Gigabyte's X79-UD5 motherboard
With a $350 price tag, the X79-UD5 is the priciest option we're looking at today. Of course, it also has the highest number of auxiliary peripheral controllers and associated ports. This is the big daddy of the bunch—literally. While the other boards measure up to the ATX standard of 12" x 9.6", the UD5 is a full 10.4" wide. The extra inch shouldn't complicate compatibility with too many enclosures, but it might be a tight fit for smaller mid-tower cases.
Gigabyte combines the UD5's black circuit board with a smattering of monochrome slots and ports. The only splashes of color come on the heatsinks, whose designs have an almost pixellated vibe. I like the overall look, especially since the blue accents aren't applied up and down the line. Green and orange highlights can be found on other members of Gigabyte's X79 family.
3D Power is the buzzword of the day for the X79-UD5, and the 3D moniker isn't as ridiculous as one might expect. The board has three clusters of digital power delivery circuitry: one for the CPU and one for each of the banks of four DIMMs flanking it. Like Asus, Gigabyte touts the superior power-delivery characteristics of these digital circuits over their analog counterparts.
Gigabyte says the UD5 uses a 12-phase power solution, although it wasn't more specific about how those phases are distributed. Interestingly, this is the only member of the company's X79 lineup with eight DIMM slots. The cheaper UD3 is a four-DIMM board, as are the pricier UD7 and Assassin models.
With extra board real estate at its disposal, the UD5 has the widest clearances we've seen surrounding an LGA2011 socket. The DIMM slots are a full 22 mm away, and the lone VRM heatsink steers well clear. To be fair, the socket is closer to the top PCI Express x16 slot than it is on any of the other boards.
That primary x16 slot has 16 lanes of PCIe 3.0 linked directly to the CPU. Another 16 lanes are piped to the bottom slot (top in the picture above), while the middle x16 slot makes do with eight lanes of electrical connectivity. From this angle, you can clearly see the missing traces in the middle x16 slot.
The chipset heatsink looks even better from this vantage point, and the board seems to have more unused surface area than its rivals. You wouldn't guess that there are no fewer than three Marvell 6Gbps SATA controllers onboard. Two are tasked with supplying the gray internal ports, while the remaining controller is linked to eSATA ports at the rear.
Only one of those eSATA ports has USB power, but there are dual USB 3.0 ports plus an internal header for two more. Unlike the other motherboard makers, Gigabyte provides a 3.5" drive bay insert for the front-panel USB 3.0 ports. The SuperSpeed ports are powered by a pair of Fresco Logic controllers, the first we've seen of that company's offerings on enthusiast-oriented motherboards.
Let's go back to the cluster, because there's a lot going on. Over to the left lies a trio of buttons charged with clearing the CMOS, switching between the primary and backup firmware, and handling automatic overclocking duties. The integrated audio is also worth mentioning because Gigabyte has paired Realtek's latest high-end audio codec with Dolby software that provides not only surround-sound virtualization, but also real-time Dolby Digital Live! encoding. At least on paper, the integrated audio ticks the same boxes as the Asus board, although Dolby Digital Live! isn't quite as robust as DTS Connect.
In addition to all its onboard peripherals, the UD5 comes bundled with a wireless expansion card that plugs into a PCIe x1 slot and also consumes two internal USB ports. The card offers Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11n Wi-Fi connectivity, and it's joined in the box by a pair of Wi-Fi antennas.
At long last, Gigabyte has joined the ranks of motherboard makers with next-generation firmware interfaces. Dubbed 3D BIOS, this firmware takes full advantage of the graphical goodness supported by the UEFI standard. Users can choose between the 3D interface pictured above and an old-style menu system, so there's a little something for everyone.
The 3D interface is particularly slick, allowing users to bring up tweaking options by clicking on relevant sections of the board. The tuning panels sport mouse-friendly sliders and come with a monitoring overlay, but there's too much overlap with the latter.
Although we didn't encounter any mouse flickering, the tracking feels sluggish. Our mouse wheel wouldn't work, either, and the transition between the 3D and menu-style interfaces is painfully chunky compared to the much smoother transitions elsewhere. There's also some inconsistency in how individual options respond to mouse clicks, making navigation more difficult than it needs to be.
Overall, the firmware has plenty of tweaking options. Gigabyte has even expanded its fan speed controls to cover two system fans in addition to the CPU fan. However, the only option available for each fan is a PWM/°C value that's far from intuitive. Gigabyte tells us the speed control for the CPU fan header is compatible with both three- and four-pin fans. The speed control for the first system fan is designed for three-pin fans, while the logic behind the second system fan is geared toward four-pin fans.
The fan speed controls available through Gigabyte's EasyTune6 Windows software are much easier to decipher, although they're not as granular as what's offered by Asus' FanXpert+ app. Only two points can be set on each fan curve.
EasyTune6 also includes basic tweaking and overclocking controls, and it's one of a handful of Gigabyte apps that offer similar functionality. A separate 3D Power app provides control over the board's power circuitry with an awfully sluggish interface. Then there's Touch BIOS, which provides a finger-friendly means to manipulate firmware settings from the comfort of Windows.
While the tweaking options provided by these various applications are valuable, there's no consistency in their interfaces, which are generally cumbersome. Instead of trying to cater to a community of touchscreen-using overclockers that doesn't exist, Gigabyte should focus its software efforts on coming up with a single, coherent tuning utility that observes sensible interface conventions. EasyTune was a good start, but instead of building on that, Gigabyte seems more interested in creating separate applications from scratch.