Gigabyte X58A-UD9 Extreme Motherboard Review

The Gigabyte X58A-UD9 is not only massive, but its easily the most expensive board we've ever seen. In fact the cost of the X58A-UD9 exceeds the cost of most workstation motherboards and I find myself asking, the questions: Why? Who does Gigabyte intend to sell this board to? And...What can this board offer that a $450 board cannot?

Gigabyte needs little introduction as it is well known as one of the largest motherboard manufacturers in the world. While not always a personal favorite, Gigabyte is well known for making solid, feature rich motherboards. Typically they are just as stable as anything I've seen from ASUS, EVGA, or MSI. Gigabyte's board's layout and feature set are usually on par and sometimes exceeds the feature sets offered by their competitors.

What's interesting about the X58A-UD9 motherboard is that it is by far the most expensive motherboard we have ever seen. At publication time the board is retailing for a whopping $699.99. None of the EVGA X58 3X SLI, or 4X SLI Classified boards are that expensive. Even EVGA's SR-2 isn't that expensive and that's a dual processor enthusiast solution. The cost of the X58A-UD9 exceeds the cost of most workstation motherboards and I find myself asking, the question: "Why?" While there has always been hardware out there that wasn't for the masses and always cost more than the average hardware, the fact remains that the X58A-UD9 is considerably more expensive than their competitions highest end offerings.

It forces me to ask the questions: Why? Who does Gigabyte intend to sell this board to? and What can this board offer that a $450 board cannot? Unfortunately we may never fully understand Gigabyte's motives for creating such an expensive motherboard but we can at least figure out if the thing offers anything that "cheaper" boards in the $400-$500 price range cannot.

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The Gigabyte X58A-UD9 Gigabyte X58A-UD9 is based on Intel's X58 chipset and ICH10R south bridge. The board implements a redesigned 24 phase power design which Gigabyte calls "Unlocked Power" using low RDS(on) MOSFETs and low core energy loss ferrite chokes. Like Gigabyte's other Ultra Durable 3 motherboards, the X58A-UD9 features 2oz. of copper in the motherboard PCB for both power and ground layers. Additionally the board features all high quality solid-electrolytic Japanese manufactured capacitors. According to Gigabyte's literature the board was designed with 6 core CPUs in mind.

The board also features a slightly different approach to phase power switching or load balancing. It is capable of running on 2, 4, 6, 8, 12 or 24 power phases. It also can run 12 phases together, and switch to the other 12 phases periodically to "double the life span." Gigabyte also claims that in the event of a single phase failure, that group of phases will be shut off and thus ignored allowing the board to continue to function. That of course reduces your 24 phase board down to a 12 phase solution but I can appreciate the wisdom of such built in redundancy.

The list of features continues of course with two important standouts. USB 3.0 and SATA 6G support. The board features 2 USB 3.0 ports and 2 SATA 6G ports. These are of course emerging technologies which will become more important as time goes on. The X58A-UD9 supports all multi-GPU CrossFireX and multi-GPU SLI configurations thanks to having two nForce 200 MCP's to provide the PCI-Express lanes needed to handle its 7 PCI-Express slots. Of course the Intel X58 chipset is limited to 36 PCI-Express lanes. Though the nForce 200 MCP's do provide more PCI-Express lanes, the interface with the chipset is limited. So there is a choke point between the nForce MCPs and the X58 chipset itself. In reality this isn't a problem because most if not all devices fail to totally saturate PCI-Express 2.0 x8 slots, much less x16 slots. As a result performance degradation which might occur from "multiplexing" the PCI-Express lanes are mitigated. Indeed we've seen before how the nForce 200 MCPs either do nothing for performance or hurt it slightly.

The board also features IEEE1394 support, There are eight SATA 3G ports and two eSATA 3G ports. That's right, you can connect up to 12 SATA devices to the X58A-UD9 if you count the SATA 6G ports in the total. So far that's the most built in SATA ports I've ever seen on any motherboard. The board also has dual Gigabit Ethernet support and 7.1 channel audio support. The board has a lot of features and integrated components packed in so you need very little to complete the system. An LGA1366 CPU, DDR3 RAM, drives, power supply and a video card are all that you need to create a functional machine out of this thing.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

The box for this thing is simply huge. Of course the board is actually an XL-ATX form factor board which of course means that the smaller boxes we are used to will not contain the X58A-UD9. The outer box is actually quite flimsy which is pretty much standard fare these days. There are two inner boxes each of which is made of corrugated cardboard and contains the board and included accessories. The included bundle is complete with few standout items. Among the items that standout is the Hybrid Silent Pipe 2 module which attaches to the chipset cooling solution. We've seen very similar hardware from Gigabyte before. Essentially this thing takes up a ton of room but it creates unparalleled chipset cooling compared to other heat pipe and passive solutions in my experience. Bundled accessories include: User's Manual, Installation Guidebook, VIP card, driver disk, SATA 3G cables, SATA 6G cables, IDE cable, USB / eSATA accessory bracket, 2 Crossfire bridges, SLI bridge, 3-Way SLI bridge, 4-Way SLI bridge, thermal compound, 4 machine screws, plastic standoffs, I/O Shield, Hybrid Silent Pipe 2 module add on for the chipset,

