Summary: With a street price of just $130 Gigabyte loads the EP45-UD3P up with tons of goodies. For starters its PCB sports twice the amount of copper as traditional motherboards in the ground/power layers, allowing the motherboard to disperse heat more effectively. The board also has tons of FSB options for overclocking. But that's not all, the board also has heatpipe cooling and CrossFire support. Read our review to see why we were so impressed with this motherboard!
This in turn has fueled a myriad of companies who design products that are custom tailored for enthusiasts. Memory companies like OCZ bin the fastest modules with the tightest timings for use in their high-end memory modules, leaving the ordinary modules for use in their generic memory products; while companies as large as Intel offer Extreme Edition CPUs for enthusiasts who desire no-limits overclocking.
In the motherboard realm, companies like Gigabyte also offer products geared for the enthusiast crowd. Their motherboards were the first to ship with dual BIOS protection, while eSATA is another feature Gigabyte has offered on their high-end motherboards for years. Gigabyte was also the first motherboard manufacturer to go beyond the traditional 3-phase power design, first offering their external DPS (dual power system) power modules over five years ago with select high-end motherboards. Gigabyte’s latest motherboards now feature 8+4 power circuitry, for a grand total of 12 effective power phases.
Now Gigabyte is back with another first. Their Ultra Durable 3 (UD3) line of motherboards incorporate two ounces of copper for each of their board’s power and ground layers on the PCB; traditionally manufacturers have used one ounce of copper per layer. In theory, by doubling the amount of copper, heat from the CPU and other components can be dispersed more effectively across the UD3 motherboard, helping to reduce temps for the underlying system components installed in the PC.
When compared against a traditional motherboard with just one ounce of copper, Gigabyte claims their UD3 board runs up to 50 degrees Celsius cooler in the area surrounding the CPU, one of the biggest hotspots on the motherboard.
Theoretically with lower temps enthusiasts should have a little more headroom for overclocking, although often times these new high-end motherboards are so overbuilt with such high-quality components that the CPU itself becomes the bottleneck when OC’ing rather than the motherboard. A perfect example is the X38 platform. Technically the chipset wasn’t designed for 1600MHz FSB operation, but motherboard manufacturers like Gigabyte did such a good job with their X38 boards that they actually fully backed their products for use at 1600MHz speeds.
Like previous Ultra Durable Gigabyte motherboards, the UD3 boards continue to support features like the use of all-solid Japanese capacitors, ferrite core chokes, and lower resistance MOSFETs. These features help ensure board longevity and stability as well as reducing EMI interference. Gigabyte also equips their higher-end UD3 boards with goodies such as copper-based heatpipe cooling, CrossFire support, and dual Gigabit LAN.
The motherboard we’re reviewing today, the EP45-UD3P is Gigabyte’s flagship Ultra Durable 3 motherboard. It’s loaded with all the goodies we just mentioned, plus more.
Dynamic Energy Saver
To manipulate DES, Gigabyte has developed a simple GUI that depicts the number of active power phases as well as CPU voltage and throttling:
Dynamic Power Phase: This section represents the CPU power phases on the motherboard, six total on the EP45-UD3P. Each phase is represented as an engine cylinder, with the currently active power phases running just like they would in a car’s engine.
Dynamic Voltage: With this setting the user can undervolt the processor. Three stages are available reducing CPU core voltage from 0.052V up to 0.085V, with the third stage reducing voltage the most. The motherboard will automatically reduce core voltage as well regardless of the stage you select, so the end user doesn’t have to intervene in order for dynamic voltage to kick in.
Dynamic Frequency: When enabled, this setting can be used to throttle the processor for maximum power savings. An On/Off switch is provided, as enabling this setting can hamper performance in some apps. In Cinebench for instance we noted a performance hit of 2% with throttling turned on, the performance impact was negligible in 3DMark Vantage (with performance preset) however.
Speaking of performance hit, it’s important to note that earlier builds of DES had a greater performance impact than newer versions. In older builds the performance hit could be as high as 20% in some apps. The latest version seems to have improved things significantly, as we noted no performance drop as long as we kept the CPU throttling setting disabled, and even when it was on we only saw a hit in Cinebench and very low-res 800x600 gaming with Company of Heroes.
What kind of power savings should you expect with DES? Gigabyte thoughtfully provides a handy “power saving” meter at the top of the utility. This measures your current power savings as a result of DES being enabled. We also ran some quick benchmarks as well:
As you can see, the power savings aren’t huge, generally we saw power consumption reduced by 1-6 watts thanks to DES under load, and up to 10 watts at idle. Keep in mind that power consumption savings will vary highly depending on your PSU, with more efficient 80+ certified power supplies delivering more significant power savings than less efficient PSUs.
