Date: March 31, 2009
Author(s): Rob Williams
At CES earlier this year, Gigabyte showed off two new motherboards that promised both a great value and of course, good overclocking abilities. The EX58-UD4P was one of those, and we’ve now been able to put it to the test. We’re happy to report that as we had hoped, the board delivers on all fronts, and coupled with a reasonable price, it looks to be well-worth a look.
Shortly after Intel launched their Core i7 processors, we posted a review taking a look at Gigabyte’s first motherboard to support the new CPUs, the EX58-UD5. At that time, we weren’t too sure what to expect from the competition, but despite that, we were more than satisfied by what the board offered, in both features and overclocking-ability.
Since that time, not too much has changed in the X58 space, but we do have course have many more models to choose from than ever before, and from a wide-variety of vendors. This past CES, one board to catch our eye was Gigabyte’s own EX58-UD4P. The main reason was because it was feature-packed, and was to sport an affordable price. Those two features remain intact with the launched model.
Before we jump into the specifics of the UD4P, I’ll briefly mention that if you are looking to build an i7 machine and would like to do so as cheaply as possible, another option is Gigabyte’s EX58-UD3R. This board is essentially a scaled-down version of the UD4P, but retails for just under $200, making it one of the most affordable offerings available. It’s worth taking a look if multi-GPU and overclocking aren’t that important to you.
As mentioned above, the UD3R board is Gigabyte’s least-expensive X58 offering currently, but their UD4P doesn’t suffer from high-pricing either, at $260 (available for less through mail-in rebates at some e-tailers). But at that price, this is still a mid-range offering, so we should be able to expect features and performance typical of such boards.
Being part of their Ultra Durable series, the UD4P offers a slew of features that aim to deliver ultimate stability, incredible overclocking, great thermals and security anyone can be proud of. Noteable features include the 2oz of copper used in the PCB (this feature has also been carried over to their GPU line), a 12+2+2 phase power solution, Dual BIOS and much more. Essentially, Gigabyte wants to make sure their UD boards deliver everything you need, and they do a pretty fair job of that.
If you are familiar with Gigabyte’s motherboard offerings, then this one won’t come off as too much of a surprise. The color scheme is similar to their other EX58 boards, and for the most part, it’s one that will be liked or hated. I don’t mind it… the light hues are somewhat refreshing. From a component standpoint, the board lacks nothing. Aside from having eight S-ATA ports, there are six fan ports, allowing for pretty-much any type of air-cooling setup you could possibly want.
As you’d expect, most of the peripheral connectivity takes place at the bottom right-hand corner. Here are the eight S-ATA ports, along with the ATX chassis connectors, IDE connector, USB/FireWire connectors and also the BIOS battery.
Gigabyte proudly supports both dual and triple-GPU configurations on the UD4P. In a three-way configuration, the space is going to be extremely limited, with the bottom GPU likely to hang over the edge of the board, so if you are planning to go that route, make sure your chassis has sufficient spacing. Aside from the PCI-E 16x slots, we also have two legacy PCI slots in addition to a PCI-E 4x and 1x. Don’t expect to fit much in the 1x slot though, except for an incredibly short card.
Like most other X58 boards, this one supports up to 24GB of DDR3 memory, but I’m willing to bet most will stick to a more modest 3x2GB configuration. Found beside the DIMM slots are on-board power and reset switches, for those running the machine outside of a chassis.
As mentioned earlier, this board features a robust power solution in the form of a 12+2+2 phase configuration. I’m unsure what the extra phases do, but if I had to guess, two are devoted to the QPI bus while the other two are devoted to the memory. Gigabyte prides themselves on being overclocking-friendly, so it’s no surprise to see such a configuration.
For I/O connectivity, the board offers two PS/2 ports, S/PDIF and 7.1 audio, FireWire, eight USB and a single LAN. There’s also a CLR CMOS button available in case an overclock happens to disagree in the worst possible way.
