There have been a few AMD motherboards released in recent times since the introduction of the 890 chipset. We've recently looked at a couple that come with the Lucid Hydra chip on board. Today we're going back to basics with a non-Lucid AM3 motherboard.
That doesn't mean that this is a standard AMD motherboard though. By virtue of its perception as the value option for a system, AMD motherboards tend to be lacking some of the more high-end features that we've seen upon its Intel counterparts.
With the recent release of the six core 10xx series of AMD processors being such good performers it was about time that a company took up the mantle and brought out a motherboard that did it justice.
One of the highest quality Intel motherboards around are Gigabytes UD7 series and so it is pleasing to see them apply this methodology to the AMD 890 chipset in the form of the Gigabyte 890FX-A UD7 motherboard.
A glance through the technical specs shows the level of detail we have here. The 890FX chipset coupled to a SB850 Southbridge and the ALC889 Realtek audio certainly leaves nothing on the table. Also worthy of note are six SATA 6Gbps connections allowing a more futureproof storage capability over the two ports we normally see.
Finally it's slightly larger than an ATX board, so it's worth checking you aren't trying to shoehorn it into a tiny case.
|Front Side Bus|
|Storage Interface||South Bridge: |
GIGABYTE SATA2 Chip:
|IEEE 1394||T.I. TSB43AB23 chip|
|Internal I/O Connectors|
|Back Panel Connectors|
|H/W Monitoring||System voltage detection|
Gigabyte have always kept a clear look to their packaging, placing an emphasis upon the features rather than anything else. This very much continues with the UD7 advertising the main events of the 333 support (USB3, SATA3, 3 times USB power) and hex-core support.
On the reverse we have details of the many high-quality power elements that go into making the UD7s such good overclockers. Crisp and clear best describes the box, conveying a lot of information without becoming overwhelming.
As is becoming the norm with high end motherboards, the UD7 comes with a window underneath the top flap that allows prospective purchasers to view the contents before laying down their hard earned cash. We also have the usual comprehensive Gigabyte manual that covers the major points you could hope for.
Within the box we have the standard contents one would expect. SATA cables, e-SATA bracket, Crossfire bridges etc. In what looks like a matchbox from this shot we have the alternative chipset heatsink. More of that on the next page.
Finally here is the motherboard itself. It's been a few years now since Gigabyte switched so a two-colour motherboard and it is as cool looking now as it was then. A quick glance and you can identify a Gigabyte, and that's surely mission accomplished?
The IO section contains everything you'd expect from such a high-end motherboard. Linkable LAN ports, USB3 and USB2 ports, SPDIF and sound outputs. Even a combined PS2 port.
UD7 In Detail
Down the business end of the UD7 we find the extra space afforded by the XL-ATX sizing allowing plenty of PCI-e slots to be installed on the board. Two x16 slots and two x8 slots ensure even the greediest graphics card owner will be kept happy.
Six SATA 6Gbps slots are great to find on the UD7. Normally with chipset technological turnover being so rapid we'd wonder why there was so much on a board that probably wont outlive the SATA technology, but AMDs AM3-based motherboards have been around for a long time now that you should be able to take advantage of so many ports, and if you've got the readies a RAID array on this motherboard will fly.
It's been a long time since we've seen such a clean area around a CPU socket. There definitely wont be an issue in installing any CPU cooler you can think of in the UD7.
Gigabyte must be listening. Previously we complained that the combination of water-block and air-chipset cooler was pointless as it wasn't good enough for either market. Now if you wish to install the larger air heatsink you have to remove the water-block. A great job of Gigabyte of listening to its userbase and implenting those little changes that can make all the difference.
The "Ultra Durable" branded heat-sink (in case you weren't sure where the UD came from in UD7) is a fixture on the power-phase on UD motherboards. It always looks great and, unlike many similar heatsinks, isn't so tall or strangely shaped that it negates the installation of a large cooler or a exhaust fan in a case.
