Let’s take a look at one of the first socket LGA1155 motherboards that will reach the market, the Gigabyte P67A-UD4, based on the forthcoming P67 chipset for future Intel processors based on the “Sandy Bridge” architecture. The highlights of this motherboard include four USB 3.0 ports and a high-end voltage regulator circuit.
The next-generation Intel CPUs, codenamed “Sandy Bridge,” will be released in January, 2011, and will use a new socket, called LGA1155 or “socket LGA1155.” To match this new CPU generation Intel will launch two chipsets, the H67 and P67. The first one is targeted to computers with integrated video (keeping in mind that the video itself is produced by the CPU, and not by the chipset), while the second one is targeted to mid-range and high-end motherboards without integrated video.
The Gigabyte P67A-UD4 uses the standard ATX form factor.
The Gigabyte P67A-UD4 comes with two PCI Express x16 slots, which are controlled by the CPU, not the chipset. The first slot works at x16 when only one video card is installed, but both slots drop to x8 when two video cards are used. They support both SLI and CrossFireX modes.
If you install a dual-slot video card in the first PCI Express x16 slot you will “kill” one of the PCI Express x1 slots, while if you install a dual-slot video card in the second PCI Express x16 slot you will “kill” one of the standard PCI slots.
It is important to understand that the P67A-UD4 has two slots between the two PCI Express x16 slots, meaning that you can install a video card that occupies three slots and still install a second video card in the second PCI Express x16 slot. There are two slots between the second PCI Express x16 slot and the motherboard edge, meaning that you can also install a video card that uses three slots in the second PCI Express x16 slot while still using a standard seven-slot case.
The motherboard has three PCI Express x1 slots and two standard PCI slots.
It is important to understand that the P67 and H67 chipsets don’t support standard PCI slots anymore, and the PCI slot is provided by an ITE IT8892 bridge chip.
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Intel socket LGA1155 CPUs have an embedded memory controller, meaning that it is the processor – and not the chipset – that defines what memory technologies and the maximum amount of memory you can have. The motherboard, however, may have a limitation as to how much memory can be installed.
The integrated memory controller from socket LGA1155 processors supports only DDR3 memories up to 1,333 MHz under dual-channel architecture, but Gigabyte says the P67A-UD4 supports memory up to 2,133 MHz through overclocking.
The Gigabyte P67A-UD4 has four memory sockets and, since currently DDR3 memory modules can be found in capacities up to 4 GB, you can have up to 16 GB with this motherboard, if you use four 4 GB modules.
Here is the weird thing about the P67A-UD4: all its memory sockets are black. If you have two memory modules, you will have to install the first module in the first memory socket and the second module in the third socket in order to enable dual-channel architecture. Since all sockets are black, users may think that they can install memory modules in any two sockets, which is not the case. This is a serious mistake coming from a tier 1 manufacturer.
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The Intel P67 chipset is a single-chip solution, and is also known as PCH (Platform Controller Hub). This chip supports two SATA-600 ports and four SATA-300 ports, supporting RAID (0, 1, 5 and 10). All SATA ports are located on the motherboard edge, rotated 90°, so video cards won’t block them.
Additionally, the manufacturer added two eSATA-600 ports, controlled by a Marvel 88SE9128 chip and supporting RAID 0 and 1.
This motherboard doesn’t come with ATA-133 or floppy disk ports.
This motherboard has 14 USB 2.0 ports, eight soldered on the rear panel and six available though three headers located on the motherboard. It also has four USB 3.0 ports controlled by two NEC μPD720200 chips, two soldered on the rear panel of the motherboard and two available thru a header on the motherboard (the product doesn’t come with an I/O bracket for you to use these ports).
There are no FireWire (IEEE1394) ports.
The P67A-UD4 comes with eight-channel audio, generated by the chipset using a Realtek ALC892 codec. Unfortunately Realtek doesn’t publish technical specifications for this codec at their website. The portrayed motherboard comes with on-board optical and coaxial SPDIF connectors, and you can route digital audio to your video card to have digital audio in the HDMI connector using the available “SPDIF_O” header.
The analog audio jacks are completely independent, so you won’t “kill” the mic in or the line in jack when installing a set of 7.1 analog speakers.
The portrayed motherboard has one Gigabit Ethernet port, controlled by a Realtek RTL8111E chip.
In Figure 5, you can see the motherboard rear panel, with shared PS/2 keyboard and mouse connector, eight USB 2.0 ports, coaxial and optical SPDIF outputs, two eSATA-600 ports, two USB 3.0 ports (blue ones), Gigabit Ethernet port, and independent analog 7.1 audio outputs.
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The Gigabyte P67A-UD4 has a few additional smaller features. It has two BIOS chips (see Figure 6), so in case the main BIOS gets corrupted by a bad BIOS upgrade or a virus, you can easily restore the contents of the ROM chip and prevent your motherboard from becoming “dead.”
