Gigabyte X79-UD3 £170
20th Mar 2012 | 14:53
High-performance Sandy Bridge E hero
Plotting a performance PC? Snag a high end motherboard. That's the conventional wisdom challenged by the new Gigabyte X79-UD3.
Of course, any board based on Intel's X79 chipset hardly rates as poverty item.
At £175, the Gigabyte X79-UD3 ain't exactly cheap, but it is within a fiver of the cheapest X79 motherboards on the market. Everything, therefore, is relative.
Consequently, the Gigabyte X79-UD3 is flagrantly frills-free.
But with so many features now finding their way onto the the CPU die itself, including the memory controller and PCI Express bus, you could argue motherboards in general are less critical.
So Gigabyte's task is to deliver quality and performance where it matters while not going overboard on the corner cutting compared with more expensive X79 models such as the Asus P9X79 Pro and MSI X79A-GD65 8D.
If Gigabyte can pull that off, we can certainly live without trinkets such as hardware power switches and LED displays.
These days, we're accustomed to pretty consistent performance across motherboards sharing the same chipset. Gigabyte's X79-UD3 is no exception.
OK, MSI's pointedly pricier X79A-GD65 8D edges it in most tests, but the gap is thoroughly inconsequential and UD3 was comfortably the fastest in Photoshop.
What's more, we used the X79-UD3 as a basis for our overclocking tests with the Intel Core i7 3960X. By achieving 4.5GHz with ease, it only adds further weight to the notion that you needn't spend more.
The only slight snag is that you'll have to do it manually; there's no auto-overclocking option.
CPU rendering performance
Video encoding performance
Real-world productivity performance
The verdict on the Gigabyte X79-UD3 will come down to what it does and doesn't do.
What it undoubtedly does is deliver performance pretty much indistinguishable from any other X79 board in the known universe. That includes stock clocked performance, where there was never likely to be much of a chasm, and also overclocking headroom.
The UD3 has plenty of the latter.
Indeed, records have verily been broken with the Gigabyte X79-UD3. An expert overclocker, known nattily as 'Hicookie', is alleged to have nailed 5.6GHz with a Core i7 3930K.
You also get a simple but sleekly presented board that oozes quality and a pukka UEFI BIOS menu that includes all the configuration options you could ever desire.
Oh, and Gigabyte has also thrown in four PCI Express x16 slots (two are 8x electrical) for four-way SLI action, should you be so inclined.
The final highlight is a pair of USB 3.0 chips and thus up to four USB 3.0 ports (two via a header).
At this point, the argument in favour of spending more than the Gigabyte X79-UD3's £175 asking looks pretty precarious. However, what it doesn't do it give you is the frills of a fancier board.
There are no on-board buttons for power, reset or overclocking, for instance. There's no auto-overclocking facility in the BIOS, either.
Likewise, one DIMM slot per memory channel is your lot, for a grand total of four. On that subject, the memory slots and primary PCI Express slot are situated too close together, putting graphics cards at risk during insertion.
The Gigabyte X79-UD3 ain't exactly cheap, but it is one of the most affordable X79-based boards you can buy.
It also delivers excellent performance, both stock and overclocked, support for up to four graphics cards, four USB 3.0 ports and six SATA 6Gbps sockets.
As this price point, something's gotta give.
Gigabyte has stripped the X79-UD3 of extras such as power and reset buttons along with the extra memory slot per channel seen on pricier boards.
Our testing also suggests the UD3 is a little power hungry on full reheat.
Proof you don't need a top-dollar motherboard to achieve a great high performance PC