GIGABYTE Z97X-UD5H Motherboard Review

Author: MAC
Date: July 1, 2014
Product Name: Z97X-UD5H
Part Number: Z97X-UD5H
Warranty: 3 Years
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The GIGABYTE Z97X-UD5H – like all Z97 motherboards – is a motherboard that was designed with the future in mind. It features the high-speed M.2 and SATA Express storage interfaces, support for Intel's Devil’s Canyon processors , and even the future Broadwell CPU’s. Having said that, we are one month into the launch of these new Z97 motherboards and what was true then is still true now. There are no SATA Express devices available for sale, and worthwhile M.2 SSDs are still few and far between. None of this is GIGABYTE’s fault, obviously, but it has temporarily tempered our and the public’s excitement over this next-generation platform.

With that bit little bit of gloominess out of the way, let’s go over the many things that the Z97X-UD5H does right…and the few areas that still need some improvement. For $190 USD, you are getting a motherboard with solid 12-phase CPU power design, a high-speed M.2 slot and SATA Express port, a ton of SATA and USB 3.0 connectivity, two-way CrossFire and SLI capabilities, two gigabit LAN ports (with Intel and Killer NICs), DVI/HDMI/VGA video outputs, a good UEFI BIOS backed up across two physical ROMs, a Realtek ALC1150 audio CODEC, and a feature-rich software suite. Frankly, the only thing missing is Bluetooth and/or Wi-Fi. If you are going to include and promote an application like the GIGABYTE Cloud Station, then you should include the means to make use of that wireless-powered feature. We would gladly give up one of the GbE LAN ports in exchange for some type of wireless connectivity.

While all these features sound good in theory, there are some issues. Due to the shortage of PCI-E lanes on the LGA1150 platform, the UD5H forces users to choose between using the M.2 slot, the SATA Express port, or the two Marvell-powered SATA 6Gb/s ports. Only one of three can operate at a time. Also, there is a compromise when it comes to the third PCI-E x16 slot, which natively operates in x4 mode. When that slot is in-use it actually borrows lanes from the other two PCI-E x16 slots. The primary slot drops from x16 to x8, while the secondary slot drops from x8 to x4. This is obviously not ideal if you’re planning a two-way CrossFire or SLI setup. These issues aren’t GIGABYTE’s fault, they are just compromises that happen when you have such a bandwidth limited platform as this one. However, different manufacturers and even different models feature different compromises, so buyers will need to do some research to see what motherboard works best for their exact needs.

Aesthetically, this motherboard is attractive enough, but obviously the yellow good heatsinks aren't going to go over well with those who like to build a colour coordinated system. The overall layout of the UD5H is very good, except for the fan headers. For some reason, there are four system fan headers at the bottom edge of the motherboard. They really should have been spread out a little more evenly in order to prevent some ugly cable management problems. When it comes to hands-on use, the onboard backlit power button is a nice touch for those users whose systems aren't confined within a traditional case. The voltage measurement points are a great help when it comes to serious overclocking endeavours, as is the venerable LED POST code display. The onboard BIOS switcher is useful for those who like to run multiple BIOS profiles and a lifesaver when something unexpected happens. Speaking of which, we suspect that the new UEFI BIOS, with its three different modes, will be quite daunting at first for novice users. However, once you spend some time with it - and maybe check out the manual once or twice - the learning curve should dissipate pretty quickly. For more seasoned users, just hit the F2 key as soon as you can, and you will be transported to the venerable Classic Mode.

The stock performance of the Z97X-UD5H was competitive, which is to say that it was slightly slower than the ASUS Z97-A in single-threaded workloads, but slightly faster in multi-threaded benchmarks. The reason for this motherboard’s advantage in multi-threaded benchmarks is because it does not adhere to reference Intel-specified Turbo Mode profiles. Instead of allowing the multipliers to vary based on the workload, GIGABYTE locks the multiplier to the maximum CPU multiplier no matter the load, which is to say 39X in the case of our Core i7-4770K. There is no negative side effect to doing this, but it would be nice if it was an option instead of a default setting. Moving on, we were once again able to achieve some sizeable performance increases by overclocking our i7-4770K to 4.8Ghz, which this motherboard handled with aplomb. Our overclocking endeavours were flawless and we didn't experience any unusual BSODs or random reboots.

Just like we did with the Z87 series models, we once again have some concerns about the auto-overclocking Auto Tuning feature. While it does a very good job of overclocking the processor, it is far too aggressive when it comes to voltage. In our case, the vCore skyrocketed to 1.54V at 4.7Ghz, which is far too high for day-to-day use. There is simply no way to air or even liquid cool a chip with that much voltage going through it. Therefore, stay away from Auto-Tuning, just use the very good Smart QuickBoost Extreme preset. This setting overclocked our chip to 4.5GHz in the time it took to do one reboot, and it set fairly reasonable voltage levels as well. Obviously, if you have the skills and knowledge, we recommend just taking the overclocking efforts into your own hands, and in that scenario this motherboard definitely won't let you down.

When we reviewed the ASUS Z97-A we criticized the use of an older audio CODEC, but mentioned that wasn't reason enough not to recommend it since the audio output sounded great to us. On this motherboard GIGABYTE are using the very latest CODEC, but the audio isn't quite as good as it could be - from a purely technical standpoint - yet that's still not a reason enough not to recommend it, since once again the actual sound quality is very good.

In conclusion, the Z97X-UD5H is a motherboard that takes full advantage of the Z97 chipset, and although it’s not yet perfect, it is a worthwhile offering in a crowded field. With this model you are getting a solid combination of cost, enthusiast-friendly additions and expansion capabilities. Having said that, for $10 more here in Canada you can buy the Z97X-UD5H Black Edition, which is not only pre-tested from the factory, but features a longer 5-year warranty, and sleek black heatsinks. Frankly, it's a no-brainer.


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