabilities of the Sandy Bridge platform compared to the 1st generation CPU’s on the market.
The Box and Contents
First glance at the retail box reveals a new color scheme replacing the blue and white we got to know across the Gigabyte P45/P55/X58 series boards. The new graphite and black accented with gold color scheme lends itself to a very rugged and bold military look and feel, personally I like the change and is a good fit accompanying the 2nd generation of the Intel’s i7 series CPU’s and chipset.
The front end of the box as well as the sides reveal the new Intel logo for the second generation architecture. The new chipset code is also represented in the name of this board, the P67 chipset. The box cover also gives you a glimpse of what is most important to enthusiast overclocker, the socket area featuring the heat sinks for the PWM and chipset. Other details that catch your eye is the words “unlocked performance” which plays a big role in this new platform as will be revealed later. It must be noted that Gigabyte made sure the buyer has the right socket class (LGA 1155) in mind and that is printed in red letter on the bottom right end, just in case you get mixed up by all the various Intel chipset sockets.
The inner flap of the box is covered with some of the key features of the motherboard, including but not limited to, 2 x Copper PCB which has been a main feature of Gigabyte boards for some time now, 24 phase power which is to be expected in a top end board, the 3-3-3 peripheral feature representing USB 3.0, USB Power 3.0 and SATA 3.0. Then other features such as 3-way SLI and Crossfire which comes in very handy when running multiple video cards.
On the right flap you get a closeup of the socket area heatsinks, the chokes that are 24 in count featuring the 24 phase, last but not least to boost the excitement before you rip the box open…a window where you can see the CPU socket and surrounding areas. The motherboard is securely packed in a separate box with a transparent plastic cover for your viewing pleasure, also keeps all the dust out while you busy setting up your bench rig.
After taking the board out of the box appreciate the new bold and rugged look, The PCB color has also changed from the traditional blue to a black to match the RAM and PCI slots. What is also noticeable at first is that the heatsinks fins are much thicker than previous boards, it does raise a question in my mind about heat transfer surface area being reduced, we will see if it impacts the overclockability of the board. Looking across the motherboard will leave any enthusiast out there satisfied that all the necessary features have been packed on a motherboard of this class, more later on what each feature entails when we zoom into the different areas of the board.
There is another box under the motherboard box that unfold and contain the accessories that one would expect to accompany a retail box. Most overclockers do not even bother opening the bags as all we interested is the board and how good it can overclock. For completeness sake I took a picture showing the board manual, installation guide, various SATA cables (with power cables), a SLI flexible bridge as well as a bridge for Tri-SLI, the I/O plate, driver and utilities CD and a couple of stickers to put on your case or bench rig.
What I also noticed was a separate sheet with another clear warning that this board will only host LGA 1155 CPU, not 1156 so the user will not get confused.
Specifications and Features
The UD7 offers all the bells and whistles one would expect from a high-end board together with a smorgasbord of special features to compliment the diversity of the Sandy Bridge platform. Personally as a bencher I’m usually only interested in the overclocking features of a board. This review however has drawn my attention closer to what sits deeper in the layers of features and I must say it impressed me how much functionality Gigabytes packed into this board.
I will not address all the features as it would add another 10 pages to this reviews and we all want to see how the board overclocks, so I will touch on the special features only. Here is a rundown of some of top features (paraphrased from Gigabyte):
New VRD 12 (Voltage Regulator Down) Specification Design
The P67A-UD7 is designed with Intel’s latest Voltage Regulator Down specification (VRD 12) using Intel qualified Intersil PWM controllers that offer SerialVID (SVID) for transferring power management information between the processor and voltage regulator controller. This allows more robust and efficient signaling control between the CPU and PWM controller, hence delivering a more energy efficient platform.
Maximum CPU Power Delivery
The UD7’s power-train includes Gigabyte’s unique CPU power design, it promises to deliver first class system performance and stability. With a full 24 phase power layout, Dual CPU Power and Power Phase Boost with Multi-gear Switching, this leading motherboard CPU power technology is incorporated in the UD7. It will be even be included in their mainstream motherboard lineup instead of only being available on extreme models, as it has been in the past.
