For the first of our Z97 reviews, GIGABYTE sent us its mid-range Z97X-UD5H. This model is designed for the casual enthusiast interested in the higher end of the feature set but not so far in overclocking nor gaming. GIGABYTE has a new color scheme for its channel range, and is aiming for a reasonable $190 price point.

The Z97 Chipset

We covered the nuances of the Z97 chipset in our Haswell Refresh review on Sunday, but the take home message was storage. Z97 allows motherboard manufacturers to use chipset lanes for SATA Express and M.2 ports, bringing PCIe based storage to the desktop platform without the need for a PCIe card. At current, these solutions only provide two lanes of PCIe bandwidth (10 Gbps), which should be 66.67% faster than SATA 6 Gbps, but it all comes down to the controller on the device used. There are currently a few M.2 PCIe x2 drives on the market, mostly SATA based, but zero SATA Express, making the manufactures who invest in these storage technologies waiting for future product.

SATA Express offers the chance for users to implement either SATA or a SATA Express device on the motherboard, however using a SATA Express device removes those two SATA ports out of the equation for other drives.

M.2 (NGFF) drives can come in SATA or PCIe form factors, and as such motherboard manufacturers have the option of providing PCIe only M.2, SATA only M.2, or a slot that will affix to both. Looking at the current Z97 designs, it would seem that most manufacturers are using M.2 as PCIe storage only, making the point moot.

All this allocation comes from somewhere, and the Intel 9-series chipsets support Flex-IO to modify how the PCIe lanes are arranged:

The chipset has access to 18 ports, four of which are USB 3.0, four are SATA 6 Gbps and 6 are PCIe. This leaves two sets of two, the first set can be configured for either USB 3.0 or PCIe, and the second set are either SATA or PCIe, but only a maximum of eight PCIe ports are possible. This is designed as a catch-all interface for different sized motherboards, where some can use more PCIe lanes, others can use more USB 3 ports, and so on. Depending on how SATA Express is implemented, these lanes can be used and abused for storage purposes.

The Z97X-UD5H we are reviewing today has a SATA Express port on the motherboard, but unfortunately we do not have the tools to test it. GIGABYTE has used SATA ports from the chipset and included a SATA controller to offer two more SATA ports in case the SATA Express is in use, allowing six SATA devices in total alongside a SATA Express drive.

GIGABYTE Z97X-UD5H Overview

Motherboard design from the big four has gotten to a point where good is now average and excellent is the new good. The new battlegrounds include specific functionality, aesthetics, improving over the basics and user interaction. With Z87 we saw each of the manufacturers pick design philosophies for their ranges, and now with 9-series we are seeing the next iteration of those philosophies. For GIGABYTE’s channel motherboard line, the Ultra Durable moniker is the leading message, attempting to portray the use of higher quality components. This means the use of International Rectifier designs on the power delivery of most products, as well as per-port USB fusing, 15 micron gold in the socket and 10K black capacitors among others.

GIGABYTE is keen to promote the UD5H with both SATA Express and M.2 support. Most manufacturers are going to have a price point which combines these two features on a product rather than being selective having one of the other, and for the UD5H $190 does get both. One issue to consider for the manufacturers is that when either one to be used, the cost of the connectors has to be considered. M.2 uses a raised onboard connector whereas SATA Express is more a SATA-derived port. While talking about $0.05 here and there does not sound like much, believe me when I say that even these small costs are considered in the design process. These also introduce an element of chipset routing design, as using PCIe lanes for extra storage might move them away from other features. The UD5H gets around this by using a PCIe switch, meaning the user has a choice of either M.2, SATA Express, or two SATA 6 Gbps ports.

The Z97X-UD5H goes along the path of adding features respective to its price point: power/reset buttons with a two digit-debug, voltage measure points, SATA Express, an additional SATA 6 Gbps controller, a SATA power connector for VGA power, dual NICs (one Atheros Killer, one Intel), six fan headers, a USB hub for 8 USB 3.0 ports total, a SATA controller for 8 SATA 6 Gbps ports total and an x8/x4/x4 PCIe layout.

