Summary: With its sub-$200 price tag, Gigabyte's GA-EX58-UD3R is tailored for enthusiasts looking to upgrade to Core i7 while sticking to a budget. This X58 motherboard features a powerful BIOS and good cooling, but does Gigabyte make too many compromises in order to hit its price point? Find out in today's review!
With the price of X58 motherboards coming down to $200 or less, 3GB DDR3-1066MHz memory kits priced as low as $53, and the Core i7-920 already priced at a reasonable $284, you can build the guts of a basic Core i7 system now for just under $550. Thatís a hundred or so less than what you would have paid at the very beginning of the year.
But how do the budget X58 motherboards compare to their more expensive X58 counterparts? Thatís what weíre here today to find out. Under the microscope is Gigabyteís cheapest X58 offering, the GA-EX58-UD3R. Priced at $194.99 after a $15 mail-in rebate on Newegg right now, the GA-EX58-UD3R is built for the enthusiast who wants to upgrade to Core i7, but doesnít need all the bells and whistles found on Gigabyteís more expensive X58 motherboards like the GA-EX58-EXTREME, which boasts more exotic chipset cooling, dual Gigabit LAN, 3-Way SLI support, 6 DIMM slots, and more robust 12+2+2 power circuitry among its list of many features. The GA-EX58-UD3R may not sport all the bells and whistles of Gigabyteís EXTREME motherboard, but the boardís a terrific performer, and thatís what counts when it comes to gamers. Besides, itís got all of the features most users are likely to need.
The first feature weíll focus on is the boardís memory subsystem.
The GA-EX58-UD3R supports DDR3 memory speeds up to 2.4GHz! This puts it right up there with the latest high-end X58 motherboards, if not better. The board is then outfitted with four DDR3 DIMM slots, offering support for up to 16GB of RAM once 4GB memory modules become available later this year.
With the board sporting just four DIMM sockets, enthusiasts will probably want to pay a little extra and opt for DDR3 memory modules with higher density than 1GB, while youíre spending the money you may also want to spend a few extra dollars on higher speed RAM in order to give you a little more flexibility when overclocking. Many 6GB triple-channel DDR3-1333 kits can be found for just under $100 online.
The GA-EX58-UD3R also ships with two PCI Express graphics slots, with full support for ATIís CrossFire multi-GPU technology. (In a CrossFire configuration both graphics cards would run at full x16 speeds.) In order to get official SLI support, youíd have to opt for Gigabyteís GA-EX58-UD3R-SLI which currently sells for the same $209.99 price tag as the UD3R on Newegg, only there isnít a $15 mail-in rebate being offered at the moment.
If youíre comfortable with BIOS flashing, you could theoretically flash the UD3R to support SLI by using the GA-EX58-UD3R-SLI BIOS, but youíd still need to go out and purchase an SLI bridge connector if you donít already own one (or the connector you have wonít fit with the GA-EX58-UD3R). These typically sell for $7-$12.
Of course, the GA-EX58-UD3R-SLI comes with the bridge connector in-the-box, so purchasing this board would be the easier solution if SLI is important to you.
UPDATE 3/17:Gigabyte let us know that while they'd like to add SLI support to the UD3R via BIOS update in the future, right now this feature isn't supported.
Ultra Durable 3
The EX58-UD3R supports Gigabyteís Ultra Durable 3 technology first introduced last year on boards like the EP45-UD3P.
With Ultra Durable 3, Gigabyte incorporates two ounces of copper for both the power and ground layers on the PCB. Traditionally motherboard manufacturers have used one ounce of copper per layer. By doubling the amount of copper in these layers of the PCB, heat from the CPU and other components can be dispersed more effectively across the EX58-UD3R motherboard. This in turn should theoretically help reduce temps for the underlying system components installed in the PC, as the board they reside on is running cooler.
Gigabyte also claims UD3 lowers the PCB impedance by 50%, while also providing improved signal quality and lower EMI; all this helps to reduce electrical interference and enhances efficiency while also improving component temperatures.
Dynamic Energy Saver (DES)
As its name implies, Dynamic Energy Saver is Gigabyteís utility for optimizing the motherboardís energy usage. With this feature, the motherboard can dynamically turn on and off power phases as needed depending on workload. Say for instance youíre idling at the Windows desktop. Under this environment you donít need to run all eight power phases on your motherboard. To conserve power DES can turn off power phases individually; at idle the EX58-UD3R can run with as few as just two power phases once you enable the low CPU power state feature of DES. Then, when you boot up a game, DES automatically turns on all six power phases on the motherboard for max performance. This is all accomplished thanks to an Intersil PWM controller.
Besides automatically turning power phases on and off, the PWM controller can also dynamically throttle the CPU core clock and reduce CPU voltage (i.e. undervolting) to further reduce power consumption.
