Gigabyte Z77X-UD5H LGA 1155 Motherboard Review

The Gigabyte Z77X-UD5H is a high end board with a mid-range price. Sound too good to be true? Well as it turns out it's still mostly a high end board with a few cost cutting measures here and there. The question I had to ask myself was: Is the Z77X-UD5H a high end dud or a mid-range marvel?

Introduction

To many veteran enthusiasts, GIGABYTE is a well known and trusted brand name. It is one of the world's largest motherboard manufacturers and one of the more popular brands. Like some of its competitors, GIGABYTE designs and or manufactures a few different things ranging from cases, video cards, peripherals and motherboards to laptops and more. GIGABYTE has diversified its product line over the last 10 years. Still it is best known for its motherboard products in enthusiast circles. GIGABYTE has a lot of models to choose from ranging from budget oriented offerings to high dollar enthusiast oriented motherboards which can cost as much as a complete system from a budget builder.

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The GIGABYTE Z77X-UD5H is based on Intel's Z77 Express chipset and as a result, supports the features included with that chipset. Support for 32GB of DDR3 RAM, PCIe 3.0, 2.0, SATA 3Gb/s, SATA 6Gb/s, RAID 0, 1, 5, 10, Intel's Rapid Storage Technology, Smart Response Technology, Rapid Start Technology and more. The Z77X-UD5H is certified for AMD's CrossFireX and NVIDIA's SLI technology. However, Gigabyte chose not to use a PLX chip and relies on the chipset and CPU for all PCIe lanes.

Therefore the board isn't the best choice for more than 2 graphics cards as you end up with an 8x4x4 configuration. However with two graphics cards you can still get 8 lanes allocated to both slots. Being that the bottom PCIe x16 slot shares bandwidth with the others, you have to use the two closer slots for SLI or CrossFireX. There is still plenty of room between these for air cooling, but some people might prefer to put them further apart which isn't an option here.

The Gigabyte Z77X-UD5H is another in its "Ultra Durable" series, using all digital power controls, a UEFI which its calls "3D BIOS." Dual NICs are present on the Z77X-UD5H as well. We used the WiFi version for our testing. Rather than a more integrated solution Gigabyte opted for an included wireless adapter card which gives the board Bluetooth 4.0 support and dual band antennas.

In a way the Gigabyte Z77X-UD5H masquerade's as a higher end board while residing in a much lower price point than you might expect for the features it offers. The no-WiFi version is $182 at Amazon and the WiFi edition can be found at Amazon for $210. However the UD5 cost cutting to do that is achieved in a few ways. There are minimal accessories included in the box. Sure it does look like there are quite a few things, but there isn't the plethora of SATA cables, power adapters, etc. that we've seen on other GIGABYTE boards. There is no PLX chip and no third-party USB 3.0 controllers. Though for some reason GIGABYTE chose to integrate the VIA 6308 Firewire controller. I'm not sure why it even bothered as this isn't a popular connector anymore.

Also on the storage front additional RAID support is provided by a pair of Marvell 9172 chips. These support SATA III 6Gb/s speeds and RAID modes 0 and 1. This also gives the board an eSATA port which is a good thing to have on any board in my opinion. USB 3.0 support is provided by the Intel Z77 Express chipset alone. Multiple ports are handled by using VIA USB 3.0 hubs which multiplex the port. Essentially this is a cheaper way to give a board more USB 3.0 ports compared to integration of additional USB 3.0 controllers. Finally we have an mSATA slot to take advantage of Intel's Smart Response Technology or SSD caching feature. Though I suppose you could use it for a boot OS or some other purpose if you wanted to.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

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The motherboard ships in a somewhat flashy cardboard sleeve, which hides a white standard style motherboard box the likes of which we've seen for a couple of decades now. Nothing wrong with that. A cardboard insert protects the board while keeping the minimal accessories bundled within, neatly below the board itself. Our sample arrived damage free and we found the following contents inside: User's manual, quick installation guide, GC-WB300D / WB150 WiFi installation guide, driver disc, WiFi / Bluetooth driver disc, Gigabyte brand sticker, WiFi card, two antennas, front panel USB 3.0 ports, SLI bridge, some SATA cables, and a USB cable for connecting your WiFi solution to an internal header and an I/O shield.

