|Introduction and Gigabyte Z77X-UD4H|
|In between chipset releases, manufacturers typically pump out numerous motherboard variations, adding this or that feature or optimizing boards for a particular function. Unsurprisingly, folks like us enjoy tinkering with those boards when granted the opportunity to see if they offer anything special, over and above plain-Jane products.
Gigabyte is one manufacturer that is never short on SKUs, and with a trio of its Z77-based motherboards in hand, we wondered what any red-blooded hardware enthusiast would: How far can we overclock these puppies? We especially wanted to find out how well they would overclock compared to one another, so we put together a test bed, outfitted it with a Corsair liquid cooler, and got busy.
Before we dig into the overclocking fun, let’s introduce the motherboards we used and check some baseline benchmark numbers.
The first of the three (technically, we’re going in alphabetical order here) is the Gigabyte Z77X-UD4H. The UD4H features a simple color scheme, with a black PCB and black and silver components accented with dark blue. There are sizable heatsinks on the Southbridge and the left side of the CPU socket, but the one north of the CPU looks somewhat sawed-off.
This mainboard features Gigabyte’s 3D Power engine and the associated all-digital PWM controller array. There’s a big red power button on the PCB itself, along with less conspicuous reset and CMOS switches. You can physically toggle between two BIOSes with the BIOS switch, and there are physical voltage measurement points on board and a debug LED display, too.
The UD4H supports essentially any Intel socket 1155 chip, as well as up to 32B of DDR3-2800(OC) memory.
To supports the graphics processors integrated into Intel's Socket 1155 processors, there are on board display connectors that includes a D-Sub port, DVI-D port (with a maximum resolution of 1920x1200), HDMI port (1920x1200), and DisplayPort (2560x1600), and the UD4H supports up to 2-Way CrossFire or SLI setups as well, if you go the discrete graphics route. Altogether, there are seven expansion slots, including two PCI-E 3.0 slots with x16 and x8 electrical connections, four PCI-E 2.0 slots (one at x4 and three at x1), and a single PCI slot.
In total, the UD4H offers fourteen USB ports consisting of eight USB 3.0 (four each via the chipset and a VIA chip) and six USB 2.0 (via internal headers). Six of the USB 3.0 ports are on the back I/O panel, which also includes a LAN port, PS/2, optical S/PDIF, and six audio jacks.
Gigabyte was modest with the accessories included with this board. In the box was mostly what you’d expect from any mainboard, including a manual, driver CD, installation guidebook, I/O shield, two-way SLI bridge, and a handful of SATA cables.
|Gigabyte Z77X-UP5 TH|
|Unless you look closely, the UP5 TH looks almost exactly like the UD4H on the previous page. They share the same color scheme as well as most of the same physical buttons, switches, and voltage measurement points. The heatsinks look almost the same too, although the UP5 TH’s are notably larger, particularly on the IO hub and above the CPU socket.
In fact, the UP5 TH and UD4H share a number of features in common, including the same processor and memory support, 3D Power engine and digital PWM, and integrated graphics display support.
There are a few key differences, however, and it starts with their expansion capabilities. The UP5 TH also boasts seven expansion slots, but they consist of three PCI-E 3.0 slots (running at x16, x8, and x4), two PCI-E 2.0 x1 slots, and a PCI slot.
The UP5 TH has three total SATA 6Gbps ports, four SATA 3Gbps, and an eSATA 6Gbps port. Like the UD4H, this mainboard has chipset support for RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 with a companion Marvell chip offering RAID 0 and 1, but the UP5 TH also offers an onboard mSATA connector. You’ll never occupy all of the USB ports on this board; it’s got sixteen of them. There are ten USB 3.0 and six USB 2.0 ports, although most of them are available via the internal headers; there are just four USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports on the back panel.
That I/O panel, however, is otherwise occupied with dual Thunderbolt ports. It also has a LAN port, optical S/PDIF, and five audio jacks.
One other difference between the UD4H and the UP5 TH is that the latter has more goodies in the box. In addition to the standard driver disc, manual, I/O shield, SATA cables, and SLI bridge, Gigabyte threw in a USB 3.0 bracket and a WiFi/Bluetooth 4.0 expansion card. The card is accompanied by dual antennae, software, and manual.
|The UP7 is reminiscent of Halloween. It sports a black-and-orange motif, and of the trio of mainboards we’re looking at here, this one is the flashiest in terms of both style and features. The heatsinks on the PCB feature “Thin Fin” technology, which is designed to facilitate better heat dissipation by dint of offering more surface area.
