The UD3 has always been the middle-child of the Gigabyte line of motherboards and so it's been fairly difficult to place.
If what you desire is the cheapest possible motherboard that bears Gigabyte branding, the UD2 is the chap. If however you want a plentiful supply of bells and as many whistles as it's possible to fit within a 12x8 block piece of hardware, then the UD5 and UD7 will be exactly the fellows for you.
So the UD3, which isn't so cheap that its quality is almost a secondary consideration, but neither is it so amazing that you're likely to use it as the basis for a Colossus, tends to fall into the middle. It's a jack of all trades and by being so difficult to pigeon-hole it truly is a test of going into a review free from the burden of expectation. We know it's not going to be so cheap that as long as it has room to put the hardware in we'll be happy, but we also know it's not going to blow us away by having 24 phase power and 12 PCIe sockets.
Therefore we have to have a clean mind and just see where exactly on the sliding scale it fits. So let's crack on.
The specs of the UD3P are as all-inclusive as we've come to expect from the Z68 chipset. We've got support for up to 32GB of DDR3, should 8GB density ever become commonplace, along with good quality audio via the Realtek ALC889. Storage is handled by 4 SATA II ports and 4 SATA III 6Gbp/s ones.
The main things that differentiate this from the higher equipped models is the limited fan headers (4 in total) and that the second PCIe socket is only x8 so if you run two cards then both will be at x8 instead of the full-fat x16.
|Onboard Graphics||Integrated in the Chipset: |
|Storage Interface||Chipset: |
|IEEE 1394||VIA VT6308 chip: |
|Internal I/O Connectors|
|Back Panel Connectors|
There is a certain confidence that comes from being at either the value or premium end of the marketplace that allows a manufacturer to be very minimalist in their packaging. This is true of all product types. Equally true is that in the very tightly fought middle ground where the majority of us do their spending, it's tough to be noticed. This insecurity is prevalent in the packaging for the UD3P. Gigabyte seem to have crammed every possible technology badge and mentioned every tiny feature in the hope of catching the eye of the shopper. Whilst it's a case that sometimes more is more, here we think a bit of the "feature shouting" could be toned down.
Once we've opened the box we find the usual selection of accessories. The manual is, for once, something that's both informative and full of information. So many companies either give you a book containing all the things they want to advertise (which is a bit late once you've brought it) or commit the cardinal sin of giving you a pamphlet. How lovely it is to see a properly written manual with a decent explanation of everything.
I'm a firm believer you can tell a lot about the quality of a motherboard from the IO shield. At the bottom end you have plain ones punched from tin foil, in the middle coloured ones but still with finger gouging bits hanging out the back, and at the high-end there are ones with soft backs and all black colouring. The UD3P is equipped with the middle kind. However the colour-coding is thankfully exactly what it should be, being easy to tell at a glance the difference between the USB2 and USB3 ports when fumbling in the dark.
And here is the board itself. All the plastics are black and all the metal bits are in the gun-metal grey we've seen previously on the UD5. Sure they aren't of the same exquisite quality, but they certainly have enough design flair to justify your decision to pay that little extra over the base model.
Up Close cont
Despite its full ATX size the UD3 doesn't want for connectivity options. The Gigabyte front-panel connector is one of my favourites, being both colour-coded and having the connections marked on the circuit board. Anyone who's spent ages flipping through a manual trying to work out what goes where will appreciate the simplicity of the Gigabyte solution. We've also got a USB 3.0 connector should the two hard-wired ones prove too few for your high-speed needs.
All your PCI needs are covered. We've got two legacy PCI slots for those ancient old bits of hardware you should have long thrown out, three PCIe x1 ports for those extra USB ports or soundcards and the like, as well as the two big ones for GPUs. One x16 and one x8. It's a little disappointing to see the second port is only x8 and restricts the main PCIe to x8 if both are populated, but there is a reason this is the UD3P and not the UD5 or better.
Speaking of USB3.0 ports the ones on the UD3P are provided by an EtronTech EJ168A which is a new one on us and we can't think of another motherboard we've seen that used this particular solution.
