Board Design and Layout
Gigabyte has opted for an extremely clean look and feel in terms of the board design and layout. In contrast to the Intel reference board, this board only features 4 DIMM slots instead of the full capability of the X79 chipset, which is 8 DIMM slots. This decision has been made by many motherboard manufacturers because it generally allows for better memory overclocking. This claim will be evaluated in our overclocking section, but considering how many motherboard manufacturers have taken this route, it is likely true. However, it should be noted that ASUS did not go that route with their Rampage IV Extreme which also overclocks well. Some of Gigabyte's other boards, such as the UD5, do feature 8 DIMM slots, although that board is intended to be a general use board without a focus on overclocking.
For a detailed look we invite you to take a look at our Microsoft PhotoSynth product gallery:
The placements of the CPU socket and DIMM slots are fairly standard for the X79 chipset, but Gigabyte has chosen to place the dual 8-pin power connectors and CPU fan header in just the right places. This means no funky configurations or having to get your hands into tight spaces to install this board into your chassis.
The heatsink that cools the Gigabyte X79-UD7 has a very low profile which doesn't have any fans, unlike its competition from ASUS. This makes the board easy to work with when installing large coolers and graphics cards. The heatsink is a simple heatpipe that runs from the MOSFET cooler down to the South Bridge. Nothing fancy or obnoxious, and it gets the job done.
The placement of most of the connectors on the board is well done, as all the SATA ports are angled 90 degrees and the 24-pin power connector is close to the edge of the board. Gigabyte also placed all of the front panel headers on the bottom edge of the board so that they are easily hidden when using a chassis with decent cable management. They even placed one of the USB 3.0 headers near the 24-pin power connector since many chassis have their front panel USB 3.0 cables coming from the upper right hand corner of the motherboard. This means users with a USB 3.0 capable chassis won't have to run the USB 3.0 cable across their motherboard. This is a little thing, but it's the little things that matter.
When it came to the fan headers, Gigabyte was very thoughtful and put the connectors all over the board to accommodate users that have fans all over their case. Gigabyte put a total of 6 PWM fan connectors on the board including the one for the CPU. They put two towards the back of the board for the case fans that most people have in the back and top of their chassis as well as two at the bottom of the board and one in the front next to the USB 3.0 controller. All of these connectors are very strategically/well placed.
When it comes to the SATA ports, you will notice that there are two white ports, four black ports, and four grey ports. The white ports are SATA 6Gb/s on the Intel controller, the black ports are SATA 3Gb/s, and the grey ports are running off of the two Marvell controllers. Looking at the board, though, you will notice a suspicious gap where it looks like four more SATA ports belong. This is where the remaining four Intel SATA ports should be located, but Intel made a last second decision to disable the on-chip SAS controller. We already mentioned how unhappy we were with this decision in our X79 and 3960X review
and we just wanted to remind our readers why there is a gap on their boards.
The GA-X79-UD7, like many other overclocking boards, features overclocking buttons and manual voltage reference points on the board for manual voltage readings. When it came to the buttons, we honestly founds them superfluous for our overclocking needs since we have the ability to do more refined overclocking in the BIOS. I am sure that there are overclockers out there that actually use these buttons, but these buttons are purely based on the user’s style of overclocking and these simply don't fit our needs.
We were a little disappointed, though, that Gigabyte would make all of the buttons on this board large and easily accessible except probably the most important button to any overclocker... the Restart button. I cannot overestimate how many times I had to reach for that button when overclocking this board and it would have been nice if it was as big as the rest of the buttons around it.
However, we did enjoy using the manual voltage reference points and testing them with our multimeter as they gave the most accurate readings compared to the BIOS and Software. Also, because Gigabyte opted for a POSCAP design, this board's VRM has lower temperatures when under full load and it also means that there is more room for larger coolers preventing any kind of obstruction. When using POSCAP, the motherboard manufacturers also don't have to use as large of a cooling solution which also makes working with such a board easier. In our findings, installing the Intel water cooling solution was very easy, even easier than on the Intel board because of the board's layout and design.
Looking at the VRM design of this board you will notice that Gigabyte almost exclusively went with International Rectifier components. Their Digital PWM and their new VRM are both completely based on International Rectifier's technologies, partlialy obtained through their acquisition of CHil. Gigabyte's all-digital phases are designed to allow users to change frequencies and voltages on the fly through software as well as in BIOS.
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