The UP7 has the same all-digital "3D Power" array of the other two Gigabyte boards, but it has a 32+3+2 power phase configuration. The large red power button is inexplicably far away from the tiny blue reset switch, but it’s right next to the CMOS switch. There’s also an LN2 switch for extreme overclockers as well as switches to toggle between BIOSes.
Brave souls can also make use of the overclocking buttons on board. The Gear button changes the base clock stepping by 0.1 MHz, while the two sets of +/- buttons raise or lower base clock and CPU ratio.
The UP7 offers the same processor, memory, and display support as the other two motherboards (including seven expansion slots), but it also boasts support for up to 4-way CrossFire/SLI graphics. We should point out that three of those slots are PCI-E 3.0 x16 slots with x16 electrical connections, with two more at x8. There’s also a pair of PCI-E 2.0 x1 slots.
Like the other two boards’ SATA configurations, the chipset supports RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 while a pair of Marvell chips delivers RAID 0 and 1 support. There are six total SATA 6Gbps connectors, four SATA 3Gbps connectors, and an onboard mSATA connector, too.
The chipset also provides a total of four USB 3.0 ports and four USB 2.0 ports while a VIA chip offers another four USB 3.0 and an Etron chip has another two. In addition to the aforementioned I/O ports, the back panel has a PS/2 port, optical S/PDIF, six audio jacks, and dual LAN ports.
Inside the box, it’s like Christmas. Gigabyte included the manual, utilities disc, I/O shield, and SATA cables as well as SLI and CrossFire bridges (up to four-way), a dual-eSATA and MOLEX power bracket, dual-USB 3.0 bracket, MOLEX-to-dual-SATA power adapter, pin header extenders, and a WiFi/Bluetooth 4.0 expansion card.
|Test Setup and Baseline Tests|
|Test System Configuration Notes: When configuring our test systems for this article, we first entered their respective UEFI menus and set each board to its "Optimized" or "High performance Defaults". We then formatted the SSD and installed Windows 7 Home Premium. When the Windows installation was complete, we updated the OS, and installed the drivers necessary for our components. Then we disabled Auto-Updating and Windows Defender, installed all of our benchmarking software, performed a disk clean-up, cleared temp and prefetch data, and ran the tests.
We outfitted our motherboards with an Intel Core i7-3770K, 8GB of Kingston HyperX DDR3-1600MHz memory, an NVIDIA GeForce GTX discrete graphics card, and an OCZ Vertex 4 SSD. We also went with a Corsair H55 Hydro liquid cooler over air cooling.
Here are some baseline test scores for the three boards:
As you can see, there isn’t much variation in the scores between these three motherboards when running at their optimized defaults. With striking precision for the most part, all three offered up solid and similar scores. One exception is the UD7 in the power consumption test, which pulled a lot more juice than the other two.
|It’s one thing to compare scores in our standard spate of benchmarks, but it’s quite another to see how these mainboards can overclock; after all, overclocking is really where the rubber meets the road.
We tested all three boards using the same components and chassis and at the same ambient room temperature. We let all the case fans run, but we also used a mainstream liquid cooler on our CPU. We adjusted all settings using the UEFI BIOS instead of relying on any Windows-based overclocking software.
To gain the most control over what our systems were doing, we turned Turbo mode off, switched all CPU voltages from auto to manual (even when we didn’t alter the default voltages), and changed the Vcore loadline calibration to Extreme to accommodate for vDroop.
After making our adjustments, we booted into Windows, let the system idle for a few minutes, and then used OCCT to both stress the CPU and monitor temperatures and voltages. Also note that we set OCCT to abort once our CPU reached 80 degrees C to prevent any potential damage. The goal was to see how well the boards handled the overclocked workload with mainstream cooling, to set a realistic expectation for any of you reading this that may want to try overclocking yourself, without using exotic cooling.