Up next to the DIMM slots is a row of LED indicators for those times your overclocking exploits or hardware installation isn't quite up to snuff. The memory sockets do seem particularly close to the CPU socket, so if you plan on some monster cooler it's worth making sure you've got low profile DIMMs.
The Z68XP-UD3P has 8 SATA ports, with half of them being the 6Gbp/s variety. This is good to see as the backwards compatibility of the SATA III means there is no reason other than cost to not use as many as possible, especially as the speed benefits are so enormous compared to SATA II.
Finally round the back we have a plethora of USB2.0 ports along with the standard LAN and audio connectors and a couple of USB3.0 ports. Video output is limited to a HDMI but that's plenty for most modern displays.
Rather than include a UEFI BIOS Gigabyte are persisting with their Touch BIOS utility. This is just like UEFIs that we've seen but all the tweaking is done via Windows and you can then save the settings from there and reboot. This is a bit of a double-edged sword as the "TOUCH BIOS!!!!" is so large on the box that it's always a disappointment to see that it's just a utility, but on the other hand it's at least very smooth to navigate, something that can't be claimed about all the in-built ones.
Now if they could combine the looks and functionality of this with 'live' changes they'd definitely be onto something.
The @BIOS updater is one of the best around, being easy to see what you've currently got installed and equally it's easy to find an updated one if one exists. All in all the Gigabyte suite of applications and utilities is actually worthy of installing and that's a bold statement indeed.
The UD3P is tested with our standard LGA1155 test kit. The addition today is of a SSD to see how the Intel Rapid Storage Technology has matured with the later driver releases.
Intel Core i5-2500K
4GB Kingston Genesis
Thermalright Silver Arrow
EVGA GTX570 ForceWare 275.33
Be Quiet Dark Power Pro
Corsair 80GB SSD
Samsung Spinpoint F1
Windows 7 x64
Overclocking the UD3P further expresses its placement as the middle of the three main Z68 Gigabyte boards. Whilst the D2H tops out around 4.4 GHz and the Z68 UD5 is capable of 4.8 GHz, the UD3 is, yes you've guessed it, good for 4.6 GHz. It's definitely not a voltage block as no matter how much electricity we pumped through our 2500K it just wouldn't budge.
However, it was able to run the 4.6 GHz overclock at a lot lower VCore than many other boards we've tested on the Z68 platform. 1.35v was enough to keep things perfectly stable and that's great for the long-term abuse that an everyman board is likely to receive.
Thankfully unlike many boards that claim one thing and deliver another the UD3P was capable of running our Kingston kit at the rated 2133 MHz.
Whilst the driver included with the CD is the 1026 variant, the Intel website has the 1027s which have been claimed to be much more stable so we felt it was time to revisit this and see how it has matured. As you can see our very plain Corsair 80GB SSD when coupled as cache to our much-loved and worn Samsung Spinpoint F1 allowed us to get 166MB/s read and nearly 59MB/s in write. We're not even using the 'Maximize' setting either, but rather the more stable and therefore slower standard setting.
Obviously as we've got a fairly modest overclock going today we're not looking for pure performance so much as a consistent level. It's pointless getting huge scores in one thing if another wheezes along. Despite giving up 100MHz to the Biostar TZ68A+ the UD3P keeps up in the two big CPU tests of AIDA64 and just noses ahead in the all-encompassing CPU Queen and PhotoWorxx tests.
Despite running at the same speed the UD3P puts its bigger UD5 brother in the shade in the AIDA64 memory suite. The write speed is a little lower than we'd expect but that great copy speed makes up for it.
Despite Sandra being about the most synthetic test on the planet (somehow it seems like SiSoft manage to separate the CPU from the rest of the system entirely) the UD3P still makes a good showing. It's not all about the pure speed numbers, it's what you do with it that counts.
Further proving that just because you have 5GHz under the hood doesn't mean that you're using all of it the Z68XP-UD3P is, if not in quite at the plate, in the on deck circle.
PC Mark Vantage
Benchmarking all this hardware can become a little routine now and again. Once you've tested 50 setups all around the same speed and using the same bits and bobs you can get such a good feel for the result that it's easy to become a little blasé because modern components are so well tested that it's nearly impossible to be surprised.
