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GIGABYTE GA-MA770-UD3 AM2+/AM3 Motherboard Review

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MAC

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GIGABYTE GA-MA770-UD3 (rev. 1.0)
AM2+/AM3 Motherboard Review



Manufacturer's Part Number: GA-MA770-UD3
Price: $76CDN+ Click Here to Compare Prices
Manufacturer's Product Page: Giga-Byte Technology Co., Ltd.
Warranty: 3 year limited warranty



In the past few months, AMD has been floating on a sea of goodwill and positive consumer reception towards its products. It's not hard to see why either. In these frugal times, the company's most expensive processor comes in at a mere $290CDN, and they have released of bevy of superb offerings in the sub-$150 range. There can be no denying that the low-end and mainstream products are (and will continue to be) the driving force behind AMD's resurging popularity. With this in mind, we bring you today a motherboard for the masses that can found for less than $80CDN but which features a specifications list that will satisfy just about anyone. The product in question is the Gigabyte GA-MA770-UD3. Although this is technically a Socket AM2/AM2+ motherboard, due to its support for the HyperTransport 3.0 system interface and the bits of magic that are BIOS updates, it fully supports all of the latest multi-core AMD AM3 processors. It is also a DDR2 motherboard, which means that you can re-use your existing memory modules and further delay the inevitable transition to DDR3.

This model is based on the AMD 770 northbridge/SB700 southbridge chipset combo. This chipset mainly differs from the higher-end 780G, 790GX, and 790FX chipsets by its lack of official CrossFire support. The 770 was designed for single graphics card configurations, which basically represents the vast majority of all home built systems. With this in mind, the MA770-UD3 comes with only one PCI-E x16 2.0 slot, but makes up for it with its four PCI-E x1 slots, two PCI slots, six SATA II ports, eight USB 2.0 ports, one Gigabit LAN port, two FireWire ports and high-quality 8-channel HD audio codec.

Needless to say it is quite well-equipped for a sub-$80 motherboard, but how does it perform? How's the layout? How's the BIOS? Can it handle serious overclocking? These are the questions that we will seek to answer, and more.

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MAC

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Specifications

Specifications



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When the original Phenom processors were launched, AMD also announced their new seventh generation chipsets. This new chipset family was comprised of the AMD 790FX (RD790), AMD 790X (RD780) and AMD 770 (RX780). These new chipsets brought forth full compatibility with the new Socket AM2+ via support for the HyperTransport 3.0 bus. They also (finally) officially supported DDR2-1066 and allowed independent powering of the memory controller and processor cores.

The Gigabyte GA-MA770-UD3 that we are reviewing today was designed around the budget-oriented AMD 770 northbridge and SB700 southbridge. The AMD 770 / SB700 combo features the aforementioned HyperTransport 3.0 (HT3.0) system bus and PCI Express 2.0 graphics interface, and is now optimized for AMD´s latest multi-core AM3 45nm CPUs, ensuring best possible performance and overclocking capabilities.

The 770 northbridge, codename RX780, is manufactured on a 65nm process by Taiwanese mega-foundry TSMC. This is a highly efficient little chip that utilizes approximately 3W when idle and less than 10 W under load. The northbridge was designed as a mainstream chipset targeted at discrete single graphics card motherboard designs. One of the key features of this chipset is support for data transfer rates up to 5200MT/s via the HyperTransport 3.0 (HT3.0) interface, as well as 22 PCI-E lanes, 16 of which are driven through a single physical PCI-E 2.0 x16 slot.

On this motherboard, the 770 northbridge is paired with the fairly modern SB700 southbridge, which supports six SATA II ports, RAID 0, 1, 10 capabilities, up to fourteen USB 2.0 ports, and one legacy parallel IDE channel. This southbridge does not support the popular Advanced Clock Control (ACC) feature that allows for the unlocking of extra cores and/or extra cache on Phenom II and Athlon II X2 processors. It should be pointed out that there is an updated rev. 2.0 version of this motherboard that features the newer SB710 southbridge, and that model does support Advanced Clock Control.

