Gigabyte 990FXA-UD7 Rev 1.1 Reviewformerstaff - September 24, 2012
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Finally out of the box, we get a look at one of the sexier looking motherboards in recent memory. One thing I like about this board is it is a geniune flat black, unlike so many of the others out there that are intended to be black but actually look brown if viewed in anything over a ten watt bulb. The most prominent visual feature of the UD7 is the beautifully constructed and finished heat sinks.The northbridge and southbridge are connected via a black chrome-looking flattened heatpipe and are more than adequate for cooling the lessening requirements of the north and south chips. The UD7 is part of the Gigabyte "Ultra Durable 3" series that boasts twice the amount of copper incorporated into the PCB for better cooling, better efficiency, lower EMI, lower resistance, and, ultimately, better overclocking. One of the first things I noticed is that while it is listed as an ATX form factor in the manual, it is in fact actually an E-ATX board, measuring in at 12" x 10.35".
The UD7 has six double spaced PCIe rev. 2.0 slots, which facilitates native quad SLI and Crossfire support. When employing quad GPU capabilities, the PCIEx16_1 shares bandwidth with the PCIEx8_1 slots and the PCIEx16_2 shares bandwidth with the PCIEx8_2 slots for x8/x8/x8/x8 operation when installing four cards. Fear not though, you will not lose performance running your GPUs in x8 mode in PCIe 2.0 slots. I have been using this board myself in Quadfire configuration for the better part of a year now and it has operated flawlessly. Below you can also see an ATXP 5v HDD type power connection mounted next to the SATA ports on the right side of the board. This is a supplemental power connection needed for running more than two graphics cards. I have had a long discussion with an upper tier tech at Gigabyte about this motherboard and specifically the actual function and necessity of this additional power source. He assured me that it is important in maintaining stability. This makes logical sense as three or four 250W GPUs all starting in 3D mode at the same time can be a shock to the system. So if you like to take part in triple or quad GPU insanity as I do, sleeve up an HDD power cable and plug it in.
A look at the UD7's socket area with the AM3+ (also known as AM3b) telltale black color. It is standard AMD socket design with pin style mechanics, tension plate, and lever. The pin holes on the AM3+ have been made 11% larger (from .45mm to .51mm) to help with mismatch and bent pin problems during installation of the CPU.The older Phenom IIs work in the AM3+ socket as well. Surrounding the socket area and on the rest of the board Gigabyte uses 50,000 hour Japanese solid capacitors and all Ferrite chokes. Gigabyte also uses "Driver MOSFETs" that achieve higher power transfer and increased efficiency at higher frequencies.
The UD7 uses an 8+2 power phase design for more stable overclocking with eight phases being used for the CPU, one phase for the RAM, and one phase to the HT reference and hyper-transports. To the right of the AM3+ socket are the four dual channel memory DIMMs. The UD7 has support for DDR3 2000(O.C.)/1866/1600/1333/1066MHz memory modules. Support for 1866MHz memory does require an AM3+ CPU be installed, however. The UD7 will support up to 32GB of system memory, and while that may be testing the limits of the memory controller, I have been able to maintain a stable 5.0GHz+ overclock while running 16GB of system RAM in my own machine.
To the right of the memory DIMMs is the 24-pin power connector. This is one of three places on the UD7 where power is supplied power. Tucked just behind the connector are over voltage control ICs. Below this is a nice feature for overclockers during the building and testing process in the form of a trio of buttons. A power button, clear CMOS, and reset button are nicely located for easy access. This location for these buttons was the result of good engineering during the layout of the UD7. These buttons are often found at the bottom edge of the board below the last PCIe slot making them covered up by the bottom graphics card and useless if you are building that triple or quad GPU monstrosity.
The back panel connectivity on the UD7 is very good. On the back I/O panel you get connections for one PS/2 keyboard/mouse port, an optical S/PDIF Out connector, a coaxial S/PDIF Out connector, IEEE 1394a port, seven USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, one eSATA/USB combo connector, an eSATA 6Gb/s connector, RJ-45 port, and six audio jacks. Tucked behind the back panel is the 8-pin CPU power connector for the UD7.
Along the bottom left quadrant of the UD7 we spot one red colored USB connector. This is the connector that supports the Gigabyte "on/off" feature. This feature allows for up to three times the normal voltage for the USB ports for what Gigabyte claims is up to 40% faster charging time with devices that support it. To the left we have a pair of standard USB ports, one of the four fan headers on the UD7, a 1394 Firewire port, an S/PDIF port, and an audio port. Above the audio port we can see the VIA VT6308 Firewire controller. Directly above this we spot the ALC889 108dB signal to noise HD Dolby audio chip. I use this machine for gaming as well as music and have really fallen in love with the sound this offers. It is really quite excellent. In the second close up image you can see the "Rev 1.1" in the lower corner. Later in the review I will explain why this is important and what a huge difference it makes to serious overclockers over the 1.0 version of this board.
In the bottom right quadrant of the board we spy the front panel connector with a clear CMOS jumper above, TPM (Trusted Platform Module), and the 20-pin USB 3.0 header. On the right edge is the system CMOS battery, a system fan header, and the built-in debug LED display that will give you an error code when startup problems arise. Above this you can see the dual BIOS chips. The UD7 employs a dual BIOS system that will start the second backup BIOS should the primary one become corrupt, allowing the user to successfully re-flash the primary BIOS, which will then resume control.
Turning to the SATA capabilities of the UD7 there are eight 6Gb/s SATA ports available. Six of them are controlled by the 950 southbridge and provide support for RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 10, and JBOD. Two of the SATA ports (the gray) are controlled by the Marvell 88SE9172 controller that supports RAID 0 and RAID 1. Adding the two Marvell eSATA ports on the back panel gives a total of ten SATA 6Gb/s ports availible with the UD7.
Click on if you will and we'll have a look at some of the utilities that the Gigabyte 990-FXA-UD7 has to offer to help you navigate and get the most from the flagship offering.