An early look at Gigabyte’s P67A-UD7 motherboard

Intel’s new line of Sandy Bridge processors will soon be upon us. The chip giant has already confirmed that its next-gen CPU architecture will launch on January 5, just over one month from now. Motherboard makers aren’t waiting for the new year to show their Sandy Bridge wares, though.  Earlier this month, we got an early look what Asus has in store for Intel’s new hotness. Today, it’s Gigabyte’s turn. Late last week, the company’s high-end P67A-UD7 motherboard arrived at my door, and while I don’t yet have a CPU to pop in, I was able to snap a stack of pictures of the board.

The first thing you’ll notice about the UD7 is that it eschews the shade of turquoisey blue that has been a hallmark of Gigabyte motherboards for as long as I can remember. Black is the new turquoise, at least in this case, and the fresh aesthetic is nicely complemented by heatsinks draped in pewter and gold tones. I dig the new artistic direction, although part of me misses the distinctiveness of the old color scheme. Strip Gigabyte’s name from the board, and one could easily mistake it for something from Asus, MSI, or just about any other motherboard maker.

The start of the show is obviously the 1155-pin socket required for Sandy Bridge CPUs. Around it, Gigabyte circles a whopping 24 power phases. More phases lead to cleaner power delivery and higher overclocking potential, or so the marketing literature says. More interestingly, the board is capable of switching into a 12-phase mode that alternates between two sets of a dozen power phases each. The UD7 will switch phase groups each time it’s booted, spreading the load for folks who don’t need all 24 phases active at once, which is pretty much everyone who isn’t sitting next to a canister of liquid nitrogen. Gigabyte’s usual brand of demand-based power-phase scaling works with both 12- and 24-phase modes, and the power delivery system as a whole meets Intel’s latest VRD 12 specification.

Although they’re hidden by heatsinks in the picture above, I should point out that Gigabyte is using fancy new MOSFETs on the UD7. Usually, discrete high- and low-side MOSFETs are accompanied by a separate driver chip. On the UD7, so-called “driver MOSFETs” consolidate that three-chip combo on a single piece of silicon. In addition to saving board real estate, this approach is said to improve efficiency and lower temperatures. Gigabyte claims a drop in MOSFET and choke temperatures of 16° and 27° Celsius, respectively.

We don’t yet know how the memory controller embedded in Intel’s Sandy Bridge CPUs performs, but it’s definitely a dual-channel design. Each of the UD7’s DDR3 DIMM slots can accept up to 4GB of memory, and the manual says memory speeds are supported up to 2133MHz.

To the left of the DIMM slots sits a row of Serial ATA ports, half of which conform to the latest 6Gbps SATA spec. Starting from the left, the first four ports are actually old-school 3Gbps ones tied to the P67 chipset. Intel’s new chipset only has dual 6Gbps SATA ports, which appear here in white. To their right sits a couple of additional 6Gbps SATA ports fed by a Marvell controller. A second Marvell chip is also tasked with supplying next-gen SATA connectivity to the dual eSATA/USB jacks that populate the rear port cluster.

That port cluster is pretty loaded, and as you can see, it’s got all kinds of SuperSpeed USB connectivity. There are a total of 10 USB 3.0 ports onboard: six here, plus internal headers for another four. All of them are fed by a pair of two-port NEC controllers, although there’s obviously a considerable amount of sharing going on. Each NEC chip has a direct line to one of the rear USB 3.0 ports. The second USB port on each NEC chip is connected to one of two VIA hubs that split things four ways. One of those hubs supplies the rest of the rear ports, while the second feeds the onboard headers.

Gigabyte hasn’t forgotten about USB 2.0 or FireWire, which are split between the rear cluster and additional onboard headers. Realtek supplies the hardware behind the Gigabit Ethernet ports and the audio jacks.

Speaking of auxiliary silicon, an Nvidia NF200 PCI Express switch chip can be found tucked under one of the UD7’s heatsinks. The NF200 takes PCIe lanes from the CPU and divides them evenly between a pair of full-bandwidth x16 slots. The NF200 can also spread the lanes across all four of the board’s physical x16 slots, giving them eight lanes of connectivity apiece.