Now let’s take a closer look at the MA770-UD3's spec sheet:

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MAC

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Features

Features


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Thanks to architectural changes in the design of processors such as the integrated memory controller, performance differences are no longer the distinguishing factor when it comes to selecting a motherboard. As such, manufacturer-specific features and overclocking capabilities are key elements when picking between two similarly-priced motherboards featuring the same chipset. As mentioned previously, this is merely a mainstream model, but Gigabyte's philosophy is that all motherboards should have a robust basic feature set, and the MA770-UD3 is no exception.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the included features:

<table align="center" bgcolor="#666666" cellpadding="5" cellspacing="1" width="90%"><tr><td align="justify" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%"><center><b>Socket AM2+ / HT3.0</b></center>
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/mac/reviews/gigabyte/MA770UD3/features-1.png" style="float: left; margin: 4px 5px 0 0;" />The GA-MA770-UD3 is based on the AMD 770 / SB700 chipset combo, which features the 5200MT/s HyperTransport 3.0 (HT3.0) system interface and PCI Express 2.0 x 16 graphics. It is optimized with AMD´s latest AM3 CPUs in mind, but also supports all previous Socket AM2 and AM2+ AMD Athlon, Phenom, and Sempron processors.</td><td align="justify" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%"><center><b>Dual Channel DDR2 1200+ MHz</b></center>
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/mac/reviews/gigabyte/MA770UD3/features-4.png" style="float: left; margin: 4px 5px 0 0;" />Delivering native support for DDR2 memory up to 1200MHz, GIGABYTE Ultra Durable 3 series motherboards allow users to easily reach higher memory frequencies at lower voltages; achieving higher memory performance with lower power consumption to run even the most memory intensive applications such as high-definition video and 3D games with ease.</td></tr><tr><td align="justify" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%"><center><b>Socket AM3 - 45nm Support</b></center>
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/mac/reviews/gigabyte/MA770UD3/features-2.png" style="float: left; margin: 4px 5px 0 0;" />This motherboard has Split Power Plane design, with a 4+1 phase power design to support AMD's latest 45nm AM3 Athlon II and Phenom II series multi-core processors. This motherboard will even support 140W processors like the upcoming Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition.</td><td align="justify" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%"><center><b>AMD OverDrive Support</b></center>
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/mac/reviews/gigabyte/MA770UD3/features-8.png" style="float: right; margin: 4px 0 0 5px;" />The AMD OverDrive utility is provided by AMD, offering high-end users the ability to maximize the capability, flexibility, and adjustability of the platforms utilizing AMD processors, sockets, and chipsets.</td></tr><tr><td align="justify" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%"><center><b>Ultra Durable 3 – Classic</b></center>
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/mac/reviews/gigabyte/MA770UD3/features-5.png" style="float: left; margin: 4px 5px 0 0;" />As we have come expect from Gigabyte, the MA770-UD3 utilizes the new Ultra Durable 3 technology. As with Ultra Durable 2, this signifies that the motherboard was designed with high quality and energy efficient components, namely Low RDS(on) MOSFETs, ferrite core chokes, and long-lasting solid capacitors. However, it also features an industry first 2 ounce copper PCB delivering lower system temperature, improved energy efficiency and enhanced overclocking stability.</td><td align="justify" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%"><center><b>Easy Energy Saver</b></center>
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/mac/reviews/gigabyte/MA770UD3/features-6.png" style="float: left; margin: 4px 5px 0 0;" />Featuring an advanced proprietary software design, GIGABYTE Easy Energy Saver is able to dynamically adjust CPU power depending on workload, delivering just the right amount of power needed for the task. Coupled with AMD’s highly efficient AM2+ and latest 45nm AM3 CPU, the Easy Energy Saver is able to provide exceptional levels of power savings and enhanced power efficiency without sacrificing computing performance.</td></tr><tr><td align="justify" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%"><center><b>EasyTune6</b></center>
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/mac/reviews/gigabyte/MA770UD3/features-9.png" style="float: left; margin: 4px 5px 0 0;" />GIGABYTE has created EasyTune6 from the ground up to make it easier than ever to manage and monitor your hardware resources as well as tweak your system settings in order to achieve maximum system performance. Whether you are an overclocking enthusiast, or a computer novice, EasyTune6 provides the tools you need to quickly and effortlessly fine tune your system.</td><td align="justify" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%"><center><b>DualBIOS</b></center>
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/mac/reviews/gigabyte/MA770UD3/features-10.png" style="float: left; margin: 4px 5px 0 0;" />DualBIOS is a GIGABYTE patented technology that automatically recovers BIOS data when main BIOS has crashed or failed. Featuring 2 physical BIOS ROMs integrated onboard, GIGABYTE DualBIOS allows quick and seamless recovery from BIOS damage or failure due to viruses or improper BIOS updating.</td></tr></table>

