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Old August 30, 2012, 08:23 PM
kirbster kirbster is offline
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Default Gigabyte Z77x-UP5 TH Review


Introduction
The Gigabyte Z77X-UP5 TH is one of Gigabytes new series of Ultra Durable 5 Z77 chipset based motherboard for the socket 1155 CPU’s from Intel. The Z77 chipset launched in support of Intel's new Ivy Bridge series of processors.
This board is aimed at the enthusiast user, someone who wants a lot of features and wants to be at the cutting edge of technology. They want a full featured board that utilizes all the current and upcoming technologies in a stylish package with robust construction and long term durability.
The Z77X-UP5 TH fills in this part of Gigabytes lineup, and provides full access to all the features of the Z77 chipset, along with the newly introduced Thunderbolt high speed data interconnect.
The product webpage for the Gigabyte Z77X-UP5 TH can be found here:
GIGABYTE - Motherboard - Socket 1155 - GA-Z77X-UP5 TH (rev. 1.0)

Board Layout
The Z77 series of Ultra Durable 5 boards continue with the glass fabric weave that is designed to be more resistant to humidity. This was first introduced on the Ultra Durable 4 line.
The big news however is the new IR3550 PowIRstage® ICs which promise to provide superior power output as well as lower overall temperatures. These are considered the pinnacle of current power circuit technology, and offer higher overall efficiency and fewer overall components on the board due to their single package design.
You can read more about all the features of Ultra Durable 5 boards here:
GIGABYTE Ultra Durable? 5 Motherboards


Gigabyte has chosen black PCBs for its higher end boards and, I have to say, I like this. They have used a combination of black and gun metal grey for the heatsinks and added a thin pinstripe of blue to them as well. I really like this color scheme and the overall quality of these heatpipe type heatsinks gives the board a very expensive look and feel. Blue seems to be the trendy color at the moment. So its nice to see it downplayed a bit. It does match nicely with my Gskill Ares DDR3 2133 MHz ram kit without being gaudy. Style is one of those things that is easy to overdo. A Porsche in a nice gun metal grey has that same understated air of high quality.


The board is SLI compatible up to 2-way and CrossfireX compatible up to 3-way. When two video cards are installed, they will run at x8 each as they will share the available x16 bandwidth. If you are using a new Ivy Bridge CPU, the slots are all PCI-E 3.0 compliant. If using a third GPU the board will run at 8x, 4x, 4x.
Expansion port layout is as follows:
1 x PCI Express x16 slot, running at x16 (PCIEX16)
* For optimum performance, if only one PCI Express graphics card is to be installed, be sure to install it in the PCIEX16 slot.
1 x PCI Express x16 slot, running at x8 (PCIEX8)
* The PCIEX8 slot shares bandwidth with the PCIEX16 slot. When the PCIEX8 slot is populated, the PCIEX16 slot will operate at up to x8 mode.
1 x PCI Express x16 slot, running at x4 (PCIEX4)
* The PCIEX4 slot is available only when an Intel 22nm (Ivy Bridge) CPU is installed.
* The PCIEX4 slot shares bandwidth with the PCIEX8 and PCIEX16 slots. When the PCIEX4 slot is populated, the PCIEX16 slot will operate at up to x8 mode and the PCIEX8 will operate at up to x4 mode.
(The PCIEX16, PCIEX8, and PCIEX4 slots conform to PCI Express 3.0 standard.)
* Whether PCI Express 3.0 is supported depends on CPU and graphics card compatibility.
3 x PCI Express x1 slots
(All PCI Express x1 slots conform to PCI Express 2.0 standard.)
1 x PCI slot

There is an additional SATA power connector on the edge of the board to help provide additional power to the PCI-E slots when running SLI or CrossfireX.
There are 3 internal headers for additional USB 3.0 front ports. One just below and between the DIMM slots and ATX power connector. The other two are located at the bottom right. There are also headers along the bottom of the board for an additional 4 USB 2.0 ports. There is no shortage of USB connectivity here.
There are also Firewire (1394) and front audio headers located at the bottom left of the board.
There are 7 internal SATA ports on the board. 6 are grouped together along the right edge and these are the native Intel SATA connections. They are color coded, White for SATA 3, and black for SATA 2. Keep in mind that port 5 will be disabled if the mSATA port is used.
The 7th connector (grey) is along the bottom edge of the board between the Bios switch and the front USB3 connectors. This is provided by an add in Marvell 88SE9172chip.

The BIOS switch allows manual switching between the main and backup bios. This is handy for several reasons. You may want to have separate settings in each bios for specific tasks or setups. Or if you are having issues while using one bios, you can easily switch to the other.

The socket area is very typical for a socket 1155 board with plenty of space for even very large CPU coolers. You may want to watch for RAM that does not have excessively high heat spreaders when using a large CPU heat sink. The Ares RAM used in the review is a new trend of lower profile heat spreaders.
The heatsinks surrounding the socket cool the power circuitry and are connected to the PCH with a heatpipe. Once again I have to add that the color choices here and quality of the heatsinks is superb.

