Gigabyte's GA-MA785G-UD3H motherboard
Clinging to DDR2
Like the Asus EVO, Gigabyte's MA785G-UD3H is a full-size ATX board with dual PCIe x16 slots for CrossFire. The UD3H's slots even share the same x16/x4 lane configuration as the Asus board. And that's not all. Like the EVO, the UD3H has two ounces of copper spread between its circuit board layers. Solid-state capacitors carrying the same 50,000-hour rating as those on the Asus board can be found throughout, as well.
The UD3H is a little cheaper, though. At Newegg, it's currently selling for $10 less than the EVO.
A lower price tag suits the UD3H in part because it's equipped with DDR2 rather than DDR3 memory slots. This makes the board compatible with a range of older Socket AM2 and AM2+ processors that lack DDR3 memory controllers. DDR2 is slower than DDR3, of course, and the BIOS only supports memory DIMMs up to 1066MHz before you have to start cranking on the system's base clock. System memory speed is particularly important here because available memory bandwidth must be shared with the board's integrated Radeon. Unlike the EVO, which packs 128MB of DDR3-1333 sideport memory, the UD3H's graphics component doesn't have dedicated memory of its own.
I suppose since I called out the EVO for being brown, I should chime in on the UD3H's rather garish color scheme. The turquoisey-blue board is a given here, but the Technicolor array of nearly neon expansion ports and slots looks horribly tacky next to the more tasteful palettes used on some of Gigabyte's recent mid-range and high-end mobos. A little restraint goes a long way.
Those who prefer to treat their motherboards' integrated graphics components as backups rather than primary GPU options will be pleased to know that it's easy to pop one or two discrete graphics cards into the UD3H. However, if you're going to run two, be aware that longer double-wide cards installed into the bottom (orange) x16 slot can compromise access to two of the board's SATA ports. Double-wide CrossFire configurations probably won't be common in systems built around a $90 integrated graphics board, but it nonetheless irks me to see an avoidable clearance issue rear its ugly head, especially since the rest of the board is so well laid out.
At least the UD3H has plenty of expansion slots on offer, including one more than the EVO. Gigabyte also biases the board's expansion capacity toward PCI Express rather than PCI slotsa smart move given the growing number of PCIe peripherals on the market.
Unfortunately, Gigabyte hasn't seen fit to grace the UD3H with eSATA connectivity. The UD3H does have a hybrid PS/2 port that can handle either mice or keyboards, though. That isn't much consolation, but then eSATA probably won't hit its stride until the next-gen standard arrives with built-in power.
Gigabyte has done better on the audio front by endowing the UD3H with Realtek's flagship ALC889A codec chip. We don't normally get excited about crab-flavored codecs, but this one supports real-time Dolby Digital Live encoding, allowing users to pass multi-channel game audio unfettered by analog conversions over a single digital cable to a compatible receiver or speakers.
Dual BIOS chips are something of a tradition with Gigabyte, and the UD3H can easily fall back onto its reserve chip should corruption foul the primary one. The BIOS itself is well organized, and like the EVO, there are plenty of overclocking and tuning options to explore. Gigabyte's BIOS isn't quite as easy to use as Asus', though. One cannot input voltages and clock speeds arbitrarily, so most options must be selected from lists or flipped through by hammering the + and - keys. Only the base clock speed can be keyed in manually.
Since BIOS-level fan speed controls are a pet peeve of mine, I should also point out that the UD3H offers little in the way of fan speed tuning. You can enable automatic fan speed control and tell the BIOS whether you're using a three- or four-pin fan, but that's it. Unlike with the EVO, there's no way to define fan voltages or temperature triggers.
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