Gigabyte's GA-890GPA-UD3H motherboard
Undercutting the competition
We've noticed an interesting trend develop in the motherboard world over the last little while. In an aggressive bid to increase its share of the North American retail motherboard market, Gigabyte has been selling its mobos for less than equivalent models from Asus. This pricing strategy is evident with the GA-890GPA-UD3H, whose suggested retail price is $15 cheaper than the Asus board despite the fact that both offer similar feature sets. Indeed, even Asus' M4A89GTD PRO, which lacks USB 3.0 connectivity, is slated to sell for $5 more than Gigabyte's SuperSpeed-equipped UD3H.
When all else is equalincluding reputation and expected reliabilitywe'll recommend a cheaper board that offers better value ten times out of ten. The question, of course, is whether all else is equal with this first batch of 890GX boards.
On the surface, that looks to be the case. The UD3H is another full-sized ATX board aimed at gamers and overclockers. Like Asus, Gigabyte has figured out that enthusiasts' tastes have outgrown the days when a clashing, neon rainbow of colors was considered an acceptable palette. Bravo.
For the most part, the UD3H's layout is uncluttered and free of potential problems. Again, though, users with upside-down cases will want to make sure that their PSUs have long auxiliary 12V cables.
Those keeping score in the power-phase pissing match between mobo makers will want to note that the Gigabyte board uses a 4x1 phase arrangementhalf the number of phases available on Asus' 890GX offerings. But the UD3H still supports 140W CPUs, and as we've observed with numerous other motherboards in the past, more CPU power phases isn't necessarily better.
Like Asus, Gigabyte uses two-ounce copper layers that purportedly offer lower impedance than typical one-ounce layers. There are solid-state capacitors across the board, as well, and nerdy puns at no extra charge.
The stumpy heatsinks for the north bridge and voltage circuitry do a good job of staying out of the way, which should allow users to run larger CPU coolers without issue. The low-profile south bridge heatsink shouldn't interfere with expansion cards, either.
Massive graphics cards like those in AMD's Radeon HD 5800 series can stretch all the way across an ATX motherboard, creating all sorts of clearance problems for SATA cabling. Gigabyte neatly avoids the issue by lining up all eight of the board's SATA ports along the board's edge, where they'll tuck just under longer cards and coolers. This arrangement isn't without potential for peril, though. A hard drive cage mounted right next to the motherboard tray may not leave enough room to plug into edge-mounted SATA ports.
Gigabyte squeezes an extra PCIe x1 slot into its stack, but the close proximity of the north bridge cooler may complicate compatibility with longer expansion cards. Of course, there are still two x16 slots, two more x1 slots, and a couple of PCI slots from which to choose. Unlike the Asus, this board doesn't require a switch card to juggle lanes between the PCIe x16 slots, either. When the secondary slot is empty, all 16 lanes are automatically routed to the primary slot. Install a graphics card into the secondary slot, and the board will split the lanes in a dual-x8 config.
Look familiar? The Gigabyte board's port cluster nearly mirrors what we saw from Asus. The only difference that really matters is the UD3H's lack of eSATA connectivity. One could argue the presence of those blue USB 3.0 ports makes external Serial ATA ports unnecessary for this board. However, for the overwhelming majority of users, I suspect an eSATA port would've been more useful than the seventh and eighth internal Serial ATA connectors, especially if it was one of those fancy new hybrid eSATA/USB ports.
Although the Asus and Gigabyte boards both use the same Realtek ALC892 codec chip, only the latter appears to have implemented support for real-time Dolby Digital Live encoding, which allows multi-channel game audio to be passed to a compatible digital receiver or speakers over a single S/PDIF cable. Without real-time encoding, only source material with pre-encoded audio tracks, such as movies, can take advantage of multi-channel digital audio output.
For the most part, the first 890GX boards from Asus and Gigabyte offer identical features. Their interfaces differ, but the two boards' BIOSes serve up similar tweaking and overclocking functionality. Both include embedded BIOS flashing utilities and support for multiple configuration profiles, too.
So where do they differ? In the automatic overclocking department, for one. You won't find a BIOS-based auto-overclocking utility on the UD3H. Gigabyte doesn't even ship the board with Windows software that'll turn up your CPU's clock speed automatically, although it has done so in the past with other boards.
By far the biggest between the two BIOSes comes when we look at fan speed controls. Those on the UD3H look positively prehistoric. The user has the option of turning automatic fan speed control on or off for the CPU and system fan headers, and one can toggle whether the CPU fan is a three- or four-pin model. That's it. We've been asking Gigabyte for control over temperature thresholds and actual fan speeds or voltages for years now, and nothing has changed. Apparently, the ability to tweak obscure system voltages by hundredths of a volt is more important than meaningful fan speed controls.