Those of you familiar with our prior Gigabyte motherboard reviews will notice that there really isn't anything missing in terms of features, all the specific technologies that make Gigabyte's motherboards unique are present and accounted for on this budget-minded model.
 
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MAC

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Packaging & Accessories

Package & Accessories


Now that we have examined some of this motherboard’s built-in features, let’s take a quick peek at the package and accessories that Gigabyte have bundled with the MA770-UD3.

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The MA770-UD3's exterior packaging is based on the now familar white box theme that has become standard across the company's entire motherboard lineup. It is not quite as eye-catching as some other manufacturer's designs, but it gets its message across thanks to the large Ultra Durable 3 logo that dominates the front. We do like the novelty cutout in the lower right corner, simulating the 2 oz copper inner layer that is the distinguishing feature of the Ultra Durable 3 design. The box itself is svelte by modern standards, coming in at a compact 13 inches long, 10.5 inches wide, and a slim 2.75 inches thick. Does this mean it has a light accessories bundle? We will examine that shortly.

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The back of box features a more in-depth explanation of various Gigabyte-specific features like Ultra Durable 3 design, Easy Energy Saver, DualBIOS, etc.

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The motherboard itself is packed in a regular anti-static (ESD) bag, and there is a layer of foam material at the bottom of the box, just as an added layer of impact protection.

Next up, let's take a look at the essential accessories bundle:

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Here is a list of the items which are included with this motherboard:

  • 1 x Floppy Cable
  • 1 x IDE Cable
  • 2 x SATA Cables
  • I/O Panel
  • Gigabyte Sticker
  • Multilingual Installation Guidebook

As you can see, the accessory bundle is somewhat bare, but it does come with the essentials. We would have appreciated an extra pair of SATA cables, since two seems a little stingy to us. Speaking of SATA cables, only one of the two cables is of the angled variety, but that is perfectly understandable given the location of this motherboard's SATA ports. Overall, this is an acceptable accessories bundle when one considers this model's bargain basement price.
 
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MAC

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A Closer Look at the GIGABYTE GA-MA770-UD3

A Closer Look at the GIGABYTE GA-MA770-UD3



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At first glance, the overall layout is decent but there are certainly areas that need improvement. First and foremost, the location of the 4-pin CPU power connector is just plain awful. When that power cable is plugged in, there is simply no way to achieve a clean and tidy look to your system as it makes for a cable management disaster. It should have been placed on the top edge of the motherboard. Secondly, the two yellow USB 2.0 headers (above the southbridge heatsink in this picture) are very awkwardly positioned as well. Thankfully, with eight USB 2.0 ports on the I/O panel, few will actually make use of these oddly-placed headers.

On the positive side, the ATX power connector, the floppy connector and the IDE connector are all intelligently located at the edge of the motherboard, which is both convenient and functional. The SATA ports are located inwards, but since they are positioned near the bottom of the motherboard the potential for conflict with other components is reduced. Only an unusually long PCI (7"+) or PCI-E x1 (6.25"+) card would block any of the SATA ports.

Although not evident in the picture, this motherboard is actually a little bit narrower than the ATX standard, measuring 8.25" wide instead of the usual 9.5". As a result, it should be easier to install in smaller cases.

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As you can see, the general CPU socket area on this motherboard is quite clean. If you remove the CPU cooler bracket (you just need a phillips-head screwdriver), there really is a blank space to work with, which is ideal for those who utilize more extreme forms of cooling and who need to insulate around the socket area. Likewise, this should ensure compatibility with just about any air or water cooling solution on the market.

