P55A-UD6 is the top-shelf motherboard from Gigabyte for Intel socket LGA1156 processors (Core i5 and Core i7). Let’s take a look at this motherboard, which comes with the latest and greatest features like SATA-600, USB 3.0, six memory sockets, support to SLI and CrossFireX, 24-phase voltage regulator and more.
The box from P55A-UD6 resembles the one from P55-UD6 (which we wrote about recently). It is two times taller than standard motherboard boxes and the upper side is actually a door that, once opened, allows you to see the motherboard. Inside the box there is a plastic box that holds the motherboard, and a cardpaper box with manuals, accessories and cables, which justify the double-height box.
P55A-UD6 has a feature Gigabyte calls "333 Onboard Acceleration", which consists in three characteristics with the number three: USB 3.0 ports, USB ports with 3x current capacity and SATA 3.0 ports (SATA-600). It overthrones its competitor ASUS P5P55D Premium in these characteristics, because this motherboard from ASUS has SATA-600 but not USB 3.0 ports.
Another feature available is the "Smart 6" application suite that comes with the board, including "Smart QuickBoot", "Smart DualBIOS", "SmartQuickBoost", "Smart Recorder", "Smart Recovery" e "Smart TimeLock".
Looking at the motherboard we immediately see the cooling system, with heatpipes connecting the heatsinks from the voltage regulator transistors, chipset and another heaksink that seems to be the southbridge cooling solution. But P55 chipset does not have a southbridge! In the next few pages we will see what exactly that heatsink cools down.
One of the main features of the socket LGA1156 CPUs is the presence of a PCI Express 2.0 controller integrated in the CPU. This controller supports an x16 connection or two x8 connections. P55A-UD6 seems to have three PCI Express x16 slots, but a careful look reveals that only the first one is really x16. The second slot works at x8 and is good to remember that if you install a video card on it the first slot also works at x8. The third slot is actually a PCI Express x4 slot controlled by the chipset. You can install a regular video card on this slot, but it will work at x4. Besides that, this third slot does not offer support for SLI or CrossFireX arrays. Keep in mind that SLI support on P55 motherboards will depend whether the manufacturer has licensed this technology from NVIDIA and thus not all motherboards based on Intel P55 chipset support SLI.
Gigabyte P55A-UD6 also offers two PCI Express x1 slots and two standard PCI slots.
[nextpage title=”Memory Support”]
Socket LGA1156 CPUs, as well as Intel socket LGA1366 and AMD processors, have an integrated memory controller. All other Intel CPUs use an external memory controller, located on the northbridge chip (also known as MCH, Memory Controller Hub) of the chipset. This means that on this processors the chipset (better said, the motherboard) is the key component that says what technologies and how much memory you can install on your computer.
Since now the memory controller is inside the CPU, it is the processor, and not the chipset, that defines the 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.
At the moment, the integrated memory controller of socket LGA1156 processors supports only DDR3 memories up to 1,333 MHz under dual-channel architecture, however Gigabyte says P55A-UD6 supports DDR3 memories up to 2600 MHz through overclocking. This motherboard has six DDR3 sockets (feature usually seen only on socket LGA1366 motherboards). At this moment DDR3 memory modules can have up to 4 GB each, but this motherboard "only" supports up to 16 GB total because it does not support six double-sided modules (i. e. modules with memory chips soldered on both sides), supporting only four double-sided modules or a combination of two double-sided modules and four single-sided modules (which have chips only on one side of the module).
In order to achieve the maximum performance you should install two, four or six memory modules to enable dual-channel architecture. When only two modules are used make sure to install them on the white sockets. If you install six modules, the ones installed on blue sockets must be single-sided. Gigabyte used a simple but efficient color scheme to identify the memory sockets and their compatibility with single- and double-sided modules.
Figure 6: Memory modules. Install two, four or six modules for the best performance.
Near the memory sockets there is a big power button, which allows you to turn on your computer with no need to connect the buttons from the case. It is a great feature when there is a small button to do this, and having a big one is almost an enthusiast’s dream.