Consider us surprised. There is clearly a sweet-spot of components here. Sure the IRST-enhanced storage has a large part to play, but the UD3P is making the most of what is available to it and, in PC Mark Vantage at least, putting everything else on our graph to shame.
PC Mark 7
If ever there was a doubt about what a difference a hundred pounds worth of SSD can make to the overall performance of your system, this result expels those. Remember this isn't making do with a tiny SSD drive for the OS and a slow one for storage. We've got a full 1TB drive running at these speeds.
Whilst it's possible for an underlying system to get the most of what is available to it, as we've seen from the UD3P, there comes a time when there is no replacement for pure horsepower and so it is with CineBench. Still the Gigabyte isn't blown away, rather it's just not quite as quick as some of the other boards that can get our 2500K up nearer the 5GHz mark.
x264 Benchmark v4
Compared to the Biostar we reviewed earlier in the week the UD3P really is helped by the ability to shunt the data off to the drive quickly. This has a cumulative effect on the free time it gives the processor as it's not waiting for the cache to be dumped, and so we get a very healthy score.
3D Mark Vantage
In keeping with the running theme of how this board seems to outstrip what you'd consider it capable of on pure numbers alone, 3D Mark definitely gets a bit of a boost from the IRST. Being able to get those big textures that little bit faster means that neither the GPU or CPU are twiddling their thumbs and this has a reciprocal effect upon the scores. The Z68 UD5 was the only other board on show with the IRST enabled and it's not a surprise that these two boards top the charts.
3D Mark 11
Relying less upon the old fashioned "huge textures" way that Vantage works, 3D Mark 11 obviously has a smaller increase over the rest of the boards on test. In fact it's pretty much on a par which shows how hard the latest Futuremark bench pushes our GTX570.
The 'Middle-Child' analogy we started off with proves to be an apt explanation of the Z68XP-UD3P. Whereas the older child gets by purely on being the biggest, and the youngest one has few expectations, the middle child has to work really hard and make every bit of its talent count to be noticed.
The UD3P definitely makes the absolute most of everything it's given. It's almost voracious in its use of each morsel of performance.
Initially we were very disappointed with the overclocking performance. No matter how much we tinkered and tweaked, which is something that there is a distinct lack of on the LGA1155 platform, it just wouldn't play ball past 4.6 GHz. Even the bargain basement Biostar hit 4.7 GHz and most of the other boards we've tested have been good for 4.8 GHz.
However this performance deficit is solely a number one. In actuality the UD3P performs pretty much as well as any other motherboard we've seen. Sure there are the odd tests in which those few extra MHz are found wanting, but we'd bet a pound to a penny that in daily use you'd never notice.
Indeed the main star of the show is, as it was with the Z68 UD5, the Intel Rapid Storage Technology. Plug in a SSD of your choosing, select XHD in the BIOS, install Windows to your main drive as normal then install the IRST driver and link the SSD to the HDD and within a couple of minutes you've got all the capacity of a mechanical drive with most of the speed of the SSD for a nth of the price. The kit used today comes to about £140 for the SSD and Spinpoint and you'll struggle to get a 1TB SSD for that money. You'd struggle to get a 128GB SSD for that money.
The benefits of doing this are clear for all to see in our results. Yes a pure SSD only arrangement will be a little bit quicker, but in terms of power per pound it's tough to beat the UD3P with IRST. Everything you use feels the benefit and hence the system is capable of performing far beyond what a glance at the overclock would lead you to believe.
So if you're the kind of person who just wants cheap, at around £140 the Z68XP-UD3P isn't the bottom of the line, but it looks great and is rock-solid. Yes if you believe that overclocking numbers are the sole reason for existing, regardless of how usable that performance is, then look elsewhere.
But for the rest of us, those with bills to pay, the Z68 Ultra Durable (which gives the UD series its name) is a workhorse of a board that will just get on and do with the minimum of fuss. If you aren't going to take advantage of the IRST there are better performing options for the money, the truly brilliant Sabertooth P67 springs to mind, but for an all-rounder that can still put a smile on your face, the UD3P is a great board and worthy of our OC3D Silver Award.
Thanks to Gigabyte for providing the Z68XP-UD3P for review. Discuss in our forums.