Gigabyte 890FXA-UD7 Review

With AMD and other motherboard manufacturers gearing up and replacing AMD 7xx chipset boards with the newer 8xx chipset board, the enthusiast crowd are going to see newer boards and newer features like cooling, bios and proprietary software/hardware features, overclocking potential alongwith the usual major/minor upgrades that come with the chipset. When you are a skilled overclocker with a lot of experience, you don’t mind spending as long as you get everything that you’re paying for and the board is able to satisfy you by squeezing out every drop of frequency bump to get good benchmark scores.

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Gigabyte 890FXA-UD7 Rev 2.0 is the new flagship board that will “take the torch” from the previous predecessor. This is a new board with a new chipset, so not will not only see the performance/features of the board, but also the performance/features of the chipset.

Right from the start, AMD wants to put their hands on every price segment and every type of user (even with specific needs) as much as they can- in processors, chipsets and graphic cards. AMD processors still has a long way to go as far as high end users/enthusiasts are concerned, but after the release of x6 processors satisfies a particular crowd who need a processor which can ace in multi-threaded applications.

AMD as usual grabs people’s attention who keep an eye out for price~performance ratio and entices them with major/minor expandability options and features, but the price of the board differs between series and models due to the same expandability options and features. Some of these expandibility options are native to the AMD chipsets, whereas few are standalone(for example the NEC chip that lets the consumers use 2x USB 3.0 devices and the J micron chip that supports two extra sata 3 Gb/s ports) add-on/features by putting a chip.

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But speaking of desktop chipsets:
After reading the table above, only difference is manufacturing process, support only for AM3 (and DDR3) supposed and the SATA3 connectors. There’s no radical difference between the 2 generations on the table. The only significant difference is the native sata 6Gb/s support, IMMOU support that benefits virtualisation and the core unlock option which replaces ACC. Companies have already released BIOS updates for x6 processors to be compatible most of their 7xx chipset boards. Even when referring to certain not-so-old 7xx chipset boards with updated model/ newer rev versions of boards from the respected manufacturers, it comes with a pre-flashed bios that supports x6 out of the box.

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Therefore if you’re not going to use/need Sata 6Gb/s native support, will not require IOMMU support (helps in virtualization) and don’t have any reason to use the automatic core unlocker, its practically a 790FX chipset.

Specs, packaging and contents

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The UD7 comes in a very big glittery box with the explanation about Gigabyte’s features. However most of the explanations are repeated on almost all sides of the box. Manufacturers should (and can) spare atleast one side of the box to mention the basic specifications and contents.

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The packaging is made so that people can see the board without removing the box but at a price. It was odd not to see any anti-static bag protecting the motherboard. The silent pipe was kept over the board and a separate box which had the accessories and the manual was kept below. Other than that, the packaging does a decent job protecting the board from any possible damage, especially since courier companies are notorious and crude when it comes to package handling.

The boards comes with some interesting contents. Other than the bear essentials (I/O plate, “Gigabyte” and “dolby” stickers, installation and user’s manual, sata2, ide cables & the driver disk), 2 crossfire bridges, a dual e-sata pcie slot connector with a 4 pin molex, a molex-to-2x sata power connector and 2 sata-to-esata connectors are provided in a pack. This is set will be very use also to those who need esata connectors. A very handy bundle and something good if included in the mainstream models. Yet, being a premium product, there’s no sata 6Gb/s cables.

Gigabyte supplied a northbridge add-on known as “silent-pipe” and a small pack containing thermal paste and 2 screws (not spare). Most of the users stick to air cooling, therefore one can remove the waterblock from the northbridge sink and attach the silentpipe. More explanation about the silentpipe as we progress ahead.

layout

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Keep this in mind that this board is an xl-atx form factor motherboard which measures 32.5cm x24.4 cm, about 2 cm longer than an atx form factor so that the manufacturer can squeeze in one more slot.
Currently its not widely used form-factor and most of the pc cases cannot be installed with this board as it was not possible even on a Lian Li a70f high tower case because of the motherboard plate support bar. So one can expect that such xl-atx “certified” cases will be available at a premium price.

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By the looks of the board, it is pretty much maintains the same basic layout except the multiple pcie slots and silentpipe.

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The board’s heatsink has a heatpipe connecting the MOSFET sink that protects the solid caps, MOSFETs and the VRM to the northbridge with a removable watercooling block and a low profile southbridge sink. They are all secured by springs on the rear.

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The waterblock can be replaced with a large passive sink with 2 heatpipes . The silent pipe design helps to dissipate heat from the northbridge and vents the heat through the pci slot. Thermal paste needs to be applied between the watercooling/silentpipe attachment to the the northbridge area. But one will have to make sure they put a small amount of the paste. Watercooling is not done by many as most prefer a good heatsink compared to a watcooling unit which has its own share of hassle, high cost and maintenance.
As this “might” be a good solution to dissipate heat, it does come with few quirks. The screws that came to secure the attachment are small and weak. One will have to take little care than usual when securing the 4 screws.

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Because of the size of this sink, it blocks one of the holes and covers up the NB_FAN header. Make sure you secure that screw mount before installing the silentpipe. The same applies for northbridge header but the header could have been placed away from the silent pipe. Silent pipe does not block the front audio headers.