The BIOS gets a new frontage in the form of a ‘Startup Guide’, however there are still some BIOS user experience issues to iron out. Z97 also offers GIGABYTE users a chance to sample the second revision of its new operating system software. APP Center was a little rough around the edges during Z87, but the new solution on Z97 is more thought out and better planned, making it both easier to use and intuitive. 

While the supplied audio drivers give a distortion issue at 100% volume, this should be fixed with a driver update. The UD5H is the only Z97X motherboard in our testing to be under 12 seconds POST time at default, and also is in the low band for power consumption. CPU performance is commensurate with the other Z87/Z97 motherboards we have tested in our 2014 benchmark suite, and manual overclocking pushed our sample to 4.6 GHz. Automatic overclocking was a little too aggressive on the voltage, causing overheating on our i7-4770K.

We still need to get the lay of the land with a few more Z97 reviews, however at $190 the UD5H was easy enough to use and there were plenty of positive design inferences indicating that GIGABYTE is certainly putting a lot of time and effort into their product.

Visual Inspection

GIGABYTE in previous years has been known for its separate color schemes whereby the overclock line goes orange, gaming goes green, the low end channel is blue and the UD series is an almost free-for-all. Despite the backlash of gold colored motherboards in the last generation, it would seem that certain sections of the motherboard industry are at least warming to them, using a gold/mustard yellow hybrid with some degree of metallic character.

At first glance, the motherboard looks fairly empty. The old days of very busy motherboards with components all over the place have been relegated to the retirement home and the result is a more aesthetically pleasing product. Using a bright, metallic color on the heatsinks allows some of the areas to brighten up when lights are shining, which may help.

The socket area conforms to Intel specifications, with the chokes on two of the edges and DRAM slots on another. The power delivery heatsink, covering 40A rated IR3553 ICs, is slightly further back allowing larger coolers to take center stage. We have direct access to two of the fan headers on board, called CPU and CPU_OPT just above the socket. These are designed to cater for liquid loop coolers, where the pump is kept on by the CPU_OPT fan header. The other four fan headers are all at the bottom of the board, one of them three-pin and the rest are four-pin.

The DRAM slots are of alternating color, mimicking the SATA ports which also offer a black/grey combination to identify those powered by the chipset or controller. Moving clockwise around the motherboard, in the top right hand corner is a big red power switch flanked by two buttons for reset and clearing CMOS. There are also two switches next to these buttons – one for implementing DualBIOS (in case one BIOS is corrupted and needs to be reflashed with the other) and one for selecting which BIOS chip to use. For overclockers that might have multiple BIOS firmware versions for different benchmarks, this makes handing BIOSes a lot easier. Also for the overclockers are a series of voltage read points just above the 24-pin ATX power connector.

Beside the two-digit debug is a USB 3.0 header from the chipset, and then we come to the SATA ports. The two at top in grey are powered by a Marvell 88SE9172 controller, whereas the other six come from the chipset. The central column also contains the SATA Express connector. In order to better understand the SATA configuration, I pulled out the chipset diagram from the manual:

The important section is on the right, under dual BIOS. Here we have a switch where the user can have either two SATA ports, SATA Express or M.2. This switch happens automatically based on the detection during POST, which removes any form of hot plug capabilities.

Below the SATA ports is a SATA power connector, used for supplying more power to the PCIe slots in case a user wants to implement a 3x CrossFire solution.

The bottom of the motherboard contains the four aforementioned fan headers, two USB 2.0 headers, a TPM header, a COM header, the front panel audio header and the front panel header. Interestingly above the USB 2.0 headers are what looks like two SuperIO chips, despite the chipset diagram above only using one. One of these is actually the PCIe to PCI controller, which is surprisingly large for the function it does. I wonder if smaller versions of that IC are available.

The PCIe layout is indicative of a standard three-way PCIe implementation, with GIGABYTE choosing to support the x8/x4/x4 layout from the CPU. Due to the implementation of SATA Express and M.2 on the 9-series chipsets, it would make sense for more motherboards to this layout rather than sacrificing four PCH lanes for a PCIe 2.0 x4 slot. GIGABYTE has flanked this layout with a pair of PCIe 2.0 x1 slots from the PCH and two PCI slots via a bridge chip.