How much power saving does DES actually provide? To test this we ran a few benchmarks with DES enabled and disabled:
As you can see, we saw a pretty substantial improvement in power savings at idle thanks to DES Ė nearly a 20W reduction in idle power consumption. Under load though the power savings werenít quite as great, running the overall 3DMark test we saw a power consumption reduction of four watts, while running just the CPU test within 3DMark we saw a power reduction of 7W thanks to DES.
Another feature Gigabyte includes on DES boards is dynamic LED. With dynamic LED, Gigabyte integrates a bank of LEDs located in the upper right portion of the motherboard. Each LED represents one of the motherboardís power phases. As a power phase is turned on, the LED lights up. The first four LEDs are green, while LEDs five and six are yellow. The final two LEDs represent max load and shine red when active.
Weíre not quite sure the system is working 100% on the GA-EX58-UD3R, even though the DES display would indicate power phases 1-2 were active, DLED would show phases 1-4 were active, with LEDs 1 and 2 a solid green while 3 and 4 would flicker on and off.
Like all of Gigabyteís motherboards, the GA-EX58-UD3R supports Gigabyteís DualBIOS feature, which outfits the board with two BIOS ROM chips: a primary BIOS and backup BIOS. Hopefully youíll never need to use the backup BIOS, but if something happens to your primary BIOS, say for instance itís infected with a virus or somehow becomes damaged during a corrupt BIOS flash, you can easily recover your original BIOS data if the primary BIOS fails.
The GA-EX58-UD3R is also built with all-solid 50,000 hour rated Japanese capacitors. This ensures the boardís longevity and improves reliability.
With its lower price tag, Gigabyte obviously had to make some compromises to the GA-EX58-UD3R in order for the board to hit a sub-$200 price tag. As a result, the fancy copper heatsinks and heatpipes are gone; in their place Gigabyte uses a single aluminum heatpipe to cool the North Bridge and the motherboardís power circuitry, along with a relatively simple aluminum heatsinks. As you can see, the motherboard is cooled passively, thereís no fan needed to cool the North Bridge. A third heatsink cools the final four power phases. Down south, the South Bridge gets by with an even smaller heatsink.
We actually prefer passive cooling solutions on motherboards over active units, not only are they quieter, but you also donít have to worry about keeping dust out of your chipset fan or fan failure.
While it may not look as intimidating as the cooler Gigabyte uses on their UD5 and EXTREME X58 motherboards, Gigabyteís SilentPipe cooling on the UD3R does a good job of keeping the motherboardís components cool. Even when OCíing, we donít feel we were held back by the motherboardís cooling, as the motherboard ran fairly cool at all times. This is probably due in part thanks to Gigabyteís 2 ounces of copper in the power and ground layers of the PCB, in addition Intel chipsets tend to run fairly cool anyway and donít need the active coolers that are typically a requirement of chipsets from NVIDIA, particularly when running SLI.
As we mentioned previously, Gigabyte employs an eight phase power design on the GA-EX58-UD3R. While the eight phase power design isnít as robust as the 12-phase power Gigabyte uses on their more expensive motherboards, itís still enough for most users who will be OCíing their Core i7 CPU. Unless you plan on getting really serious with a liquid nitrogen setup in order to break 5GHz, the UD3R should be able to supply enough power for most conventional CPU OCíing attempts.
Overall the layout of the UD3R is good, but not perfect. We had no problems installing our Thermalright Ultra 120 Extreme cooler along with our OCZ Reaper DDR3 memory modules, which have heatpipes that reside just above the memory modules. As you can see though, it was a close fit between the Reaper memory and the Ultra 120. We had no problems getting the CPU heatsink into the LGA1366 socket though, Gigabyte provides plenty of room in this area for large coolers.
Moving further down the board, you can see that Gigabyte provides two x1 PCI Express slots and one x4 PCIe slot, in addition to two conventional PCI slots. These are more expansion slots than youíll find on most X58 motherboards, and by using an x4 PCI Express slot users have more flexibility when it comes to components, as x4 slots are also backward-compatible with x1 devices. (Other than Adaptec and Highpoint SATA II/SAS RAID controller cards, we arenít aware of many x4 PCIe cards.)
Unfortunately in order to make room for all the PCIe slots, one of the x1 slots is blocked by the North Bridge cooler. You may have a hard time fitting some PCIe cards in that slot, depending on how long your card is.
Another potential issue we spotted is with the IDE connector. Gigabyte places it just underneath the X58 South Bridge. Because itís oriented perpendicular to the edge of the motherboard, the IDE cable from your hard drive or optical drive can interfere with long dual-slot graphics cards like the GeForce 9800 GTX+ or GeForce GTX 260, impeding airflow to your cardís fan. The IDE cable could even potentially get caught in the VGA fan. A better location for the IDE connector would have been on the right edge of the motherboard, with the IDE connector oriented parallel to the right edge of the motherboard, just like Gigabyte does with the boardís eight SATA ports.
Speaking of the SATA ports, six of the ports are powered by Intelís ICH10R chip, while the remaining two ports are powered by a SATA 2 controller manufactured by Gigabyte. These two ports are colored white.