This motherboard features a 4+1 phase VRM power design consisting of bare MOSFETs and high-quality sealed Yageo R50 ferrite core chokes. For those of you wondering, the additional 1 phase is dedicated to the integrated memory/HyperTransport controller. This design officially supports 140W CPUs, and it should have no issues handling highly overclocked Athlon II and Phenom II processors.

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Next we have Gigabyte's traditional red and yellow memory slots, which support a total of 16GB of DDR2 system memory. The memory slots are positioned very close to each other, so you should not plan to use four modules with thick heatspreaders. This model has been outfitted with a single-phase power design for the memory, which should ensure stable voltages to your DDR2 modules.

At the edge of the motherboard, there is the perfectly located 24-pin ATX power connector and one of the four system fan headers.

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The heatsink on the SB700 southbridge is quite tiny, measuring 1.5" by 1.5", and only 6mm tall. Will it do an adequate job at cooling? We'll find out a little later.

Starting clockwise from directly below the southbridge, there is the green IDE connector, the six vertical SATA II ports, the colour-coded front panel header, the black floppy connector, and the two misplaced USB 2.0 headers. The SATA ports support RAID 0/1/10.

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The overall expansion slot layout and assortment is quite good when you consider that the 770 northbridge was designed to only support one graphics card. There is one full-sized PCI-E 2.0 x16 slot, four PCI-E x1 slots and two legacy PCI slots. As is the case with nearly every motherboard on the market, if you install a dual-slot graphics card in the PCI-E x16 slot, you automatically lose access to the PCI-E x1 slot directly under it, but with 3 spares that's no big deal.

The MA770-UD3 is outfitted with two physical BIOSes courtesy of the DualBIOS feature. This ensures that should a BIOS flash go awry, you won't have to RMA the motherboard to Gigabyte. Instead, the backup BIOS chip is automatically initialized and you can simply boot normally.

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Starting from the top-left, ITE IT8720F chip is an I/O controller which is responsible for hardware monitoring along with fan speed management and it supplies the legacy floppy support and PS/2 ports. The Texas Instruments TSB43AB23 chip supplies the two FireWire/IEEE 1394a ports and header while the Realtek 8111C is a gigabit LAN controller which runs on the PCI-Express bus. The Realtek ALC888 is a high-quality onboard 8-channel HD audio codec.

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Here we see that the 770 northbridge chipset benefits from its own single-phase power design (2R0 choke). The passively-cooled northbridge cooler is made entirely of aluminium and it is held down by plastic push-pins. However, it is quite loose and has too much wiggle room for our liking. Will this impact its cooling performance? We will be testing the efficacy of this cooling system in a later section.

Although we have already discussed the 4-pin CPU power connector's poor placement, we would like to see the 4-pin connector phased out in favour of the more robust 8-pin connector that is quickly becoming standard.

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As you can see, the rear I/O panel is well-equipped. From left to right, there are the PS/2 ports, optical and coaxial S/PDIF connectors, two FireWire ports, eight USB 2.0 ports, one Gigabit LAN ports, and the six audio jacks.

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On the back on the motherboard we can spot the large metal backplate behind the CPU socket area. This is a design feature that ensures heavy cooling solutions will not bend and potentially damage the PCB or even the CPU socket itself. The other image is the two plastic push-pins that secure the northbridge cooler. We would always prefer to see actual bolts being used, especially since this cooler is quite wobbly as mentioned above.
 
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MAC

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Hardware Installation

Hardware Installation


In the Hardware Installation section we examine how major components fit on the motherboard and whether there are any serious issues that may affect installation and general functionality. Specifically, we are interested in determining whether the motherboard has adequate clearance levels in all critical areas.

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On the AM2/AM3 platform, most CPU coolers can only be installed in one orientation but there are some that buck this trend by including custom mounting hardware. On this motherboard, the Thermalright Ultra-120 has no MOSFET coolers to clear but it does overhang the first two DIMM slots. This is actually slightly problematic because it makes installing and removing memory modules harder than it should be (particularly since we had to remove the 120MM fan every time), and it may prevent the installation of modules with particularly tall heatspreaders.