Here is a very cool little feature. We're all familiar with clear CMOS buttons. Anyone who's done overclocking has very likely accidentally hit it too without meaning to. Gigabyte have given the clear CMOS button on the UD7 a protective shield so you have to remove it before you can press the button. We feel like a fighter pilot flipping up the switch so we can hit the missile button or something. Yes we're all big kids now and then.
Hmm. In amonst all this great design there are always a few niggles. This is slightly more than a niggle though. On-board power and reset buttons are to ensure you can overclock out of the case so you can get it all stable before installing it more permanently. But you'll always need to have your ATX24 cable in. So once that is in place, and the RAM, you're really going to be struggling for space to fit a finger on the button.
It's especially odd when there is so much space down by the southbridge.
Test Setup and Overclocking
Our test setup consists of our standard AMD test rig. We'll also be comparing the UD7 to our two most recently tested AMD platforms, the MSI 870A Fuzion and the ASUS Crosshair 4 Extreme. So our graphs are all at stock, but we've included an overclocked result for the UD7, just to show the benefits you can have if you wish to go down the overclock route.
Gigabyte 890FXA-UD7 Motherboard
AMD Phenom II X6 1090T BE 3.20GHz Processor
Corsair Dominator GT 4GB @ 1600mhz
ATi Radeon HD 5870 1GB GDDR5 Graphics Card
Corsair AX1200w PSU
Windows 7 Home Premium x64
Overclocking on the UD7 was slightly different to most other AMD boards we've tested recently. It just took a little bit longer to work your way around the settings and discover what exactly the board needed and where, to get the maximum out of it.
But as you'll see, it's worth the extra effort.
There are three major elements that go into an AMD overclock, so our first task was to find the highest that each would reach, before consolodating them into our final overclock.
Here we have a very nice 3240.1MHz on the HT Link.
Regardless of the various tweaks and adjustments that have occured over the years, to a certain degree it's still all about the speed of the Bus. The UD7 gives us an exceptional 380MHz which really should give us a good overclock on our 1090T processor.
The Northbridge responds equally well with 3250MHz the best stable clock we obtained. If you're one of those people who loves good memory speeds, the UD7 has you covered there too.
So with plenty of overhead available to us from the three main elements of the overclocking process thanks to the quality of the major parts in the UD7, our best stable overclock, and that which we'll be using for our overclocked tests on the following pages, was 4.185 GHz. Not shabby at all and a couple of hundred MHz better than we saw from either the Crosshair or the Fuzion. It's not so easy to get there as those two boards, but definitely worth the extra time.
The main problem with getting the overclock is that the exceptional Bus Speed we saw above just couldn't be held at higher CPU speeds. Having a major Bus Speed is all well and good if it is easy to keep stable when the processor multiplier is increased again.
Still we got a great overclock and that's the important thing.
Everest Ultimate Edition
At stock, unsurprisingly, all three boards perform pretty much the same. The extra overclocking performance of the UD7 shines through when compared to both the MSI and ASUS offerings. It's almost like the kick-on from 4GHz to 4.2GHz finally frees up the 1090T to do its thing.
This is curious. Everything being equal we should have fairly identical memory results, but the UD7 trails in a little behind the 870A and CH4E. Although the overclock gives us a serious boost, it's not quite as amazing as we were hoping for. Lets see if the other testing bear this result out or if it's an anomoly.
What better place to start than with rendering. Something that definitely requires as much memory performance as possible. Here the UD7 shines. Running with an identical setup it scores 0.15 points more than its competition. Although that might appear small, in CineBench terms it's a serious improvement.
When we apply our overclock it rockets up, as you'd expect. What we didn't expect is to get a nearly linear "clock for result" improvement. Really demonstrating that the UD7 doesn't take any performance away from our setup.
The freeware Persistence Of Vision Raytracing program nicely backs up our CineBench results with the UD7 gaining an edge on the MSI and ASUS boards. The most impressive result is that when overclocked the 890FX-A UD7 gives us over 1000 Pixels Per Second Per CPU. Incredible.
