Gigabyte has always had a knack for naming its boards. To the outsider, it might look like an attempt to send Klingon morse code, but if you're of the particular sort that builds their own PCs it makes perfect sense.
- Web page: Gigabyte
- Form factor: ATX (305x244mm)
- Chipset: Intel Z77
- External USB: 2 x 3.0 (Intel), 4 x 3.0 (Via VL800)
- Internal USB: 6 x 2.0, 2 x 3.0
- SATA 6Gbps: 2 x Intel
- SATA 3Gbps: 4 x Intel (+ shared mSATA)
- PCI-E: x16: 1 | x8: 1 | x4: 1 | x1: 3
- PCI: 1
- E-SATA: 2x Marvell 88SE9172
- Video: DVI, VGA, HDMI, DisplayPort
- Audio: S/PDIF, 7.1 VIA VT2021
- Ethernet: 1Gbps Atheros AR8151-B
Take the GA-Z77X-UD3H — GA denotes Gigabyte, Z77 is the chipset type, UD is Ultra Durable (which basically means fancy Japanese solid state capacitors and improved power design), H is for HDMI. That X is a little more vague, but generally refers to CrossFire/SLI support and digital PWM. The numeral three equally make sense — just like the long-established BMW naming convention, the lower the number, the lower down the rung the board is on the prestige scale.
We'd rather just call it Sergio.
Sergio's the very definition of a mid-teir motherboard, happily ticking the boxes of a large part of the motherboard buying population. Z77 chipset? Check. Myriad of display ports (as opposed to DisplayPort, but that's there too) on the back? Check. USB 3.0? In abundance, although most of them are powered by a VIA chip, requiring an extra driver to get them to work.
This presents some fun moments when installing Windows from scratch, as you try to guess which of Sergio's USB ports are powered by Intel and will function without drivers. It's even more fun when you realise that only two ports are active, and your mouse and keyboard combo requires three. For those in the same boat, the ports next to the audio block will work just fine until you get things up to a driver-installable state.
There are three USB 2.0 headers on board, supplying an extra six ports, and a single USB 3.0 header, supplying another two — although, your case will have to support USB 3.0 to enable this, as like most other motherboard manufacturers, Gigabyte doesn't include its own front panel bracket. If you've got an older case, there are various workarounds available to you.
There's another point of difference, and that comes in the form of a SATA power connector, mounted horizontally at the edge of the board near the SATA ports. It's apparently there to help deliver stable power when using multiple graphics cards.
Power! Despite the SATA power connector being right next to the SATA ports, it actually supplies extra power for multi-graphics card solutions.
(Credit: Craig Simms/CBSi)
As is increasingly the case these days, interconnects are a little bit starved. For your average, single GPU gamer, the board will be perfectly fine, but for that special little niche of performance slaves, you'll need to be aware of the bandwidth sharing going on.
While physically there are three x16 slots, electrically they are rated at x16, x8 and x4, the further you get away from the CPU. The board supports SLI and CrossFire, however plugging something into the x8 slot will halve the bandwidth of your x16 slot, as they share lanes. This will only make a difference of a few percentage points on the performance scale — wafer thin, one might say — but if you're focused on maximum potential performance, you'll need to look for a board that has 32 lanes going into its first two slots.
The same story is seen elsewhere: plug something in the x4 slot, and you'll lose access to your three x1 slots. Stick something in your PCI slot, and, well... nothing really, other than the fact that you've got some really old hardware.
Storage is appropriate for the tier. For some reason, Intel saw fit to only bless us with two SATA 6Gbps ports natively off the Z77 chipset, and Sergio, being a mid-range board, offers the other four SATA ports as 3Gbps, rather than pairing them with a third party 6Gbps controller. There is a Marvell 6Gbps controller, but it's reserved purely for the two eSATA ports at the back.
A lovely little touch is the presence of an mSATA port, which makes the UD3H quite a flexible board indeed, whether in a home server, media centre or gaming box. Just take in mind that if used it will disable your fifth SATA port, which also means this slot is limited to 3Gbps.
Now, this could be useful. No, not the CPU socket, the mSATA bracket. Well, okay, I admit, the CPU socket is marginally useful, too.
(Credit: Craig Simms/CBSi)
In fact Sergio is really the perfect all-rounder, even appealing to the overclocking crowd with contact points for measuring certain voltages on the side; physical buttons for power, reset, CMOS clear and Gigabyte's long-running dual BIOS capability, which allows you to switch to a backup BIOS if you fry the first.
With the UEFI revolution in full swing it's no surprise to see some sort of point and click interface turn up. Gigabyte calls it 3D BIOS — a three-quarter perspective shot of the motherboard, which allows you to click on specific elements and adjust the settings. It works well enough, although mouse movement couldn't be considered smooth. We miss Intel's feature of telling us exactly what hard drive is plugged into what SATA port, too.
For the hardcore, Gigabyte still has a keyboard navigable interface through its "advanced" option, with more voltage options than you could point a stick at. You could probably point 25 very well aimed sticks, if you had the coordination.
The moral of the story
The UD3H is the perfect all-rounder. It ticks the boxes for gamers, the mainstream, overclockers and with its mSATA slot, maybe even the low-profile crowd or those who need caching drives. For those for are hungry for bandwidth or fall into the hardcore-gamer category, you'll want to step up to higher tiers. For the rest of us, this is a nice board indeed.