Board Layout

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The layout of the Gigabyte Z77X-UD5H is solid, but stops two steps short of being excellent. There is a vertical mounted SATA port which can be used for an eSATA connection, or at least that's what I'm assuming it's for. Yet it's somewhat badly placed for that. As an internal header its placement is OK, but I'd have put it near the other ports if I was going for that. If it was more intended for providing additional eSATA connectivity options then it should be at the back of the board. Second issue is a bigger problem and one that is virtually inexcusable.

For some reason Gigabyte placed the clear CMOS and reset buttons right next to each other on the board's PCB. The power button is of course marked quite well and is the largest of the three, but the clear CMOS button and reset switch are essentially identical save for a slight color difference. People are going to end up pressing the clear CMOS button instead of the reset button and I'm sure it's going to piss them off. In fact I'm surprised I haven't done that but this problematic placement stood out the first time I glanced over the Z77X-UD5H's PCB. That's just a amateur move on Gigabyte's part.

All solid electrolytic capacitors are used in the board's construction along with low RDS MOSFETs. The board features 5 fan headers, each supporting both 3 and 4-pin fans. A plethora of voltage contact points allows for monitoring of voltages with a volt-meter which is a nice touch on a sub-$200 motherboard.

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Like most boards made today, the DIMM slots are too close to the CPU socket. I can't fault Gigabyte for this as much as Intel so that's all I'll say on the subject. You can mitigate this problem with smaller cooling solutions, low-profile memory modules, or water cooling solutions ranging from large custom loops to cheaper integrated solutions like the Corsair and Antec fully contained units.

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Gigabyte uses "old school" DIMM retention slots with locking tabs on both ends. There is however sufficient space to prevent issues with memory installation or removal even with large graphics cards installed into the system. Though for aesthetic reasons, Gigabyte chose to abandon all color coding for the DIMM slots. I'm torn on this as I like the look, and while I may instinctively know which slots to populate with DRAM, not everyone does nor does everyone RTFM. Color coding can be done while still maintaining sufficient aesthetic quality, so I'm going to say Gigabyte should have color coded these. Though I'd hardly call this a deal breaker and certainly wouldn't for the veteran enthusiast.

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The Z77 Express chipset is located directly in front of the expansion slot area between the two PCIe x16 slots. It is therefore also located in front of the board’s onboard SATA ports. The Z77 Express chipset is fairly basic silicon without demanding power and heat dissipation needs. Despite that Gigabyte gave the Z77X-UD5H a fair amount of cooling support with a heat pipe setup which connects to the larger cooling hardware found on the board's VRM's behind the CPU socket.

SATA ports are color coded to denote the difference between SATA II 3Gb/s and SATA III 6Gb/s ports. Additionally the Marvell controller's ports are color coded gray which helps further distinguish what ports belong with a given controller.

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The expansion slot area is well done. The two primary PCIe x16 slots are spaced far enough apart to allow a good amount of airflow between dual slot graphics cards running the most demanding GPUs, a PCIe x1 slot can be found on top of the primary PEG slot which is also nice for smaller form factor devices using the x1 connector like the included WiFi adapter. There is a single legacy PCI slot, which is more than sufficient in my opinion and finally there is a PCIe x16 slot (x4 electrical) which completes the package.

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The I/O panel is packed tightly on the Z77X-UD5H. We've got a VGA port, DVI-D port, optical output, HDMI, DisplayPort, 2 USB 2.0 ports, an IEEE1394a port, 1 eSATA port, 4 USB 3.0 ports, dual RJ-45 ports, and six-mini stereo jacks.