If it's another day it must be another slight variation upon the theme of the Intel Z77 Chipset. Considering how well-rounded the Z77 chipset is, and how incredibly robust and feature-rich it is in it's default Intel specification, we're always surprised that manufacturers can find some many different ways to package it. We're reminded of the comments we made regarding the nVidia GTX660Ti. To a certain degree you just need a mini-ATX, an ATX mid-range, and an all-singing Enthusiast model. So the question is, where does the UP4 sit in the large Gigabyte range?
The most noticeable change between the UP4 and the previous U range of motherboards we have reviewed from Gigabyte is the inclusion of the Intel Thunderbolt technology. Not only do you get a Thunderbolt on the Z77X-UP4, but this is the first certified motherboard to include two Thunderbolt ports, which allow you to daisy-chain up to 12 devices from the UP4. This is still right on the leading edge of current hardware, and has a price-tag which reflects this. To the average user a single device has no great benefits attached to the Thunderbolt interface rather than a USB 3.0 port. But the big performance gains are to be had when daisy-chaining, thanks to the ability to saturate the throughput in a method that is impossible with USB. However, this requires very deep pockets and, as such, is beyond the scope of today's review.
The other big feature is the inclusion of the International Rectifier IR3550 PowIRstage. This has combined the usual multi-chip design that controls High and Low side MOSFETs and the driver IC into a single package. Not only does this save on motherboard real-estate, but it's much more efficient and, even more importantly, significantly cooler than the multi-chip arrangement. So efficient is the single package solution offered by the IR3550 that power efficiency can reach 95% whilst still being over 30°C cooler than a traditional MOSFET design.
Aside from Dual Thunderbolt ports and the IR3550 powerphase, the Z77X-UP4 TH is all pretty standard stuff. Realtek LAN, Lucid MVP, SATA 6Gbp/s and the ubiquitous Realtek ALC892 sound chip are all present.
|Onboard Graphics||Integrated Graphics Processor:|
|Thunderbolt||Intel DSL3510L chip:|
|Internal I/O Connectors|
|Back Panel Connectors|
Externally the UP4 is reminiscent of the rest of the Gigabyte range of motherboards, the white box leaving no doubt as to the model number you have in your hands, nor the features that are contained within. Although the addition of the TH for Thunderbolt moniker must have some people saying "Fourth? I don't remember a third". Inside we have the standard few accessories, IO shield, SLI bridge and SATA cables alongside the always excellent Gigabyte documentation.
The board itself is probably best described as functional, at least in terms of the heatsink design. It just lacks those few moments of flair. All black except a dark grey to differentiate the memory channels and two white SATA ports, it's a far cry from the blue and black we're used to seeing from Gigabyte.
The bottom corner is pretty tidy, with the CMOS battery easily accessible and the front-panel header nicely placed. We're not big fans of the half-shield on the chipset heatsink. It looks too much as if they ran out of aluminium. Considering how nice, albeit utilitarian, the rest of the UP4 looks this is disappointing.
PCI Express slots are well spaced ensuring good airflow around even an twin-GPU setup. The move of the mSATA port to above the top PCI Express 3.0 slot means it's not somewhere you'll be able to access too readily once a GPU and the CPU cooler are in place, but it's out the way for the majority of us who will never take advantage of it.
The CPU area is clean and tidy, with fan headers handily placed to save the long tangle of 4 pin cables or any need for extensions. The heatsinks are, as we've said, a bit bland. Functional enough but nobody is going to be wowed by them. Probably the biggest surprise in terms of the design is the lack of power control buttons on the UP4 itself. We're so used to them appearing on everything, from ITX boards to the very top of the range models, that to find them absent was eyebrow-raising.
SATA ports are two 6Gbp/s ones (white) and four 3Gbp/s ones. Round the back everything is where you'd expect to find it with the normal wealth of USB headers and display options. The big change with the Z77X-UP4 TH is the inclusion of the two Thunderbolt ports between the LAN tower and the Audio outputs. We're not sure if they can be stacked, but it would help tidy things up if they were.
The UP4 comes with the Gigabyte 3D BIOS, which looks great in pictures and is useful for allowing people who are unfamiliar with BIOS adjustments to understand what is affected by each tweak, or to adjust small things such as boot orders without being fearful they will put 2v through their CPU. Although it's obvious to us what does what, you can never underestimate the importance of teaching the next generation.
The initial options are all fairly standard things we've seen a thousand times before.
The M.I.T provides the main place we're interested in. Every item is clearly labelled and you can make as many or as few adjustments as you feel necessary.
Thunderbolt options are few, but we're sure as the technology matures this will become as fully populated as the USB options are now.
Gigabyte Z77X-UP4 TH
Intel Core i7-3770K
8GB G.Skill Trident 2400 @ 10-12-12-31
Sapphire HD7950 with Catalyst 12.6
Cougar CM1000 PSU
Corsair F80 SSD
Thermalright Silver Arrow
Windows 7 x64
When considering where this fits in the Gigabyte line-up you can usually get a fair indication by the number. Of course there doesn't appear to be a UD7 on the horizon, and this is a UP rather than UD, but it still fits neatly into the gap between the D3H and the UD5 when it comes to overclocking our i7-3770K. Although we saw 4.8 GHz able to complete most runs, it wasn't completely stable in all of our testing and so we settled on 4.7GHz for our overclock tests today.
Considering the efficiency and cooler running that was lauded by the IR3550 MOSFET, it's slightly disappointing that we didn't see a higher usable overclock. One of the side benefits to the cooler running of the IR3550 is that the area around the CPU is cooler, which can make a slight difference in your CPU temperatures. During testing we found that on average our Core i7-3770K was 3°C cooler than it usually is. Not an earth shattering change, but any reduction in thermal profile has to be appreciated. It might, if you're running a lesser CPU cooler, make enough difference to allow you to achieve a higher overclock.
