Preview: The Ultimate X58 Motherboards


Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD9

Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD9

Far from being forgotten, Intel's enthusiast chipset, the X58 Express, got a new lease of life with the introduction of the Socket LGA1366 based 6-core Gulftown processor, the Intel Core i7-980X. We examined two of the new, premium X58 boards that came with updated features like SATA 6Gbit/s and USB 3.0 earlier this year, but it seems that vendors are not done yet trying to outdo each other. There has been a number of even more extreme X58 boards from the usual suspects, like Gigabyte and MSI and from what we can tell, the vendors are bringing the big guns out for these new, ultra high-end models.

First up, Gigabyte has broken its own UD7 nomenclature with an even more feature-packed and extreme model. The new Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD9 is certainly a milestone in terms of its size. It is extra large, with a super-size XL-ATX form factor that's not exactly standard, but one that Gigabyte is embracing for its really high-end models. The extra PCB space allows it to have seven PCIe 2.0 x16 slots and thanks to additional onboard NForce SLI bridge chips, it's a board that can do 4-way SLI or CrossFireX. Meanwhile, the dimensions also ensure that there's sufficient space to have dual-slot graphics cards for the 4-way multi-GPU configuration. The downside is that you'll need a compatible chassis for the board to fit into (you can find the support list on Gigabyte's website) and that could be a problem for upgraders.

9, or to be exact, the UD9 is Gigabyte's new flagship X58 motherboard, packed with more features and expansion options than ever before. It's a new level of over-the-top and one-upmanship in motherboard design, not to mention that it's in XL-ATX form factor, which is larger than the usual ATX dimensions.

Besides being extra large, Gigabyte has, as usual overdosed on the storage options, though the PCB now allows it to do so without compromising on the layout. While it's still a packed PCB, we didn't find any of the SATA ports getting affected by graphics cards, as they were all aligned outwards. The connectors generally were found at the edges of the board and users should have no issues connecting their cables. We did notice that if you need to install the separate Hybrid Silent-Pipe passive heatsink to the water cooling block, it does take up some space and even block users from easily accessing the extra PCIe power connector nearby. Of course, this would be quite unusual circumstances.

You can also expect the whole list of Gigabyte's in-house technologies to be found in its full glory on this board, including some of the newer ones, like On/Off Charge, which allows the quick charging of iPhone/iPod/iPad devices even while the PC is turned off. The complete list is found on Gigabyte's website but if you're familiar with names like "Ultra Durable 3" and "24-phase VRM power" design, then yes, all these and more are found on this ultimate X58 board from Gigabyte.

Finally, the price for this board can be quite a shock. We were quoted a local retail price of S$839 for this super-size board (it's listed at US$700 on Newegg) so it too is a new height in motherboard prices. In fact, on Newegg, it's the only Intel X58 motherboard in its price bracket, with the next most expensive board, the eVGA 170-BL-E762-A1  at US$430. This Gigabyte board is undoubtedly in a class of its own here. 

The rear ports include PS/2 ports, optical and coaxial S/PDIF, a Clear CMOS button, two FireWire ports, two eSATA/USB combo ports, two Gigabit LAN ports, two USB 3.0 ports (blue) and four USB 2.0 ports. We're sure that's enough for everyone.

Hidden under the one-piece cover here is the Southbridge, along with the NVIDIA SLI bridge chips, JMicron and Marvell controllers that give this board such an extensive support in PCIe configuration and huge number of SATA ports. There are only two SATA 6Gbit/s ports however from a Marvell 9128 chip at the extreme right here. A JMicron controller provides the IDE support along with two more SATA 3.0Gbps ports.

Onboard LEDs for debugging purposes. As befits a high-end board, the UD9 comes with six fan headers, including one for the CPU.

The usual six DDR3 DIMM slots that support up to a maximum of 24GB memory. DDR3-2200 for the overclockers.

A large power button and the much smaller reset button.

As usual, Gigabyte's Silent-Pipe cooler is present. This is a separate heatsink that can attached to the Northbridge heatsink/water cooling block to enhance heat dissipation. It's solely for the extreme users.

And here are the seven expansion slots that's this board main claim to fame. Thanks to two onboard NForce SLI bridges, this Gigabyte board can do 4-way SLI or CrossFireX. There's even adequate spacing between the slots for dual-slot graphics cards. Four of these slots are running at x16 while the remaining three are at x8.

The floppy drive continues to get support from Gigabyte and there's a 4-pin 12V PCIe power connector too.

The best and most costly components are used to ensure that the power delivered to the CPU is stable and adequate for extreme users. Gigabyte has gone with a 24-phase VRM power design that claims to meet the needs for overclockers, especially with an Intel 6-core processor.

In case you're doubting Gigabyte, there are two 8-pin 12V ATX power connectors.