One additional feature Gigabyte includes on DES boards is dynamic LED. With dynamic LED, Gigabyte incorporates a bank of LEDs located in the upper right portion of the motherboard. Each LED represents one of the motherboards six power phases. As a power phase is turned on, the LED lights up. The first two LEDs are green, while LEDs three and four are yellow. The final two LEDs represent max load and shine red when active.
The EP45-UD3P ships with two PCI Express 2.0 graphics slots, with full support for ATI’s CrossFire multi-GPU technology.
For instance, the board supports high-end features like dual Gigabit LAN, FSB speeds of 1600MHz, dual PCI Express graphics, DDR2 speeds as high as 1366MHz, eSATA, heatpipe cooling, and the Ultra Durable 3 features we mentioned on the first page, but Gigabyte uses a six-phase power design instead of the 8+4 power phase design (12 effective) used on their ultra pricey flagship motherboards.
You can also see this on the cooling system Gigabyte implemented. Gigabyte’s flagship boards feature all-copper heatpipe cooling for the North and South Bridge of the system chipset, with dual heatpipes used to cool the North Bridge and 12-phase power circuitry. In comparison Gigabyte employs a single nickel-plated aluminum heatpipe on EP45-UD3P. This heatpipe cools the North Bridge as well as some of the MOSFETs powering the CPU.
Again, these compromises are made to keep the price of the motherboard down: currently this motherboard sells for $130 on Newegg, and $110 after mail-in rebate. In comparison, Gigabyte’s flagship P45 motherboard, the GA-EP45 Extreme sells for $245 and $215 after rebate. Considering all the goodies UD3P ships with, including CrossFire support, Gigabyte has put together a very impressive package for $110.
In terms of the motherboard’s layout, Gigabyte has done an excellent job with the design of the EP45-UD3P. Gigabyte provides plenty of room around the CPU socket for oversized CPU coolers, while there’s also plenty of room between the PCI Express graphics slots for dual-slot cards like the Radeon 4870 to fit with enough room between them for optimal airflow. Two slots (one PCI slot and one x1 PCIe slot) separate the two PCI Express graphics slots.
Those of you with multiple SATA drives will also appreciate the layout of the SATA ports. None of them interfere with the PCI Express graphics slots. Even with very long graphics cards like the GTX 280 and Radeon 4870 X2, you’ll have no problems hooking up your SATA drives to the motherboard’s 8 SATA ports.
Overall we couldn’t find a single issue with the EP45-UD3P’s board layout.
For expansion the board is also well equipped. Out back you’ll find eight USB 2.0 ports, digital audio outputs (both coax and optical), 6 audio jacks, dual RJ-45 Ethernet ports, dual IEEE-1394a Firewire ports, and PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports. Gigabyte also includes an external 2-port eSATA header inside the motherboard’s packaging.
If you’re an enthusiast planning to overclock your Core 2 CPU to its limits, you’ll love the BIOS Gigabyte provides for the EP45-UD3P. Unlike a lot of BIOS interfaces where you have to navigate back and forth between different menus and submenus to set bus speeds, voltages, etc., every critical setting you need for OC’ing is available within one section of BIOS: the MB Intelligent Tweaker (MIT) section.
Here on one long page you’ll find all your speeds and voltages for OC’ing.
At the top of MIT you’ll find settings for the CPU clock multiplier as well as Gigabyte’s Robust Graphics Booster, a setting you can use if you wish to OC the graphics card interface.
Just below that are the settings needed for OC’ing the front side bus. Speeds ranging from 100-1200MHz are available in 1MHz increments, while PCIe speeds up to 150MHz are also provided. Finally Gigabyte continues to provide their C.I.A. (CPU Intelligent Accelerator) feature. This setting automatically OCs your CPU by predetermined amounts by adjusting the FSB. Five settings are provided ranging from Cruise to Full Thrust. This is basically the same functionality Gigabyte provides in Easy Tune 6.
Further down in the MIT BIOS Gigabyte provides an area for adjusting RAM timings as well as the memory multiplier. For those of you who want to tweak your memory timings even further, Gigabyte also includes a submenu where you an adjust timing settings and drive settings for the individual memory channels and DIMM sockets.
In terms of voltages, Gigabyte provides a plethora of options. CPU voltages range from 0.50V-2.30V in increments as slim as 0.00625V! One thing we would like to see Gigabyte do here is color code the voltages. For instance, you’d never want to run 2.3V of juice to your 45-nm Penryn processor unless you’ve got some seriously hardcore cooling like liquid nitrogen. Honestly we’ve never taken one of our Penryn CPUs beyond 1.5V of juice.
To provide some guidance for users who are new to overclocking and don’t have a clue what voltage to select for their CPU, some motherboard manufacturers will color code the voltages, so safe voltages will be colored green, while moderate voltages will be depicted yellow. The highest voltages that are considered unsafe for most CPUs are then colored red.