The audio subsystem is built around a Realtek ALC1150, with filter caps, a headphone amp for the rear panel and PCB separation.

The Rear IO abuses a Renesas USB 3.0 hub to one USB 3.0 port into four, bringing the total number of USB 3.0 ports the motherboard can handle to eight. The data sheet for the hub lists the idle power draw of the hub as 10 mW. Other ports on the rear panel include two USB 2.0 ports, a combination PS/2 port, video outputs (VGA, DVI-D and HDMI), two NICs (one Killer E2201, one Intel I217v) and the audio jacks.

Board Features

GIGABYTE Z97X-UD5H
Price Link
Size ATX
CPU Interface LGA-1150
Chipset Intel Z97
Memory Slots Four DDR3 DIMM slots supporting up to 32 GB
Up to Dual Channel, 1333-3200 MHz
Video Outputs VGA (1920x1200 at 60Hz)
DVI-D (19200x1200 at 60Hz)
HDMI 1.4a (4096x2160 at 24 Hz or 2560x1600 at 60 Hz)
Onboard LAN Qualcomm Atheros Killer E2201
Intel
Onboard Audio Realtek ALC1150
Expansion Slots 3 x PCIe 3.0 (x16, x8/x8 or x8/x4/x4)
2 x PCIe 2.0 x1 (PCH)
2 x PCI
Onboard SATA/RAID 6 x SATA 6 Gbps (Chipset), RAID 0/1/5/10
1 x M.2 PCIe x2 (Chipset)
1 x SATA Express (Chipset)
Note: M.2, SATA Express and SATA3_4/5 are connected, 
only one of the set can be used at once
2 x SATA 6 Gbps (Marvell 88SE9172), RAID 0/1
USB 3.0 4 x USB 3.0 (Chipset) [1 header,2 back panel]
4 x USB 3.0 (Renesas Hub) [4 back panel]
Onboard 8 x SATA 6 Gbps
1 x SATA Express
1 x M.2 PCIe
1 x USB 3.0 Header
2 x USB 2.0 Headers
6 x Fan Headers
1 x COM Header
1 x TPM Header
Power/Reset Buttons
Clear CMOS Button
Two-Digit Debug
2 x BIOS Switches
Voltage Read Points
Front Panel Header
Front Audio Header
Power Connectors 1 x 24-pin ATX
1 x 8-pin CPU 1 x SATA (for PCIe)
Fan Headers 1 x CPU (4-pin)
1 x CPU_OPT (4-pin)
4 x SYS (3 x 4-pin, 1 x 3-pin)
IO Panel 1 x Combination PS/2
2 x USB 2.0
VGA
DVI-D
HDMI
6 x USB 3.0
2 x Ethernet (ALC1150)
Audio Jacks 
Warranty Period 3 Years
Product Page Link

Users might notice that the Z97 motherboards will support higher rated memory, with small generational improvements in design allowing for 3200 MHz with the UD5H. The Killer E2201 NIC is advertised as a network port that prioritizes various traffic, although our sources put the E2201 as a normal Atheros NIC with Killer software in one sales package. This is chosen over buying a Broadcom NIC and licensing something like cFos, which might be more expensive and/or offers fewer advertising opportunities around the branding. Personally I would have preferred one or two of the four fan headers on the bottom of the motherboard to be nearer the top, allowing cases with fans on the rear and top to be easily accommodated.

GIGABYTE Z97X-UD5H BIOS
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  • Ian Cutress - Wednesday, May 14, 2014 - link

    At this point, it is more up to the motherboard manufacturer and what they implement.
    The chipset diagrams will show you how the slots are arranged, and which can be used at the expense of others. We will try and add these as we go forward.
    As for protocols, it is all AHCI right now.
    Reply
  • Jon-Tech - Wednesday, May 14, 2014 - link

    I wanted to ask about USB controllers. Are all the USB 2.0 ports using one controller? Are the USB 3.0 ports on the same controller? Also from the sounds of it, the extra USB 3.0 ports are just using a hub rather than an extra controller? Due to my setup I often run into USB bandwidth issues with lots of ports on one controller. So I'm looking at motherboards that have as many as possible for more flexibility and none of the review sites ever seem to mention how many there are!

