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Roundup: Z77 Express motherboards from AsRock, Asus, Gigabyte and MSI
by Guillaume Louel
Published on July 2, 2012

Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD5H

Gigabyte offers an extensive range with no fewer than ten models, including three micro ATX models.


Click to enlarge

As we’ll see, Gigabye uses VIA chips quite extensively in its range. The GA-Z77X-UD5H is positioned under the high end Gigabyte model. It comes with lots of additional chips and is available in two versions, a standard version and a version with a built-in wi-fi module. Here we tested the standard version.


This is a detail but the motherboard PCB is covered with a very nice looking matte coating

The Gigabyte board’s power supply circuit is generously dimensioned with 12+2+1 phases, an International Rectifier 3567 digital controller (International Rectifier acquired CHiL at the beginning of the year). A particularity of the power supply system are the thirteen MOSFETS that have been placed on the back face of the card. They aren’t covered. Two radiators cover the front face power supply circuit and are linked by a heatpipe, which descends as far as the chipset radiator (an unusual decision).


In contrast to the Asrock and Asus models, this Gigabyte board offers three PCI Express x16 physical ports that are all linked directly to the sixteen processor lanes. As the sticker on the third port shows, it will be unavailable if you use a Sandy Bridge processor in the system. With an Ivy Bridge processor and three cards, these ports will function in x8/x4/x4 mode. For switches, Gigabyte uses ASM1480 chips.


Note the sticker on the third port.

This means the eight PCI Express 2.0 chipset lanes can be used differently, with Gigabyte choosing to place three PCI Express x1 ports on its board. A single PCI port completes the list of slots. The five other lanes are used rather originally, as, first of all, there are two Gigabit Ethernet network controllers: an Intel 82579V and an Atheros AR-8151 (Atheros was recently bought by Qualcomm).

Next, we have two Serial ATA 6 Gb/S Marvell 88SE9172 controllers, each with two additional SATA ports running off them. Three are internal connectors and the fourth is available as an eSATA port. The last PCI Express lane is used by a PCI Express to PCI bridge.


Note that there’s no additional USB 3.0 controller in this list. Does this mean that Gigabyte is simply using the four ports on the Z77? Yes and no as the spec indicates that ten ports are available. How can this be so? Two VIA VL810 hubs. These chips have the particularity of being able to turn one USB 3.0 port into four, with bandwidth then being shared. We’ll see in practice what this solution gives a little later.

Back panel

Gigabyte has gone for an original positioning of the connectivity on the I/O panel with four video outs (VGA, DVI Single Link, HDMI and DP) placed to the left and accompanied with an S/PDIF optical out. Next there are two USB 2.0 ports, a Firewire port (running off a VIA VT6308 controller, PCI) and the eSATA port previously mentioned. Next we have four USB 3.0 ports… connected to the same hub! This is to say the least bizarre, with the two Gigabit Ethernet ports, which are independent, overhanging them.


There are six standard audio jacks and Gigabyte uses a Realtek ALC898 chip for the sound. Note the PS/2 port is absent.

Headers, particularities

Just below the socket, there’s an mSATA connector. To recap, this connector looks like a mini PCI Express, but is in fact linked directly to the SATA controller. Here it is linked to the chipset on one of the 3 Gb/s ports that will therefore be unusable.


The board is pretty well set up in terms of switches with a big power button, a small reset button and a small clear CMOS button. These three buttons are postioned at the top of the board beside the diagnostics LEDs (two hexadecimal digits). There's a full list of the codes (on 4 pages) at the end of the Gigabyte manual, which is excellent news! Note also that just beside this are some voltage read points (PCHIO, VDIMM, DDRVTT, CPUPLL, VSA, CPUVTT, VCORE).

We also like the switch that has been placed right at the bottom of the card and which allows you to move from one BIOS to another - the card includes two independent BIOS chips. Another originality is an electric connector beside the SATA ports. Such a connector is usually used on hard drives. This compact port serves the same purpose as the Molex that comes with the ASRock boards, adding to the PCI Express x16 power supply ports.

The card is rich in internal headers with six additional USB 3.0 ports (two connected directly to the chipset and the four others coming from the second VIA hub). Note finally, the four USB 2.0 ports and a Firewire port. A TPM connector is also included. There are five four-pin connectors for fans.

Bundle

Gigabyte continues to produce one of the best manuals around, sufficiently detailed for those new to mounting their own board and sufficiently precise and well set out for advanced users to get the information they're looking for.


For the rest, the bundle includes four SATA cables, an SLI bridge and a 3"1/2 USB 3.0 bracket. Note finally that the plate which serves as the interface between the back panel and the casing is also padded, like on Asus boards. This should save your fingers.

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