Gigabyte X58A-UD9 £435
12th Aug 2010 | 10:28
One of the most expensive motherboards we've ever seen, but is it one of the best?
Gigabyte X58A-UD9 - Overview
Is Gigabyte's monumental new X58A-UD9 motherboard the most expensive in recorded history?
We certainly can't remember the last time a desktop mobo breached the £400 barrier. One thing is for sure: the Gigabyte X58A-UD9 had better be good. Damn good.
There are already a number of big-ticket boards based on Intel's flagship X58 chipset, of course. However, the likes of Asus' Rampage III Extreme and MSI's Big Bang Xpower are over £100 cheaper. That said, there's one board that comes a little closer, both in terms of specification and price.
Like the Gigabyte X58A-UD9, the EVGA Classified 4-Way SLI packs four 16-lane PCI Express graphics slots for ultimate graphics power. But even that board is around £50 lighter. The X58A-UD9 really is in a class of its own.
Immense expandability aside – the UD9 has a further trio of eight-lane PCIe slots – the UD9's main claim to fame is overclockability.
Gigabyte has loaded it with high-quality components, including extensive cooling kit and top-drawer power regulation.
On paper, it certainly looks like the ultimate board for enthusiasts planning to maximise both their CPU and graphics performance. What it's not, however, is perfect. In fact, this preposterously pricey motherboard is out-pointed in a few areas by much cheaper models.
Gigabyte X58A-UD9 - Technology and specifications
If you've forked out £800 for Intel's mighty Core i7 980X six-core processor, why not unload another £400 for seven slots' worth of PCI Express action? It's big numbers all round, and the Gigabyte X58A-UD9 is quite literally large.
Measuring 345 x 263.5mm, the UD9's form factor is officially known as XL-ATX. There's something else that's official: it won't fit in most PC cases. Fortunately, Gigabyte has provided a list of compatible cases. Anyway, odds are you'll need a new housing for it.
To get the most out of the UD9, you'll probably also need a new PSU.
The biggest potential power draw, of course, are the seven (count 'em!) full length PCI Express slots. Four are the real 16-lane deal, a configuration enabled courtesy of a pair of Nvidia NF200 bridge chips. The remaining three are full length, but only eight-lane in electrical terms.
Gigabyte has sensibly arranged the slots alternately. Slots one, three, five and seven are 16-lane, allowing for four dual-slot graphics cards to be daisy chained.
For the record, both AMD's Crossfire and Nvidia's SLI multi-GPU platforms are fully supported. Indeed, the UD9 comes with the graphics card connectors required for both technologies.
Another UD9 highlight is chipset cooling.
The X58 I/O controller chip gets the most attention in this area. For starters, Gigabyte has bolted on a block with connectors and pass-throughs for water cooling.
It's also provided a novel air-cooling solution composed of a screw-on heat pipe cooler that sits vertically in the first PCI slot. It's possible to run both cooling solutions in parallel.
Elsewhere, the UD9 scores points for it's uber-spec 24-phase power regulation kit. The fact that the PCB itself also has a thin layer of copper to help prevent hot spots and generally improve cooling just goes to show how much detail Gigabyte has paid to the overall design.
Gigabyte X58A-UD9 - Benchmarks
In this age of highly integrated CPUs, it's becoming ever harder for motherboards to carve out a performance advantage. Quite simply, more and more motherboard features are migrating onto the CPU itself.
Kudos, then, to Gigabyte's new X58A-UD9 for managing to somewhat justify its existence with a clean sweep of our benchmarks.
Comparison comes in the form of Gigabyte's own GA-EX58-UD4P. It's a somewhat more mainstream board, but it's certainly no slouch. Anyway, any board based on the Intel X58 chipset deserves to be considered high-end and it's reassuring to see the new mega-bucks UD9 keeping its nose in front.
3D rendering performance
Video encoding performance
3D gaming performance
Gigabyte X58A-UD9 - Verdict
Broadly speaking, if the Gigabyte X58A-UD9 wants to justify its silly sticker price, there are three fronts on which it must deliver. Firstly, it needs to be the ultimate platform for high performance gaming. Secondly, it had better overclock like buggery. Finally, the detail specifications ought to be impeccable.
Right out of the box, it fails on the first count.
However, this isn't the fault of Gigabyte. Multi-GPU scaling with more than two GPUs is uncharted territory for all but a very, very tiny number of well-heeled enthusiasts.
GPU scaling mileage tends to vary over time and as driver iterations come and go. But it's fair to say that with AMD's Crossfire platform, going beyond two cards is a bold move.
A few games scale reasonably well three and four GPUs, such as Far Cry 2 and Dirt 2. But most don't, including the one game that might benefit from four GPUs pumping pixels in parallel. Yup, that'll be Crysis in its most recent Warhead trim.
In practice, Crysis performance in Crossfire mode peaks with two graphics cards, much less three or four. As for Nvidia's competing SLI platform, scaling to three GPUs is pretty consistent, but a fourth card gives little or no benefit.
Again, this isn't the fault of Gigabyte. But it does somewhat erode the UD9's raison d'être.
But what about overclocking?
Here the news is better, if a little mixed. There's no doubting Gigabyte has delivered the right oveclocking features. The chipset is extremely well-cooled, and the 24-phase power regulation circuitry is likely beyond reproach.
Indeed, Gigabyte has also installed a pair of eight-pin CPU power connectors instead of the usual one. Put simply, power delivery ain't an issue.
The BIOS is similarly comprehensive, providing all the options you could ever ask for, including baseclock control up to 600MHz and ample voltage tweakery.
Despite all that, the maximum bus speed we could squeeze out of our sample board was 220MHz. That's by no means a bad result. Moreover, it provides as much headroom for CPU overclocking as almost any chip can handle. But it's perhaps not as spectacular we'd hoped.
Finally, if we're being really picky – and in the context of a £400-plus motherboard, we probably should be – the UD9 does fall short on connectivity and storage.
Both SATA 6Gbps and USB 3.0 are on the spec list, courtesy of Marvell and NEC controller chips, respectively. But you only get a pair of ports for each. Given that many more affordable boards do better, that's really not good enough.
Plenty of motherboards have bags of PCIe slots, but most flatter to decieve – they're not the real PCIe16 deal. Not so for the Gigabyte X58A-UD9 and its quartet of bona fide 16-lane slots.
The UD9 also offers the best chipset cooling we've seen and a comprehensive BIOS menu. We can think of no better board for maximising the performance of Intel's top chips.
At this price point, near-perfection is a must, and the UD9 doesn't quite deliver. The main problem is that multi-GPU graphics performance with more than two cards is patchy.
We'd also like to have seen Gigabyte go to town with the USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gbps connectivity. Two of each is a bit stingy.
Gigabyte's UD9 is a quality customer, but it can't quite justify the £400 pricing