    Regarding the z97 chipset, it appears that the xHCI Host Controller supports up to 6 USB 3.0 and 14 USB 2.0, this sounds like one controller. It also has two EHCI Host Controllers which support up to 14 external USB 2.0, though it doesn't look like any of the motherboards are using these. From the sounds of it this motherboard runs all the ports off the single controller? That strikes me as being daft and therefore unlikely, could you shed any light onto what the actual USB controller set up is please? I'm also unclear on how USB affects the PCIe lanes...
    Reply
  • repoman27 - Thursday, May 15, 2014 - link

    The Z97 chipset contains one xHCI which supports 14 USB ports, up to 6 of which can be USB 3.0. It also contains 2 legacy EHCI host controllers which can be used in lieu of the xHCI for USB 2.0 ports, but there are still only external connections for 14 USB ports total.

    With this board, it appears that Gigabyte has connected a motherboard header and the two back panel USB 3.0 ports above the HDMI port directly to the PCH xHCI, and then used a Renesas USB 3.0 hub chip to expand an additional PCH xHCI connection to support the other four back panel ports.

    The PCH is connected to the CPU via a DMI 2.0 x4 link, which is equivalent to PCIe 2.0 x4, and thus provides a maximum of 16 Gbit/s less protocol overhead of total bandwidth for all PCH attached devices. Obviously the nominal bandwidth of just 6 USB 3.0 ports is greater than that. What isn't so obvious is how the various controllers within the PCH are connected to the PCIe bus internally. From the benchmarks I've seen of previous chipsets, it would appear that the xHCI only has the equivalent of an x2 connection. This still makes it one of the fastest USB 3.0 controllers out there since the only discrete controller I know of with an x2 back end is the Etron EJ198. Seeing as most motherboard manufacturers use discrete controllers with x1 back ends and connect them to PCIe lanes coming from the PCH, the performance generally sucks. If you need more than 785 MB/s of USB 3.0 bandwidth, you'd be better off buying a card like the HighPoint RocketU 1144C and sticking it in a slot that uses some of the PEG lanes coming from the CPU.
    Reply
  • Jon-Tech - Thursday, May 15, 2014 - link

    Thanks repoman, you've been the most insightful into this from all the various places I've asked! That HighPoint card looks spot on though it's rather pricey, especially considering my old mobo has 3 controllers on it for the 2x USB 3.0 and 12x USB 2.0. Though I only know the amount of controllers cause I have it and can check.

    Seems the only way I'm going to actually find out controllers per motherboards is to ask owners on forums to check for me. It's a really quick test that reviewers could do and its just as annoying it's never listed in the official mobo specs! Alternatively I could buy and try them out for myself though that doesn't seem practical.
    Reply
  • Adriak - Wednesday, May 14, 2014 - link

    Why are there still (conventional) PCI slots on motherboards? Didn't they become obsolete when PCIe arrived in 2004? I understand these slots are likely added for legacy reasons, but are people still using PCI cards? What type of cards are they? Was the ISA bus supported for this long after it was effectively rendered obsolete? I am genuinely curious. Reply
  • Nathan539 - Wednesday, May 14, 2014 - link

    This would save me some money for my new comp that im building Reply
  • peterfares - Wednesday, May 14, 2014 - link

    Are people still using PCI devices on consumer boards? What could you possibly need to add that goes into PCI for home use? Reply
  • fluxtatic - Thursday, May 15, 2014 - link

    Sound cards. If you're not using the Asus Xonar or a Turtle Beach card, odds are good your discrete card is PCI. Reply
  • Luay79 - Thursday, May 15, 2014 - link

    Do you lose the 16 lanes for the single video card if you use M2/SAta Express SSDs? Reply
  • DanNeely - Thursday, May 15, 2014 - link

    No. See the block diagram at the bottom of the first page. The 16 CPU lanes go to the 16x physical slots. The M2/SataExpress connectors use lanes from the southbridge. Reply

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