[nextpage title=”On-Board Peripherals”]
Intel P55 is a single-chip solution. The basic features provided by this chipset include six SATA-300 ports (RAID support is optional), 14 USB 2.0 ports supporting port disable, embedded Gigabit Ethernet MAC (Medium Access Control) and eight x1 PCI Express lanes. P55 does not support parallel ATA (PATA) ports.
Gigabyte P55A-UD6, however, has ten SATA ports, being six SATA-300, two eSATA and two SATA-600, and also one ATA-133 port. The blue ports seen in Figure 7 are SATA-300 controlled by the chipset, and they support RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10 (Intel Matrix Storage). The white ports are SATA-600, controlled by a Marvell 88SE9128 chip, supporting RAID 0 and 1. A JMicron JMB362 chip control two eSATA ports on the rear panel, supporting RAID 0, 1 and JBOD. There is also an ITE IT8213 chip that controls one ATA-133 port, supporting up to two IDE devices. This motherboard comes with an adapter that allows you to turn
two internal SATA ports into more two eSATA ports.
The ten SATA-300 connectors are placed facing the motherboard edge while the others are placed near the left edge of the motherboard, as you can see in Figure 7. This is a terrific solution, because on motherboards where the ports are facing up the video cards usually block the access to them or even completely prevent you from installing SATA cables on them.
Near the SATA ports you can see a two-digit display, which shows an error code in case of boot problems.
This motherboard has a floppy disk drive port, controlled by an ITE IT8729 chip.
Gigabyte P55A-UD6 offers 12 USB 2.0 ports from the 14 supported by the chipset, eight soldered on the rear panel and four available through internal headers. An interesting detail is the fact that two rear connectors are combo ones: they can either work as eSATA ports or as USB ports.
There is also two USB 3.0 ports on the rear panel, controlled by a NEC (Renesas) μD720200 chip. These ports achieve a maximum theoretical bandwidth of 5 Gbps (equivalent to 500 MB/s), against 480 Mbps (48 MB/s) of USB 2.0 ports.
This motherboard comes with a FireWire (IEEE 1394) controller with three FireWire ports, two soldered on the rear panel (one standard- and one miniature-sized) and one available on an internal header.
The audio section of this board is 7.1, produced by the south bridge chip with the aid of a Realtek ALC889 codec, which is one of the best available on the market, with a signal/noise ratio of 108 dB for its analog outputs and 104 dB at its analog inputs, so you can use this motherboard to work profissionally with audio and video editing with no need for a separated sound card. The motherboard provides independent analog audio outputs in 7.1 format, which is excellent. It also has coaxial and optical SPDIF outputs on its rear panel.
This motherboard has two Gigabit Ethernet ports controlled by two Realtek RTL8111D chips, which are connected to the system using PCI Express x1 lanes and therefore are able to achieve their maximum performance. These ports are compatible with "teaming" configuration, where both the ports are used as one in order to double the connection speed.
In Figure 8, you can see the rear panel of the motherboard: one PS/2 connector for keyboard or mouse (if you use it for a keyboard, you will need to use a USB mouse and vice-versa), eight USB 2.0 ports (two of them shared with eSATA ports), two USB 3.0 ports, SPDIF coaxial and optical outputs, two FireWire ports, two Gigabit Ethernet ports and independent 7.1 analog audio outputs.
Gigabyte P55A-UD6 has a legacy serial port, available through an internal header, but the motherboard does not come with the necessary bracket in order for you to use it.
[nextpage title=”Other Features”]
Gigabyte P55A-UD6 comes with other important features. All electrolytic capacitors used on this motherboard are solid from a Japanese manufacturer, which avoids the infamous leakage problem. The CPU voltage regulator circuit is equipped with ferrite chokes, which offer 25% less energy loss compared to iron shokes, and MOSFET transistors with low RDS(on) (low resistance when turned on), that consume less energy and generate less heat. Furthermore, this circuit uses a 24-phase design, which is awesome. For a better understanding of the importance of such design, read our Everything You Need to Know About the Motherboard Voltage Regulator Circuit tutorial.
Besides that, the copper power lanes on the motherboard are, accorging to Gigabyte, twice as thick as the ones found on other motherboards (this feature is called "2 oz copper"), which means less energy loss (and less heat dissipation), and more stable power for the components.