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As a norm for high end boards- power, reset and clear CMOS button is provided, followed by IDE and floppy. One would doubt why would anyone who can afford a high end hardware use a IDE and floppy. It time to move on and its about time for high end AMD boards to drop the idea of using IDE/floppy/serial/LPT connectors and headers. Removing them will also aid in making a better layout. Even if Gigabyte’s goal was to provided maxmum support, why is there a single keyboard/mouse ps2 connector rather than two? Gigabyte could always use the right angled IDE slot and remove the rest, which will still significantly help in making a better layout.

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During the installation, minor layout changes can be seen. The length of this formfactor is same as atx but the DIMM slot was bit away so that one can use the second blue DIMM slot. Though it still blocks one slot, most likely this shouldn’t be the case in the future.

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The board comes with 6 pcie (2 x16s, 2 x8s and 2 x4s) and a pci slot. CD_IN, S/PDIF_IN and out headers are provided next to the slots. Below, COM, LPT, USB, 1394 and front panel headers are provided.

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Gigabyte uses Jmicron JMB362 host controller, with an NEC chip that powers up 2 usb 3.0, couple of realtek 8111D for the ethernet and the ALC889 audio codec chip, like the 790FXTA-UD5.

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As a standard in UD7 series, the board comes with a debug LED. For the newbies, Gigabyte has given a list of error codes in their manual.

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The I/O connectors are the same that usually comes with newer mainstream-to-high end models. 6 USB 2.0, 1 keyboard ps/2 and mouse port, an SDPIF optical and coaxil connector, 2 esata/USB combo connector, dual gigabit lan, 2 USB 3.0 marked in blue and the the 6 audio ports. Do note that if you connect the dual e-sata pci slot, you get 2 more expandability options. Some wouldn’t mind a single ps/2 port, others (especially those who are only upgrading their processor-motherboard-ram combo) would find this as a minor inconvenience.

Bios features
The board comes with the same bios features as certain newer low-end-to-mid-end boards. Award bios with 2 Bios chips.

At the end of the day no matter how good/expensive a board, processor,chipset and the cooling is, its not going to be useful or shine in performance if its not pushed to its potential by the user. But does the board have all the needed tweaking options for the skilled/newbie overclocks and hardware enthusiasts?

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Test setup and Benchmarks

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3D Mark Vantage

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3D Mark 06

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Call of Juarez

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Dirt 2

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S.T.A.L.K.E.R.- Call of Pripyat

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Winrar

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x264 Benchmark

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Wishlist and conclusion
High end future-ready motherboards (or any such hardware) will usually come at a premium when its new. People who will buy such hardware will not usually see the product keeping “How much would this board cost?” question in mind but rather ask themselves “What will I get from this board if I pay so much money?”. Gigabyte said that their retail price is Rs. 19,999. Keeping the hardware enthusiasts’ point of view, here’s the wishlist:

# SATA3 cables.

# More onboard features will be helpful for enthusiasts if they use this board for benchmarking/extreme overclocking. For example multimeter readout points for voltages (processor, rams, GPU and northbridge).

To show the difference between the stock and the overclocked performance, I’ve overclocked the 550BE to 3.8 ghz and ran vantage.

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This board will shine for sure with a good processor and resources for extreme (Dry Ice/liquid nitrogen) overclocking with a 4 way crossfire setup. But if one is such an enthusiast, then they will the same approach with many low-to-mid end boards as well. With the right tools, skills and with proper dedication, one can make good benchmark with this board.
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The good:
# E-sata pci slot with molex connector with e-sata-to-sata cable. Very useful for people who want to swap data with another Internal harddrive but would like to hotswap it.

# Silent pipe concept is good and works especially when a proper case airflow is followed.
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The bad # Layout needs some work. Silentpipe is just too close for comfort with the graphic card if installed on the first pcie x16 slot.

# Screws which are used for attaching water cooling block/silent to the northbridge are small and weak.
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The annoying:
# Cases that can house xl-atx form factor are not easily available. Such cases being as expensive as the motherboards is another part of the story.

# Once the northbridge fan header is connected and the silent pipe is attached, the wire touches the silentpipe. Silentpipe does tend to get warm on load.

# One of the motherboard mounting holes will not be directly accessible once silent pipe is installed. Every time you need to remove/fasten the screws, silent pipe needs to be removed. If one is going for a 4 way crossfire setup inside a case, its best to secure the board to the case.

# Will be nice if Gigabyte provided the thermal paste meant for the waterblock/silentpipe add-on in a syringe. This way the remaining paste can be preserved properly and used later.

# A frequent layout issue with DIMM slots. Once a large heatsink is installed, it blocks the first 2 DIMM slots.
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The redundant:
# Highly unlikely that a person who can afford such a board 4 mid-to-high end graphic cards and rams armed to the teeth with large enough enclosure keeping the entire system under favourable temperature that he would use LPT/COM/FDD/IDE connectors.
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If someone asks me “Would I recommend this board for a 4 way crossfire setup?”, I would say to see what Intel has to offer before making such decisions especially for this price. Its not a suprising/shocking conclusion. Overclockers/hardware enthusiasts/buyers who would usually spend such money on a board (Gigabyte X58A-UD3R/UD5/UD7) will most likely keep intel LGA 1366 i7 setups as an option. If for any reason one has to go for an AMD rig and a 4 way crossfire setup at the same time, this is the board that is that can let you do so and it will not disappoint you. Its one of those boards that reminds you of gourmet burgers with a large chunk of meat and vegetables stuffed between 2 buns & a large toothpick holding them together viz. simply great but a lot to chew on.

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