Oddly, the NF200 isn’t being used to fuel four-way CrossFire and SLI configs; Gigabyte says the board is limited to three-way setups. However, the NF200 does have another trick up its sleeve: Turbo USB 3.0 mode. Normally, the board’s USB 3.0 controllers are linked to PCI Express lanes attached to the P67 chipset. As such, they must share limited interconnect bandwidth with other devices, such as Ethernet and Serial ATA controllers. Turbo mode sidesteps that potential bottleneck by moving the USB controllers over to PCIe lanes branching off the CPU.

That’s about all I can say for now, which brings an end to our early look at Gigabyte’s P67A-UD7. Rest assured that this is but the first in what will no doubt be a torrent of new motherboards to arrive at the Benchmarking Sweatshop in the coming weeks. You can expect more in-depth motherboard coverage, complete with all sorts of benchmarks and performance analysis, when Sandy Bridge arrives in January. In the meantime, feel free to peruse the high-resolution board shots in the image gallery below.

Comments closed
    • Chrispy_
    • 9 years ago

    Am I just getting old, or are flagship motherboards like this becoming rapidly unnecessary??

    Dual LAN, 10 USB ports, 8 SATA, and that’s not even including internal headers for more USB or eSATA.

    I guess if you’re going for Quad-SLI you won’t have space for add-in boards, but if you’re going for Quad-SLI you wont have space for disks either 😉

    They must sell one of these for every 10,000 “normal” boards that sensible people will buy. How many even of us readers, who already account for only the 99th percentile of potential sales – even go for a board this extreme? 5%? 1%?

    • MadManOriginal
    • 9 years ago

    The backplate on this mobo is nearly perfect, the only thing I’d change is getting rid of the 4-wire Firewire and adding 2 more USB ports. Well done Gigabyte…now just put out a board that has similar peripheral expansin but in the ‘budget’ range like the fantastic EP45-UD3P with its dual GigE ports.

    • yehuda
    • 9 years ago

    This board looks like a tough challenge for QA with all the third party controllers and BIOS hacks Gigabyte used. I don’t envy anyone who encounters compatibility or stability issues with it.

    • Jambe
    • 9 years ago

    l[

    • herothezero
    • 9 years ago

    I’m not seeing the value in this platform, particularly for those still on LGA1156 systems.

      • JustAnEngineer
      • 9 years ago

      32nm quad-core Sandy Bridge processors will perform better than 45nm quad-core Lynnfield processors, will use less power, and will be cheaper to manufacture.

      • Anomymous Gerbil
      • 9 years ago

      So, new boards and CPUs should only be released if they are massively better performing than their immediate predecessors? That makes no sense at all.

      • Kurotetsu
      • 9 years ago

      I’m still using a 65nm Core 2 system and I really, really want to upgrade to quad-core, so I definitely see the value in this.

    • CampinCarl
    • 9 years ago

    I just hope that their UD4/UD3 series boards bring back the turquoise color scheme. I have loved it since the first computer I put together.

    • superjawes
    • 9 years ago

    For a second, I did not believe that this was a Gigabyte board. Then, I noticed that the USB ports have bright colors. Nice work, gentlemen…

      • swaaye
      • 9 years ago

      I will never surrender my classic garish Gigabyte boards.

    • juampa_valve_rde
    • 9 years ago

    SB new architecture? that is just lot of steam! is just a frikin improvement of a good architecture… damn, bulldozer is a new architecture (in comparison with the current from amd). atom was a new architecture, bobcat is, but SB? whats new? just the same 2 threaded fat core with l3 and a slight improvement on performance. ah uh ohh and a new igp (which also is only dx10 compliant), cmon! the zacate has dx11 (a cheap sheesh even smaller than a pinetrail atom).

    now amd safely can say llano is a new architecture too (an old athlon quad + radeon 5000 series igp also outdated) just because they stick it on a single chip.. haha

      • swaaye
      • 9 years ago

      Well hopefully AMD’s “new architecture” is competitive with Intel’s “not new architecture.” Heh. 😉