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Board Layout

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The layout of the X58A-UD9 is pretty good but not perfect. Frankly I'm a little disappointed in some aspects of the layout. At this price point the board should be as close to perfection as is technically possible. The main thing that stood out for me was the relatively poor placement of the IDE port. If I had my way the white SATA ports next to the 24 pin motherboard power and the IDE port would be swapped thus grouping all of the SATA ports together. I think that would make for a cleaner look and nicer cabling in most situations. I don't even think the IDE port should be on this board but that's another topic of discussion entirely. The next issues with regard to the layout are not readily apparent until you attach the Hybrid Silent Pipe 2 to the chipset.

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The CPU socket is clear of obstructions and should allow the installation of most CPU coolers and water blocks. I was able to fit a Thermalright Ultra 120 Extreme without issues. There really isn't anything to complain about in regard to this area of the motherboard.

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The X58A-UD9 features six color coded DIMM slots supporting single, dual, and triple channel memory technologies and features support for a total memory capacity of 24GB. The memory slots are located far enough away from the expansion slot area and CPU socket to prevent interference with the installation of larger CPU coolers and video cards. Right next to the six DIMM slots is an onboard power button and reset button.

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The heat sink for the north bridge is cooled using a large heat sink which Gigabyte calls the Hybrid Silent Pipe 2. Essentially it is a combination heat pipe based heat sink and water block. The thing is massive and it does take up an expansion card slot. Once installed two glaring faults pop up immediately. The first of which is the fact that while installed, the 4 pin Molex connector above the first PCI-Express slot is no longer usable at all. Gigabyte missed the boat on this one by a wide margin. No amount of filing or massaging things will correct for this design. So if you find yourself in need of this power connector, the use of that chipset cooling add on will be impossible. This design queue does however point to this motherboard being designed for the more "extreme" enthusiast that would be caught dead air cooling his north bridge!

The next issue does however stem from the chipset's water cooling feature. The barbs are 1/4 in size which is fine I suppose but I'd have preferred 3/8" or 1/2" fittings myself. Going beyond that there isn't room for the 1/4" barbs that are there now. Once you attach the tubing you quickly run into space issues with the chipset cooler add on. It's somewhat workable but you have to be careful what kind of clamps you use on the fittings and you need to be mindful of their orientation during installation. Angled fittings or a slightly different configuration of the chipset cooler could have resolved this issue before release. On most boards minor issues like this are tolerable and aren't deal breakers. Now I'm not saying these should be deal breakers here either, but frankly on a $700 board a motherboard this type of issue shouldn't exist.

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The south bridge and both nForce 200 MCPs are semi-passively cooled by a flat metal heat sink which is connected to the rest of the board's cooling system. It is a heat pipe based heat sink but no water from the north bridge flows to it in the event you use the water cooling feature. It sports a giant "9" on it and is hard to miss. Its flat and does a good job of cooling. The low profile nature of the heat sink ensures that it doesn't interfere with the installation of graphics cards. In front of the heat sink are ten of the board's twelve SATA ports. The other two are actually eSATA ports on the I/O panel. There is also an EIDE port directly in front of the heat sink as well.

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The expansion slot area is nearly perfect and the XL-ATX form factor is what I've felt multi-GPU/multi-graphics card users have needed for several years now. It pleases me that Gigabyte left this area of the board legacy free. There are no PCI slots which frankly would go to waste on a board like this anyway. Each of the slots has a PCI-Express x16 form factor but given a limitation of PCI-Express lanes the board features a 16x16x16x16x8x8x8 lane configuration starting from the slot closest to the north bridge. While I'm not seriously pleased by the last slot being so close to the outer edge of the board few people will be using four cards and as a result this won't be a problem most of the time. If you do in fact use four air cooled dual slot graphics cards than your chassis must allow for the last card to hang off the edge of the board. Gigabyte did give some thought to this as well since the 12v 4-pin Molex connector is angled so as not to interfere with the installation of that last card.

Also the nearly useless floppy drive port is down there as well. It might cause a problem but no one using all seven slots for video cards is likely to care as just about anyone using this will most likely be using Windows Vista or Windows 7.

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The I/O panel of the X58A-UD9 is chalk full of ports. From left to right we have two PS/2 ports, optical out, SPDIF out, clear CMOS switch, IEEE1394, USB 1.1/2.0, combination USB 1.1/2.2/eSATA, mini-IEEE1394, USB 1.1/2.0, combination USB 1.1/2.2/eSATA, RJ-45, two USB 1.1/2.0 ports, another RJ-45 port, two USB 3.0 ports and six mini-stereo jacks for connecting your audio to the board. Gigabyte couldn't have squeezed a whole lot more on the standard sized I/O panel.