The recent rollout of the LGA1156 platform has naturally resulted in the deluge of new motherboards with Intel P55. Even though there is only one chipset for this platform so far and only three processors, each manufacturer decided to launch at least four or five motherboards. It must be noted that it took almost a year to produce the same number of X58-based motherboards. And initially each company offered only one or two motherboards (Intel has offered only one, having rolled out four motherboards with P55). There is nothing surprising about it -- LGA1156 is positioned as a popular solution, not as a top product. Besides, the reduced number of bridges and simplified layout prepossess to the MicroATX format. So almost half of the announced products are MicroATX models, while there are only several products of this format based on X58. However, times hasn't come yet for plain utilitarian (and cheap!) motherboards for this platform -- as it usually goes, deluxe models with additional controllers appear the first, spiced up with additional controllers and other expansions. That's exactly what we are going to examine today.
At first glance Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 does not resemble a Mid-End product, but extreme modifications based on X58 for LGA1366 processors -- at least on the level of GA-EX58-UD5 from the same manufacturer. Especially if we take a look at three PCIe 16x slots and six (!) memory slots. This model was initially planned to support SATA600. However, they had to give up this tempting idea because of problems with the Marvell controller. Anyway, this motherboard stands up to its top status -- 10 x SATA plus 2 x eSATA (it's something new for Gigabyte motherboards -- even its top models used to lack sterling implementation of eSATA), three-port FireWire controller based on a chip from Texas Instruments, two gigabit network controllers, a powerful cooling system with four heatsinks connected with a heat pipe, etc. What else can a user wish. In fact, it's unfortunately impossible to use all the features simultaneously, and some of them may be left unclaimed. But let's not put the cart before the horse.
We'll start with slots for graphics cards or other adapters with the high-speed PCIe interface. X58 supports over 32 PCIe 2.0 lanes, so motherboards with this chipset can use two or three graphics cards -- 16x+16x or 16x+8x+8x (that is one slot always works at full speed; when two cards are installed, the second slot also operates at full speed; three cards also have sufficient bus throughput). But the integrated PCIe controller in LGA1156 processors supports only 16 lanes, which can be assigned to one slot or shared 8x+8x between two slots. Where has the third slot come from? The same as the fourth slot on some X58-based motherboards -- required lanes are taken from the Southbridge (it's the only bridge in the P55), so it's not very easy for a secondary graphics card to contact system memory or a processor: it will be limited by the 2GB/s DMI, so it makes no sense to give more than four PCIe lanes to this slot. And it's not the last problem -- P55 supports eight PCIe lanes, of course. However, if half of them is given to the third 16x slot, what about all these additional network and disk controllers and two PCIe 1x slots on the board? This contradiction can be easily solved -- it's impossible. You cannot have everything at once: you have to choose. It's either three full-size slots (8x+8x+4x) and no eSATA ports on the rare panel, or no expansion cards PCIe 1x. That is when three graphics cards are installed, there will be only two PCI slots or nothing left, because their cooling system will block these graphics cards. Or we use eSATA and obtain three PCIe 1x slots, the third of which is... the bottom full-size slot! Hence a conclusion: 90% of users are likely to use this very slot, so there was no point in this unnecessary switching. Especially as it could have been done in a more convenient way. For example, why do both network controllers always work, while you may have to sacrifise the upper PCIe 1x connector, which is never blocked, so it can be easily used for expansion cards (long cards won't install there because of the large heatsink on the chipset, but there are many short ones already)? Besides, we shouldn't choose between PCIe 4x and the only eSATA controller, it would have been better to disable the SATA controller that adds only the ninth and tenth ports on the board. However, the last irrationality appeared because it was necessary to abandon SATA600 (it was ideologically wrong to disable this controller) at the last moment, so they had no time to overhaul everything.
