Z68 Showdown: Gigabyte GA-Z68X-UD7-B3 Versus MSI Z68A-GD80
Gigabyte has abandoned its traditional blue PCB in favour of an all-black colour scheme.
The rear I/O panel is filled to the brim with the following connectors:
- PS/2 combo port
- 6 x USB 3.0 (blue)
- 2 x USB 2.0 (red)
- 2 x eSATA + USB 2.0 combo (blue)
- Coaxial S/PDIF out
- Optical S/PDIF out
- 2 x FireWire 400Mbps (1 6-pin + 1 4-pin)
- 2 x Gigabit Ethernet
- 6 x HD Audio out
If you thought the two red-coloured ports are the ones supporting USB 3.0, it's actually the other way round. Gigabyte has used two Renesas controllers in conjunction with two VLI VL810 hubs to support a total of 10 USB 3.0 ports (4 of which are accessible via header). While Gigabyte can now lay claim to having the most USB 3.0 ports on one motherboard, all these ports will have to share 4 ports' worth of bandwidth.
Note that this motherboard lacks display outputs, so Quick Sync and Lucid Virtu don't work. It seems that Gigabyte has opted for this on most of their Z68 lineup – only models starting with "GA-Z68M" will have onboard display support. While most Z68 users will probably be using discrete graphics, it takes away one of Z68's selling points.
The GA-Z68X-UD7-B3 uses a 6-phase ISL6366 PWM controller, meaning that 2 sets of frequency dividers were used to obtain 24 phases of power for the CPU. Of course, more phases does not necessarily mean better quality power – a well-designed system with fewer phases can perform just as well. The PCH and memory each have a 2-phase power supply. Like previous Gigabyte motherboards, this one also supports Dynamic Energy Saver, which reduces the number of active power phases when not under load.
The topmost PCIe x1 slot is rendered effectively useless by the NF200's large heatsink. For those who haven't seen it before, the NF200 chip takes 16 lanes coming from the CPU and doubles them for a total of 32 lanes. This makes x16/x16, x16/x8/x8 and even x8/x8/x8/x8 lane configurations possible on the GA-Z68X-UD7-B3, though the slot arrangement effectively limits you to triple-GPU setups. We will be comparing the multi-GPU performance of this motherboard with other setups in a future article.
Gigabyte has placed the front panel audio header at the middle of the motherboard behind the rear panel audio outputs, which might make cable routing more difficult compared to our preferred location at the bottom.
A large blue power button, accompanied by smaller reset and Clear CMOS buttons, can be found at the top-right corner of the motherboard. While these are more commonly seen along the bottom edge, Gigabyte's choice of location should pose no issues. Disappointingly, there are no voltage measurement points on the GA-Z68X-UD7-B3, a feature which has become increasingly common on enthusiast motherboards.
There are six fan headers, two of which are 4-pin (including the CPU fan header).
Gigabyte has helpfully inserted a cap on the FireWire header to prevent any mix-ups with the USB headers. The front panel header has also been colour-coded, which is nice though we still prefer ASUS' Q-Connector.
The white and grey SATA 6 Gbps ports are powered by Z68 and a Marvell controller respectively. A debug LED is also present for troubleshooting.
With a motherboard this expensive, we would expect everything and the kitchen sink. Gigabyte doesn't disappoint, even throwing in a USB 3.0 front panel for those of us with older casings:
- User Guide
- Driver DVD
- Rear I/O shield
- 3-way SLI Bridge
- 2-way flexible SLI Bridge
- Rear bracket with 1 x Molex power and 2 x SATA
- Front bracket (3.5") with 2 x USB 3.0
- Molex to SATA power adapter
- 2 x SATA cable (straight)
- 2 x SATA cable (angled)
- 2 x eSATA to SATA cable