Figure 9: Top-notch voltage regulator circuit.
In Figure 10, you can see the accessory set that comes with P55A-UD6.
[nextpage title=”Other Features (Cont’d)”]
One amazing detail in P55A-UD6 is its cooling system. As we said before, this system has heatsinks over the chipset, the voltage regulator transistors and the last one seems to cool something where usually the chipset southbridge is located, all of them connected with heatpipes.
We removed this system to take a look and understand how it works. In Figure 11, you can see the heatsink set and in Figure 12 the motherboard without it.
Figure 11: Interlinked heatsinks.
Figure 12: Motherboard without heatsinks.
In Figure 13 we see the chips cooled by the last heatsink: ITE IT8213, which controls the ATA-133 port, and Marvell 9128, which controls the SATA-600 ports.
Figure 13: Chips under the last heatsink.
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
Gigabyte P55A-UD6 motherboard main features are:
- Socket: 1156.
- Chipset: Intel P55 Express.
- Super I/O: ITE IT8720F.
- Clock generator: ICS 9LPRS914EKLF.
- Parallel ATA: One ATA-133 port controlled by an ITE IT8213 chip.
- Serial ATA: Six SATA-300 ports controlled by the chipset (RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10) and two SATA-600 controlled by a Marvell 88SE9128 chip (RAID 0, 1).
- External SATA: Two, soldered on the motherboard rear panel (shared with USB ports) controlled by a JMicron JMB362 chip (RAID 0, 1, JBOD) and two converted from internal SATA ports using the I/O bracket that comes with the board.
- USB: 12 USB 2.0 ports, eight soldered on the motherboard (two of them shared with eSATA ports) and four available throu
gh two headers on the motherboard, plus two USB 3.0 ports controlled by a NEC D720200 chip.
- FireWire (IEEE 1394): Three ports controlled by a Texas Instruments TSB43AB23 chip, one standard-sized and one miniature-sized soldered on the rear panel, and another one available through a header. The board doesn’t come with an I/O bracket to use this third port.
- On-board audio: Produced by the chipset together with a Realtek ALC889 codec (ten channels, 24-bit resolution, up to 192 kHz sampling rate, 104 dB signal-to-noise ratio on inputs, 108 dB signal-to-noise ratio on outputs). On-board coaxial and optical SPDIF outputs.
- On-board LAN: Two Gigabit Ethernet ports, controlled by two Realtek 8111D chips, which are connected to the system through PCI Express x1 lanes.
- Buzzer: No.
- Power supply required: EPS12V (ATX12V compatible).
- Slots: Three PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots (first one working at x16 when only one video card is installed but at x8 when two video cards are installed, second working at x8 speed, and the third one always working at x4), two PCI Express x1 slots and two standard PCI slots.
- Memory: Six DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to 16 GB up to DDR3-1600/PC3-12800 or DDR3-2600 through overclocking).
- Number of CDs/DVDs provided: One.
- Programs included: Motherboard drivers and utilities.
- Extra features: Only Japanese solid capacitors, serial port, 24-phase voltage regulator circuit, clear CMOS button, two-ounce copper tracks, POST diagnostics display.
- More Information: https://www.gigabyte-usa.com
- Average price in the US*: USD 250.00
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.
Gigabyte P55A-UD6 is an excellent top-shelf motherboard for computers based on the socket LGA1156 platform. Its highlights are the new USB 3.0 and SATA-600 ports, six memory sockets, support for SLI and CrossFireX modes, 24-phase voltage regulator circuit and a professional-quality audio codec.
As you can read in our Seagate Barracuda XT 2 TB review (the first SATA-600 hard drive to be available on the market), at this moment the new SATA-600 interface does not improve performance, at least with hard disk drives. It is possible that in a near future manufacturers release SSD units capable to use this interface’s higher bandwidth. Same thing happens with the new USB 3.0 ports: at this moment we do now know of any device that uses the full potential provided by this new standard, but it should not take much time until USB 3.0 devices arrive on the market, especially external storage solutions.
Anyway, Gigabyte P55A-UD6 is one of the most complete motherboards on market today, with all the bells and whistles a computer enthusiast can desire.
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