The top of the range 7 designation has been up in the air a lot in recent times. Although all the major LGA1155 chipsets have ended up with a UD7 model, they were never the first out the door. Normally a manufacturer will release their top end model first for the early adopters, then gradually trim the features down for the large volume models. The Z77 chipset has been around for a little while and the first serious motherboard we saw from Gigabyte was the awesome Sniper 3. Now we're back in the world of their 'regular' models and we finally have a Z77 UP7 to whet our appetite.
After the problems of the Z77 UD5, and X79S UP5 it speaks volumes that Gigabyte have not only chosen to bring the UP7 to the table, but have given it the exclusive black and orange colour scheme last seen on the blazing fast X58 OC. This is no regular motherboard with a few extra bells and whistles, but a ground-up behemoth aimed squarely at dominating the world overclocking record table.
With the combination of the 7 moniker and the orange highlights this sets up lofty performance expectations for what Gigabyte are bringing to the table. Have we got a Maximus Extreme beater on our hands? Something that will make the mighty Sniper 3 seem inadequate? Let us get down to business.
By now I'm sure you're all familiar with the regular Z77 feature set, so what does the UP7 add? Strictly speaking it's not about what it adds so much as what it doesn't take away. This is a feature rich motherboard right up there with the very best. Although few will use them we have all the possible iGPU outputs. For those seeking records there are five PCI Express 3.0 slots, with four of them controlled by a PLX8747, and one that goes directly to the CPU for those single card world record attempts. Add a plethora of USB ports and fan headers, and you wont want for places to plug things in.
Finally, as we will see on the following pages, the motherboard has BCLK and multiplier buttons alongside the regular power ones to enable those extreme overclocks once the niggly business of loading Windows has been dispensed with.
|Onboard Graphics||Integrated Graphics Processor:|
|Internal I/O Connectors|
|Back Panel Connectors|
It's nice to see that the packaging strays away from the standard Gigabyte white. We still think that they are overdoing the logos and features though. Anyone splashing out this kind of cash on a high end board is unlikely to find it in their local hardware emporium that caters to the masses, so a little subtlety wouldn't go amiss. Still you're left in no doubt about the various highlights.
As befits a high-end motherboard you get a lot of accessories. We have a WiFi/Bluetooth 4.0 expansion card as well as a front-panel USB, multiple GPU bridges and the like.
The IO Shield is okay, but with all the USB ports supporting 3.0 and the audio ports themselves being colour-coded, it wouldn't have hurt to have a pure black/orange IO Shield. The manual is up to the usual high standard we always see from Gigabyte documentation.
And here the Z77X-UP7 is in all her glory. Not a single centimetre of real-estate has gone unused and initial impressions are fantastic. It's certainly a looker.
Up Close Cont
The PCI Express slots are well arranged and have a cunning secret. Firstly they well spaced out to make sure that multiple GPUs get plenty of airflow, which is becoming more common on all motherboards, and the included PLX8747 ensures that your multiple cars also have plenty of bandwidth. Most interestingly though the black PCI Express slot is still 16x but bypasses the PLX chip, which might just enable single-card benchmarkers to eke out those final few points to take home the gold.
Anyone who has overclocked heavily knows that the Windows boot process causes more than a few overclocks to fail that might otherwise be stable. The buttons on the UP7 enable you to adjust both the BCLK and CPU Multiplier 'live', so you can boot to Windows with settings that are stable, then shoot for the high-score once you're up and running.
Major overclocks need loads of power, and a hint of the UP7's ethos is there when you see we have two ATX 8pin power connectors. Gigabyte have come with Dual-BIOS' for years, but it's only recently that users have been able to manually switch between them. Useful if you want a regular BIOS for day to day tasks and one for those record attempts. Or even a reasonable overclock for gaming days and a slow and low power option for browsing and other mundane tasks.
Storage is more than adequate with 6 SATA 6Gb/s connections and 4 SATA 3Gb/s connections. There is also a mSATA connector, if you happen to have a 1.8" solid state hanging around.
The back panel has the blended PS/2, 6 USB 3.0 ports, DisplayPort, HDMI, DVI and VGA as well as the two GigaLAN connectors and the audio ports for the ALC898.
So often heatsinks are chunks of aluminium that are there because they look good, or because we expect them to be. Rarely are they designed with such a high fin density to ensure maximum heat dissipation.
As anyone knows I'm a huge fan of the black and orange colour scheme, so when you combine this with having such a potentially powerful motherboard to hand that might finally erase some of the stench of recent Gigabyte motherboards, Tom and me got together to drink beer put it through its paces. As always something gets forgotten and in this case it was my engineering 3770K so we're running on a retail today, on previous runs with a different Z77 board Tom only managed a 4.6GHz stable overclock so things were really aginst the UP7. Although the silicon lottery means you can get an awesome one there is a reason that Intel give ES models out to review sites. So in the interests of full disclosure we're not using our regular test CPU here today but one that you can buy off the shelf rather than one that's been cherry picked. This also goes to show that with what we would regard as being an average 3770K with the less than brilliant TIM under the hood meaning temps rocket rapidly is also a really good point to raise for everyone at home reading this. If we have got these results with an average off the shelf CPU.... So can you. Its slightly different to our best case scenario we normally deliver.
Gigabyte Z77X-UP7 Motherboard
AMD Radeon HD7970
Catalyst Drivers 12.8
Intel Core i7-3770K Retail
Corsair Dominator Platinum RAM
Windows 7 Ultimate x64
Given that retail CPUs rarely hit the heights seen my engineering samples we were stunned to be able to extract 5GHz from it, at a reasonable 1.4v. Besides changing the multiplier and voltage the only other adjustment was the change of the loadline calibration from its default setting to Extreme. Why there are more than just off and extreme we're unsure as we're certain nobody will use anything other than those two options.