In way of accessories, Gigabyte includes manuals and the driver CD, an I/O protector, SLI bridge connectors, an E-SATA add-in peripheral, S-ATA and IDE cables, and also a bracket used to secure your SLI bridges (thanks to a reader for pointing that out in our UD5 review).
When all said and done, the UD4P lives up to what the Ultra Durable series is all about, and nothing seems to be lacking. Aside from the board’s features, the accessories included don’t disappoint, so your new build shouldn’t be lacking anything. So how about the BIOS? Don’t worry, that’s up next.
In the past, I’ve mentioned that I’ve not been too keen on Gigabyte’s BIOS’, because I’ve found them too clunky and difficult to navigate, and that some of their competitors (namely ASUS) implement a few convenience features that make overclocking and handling the BIOS in general much more enjoyable. The BIOS on the UD4P doesn’t change too much, but the overclocking menu is found first, so that’s a huge plus.
One thing’s clear… Gigabyte’s BIOS’ are capable of heavy overclocking. This is proven by the numerous OC events they host where records are broken. I do wish some improvements would be made to make it easier to navigate though. My biggest complaint is that fact that you cannot save and reload profiles on the UD4P*… that’s a big problem, especially if you want to flick between stock and OC’d settings on the fly. For a board that so readily welcomes overclocking, that feature to me should be a no-brainer.
* Correction to this statement is on the final page of the article.
I’ll let the pictures below speak for themselves, since everyone’s seen a BIOS before and they aren’t all too different. You’ll be happy to know that Gigabyte does unlock countless overclocking features though, and the depth is so great that only a very select few will ever venture that far into what the board truly offers.
Again, I do think the BIOS here could use a few improvements, but one thing’s for sure… it’s packed. If it offers enough to please the most hardcore overclockers, it’s hard to bad-mouth it! With that look out of the way, let’s proceed into our testing methodology and follow with our results.
At Techgage, we strive to make sure our results are as accurate as possible. Our testing is rigorous and time-consuming, but we feel the effort is worth it. In an attempt to leave no question unanswered, this page contains not only our testbed specifications, but also a fully-detailed look at how we conduct our testing.
If there is a bit of information that we’ve omitted, or you wish to offer thoughts or suggest changes, please feel free to shoot us an e-mail or post in our forums.
The table below lists our machine’s hardware, which remains unchanged throughout all testing, with the exception of the motherboard. Each board used for the sake of comparison is also listed here, along with the BIOS version used. In addition, each one of the URLs in this table can be clicked to view the respective review of that product, or if a review doesn’t exist, you will be led to the product on the manufacturer’s website.
Intel Core i7 Extreme 965 – Quad-Core, 3.2GHz, 1.25v
ASUS P6T Deluxe – X58-based, 0804 BIOS (11/04/08)
ASUS Rampage II Extreme – X58-based, 0705 BIOS (11/21/08)
EVGA X58 SLI – X58-based, SZ21 BIOS (03/04/09)
Gigabyte EX58-UD4P – X58-based, F6 BIOS (02/26/09)
Gigabyte EX58-UD5 – X58-based, F4b BIOS (11/14/08)
Intel DX58SO – X58-based, 2786 BIOS (11/12/08)
OCZ Gold 3x2GB – DDR3-1333 7-7-7-20-1T, 1.60v
Palit Radeon HD 4870 512MB (Catalyst 8.10)
When preparing our testbeds for any type of performance testing, we follow these guidelines:
To aide with the goal of keeping accurate and repeatable results, we alter certain services in Windows Vista from starting up at boot. This is due to the fact that these services have the tendency to start up in the background without notice, potentially causing slightly inaccurate results. Disabling “Windows Search” turns off the OS’ indexing which can at times utilize the hard drive and memory more than we’d like.
When benchmarking a graphics card or processor, performance is expected to scale in a certain manner, but that’s not the case with motherboards. Since motherboards tend to only be as fast as the hardware installed on them, we don’t run an exhaustive collection of benchmarks for the sake of avoiding redundancy. For the most part, one motherboard with an equal chipset to another should offer close to equal performance.
