Welcome to the world of motherboards! This is a place where cheap alternatives often beat the most expensive flagships. Creating a competitively priced but well performing product is the goal. With that in mind, here’s Gigabyte’s new AMD AM3+ socket motherboard, the GA-990FXA-UD7, based on the AMD 990FX chipset. The AM3+ socket is backwards compatible but is introduced rather early this year to be the base platform for the upcoming Zambezi CPU’s, based on the Bulldozer architecture.
Today we will be looking at the UD7 as a sneak-peak of the greatness this motherboard holds for the Zambezi CPU’s, as to date AMD has yet to release these puppies in the wild.
What does Gigabyte tell us about the GA-990FXA-UD7?
“The 990FXA-UD7 motherboard is designed to offer a stable, high-speed platform for delivering amazingly fast data transfer via the GIGABYTE 333 onboard acceleration technologies. Featuring the USB3.0 controller, AMD 900 series motherboards allow users to take advantage of super fast USB transfer rates of up to 5Gbps, delivering 10x faster data transfer compared to USB 2.0. Utilizing the industry’s first Serial ATA Revision 3.0 solution via AMD SB950 chipset, GIGABYTE AMD 900 series motherboards offer native 6 ports of next generation high speed data storage devices support with data transfer speeds of up to 6 Gbps with RAID 0, 1, 5, 10. The AMD 900 series motherboards introduce a unique hardware design with lower resistance fuses for ensuring lower voltage drops and providing more stable and plentiful power delivery. All USB ports also benefit from a 3x power boost for better power delivery to power hungry USB devices.”
- CPU: AM3+ Socket
- Support for AMD AM3+ FX processors
- Support for AMD AM3 Phenom™ II processors / AMD Athlon™ II processors
- Chipset: North Bridge: AMD 990FX
- South Bridge: AMD SB950
- Memory: 4 x 1.5V DDR3 DIMM sockets supporting up to 32 GB Support for DDR3 2000(O.C.)/1866/1600/1333/1066 MHz memory modules
- Audio: Realtek ALC889 codec, High Definition Audio 2/4/5.1/7.1-channel, Support for Dolby Home Theater, Support for S/PDIF Out
- LAN: 1 x Realtek RTL8111E chip (10/100/1000 Mbit)
- Expansion Slots: 2 x PCI Express x16 slots, running at x16, 2 x PCI Express x16 slots, running at x8 ,2 x PCI Express x16 slots, running at x4, 1 x PCI slot
- Storage Interface: 6 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors (SATA3_0~SATA3_5) supporting up to 6 SATA 6Gb/s devices, Support for SATA RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID5, RAID 10 and JBOD, 2 x Marvell 88SE9172 chips, 2 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors, 2 x eSATA 6Gb/s connectors (including 1 eSATA/USB Combo connector) on the back panel, Support for RAID 0 and RAID 1
- South Bridge: Up to 14 USB 2.0/1.1 ports (8 ports on the back panel, including 1 eSATA/USB Combo connector, 6 ports available through the internal USB headers)
- 2 x Etron EJ168 chips: Up to 4 USB 3.0/2.0 ports (2 ports on the back panel, 2 ports available through the internal USB header)
- IEEE 1394VIA VT6308 chip: Up to 2 IEEE 1394a ports (1 port on the back panel, 1 port available through the internal IEEE 1394a header)
- Internal I/O Connectors: 1 x 24-pin ATX main power connector, 1 x 8-pin ATX 12V power connector, 1 x PCIe power connector, 8 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors, 1 x CPU fan header, 2 x system fan headers, 1 x power fan header, 1 x front panel header, 1 x front panel audio header, 1 x S/PDIF Out header, 3 x USB, 2.0/1.1 headers, 1 x USB 3.0/2.0 header, 1 x IEEE 1394a header, 1 x Trusted Platform Module (TPM) header, 1 x clearing CMOS jumper, 1 x clearing CMOS button, 1 x power button, 1 x reset button
- Back Panel Connectors: 1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse port, 1 x optical S/PDIF Out connector, 1 x coaxial S/PDIF Out connector, 1 x IEEE 1394a port, 7 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports, 2 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports, 1 x eSATA/USB Combo connector, 1 x eSATA 6Gb/s connector, 1 x RJ-45 port, 6 x audio jacks (Center/Subwoofer Speaker Out/Rear Speaker Out/Side Speaker Out/Line In/Line Out/Microphone)
- BIOS: 2 x 32 Mbit flash, Use of licensed AWARD BIOS, Support for DualBIOS™, PnP 1.0a, DMI 2.0, SM BIOS 2.4, ACPI 1.0b, Support for @BIOS, Support for Q-Flash, Support for Xpress BIOS Rescue, Support for Download Center, Support for Xpress Install, Support for Xpress Recovery2, Support for EasyTune, Support for Easy Energy Saver, Support for Smart Recovery, Support for Auto Green, Support for ON/OFF Charge, Support for Cloud OC, Support for 3TB+ Unlock, Support for Q-Share, Bundle Software, Norton Internet Security (OEM version), Form Factor, ATX Form Factor; 30.5cm x 26.3cm.
