Gigabyte's 890FXA-UD7 motherboard
PCI Express x16 times six
The 890FXA-UD7 is the most expensive board of the bunch, which is interesting given that Gigabyte has recently been undercutting Asus in a bid to win North American market share. Then again, the UD7 does have a few perks you won't find on the Republic of Gamers board, including fifth and sixth PCI Express x16 slots. This is the first desktop board to pass through our labs with a half-dozen x16 slots, although calling the UD7 a desktop board is a bit of a stretchliterally.
Most desktop motherboards adhere to the ATX form factor, which measures 305 mm long and 244 mm wide. The UD7 maintains that 244-mm width, but it has grown to 325 mm wide to accommodate the mass of PCIe slots. As a result, you might have a hard time squeezing the board into smaller mid-tower enclosures. For those who are already measuring their cases for clearance, the extra height is tacked onto the bottom edge of the board rather than the top, if you're thinking vertically for mounting in a tower case.
Even with the additional area, the UD7's layout is still crowded. There are no major clearance problems to speak of, though. Gigabyte has even put the IDE port in a convenient location for optical drives.
Like the other boards in this round-up, the UD7 uses higher-grade electrical components than one might find on more budget fare. The board also has two-ounce copper layersa trait it shares with the Crosshair.
Gigabyte strays from the competition when it comes to chipset cooling. Low-profile chipset and VRM heatsinks flank the socket on two sides, but they're short enough to avoid interfering with larger CPU coolers. The default heatsink on the 890FX has a couple of barbs that can be plugged into a water-cooling system, transforming it into a water block.
Those who would rather not have liquid flowing around inside their systems can opt to attach the included massive-and-passive cooler that screws onto the top of the 890FX's heatsink. This Silent Pipe behemoth is probably overkill of the highest degree, but that's what the UD7 is all about. Besides, the optional cooler isn't as imposing as it looks. Even with the Silent Pipe installed, the board still has plenty of clearance for both a larger CPU cooler and a graphics card in the first x16 slot.
Four-way CrossFire configs seem to be the UD7's raison d'être, so it only makes sense that all of the board's SATA ports neatly line one edge. This arrangement leaves loads of room for monster graphics cards to stretch out, although longer cards installed in the top slot can interfere with the clear CMOS switch. With a Radeon HD 5870 installed in the first slot, we were unable to remove the plastic cap that prevents users from accidentally clearing the CMOS. You'll want to take the cap off before building a system and be careful when installing a graphics card to make sure you don't wipe the CMOS accidentally.
There they are: six PCI Express x16 slots. Slots one and five have up to 16 lanes of connectivity each. If two Radeons aren't enough, slots one, three, five, and six can be run in a quad-x8 config for four-way CrossFire. The spacing even allows four double-wide cards to be run side by side.
Although they're physically x16, the second and fourth PCIe slots must make do with only four PCIe lanes each. The fourth slot has to share that bandwidth with the board's auxiliary GSATA storage controller, as well. When the GSATA controller is enabled in the BIOS, the fourth x16 slot drops to a single lane of bandwidth.
Now that's a crowded port cluster. Gigabyte spares no expense here, throwing in two flavors of FireWire and S/PDIF alongside dual eSATA/USB and USB 3.0 ports. The standard USB 2.0 ports have a little extra flavor, too; Gigabyte makes three times the normal current available through each port, which the company says can improve compatibility with crappy USB cables. The extra current will also allow users to charge their iPads while the tablets are on, which takes more power than standard USB 2.0 ports provide.
The Crosshair might have bundled X-Fi software, but the UD7's integrated Realtek ALC889 codec can pull one trick that the Asus board can't: real-time Dolby Digital Live encoding. This capability encodes 3D positional audio output from games into the standard, multi-channel digital audio format. Sound streams encoded in this way can be piped directly into a DDL-capable amplifier via the board's S/PDIF outputs, bypassing the Realtek's lower-quality onboard digital-to-analog converters.
Another motherboard round-up, another Gigabyte BIOS that puts far too much emphasis on overclocking and tweaking and not nearly enough on fan speed controls. Overclockers will find more than enough options related to clock speeds, multipliers, and voltages. Core unlocking is built right into the BIOS, too, as is every memory timing under the sun.
I've lost count of the number of times I've pleaded with Gigabyte to include better BIOS-level fan speed controls, but my constant entreaties seem to have fallen on deaf ears. The UD7's BIOS pretty much only lets you turn automatic fan speed control on or off for the CPU and system fan headers. There's no way to adjust temperature thresholds, fan speeds, tolerances, or any other variables that might affect fan behavior. Better fan speed controls are available to Windows users who run Gigabyte's software, but I'd rather not have to do so, especially considering that both Asus and MSI offer significantly superior BIOS-level fan controls.
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