Our standard two tests using SiSoft Sandra are the Processor Arithmetic and Processor Multi-Media benchmarks. As we'd expect with such a closely matched set of components the differences are slight at best.
Once again our overclock really frees up the 1090T processor as we get results either on or just above what pure maths would suggest our overclock would give. The Gigabyte 890FX-A UD7 definitely responds well and allows our components to breathe.
If I can borrow a quote from Lewis Carroll, curiouser and curiouser. Whereas Everest showed the UD7 falling well short of the Crosshair 4 Extreme and 870A Fuzion, here it pips them both. The importance of looking at all the results before drawing conclusions is demonstrated clearly here as both Everest and Sandra give different results, yet our other tests show no great loss or benefit either way.
For our 3D Mark Vantage and gaming tests we ran all three test systems at their maximum stable overclock. It's really at this end of the scale where the differences between each system, especially for gamers, shine or fail.
3D Mark Vantage
As we saw earlier on, the UD7 is capable of overclocking much better than our recent AMD review boards. This is really born out here when we're comparing like for for like. It might only be 100 points in Performance mode, but once we move into gaming at higher resolutions that margin will only increase.
Proof, if proof were needed, that increase it does. Just over 3FPS Average better than its nearest rival, which is a lot in Crysis as we all know.
At first it seemed that something was amiss in the Mafia II results, because the difference between the 890FX-A UD7 and the rest is way more than 200MHz on the overclock would give us. However when you look at the Metro results below it's clear that something is definitely rocking and rolling on the UD7.
In keeping with the Mafia II scores, Metro 2033 absolutely loves something about this particular combination and gives us about 40% higher frame-rate than our other two setups. Whilst with Mafia it's only making something smooth, as smooth, here the difference is from unplayable to just about playable if you grit your teeth. Good stuff.
There is a hell of a lot to like about the Gigabyte 890FXA UD7 and not a lot to dislike.
Firstly it's great to see a manufacturer taking the lessons they have learnt from high-end Intel motherboards and applying them to the AMD platform.
The UD7 list of additions really helps the board to be a bit of an overclocking beast. The increase in the quality of the power circuitry in particular means it is able to deliver smooth power to the CPU and RAM and therefore get a stable overclock where others would fail.
How this overclock then reacted is our major delight from our testing. The Gigabyte 890FXA-UD7 almost gets better the faster everything goes, and absolutely doesn't stand in the way of your components performing at their absolute maximum.
The results of our testing show that this also benefits generally with all three motherboards naturally being within a gnats chuff of each other, but if anything snuck ahead in any testing it was always the UD7. Considering the test setups for all three were identical that is quite the feat.
Quality is, as you'd expect, outstanding. The board really feels well put together and solid. It's great to see Gigabyte listening to its audience and changing the way they apply the combined water/air heatsink on the chipset. A much better solution than before. The inclusion of a CMOS Reset cap is a nice touch too, stopping an errant finger from erasing days of hard work.
We only have a few gripes. Although we obtained a very good overclock from the UD7, 200MHz better than our other two test motherboards, it really wasn't as easy to get there as with those two. It's not to say it's as bad as the old Lanparty days, just that it's not quite as mind-blowingly simple as some other boards out there. It's also, by virtue of having so many PCI-e expansion slots, larger than a plain ATX motherboard and this is something that you need to be aware of prior to purchase.
Finally we come to pricing. A UD7 variant based on the Intel chipset is considerably more expensive than a lesser model. However here, although certainly there is a premium to be paid, the 890FXA-UD7 comes in at a very respectable £170. Sure it's not the cheapest motherboard on the market, but with 6 SATA 6Gbps sockets, linkable LAN, great cooling, high quality components etc., it's actually a bargain.
The best motherboards are all about doing their job, without you really being aware they are there, and the UD7 does this with aplomb. A couple of tiny niggles are all that keep it from getting Gold, but we're still more than happy to award it our coveted OC3D Silver Award.
Thanks to Gigabyte for providing the 890FXA-UD7 for review. Discuss in our forums.