If you recall our review of the GA-P67A-UD7 a few issues back, you'll remember how much we loved the new design direction that GIGABYTE took, and have continued to take since. The GA-990FXA-UD7 feels like the spiritual sibling of the P67 board, with a strikingly similar beauty and a penchant for performance. The ghastly blue and assorted pastel colour scheme is slowly being phased out of the product line, and we eagerly await the day that it’s withdrawn completely.
Board layout is well thought out, with a low profile SouthBridge heatsink, and power connections close to the edges of the motherboard. Cable hiding enthusiasts need not worry! Our testing session was made easy by having power/reset and 'clr CMOS' buttons at the ready. The latter has a plastic cap to prevent accidental clickage, just in case you're a tad lazy and fumble for buttons blindly (or take the cap off for some nerdy Russian Roulette!) Troubleshooting an issue with the board is as simple as matching the onboard debug LED to the codes outlined in the manual.
A nifty inclusion is GIGABYTEs 'Turbo XHD' automatic RAID0 configuration utility. Connecting two HDDs to the motherboard will bring up an option on boot to create a RAID0 array. It's then just a matter of hitting 'Y' and letting the motherboard do its thing. Beats doing it manually!
When you see 'UD7' tacked onto the end of a GIGABYTE motherboard model name, you know you're getting a high end product. Not unlike the ASUS Sabertooth 990FX, this board utilises an 8 + 2 phase VRM setup to feed clean power into the CPU. Four DDR3 DIMMs supporting up to 32GB of memory in dual-channel configuration are at your disposal. Overclocking will allow memory up to 2000MHz to be installed.
The audio codec chosen for this board is a Realtek ALC889. This features an esteemed 108dB signal-to-noise ratio DAC (Digital to Analogue Converted) and 104dB ADC (Analogue to Digital Converter), with support for 192kHz sampling rate. There's 10 DAC channels, eight for the ports on the rear, and two for stereo output on the front panel.
Dolby Home Theater technology is inbuilt, allowing emulated surround sound from two channel sources, or an increase from 5.1 to virtual 7.1 surround, in addition to other audio enhancements such as 'audio optimizer' to produce a flat frequency response.
The UD7 has a barebones bundle which features the obligatory SLI and CrossFire bridges to facilitate up to 4-way SLI/CrossFire, SATA cables, and a couple of small case stickers.
Connectivity is abundant, with eight USB 2.0 ports and two USB3.0 ports at the rear, a combined PS/2 port, FireWire, two eSATA (one 3Gb/s, the other 6Gb/s), a Gigabit LAN port, coaxial/optical S/PDIF out, and 6 audio jacks.
Overclocking the CPU was quite simple using the traditional Award BIOS. We set a voltage of 1.425 + 0.075v (1.5v) using CPU voltage control to attain 4.2GHz stable on our Phenom II X4 980. CPU-z read in an idle voltage of 1.536v, and 1.44v load. Interestingly, we didn't see any Load Line Calibration options to adjust the behavior of vDrop/vDroop, however we still managed a stable overclock.
AMD’s 990FX allocates 32 PCI-e 2.0 lanes to graphics, thus there's plenty of bandwidth for multi-card configurations. 16x/16x for dual cards, 16x/8x/8x for triple, and 8x/8x/8x/8x for quad.
This motherboard sits above the Sabertooth 990FX on the food chain, as it were. Our results agree with this, with the 990FXA-UD7 edging ahead in most tests. That being said, the difference isn't substantial. While this board performs above its competition, the real draws here are the extras such as the additional PCI-e slots, cutting edge design, and reasonable price. Reflecting back, it's actually quite amazing how such advanced componentry and design has become increasingly affordable and reliable over the years.
Although we're some time from getting our eager hands on Bulldozer parts, there is a market for this board. Namely, those who own AM3 CPUs and are looking to future proof their upgrade path.