All USB ports have fuses to prevent you from burning your motherboard if somehow the ground and VCC pins from the USB ports are reversed, touch each other, or the USB
ports get a really high static discharge.
This motherboard also features a legacy serial port (you need to acquire an adapter to use it).
In Figure 8, you can see all accessories that come with this motherboard.
[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]
One of the highlights of this motherboard is its voltage regulator circuit that, instead of using three regular MOSFET transistors (“high side,” “low side” and “driver”) on each phase, it uses one integrated circuit with these three MOSFETs embedded (SiC769CD, in the case of this motherboard). This approach is also known as DrMOS and allows a higher switching frequency (1 MHz instead of 250 kHz), which improves efficiency. The CPU voltage regulator circuit is controlled by an Intersil ISL6366 controller. It is interesting to note, however, that the CPU main voltage (Vcc) phases use these integrated circuits, but the CPU memory controller (VTT) phases uses low-RDS(on) MOSFET transistors (translation: higher efficiency than regular MOSFETs).
The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the P67A-UD4 has 14 phases, 12 for the CPU main voltage (Vcc a.k.a. Vcore), and two for the CPU VTT voltage (integrated memory controller and L3 memory cache). Therefore it uses a “12+2” configuration.
You have to keep in mind that you can’t compare directly motherboards with a switch speed of 250 kHz with phases that switch at 1 MHz, because the higher the switching speed the higher efficiency is.
Let’s not forget the other voltages used on the motherboard. The Gigabyte P67A-UD4 uses a two-phase voltage regulator for the memory voltage and a two-phase regulator for the chipset voltage, using two regular MOSFET transistors per phase (the driver MOSFET is integrated in the Intersil ISL6322 chip that is used to control these phases).
All electrolytic capacitors used on this motherboard are solid and Japanese, and the board uses only ferrite-core coils, which present less energy loss than iron-core coils (i.e., they improve efficiency).
If you want to learn more about the voltage regulator circuit, please read our tutorial on the subject.
Continuing Gigabyte’s tradition, the P67A-UD4 uses thicker copper tracks on the printed circuit board VCC and GND tracks. Usually the printed circuit board power tracks are 35 µm thick, but on the P67A-UD4 the power tracks are 70 µm thick. This feature is also called “2 oz. copper tracks” by the manufacturer.
A series of six LEDs show which phases are currently active (one LED represents two phases).
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
The main specifications for the Gigabyte P67A-UD4 include:
- Socket: 1155
- Chipset: Intel P67
- Super I/O: ITE IT8728F
- Parallel ATA: None
- Serial ATA: Four SATA-300 and two SATA-600 ports controlled by the chipset (RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10)
- External SATA: Two eSATA-600 ports controlled by a Marvell 88SE9128 chip (RAID 0 and 1)
- USB 2.0: 14 USB 2.0 ports, eight soldered on the motherboard rear panel and six available through three headers on the motherboard
- USB 3.0: Four ports controlled by two NEC μPD720200 chips, two soldered on the motherboard rear panel and two available on a motherboard header
- FireWire (IEEE 1394): None
- On-board video: No
- On-board audio: Produced by the chipset together with a Realtek ALC892 codec (eight channels, no further technical information is provided), on-board coaxial and optical SPDIF outputs
- On-board LAN: One Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Realtek RTL8111E chip
- Buzzer: No
- Infrared interface: No
- Power supply required: EPS12V
- Slots: Two PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots (the first one working at x16 when one video card is installed, both working at x8 when two video cards are installed, supporting SLI and CrossFireX), three PCI Express x1 slots, and two standard PCI slots (ITE IT8892E chip)
- Memory: Four DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to 16 GB up to DDR3-2133)
- Fan connectors: One four-pin connector for the CPU cooler, one four-pin for an auxiliary fan, and two three-pin connector for auxiliary fans
- Extra Features: Serial port, dual BIOS, phase monitoring LEDs
- Number of CDs/DVDs provided: One
- Programs included: Norton Internet Security (OEM version)
- More Information: https://www.gigabyte.us
- Average price in the US: This product wasn’t released yet on the day we published this First Look article
The Gigabyte P67A-UD4 will be a good option for users looking for a high-quality mid-range socket LGA1155 motherboard. The high-quality of this motherboard can be clearly seen on its high-end voltage regulator circuit and the addition of fuses on each USB port.
There are, however, two problems with this motherboard. The first one is that all memory sockets are black, and users may think that you can install memory modules in any combination in order to enable dual-channel architecture, which is not the case. The second problem is that even though this motherboard comes with four USB 3.0 ports, two are available in a header, and the manufacturer didn’t include a bracket for using them. We hope Gigabyte can fix these problems before the product is officially launched.