Gigabyte GA-Z97X-UD3H-BK Review (Page 3 of 12)

Page 3 - A Closer Look, Board Layout, Test System

The Gigabyte GA-Z97X-UD3H-BK continues to elevate the company's image for sexy looking motherboards for users with windowed chassis. Gigabyte has been using flat black soldermask on their lineup for quite a number of years now, but the secondary colors always varied between generations, and even models within the same generation. The latest Black Edition lineup -- not just for looks -- signifies its 168 hour stress testing prior to shipment, and is yet another sign of the company's commitment to quality. The rest of the components are all in various shades of monochrome as well; the only exception are the flat gold highlights on the trio of heatsinks for a very sleek outlook in my opinion. Even the capacitors are custom made to be black in color. The GA-Z97X-UD3H-BK is a mainstream performance board, but it certainly carries the vibe of a higher performance model. While aesthetics is not really an issue when it comes to internal components of a computer compared to the way the board is built and how well it performs, surprisingly it can be a deciding factor for some users. Of course, the comments on the look are just a personal opinion. As it has gained immense popularity for the last couple years, the Z97X-UD3H-BK, like all Gigabyte midrange motherboards, features Nippon Chemi-Con and Nichicon solid state capacitors guaranteed for maximum performance for 10,000 hours, ferrite core chokes, and lower RDS(on) MOSFETS for maximum durability and energy efficiency.

As you can see in the photo of the Gigabyte GA-Z97X-UD3H-BK above, the heatsink configuration is very simple. Because the Z97 PCH is not a whole lot more than just a glorified Southbridge with a 4.1W TDP rating, a simple passive cooler over the chip makes a whole lot of sense. The second heatsink extends over the MOSFETs placed around the processor socket, in which we will cover in just a short moment. Either way, the Gigabyte GA-Z97X-UD3H-BK performs very well, even in cases with not a whole lot of airflow. At 30.5cm by 22.5cm, it is ATX form factor, but it is physically slightly narrower than the standard.

As with most motherboards, the ATX 4-pin/EPS 8-pin power connector is located at the top left corner, behind the PS/2 rear external block and video output connectors. It is fairly cramped in this area, but it is certainly one of the better ones I have seen. There is just less than two centimeter of clearance between the clip latch and the edge of the board with nothing in between, leaving more than enough room for people with average sized fingers to unlatch their cables. Unless you have a Noctua NH-D15 sitting over your processor, you should not have a whole lot of issues getting in and out of this area.

Above is a shot of the motherboard at the back. The design is relatively simple and clean; great for those thinking of adding aftermarket CPU cooling solutions. A standard Intel backplate is found here, but all LGA 1150 aftermarket coolers should be designed to work with this backplate in place. Along with the Ultra Durable scheme Gigabyte's performance motherboards are known to have, they also market the board to have two times the amount of copper used on the power and ground layers of the PCB in order to improve both its cooling and power delivery efficiency to its components. With more copper on these layers, current will flow with reduced impedance, and in turn, less power will wasted into heat. The Z97X-UD3H-BK also has a glass fabric PCB, which is weaved in a much tighter fashion than traditional builds. Gigabyte claims this will provide better humidity protection, but I don't think I ever had this problem in the past, haha. The company also markets dedicated anti-ESD protection for Ethernet and USB ports for better reliability. Anti-surge ICs are also placed to protect the motherboard from power surges. As always, the RAM socket and expansion card slots uses through hole connectors, as shown in our photo above; SMT (Surface-mount technology) is not capable of withstanding higher mechanical stress required for this purpose.

Within close proximity of the LGA1150 processor socket is the usual array of items -- components relating to the CPU voltage regulator circuit, as well as the two corresponding heatsinks. The heatsinks as well as the exposed components in general are low profile, so I have experienced no problems in installing large heatsinks such as the Noctua NH-D15. The CPU socket pins is gold plated, and the Gigabyte GA-Z97X-UD3H-BK features an eight phase power design. The rest of the voltage regulation is done on the CPU via Intel's Fully Integrated Voltage Regulator, which offloads a lot of formerly board components to the processor, who now distributes power to different blocks and controllers in the system.

The RAM slots are placed a fair distance from the CPU socket, and it is about as far as you can physically put it. You will very likely experience clearance issues with the inside slots if you have memory with tall heatspreaders in conjunction with a large CPU heatsink/fan. That said, many RAM manufacturers are now aware of this issue, so low memory kits with low profile heatspreaders are actually a lot more common today than it was a couple of years ago. Such example would be the Patriot Viper 3 Low Profile PC3-17000 4x8GB I have reviewed back in December 2013. The outermost slot is DIMM 1, while the one closest to the processor socket is DIMM 4. The ATX 24-pin power connector is placed along the side of the motherboard as far as standard design is concerned.

Interestingly, there are two 4-pin fan headers intended for use with the CPU fan on the Z97X-UD3H-BK. The white one is labeled CPU_FAN, while the black one is labeled CPU_OPT. In the manual, it states that CPU_OPT is designed for water coolers. What it does is it can operate at full speed in order to accommodate water pumps, which is very convenient for those with closed loop systems.