The Gigabyte GA-990FXA-UD7 comes in a brightly coloured box with all the main features visualized on it.
The back of the boxing provides a slightly more detailed feature list.
Since it’s a reasonably large sized packaging, Gigabyte provided a strong package to house it in.
In fact, if you look close, it’s a box within a box!
Lucky for us there are no more boxes to open and this is the beauty I’ll be talking about today.
The UD7 comes with a typical manual, installation guide, software DVD and a fresh installation guide.
Also supplied are four USB3.0 cables, the I/O shield and some stickers.
Last but not least: the accessories which come in particularly good for this board. In total there’s enough connectors from dual up to quad SLI and CFx.
The motherboard doesn’t look particularly large, but don’t be fooled, it’s quite the full ATX size with 30.5cm * 26.3cm and so just fits standard casing.
The back panel provides us with a ton of features, from which most notably the combo USB/e-SATA, e-SATA3 and two USB3.0 ports.
The most important difference between the 990FXA-UD7 and UD5 are the PCI-E slots. Whereas the UD5 sports up to three videocards in SLI / CFx, the UD7 allows up to quad SLI / CFx in PCI-E 2.0 8x mode. Another thing to note is that the cooling system used on the UD7 is connector with a heatpipe. This allows the heat from the Northbridge to the Southbridge, whereas the latter usually doesn’t heat up too much so the dissipated heat from Northbridge can be effectively transferred to a cooler area.
The UD7 has a wide range of internal connectors available, including four fan headers. If you take a close look at the left bottom of the picture you’ll find the TSL1 and TSR1 below the CMOS battery. These two show the codes which correspond to the progress of the system POST up to the Operating System BOOT. If anything hangs, for example due to overclocking, you can usually find the error code here and compare it in the manual to see at which part of the start-up progress the system hangs.
The black socket and its four DDR3 Dual Channel slots are typical for the upcoming AM3+ Zambezi CPU’s and their siblings. Right now the socket is backward compatible with typical AM3 Phenom II and Athlon II CPU’s, which makes AM3+ boards also a great pick if you want a future investment but can’t wait for the Zambezi to be released the coming months.
The MOSFET’s are cooled by a large aluminium block which is also connected to the cooling system of the board. The UD7 has a typical single 8-pin CPU connector for the CPU juice.
Buttons, the UD7 has them! Whilst neatly covering the CMOS reset button with a plastic cap, the power and reset buttons are directly available for anyone who doesn’t run his setup in a typical casing or just likes to put his dirty static hands in his rig; great for overclockers!
Like I said before, the UD7 barely fits a normal casing. The Fractal Design XL I use is definitely not a small case so make sure this motherboard fits your case before you buy it. That said, it’s a beauty to behold with a wonderful colour scheme which is suited for many kinds of case mods. (note to this picture: The RAM sticks are installed badly, to run dual channel this board, in opposite to my last AM2+ Gigabyte board, requires the first and third as like second and fourth slot installed for dual channel)
Processor (CPU): AMD Phenom II X2 555 BE
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-990FXA-UD7
Memory (RAM): GeIL Ultra Plus DDR3-2000 CL9
Graphics card (GPU): ASUS ATi Radeon HD5870 1GB v2
Hard drives (HDDs): 2x WD 250GB 16MB Caviar SE ,1x WD 500GB Black, 1x Samsung SpinPoint F1 2TB
Power Supply Unit (PSU): Zalman ZM600-HP
Case: Fractal Design XL
The BIOS is a typical old school Award BIOS with an amazing amount of overclocking options, especially when looking at the RAM page there is nothing more an overclocker could want.
Now here arose a problem, though. On the previous board for testing (see other reviews with my name on them), namely the Gigabyte GA-785GMT-UD2H (AM2+), I had no problem whatsoever unlocking the AMD Phenom II X2 555 BE dual core to the X4 B55; in fact, it ran on 3.80GHz for well over a year. With the UD7 I have the problem that whenever I unlock any fourth core, the system will instantly crash under a bit of load in Windows. Many others have reported similar problems and Gigabyte has to date only responded with the following message:
“In regards to the core unlock our engineers have looked at the AGESA code in the BIOS and have said that it is up to date in the BIOS you have and should work, they have explained they are unable to replicate the issue.