Dual CPU Power
GIGABYTE’s proprietary Dual CPU Power Technology allows CPU VRM power phases to split evenly into 2 sets of power engines that operate in tandem. This allows 1 set of power phases to rest while the other is active as opposed to a traditional power design where all the power phases are always active. As such, the Dual CPU Power effectively halves the amount of work done by each set of power phases to significantly increase motherboard durability and reliability.
By incorporating the MOSFETs and driver IC in accordance with the Intel Driver MOSFET specification, the GIGABYTE 6 series motherboards allow higher power transfer and increased efficiency at higher switching frequencies to satisfy the power requirements of modern processors. Driver MOSFETs also help to reduce VRM real estate requirements for a cleaner, less cluttered CPU zone.
GIGABYTE DualBIOS™ with 3TB+ HDD Support
GIGABYTE DualBIOS is a patented technology that automatically recovers BIOS data when the main BIOS has crashed or failed. Featuring 2 physical BIOS ROMs integrated on board, GIGABYTE DualBIOS™ allows quick and seamless recovery from BIOS damage or failure due to viruses or improper BIOS updating. In addition, GIGABYTE DualBIOS™ now supports booting from hard drives that are 3TB (terabytes) or more without the need for partitioning, and effectively provides future-proofing for higher volume single drive data storage.
2 x Copper PCB Design
The UD7 also, as we got to know with many Gigabyte boards, have the 2x copper design. Instead of the the 1 ounce copper layers used by many board manufacturers, Gigabyte use 2 oz copper layers in the PCB design. It not only reduces the PCB electrical waste by 50%, it also reduces the temperature around the board critical components. This in turns leads to better power efficiency as well as improved overclocking potential as we all know heat is one of the biggest enemies while overclocking.
Support for 2nd Generation Intel® Core™ Processors
The UD7, with it’s industry-leading CPU power delivery, is the right choice for the new 2ndGeneration Intel Core processors (socket LGA1155). These Sandy Bridge micro architecture with Intel AVX instructions, optimized Turbo Boost and Hyper-Threading technologies that promise huge leaps in floating point intensive application performance. The UD7 offer an additional performance boost by unlocking the CPU through the user friendly GIGABYTE EasyTune 6 overclocking utility on the fly from within the Windows environment.
High Performance Data Storage
With more USB 3.0 ports than ever before, 10 in total on this board, it offer extremely fast connectivity for portable flash and external backup drives (up to 10x USB 2.0 speed). For a significant performance boost during daily operations, you can configure your PC with a SATA 6Gbps hard drive as your operating system and application drive. Combined with SATA 6Gbps, GIGABYTE XHD Technology offers a performance boost of up to a theoretical 4x that of SATA 3Gbps through a simple and intuitive utility, allowing users to boot-up their systems and launch applications faster than they ever thought possible.
Multiple Video Card Support
The board features four PCI-Express slots and accommodates up to three video cards allowing you to run CrossFireX or 3-way SLI. Running two cards will utilize the full x 16 bandwidth whereas three cards will drop to x 8 in each of the lanes. The presence of a NF200 chip however on-board result in a nice boost in graphics performance allowing three x8 lanes when running three video cards. Sandy Bridge native only has one x16 lane and can accommodate two x 8 lanes when two cards are present, three cards would results in x4 bandwidth in the 3rd lane (slot).
Gigabyte P67A-UD7 Motherboard Tour
Looking across the board from the lower right side features four RAM slots in pairs of tow indicating that dual channel RAM resides on this board as is the case with the P67 chipset platform.
The following specifications accompany the RAM configuration on this board.
- 4 x 1.5V DDR3 DIMM sockets supporting up to 32 GB of system memory. Using 1.65v DDR3 memory modules that work on your X58 or P55 board work just fine as well, no need to buy extra RAM for Sandy Bridge.
- Dual channel memory architecture
- Support for DDR3 2133/1866/1600/1333/1066 MHz memory modules
- Support for non-ECC memory modules
- Support for Extreme Memory Profile (XMP) memory modules
Moving the view from above the lower-left shows up the polished blue Power button which is a must for any overclocker as we hardly use enclosures to host the motherboard. Northwest of the power button is the light blue reset button, I bit small and hidden to my liking as it is used quite often when running in overclocking issues. To the left is another button colored black which is the reset CMOS button, also a bit hidden but very handy when you run into issues with overclocking that calls for a “clear BIOS” situation.
