Gigabyte 970A-UD3 £85
20th Jul 2011 | 14:09
Getting on board the Bulldozer-ready motherboard bandwagon before it starts
Gigabyte 970A-UD3: Overview
Looking to build a new PC based around an AMD Phenom processor? No, us neither, but that's not the point about AMD's recent refresh of its motherboard chipsets. What makes them interesting is the news that they bring: boards such as this 970A-UD3 from Gigabyte are ready for the soon-to-be-launched Bulldozer CPUs.
Unfortunately, Bulldozer is a completely new chip and almost inevitably ran into manufacturing problems. So it's been delayed rather beyond the original summer launch date.
Still, if you are looking to build an AMD system it's churlish to complain that you get to play with all of the platform birthday toys before the main present is unwrapped. It's fully backwards-compatible and priced pretty keenly too.
Apart from supporting Bulldozer through the AM3+ socket, Series 9 chipsets such as the AMD 970 featured in the Gigabyte 970A-UD3 aren't substantially different to the previous AMD 890 and 870. So what exactly is that Gigabyte toy box full of?
Despite many structural similarities, the AMD 970 chipset isn't as fast as the higher end 990X and 990FX. The differences are perhaps over-amplified in the PCMark result, although in real life you won't be missing out on much performance by opting for this board.
Gigabyte 970A-UD3: Benchmarks
The evidence is in black and white in the following benchmarks. The Cinebench result shows just how far ahead of the Gigabyte 970A-UD3 the two Asus 990 boards are in getting the most out of the CPU. The power draw is also rather interesting, with the high-end RoG board the most eco-friendly.
X264 HD v4.0: Frames per second (bigger is better)
Asus M5A99X EVO: 32.7fps
Gigabyte 970A-UD3: 32.5fps
Asus ROG Crosshair V: 32.9fps
Asus M5A99X EVO: 5.86pts
Gigabyte 970A-UD3: 5.78pts
Asus ROG Crosshair V: 5.86pts
Asus M5A99X EVO: 9252
Gigabyte 970A-UD3: 7118
Asus ROG Crosshair V: 8511
Stalker: Call of Pripyat (1280 x 1024, low, DX11, Day)
Asus M5A99X EVO: 165.79fps
Gigabyte 970A-UD3: 157fps
Asus ROG Crosshair V: 163.6fps
Power use (Peak): Watts (lower is better)
Asus M5A99X EVO: 305W
Gigabyte 970A-UD3: 318.9W
Asus ROG Crosshair V: 299W
Gigabyte 970A-UD3: Verdict
There's a lot packed in to the Gigabyte 970A-UD3 for its £85 price point. Six full speed SATA 6Gb/s hard drive connectors is a good start, and so are the two front-panel USB 3.0 headers (there are two around the back as well).
It really doesn't feel like a 'value' board at all. In fact, the only thing that's really missing is Crossfire and SLI support. There's just one PCIe x16 slot for graphics cards, but so long as you aren't planning a dual card rig there seems to be little reason to upgrade to a more expensive AMD 990X board right now anyway.
Funnily enough, though, one of the best features is the set of augmented power USB ports round the back. If you've recently picked up an Apple iPad 2 or an Android tablet such as the BlackBerry PlayBook, you may have noticed that standard USB slots don't provide enough juice to charge their batteries. Some motherboard manufacturers throw in some overvolting software to try to get around that, but two of the rear ports here appear to have proper pins for non-standard charging.
Other than that, the best distinction Gigabyte has – other than the quality of its underlying components – is that it's one of the best value boards for Socket AM3+ so far, and a full-size ATX one, at that.
The Gigabyte 970A-UD3 is a smartly laid out board with some excellent extras such as super powered USB ports, a back up Bios and Bulldozer support for a very reasonable price.
For current Phenoms, there's not really enough to distinguish it over older 8-series boards that cost less. By the time Bulldozer actually arrives, it may not be the best value AM3+ option around.
Right now, the Gigabyte 970A-UD3 is the best value Bulldozer option. By the time the CPU arrives, however, that will likely have changed.
The tedious but true conclusion about any 970, 990X or 990FX board right now, though, is that until we know whether or not Bulldozer is any good, it's an odd time to decide on a future AMD platform for your next system. Come back in a couple of months, maybe.