Our primary goal with motherboard-related benchmarking is to see if one motherboard is lacking in a certain area when compared to the rest. These discrepancies, if they exist, are usually caused by lackluster components on the board itself, which is why higher-end motherboards tend to see slightly better results than the more budget-oriented offerings.
To properly test the performance of a motherboard, we run a small collection of system-specific tools, such as SYSmark 2007, Sandra and HD Tune Pro. We then run real-world benchmarks using popular multi-media applications, such as Adobe Lightroom. To see how a board stacks up in the gaming arena, we benchmark using both Call of Duty: World at War and Half-Life 2: Episode Two.
We strongly feel that there is such thing as too many benchmarks when it comes to a motherboard review, so we keep things light, while still being able to offer definitive performance data.
In an attempt to offer “real-world” results, we do not utilize timedemos in any of our reviews. Each game in our test suite is benchmarked manually, with the minimum and average frames-per-second (FPS) captured with the help of FRAPS 2.9.6.
To deliver the best overall results, each title we use is exhaustively explored in order to find the best possible level in terms of intensiveness and replayability. Once a level is chosen, we play through repeatedly to find the best possible route and then in our official benchmarking, we stick to that route as close as possible. Since we are not robots and the game can throw in minor twists with each run, no run can be identical to the pixel.
Each game and setting combination is tested twice, and if there is a discrepancy between the initial results, the testing is repeated until we see results we are confident with.
The two games we currently use for our motherboard reviews are listed below, with direct screenshots of the game’s setting screens and explanations of why we chose what we did.
The Call of Duty series of war-shooters are without question some of the most gorgeous on the PC (and consoles), but what’s great is the fact that the games are also highly optimized, so no one has to max out their machine’s specs in order to play it. Since that’s the case, the in-game options are maxed out in all regards.
It might have been four-years-ago that we were able to play the first installment of the Half-Life 2 series, but it’s held up well with its new releases and engine upgrades. This is one title that thrives on both a fast CPU and GPU, and though it’s demanding at times, most any recent computer should be able to play the game with close to maxed-out detail settings, aside from the Anti-Aliasing.
In the case of very-recent mid-range cards, the game will run fine all the way up to 2560×1600 with maxed-out detail, minus Anti-Aliasing. All of our tested resolutions use identical settings, with 4xAA and 8xAF.
Synthetic benchmarks have typically been favored for performance testing, but the results they provide can be fairly abstract, and the methods they use to assign their scores can be dubious at times. By contrast, real-world application benchmarks provide performance metrics that apply directly to real-world usage, and we endeavor to apply both in our performance comparisons.
SYSmark 2007 Preview from BAPCo is a special case, because its synthetic scores are derived from tests in real-world applications. However, we still believe that synthetic benchmarking scores are best used to directly compare the performance of one piece of hardware to another, and not for developing an impression of real-world performance expectations. SYSmark is more useful than most synthetic benchmarking programs in our opinion, because its tests emulate tasks that people actually perform, in actual software programs that they are likely to use.
The benchmark is hands-free, using scripts to execute all of the real-world scenarios identically, such as video editing in Sony Vegas and image manipulation in Adobe Photoshop. At the conclusion of the suite of tests, five scores are delivered: an E-learning score, a Video Creation score, a Productivity score, and a 3D Performance score, as well as an aggregated ‘Overall’ score. These scores can still be fairly abstract, and are most useful for direct comparisons between test systems.
A quick note on methodology: SYSmark 2007 requires a clean install of Windows Vista 32-bit to run optimally. Before any testing is conducted, the hard drive is first wiped clean, and then a fresh Windows installation is conducted, then lastly, the necessary hardware drivers are installed. The ‘Three Iterations’ test suite is run, with the ‘Conditioning Run’ setting enabled. Then the results from the three runs are averaged and rounded up or down to the next whole number.
Results here never vary too much, which is a good thing, but the UD4P actually managed to score a bit lower than the UD5. Will the other benchmarks show the same effect? Let’s take a look.