The rest of the boardís layout is quite good. It wouldíve been nice to see Gigabyte add an eSATA port on the backplate of the GA-EX58-UD3R though.
While it may be technically considered a budget motherboard, Gigabyteís made no compromises when it comes to the GA-EX58-UD3Rís BIOS interface: itís just as fully-featured as Gigabyteís flagship EX58-EXTREME motherboard. Feature-for-feature, both boards are practically identical: right down to the same voltage options and eight available slots for custom BIOS profiles.
This is good news for enthusiasts who would like to OC their GA-EX58-UD3R motherboard and may have been concerned that Gigabyte may have made some compromises to the BIOS. Thatís definitely not the case here.
This can be both a good thing, and a bad thing. Itís good for enthusiasts who are well versed in OCíing, but because this BIOS is literally loaded with a bevy of different options, it could be a bad thing for inexperienced users who donít know what theyíre doing. For instance, Gigabyte provides CPU voltages settings up to 1.9V in the UD3Rís BIOS. If a newbie were to accidentally dial in 1.9V of juice for his brand new Core i7-920 on stock Intel cooling, it would most likely result in a very bad day as his CPU is fried right before his eyes. Fortunately Gigabyte color-codes the voltage options with their latest F4 BIOS with gray for lower voltages, bright purple for moderate voltage options (1.55-1.59375V), and red for the extreme voltage settings (1.6V+).
Gigabyte provides so many settings inside the GA-EX58-UD3Rís BIOS for tweaking that theyíve had to resort to multiple submenus for options such as CPU features, memory timings, and QPI multipliers. You can perform some basic functions for these topics under the main menu of MB Intelligent Tweaker, but youíll want to navigate to the submenu option for the deep dive where more settings for fine tuning are available. For instance, to enable/disable the Core i7ís Turbo Mode function, youíll need to navigate to the MB Intelligent Tweaker menu, then go to the Advanced CPU Features submenu.
Normally we hate it when manufacturers provide submenu after submenu, as navigation can get kind of frustrating when you need to find that one setting before exiting BIOS, but thankfully Gigabyte places the settings in the proper areas so navigating through the UD3Rís BIOS was a breeze. Weíre actually in agreement for once with Gigabyteís thoughtful use of submenus, as placing the myriad number of settings available within the submenus would make the MB Intelligent Tweaker page way too long: it would literally be a keyboard scrollfest as you go from setting to setting.
But enough talk, letís get to the settings youíll need for OCíing your CPU shall we?
As any Core i7 OCíer knows, the most important setting youíll need when OCíing your CPU is the base clock frequency setting. Here Gigabyte definitely doesnít disappoint, as the company offers speeds ranging from 100-1200MHz inside BIOS! The speeds are available in 1MHz increments, so you can fine tune base clock speeds to your heartís content.
While the GA-EX58-UD3R originally shipped with memory multiplier options providing speeds up to 2.0GHz, with the latest BIOS you can now dial the memory up to 2.4GHz! More specifically, settings of 800MHz, 1066MHz, 1333MHz, 1600MHz, 1867MHz, 2133MHz, and 2400MHz are available.
Because Gigabyte provides so many voltage options inside BIOS, weíve included this handy chart which summarizes the most common available settings:
If you want to go even further than those DRAM voltage options, you can even adjust the voltages for each memory channel if you wish.
Even the most seasoned enthusiast will be pleased by the BIOS settings provided inside the GA-EX58-UD3Rís BIOS.
So how far were we able to OC our EX58-UD3R motherboard? How does 203MHz sound!? At higher speeds the system would BSOD in Windows Vista 64-bit. Overall we were pretty happy with our OCíing results, this was actually 6MHz higher than the speeds we got with the ASUS P6T, which maxed out at 197MHz with 100% complete stability (although we could run some apps at speeds as high as 209MHz, just not with full stability).
Intel Core i7-920
6GB (3x2GB) OCZ Reaper HPC PC31600
EVGA X58 SLI
Intel X58 Smackover
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 280
150GB Western Digital Raptor
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit w/Service Pack 1
Valve Particle Simulation Benchmark
World In Conflict Ė Direct3D
Company of Heroes Ė Direct3D
Crysis Ė Direct3D
Lost Planet Ė Direct3D
Powerful BIOS: Enthusiasts will be glad to hear that Gigabyteís made no compromises with their GA-EX58-UD3R motherboard: practically every setting you can find in their EX-58 EXTREME is also available in the UD3R, including all the voltage options youíd ever want for overclocking your Core i7 CPU.
Some minor board layout issues: The uppermost x1 PCIe slot is located so close to the North Bridge cooler that you may have issues installing some expansion cards in this slot. In addition, the location of the IDE connector is less than ideal. If youíre running a GeForce GTX 260 SLI or Radeon 4870 setup your IDE cable will have to run right in front of your secondary cardís fan.