Firmware and software tweaking options
The X99-UD4's firmware and software interfaces are very similar to those of other 9-series Gigabyte boards, including the Z97-UD5H we reviewed earlier this year. Minor changes have been made here and there, and we encountered a few oddities during testing.
Sadly, one of those quirks tarnishes the firmware's gorgeous, high-definition interface. This so-called Smart Tweak GUI normally renders at 1080p, but it requires some cooperation from the graphics card, which must expose that resolution to the firmware. The hot-clocked GeForce GTX 680 we use for motherboard testing renders everything correctly at 1080p when using the DVI output, but the maximum firmware resolution drops to 1600x900 over DisplayPort. Weird.
Tweakers can set their own firmware background images, search for individual settings by name, check recently-changed variables, and configure custom tabs with their favorite options. The mouse sensitivity is adjustable, too, and the pointer tracking is pleasantly smooth most of the time. There's annoying lag and visible hitching when dragging the settings sliders any faster than a snail's pace, though. At least most variables can also be tweaked via drop-down menus and direct keyboard input.
The overclocking options are mostly complete, but the memory multiplier tops out at 26.66, which means DDR4-2800 and faster modules require higher base clock speeds to reach their full potential. Plenty of DDR4-2800+ kits are already for sale, so this isn't just a theoretical limitation. We've already tested an Asus X99 board with higher memory multipliers, and that company tells us the required hooks are in the Intel microcode available to mobo makers. However, when we talked to Gigabyte about the 26.66X ceiling, the firm didn't express any plans to push higher.
While we're griping, we should also point out that the firmware engages in a little unsolicited CPU overclocking if the user changes the memory speed or invokes an XMP profile. Pretty much all modern mobos do this to some degree, and it's particularly annoying in Gigabyte's case, because the firmware displays the correct Turbo multipliers while sneakily using higher ones. Ugh.
The Smart Tweak interface covers overclocking and most other options, but some settings, like advanced peripheral and boot options, are only accessible through the Classic UI pictured above. This alternate interface gets a fresh coat of paint on the UD4, but little else has changed. That's not necessarily a bad thing; the whole point of the Classic interface is to preserve the familiar environment of old-school BIOSes.
Unfortunately, the fan controls in both the Classic and Smart Tweak interfaces are stuck in the past. Pre-baked and manual profiles are present for all the CPU and system fan headers, but the only configurable option in manual mode is a single value that covers the slope of the fan speed
curve line. If you want more control over how the fans react to temperature changes, you'll need to use Gigabyte's System Information Viewer software.
This Windows app maintains a six-point profile for each fan header. All points but the last one can be dragged around with the mouse to create just the right response curve. The integrated calibrator measures the actual speed range for each connected fan, ensuring an accurate profile. There are also configurable alerts tied to temperatures, voltages, fan speeds, and other system variables.
Motherboards come loaded with a dizzying array of software these days, and we simply don't have time to sample it all. Besides, most of it's gimmicky fluff that we'd never run on our own systems. But we would install Gigabyte's EasyTune utility, which brings key overclocking and power-tuning controls to Windows.
The EasyTune interface is clean and functional overall. Newbies should feel right at home with the draggable sliders and drop-down menus. More advanced users may miss the ability to key in values directly, though.
The manual controls are complemented by a handful of pre-defined profiles and an automated overclocking mechanism. We like the idea behind auto-tuner, which seeks higher speeds by slowly increasing the CPU frequency and then testing system stability at each step, much like a savvy enthusiast would. On the next page, we'll see how well it works—and how far we were able to push our Haswell-E CPU manually.