When it comes to video transcoding, one of the best offerings on the market is TMPGEnc Xpress. Although a bit pricey, the software offers an incredible amount of flexibility and customization, not to mention superb format support. From the get go, you can output to DivX, DVD, Video-CD, Super Video-CD, HDV, QuickTime, MPEG, and more. It even goes as far as to include support for Blu-ray video!
There are a few reasons why we choose to use TMPGEnc for our tests. The first relates to the reasons laid out above. The sheer ease of use and flexibility is appreciated. Beyond that, the application does us a huge favor by tracking the encoding time, so that we can actually look away while an encode is taking place and not be afraid that we’ll miss the final encoding time. Believe it or not, not all transcoding applications work like this.
For our test, we take a 0.99GB high-quality DivX H.264 AVI video of Half-Life 2: Episode Two gameplay with stereo audio and transcode it to the same resolution of 720p (1280×720), but lower the bitrate in order to attain a modest filesize. Since the QX9770 we are using for testing supports the SSE4 instruction set, we enable it in the DivX control panel, which improves both the encoding time and quality.
Photo manipulation benchmarks are more relevant than ever, given the proliferation of high-end digital photography hardware. For this benchmark, we test the system’s handling of RAW photo data using Adobe Lightroom, an excellent RAW photo editor and organizer that’s easy to use and looks fantastic.
For our testing, we take 100 RAW files (in Nikon’s .NEF file format) which have a 10-megapixel resolution, and export them as JPEG files in 1000×669 resolution, similar to most of the photos we use here on the website. Such a result could also be easily distributed online or saved as a low-resolution backup. This test involves not only scaling of the image itself, but encoding in a different image format. The test is timed indirectly using a stopwatch, and times are accurate to within +/- 0.25 seconds.
Autodesk’s 3ds Max is without question an industry standard when it comes to 3D modeling and animation, with DreamWorks, BioWare and Blizzard Entertainment being a few of its notable users. It’s a multi-threaded application that’s designed to be right at home on multi-core and multi-processor workstations or render farms, so it easily tasks even the biggest system we can currently throw at it.
For our testing, we use two project files that are designed to last long enough to find any weakness in our setup and also allows us to find a result that’s easily comparable between both motherboards and processors. The first project is a dog model included on recent 3ds Max DVD’s, which we infused with some Techgage flavor.
Our second project is a Bathroom scene that makes heavy use of ray tracing. Like the dog model, this one is also included with the application’s sample files DVD. The dog is rendered at a 1400×1050 resolution, while the Bathroom is rendered as 1080p (1920×1080).
The differences as usual are exceptionally minor… a good thing.
While application performance shouldn’t vary much between motherboards, one area where we can see greater differences is with synthetic benchmarks – at least with those that test both the storage and memory bandwidth/latency. Even still, if differences are seen, you are very unlikely to notice the difference in real-world usage, unless the performance hit is significant, which we’ve not found on any board we’ve tested in the past.
To test the storage I/O, we use a tool that we’ve been using for a number of years, HD Tune. The developer released a “Pro” version not long ago, so that’s what we are using for all of our storage-related benchmarking. The drive being tested is a secondary, installed into the first available Slave port, and is not the drive with the OS installed. To avoid potential latency, the drive is tested once Vista is idle for at least five minutes, and CPU usage remains stable at >1%.
It’s safe to say that for the most part, differences seen in I/O tests is minimal, as this graph shows. All winners and no losers, which is what we’d hope to see.
Yet another classic tool from our toolbox, SiSoftware’s Sandra is one of the ultimate benchmarking sidekicks around, allowing us to test almost every-single component in our PC, from CPU to GPU to memory to storage. In the case of our motherboard reviews, we stick with the memory bandwidth and latency tests, since its an area where some differences could very-well be seen.
As mentioned above, the results here don’t represent real-world performance, and if one motherboard sees the memory 4ns slower, the chances of you noticing the hit in real usage is highly unlikely, if not impossible. If any scenario would be effected, it would be processes that last the course of a few hours, not a few minutes.
