Monday, December 7, 2009

Gigabyte’s USB 3.0, SATA 3.0 Mainboards

The New Release Gigabyte P55A-UD4P With SATA 3.0 And USB 3.0

S-ATA 3.0 and USB 3.0 devices may seem non-existent right now, but the motherboards to power them are certainly not. We're taking a look at one of Gigabyte's first "333" motherboards that supports both technologies, the feature-packed P55A-UD4P. At $180, it's priced-right given its feature-set, and overclocks like a dream, too.

When Intel launched both its Core i7 processors and X58 chipset last fall, there was ample supply of motherboards available at launch, but there weren't so many that it became a hassle to choose one. The reason behind this was obvious... X58, and Core i7 alike, were both high-end products. There are only so many models you could produce if the bottom of the rung costs $250, after all.

Lynnfield and P55 had a much different launch, though. Because both parts are designed for mainstream audiences, companies like Gigabyte wasted no time in getting as much choice as possible out there for consumers. At launch, there were 20 boards to choose from between ASUS and Gigabyte alone, among many others from companies such as Asrock, ECS, EVGA, MSI and others.

Since P55's launch, we've taken a look at a couple of launch models from both ASUS and Gigabyte, but since then, revisions have been made, and we're now starting to see follow-up models become available.

One such board is the one we're taking a look at today, the P55A-UD4P. When I received this board a couple of weeks ago, it didn't come included with any accessories, a manual, or anything else you'd expect to see. The driver CD was burned, not official, so to say the board is brand-new would be an understatement. Fortunately, the board is readily available now, so this isn't just a paper launch.
Closer Look at Gigabyte's P55A-UD4P

In our news section last week, I posted about Gigabyte's newly-launched "333" branding, to help consumers differentiate the boards from the rest of its line-up. Each 3 in "333" represents a technology, the first being S-ATA 3.0 (6Gbit/s). The other 3's represent USB 3.0 and also 3x USB power. As mentioned in that news post, Gigabyte boasts increased power throughput to the USB 3.0 ports on its boards, which is important to the operation of external storage devices that normally require an AC adapter. As we've yet to receive such a USB 3.0 device, we're unable to verify just how important that feature really is. We hope to have that question sorted out soon.

As with the rest of Gigabyte's mid-range and higher line-up, the P55A-UD4P also comes with the company's "Ultra Durable 3" technologies, which simply denotes that the board was built with high-quality components, such as Japanese solid capacitors, lower RDS(on) MOSFETs, ferrite core chokes and of course, the much-touted 2oz copper inside the PCB. According to Gigabyte, such additions to the board improves power efficiency and temperatures, and offers better overclocking.

The board has numerous other unique features as well, but rather than cover them here and fill up the page (we have covered them in previous reviews), I'd recommend going to the official product page to get all the details.

Most of Gigabyte's motherboards used to look like the result of a paint factory clashing with a PCB producer, but that's no longer the case with its mid-range and higher boards. There's lots of blues and whites here, and I have no complaints as I'm content wth both colors. You may of course disagree, but I'm doubtful most people would prefer the older multi-color schemes.

The board design as a whole leaves little room for complaint, and despite there being no room left for other components, everything is laid out to our satisfaction, and though there is a lack of overall room around the CPU socket, there should be no problem installing a regular CPU cooler. Larger coolers, and I'm talking true tanks, might have a problem, so it's worth looking into. I don't have such a cooler here, so I was unable to test.

This board might hinder the installation of a graphics card that's to be water-cooled, because thanks to the large heatsink on the faux Northbridge, there's little room left for any bulge whatsoever on the back of the card. This space issue would also apply to cards that have back-plated memory coolers, or any other design that has something on the back of the card.

Like the vast majority of P55 motherboards, there are four DIMM slots found here, not six, since Lynnfield doesn't support a triple-channel memory controller. Along with the 24-pin motherboard connector, there's also a fan controller found here, in a perfect location for those who want to use a RAM fan.

While some of the higher-end motherboards on the market offer a 12+2, or higher, phase solution, this one sticks to a "simple" 12 phase configuration. There's no real downside to this, unless you're a truly hardcore overclocker, and even then, it might not matter (I don't think there's definitive proof of the benefits of a 12+2 configuration, or 12+ phases in general). One thing worth noting is that while it appears that the 8-pin motherboard power port would be hard to get at, it's not. There's more space around that area than it appears, so you should have no problem accessing it with the board installed in your chassis.

There are seven PCI slots total, with two being legacy, three being 1x, and two being 16x. Because of limitations with the P55 chipset, both slots become 8x in a dual-GPU configuration, and the same can be said if S-ATA 3.0 or USB 3.0 devices are utilized. The latter is the biggest issue with both technologies on mid-range boards at the current time, and while it is a downside, it's hard to know just how much performance will be impacted. We hope to find the answer to this problem soon.

The bottom right-hand corner is where the board's connectivity options can be found, with 2x internal USB headers, the IDE connector, and a total of eight S-ATA ports, vertically mounted for the cleanest installation possible. Note that only the white ports are designated for S-ATA 3.0, although any S-ATA drive could be utilized there. There are also two more fan connectors here, for whatever purpose you deem necessary. I find this to be an odd location for two, but as long as your fans have long wires, it'd be better this way since the wires won't have to be plugged into the middle of the board.

At the back, we have the usual slew of connectors we'd expect to see, with not a single thing missing that I can spot. In fact, there's likely much more than most people will need, including ten USB connectors, two eSATA connectors, both versions of FireWire, dual LAN and more. The only USB 3.0 ports here are the blue ones. It's unfortunate that more aren't USB 3.0, but given the lack of devices at the current time, it won't be much of an issue for anyone right now, and it should remain that way for a while, since most devices are just fine in USB 2.0.

The P55A-UD4P is one packed motherboard, and it has something for everyone. The layout, for the most part, is quite good, and we had no clearance issues or anything of the sort during our installation. I appreciate the fact that all eight S-ATA parts are vertically mounted, as I find that to be the best idea to hit a motherboard for quite some time. It's nice knowing that your hard drives and ODDs aren't going to cause any hassle during the installation.

The sample of the board that we received was a pre-release, so it didn't include the accessories that would come with the retail board. But, I can verify that what does come with the board includes the manual and driver DVD, four S-ATA cables (two have 90° connectors on one side), an IDE cable, CrossFireX bridge connector and of course, the back I/O port.


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