Top positive review
21 people found this helpful
Very Impressive Motherboard
on 10 February 2013
My last motherboard was a Gigabyte - model GA-EP35-DS4, rev. 2.1 - and it served me nearly five years with ultimate reliability. Nothing wrong with my old motherboard but like any hardware system, features evolve and there comes a time when only the latest motherboards support new requirements. For this build, Quad Core and SLAT (Second Level Address Translation) are essential requirements which means a minimum of Intel i5 CPU - and for this I picked the Intel 3rd Generation Core i5-3570K CPU. The choice of motherboard was then an easy one - Gigabyte brand, LGA 1155 Socket, et cetera. This motherboard provided everything I was looking for, and many more, including support for over-clocking (OC) of unlocked CPUs such as the i5-3570K (which are suffixed with the letter K).
Some features worth mentioning:
1) 8 SATA ports - same count as my old GA-EP35-DS4 and therefore was an easy transition for connected drives. There is also an mSATA port for on-board SSD; if you use this, one of the SATA ports will be disabled (i.e., the total still remains 8). Four of the SATA ports (2 through Intel Chipset, 2 through Marvell Chip) support 6Gb/s which is great!
2) 6 USB 3.0 ports on the back panel and 2 internal; 2 USB 2.0 ports on the back panel and 4 internal. Of course USB 3.0 is backward compatible. Yes, FireWire (aka IEEE 1394) port that is on my old motherboard is here non-existent and truly dead. If the FireWire port is important to you, then budget an additional cost of around £10-20 for low-end to mid-range PCIe card.
3) DVI-D, HDMI and VGA display ports are provided for integrated graphics. I use the i5-3570K processor and this motherboard gives life to the on-chip Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics (part of i5-3570K). Unless you are looking for gaming graphics performance, the integrated graphics is quite adequate for normal use. With a bit of over-clocking, the integrated graphics scored 5.4 (Desktop performance for Windows Aero) and 6.5 (for 3D business and gaming graphics) on Windows Experience Index, in contrast to 6.8 and 6.8 for an nVidia 9800 GT card with my previous motherboard (so this isn't an integrated graphics to dismissed off lightly). With the integrated graphics, my computer is now unusually quiet as the noisy graphics card cooling fan is gone.
4) If you're into enhancing graphics performance with multiple GPUs, support for AMD CrossFireX/NVIDIA SLI technology is at hand with this motherboard. Of course, you need CrossFireX/SLI ready graphics cards installed in PCIex16 slot and connected with a bridge connector; for this, an NVIDIA-branded ribbon connector is provided with this motherboard.
5) Over-clocking (OC) is [almost] a joy with this motherboard, and a utility program by the name "Easy Tune 6" (downloadable from Gigabyte website) makes this task easy as its name suggests. Of course, this depends on the processor used and my i5-3570K rated at a nominal 3.4GHz is reliably running at 4.4GHz - all the auto-tuning and stability analysis carried out by the utility program (which means you don't have to be an expert in OC). Support for Extreme Memory Profile (XMP) is also built into the BIOS so that with compatible memory modules the BIOS can be set to use the fastest memory speed possible (without the time-consuming tweaking which is generally carried out by OC experts). I used Corsair 16GB 1600MHz CL10 DDR3 Vengeance Memory Kit and you'll get full synergy at ease between this motherboard and the memory kit for 1600MHz performance (see my review for the memory kit).
6) Compared with my old motherboard I noticed a number of useful features (useful but not that revolutionary). For instance, you can configure the motherboard to function as a rapid charger to you smartphone even if the computer is off (good on avoiding charger clutter). You can make your presence detected via Bluetooth pairing of your smartphone (assuming the smartphone is always with you). Why is this good you may ask? Gigabyte calls it 'Auto Green' to save mains power, and if the computer fails to detect your presence for a specified time interval, it would assume you're away from your computer and sets itself into a power-saving mode. Clever idea, but how often and how long are we away from our desktop by leaving it on? Worth noting that you need to acquire a Bluetooth adapter/card for the Auto Green gizmo to work which may mean an additional cost (although shouldn't be that expensive). With this clever feature, it's worth noting the battery drain on the smartphone if Bluetooth is constantly switched on -- yes, you guessed it, there is no clever feature without a downside of some sort.
I also like the 3D Bios idea which provides a graphical representation of the motherboard in 3D, and, yes, interacting with the mouse to navigate to sub menus and effect the relevant BIOS settings. I noticed that this is not fully refined for 100% replacement of text based BIOS settings but getting there. Pressing F1 will toggle between the 3D and the good old text based interface.
Of course there are numerous other pretty standard features with this mid-range motherboard such as RAID support, rich audio support (including 5.1/7.1 channel) with digital optical audio output, and expansion slots with PCIex8 and PICex16 supporting the latest PCI Express 3.0 standard, et cetera, et cetera.
Finally a bit of advice from experience:
If you use a big CPU cooling system such as this, then fit it outside before installing the motherboard in the case as the area around the CPU can get tight. Similar advice applies to the SATA connections as the SATA sockets are provided on the edge of the motherboard with horizontal orientation. This is actually my only gripe about this motherboard as it can be very difficult to get to the SATA sockets particularly if the case is compact and/or many cables are in the way. In this regard, I had no problem with my old motherboard as the SATA sockets are vertically oriented (you just push or pull the plug from the top, as opposed to doing the same from the side to hard-to-locate SATA sockets on the edge of the motherboard). With this motherboard I have to pull out the drive carrier to make more space around SATA sockets and put it back once the cable connections are made. Manageable but this hassle could have been avoided with vertical orientation. If you're getting a computer case, it's good idea to consider the dimension and shape by taking account of SATA sockets placement and orientation.
Talking of niggles, another minor niggle I came across was the BIOS profile saving which I thought was a wonderful idea but didn't work for me. On the 'Save & Exit' page you have 'Save Profile' and 'Load Profile' commands which allow you to save up to 8 settings by naming the profile name. I thought I can create a number of booting options and save them for posterity, such as "Boot from Disk XX", "Boot from Disk YY", "Boot from DVDROM", "Boot from USB", etc. and call them into action as required at a later stage. Unless I am missing something, I couldn't get this to work. Interestingly, loading a profile doesn't affect the boot setting under BIOS Options page (where you normally set the boot priorities) - perhaps why it doesn't work as expected. Hope the next BIOS version will sort this out. The BIOS used was version F16 which was upgraded to upon receiving the motherboard.
The motherboard I got from Amazon is Rev 1.0 although Rev 1.1 is the latest. Comparing Rev 1.0 and 1.1 at Gigabyte website, the only one difference I could see was that the 4-pin +12V CPU power connector to the motherboard is replaced with a [duplicated] 8-pin connector (looks like for ease of GND and +12V copper track distribution?). If there are other differences, it's very likely that they are very minor as all of the too-important specs seem to be identical.
Finally, as indicated in this review's title - for features, performance, and price - a very impressive motherboard indeed!