Like most of our tests here, the results shown above are quite minimal, with the largest differences being around 500MB/s. That’s not too significant when dealing with 20,000MB/s+, and given that no realistic desktop scenario will ever touch that kind of bandwidth (at least today), it’s safe to say all the boards perform near-identically.
While some popular game franchises are struggling to keep themselves healthy, Call of Duty doesn’t have much to worry about. This is Treyarch’s third go at a game in the series, and a first for one that’s featured on the PC. All worries leading up to this title were all for naught, though, as Treyarch delivered on all promises.
To help keep things fresh, CoD: World at War focuses on battles not exhaustively explored in previous WWII-inspired games. These include battles which take place in the Pacific region, Russia and Berlin, and variety is definitely something this game pulls off well, so it’s unlikely you’ll be off your toes until the end of the game.
For our testing, we use a level called “Relentless”, as it’s easily one of the most intensive levels in the game. It features tanks, a large forest environment and even a few explosions. This level depicts the Battle of Peleliu, where American soldiers advance to capture an airstrip from the Japanese. It’s a level that’s both exciting to play and one that can bring even high-end systems to their knees.
The original Half-Life 2 might have first seen the light of day close to four years ago, but it’s still arguably one of the greatest-looking games ever seen on the PC. Follow-up versions, including Episode One and Episode Two, do well to put the Source Engine upgrades to full use. While playing, it’s hard to believe that the game is based on a four+ year old engine, but it still looks great and runs well on almost any GPU purchased over the past few years.
Like Call of Duty, Half-Life 2: Episode Two runs well on modest hardware, but a recent mid-range graphics card is recommended if you wish to play at higher than 1680×1050 or would like to top out the available options, including anti-aliasing and very high texture settings.
As we’d expect, no motherboard is really going to improve gaming a great deal, and that’s a good thing. The same for the most part goes for the CPU, although even that will affect things far greater than most motherboards will.
Before tackling our overclocking results, let’s first clear up what we consider to be a real overclock and how we go about achieving it. If you regularly read our processor reviews, you may already be aware that I personally don’t care for an unstable overclock. It might look good on paper, but if it’s not stable, then it won’t be used. Very few people purchase a new piece of equipment for the sole purpose of finding the maximum overclock, which is why we focus on finding what’s stable and usable.
To help find the maximum stable overclock on any given motherboard, we focus on sticking to the simpler voltages, such as the ones for the Northbridge and CPU, and also the DIMM if it’s required. We try to work within safe limits, because anything too high is going to only kill your hardware faster. Luckily, all computer components nowadays are designed to handle some abuse, so you never need a lot of voltage to get anywhere.
With Core i7, more factors can come into play with overclocking, but we focus on increasing the Base Clock first and foremost, just like we focus on the Front-Side Bus on Core 2 motherboards. Our goal is to keep voltages are low as possible while reaching the highest stable overclock. Areas where we will increase voltage if needed is the CPU, Northbridge and QPI.
Being that the BIOS and the board isn’t too far different than the UD5, I had a feeling I knew what to expect, and overall… I wasn’t too far off the mark. Luckily, the UD4P overclocks like most of the other X58 boards we’ve had in, and that’s a good thing. Whether you have an i7-920 or i7-965 Extreme Edition, you’re going to be seeing some sweet clocks.
Without raising the voltages even an inch, we were able to push the board to an impressive 160MHz Base Clock while retaining full stability. This is rather impressive, as that would allow a 3.2GHz clock on the i7-920… with no voltage increase! Of course, we can’t say that 3.2GHz would be stable on all i7-920 chips, but from what we’ve seen from retail offerings, we have no reason to believe that the vast majority couldn’t.
What if we take to increasing voltages? Maybe not so surprisingly, we hit 190MHz… the exact same overclock we hit on the UD5. This didn’t seem too surprising, and while we’ve hit more than 200MHz on some other boards, 190MHz is hardly lacking. Even on an i7-920, that would allow for a 3.8GHz clock speed, should the chip allow it.