Just below the socket area is an mSATA connector. This is to allow the use of a small capacity mSATA SSD to take advantage of the Intel Smart Response caching technology. Please note that SATA port 5 will become disabled if the mSATA port is occupied.


On the upper right hand side of the board we find Power, Reset and Clear CMOS buttons. This is becoming the standard for a board in this price range. Gigabyte has again chosen to include easily accessible voltage monitoring points on the board as well. This is a welcome addition for the serious overclocker.

Below the ATX power connector there is a large diagnostic LED panel. The manual contains a lookup table of the various codes displayed and this can be helpful when diagnosing a failed boot situation.

There are 5 fan headers on the board for all your cooling needs.
Rear Panel

There are 4 different options for video out... D-SUB, DVI-D, HDMI and Thunderbolt all on board.
Lets get back to those Thunderbolt ports for a minute. There are two of them and they each are capable of a theoretical Dual channel 10Gbps bidirectional transfer speed.
They also allow daisy chaining of Thunderbolt devices like displays and storage allowing for a much cleaner cable arrangement. These are the cutting edge of external connection technology and Gigabyte are among the first to dive into this new technology, much as they did when USB 3.0 was introduced.
There are 6 USB ports on the back panel, 4 of which are USB 3.0 provided by a VIA VL810 add on chip. Along with 2 USB 2.0 provided by the Z77 chipset.
There is an ESATA port provided by the add on Marvell 88SE9172 chip.
Networking duties are performed by an RJ45 jack provided by an Intel 82579V GbE LAN chip.
And the 6 analogue mini jack connections and optical digital out are provided by a Realtek ALC898 audio codec.



Also included in the package are a wireless module that has both Dual Band 300mbps wireless N and Bluetooth 4.0 capability and dual antennas.
There is also a front 3.5" USB 3.0 front panel to take advantage of all those headers on the motherboard.

There is a single SLI bridge connector, 6 SATA cables, the usual manuals, driver disk and I/O shield.
This really gives everything the power user is likely to use, all in one package. There is very little to complain about with regards to the overall list of included features.
If it had a USB beer cup cooler, it would be perfect! One can always dream....!

Gigabyte has also chosen the Z77 series of boards to fully launch their 3D BIOS for socket 1155. This gives them full UEFI compliance and allows the BIOS to be navigated with a mouse as well as a keyboard. The 3D section shows a visual representation of the motherboard and various areas can be highlighted and clicked to access BIOS settings for that feature. There are also more traditional menus for those who are more comfortable or familiar with that environment.
You can check out a short video of the Z77 3D BIOS here:
GIGABYTE Z77 - Dual UEFI with 3D BIOS - YouTube

Test System Setup:
Case: Open Bench
Power Supply: OCZ ZT750W
Motherboard : Gigabyte Z77X-UP5 TH
CPU: Intel i7 3570k
CPU Cooling: XSPC RASA 750 water cooling
Memory: 16 GB (4x4GB) Gskill Ares DDR3 2133
Video Card: HIS AMD HD6970 2Gb
System Hard Drive: RAID 1/0 with 2 Corsair Force F115
Optical Drive: LG BH10 Blu ray writer
Operating System: Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit

The Z77 Chipset Features
The Z77 chipset is the successor to the Z68 chipset. It offers all those same features of the Z68 but expands upon them.
Intel Smart Response
This allows a user to add an inexpensive, small capacity SSD drive to an already installed OS on a standard platter drive (the controller must be in RAID mode in Bios). The Smart Response technology allows the SSD to be used as a large cache while the larger capacity standard hard drive gives a greater capacity. This is an economical way to get most of the performance of an SSD at capacities that would easily break the bank if purchasing just a single large capacity SSD.
I have covered this technology in several of my previous reviews and so will not be benchmarking it again here. The technology works as advertised and is an easy and quick way to increase desktop performance and do it cheaply. I would love to see more mSATA drives on the marked at affordable prices as this makes the process quick and easy.

Intel Quick Sync
This allows the onboard IGP to be used for video encoding. This can greatly reduce the CPU load while encoding, making your system still responsive and reduce power consumption. There have been improvements made and the new Ivy Bridge CPUs see a pretty substantial boost in encoding speed compared to Sandy Bridge. In order to take advantage of this feature, the board must have a video out connection. I won't rehash this technology in this review as it has been well covered in several of my past reviews. Suffice it to say it offers a real and measurable speed improvement for some video encoding tasks.