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Clearly, there are no concerns about memory clips coming into contact with the back of the graphics card and you can clearly see the sizeable gap between the CPU cooler and the northbridge cooler. This should ensure that even the largest heatsink will fit without issue.

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As mentioned previously, the 4-pin CPU power connector is in a poor location and although it doesn't actually interfere with any components, it simply looks ugly from an aesthetics point-of-view.

As you can see, because the motherboard is narrower than the ATX standard, a full-sized 10.5" graphics card overhangs it by quite a bit. The graphics card does overhang the IDE connector, which means that you need to remove the card before connecting/removing the ribbon. This is only a minor annoyance since very few people have IDE devices anymore.

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When a dual-slot graphics card is installed, you lose access to one PCI-E x1 slot, but the USB headers and SATA ports are fully accessible

There is one big issue though. The clip on the PCI-E x16 slot is impossible to reach when a dual-slot graphics card is installed. There is no room to slide your finger between the card and the southbridge heatsink and thus you cannot loosen/unlock the card from the slot. The only solution we found was to lift the card from the back until there was enough room to access the clip. Not exactly an elegant solution and not something anyone should have to deal with at this point in time.

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There is nothing on the back of the motherboard that interferes with the Thermalright's backplate and there is nothing that should create compatibility issues with other CPU cooler models either.
 
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MAC

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Included Software

Included Software


Now that we have the motherboard unpacked and installed, it is time to take a look at some of the software utilities that Gigabyte has included with the GA-MA770-UD3.

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Here are the setup screens for the included software CD. All the necessary drivers or utilities are present and accounted for, but you should always check Gigabyte's website for the latest versions, which you can do by clicking on the 'Download Center' tab.


EasyTune6

EasyTune6 is a system management utility that displays system clock speeds, voltages, temperatures, and fan rotation but more importantly it allows users to overclock from within Windows. Anyone familiar with past EasyTune iterations knows that although this utility has always contained a fair bit of functionality, its ease of use left much to be desired. Thankfully Gigabyte went back to the drawing board and created a brand new EasyTune version from scratch. Let's check it out.

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The CPU and Memory tabs provide basic component information and are somewhat reminiscent of the immensely popular CPU-Z utility. For those who desire a more manual approach to overclocking, the Tuner tab has an Easy mode which allows control over system bus. When users click on Advance, the voltage control options are revealed but in the case of the MA770-UD3 only the CPU vCore and memory voltages are available. A little meager, but this model is not really targeted towards heavy overclocking.

The Graphics tab can be used to manipulate your graphics card’s core/memory/shader clock speeds while the Smart tab gives you access to the CPU Intelligent Accelerator (C.I.A) 2 and Smart Fan functions. The CPU Intelligent Accelerator was designed to automatically overclock the CPU according to system load and user-selected level. In our experience, C.I.A.2 has never really worked as well as it should, so we still recommend that users take a manual approach to overclocking. As the name suggests, Smart Fan feature gives users finely-tuned control over the CPU fan speed.

Lastly, we have HW Monitor which displays the 'true' voltage readings for the CPU vCore, DIMM, +3.3V, and +12V rails. Obviously, this is not exactly a plethora of voltage readings, but then again this is a budget-oriented motherboard. Overall, EasyTune6 remains a solid piece of software, but on this particular motherboard its functionality has been somewhat limited.


Easy Energy Saver

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After first installing the Easy Energy Saver software, we are greeted with a powered down control panel. This means all energy saving functions are turned off and disabled. Only when we click on the large Easy Energy Saver logo to the right does the panel come to life and the power savings begin.

The software is pretty straightforward; we have our power savings meter in the top portion providing us with information about how much power was saved. There is the meter total that can easily be reset and the total amount saved since EES was first installed and enabled.


AMD OverDrive Utility

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When it works properly the AMD OverDrive Utility is a very impressive piece of software. It provides in-depth system information, extensive monitoring capabilities, lots of tweaking and overclocking functionality, benchmarking and stability testing capabilities, the works. While AOD still occassionaly displays erroneous figures, it worked much better on this motherboard than on the newer AM3-based ASUS M4A78T-E motherboard.
 