Don't let the AES result fool your eye into thinking the rest of the scores are that significantly behind. Although we're not hitting the heights seen on the Maximus V Extreme, the UP4 is incredibly close to the results we obtained from the much pricier Sniper 3.
Memory scores are middling, with the stock result being a little concerning, but the overclock gaining much of the deficit back.
Sandra is always good at making the absolute most out of the clockspeed and processor you have installed. Indeed it's almost capable of separating the CPU from the rest of the components. The UP4 puts up a good showing both in the stock speed tests, and the overclocked tests.
PC Mark Vantage
PC Mark Vantage gives a bit of cause for concern. We see the same middling memory results that we saw in AIDA64, and the Gigabyte Z77X-UP4 TH ends up with one of most disappointing gaming scores we've seen. Curiously when compared to the rest of the models on test we see the actual PC Mark result being just a shade behind the better motherboards we've benchmarked. Maybe the Catalyst 12.6 drivers don't perform as well here as the 12.3s.
PC Mark 7
The ship steadies with the latest version of PC Mark. The UP4 is there or thereabouts when at stock, and the overclocked score reflects the slightly lessened clockspeed we were able to obtain.
In the always fun-to-watch Cinebench the UP4 neatly follows the glut of other Z77 motherboards we've tested. A percentile point here and there is within error tolerance, although at the very top end it isn't quite up there with the finest.
The freeware raytracer POV-Ray continues this theme, with the Gigabyte Z77X-UP4 TH being right on the money, if not able to replicate some of the more dizzying scores we've seen.
The many calculations involved in obtaining a wPrime95 score makes full use of both CPU clockspeed and memory bandwidth. The good-but-not-great results we have seen in the memory tests, when coupled to the slightly lower overclock, mean that the UP4 is in the middle of the pack.
The always testing Unigine Heaven benchmark highlights how the UP4 TH is not quite at the cutting edge of graphical performance, as we saw with PC Mark Vantage. Let us finish up with 3D Mark to see if this stays true throughout.
3D Mark Vantage
Performance in Vantage is better, considering that the main 'boards ahead of the UP4 are the much pricier Gigabyte Sniper 3, ASUS Maximus V Extreme, and, Gigabyte D3H?!
3D Mark 11
Finally 3D Mark 11, and although the D3H again steals the limelight, all of the Z77 boards are in the same ballpark.
Let's be clear from the outset, if you buy the Gigabyte Z77X-UP4 TH you'll definitely be happy with your purchase. It's absolutely fine and does everything well, and is devoid of glaring issues.
We have got two unique selling points on the UP4. The first is that this is the first motherboard to come with Dual Thunderbolt ports, so that rather than be limited to only six Thunderbolt devices you can chain up to twelve devices and three Displays. The second, and far more immediately useful, addition is the IR3550 PowIRstage ICs. Although under our air-cooling this didn't give us any particular boost to our overclocking, it definitely runs significantly cooler than the standard MOSFET control arrangement. Our thermal probe reported the Z77X-UP4 TH to be 22°C cooler than we normally see, so there are definitely benefits to be had. Although this is a middle-board and the IR3550 isn't making much difference here, we can't wait to see how much of a boost it gives on the higher end models that will inevitably have more power phases and thus a better over clocking potential. Finally, although we run with air cooling so that we can provide results you will all be able to obtain, if you are a water-cooling enthusiast then the significant thermal benefits should allow for much heftier overclocks without having to have a custom MOSFET block made.
But that's what makes it so hard to summarise. It hasn't any major problems, but neither has it any particular highlights. It's functional. It looks average, and performs exactly as you'd expect. It hasn't got the outstanding value for money that we've seen from, to pick a stablemate, the Z77MX-D3H. But it also hasn't any unexpected joys, such as the OC Genie on the MSI GD65.
It's a £150 motherboard, that performs like a £150 motherboard. It neither has, nor hasn't, any thing you'd expect to find on a motherboard at this price point. Which does leave us rather short of things to say.
We expressed in our introduction how the Intel Z77 Chipset is bombproof. No matter what you do to it, either in cutting down the features or in piling them on, it performs roughly the same no matter which vendor you choose. The differences tend to be minor, such as a slightly better overclock, or a couple more SATA ports. Generally apart from the physical size of each motherboard, or the insane amount of enthusiast features available, there is little to choose between them. Gigabyte, more than any other company, are guilty of just having too many models in their range (a whopping 16 different Z77 motherboards), with negligible changes between each variant.
Now we're not saying choice for the end user is a bad thing, but as this is approximately a UD3 with dual-Thunderbolt attached it's difficult to find something to tell you we haven't said before a dozen times. Even the basic Thunderbolt devices are still amazingly expensive, so whilst it's nice to see such a premium technology on a motherboard marketed at the average user we can't help but wonder who would take advantage of it? However Gigabyte aren't in control of storage vendor pricing, and they must be applauded for putting a cutting edge tech within reach of the average person.
If you like the looks, and don't have a few Thunderbolt external drives just gagging for a home, we'd probably plump for the UD3. If you don't mind a brighter colour scheme the D3H is excellent value for money. The Gigabyte Z77X-UP4 TH is the safe choice, it's a Ford Mondeo, the chicken and rice, easy listening music. Perfectly good, let there be no doubt about that, it just doesn't set your soul on fire. We give it our Silver award.
Thanks to Gigabyte for supplying the Z77X-UP4 TH for review. Discuss your thoughts in the OC3D Forums.