Here's a fun game. Try pronouncing Gigabyte's latest as if it's a word. You can almost hear the aneurism as it happens. We'd give it a proper name, as we have other boards we've reviewed, but it's getting hard to keep track of who's who. For those playing at home, we'll call this one Pedro.
- 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: None
- Video: DVI, VGA, HDMI, DisplayPort
- Audio: S/PDIF, 7.1 Realtek ALC892
- Ethernet: 1Gbps Realtek RTL8111F
Given that there's a bevvy of motherboards for almost all walks of life, how then does the Z77X-UP4TH differ from the Z77X-UD3H, which we happily called the perfect all-rounder?
Part of the secret is in the "P" of the model name, which highlights Gigabyte's Ultra Durable 5 tech. Gigabyte claims to provide the absolute best MOSFETs and chokes available, courtesy of International Rectifier's award winning IR3550 PowIRstage. Rated for 60A of current, Gigabyte says that it provides greater efficiency, thus bringing cooler operation and longer lifespan than anything else on the market.
We're in no position to test individual electronic components on a motherboard, and we don't have a thermal camera handy to accurately measure how much the temperatures around the CPU socket drop as a result of these new MOSFETs, meaning we'll have to take Gigabyte's word for it — however, in principle, we're always fans of introducing higher tolerance, cooler running and longer lasting parts into a product.
What this does mean, though, is that by introducing higher quality parts, the UP series starts in a higher price tier than the UD, regardless of what goes on the board, connectivity-wise. Most, we suspect, will be perfectly happy with something from the UD series — those who want ultimate peace of mind will pony up the premium for the UP.
Comparing to the UD3H is instructive — going for around AU$169, it's closest analog to the UP range falls somewhere between the AU$260 UP4TH and the AU$359 UP5TH, the main differences being in audio codec, Ethernet controller and how the PCI-E ports are handled.
What you lose between UD3H and UP4TH is interesting. The physical buttons for power, reset and CMOS clear are gone, for starters. The latter is a particular problem, as Gigabyte's still persisting with that crazy habit of not including a jumper to short the CMOS pins with. Don't expect diagnostic lights either — this thing runs dark.
You'll also lose the voltage contact points, meaning that, although it should technically run cooler around the CPU area, the UP4TH isn't aimed as much at the overclocker crowd as, say, the UP5TH or the recently announced (rather over the top) Z77X-UP7.
The extra SATA power connector to deliver more stable power to multi-graphics solution is absent as well, and you'll need to strike eSATA off the list, too. If you want all these things back, you'll need to spend a good whack more on the UP5TH.
Of course, there is something that's added, as is hinted in the "TH" part of the board's name. Rather than denoting the board has developed a lisp, it means that there are two Thunderbolt ports included. They're both powered from a single DSL3510L chip, Intel's Cactus Ridge controller, which supports 4-channels at 10Gbps each, or direct access to a PCI-E 2.0 x4 lane. You also get the bonus of using them as Mini DisplayPorts, potentially expanding the number of monitors you can integrate into your system. We'd love to test the throughput of both ports simultaneously, however, at the time of writing, we have two Thunderbolt devices in the labs, and both at best could be framed as "opportunistic", neither really taking advantage of the speed offered by the interface.
Two little Thunderbolt ports glisten with potential.
(Credit: Craig Simms/CNET)
The port introduction means there's been a reshuffle at the IO stack at the rear. Six 3.5mm jacks have given way to five, plus an optical out, run by Realteks' ALC892. You get two Intel USB 3.0 ports (under the Ethernet jack — you'll need to use these for Windows set up, as the others won't be recognised until drivers are installed), four VIA USB 3.0 ports, a split PS/2 port for legacy keyboards and mice, DVI, HDMI, VGA and a Gigabit Ethernet port, powered by Realtek's RTL8111F.
Clearance is generally not an issue on Gigabyte boards, and the trend continues here. The only thing you're likely to have a little bit of grief with is the 8-pin power connector, which is nestled right up next to a heatsink. Even then, it's only likely to present a problem if you're working in a small case.
The 8-pin power connector could have an accessibility problem in smaller cases.
(Credit: Craig Simms/CNET)
Slot right in
Z77 is starved for bandwidth and Thunderbolt boards seem to feel it more than others; the UP4TH manages the issue by sharing bandwidth frugally among its expansion slots.
We start with the expected PCI-E 3.0 x16, partnered with an x8 beside it in x16 physical form factor. If you use dual graphics (both SLI and CrossFire are supported), both will clock down to x8. Not a big deal for PCI-E 3.0, but notable, nonetheless.
It all gets a little hairy if you use the PCI-E 3.0 x4 slot (once again, physically x16). You'll need an Ivy Bridge CPU to use it in the first place, and even then, it's sharing lanes with the other slots, reducing the x16 to x8, and the x8 to x4. The three PCI-E 2.0 x1 slots work independently, as does the legacy PCI port.
With Ivy Bridge, Intel moved some PCI-E lanes to route straight to the processor.
(Credit: Craig Simms/CNET)
Storage is fairly standard, save for Gigabyte's mSATA slot that sits mid-board, which shares SATA port 5's bandwidth, meaning you can only use one or the other. There's otherwise two Intel controlled 6Gbps SATA ports, and four 3Gbps ports.
Three USB 2.0 headers are found inside, giving you an extra six USB 2.0 ports, along with a single Intel controlled header for two USB 3.0 ports. There's front panel audio, an SPDIF passthrough, four fan headers and, interestingly, a com header.
RockaBIOS baby, on the treetop
Gigabyte's UEFI experience still needs a little tweaking — it presents a 3D version of its motherboard, allowing you to click on certain elements and adjust settings, however mouse movement isn't smooth and some windows end up overlaying others, covering information.
Flip into advanced mode and use the keyboard instead, and everything becomes snappy. Gigabyte's options are legion, as one would expect, and allows granular control of individual voltages in 0.005V increments, should you feel the urge to tweak your system right to the edge of oblivion.
The UP series comes with an in-built question: are you happy to spend more money for the best quality components, or would you prefer to spring for boards that offer better bang for the buck? Given that cheaper boards will likely do most people just fine, and that at the time of writing UP prices are starting to creep into G1.Sniper and Maximus range, you'll want to analyse your choices carefully before pulling the trigger. Keep an eye open though, as these things may come down in price in the future.
In saying that, if you have an eye for future proofing and care about having the best quality parts on the market, Gigabyte's got you covered.