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MAC

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BIOS Rundown

BIOS Rundown


A well designed, feature-rich motherboard can easily be rendered mediocre by a subpar BIOS. Thankfully, as you will see below, Gigabyte has outfitted the GA-MA770-UD3 with an intuitive, user-friendly BIOS. This is BIOS version F6a, which we used throughout our review.

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The full screen logo and initial selection screen should be broadly familiar to anyone who has recently used a Gigabyte motherboard, and it conveniently lists the MB Intelligent Tweaker (M.I.T.) section as the first menu.


MB Intelligent Tweaker

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When you open the M.I.T. section you are greeted with all the essential system clock control options that an overclocker needs: CPU multiplier, CPU northbridge multiplier, system bus, PCI-E frequency, HT Link frequency and memory multiplier. Aside from the system bus frequency, all the settings are selectable via dropdown menus.

The more astute among you will notice the omission of the Advanced Clock Control (ACC) feature. ACC allows for the unlocking of extra cores and/or extra cache on Phenom II and Athlon II X2 processors. However, the MA770-UD3 rev. 1.0 that we are reviewing features the SB700 southbridge which does not support ACC. The updated MA770-UD3 rev. 2.0 features the newer SB710 southbridge, which does support ACC and which has the setting present in the BIOS.

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DCTs Mode allows you to select whether the two independent memory controllers work in ganged or unganged mode. For those of you unfamiliar with the term unganged, the Phenom II's IMC is implemented as two seperate 64-bit controllers rather than a single 128-bit interface. As a result, the platform can either emulate a single 128-bit dual-channel mode (ganged) or operate as two independent 64-bit memory controllers capable of processing two memory requests simultaneously (unganged). The latter is faster in multi-threaded scenarios, while the former is better for single-threaded environments but also puts more strain on the IMC.

The DRAM Configuration leads to its own sub-menu with a healthy assortment of DRAM timing options.

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As we scroll down, the numerous voltage settings are finally revealed, and we're glad to see that all the essential system voltages have found their way into this BIOS. The voltage settings are displaying in user-friendly drop-down menus once again.

While most of the voltage settings feature a large range and relatively small increments, the DDR2 voltage is limited to 2.175V which we found to be somewhat inadequate. There is no evidence to suggest that the Phenom II's memory controllers have a such a low vdimm limit and 2.175V might be insufficient for some older memory kits.


Standard CMOS Features

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The Standard CMOS Features menu is pretty standard as it lists the connected storage devices and allows you to set the date/time in the BIOS.


Advanced BIOS Features / Integrated Peripherals

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The Advanced BIOS Features section is where you can enable/disable CPU-specific features like virtualization and AMD's Cool 'n Quiet, set boot device priority and disable the boot-delaying logo. The Integrated Peripherals section allows you to enable/disable all of the various onboard devices (IDE, FireWire, LAN, AUDIO, USB, Serial & Parallel ports, etc).


Power Management Setup / PC Health Status

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The Power Management Setup is where you can select how to resume from various suspend/standby modes. As on most motherboards, the PC Health Status section is a slight disappointment since there are insufficient voltage and temperature readouts, but given the budget-oriented nature of this model that is a forgivable oversight.


Q-Flash Utility

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This last screenshot is of the Q-Flash utility which is accessed via the F8 key. Since Q-Flash is built right into the BIOS and it can read files directly from a USB flash drive, BIOS flashing is now a simple and quick procedure. We have never experienced an issue with this well implemented tool and it has certainly made our lives a little less stressful.


Overall, this is another user-friendly, fully featured Gigabyte BIOS. However, the 2.175V memory voltage limit is slightly inconvenient for those trying to extract the maximum performance from their DDR2 modules. Thankfully, this is an issue that could easily be rectified with a new BIOS.
 
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MAC

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Test Setup & Methodology

Test Setup & Methodology


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Test Platform:
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Testing will occur on a Highspeed PC Standard Top Deck Tech Station and not in a traditional case. This allows easier access to the motherboard for the constant poking and prodding that is required during the reviewing process. The setup remained as pictured during the duration of the benchmarking and stability overclocking process.