Beyond the core voltage, Gigabyte also provides CPU voltage settings for CPU termination (1.10-1.70V in 0.02V increments), CPU PLL (1.05-2.81V in 0.02V increments), and CPU Reference voltages (+0.460-1.01V in (0.015V increments).
Chipset voltages are also adjustable. MCH voltages range from 0.85-2.0V in 0.02V increments, while the MCH reference voltage 0.50-1.04V in 0.04V increments, MCH/DRAM 0.53-1.81V in increments of 0.02 and 0.05V increments, ICH I/O 1.05-2.31V in 0.02V increments and ICH 1.1-1.4V. DRAM voltages ranging from 1.45-3.04V are also available in 0.02V increments. Interestingly enough, Gigabyte does color code the DRAM voltage settings, with voltages of 2.3V or higher colored red.
We managed to OC our Core 2 Duo E8600 up to 4.27GHz (10.0x427) with the EP45-UD3P. At that speed we needed 1.45V of juice to maintain stability.
At first blush this sounds impressive, after all it’s nearly an OC of 1GHz, however we’ve managed to hit speeds as high as 4.64GHz with this particular processor, so there’s a little bit of headroom that we weren’t able to tap into unfortunately. For a budget motherboard with a $130 price tag though we won’t complain, as our previous high with the E8600 was hit with a much pricier X48 motherboard.
Intel Core 2 Duo E6750
ASUS P5E3 Premium
4GB OCZ Platinum DDR2-1333
150GB Western Digital Raptor
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 280
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit w/Service Pack 1
Company of Heroes 1.71
Company of Heroes – Direct3D
Far Cry 2 – Direct3D
World In Conflict – Direct3D
Crysis – Direct3D
Performance:Despite its low price tag, Gigabyte’s EP45-UD3P delivered very good performance, running comparable to the other motherboards we tested. To be honest you’re going to be hard-pressed to find any performance difference in any of the top-tier motherboard manufacturers. These guys all include many of the same tricks and tweaks on their motherboards. Instead your decision is usually going to come down to other intangibles such as features and price. Here too the EP45-UD3P doesn’t disappoint.
Price: In terms of price, Gigabyte is very competitive. Right now this motherboard sells for $129.99 on Newegg, $109.99 after mail-in rebate. This is a good price considering the features you’re getting:
Features: The key addition Gigabyte includes on the EP45-UD3P is without a doubt its 2-ounce copper PCB. We don’t have equipment to take exact temperature readings on different areas of the motherboard, but we do have our trusty finger and it couldn’t find a single hot spot on the board, even when OC’ed. Even the area immediately surrounding the CPU barely got warm to the touch after a 4-hour testing session with our E8600 CPU. In terms of CPU temps, we observed idle temp as low as 23 degrees Celsius, while load temps peaked at 34 degrees Celsius. This is while testing with a Zalman CNPS 7700-Cu cooler in a 26 degree Celsius room.
Dynamic Energy Saver is also another interesting feature Gigabyte includes with many of their motherboards. You won’t save a ton of money on your monthly electric bill thanks to DES, we observed energy savings between 1-6 watts under load and up to 10 watts at idle. The cumulative effect of DES could have a significant impact on the energy grid though. Just think, Gigabyte ships millions of motherboards each month. If just half of these boards were running DES 24/7, the energy savings would add up pretty quickly.
For enthusiasts, the EP45-UD3P fully supports DDR2 speeds up to 1366MHz and FSB 1600MHz, even though technically the P45 chipset is limited to DDR2 speeds of 1066MHz and FSB speeds of 1333MHz. This gives the motherboard full support for the latest Core 2 processors. The motherboard is also outfitted with 100% Japanese all-solid capacitors rated for 50,000 hours of operation, Gigabyte’s DualBIOS solution, and ATI CrossFire. On the audio side, its Realtek ALC889A codec is Dolby home theater certified and boasts a signal-to-noise ratio of 106 decibels.
Out back, the EP45-UD3P’s back panel is outfitted like a high-end $200+ motherboard. You’ve got eight USB ports, two Firewire ports, dual GigE, and two digital audio outs. Gigabyte also includes a 2-port eSATA header with the board. This is a really impressive back panel considering the board’s low price. Many boards in this price range ship with just four or six USB ports.
Excellent BIOS: The BIOS interface Gigabyte employs on the EP45-UD3P is well laid out and has all the settings an enthusiast would want for OC’ing, including tons of options for bus speeds and voltages. The only aspect that’s really missing is the ability to set profiles, although this feature isn’t common on a motherboard in this price range.
Reliability: We didn’t encounter a single blue screen or lockup with the EP45-UD3P. The board was rock-solid throughout our testing.
Slightly heavier than other motherboards: Because of the extra copper in the PCB, the EP45-UD3P does weigh a little more than other motherboards in its class. This really isn’t a huge con in our opinion, in fact its extra heft may actually be a good thing for 4870 CrossFire users as the board is less likely to warp under the weight of two dual-slot graphics cards.