Gigabyte 990FXA-UD7 Motherboard Review

Every once in awhile you come across a motherboard that raises the bar on what an enthusiast board should be. It sets the standard for features and performance exceeding all your expectations. This type of board forces every board you see from that point to meet a higher standard in order to impress you. The Gigabyte 990FXA-UD7 is not one of those boards.

Introduction

Gigabyte is among the most well known enthusiast motherboard makers on the planet. It is the go-to brand for many and Gigabyte certainly worked hard and have earned the reputation it now enjoys. Its product portfolio is vast, covering motherboards of every price point and type, to graphics cards cases, and more. While the company continues to diversify itself, motherboards have always remained at the core of its business model. As a result it is one of the largest motherboard manufacturers in the world competing with the likes of ASUS and MSI.

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The Gigabyte 990FXA-UD7 is based on the new AMD’s 990FX / SB950 chipset. For those who may be seeing a review on the 990FX chipset for the first time, it’s really nothing new. It’s a rebadged 890FX chipset and SB850 south bridge. (Now called an SB950 when paired with the 990FX.) Ultimately the only thing new on 990FX boards is official SLI support and slight hardware tweaks to accommodate upcoming Zambezi processors. You don’t need a new motherboard for Zambezi but these tweaks let you take full advantage of all Zambezi’s power savings features. It could theoretically improve overclockability over older AM3 designs using older chipsets, but we’ll have to wait until we have some sample silicon to test with at the very least. In addition to the 990FX chipset and SB950 south bridge, this board follows along with Gigabyte’s latest design philosophy in terms of aesthetics and electrical design.

The 990FXA-UD7 uses an 8+2 phase power design. The 990FXA-UD7 features Gigabyte’s 2oz. copper PCB, driver MOSFET, lower RDS MOSFET, ferrite core chokes, and all solid electrolytic Japanese manufactured capacitors. The board also features Crossfire and SLI certification, USB 3.0, SATA 3.0 and support for 3TB+ hard drives. Not only does it boast support for 2 and 3-Way SLI / Crossfire / CrossFireX but 4-Way as well. Quad-SLI and dual card, dual GPU CrossFireX should be a given as well. Their On/Off Charge feature boasts 40% more power to USB ports for charging phones or other USB powered peripherals and devices. It is a nifty feature which allows you to charge your devices while your computer is actually turned off.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

The packaging for the Gigabyte 990FXA-UD7 is pretty but more importantly its functional. Our sample arrived intact and ready to hit the test bench. The package has the usual Velcro sealed flap which can be opened to reveal a small preview of the board’s surface through the clear plastic. The flap and package continue to list the boards feature sets. The 990FXA-UD7 comes with the following accessories: Installation guide, user’s manual, driver disc, Gigabyte logo sticker, flexible SLI and Crossfire bridges, 3-Way and 4-Way SLI bridge PCBs, Dolby Home Theater sticker, I/O shield, and SATA cables.

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Board Layout

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The Gigabyte 990FXA-UD7 has a solid layout with only one problem area and that’s the spacing between the DIMM sockets and the CPU socket area. This is not Gigabyte’s fault, as all AMD processor compatible motherboards suffer from this same issue to varying degrees. Aside from that the board has an amazing layout. Gigabyte’s black and gold color scheme is also very pleasing to the eye and this is easily one of the prettiest motherboards I’ve ever seen.

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I’ll skip the long rant about the CPU socket area. It’s as good as Gigabyte could have made it while abiding by AMD specifications for the chipset and processor. With these boards the processor cooling and chosen memory modules need to be very carefully thought out. With some CPU coolers using all 4 DIMM slots would prove impossible. Honestly I’d go with something like the Corsair H50/H60/H70/H100 or a custom built water cooling solution were I to use an AM3+ motherboard in my own system.

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There is no color coding on the DIMM slots because Gigabyte chose aesthetics over function in this case. Most enthusiasts who have built machines before can figure this out, but the lack of color coding could become problematic for some people.

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The north bridge of the 990FX chipset is tiny and doesn’t generate too much heat or use a lot of power. As a result the small heat pipe cooling unit (which is shared between the MOSFETs, north and south bridges) is more than sufficient to handle the cooling needs of the chipset. At least from the touch perspective. It never burned the crap out of me while working with it.

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The south bridge is again cooled by the same heat pipe cooling solution which handles cooling for the north bridge and MOSFETs. Additionally the south bridge part of it is simply flat and spread out. This is of course done for better clearance so that it doesn’t interfere with expansion card installation. Directly in front of the south bridge are the six SATA 6G ports attached to the SB950 south bridge controller. Just to the right of those are the two grey ports connected to the Marvell 9172 controller.

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The expansion slot area is magnificent. Almost every slot is a PCI-Express x16 slot (although not electrically, just in terms of form factor) and there is only one legacy PCI slot. This is exactly what I like to see on a full sized ATX board. This really does make up for the CPU socket area in my mind. (You can always water cool.)

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The I/O shield / back panel area is pretty standard. The following ports are located on the back panel: 1 PS/2 keyboard/mouse port, 1 optical S/PDIF Out connector, 1 coaxial S/PDIF Out connector, 1 IEEE 1394a port, 7 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports, 2 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports, 1 eSATA / USB Combo connector, 1 eSATA 6Gb/s connector, 1 RJ-45 port, 6 mini-stereo audio jacks.