GIGABYTE Z87X-UD7-TH LGA 1150 Motherboard Review

We’ve covered a lot of budget motherboards lately and shown that you can get quite a lot for your dollar. The GIGABYTE motherboard we are looking at today is not a budget motherboard. In fact it’s on the complete opposite of the spectrum, competing with ASUS’ WS offerings and MSI’s Big Bang XPower series.

Introduction

GIGABYTE is a motherboard manufacturer that most people are probably familiar with. It has been in the business for a long time building some of the best enthusiast motherboards around. Like its competitors, GIGABYTE has diversified its business over the last several years getting into a range of other products such as laptops, networking equipment, cases, and even graphics cards. When a manufacturer spreads itself too thin sometimes there are adverse consequences. Some manufacturers which have gone by the wayside such as SOYO and ABIT are great examples of this. Other companies like GIGABYTE tend to branch out while still retaining core focus which is one of the reasons these companies remain popular today.

In my opinion GIGABYTE has been a bit hit and miss lately with some models. I always say the devil is in the details and that’s precisely where GIGABYTE falls short. More specifically it tends to have some firmware quirks or software issues that take time to resolve. And let’s face it; there are more than a few excellent motherboard manufacturers and models out there. When it comes to the average DIY computer builder it takes little more than a good sale or something to sway them in a particular direction. For the hardcore enthusiasts, gamers and people who are a bit more informed mediocrity is rarely tolerable without some type of loyalty hang-ups to go with them in order for a company to stay successful.

We’ve covered a lot of budget motherboards lately and shown that you can get quite a lot for your dollar. The GIGABYTE motherboard we are looking at today is neither a value, or a budget motherboard. In fact it’s on the complete opposite of the spectrum, competing with ASUS’ WS offerings and MSI’s Big Bang XPower series. It is neither an overclocking or gaming oriented motherboard but rather a bit of both with some design features making it more competitive with the ASUS Z87 WS. Like the Z87 WS you can’t really call it a workstation motherboard either though it does offer connectivity on par with what you would expect or even demand from such a motherboard. The Z87X-UD7-TH is in fact GIGABYTE’s top Z87 offering that doesn’t have a specific gamer slant to It like the OC / OC Force or G1 motherboards. Expectations for motherboards in this market space are high and that’s absolutely reasonable given the price point. At the time of this writing the Z87X-UD7-TH is a $429 motherboard.

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The GIGABYTE Z87X-UD7-TH is based on the Z87 Express chipset and is paired with Intel’s DSL5520 chip for Thunderbolt 2 support. The Z87X-UD7-TH of course supports all that the Z87 Express chipset has to offer and then some. GIGABYTE spared little in the way of expense packing more SATA ports, USB 3.0 ports, Thunderbolt, and more into the design. As expected this motherboard is part of the Ultra Durable 5 Plus family. The Z87X-UD7-TH utilizes a 16+2 phase power design comprised of International Rectifier 60A PWM controllers and 60A PowIRstage IR3550 IC’s. Being part of the Ultra Durable line the Z87X-UD7-TH also has a 2x copper PCB, black solid electrolytic capacitors rated at 10,000 hours, gold plated CPU socket UEFI DualBIOS, high ESD protection for USB and LAN ports, and a one-fuse per USB port configuration.

For the enthusiast GIGABYTE also added the new OC Ignition feature. This is what GIGABYTE had to say about it;

OC Ignition: Feature Summary

آ• Powers fans and drives without booting or powering the CPU

آ• Active fans help to reduce moisture build-up when using LN2

آ• Maintain continuous uninterrupted power to drives

آ• Safely powers water cooling systems for safe leak checking

آ• Test demo and case mod systems without needing to boot the system

Next we have the OC Touch feature which is basically a collection of controls which allow hardware overclocking within any environment. Other motherboards have similar features but GIGABYTE’s is easily more comprehensive offering more switches, buttons, and options. The Z87X-UD7-TH also features nine fan headers and a PCIe switch is added to enable and disable PCIe lanes should you wish to do so and more.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

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Despite the premium status, GIGABYTE did away with the usual box with flap and window setup it has had in the past. This is more like a "normal" motherboard box but has the same innards as the more expensive packages do. Being a premium part the Z87X-UD7-TH comes with a ton of accessories. Included in the box are; User manual, multilingual guide, Wi-Fi user manual, two driver disc, case badge, SLI bridge, 3-Way SLi bridge, 4-Way SLI bridge, CrossFire bridge, SATA cables, I/O shield, volt-meter contact cables, WiFi card, antennae, and a front / rear panel USB 3.0 bracket.

Board Layout

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The motherboard itself has an excellent layout despite how much stuff is crammed onto the PCB. I really don’t have anything to complain about which is a definite rarity for me.

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The CPU socket area is flanked by an absolutely huge cooling system for the MOSFETs, PLX chip, and south bridge. The cooling system not only has heat pipes but two active cooling fans and barbs for water cooling as well. The cooling system is screwed onto the board securely, though some movement is present via tensioners added into the mix. The heft of the cooling system adds quite a bit of weight to the motherboard.

Now despite the huge and beefy cooling you should still be able to get fairly large heat sinks and fans mounted onto this motherboard. The height of the solution could cause you some problems. With a setup like this however I’d personally recommend something at least along the lines of the Corsair H80 or a custom water cooling loop if you want to get the most out of your very expensive purchase.

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Just like everyone else GIGABYTE has now adopted the same single sided locking mechanism for DIMM module retention that ASUS and MSI currently use several of its models. These slots are color coded gray and black to denote proper dual channel memory mode operation. A fan header is placed conveniently for active memory cooling solutions such as the Corsair Dominator cooling fans.

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The south bridge is cooled by the same system that handles the MOSFETs and PLX chip. One of the active cooling fans is directly above the south bridge. In front of this you’ll find the CMOS battery and 10 SATA 6Gb/s ports. Gray ports are attached to the Marvell 9230 controller while the other six are native to the Z87 Express chipset. Your ATX 4P connector is just to the right allowing for auxiliary power to be channeled to your extra PCI-Express slots.

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The expansion slots seem like a mess at first. The Z87X-UD7-TH has an integrated PLX8474 chip which allows for PCI-Express lane multiplexing. This effectively doubles the amount of PCI-Express lanes available for devices.

Now, I said effectively rather than actually. Multiplexing still creates bandwidth constraints but it allows for dynamic allocation of PCI-Express lanes so that devices can be fed bandwidth evenly, and in a wider variety of combinations based on device needs rather than having to allocate your devices to specific slots with fixed electrical / lane characteristics. This of course adds latency which GIGABYTE recognizes and thus provides a dedicated PCI-Express x16 slot that bypasses the PLX chip entirely. The resulting configurations allow for 16x0, 16x16, and 8x8x8x8. Two PCIe x1 slots are also provided.

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The I/O panel area is actually somewhat sparse and very uniform in a sense. You have a PS/2 mouse/keyboard port, 6x USB 3.0 ports, 2x HDMI ports, 2x RJ-45 LAN ports, 1x optical output, 5x mini-stereo jacks, and dual Thunderbolt/Mini-DP ports. 4K displays are supported for anyone interested in running such a thing off of onboard video.