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Three paths to firmware tweaking
Gigabyte's latest UEFI is peppered with enhancements, including a new intro screen that covers basic functions.

This simplified interface allows users to change the firmware language, SATA config, boot sequence, and even the UEFI's default starting screen. The UI shouldn't feel intimidating for newbies, but it doesn't have much for enthusiasts. To have any real fun, you'll need to switch to Smart Tweak mode, which rewards savvy users with a beautiful interface rendered at a 1080p resolution.

Although the high-def tweaking mode has a similar layout to Gigabyte's 8-series UEFI, the options have been reorganized somewhat. Frequency, memory, and voltage controls are easily accessible through the main tabs at the top. The associated options are organized into sub-tabs below, sometimes too finely. For example, the voltage controls are split between separate CPU, chipset, and memory sub-tabs even though those last two categories only have three options between them.

Most of the tweaking options can be adjusted via mouse-friendly sliders or direct keyboard input. Changes can be applied on the fly, and they'll be reflected in the real-time monitoring panes surrounding the main tweaking window. Pretty sweet.

The mouse tracking is smooth overall, and the UI feels responsive to both keyboard and mouse input. However, the convenient keyboard shortcuts for jumping between tabs aren't working in the firmware revisions available to the public. Neither is the interface for creating custom menus. It should display all of the options from all of the various sub-menus, but it only shows the settings from the Save & Exit category:

The keyboard shortcuts and custom menu builder are fixed in a beta firmware we've been testing. We're told the final version of that build won't be released until the first or second week of June, though.

When that update arrives, users will be able to populate up to four custom menus. The Smart Tweak interface also has a couple of pre-defined menus that consolidate popular settings, plus two more that track favorite and recently changed variables.

Gigabyte's firmware-level fan controls are pretty much unchanged for the 9-series generation, putting the company well behind the competition, which continues to up its game. Each fan header is restricted to one of three pre-baked configs or a manual mode defined by a single slope setting. More robust fan controls are available in Gigabyte's Windows tweaking software, but that doesn't excuse the simplistic firmware implementation.

There's also no excuse for the firmware's deceptive clock-boosting methods. Check out the default CPU configuration:

The Turbo ratios suggest our Core i7-4770K is running at stock speeds, but the firmware is lying. It actually applies a 39X multiplier regardless of how many cores are active, effectively overclocking the CPU by 200MHz in some scenarios. This behavior is basically cheating, and the fact that the Turbo multipliers are misrepresented is particularly loathsome. Users should be the ones who decide how and when to overclock the CPU—not motherboard makers.

While I'm griping, the firmware has a few other issues. Hitting escape in the Smart Tweak interface doesn't bring up the exit menu available in other sections of the firmware. The tweaking UI also lacks a bunch of options, including detailed fast-boot and peripheral settings. Those settings won't migrate to the HD interface, which is now meant only for overclocking. The missing options are only accessible through the firmware's classic UI.

The old-school interface is quite a step down from the Smart Tweak UI. It's much uglier, obviously, and the mouse tracking is quite jumpy. If it didn't have a monopoly on some essential options, the classic UI would be entirely redundant. The firmware already has a low-res version of the Smart Tweak interface that cuts the real-time monitoring windows to maintain compatibility with older and cheaper displays.

On the next page, we'll see what it's like to tweak the board in Windows.