      • UberGerbil
      • 9 years ago

      David Kanter would disagree with you
      §[<http://realworldtech.com/page.cfm?ArticleID=RWT091810191937<]§ Bulldozer is definitely new, yes, but Bobcat isn't particularly novel. And Atom? 1993 called: it wants its in-order Pentium core back. Shrinking discrete components and integrating them onto the same chip hasn't qualified as new since "integrated circuit" was a fresh coinage 50+ years ago. It's all semantics anyway; "newness" of a design isn't a binary trait... and all architectures are building on a lot of "old" ideas and design at this point But there's enough novelty in SB -- the ring bus, AVX (even in its initial, somewhat hobbled form), the switch (back) to a physical register file -- to say it's at least as large a departure from Nehalem as that was from the previous Merom ("Core 2") generation. That makes "new" a reasonable adjective.

        • juampa_valve_rde
        • 9 years ago

        Its a new processor, that is for shure, but i dont perceive SB as a new architecture in the sense of all new all fresh thing. Paul Faggotini called it the new Pentium, bleh, if you do a comparison in features and innovation between 486->Pentium and Lynnfield->Sandy Bridge, its not that big jump, marginally faster, new features (avx will not be usable just right from scratch, as very little developers will implement it in the short time), but not the big deal.

        It was necessary to discard the whole lynnfield/clarkdale platform for this processor update?

          • UberGerbil
          • 9 years ago

          No, it was necessary to discard the whole lynnfield/clarkdale platform for the on-going revenue of Intel’s partners. You may not like Intel’s business imperatives, but that has exactly zero to do with the novelty or innovation SB represents (or doesn’t). No, it doesn’t introduce anything that would /[

            • d0g_p00p
            • 9 years ago

            Thanks for bringing up memories of the Pentium Pro. I remember running a dual PPro 1MB cache setup with NT 4 Workstation back in the day.

            That is still to this day one of the most epic computers I remember having used. Good times 🙂

            • Veerappan
            • 9 years ago

            Agreed. I had a similar machine (200Mhz PPro, 1MB. Eventually dual 333Mhz P2 Overdrives) that ran NT4, and was eventually upgraded to Win2k.

            To this day I still remember how much more responsive under load that machine was than my then-current Athlon 850 desktop.

    • mockingbird
    • 9 years ago

    Incorrect. Read the entire post. People also running at default voltages and clocks were affected.

    • Hattig
    • 9 years ago

    I like the colours and styling and heatsinks. Shame it’s going to be horrendously priced.

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 9 years ago

    That color scheme invokes images of duracell batteries in my mind.

      • dpaus
      • 9 years ago

      I thought “Battlestar Galactica”

    • ChangWang
    • 9 years ago

    but are the bios fan controls any good?

    Like Geoff, it’s hard for me to take gigabyte seriously until they get it together

      • anotherengineer
      • 9 years ago

      Indeed let’s hope its not a 350 dollar mobo with crap fan control 😐

      • derFunkenstein
      • 9 years ago

      I have found that the EasyTune6 software does a good job of handling fan speeds. It’s just a pair of settings and a linear setup, but my Xigmatek’s fan doesn’t spin at all when I’m at idle, and neither does my case fan. Even under load it’s quiet.

    • mockingbird
    • 9 years ago

    Either this is DELIBERATE SABOTAGE or Gigabyte are COMPLETE IDIOTS.

    Gigabyte has returned to the FOXCONN CPU sockets. They are known not to apply equal pressure to the chip and to cause burning in the socket and on the CPU and leads to premature failure.

    See this thread at Xtreme Systems forum:
    §[<http://www.xtremesystems.org/forums/showthread.php?t=234723<]§

      • ChangWang
      • 9 years ago

      This was only applicable with extreme overclocking and overvolting. The 3rd post in the thread you linked shows a vcore of 1.648v. Waaay outside the realm of the average air or water cooled OC. God knows what other voltages are set too high in that guys bios…

    • ronch
    • 9 years ago

    I really hope AMD will ship Bulldozer soon. They can’t afford another Barcelona launch and/or a Llano setback. Move, move, move, AMD! Work 24 hours if you have to!

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