Gigabyte's strategy for the coming year is simple. The company says the motherboard market isn't really getting any bigger, so the only way it can increase its business is to capture sales from competitors. To do so, Gigabyte plans to extend previously premium features further down its motherboard lineup. As one might expect, the first boards to receive such treatment are based on H57 and H55 chipsets. Dubbed the GA-H57M-USB3 (pictured below) and GA-H55M-USB3, these microATX offerings predictably sport USB 3.0 controllers from NEC.
Both boards are members of the Ultra Durable 3 family, which means they have two-ounce copper layers and higher-grade electrical components. Dual PCI Express x16 slots provide CrossFire compatibility, as well. And, should you opt for Clarkdale's integrated graphics component, you'll be able to tap DVI, HDMI, and DisplayPort outputs. Gigabyte even throws in an ALC889A audio codec for good measure.
If you're really on a budget, a couple of cheaper H55 boards are available without SuperSpeed USB. Gigabyte hasn't forgotten about the high end, though.
The GA-X58A-UD7 looks perfect for prospective Gulftown adopters, adding 6Gbps SATA connectivity from Marvell alongside its next-gen USB support. An NF200 chip from Nvidia also gives the board a measure of four-way SLI support, although it can't accommodate a quartet of double-wide cards.
Similar functionality is available on the Lynnfield-focused GA-P55A-UD7, whose PCIe x16 slot stack can at least handle three double-wide cards at once. This board also has a PLX PCI Express switch chip that consolidates multiple chipset PCIe lanes to properly feed its USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gbps controllers. With other boards, users must choose between a turbo mode that steals PCI Express lanes from graphics card slots to feed the NEC and Marvell silicon or having those next-gen controllers potentially bottlenecked by a single 2.5GT/s PCIe lane each.
Lest you think that Gigabyte is neglecting AMD, the company has a number of Socket AM3 motherboards with SuperSpeed USB and 6Gbps SATA. The GA-790FXTA-UD5 pictured above offers both alongside AMD's 790FX/SB750 chipset combo.
But back to Intel, because Gigabyte took a moment to address the socket concerns some have had about its motherboards. The company employs an in-house overclocker, otherwise known as Hicookie, who has apparently yet to encounter any problems when pushing new LGA1156 boards with liquid-nitrogen-cooled CPUs. Gigabyte says that all of the socket components it uses are on Intel's list of approved parts. Interestingly, there are three parts to the socket: the socket itself, the back plate, and the retention clip. Each part must be validated separately, and Gigabyte will mix and match components from different manufacturers for cosmetic effect. Lotes makes retention brackets with a nickel-like finish that closely matches Gigabyte's heatpipes and onboard coolers, but the Lotes socket isn't currently validated, so Gigabyte pairs the retention bracket with a socket from Foxconn that has Intel's approval.
We also talked a little about the extra power Gigabyte is feeding through USB ports on its new motherboards. In internal testing, the company discovered that some USB cables don't adequately pass power from the port, which can lead to compatibility problems. The solution? More power via a threefold increase in amperage to each USB port. Gigabyte says this ensures compatibility even with crappy cables. The current increase apparently won't harm connected devices, either.
Thicker motherboard traces are required to run extra current to the USB ports. Gigabyte is also backing each port by its own fuse rather than the conventional practice, which calls for two ports per fuse. USB-related issues are the third leading cause for motherboard returns, according to Gigabyte, and the extra fuses should lead to lower RMA rates.