In regard to changing various settings, we generally left the base clock alone. After doing some tweaking, we found that raising it even a little bit, while already pushing to CPU, was generally a waste of time; our systems remained more stable if we left the base clock at 100MHz than if we tried to find a balance between upping the base clock and changing the multiplier. For example, the system could handle our stress test for several minutes at 4.7GHz (100MHz base x 47 multiplier, 1.23V) before hitting our preset heat ceiling and cancelling the test; at 4.64GHz (101MHz base x 46 multiplier, 1.23V), the system actually BSODed just seconds into the test. Thus, even though the overall clock speed was lower, the higher base clock made the system less stable. This is common with Sandy and Ivy Bridge chips, by the way.
Ultimately, we focused only on the CPU multiplier and voltage. From there, it was a simple matter of finding the sweet spot between feeding the CPU the necessary amount of voltage for the clock without pushing the temps too high.
So how did our boards fare?
The UP5 TH was nice and stable at 4.6GHz, but it just couldn’t punch past the 4.7GHz mark without overheating. In the end, this board liked a base clock of 100MHz and a multiplier of 46 with a core voltage of 1.23V.
We found the overclocking headroom of the UD4H to be nearly identical to that of the UP5 TH; 4.6GHz was the magic number, and we reached it by upping the multiplier to x46 and leaving the base clock at 100MHz. The one difference is that we reached a stable 4.6GHz on the UP5 TH with 1.2V instead of 1.23V. It looked like we were going to have some success with a slightly raised base clock for a few minutes there, but the system just couldn’t handle the heat and coughed up a hairball.
Although on paper the UP7 looked like it would be the toughest board in the bunch, it couldn’t quite push past the 4.6GHz mark, either; however, it did manage to achieve stability at that clock speed at just 1.18V, which was a bit batter than both the UP5 TH and UD4H. Keep in mind, to maintain stability while overclocked, it's not just a higher voltage that helps, but clean, smooth power delivery as well. And the UP7's beefier power array seems to have paid off here.
At the end of the day, then, all three mainboards achieved the same 4.6GHz overclock, but at three different voltages. The UP7 was the winner by a hair.
There is one additional bit of information to note: Knowing that our 80-degree ceiling wasn’t exactly an accurate measurement of how far we could push these systems--just how far we could do it safely--we ditched OCCT once or twice and let each of our systems fly on a load of Prime95 for several minutes (using Core Temp to monitor temperatures). Under those circumstances, we managed 4.8GHz on our boards; the systems appeared stable, but we didn’t let the test run long to prevent running the CPU for an extended period with higher than stock voltages, frequencies, and temps.
|Performance Summary and Conclusion|
|Performance Summary: What is most apparent in the benchmark and overclock numbers with these three Gigabyte boards is that they’re nearly perfectly matched in terms of performance. All other factors being equal, they delivered virtually identical scores and overclocks.
Although the fact that the Gigabyte Z77X-UD4H, UP5 TH, and UP7 motherboards offer up such similar performance may be unexciting to users who are likely to spend a bit more on a component to get an edge on performance, what this tells us is that Gigabyte has strong consistency in manufacturing. Gigabyte boards are typically solid, and these overclocking tests solidify that point somewhat.
The Three Musketeers - Gigabyte's Z77X-UD4H, UP5 TH, and UP7
It’s worth mentioning, then, that when you drop more cash on one of Gigabyte’s mainboards, you’re mostly paying for features as opposed to performance: The UD4H only costs around $165, while the UP5 TH is about $250, and the UP7--which, to be fair, has an impressive list of features and a far more extensive accessory bundle--will run you in the neighborhood of $400.
In any case, hitting 4.6GHz with mainstream cooling and modest voltages is a solid mark. We definitely could have pushed the system higher and likely could have maintained stability for a while, but we found that at 4.7GHz and even 4.8GHz, CPU core temps quickly climbed upwards of 100 degrees C with the Corsair H55 we were using, and a CPU has no business running that hot for any length of time.
So, dear reader, when you read that a team of overclockers has hit a staggering overclock, remember two things: They almost always have a better cooling system than you do by a longshot, and that overclock is not typical for a given CPU using off the shelf cooler.
For regular folks who just want to overclock their systems to gain a performance edge for gaming or other heavy-duty workloads, we can confirm that you can push that Intel Socket 1155 CPU way past stock speeds with some simple tweaking and a solid liquid cooler strapped to a well-appointed but relatively midrange motherboard.
All three of these Gigabyte mainboards are solid and stable, whether you’re overclocking or not. We approve.
Gigabyte Z77X-UD4H, UP5 TH, and UP7