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Phenom II vs. Core 2 Duo Size Comparison - Click on image to enlarge


Overclocking Methodology


Although this is not a high-end model, we plan to test out the overclocking capabilities of the affordable, mainstream AMD 770 chipset. We hope to achieve some impressive overclocking results and are definitely going to find out what this motherboard is truly capable of. The overclocking section is definitely the part of our reviews that we take the most pride in, and we spend an excruciating numbers of hours testing, tweaking, failing, and succeeding in order to give you the best possible insight into each motherboard’s overclocking capabilities. After all, if you are anything like us, the overclocking section is the first (and often last!) part that you read when checking out a motherboard review.

For the purposes of this review, our overclocking efforts will primarily focus on three main areas: highest stable CPU bus overclock, highest stable CPU overclock, highest stable memory overclock, and overall system overclock.

In these four overclocking tests we put an emphasis on stability. While the question “What is stable?” could be debated endlessly, we have devised a methodology that combines a wide range of programs that test the stability of the entire system.

Here is the suite of applications that will be run in order to validate each of the overclocks:

  • Eight 32MB instances of SuperPi Mod 1.5 (ran at the same time)
  • 3+ hours of dual Prime 95 v25.6 using the Stress Testing Blend
  • 1 hour of OCCT Auto 1H Medium Data Set OCCT v3.0.1
  • 3+ hours of dual HCI MemTest in Windows using all available memory
  • Multiple loops of 3DMark 06 (30 minutes of looping the full tests each)
  • 1 hour of game play in Left 4 Dead & Crysis @ 1680x1050

Altogether, the above suite should provide enough stress testing to ensure a completely stable overclock, however we are always up for new suggestions. As always, no two systems are ever alike, so your results may vary. Also, overclock at your own risk! The Phenom II AM3 platform is brand new, and although we are somewhat conservative with our voltage estimates, there is always the possibility that you could damage any and all of your components. If you aren’t fully confident in what you are doing, feel free to stop by our forums and our helpful community will be glad to offer some assistance.


Benchmark Methodology


For this review, our benchmarking section will focus solely on the Gigabyte GA-MA770-UD3, in stock and overclocked configuration. The reasoning behind this approach is that there is a minuscule clock-for-clock performance difference between two motherboards that share an identical chipset and declaring one product a winner based on a 1% performance advantages seems futile to us.

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We have outlined the two setups in the sample graph above. The blue results will indicate the performance at the BIOS defaults. The only change that was made to the BIOS is the disabling of Cool 'N Quiet. Every other setting was at the default that the BIOS sets. The red results are achieved using the highest stable overall system overclock for this particular setup.

For all of the benchmarks, appropriate lengths are taken to ensure an equal comparison through methodical setup, installation, and testing. The following outlines our testing methodology:

A) Windows is installed using a full format.

B) Intel Chipset drivers and accessory hardware drivers (audio, network, GPU) are installed followed by a defragment and a reboot.

C) Programs and games are then installed followed by another defragment.

D) Windows updates are then completed installing all available updates followed by a defragment.

E) Benchmarks are each ran three times after a clean reboot for every iteration of the benchmark unless otherwise stated, the results are then averaged.

We have listed the benchmark versions on each graph as results can vary between updates. That should about cover everything so let's see what kind of numbers this motherboard puts up in the overclocking section and in our chosen suite of benchmarks.
 
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MAC

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Overclocking Results

Overclocking Results


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First and foremost, if you are completely new to Phenom II overclocking we highly recommend that you check out our article on the subject, aptly titled "Hardware Canucks: Benchmarkers Guide to the Phenom II". Although it is limited to the AM2+ versions, the fundamentals remain the same as with the new Phenom II AM3 processors.

