Provided by: Gigabyte
No compensation was received for review of this product.
At a price point of $185.99, The Gigabyte Z77X-UP4 TH is in the mainstream category of Z77 motherboards.
Benchmarks – The Gigabyte Z77X-UP4 TH is a mainstream board and performance is on par with motherboards at the same price range. Bootup time was much faster compared to other Z77 motherboards I have tested. Lucid Virtu MVP support further improves gaming and graphical performance in the benchmarks.
Board Layout – The layout is clean and has no clearance issues with the exception of a dual-slot card blocking the front panel connectors if used in triple-SLI setups. The heatsinks around the phases are smaller, due to the use of IR3550 ICs (requiring fewer phases and running cooler), so the area around the CPU is not crowded. Directly below the CPU is the first PCI-E x1 slot which overhangs over the M-SATA port. Since M-SATA devices lay flat, having an SSD installed on this area will not prohibit the population of the topmost PCI-E x1 slot.
UEFI BIOS – Gigabyte has significantly improved their UEFI implementation, especially with the latest F7 BIOS used in this review. Voltage and overclocking options are nested under the M.I.T. tab but certain options are also accessible from within other selections. The DIMM voltage settings, for example, can be accessed under Memory Settings or under Voltage settings. The new 3D UEFI is also faster and more responsive than previous versions.
There is a minor issue of incompatibility with users of the latest GTX 660Ti/GTX 660 Kepler cards and the F3 BIOS that shipped with the GA-Z77X-UP4 TH, where the motherboard does not recognize the discrete graphics card, resulting in a blank screen, but upgrading the BIOS version to the latest F7 or at least F6 solves this issue.
Pre-bundled Accessories – The accessory package is lighter than most mainstream motherboards with four SATA 6GB cables (two are angled, two are straight), as well as an SLI bridge, but there is a noticeable lack of USB 2.0 bracket, considering there are none in the back I/O and there are plenty of USB 2.0 headers onboard.
Pre-bundled Software – The GA-Z77X-UP4 TH may be light in bundled accessories but it certainly is packing when it comes to packaged software. The 3D Power Utility is always a welcome addition for any desktop performance tuners but all the other setup and auto-update function are very handy during setup. For those using Intel’s SSD caching feature, the EZ Smart Response utility is the single most convenient application that automates the process, saving time from repeated reboots, setting changes and driver installations.
Wireless – The Z77X-UP4 TH has no wireless connectivity options.
LAN – The onboard LAN uses Realtek Gigabit Ethernet and provides decent performance.
USB 3.0 – Gigabyte has been very generous with their USB 3.0 support on the Z77X-UP4 TH with six USB 3.0 ports in the rear (two of which are from VIA VL800) and a 20-pin header for another pair is available mid-board. VIA VL800 provided very good transfer rates in our benchmarks and supports UASP for even faster performance when Windows 8 is released and UASP enclosures are more prevalent.
SATA 6G – The only two SATA 6G ports on the Z77X-UP4 TH are from the native Intel Z77 chipset and has no extra ports for internal drives.
Peripherals – While lacking E-SATA, USB 2.0 and Wireless features, the GA-Z77X-UP4 doubles up the serving of Thunderbolt ports and completely fills the rear I/O USB ports with blue 3.0 ports. Thunderbolt is very flexible and has a massive 10Gbps bandwidth that can support up to 12 devices, so data connectivity is not an issue. Thunderbolt uses the mini-DisplayPort form factor and can also output display adding to the full-sized HDMI, DVI-D and VGA display connectors available in the rear I/O for up to three displays powered by the IGP.
Performance Tuning – Despite being a mainstream board, the GA-Z77X-UP4 TH overclocked fairly well and was extremely stable. No records were broken but 4.7GHz at 1.31Vcore with just the multiplier is very satisfying. Many of the UEFI M.I.T. options were best left at auto and consumed less power compared to other Z77 motherboards previously tested.
There was probably only one thing on Gigabyte’s mind when designing the GA-Z77X-UP4 TH and that is the future. They have completely replaced all USB 2.0 ports in the rear with USB 3.0 and they have not one but two Intel Thunderbolt ports in the rear, providing not just ultra fast 10Gbps transfer rates but display connectivity as well. Implementing Thunderbolt currently is understandably at a premium and Gigabyte had to make concessions in order to deliver the Z77X-UP4 TH to the mainstream price range.
Similar to the slightly lower priced Z77X-UD3H, the UP4 does not have any extra onboard SATA 6G ports except for the pair from the Intel Z77 chipset (although Gigabyte provides four SATA 6G cables instead of two). The Z77X-UP4 TH also uses lower priced Realtek Gigabit LAN and ALC892 audio codecs compared to the Atheros GbE LAN chip and VIA VT2021 codec in the UD3H. The PCB layout design is similar for both UP4 TH and UD3H, although it looks like Gigabyte forgot to remove the “108 dB” silkscreened beside the Realtek ALC 892 codec (DACs with 95dB SNR only, the ALC889 is the one with 108dB SNR DAC). Gigabyte, however, removed the onboard buttons useful for overclocking; including the switchable BIOS (The UP4 still has redundant BIOS protection, just not manually switchable).
These are minor changes I can live with if Thunderbolt is the main objective. The board itself is a stellar performer and a decent overclocker, able to stand toe-to-toe with its mainstream motherboard peers when it comes strictly to computing. Ultra Durable 5 ensures extremely stable performance, and lower power consumption overall compared to other boards. The 8+2 Phase design is more than beefy for most air overclocking needs. The VIA VL800 USB 3.0 chip providing extra USB 3.0 ports also performed extremely well and supports USB attached SCSI protocol for even faster transfer rates in the future.
Implementing Thunderbolt on a motherboard is not the only costly thing about the technology. Currently, even the cables alone are priced at $50 and the enclosures that support it are few and cost hundreds of dollars more than USB 3.0 or E-SATA enclosures. Gigabyte is sticking their neck out in supporting the technology and being at the forefront promoting Thunderbolt’s adoption. The performance advantage that Thunderbolt brings is obviously dramatically superior, compared to USB 3.0 and E-SATA, so it really is just a matter of price. The more manufacturers support Thunderbolt, of course, the faster the technology adoption increases and the lower the price gets. Other mainboard manufacturers have begun offering Thunderbolt on their higher-end products but currently, only Gigabyte has a mainstream mainboard in the GA-Z77X-UP4 TH that is within mainstream affordability. It is not a perfect board, by any means, but it is certainly exceptional in some respects. Gigabyte made a bold move with releasing a dual-Thunderbolt mainstream motherboard and if the old Latin proverb is correct, then fortune will eventually favor the bold.
- Dual Thunderbolt ports
- 8+2 Phase VRM
- Ultra Durable 5
- Lucid Virtu MVP
- Up to Eight USB 3.0 ports
- Gigabit LAN
- Optional M-SATA port
- 3x PCI-E x1 ports
- Clean layout
- 3D/Advanced UEFI
- DDR3 2400+ (O.C.) Support
- No WiFi features
- Lack of extra SATA 6G ports/M-SATA Port uses up one of the SATA 3G ports
- Realtek ALC892 Audio codec performance misprinted on the board (108dB vs 95dB SNR)
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