At this stage as HQ are still working on the problems and they cannot replicate the Core Unlock issue on their sample boards”
In fact, many people online are posting about similar problems, up to unlocking any core and being unable to boot. There is obviously some work to do here on Gigabyte’s behalf.
Sadly the issues don’t end here, as the above issue only goes for a small group of people. A major issue with this board are the voltages that drop, especially under load. This phenomena is referred to as Vdroop.
Generally speaking, Vdroop isn’t a bad thing as it’s used to reduce the voltage under load in order to prolong the life of your components. For overclockers there is an issue with Vdroop, though, as overclockers need the voltage they set in the BIOS to be constant and not jumping up and down, as this easily results in instabilities. For this the option Load Line Calibration (LLC) has been added, which should regulate the set voltages to be more constant. This option isn’t available in the UD7’s BIOS, so what does that get us?
All results are with the latest 990FXA-UD7 F4g BIOS
Deneb Phenom II X3 , 3.80GHz (CPUv 1.45) (NB 2.4GHz, 1.2v)
VCore Idle: 1.488V
VCore Load: 1.424V
Thuban Phenom II X6 , 3.80GHz (CPUv 1.45) (NB 2.4GHz, 1.2v)
VCore Idle: 1.488V
VCore Load: 1.392V
Thuban Phenom II X3 , 3.80GHz (CPUv 1.45) (NB 2.4GHz, 1.2v)
VCore Idle: 1.488V
VCore Load: 1.440V
As we can see the differences are quite serious, and users online are reporting even more extreme voltage irregularities. To date, I have no explanation as to why the Deneb X3 results are worse than the Thuban X3, but the Thuban X6 is a record breaker with -0.058V off the BIOS setting.
Besides the load voltages, it’s also not very durable to have +0.038 on your typical BIOS setting.
Testing and Results
To test the motherboard I usually present a typical set of benchmarks which have proven their worth over time. Today it’s a bit harder, as initially the motherboard I wanted to compare the UD7 with is the Gigabyte GA-785GMT-UD2H, which easily allows 4-core unlocking, and so I took quad core results. With the core unlocking issue from the UD7 results have gotten a bit messed up and in fact, the UD2H would easily win considering it’s core advantage. Plus to that SiSoft Sandra decided to put throw in the towel just before the deadline of this review. Whenever possible I will update this review, also in regard to the current outstanding issues.
All results are taken with a Phenom II X3 3.80GHz. Memory DDR3-1600 CL6-8-6-20 T1.
[easychart type=”horizbar” title=”AIDA64 (MB/s)” groupnames=”785GMT, 990FXA” valuenames=”Read, Write, Copy” group1values=”10106,8085,11997″ group2values=”10157,8071,12357″ ]
[easychart type=”horizbar” title=”AIDA64 CPU (Score)” groupnames=”785GMT, 990FXA” valuenames=”Queen, PhotoWorxx, AES” group1values=”19666,26331,31611″ group2values=”19687,26918,31741″ ]
785GMT: 112.8 MB/s
990FXA: 140.8 MB/s
[easychart type=”horizbar” title=”Cinebench CPU” groupnames=”785GMT, 990FXA” valuenames=”Score” group1values=”3.35″ group2values=”3.38″ ]
All results speak for the UD7. Important to note is that on standard HTT the UD2H overclocks to 201 HTT, which gives a typical advantage in benchmarks. Even then, the UD7 runs off with the performance crown. If only it could unlock that CPU…
Pricing and Availability
The Gigabyte GA-990FXA-UD7 is widely available in any country that sells computer hardware. Prices start at around €190.- and range up to €240.-. The UD3 and UD5 siblings come for respectively €115.- and €150.-. The ASUS Crosshair V Formula comes for about €10.- less than the UD7 and is good competition.
The Gigabyte GA-990FXA-UD7 is definitely a pearl of a board, but there are still flaws that need to be worked out. 4-way SLI / CFx, tons of overclocking options and rock stability during the testing really vouch for this board to be Gigabyte’s AMD flagship motherboard. On the other hand, if we look at who this board is aimed at, for a good part it’s the overclockers, then the voltage issues really need to be resolved.
Stay tuned for a Zambezi CPU review, if Gigabyte allows, on this board!
Also check this page every now and then for a possible update regarding the issues and adjusted quality rating.
Abundant amount of connectors
Allows 4-way SLI / CFx
High quality low-profile cooling
On-board power / reset / clear CMOS buttons
POST code LED indicator
Voltage droop issue
Core unlocking issue
Highest price in it’s segment