Of course 5GHz from a retail wouldn't be stable to run all of our testing and so it proved but with a tiny bit of extra voltage, but still within thermal limits despite only using a Corsair H100, we ended up with 4.9GHz as our bench clock. This is matched only by the ROG Maximus V Extreme (that was on our ES CPU), and we're nothing short of stunned at how easily and readily the UP7 overclocks.
So with a big overclock on hand did the benchmarks back up the potential? Starting with wPrime95 we find that although at stock settings the M5E has a handy lead, with the overclock in place the UP7 tops our charts with the lowest time we've yet seen. An impressive start.
The two big motherboards are going toe to toe in AIDA64. Punch and counterpunch. Although the M5E just shades in Photoworxx and AES cryptography, the UP7 takes the CPU Queen and zLib titles. Considering how rarely we all require immense AES ciphering capabilities we have to say the UP7 takes the AIDA64 CPU round.
Memory speeds are alright, but not as impressive as we'd hoped to see. The read and write tests are up there, but the copy speed isn't quite on the leading edge.
Sandra is excellent at being purely about the performance available from the CPU, stripped of any other considerations, and the UP7 absolutely annihilates the competition. The stock performance is the best we've seen by a large margin and the overclock, identical to that of the Maximus V Extreme, is 6 points ahead! A massive amount in a benchmark where a single point improvement is eye-opening.
In the Multi-Media test things are much closer, but the Gigabyte Z77X-UP7 still stands atop the graph.
PC Mark Vantage
The results of PC Mark Vantage, whilst good, are not quite at the same dizzying heights we've seen so far. The Memory score is the best we've seen, but the productivity result is somewhat lacking and that's dragging the overall score downwards.
PC Mark 7
We go a little back and forth with PC Mark 7. The stock result is the highest stock result we've achieved, and only with the overclock in place does the result not quite have the same extreme score we've seen from other high end motherboards. It's a very close run thing though, and you wont be disappointed in either scenario.
If PC Mark was slightly behind the lofty heights so far achieved by the UP7, then CineBench certainly puts that to rights. Both the stock and overclocked result, in both CPU and OpenGL benchmarks, are new highs for a Z77 motherboard. The UP7 is insanely capable.
We see a similar state of affairs in POV-Ray. No matter how you slice it the Gigabyte Z77X-UP7 is a record breaking motherboard. All on a retail CPU remember.
We know that many of you aren't interested in CPU scores and solely care for the 3D Mark performance. Whether you skipped straight here or have, rightfully, been with us since the start then there is no other way to put this. The UP7 absolutely rocks in 3D Mark. Both the ageing 3D Mark Vantage and the more upto-date 3D Mark 11 give record breaking results. It's absolutely blinding.
3D Mark Vantage
3D Mark 11
If you'll forgive us for slipping away from the more formal OC3D style for a moment and into the realms of the tabloid journalist, the only conclusion we can draw from our testing of the Gigabyte Z77X-UP7 is "Phew, what a scorcher".
The quality of recent Gigabyte motherboards has been variable to say the least. For every blinding Sniper 3 or D3H there is an equally shabby X79S. We heard talk for a long time that the Z77 series wouldn't be seeing a UD7 model, and although it hasn't there is no question that the Z77X-UP7 is their range-topping LGA1155 model. The fact they gave it the orange colour scheme we had only seen on the fabulous X58 OC at least gave us confidence that Gigabyte had faith in their product and that faith proved well justified. This thing is incredible.
Even if it was terrible, which it isn't, you know how much we'd love the looks, but it's not only the choice of orange that makes our mouth water. There are plenty of fan headers spread in useful places. The heatsinks are simple and sleek but with a huge surface area thanks to the high fin density. It's always worth remembering that the UP7 is designed for record breaking and so the heatsinks are both excellent for air cooling, and easy to remove if you're going sub-zero. Speaking of which the 32+3+2 Phase design most definitely has all the power you'd require to eliminate a lack of voltage from your list of why the overclock has failed. IR and their 60A PowIRstages supply the juice which, according to Gigabyte, can give 2000W of power delivery, its also worth noting the CPU area of the board alone costs the same to produce as the entire D3H! Certainly enough that if this passed 88 you'd be in Hill Valley without need of a lightning strike.
A 4.9GHz overclock from our retail CPU was stunning, and it was certainly the easiest board we've yet tested to give us the 5GHz CPUz. It wasn't a case of an overclock that was big on numbers and short on performance either. Nearly every test saw the UP7 give us the highest result we've seen on a Z77 motherboard. Indeed only in PC Mark was the UP7 anything other than the top of the graph. Thankfully we know the CPU is working hard, and when we look at the 3D Mark results we see that the 3D scores are awesome too, so the board covers every angle you could desire.
We haven't even begun to discuss how many connection options you have, the two Gigabit LANs, how useful the onboard OC buttons are, how the power phases are low profile to make applying putty around your pot easy, or how all the CMOS clear and voltage monitoring points are within easy reach. We haven't mentioned the PLX8747 which gives you 48 extra PCI Express lanes, or how the loadline calibration gave rock solid stability under even the highest loading.
The only slight thing anyone could quibble about is the price, around £310, but even that is right on a par with all the other high-end boards on the market and in case you haven't been paying attention this is the fastest motherboard we've tested. I personally would be perfectly happy to have it at the heart of my PC at home, and I can't think of a more ringing endorsement than that. So you're getting everything you could possibly desire with zero downside. A stunning performer, utterly worth of the OC3D Gold Award.
Thanks to Gigabyte for supplying the Z77X-UP7 for review. Discuss your thoughts in the OC3D forums.