Zooming in on the CPU socket area shows us the two sets of heatsinks covering the rows of MOSFETS north and east of the socket. the third heatsink cools the PCH or “Northbridge” area is is more commonly known, not that the Sandy Bridge platform has a NB. The shiny black blocks or chokes in front of the MOSFET sinks represent the 24 power phases, yes I counted them and there are indeed 24. The socket clamp mechanism looks identical to the P55 CPU’s as does the socket size. The CPU heatsink mounting holes’ spacing fortunately is exactly the same as the P55 sockets so no need to buy different back-plate for your favorite CPU heatsink. Around the socket are logos for CrossFireX and SLI verifying multi GPU capability.
Moving to the lower left side of the board we find four SATA III (6gb/s) ports and four SATA II (3gb/s) ports. The four black SATA ports to the left of the SATA stack are the SATA II ports, and the black set to the far right are SATA III ports. The white set of are SATA III ports have eXtreme Hard Drive (X.H.D.) support, allowing for faster performance and easier RAID 0 configuration. that gives us a total of 8 SATA ports which should be ample for the enthusiast as well as extreme benchers and gamers out there.
The UD7 has two 32 MB flash BIOS chips which come in very handy when corrupting the BIOS while flashing or overclocking. They both are marked with blue dots and are surface mounted. BIOS 1 carries the default bios and acts as backup when the secondary bios gets corrupted, the default BIOS is then loaded automatically into the secondary BIOS. This feature was somewhat annoying at first as whenever the overclock would fail you would loose whatever bios you flashed onto the board. Once I flashed the F7d bios onto both the primary and secondary chip that issue was resolved.
Sandy Bridge CPU Overclocking
The new Intel architecture also brings a new set of overclocking parameters which in many ways is simpler, yet restrictive as the base clock (bclk) is pretty much locked in around 100 Mhz. All you really have to play with as far as overclocking is the multiplier. You can still increase the bclk but is is very limited and from what I’ve seem 107 Mhz is about the limit.
Only the “k” versions of the Sandy Bridge CPU’s that was launched early January have unlocked multipliers i.e. i7-2500k and i7-2600k CPU, the other CPU’s (i7-2400 and i7-2300 CPU’s) have locked multipliers so overclocking is very limited.
This leads us to using voltages to aid overclocking without going into too much detail. From my experience the only two voltages that is worth moving is v-core and vdimm (RAM voltage), manipulating the other voltages causes 9 out of 10 times instability of some sorts.
Increasing PCIe frequency Vtt (QPI/DDR voltage) which is a great overclocking aid when pushing bclk on the 1366 chipset is totally useless with Sandy bridge.
In summary if you want to overclock to a decent margin a “k” CPU is a must and keep your settings simple, don’t fiddle too much with the voltages, if you keep the CPU cool and push the v-core little by little you will be surprised at how far you will get, more on that later.
First glance at the UD7’s BIOS when I pressed the “Del” button was a bit of a disappointment as I expected to see the new fancy UEFI BIOS interface which was coming with the Sandy Bridge platform. Instead, the BIOS has the same blue background with white lettering any typical BIOS has. Most of the other makers of P67 boards provided the user with the EFI BIOS interface, I believe that Gigabyte may release one in a future BIOS update. Also, the two onboard 32 Mb BIOS flash chips can accommodate the new UEFI BIOS package, further hinting that EFI may soon be on it’s way to this board.
Only two screens carry the main differences related to the Sandy Bridge architecture from an enthusiast point of view, those are located on the “Advanced CPU Core features” and “Advanced Voltage Settings” screens. This is where you set the key parameters to increase CPU speed and voltages that feed the CPU, RAM and chipsets. the memory BIOS screen looks pretty much the same as any 1156 or 1366 chipset BIOS screen.