Lucid Virtu MVP
This allows real time switching between the onboard IGP and your discrete GPU so that you can either use Quick Sync or just run your basic system with IGP to reduce system power usage. Then switch to your discrete card for some gaming power. This also improves on the feature set of the original Lucid Virtue available on Z68. It allows the onboard Intel GPU to be used to help boost performance and responsiveness in 3D games. For a more details description of this feature click on this link to take you to Lucid Logix website:
Lucidlogix with the multi gpu solution
We have looked at this in my previous review of the Gigabyte Z77X-UD3H, where we discovered that while it offered a huge gain in many benchmarks, it did not offer a noticeable gain in BF3, the one title I was able to test it in.
Storage Testing
For this review I decided to try a few common storage configurations such as RAID 1 and RAID 0. SSD prices have recently made a bit of a downward adjustment and, bargain hunter that I am, I found a great deal on a pair of refurbished Corsair 115Gb SSDs. I did mention earlier that the Intel Smart Response is a great idea and the execution is excellent in my opinion, but there are those who just want the raw performance of a straight SSD or even better a pair in RAID. Now these drives are not the cutting edge of technology, but for our testing purposes, you can see how much performance there is to be gained with the various RAID configurations tested.
RAID 0 is also referred to as striping, the simple explanation for what is happening is that your data is split between the drive in both reads and writes. Essentially doubling your read and writes speeds. Sounds great! You also get the combined capacity of all teh drives in the array.The downside of a striped array is that if one of the drives fails, you lose all of your data. Ouch! So there is a tradeoff.


Raid 1 is also referred to as a mirrored array and, just as it sounds, basically you are duplicating the data on the two drives. This can increase your read speed as the drives can pull data simultaneously. It has no affect on writes speeds, as all the data is written to both drives at the same time. The upside is, if one of the drives dies, the other drive is fully capable of being used and a new drive can be added and the data rebuilt. The down side, you only get the capacity of a single drive.

By comparison here is a single F115 SSD:


Thunderbolt

This is an extremely new technology on the PC at the moment. So new, in fact, that it is difficult to find peripherals to test with. Or more correctly, for me anyways, peripherals I can afford. There are a few external storage solutions out there, but being cutting edge technology, the prices are considerably higher than an equivalent USB 3 device. The same thing happened when USB 3 was introduced a few years back. If you look around now, there are countless numbers of USB 3 devices available and the prices have come down significantly.
Gigabyte was an early adopter for USB3, and they are repeating that with Thunderbolt. The only way these peripherals will become more common and affordable, is if companies, like Gigabyte, get behind the new technology and make it readily available and common within the marketplace.
Now, after all that, I just happened to have a mini Display Port to HDMI cable and, it worked seamlessly through the Thunderbolt port, passing through the Intel HD4000 graphics. Thunderbolt and mini DisplayPort are identical connectors. Further Thunderbolt testing will have to wait until there are more readily available items for purchase at prices that dont cause me sticker shock.


Overclocking
Maximum Clock
I was able to achieve the same approximate overclock as on the Z77X-UD3H. Just a hair over 4.9Ghz. At these settings CPU temperatures were very high, even with the excellent water cooling afforded by the XSPC Rasa kit. This was the best I could manage to keep the 4 cores stable for a quick multi-core benchmark like wPrime32.
Overclocking on this board is very similar to any of the other Gigabyte Z77 boards I have tested. The BIOS contains a myriad assortment of tweakable settings to help any level overclocker to reach their targets.

I was able to finish in fifth place in Gigabyte's recent GIGABYTE Classic Challenge competition over on HWbot.org.
GIGABYTE Classic Challenge @ HWBOT


I was also able to finish 3rd overall in PCMark05 with an Intel i5 3570K CPU.

kirbster`s PCMark 2005 score: 38647 marks with a Core i5 3570K


The board remained absolutely rock solid and never had an issues recovering when the overclock was pushed too far. I was always met with a message letting me know the overclock had failed and giving me the option to enter the BIOS or load default settings. I was then allowed to re-enter the BIOS to tweak the settings further looking for that sweet spot between performance and stability.
What was interesting to me was how extremely cool this motherboard was during all my overclocking sessions. The heat sinks on the PCH and on the power ICs barely got above room temperature. Even the slightest airflow across them and they were cool to the touch.
This is by far the coolest running motherboard I have ever used. This validates Gigabytes claims regarding the new power circuitry and the efficiency of the IR3550 PowIRstage® ICs. They really do run a lot cooler.


Conclusion
This is a fantastic motherboard from Gigabyte. It offers a wealth of features and takes full advantage of all the Z77 chipset has to offer and then takes it onto cutting edge. Onboard POWER/RESET/CLEAR CMOS buttons, voltage monitoring points, diagnostic LED, mSATA port, the addition of those 2 Thunderbolt connections on the rear panel and the new, very cool running IR3550 PowIRstage® ICs.

.....Whew.... that is a long list.
For those of you out there that need to stay at the forefront of new technology, the Z77X-UP5 TH has a lot to offer in terms of quality, performance and features. It should definitely be on the short list for those looking to adopt Thunderbolt now.
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