Six standard SATA 6Gb/s and one SATA Express connector are angled perpendicular to the motherboard for optimal cabling convenience. Although they are placed in two separate blocks, all of them are native to the Z97 chipset; and supports RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10. It is important to note the M.2 connector above the first PCI Express slot, lone SATA Express port, and SATA Port 4 and Port 5 are all electrically muxed together. This means you can use only one of these configurations at a time, and not concurrently. Meanwhile, a USB 3.0 header is found between the SATA port array and ATX 24-pin power block. This is a pretty good layout in my opinion, and it is quite optimal as far as cabling is concerned. You will not find any on board power buttons or debug LCD panels on the Gigabyte GA-Z97X-UD3H-BK, which is rather unfortunate, because the Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD3H had all these things.

The expansion slots follow the M.2 port at the top as aforementioned, and are ordered as follows: PCIe x1, PCIe x16, PCIe x1, PCIe x1, PCIe x16, PCI, and another PCIe x16. However, do keep in mind that only the first PCIe x16 slot is a "true" PCIe x16 slot; the second one will have a nice sharing-is-caring session with the first slot if a graphics card is installed to become two x8 slots. This is due to limited availability of PCIe lanes provided by Haswell processors. The third slot isn't even a true x16 slot by any means; it only gets four lanes allocated to it from the chipset -- and reduces to an x1 slot when the other PCIe x1 slots are populated. So while you can install a video card there, you won't get full bandwidth. The top PCIe x1 slot will only support relatively, since the RAM might get in the way. Since Intel's Z97 chipset has no native support for PCI slots, the ones found on the Gigabyte GA-Z97X-UD3H-BK are connected to one of the PCI Express lanes by an ITE IT8892E bridge chip.

An array of internal headers can be found at the bottom of the Gigabyte GA-Z97X-UD3H-BK. From the left, we have front panel audio, S/PDIF, 4-pin fan, serial, TPM, another 4-pin fan, two USB 2.0, and front chassis I/O. In addition to the two chassis fan headers found in this location, one more is placed above the first PCIe x1 slot, which is conveniently located for the rear fan. All fan headers on this motherboard is capable of controlling both 3-pin voltage and 4-pin PWM fans. Next to the case I/O block are two pins used to clear CMOS when shorted, so you do not need to remove the CR2032 battery located between the two PCI Express graphics slots. As always, there are two BIOS chips soldered directly onto the GA-Z97X-UD3H-BK; one main, and one for back up. Generally speaking, good placement of connectors in this segment of the motherboard is usually very challenging, and Gigabyte has done an excellent job of organizing it in an efficient and user friendly manner in my opinion.

The back panel offers a generous array of available external connectors. It features two PS/2 connectors provided by its ITE IT8728F chip. Why anyone would need two PS/2 ports in 2014 is beyond me, but hey -- at least they are there. There is total of four USB 3.0 ports; two adjacent to the HDMI connector on the first block, and two adjacent to the Gigabit Ethernet jack on the second block. They are all native to the Intel Z97 chipset, and so are the four USB 2.0 ports located in the block in between. On the topic of USB ports, there are no high power ports, nor are there on/off charge functions we have seen on previous Gigabyte mainstream performance products.

Moving on, we have three video connectors. This includes a VGA, DVI, and HDMI output. There is no DisplayPort, which is quite a disappointment to me; after all, it is 2014. DisplayPort is vastly superior in every practical way compared to legacy ports like DVI and VGA, especially since you can daisy chain multiple monitors together. An Intel Gigabit Ethernet controller makes for the lone LAN jack. An Intel based network solution is always desirable due to performance reasons. The rest are audio connectors based off the Realtek ALC1150 codec; an optical output can be seen in addition to the six standard 3.5mm analog jacks. There is no coaxial output. Gigabyte designed the GA-Z97X-UD3H-BK with a rear headphone amplifier that can drive up to 800 ohm loads, and comes with a dedicated audio zone electrically separated from the rest of the components to reduce noise.

As most motherboard models perform almost identically, we chose to overclock the Intel Core i7-4790K CPU to test the GA-Z97X-UD3H-BK's potential performance in overclocking. The CPU used is a sealed retail processor purchased anonymously at a local retail store.

Our test configuration as follows:

Compared Hardware:
- Gigabyte GA-Z97X-UD3H-BK (Intel Z97, $170 at press time; Turbo Boost enabled)
- Gigabyte GA-Z97X-UD3H-BK (Intel Z97, $170 at press time; CPU overclocked to 4.7 GHz)

Common Specifications:
CPU: Intel Core i7-4790K
CPU Cooling: Noctua NH-D15 (Single fan)
RAM: Kingston HyperX Beast KHX21C11T3K2/16X 2x8GB
Graphics: Gigabyte Radeon HD 7870 2GB OC
Chassis: Danger Den Torture Rack
Storage OCZ Vector 150 240GB
Power: SilverStone Strider Gold S ST85F-GS 850W
Sound: Integrated
Optical Drive: None
Operating System: Microsoft Windows 8.1 Pro x64

Page Index
1. Introduction, Packaging, Specifications
2. Bundle, Chipset, BIOS
3. A Closer Look, Board Layout, Test System
4. Benchmark: AIDA64 CPU
5. Benchmark: AIDA64 FPU
6. Benchmark: AIDA64 Memory
7. Benchmark: PCMark 8
8. Benchmark: 3DMark
9. Benchmark: PassMark PerformanceTest 8.0
10. Benchmark: SuperPI 1M, Cinebench R15
11. Onboard Sound Frequency Analysis
12. Overclocking and Conclusion