Review: Gigabyte Z77X-UP4TH
Motherboard reviewing is something we see a lot of but at the end of the day is not something exciting. Sure this is the main component of the computer that ties the other components together but lest be honest with each other for a moment. The truth is when it comes to a generation of motherboards the comparison of them is about features not performance. The simple truth of the matter is a $100 and a $300 motherboard with the same CPU and GPU will deliver the same performance.
So if this is the case why the price differences? Well there are a few reasons, the first is the quality of the build. Does the board use all solid capacitors, does it have a solid audio codec and the list goes on but I think you get the idea. While this would seem to make sense it does not matter as much as you think. Most quality manufacturers, such as Gigabyte, already use the same basic construction at every level of their motherboard line up. This means even their budget boards are made to the same level of quality.
Next up is the actual motherboard feature set but even those are pretty standard today. Oh, on some of the more expensive boards you get a power button and push to use BIOS rest directly on the board, you maybe even a place to attach various devices to check power flow. These all sound neat but the simple truth is the majority of us that even use then, NOT A LOT OF PEOPLE, will use these features a few times for the novelty and then never again.
Do not forget the ability to overclock your CPU. Many of the more expensive motherboards do have an expanded ability to overclock. However once again this ability is not as big a deal as it would seem and rarely worth the extra cost. Sure budget boards might be limited in their ability to overclock at the high end but often the difference between a budget and luxury board overclock is a couple of hundred MHz. Might be enough to be a big deal in bragging rights but not even close for cost when comparing the computing experience.
Sounds Like I am coming down harsh on motherboard makers and so it might bode ill for Gigabyte in this review. Well I am coming down hard and if you listen to this weekends show you will know I challenge them to a new level but I am actually happy with the UP4TH.
In a sea of the same thing with features that are more bling than substance Gigabyte has always found a way to stand out with real world features that were super useful to everyone. Gigabyte was one of the first to begin using all solid capacitors on their boards, this resulted in a much more durable design. They were the first to try adding more copper to the board base design to help with the quality of the board build and to reduce heat, a new fiber glass system for board design and the first to offer the On/Off style system on the USB which allows for better device recharging. None of these may sound like sexy features but they are all real world practical and all trickle down the pretty much the entire Gigabyte line.
This model introduces a new feature, PowIRStage. In traditional motherboard design there is an area known as the CPU Power Zone. This area is the space around the CPU made up of various components that get the power to the CPU cleanly and steady. The primary part in that design is called a MOSFET and is actually made up of three components, The High Side, Low Side (usually two of these) and the MOSFET Driver.
What Gigabyte has done with the PowIRStage is take these components and put them into a single package. In doing this they have made design easier to work with as well as managed to increase efficiency while at the same time reducing heat, something MOSFETs are known for.
Does this really work, well we wanted to find out but to be honest a lot of testing you would need to do is outside our abilities. However there is one test I could try. I put this system to the test with an i5 2500K overclocked to 4.5GHz and compared it to the Z77X-UD3H board we have in house as well with the same chip and overclock. I used a Thermaltake Water 2.0 cooling solution to make sure the CPU Power Zone was getting a minimal air flow and then after 15 minutes of high end running took the temp of the Power Zone. For this test the equipment I used is simple consumer grade temp probes and we compared the two temps for difference. The result was the UP4Th was 14C cooler than the UD3H. The new system does reduce the temperature as it promises.
The rest of the board design is very similar to the UD3H we had reviewed previously. Just to be sure we measured performance between the two boards using an i5 3770K, i5 2500K and i5 3450. A no point did we see any kind of noticeable speed bump in the various chips when the UP4TH and the UD3H were compared. As for overclocking both of the K chips reach 4.0 GHz with zero voltage tweaking just fine and the 3450 was able to hit 3.9 without voltage tweaking as well. When pushed we were able to get 100 MHz more on the 3770K with the UP4tH than the UD3H, the 2500K reach the same levels.
The rear panel of the UP4TH brings 6 USB 3 ports. Be aware of the sticker on the board that is above the network adapter and last two USB ports. This is were you need to plug in a USB Keyboard and mouse for setup. This will save a lot of frustrations during your windows install, trust me. The panel also sports the usual mix of video ports for the Intel chips as well and LAN, sound, a PS2 if you desire and then adds on two Thunderbolt ports.
Thunderbolt is a new port type introduced by Intel that is designed to offer higher through put than USB as well as the need for less physical ports since it can daisy chain devices. I was not able to put these to the test as we do not have any Thunderbolt devices in house. At this time if this port type becomes a big deal or not is still very up in the air. The USB ecosystem is very rich and Thunderbolt will have a long road ahead of it to catch up.
We talked a little bit when we reviewed the UD3H about the onboard mSATA connector, well this time, thanks to our friends at Kingston we put these to the test. The idea behind this connector is you can get a small SSD , we used a 64 gig model, and this will be used as a caching drive for a traditional hard drive. This is similar to the methods used by other caching SSDs we have looked at except the Intel solution is in hardware, not software.
Gigabyte makes the setup of this system super easy with EZ Smart Response. This little program does all the setup for you so even the Novice builder will not feel overwhelmed with setting this up. This program BTW works as advertised and made the setup really easy. We did get the boost from the caching SSD we have come to expect and it gives the system a nice lift in the computing experience. However we were curious so tried a different approach. I used the 64 Gig SSD to hold my copy of Office and Windows and then used a second 60 Gig SSD to hold a few games. This solution worked perfectly and was much snappier than the caching approach. With mSATA drives now available up to 256 Gig we seen some interesting options for this connection.
The UP4TH is currently going on Newegg for around $185, pushing it to the upper middle of the of the Z77 lineup. The higher cost for this board is really coming from the use of the PowIRStage and the addition of the Thunderbolt ports. If you have a Thunderbolt device, plan to buy one or even just want to hedge your best for the future then this is a great board to get. The PowIRStage is a great feature that will hopefully come down in cost and trickle down soon to less expensive boards. For the majority of us however right now this is a hard sell with the UD3H being pretty much the same board and for about $40 less.
In the end however either board is a great choice, they both have Gigabytes great build quality and a solid feature set to meet pretty much anyone’s demands.