It's even easier with memory, as there are no strange compromises to make. All six memory slots can be used. However, the total number of supported banks is eight anyway, so you won't get an opportunity to install more memory: you can install only 16 GB of memory, just like on motherboards with four memory slots. You can install four dual-bank modules, two dual-bank and four single-bank ones -- the end result is the same. As in the previous case, only one option will be popular, while the second is implemented just to observe formalities.
Now let's talk about the cooling system. The typical modern approach is to use two compact heatsinks on Mid- and Low-End motherboards and good-looking intertwining of heat pipes in top models. It should be noted that Intel with its P55 did a nasty trick to motherboard manufacturers -- this "chipset" consists of only one chip consuming less than 5W, that is similar to old Southbridges and four-five times as low as Northbridges. Following this line of reasoning, this chip does not even need a heatsink. And if it does, a low-profile device will suffice. However, it will look too utilitarian, which is acceptable only in inexpensive motherboards. So Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 has four heatsinks connected with a heat pipe: two of them are installed on VRM, the largest one is on the PCH P55. And the fourth heatsink is placed right where most motherboards have the Southbridge. But in this case it covers just a couple of SATA controllers (which do fine without cooling in 90% of motherboards).
Looks nice, but excessive. Sometimes it may even act as an obstruction -- the high heatsink on the PCH, for example, does not allow to install long expansion cards into the upper PCIe 1x slot.
Redundancy is the keyword in the description of this motherboard. However, never too much of a good thing: two additional memory slots may come in handy in some cases. The same concerns the full-size PCIe slot in the bottom -- it's an all-purpose solution. Besides, spreading the heat across a larger surface may be useful. It won't necessarily be, but it may: for example, if a CPU socket is surrounded from three sides with heatsinks, at least one of them will be ventilated by the CPU cooler or other fans. The other peculiarities of the motherboard will definitely prove to be useful.
In particular, the new PWM controller has broken a new record with 24 (!) channels. It's too much for the nominal operating mode (redundancy again!), but overclockers will love it. As this model is designed for the latter in the first place (DDR3 2600+ would have made no sense otherwise, considering that the nominal mode for LGA1156 processors is only DDR3-1333), there is nothing surprising that Gigabyte mentions this number of channels in the list of motherboard features on the first place. But traditional advantages of Ultra Durable 3 motherboards (more copper in power and ground lines as well as solid-state capacitors from Japan) will be welcome by all users. At least by those users, who a re ready to pay for all these features -- the company had to resort to the eight-layer design of the PCB, the other bells and whistles do not come free of charge either, so the GA-P55-UD6 won't do for an inexpensive computer. The company has other models for this segment, but this motherboard is a perfect choice for a top configuration (especially for serious overclocking and a couple of graphics cards).
By the way, enthusiasts will certainly appreciate the choice of controls on the PCB, which are critical for a motherboard installed in an open testbed. Unlike some other manufacturers, the company decided against such dummies as an overclock button, providing really necessary controls instead. It's a Power On/Off button (illuminated blue) and two utilitarian buttons to clear CMOS and to reset a computer. We are only a little surprised by their locations: it has become a rule of thumb to place all buttons at the bottom edge of the board, not at random. However, this layout is not inconvenient either, and you don't have to use a screwdriver to power off the assembly. Besides, the POST LED indicator is a simple enough element even for ten year-old models. But what's really important, it's installed and working, it does not matter how it looks.
And it goes without saying that the GA-P55-UD6 is equipped with Dual BIOS like all top models from Gigabyte. Opinions differ as far as its necessity is concerns. But it's definitely not useless. Especially considering that many users still feel suspicious about flashing BIOS right in Windows, and the proprietary utility @BIOS works exactly this way (the most convenient method to update BIOS, because it searches for the latest versions and flashes them).
Some users may highly appreciate how carefully Gigabyte rids of the ballast of the past: this motherboard is equipped even with a floppy connector and a COM port (though in the form of a pin header on the PCB, that is you will have to look for a cable to install it on the rear panel), to say nothing of the PATA interface. There are also two PCI slots (one of them will always be accessible) to please retro users.
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