Intel Z77 Chipset motherboard Reviewccokeman -
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Much like the MSI offering the Gigabyte Z77X-UD3H is prepped and ready to run the latest processors from Intel including both 2nd and 3rd generation offerings when they become available. Gigabyte's Z77X-UD3H features a long list of features to take advantage of Intel's latest technologies. There is a new 3D Power all-digital power system, a new 3D Dual UEFI BIOS, Ultra Durable 4 technology that includes protection against power failure, ESD discharges, humidity effects and high operating temperatures. The font panel of the packaging highlights these items as a point of difference along with the support for Lucid Logix Virtu MVP technology, PCIe 3.0 readiness, onboard mSATA connection, SLI support and the use of a glass fabric PCB base with dual 2oz copper layers. The back side of the package goes into detail on the 3D Power implementation the 3D BIOS UEFI feature and the Ultra Durable 4 feature set. Also highlighted is the onboard mSATA connection used with Intel's Smart Response Technology for an up to 4x performance boost compared to just a standard HDD. Inside the package you get what traditionally is offered with the accessory bundle atop a cardboard divider to prevent shipping damage to the PCB.
The accessory bundle consists of the documentation and the hardware. Included are a manual, quick start guide, driver disk, SLI bridge connection, SATA 6Gb/s and 3Gb/s drive cables and an I/O shield designed to minimize EFI interference to the devices connected to the I/O panel including the graphics outputs.
Gigabyte's Z77X-UD3H is a full-sized ATX form factor motherboard designed to be used with Intel's 2nd and 3rd generation processors using the LGA 1155 socket. Gigabyte uses their new Ultra Durable 4 build philosophy with the board that improves reliability and durability. Gigabyte starts at the base with a new glass fiber weave design that minimizes the gaps in the weave preventing moisture transmission. Then it tops this substrate with dual copper layers on each side of the PCB for a cooler running board along with lower signal impedance. On top of the substrate are the solid Japanese capacitors, Low RDS on MOSFETs and ferrite core chokes. Chips used on Ultra Durable 4 boards are chosen for higher ESD resistance than on non-Ultra Durable 4 boards and are finally equipped with anti surge ICs that prevent surges from taking out the motherboard. Each USB port is equipped with its own fuse block to prevent unwanted USB port failure. Just another cool part of the Ultra Durable 4 design. The back side of the PCB contains little other than the socket retention mechanism back plate. One thing to notice is that there is no heat sink across the top part of the power circuit.
I/O connectivity consists of a Combo PS/2 port, a pair of USB 3.0 ports, VGA and DVI-D connectors that supoport Lucid Logix Virtu software and switchable graphics, an HDMI 1.4 port that supports Dolby TruHD and Dolby DTS HDMaster audio, a DisplayPort, Optical S/PDIF output, four more USB 3.0 that are Via VL 800 controlled for a total of 6 on the I/O panel, dual eSATA ports, a single Atheros based Gigiabit RJ-45 LAN and the VIA based 7.1 HD sound. Expansion capabilities include three 16x PCIe 3.0-capable slots that run at 16x with one slot populated and 8x with two populated. Three PCIe 1x slots share bandwidth with the bottom 16x slot that runs at 4x. A single legacy PCI slot is available. The PCIe slots run in PCIe 2.0 mode when a 2nd generation Intel Core series processor is installed. Just behind the top 1x PCIe slot is an mSATA header that will allow an mSATA-based storage device to be mounted on board to take advantage of Intel's Smart Response and Rapid Start technology.
Connectivity along the bottom of the PCB flows from left to right including the front panel audio, S/PDIF out, TPM header, three USB 2.0 headers, a PWM controlled system fan header, Dual BIOS switch, front panel connectivity and a debug LED. By flipping the BIOS switch you gain access to the second BIOS rom in case of a corrupted BIOS or bad flash you can recover.
Up the right side of the PCB are the SATA connection points featuring ports controlled by the Z77 PCH. There are four SATA 3Gb/s ports and two SATA 6Gb/s ports on board that support RAID. Above the SATA ports is a SATA power connection used to provide additional power to the PCIe bus when multiple graphics cards are installed. Next up is the 24 pin ATX main power connection the voltage measurement points, power, reset and CMOS clear switches. The large Power switch lights up so it is visible in the chassis. Memory support for the Z77X-UD3H is up to 32GB 1600MHz in dual channel configurations. The voltage measurement points are just soldered pads on the board but are better than nothing for a quick verification of the voltage being applied. There are a total of seven voltages that can be checked including PCH, Vcore, Vdimm and CPU VTT.
Across the top of the PCB there is not much outside of the CPU fan header, power circuit and 8 pin EATX auxiliary power connection. The LGA 1155 socket supports both 2nd and 3rd generation Core series processors. The socket retention mechanism is done in black chrome and fits the look of the board. The area around the socket is full on the left side next to the power circuit with ferrite chokes and Solid Japanese capacitors. Not so much so that it is a challenge to mount a cooling solution but more so than many current boards.
PCB cooling on the GA-Z77X-UD3H is minimal by comparison to the other boards in this comparison with a single heatsink over the VRM circuit and a passive heat sink over the Z77 PCH much like just about every Intel based board over the past year. The only concern is the MOSFETs over the top of the CPU socket not having any cooling. Nothing blew in my overclocking testing so It must be able to handle some thermal load without reaching critical mass.
So far it looks like each of these manufacturers has a little something extra to bring to the table in terms of feature set. MSI has Military Class III and Gigabyte with Ultra Durable 4 and their new 3D Power all digital power supply system to supply digitally controlled current to the CPU, Memory, Intel HD Graphics engine and the CPU memory controller. Again how will this point of difference play out when it comes to overclocking?