Gigabyte aims for great overclocking on their boards, and the UD4P delivers. To date, the only board we’ve had go beyond 200MHz has been the ASUS Rampage II Extreme. That board retails for $400, however, so there’s an obvious premium for ultimate overclocking-ability.
It goes without saying that power efficiency is at the forefront of many consumers’ minds today, and for good reason. Whether you are trying to save money or the environment – or both – it’s good to know just how much effort certain vendors are putting into their products to help them excel in this area. ASUS and Gigabyte are two that immediately come to mind that have put a lot of R&D into this, and I’m sure with their leadership, power consumption will consistently get better.
To help see what kind of wattage a given motherboard eats on average, we use a Kill-A-Watt that’s plugged into a power bar that’s in turn plugged into one of the wall sockets, with the test system plugged directly into that. The monitor and other components are plugged into the other socket and is not connected to the Kill-A-Watt. For our system specifications, please refer to our methodology page.
To test, the computer is first boot up and left to sit at idle for five minutes, at which point the current wattage is recorded if stable. To test for full CPU load, eight instances of SP2004 are run using the Small FFT test, one for each thread. For our last test, four of those instances are closed while an “Extreme” run of 3DMark Vantage is performed, which would mimic usage of a game that makes heavy use of the CPU.
Surprisingly, the power consumption doesn’t change all too much between boards, especially with CPU/GPU load, and the UD4P doesn’t stray from that logic. It offers one of the better idle power draws we’ve seen, but its load are pretty well on par with the others.
I don’t recall a time when we’ve taken a look at a Gigabyte product of any sort and haven’t been satisfied overall. All companies mess up at some point or another, but expensive R&D does seem to pay off in the long-run, and Gigabyte’s products prove this. The UD4P is a continuation in the quality we’ve come to expect from the company.
The most important factor about a motherboard, especially today, is the price At $260, the UD4P falls into the mid-range category. You can get it a bit cheaper at some e-tailers (namely Newegg) with a mail-in rebate, which will drop $30 off of the price, making it an even more affordable solution. At $260 though, it still proves itself to be a solid deal.
The UD4P is feature-packed, that much is obvious. Aside from what you can see on the board itself, Gigabyte touts numerous extra features as part of their Ultra Durable brand, such as 2oz of copper in the PCB, a dual BIOS feature (which does come in handy – trust me), a robust power phase configuration and even security features like TPM are included. The UD4P is a well-rounded package.
On the overclocking front, the board didn’t manage to blow our socks off, but we still achieved results that should please most any casual overclocker. Our max stable Base Clock of 190MHz would allow a staggering 3.8GHz clock speed on the i7-920 (should your chip allow such stress), so I’m doubtful there will be many complaints there. The fact that we were able to hit 160MHz BCLK without a single voltage increase was also impressive.
Although I’ve come to appreciate Gigabyte’s motherboards for various reasons, I do wish the BIOS would come revamped in the future. I’m not one to favor brands, obviously, but I can’t help but think about ASUS’ BIOS’ whenever I’m overclocking with anything else. They do a great job with their BIOS’, plain and simple, and other manufacturers should take a hard look at what exactly makes them great. Small details aside, the major glaring omission of the UD4P’s BIOS is the total lack of profile settings for your overclocks. If you are the type of person to have multiple overclocked settings in your BIOS, or even a stock and overclocked setting, the lack of this feature will hurt. (Edit: See below addendum.)
Overclocking aside though, Gigabyte did well with the release of this board, and its value is top-rate. If you are looking for a board that offers great overclocking-ability and performance alongside a slew of useful features, the UD4P will serve you well.
April 4, 2009 Addendum: It appears that you can save overclocking profiles on the UD4P, but it’s hard to notice. You can simply hit F11 to save a profile and F12 to load one. Gigabyte says you can save up to eight profiles in total. We apologize for overlooking this fact.
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