I can pretty much guarantee that if you apply the above settings to your 2600k or even 2500k it will yield a stable 4.5 Ghz on air which is what I run my 24/7 setup at. You will notice that most voltages are on auto and I found that to be the most stable. Once you get above 5 Ghz you will need to enable PLL over-voltage to allow booting at 51 multis and above.
|Motherboard –||Gigabyte P67A-UD7 (rev B2)|
|CPU –||Intel i7-2600k|
|Graphics Card –||Gigabyte GTX 580|
|Drive –||OCZ Revo 50 gb SSD|
|RAM –||Corsair 2 x 2gb DDR3-2000 GT|
|OS –||Windows 7 Ultimate 64|
|Cooling –||Air (Thermaltake Frio)|
The main aim for the test setup was to see how far I could push the 2600k, as this is an enthusiasts board for me it was all about overclocking potential. Overclocking the 2600k initially was really easy until I got to 5 Ghz, after that is became quite a challenge and I had to try a few BIOS versions to get it above 5.2 Ghz. Just increasing the v-core and adjusting the RAM voltage appropriately was adequate to get stable at 5 Ghz on air, which for a 4-core HT CPU is pretty good. From what I’ve seen 5 Ghz has become the norm and most average 2600k chips would get to 5 Ghz on good air/water cooling. So I wanted more and kept pushing the CPU. The board proved to be rather inconsistent as far as stability during the overclocking process and became quite frustrating. I did settle at the F7d BIOS which carried the CPU to a fantastic 5.5 Ghz final overclock. Over the past few weeks I have heard positive feedback on the F8x BIOS, but I have yet to test it myself.
The efficiency of the Sandy Bridge platform across the 2D and 3D is just purely remarkable and I was really impressed how the CPU even on air could surpass benchmarks of Gulftown CPU’s at much higher speeds. Below is where I ended up with overclocking the 2600k on air…not bad for a quad core CPU:
In order to get above a 50 multi enabling the PLL over-voltage feature is a must, a lot of boards launched without this feature in the BIOS and most CPU’s got stuck around 5 Ghz. Fortunately Gigabyte’s newer BIOS’ came with this feature and getting above 5 Ghz was no issue at all. I did not spend a lot of time trying to push the base clock, as I mentioned previously overclocking and increasing CPu speed is mainly dependant on increasing the multiplier, all the “k” version CPU’s have unlock multi’s. I topped off around 104 bclk before it got too unstable.
It has to be said that Sandy Bridge chips all have a “multi wall”, and cooling does not seem to make a difference. So if your CPU cannot go beyond a certain multi on air/water putting it under extreme cold will maybe gain you one or, at the max, two extra mutlis, in most cases going cold does not help at all.
RAM overclocking was not much better than the X58 or P55 platforms I’ve worked with before, I could get 933 Mhz CL7 without issues using the available RAM:Bclk multi, above 1000 Mhz I ran into some stability issues, I would say that that can be contributed to the RAM I used which is part of a tri-channel kit and more suited for X58 boards. There are newer P67 RAM on the market now which is better suited for Sandy Bridge boards and should yield better results.
As far as temperature is concerned the platform does become unstable above 75° C which is quite a bit lower than the 1366 chipset threshold, about the same as the P55 platform. Keep the CPU below 65° C and you will have a good stable setup. The maximum voltage I applied was around 1.6v for short periods, it is high and I would certainly not recommend running that much as a 24/7 setup. I did make use of some cold air (in wall AC) to ensure the CPU endured the minimum amount of heat stress.
Summary and Conclusions
The Gigabyte P67A-UD7 certainly did not let me down as far as extracting the most from the i7-2600k. The board has the muscle to overclock the CPU to 5.5 Ghz on air which was way more than I expected. Overall the board is packed with all the latest features that one would expect from this high-end board. To summarize:
- Packaging and content top notch as always from gigabyte
- Has a very appealing robust military look
- Enough SATA 3 and USB 3 ports to hook up all your peripheral equipment
- 24 power phases giving you enough muscle to maximize your unlocked CPU potential
- Overclocking auto features across all the voltages yield the best results making it easy for the user
- The presence of a NF200 chip on-board allow for Tri-SLI and CrossFireX and accommodates three x8 lanes to operate, a big plus for the benchers and power gamers out there
- Lack of UEFI BIOS was the biggest disappointment, not a train wreck but would have been great, hopefully future Bios updates will include it
- Board was somewhat inconsistent with accepting overclocking settings out of the box until I flashed to a more stable BIOS (version F7d)
I would like to thank Gigabyte for the board and opportunity to review it.