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Gigabyte P67A-UD7 & P67A-UD4 Sandy Bridge Motherboards Preview

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SKYMTL

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With Intel's upcoming Sandy Bridge architecture right around the corner, motherboard manufacturers are obviously quite excited about showing off their supporting products. Unfortunately, we can’t discuss price positioning or performance of the processors themselves but this will be the first of a number of quick articles detailing the functions and layouts of these boards.

As usual, Gigabyte will have a massive lineup of P67 products available right off the bat. Some will naturally cater to the upper crust of society with a rich feature set and a price point to match but there will be several other SKUs which will balance feature sets, performance and affordability. The P67A-UD4 falls into this latter category with dual card SLI and Crossfire support alongside USB 3.0 and SATA 6 Gbps ports for ultra fast data access. Gigabyte’s higher-end P67A-UD7 meanwhile builds upon the expectations of enthusiasts by offering an overclocker-friendly BIOS, expanded power regulation and 3-way GPU support. Naturally, you can expect all of these features to come with a relatively high price as well.

Gigabyte has been known to release some of the best motherboards around but their P67 lineup will have things that set them apart from past products. To begin with, this is the first time we will see black PCBs in lieu of the usual cacophony of colours normally seen on their boards. Let’s see what else Gigabyte is about to bring to the highly competitive motherboard market.

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SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at the Gigabyte P67A-UD4

A Closer Look at the Gigabyte P67A-UD4


Gigabyte’s P67A-UD4 will target budget minded buyers who don’t need the massive overclocking capabilities of enthusiast-level products but want a strong feature set. SATA 6 and USB 3.0 are both included which should give this product plenty of options for upcoming peripherals and storage devices. The BIOS itself is surprisingly complete as well and should give open up the possibility of overclocking the K-series Sandy Bridge chips to the limits of air and even water cooling.

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From an aesthetics standpoint, Gigabyte’s newest P67 boards are a massive departure from the products of yesteryear since they all feature stunning black PCBs. This isn’t black like you are used to seeing since it avoids the usual glossy finish and replaces it with a subdued matte appearance. While many may think that Gigabyte’s change to tuxedo black shows a lack of creativity on their part, we were pleasantly surprised to see a change from the slightly gaudy black / brown coloration of the competition’s boards.

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The area immediately surrounding the CPU socket houses an impressive 13-phase power regulation design which isn’t normally seen on mainstream boards. The VRMs have their heat dispersed by a relatively simple dual heatsink array which is connected by a single heatpipe. For those of you wondering, Gigabyte has decided to use a Lotes 1155 socket retention clip.

Like other Intel processors of the last two years, Sandy Bridge integrates many of the typical functions found on the NorthBridge of Core-series products onto the CPU die. This allows the elimination of the two-chip motherboard layouts and while some products will use the vacated space for NVIDIA’s nForce 200 controller, the UD4 features a vast expanse of open PCB directly below the CPU socket.

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The four DDR3 memory slots aren’t colour coded but feature their own 2-phase power distribution. Since this isn’t a product that targets enthusiasts, overclockers or “gamers”, there aren't any voltage read points or onboard power and reset buttons on the board itself. The UD4 does however include Gigabyte’s Dual BIOS feature which can be a real life-saver if a BIOS flash happens to go awry since a default profile will always be stored in a backup chip, ready for use.

The far edge of the P67A-UD4 also features six SATA connectors; two of which are compatible with the ultra fast SATA 6 standard. The bottom edge has the usual USB 2.0 connectors as well as a single USB 3.0 output for a front panel connector.

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The expansion slot layout is what one would expect from a fully featured mid-range product with the stars of the show being a pair of PCI-E 2.0 x16 slots. When using a single card, the top slot operates at a full x16 bandwidth while dual cards will be run at x8 / x8 speeds which shouldn’t be a limiting factor for even the fastest available since core graphics cards. These slots are perfectly placed to ensure excellent airflow to both cards.

In addition to the two designated graphics card slots, there is a trio of PCI-E x1 slots as well as a pair of legacy PCI connectors riding at the bottom of the board.

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Gigabyte's backplate connector layout is impressive to say the least. Included is a whopping ten USB connectors - two of which have USB 3.0 functionality along with a pair of external eSATA ports. Otherwise, we get the usual audio outputs (including an optical output and a digital coaxial connector), a LAN jack and a standard PS/2 keyboard / mouse connector.
 
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SKYMTL

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Gigabyte's Enthusiast Offering: The P67A-UD7

Gigabyte's Enthusiast Offering: The P67A-UD7


Gigabyte’s UD7 series of motherboards has long been one of the most respected in many enthusiast circles and this tradition should continue into the P67 products as well. For the time being, the P67A-UD7 will be the highest-end and most expensive Sandy Bridge supporting board in Gigabyte’s lineup. It has a literal laundry list of features, many of which will likely overlap with similarly priced X58 products.

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While the UD4 we saw on the previous page retained some of Gigabyte’s old blue colour scheme, the UD7 represents a true departure away from tradition towards a gold and matte black design. It truly is stunning but unlike some other enthusiast-branded boards, this one sticks to the standard ATX form factor.

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Packed around the 1155 socket is the impressive 24 phase power distribution grid which is designed to deliver the stability required to push Sandy Bridge processors to their upper limits. The VRM modules are cooled by massive solid aluminum and copper fins that are spaced in such a way that mounting aftermarket CPU heatsinks shouldn’t cause an issue. These heatsinks are tied together by two substantial heatpipes that run from the lower module (which covers an nForce 200 chip) all the way up to the topmost unit in order to ensure even heat distribution and dispersal.


Along the outer edge of the UD7 are on-board buttons for Power, Reset and Clear CMOS which will end up being used by many an overclocker. There is also a POST code display in one of the corners and the aforementioned Dual BIOS functionality has been implemented here as well.

Unlike on the lower-end UD4, the P67A-UD7 includes four SATA 3 ports as well as four standard SATA 2 ports for excellent adaptability.

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The expansion slots are is where all the action happens on this board since the inclusion of NVIDIA’s nForce 200 chip allows for up to four graphics cards to be used at once but “officially” supports 3-way SLI and triple Crossfire. In normal mode, the PCI-E 2.0 slots operate in x16 / x0 / 16x / x0 mode which allows two slots of separation between the pair of cards being used. Due to the nature of pathway switching, it isn’t possible to institute a third full PCI-E x16 slot with its full bandwidth so when three cards are used, the motherboard changes to a x16 / x0 / x16 / x8 setup. If four cards are installed, all slots will be run in x8 mode.

Other than the graphics prowess of this board, an additional x1 PCI-E slot is provided at the very top which is in a truly unfortunate location. While this could provide a prime space for an add-in audio card, Gigabyte has designed the UD7 in such a way that any card over four inches in length will smash directly into the NF200’s heatsink. There are an additional two legacy PCI slots for audio any cards you may want to install though.

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As we have come to expect from flagship motherboards, the backplate connector selection on the UD7 is absolutely top notch. There are six USB 3.0 ports along with four standard USB 2.0 ports of which two are what Gigabyte calls their Power eSATA. These special ports can either be used for USB 2.0 or powered eSATA 6Gbps connections.

The laundry list goes on to include ports for Firewire, dual LAN jacks, optical and coaxial digital audio along with a standard PS/2 keyboard / mouse connector.



 
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