Of course the real money is in the X58A-UD9 itself. This is a board that can only be described as an ATX form factor on steroids. We told you before that it is a big board but you really have to see if in person to really get a feel for it. Gigabyte calls this form factor XL-ATX and list its dimensions as 34.5cm x 26.2cm. Of course it has to be this big to accommodate the seven PCIe slots on the board along with the beefed up cooling for the Intel X58 chipset plus the two nVidia NF200 chips on the board. So let’s take a walk around and see what design and component choices GB has made with the UD9.
Kicking things off in our usual spot we take a look at the CPU and memory side of the board. GB has decided to keep things compact here. The memory slots are right on the edge of the CPU "air space" but do leave enough room to ensure that most oversized heat sinks will clean them [unless the ram cooling is overly tall]. GB has also put the power and reset buttons in this area although the reset button can be a little hard to see depending on how you have your cables run to your test bench. To help with this GB has moved the 24-pin power connector down a little to keep things clear around the board mounted swtiches.
The CPU socket is made by combining the Foxconn LGA [Lane Grid Array] socket with Lotes cover for those of you keeping track of that sort of thing. Tim Handley told us that the reason for Foxconn-Lotes combination is quite simple: Lotes delivers polished metal in the same color as their chokes, making an unified color experience. The chokes are all ferrite in this area and we can see them extend out from under the VRM heatsink.
The X58A-UD9 like many other boards that are meant for high clock speeds has dual 8-pin aux power connectors, originally coming from multi-socket motherboards. On the UD9 they are more than likely split between the dual 12 phase VRM setup on the board. The idea behind this type of configuration is that you can run what you need on the first set of 12 phases with the other 12 off to save not only power from the wall but also to help retain component life. This approach differs from the normal thought process of stepping the power phases one at a time. In some ways it is more efficient and in others it is a little less. But for a board that is meant to push the upper end I think it is the right choice over trying to step the individual phases.
Moving towards the middle of the board we see the beefed up cooling solution for the chipset. This is Gigabyte’s Silent Pipe II/Water cooling combo. But, there is a small problem; if you take a closer look you can see a 3-pin fan header and a 4-pin Molex connector. If you use that Molex connector [which provides power for the PCIe slots] then you cannot use the Silent Pipe II cooling. There is just no way to run it there. Even a 90-degree angled connector is just too high here. So if you are thinking of running three or four GPUs you can count using this cooling out. You will be better off running water here, or if you are adventurous enough - you can cut a section out of the Silent Pipe Cooler to give it the needed clearance.
Moving down the board again we find the seven, yes seven, PCIe slots. These are a mixed bunch with four of them being fully x16 electrical and the remaining three being x8. Now there is something you need to know about that, if you are using any of the x8 slots then the x16 slot right above it will fall back to x8 only. This is due to the way the PCIe gen 2.0 lanes had to be shared for the group of seven slots here.
At the very bottom of the image you can see the second of the 4-pin Molex connectors that supply the board with additional power for the PCIe slots. This one is angled at 90 degrees and with the large size of the X58A-UD9 can be a little bit of a problem to use if you are installing this in a case.
Gigabyte has also put a floppy connector down here just in case you wanted to use one; while I am not sure of the reason for having this here, I do have to applaud them for keeping it there.
Looking at the SATA ports we see a habit that Gigabyte has gotten into that is a tad annoying. For some reason they have colored their own SATA2 ports the same white as the Marvell SATA 3.0 ports. They do separate them by a PATA port, but as most people associate the white ports with SATA 3.0 it can get a little confusion. Also I am not sure why the need for the extra RAID functions on the UD9 in the first place, I guess if you want a quick way to setup RAID 0 or 1 it can be handy but again for most overclockers this will be turned off.
Moving around to the back of the board and the I/O ports we find what you would expect from a high-end motherboard. Dual GbE [Gigabit Ethernet] ports, a pair of USB 3.0 ports, multiple USB 2.0 ports and of course all the audio goodness. Overall you can tell that GB has put some thought into this, but it also appears they have left in a few things that might not be needed if someone buys this for pure overclocking. However, I can understand their motivation for having these items here. They give the best range of flexibility for the end user. It also shows a very high level of design work to ensure that all of these items work together properly.
With the contraction of the chipset market into two islands [AMD and Intel] we have been talking about how this affects performance and how it forces the manufacturers to work harder to differentiate their products from each other. This has come down to a handful of items that are covered during the intial design of the motherboard. These are things like; use of solid capacitors, FPCAPs, extra copper, additional layers for the PCB, trace tuning, and of course features. It is features that more often than not will sway a consumer to buy one product over another. But not all features are really features. Some are brand items that appear in every product [and in products by other manufacturers by other names]. You know the thing; Dual BIOS, On board power switches, SLI, Crossfire, etc. These are items that you expect to get but are often still advertised as if they are exclusive. So with that in mind let’s take a look at what the X58A-UD9 really has to offer for features.
One of the first things that jumps out at you as far as features if the support for Quad SLI or Quad Crossfire i.e. Crossfire X. Although not everyone will think this is such an amazing thing for the market space this is aimed at it really is.
The next item up our list of features is the 24 phase power management. Again, on the surface this does not seem like much but it is. Especially with the way that these 24 phases are arranged and how they operate. In "unlocked mode" all 24 phases are available to push maximum power to the CPU for more stable overclocking. Conversely you can also kick in a dual phase switching mode which can lengthen the life of the board components. In Dual Switching mode 12 phases are active while the other 12 are powered down; the board automatically alternates the states of these phases to help lengthen component life. It is a pretty snazzy idea really.
USB and SATA 3.0 support are also good solid features, but I am not sure that both are important to the market they are presented to. While you could argue quite successfully that SATA 3.0 is important to the benchmarker or overclocker I would have a hard time believing that USB 3.0 is. In fact most high-end overclockers that I spoke with said it was something they would have turned off. The mainstream overclocker might leave this on, but that is really not the market the X58A-UD9 is being marketed to.
Now there are other features listed for the X58A-UD9 but again these are not specific to the product and are also of dubious use to the people that would buy this board. Items like On/Off Charge, CloudOC, the Smart-6 software bundle, Auto Green and Dynamic Energy Saver. These are all products that are better suited to the mainstream market than the high-end overclocker. I think that GB could have provided a better feature bundle for this board, but then again they do have to cover the people that will want use this as a regular or mainstream product. In that regard Gigabyte has our bases covered.
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