Today's Hard|Forum Post
Today's Hard|Forum Post

Gigabyte EX58-UD5

Gigabyte brings its engineering expertise to the new EX58-UD5 motherboard that is targeted at the no-frills hardware enthusiast. It is still packed with all the OCing essentials. We get past the marketing speak to find out if this board is worth your hard earned dollar or if it should wind up in the computer hardware shooting gallery.

Introduction

Gigabyte is a name that is well known to enthusiasts and for good reason. Gigabyte offers a vast array of motherboards available at nearly any price point. While some are better than others in regard to features and performance, most all recent Gigabyte enthusiast class motherboards have been of high quality, good stability, and an excellent feature set. Typically its pricing is very competitive and the availability of their products is quite good. The EX58-UD5 itself is targeted as an enthusiast solution. There is a more expensive Gigabyte EX58-Extreme board as well.

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The Gigabyte EX58-UD5 is based on Intel's latest chipset, the X58. This chipset is coupled with the Intel ICH10R and supports only Core i7 (LGA1366) processors at this time though that is probably due to the fact that nothing else exists that fits the LGA1366 sockets at present. The chipset has a long list of features most of which aren't new. Features provided with the ICH10R for example were already available with the ICH9R which has been around for over a year. The big deal about this chipset outside of Core i7 support is that it natively supports SLI. Board manufacturers can also opt to include the nForce 200 MCP for additional PCIe lanes. Gigabyte has not chosen to do so at present so 3-Way SLI is supported in a 16x16x8 configuration.

Since this chipset is PCI-Express 2.0 the bandwidth available to each of the three PCI-Express x16 (form factor and electrical, or x8 electrical) slots should be plenty for some time. At least this generation of graphics cards and most likely the next. Essentially the X58 brings SLI compatibility to the normal high end and not just those with the money and the desire to buy Intel's Extreme Dual Processor Desktop platform better known as Skulltrail. As many of you are no doubt aware the X58 chipset doesn't house a memory controller. Instead these functions are handled within the CPU and the motherboard no longer has an FSB the way we are used to thinking of it on the Intel side of things.

Gigabyte has done some interesting things with this board. The motherboard box outlines quite a few of them and while it can be daunting to separate fact from marketing speak much of the information is very clear. The motherboard is built to the latest VRD 11.1 specifications. The EX58-UD5 uses a 12-phase power solution as opposed to a traditional 8 or the higher end 16-phase power solution. (The EX58-Extreme uses a 16-phase design.) The board also uses a 2oz copper PCB instead of a traditional 1oz copper PCB. A magnified cross-section of the PCB is shown on the box. This is supposed to allow the board to run cooler and more efficiently. Gigabyte also claims that this should allow for more overclocking headroom.

The board also features all Japanese solid capacitors rated at 50,000 hours, lower RDS MOSFETs and ferrite core chokes. What this all boils down to is the board should be stable, and run cooler than designs not using similar features. The board also contains the precision OV IC onboard which allows for greater voltage control. Like ASUS, Gigabyte also now uses LED's onboard to show you active power phases and the board has the ability to power down un-needed or unnecessary power phases when not under full load. The board can operate in 12-phase mode down to 2-phase power mode for higher energy savings.

Basically while this is the less expensive sibling of the EX58-Extreme the board easily bests the specifications of previous generation Core 2 boards in many areas.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

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The board has a box with the usual Gigabyte style artwork. Inside it is a plain white box containing very little. The board is adequately protected during shipment and the board comes with the usual I/O panel, cables, manuals, driver disk, and SLI bridges for both SLI and 3-Way SLI. Unfortunately they included a very short SLI bridge made with PCB rather than a flexible bridge like ASUS typically uses. This forces you to have a second video card in an adjacent slot to the primary card. Not a huge deal but I know I'd prefer to put them farther apart to allow for better ventilation between the two graphics cards. The 3-Way SLI bridge is the same as always but unlike the reference versions this one has a bluish colored PCB and is screened with "Gigabyte."

Board Layout

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Gigabyte has done an outstanding job with the EX58 UD5's layout. In fact I was really only able to come up with two flaws concerning the layout. The first is with the top most PCI-Express x1 slot. It is simply badly positioned and is such going to be useless for most add-in boards. However the PCI-Express x4 slot positioned below the PCI-Express x1 slot is in a very useful location. The chipset cooling solution for the north bridge is just in the way here. The second flaw is with the placement of the floppy connector which is almost a non-issue unless you are running Windows XP. Even then there are plenty of work-arounds for this so in the end both of the issues are almost non-issues at all. Our test board's PCB was marked as version 1.0.

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The CPU area is free of any real obstructions. Granted things can get cozy between the memory slots and the CPU cooling solution but even with the very large Thermalright Ultra 120 Extreme installed I found that there wasn't any problem. Sure it was right up against the memory but it didn't interfere with installation. All the caps and chokes are out of the way and the chipset cooling solution is far enough out of the way to cause few to no problems with the most extreme of cooling solutions be it air or water based.

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The six DDR3 DIMM slots are also positioned out of the way. According to the systems specs as published on the manufacturers website the Gigabyte EX58-UD5 supports up to 24GB of RAM which is not something we are likely to see very soon on a consumer board such as this. It is nice that the support is technically there for it. You can install and remove memory modules without pulling out the video card and the only plug that's really near to the memory is the power plug for motherboard power but that is still sufficiently far away.

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The north bridge is located just where you'd expect to find it. Just to the left of the CPU socket and almost smack in the middle of the board and pushed slightly back to the board's backplane. The chipset is cooled with a fairly unimpressive looking heat sink assembly that relies on heat pipes to dissipate heat. The solution while somewhat anemic looking when you are used to X48 and P45 chipset based boards, but it works very well. The chipset runs much cooler than previous chipsets in recent years do because the memory controller is no longer part of the motherboard chipset. So extreme cooling like we've seen up until recently is no longer needed.

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The south bridge is located in the usual spot to the left of the DIMM slots. It is cooled by a large flat cooling plate with heat pipes running through it. This displays Gigabyte's Ultra Durable Logo. Just in front of it are a whopping 10 SATA ports. Six are attached to the ICH10R south bridge and the rest go to separate Gigabyte branded JMicron controllers.

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The expansion slot configuration of the EX58-UD5 is almost optimal. The only problem I foresee is with the top most PCI-Express x1 slot which has the north bridge cooler in front of it. This will prevent the slot from being used by things like TV tuner cards or some PCI-Express x1 form factor sound cards should you want to use an aftermarket. Never fear as this isn't a deal breaker. There are still three PCI-Express x16 slots (one of which is x8 electrically) and the other is a PCI-Express x4 slot. So there are plenty of slots here for most people. Additionally there are two legacy PCI slots for older devices.

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The I/O panel has PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports, an IEEE1394a port, 8 USB ports, 2 RJ-45 ports for networking, an optical and a SPDIF output, along with headphone jack connectors for surround sound. Pretty standard stuff overall. There is also a clear CMOS button here which is a style of button I first saw on the ASUS Striker Extreme. ASUS still does this from time to time but I'm seeing it on more and more Gigabyte boards. As someone who keeps their cases closed and usually has multiple graphics adapters installed in his machine, an external CMOS reset switch is always a welcome sight. The switch does have rails on the edges making accidental pressing of this button difficult to achieve.