In our tests, we will be using a Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition processor, codename 'Heka'. This triple-core model features a 2.8Ghz clock speed, 1.5MB of L2 cache, 6MB of L3 cache, and most important for our purposes, fully unlocked CPU multipliers. As a result, we will be able to determine what kind CPU bus speeds this motherboard is capable of. We'll also be verifying how well the processor scales on this budget model, and whether it can keep up with the higher-end ASUS M4A78T-E. Since this is a DDR2 motherboard, we will checking out how much memory overclocking headroom the AM3 processor's integrated memory controller has with DDR2 memory. Lastly, our overall system overclock represents the best combination of CPU, bus, and memory speeds to form the overclocked configuration that we will use in the benchmarking section.Across four results, we Cool'n'Quiet was disabled in the BIOS, and we kept the CPU/NB frequency and HT Link speed as close as possible to the default 2000Mhz.

So without further ado, let's move onto the results:

Highest Stable CPU Bus Overclock


Athlon II and Phenom II processors have a bus frequency that is generated and thus limited by the motherboard. Although this frequency is more or less relevant for those with unlocked Black Edition chips, those who purchase locked models will need to increase this bus frequency in order to overclock their processors. As you can see above, despite its budget roots, the MA770-UD3 proved to have a lot of bus overclocking headroom. From the stock 200Mhz, we were able to achieve a surprising 315Mhz. To put that into perspective, no matter what current Athlon II/Phenom II model you own, you would have enough bus frequency headroom to be able to hit up to a 4.1Ghz core clock. This result was a piece of cake to achieve as well. We just set the CPU and memory multiplier, left all the voltage options on AUTO, and started increasing bus frequency until we found the high mark. The motherboard automatically adjusted the HT Link and CPU NB (ie: cache/integrated memory controller) frequency, and it also selected a nothbridge voltage that we consider safe for this chipset (1.25V).

We are happy to report that we didn't notice any FSB holes on this model, which is an issue that has been affecting a few AMD 7xx series motherboards.

Highest Stable CPU Overclock


CPU overclocking on this motherboard was a positive experience. We were able to overclock our so-so Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition processor from its stock 2.8Ghz up to 3.65Ghz with 1.525 vCore. Now those of you who have read our ASUS M4A78T-E review will know that we were able to achieve over 3.7Ghz on that model. Why the difference? Simply put, to achieve 3.7Ghz our chip needs 1.55vCore, and when we attempted that combo the system would fail to load Windows. Adding more vCore didn't resolve the problem either. We could run at 2.8-3.0-3.2-3.4-3.6Ghz with 1.55Vcore without issue, but once we reached that 3.7Ghz mark, the ability to boot into Windows went out the Window. Could this simply be a small issue with our sample? Absolutely, but let's be honest, if you are planning on running a 1.55 vCore 24/7 and reaching a near 4.0Ghz clock speed, investing in an overclocking-oriented motherboard would be wise.

Highest Stable MemoryOverclock


When we first got our hands on this motherboard we were definitely interested in finding out how well the new AM3 processors cope when dealing with DDR2 memory. Although AMD specifies the maximum memory speed as DDR2-1066, Gigabyte have validated this model for operation up to DDR2-1200. Regrettably, we believe that this motherboard may have curtailed our attempts. As mentioned in the BIOS section, the maximum selectable memory voltage is a relatively mild 2.175V. While this is overkill for nearly all of the newest 4GB kits, our older Crucial Ballistix PC2-6400 modules respond well to additional voltage and that is likely what stopped our progress at a respectable DDR2-1179 5-5-5. Having said that, we searched extensively on various forums to see if anyone was running at DDR2-1200+ 24/7 with an AM3 procesor, but couldn't find any such cases. Either way, this result could be achieved by leaving the CPU/NB voltage on AUTO, but even increasing it up to a heady 1.475V didn't provide any additional stable memory overclocking headroom.


Highest Stable Overall System Overclock


Our overall system overclock perfectly combines the highest CPU overclock with the highest memory overclock: 3.65Ghz CPU clock/DDR2-1179 memory clock. This is what we would run on a 24/7 basis, and it will serve as the overclocked configuration in our subsequent benchmarking section.


Overall, we had a fairly pleasant experience overclocking with the MA770-UD3. Despite its barebones price, it handled hefty overclocks and was able to push our hardware to very respectable heights. Yes, there were a few hiccups here and there when attempting to push the limits, but for those seeking sane 24/7 overclocks, this motherboard should provide a problem-free experience.
 
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