Intel and AMD have been on the opposite sides of the CPU world for more than 20 years. Going all the way back to the days of the 2x86 when AMD had a license to make the Intel based CPU, we have seen these two companies play a game of cat and mouse in terms of CPU technology (if not performance).
Lately the challenge has been to find an efficient way to mate a powerful CPU with a powerful GPU. AMD calls this Fusion while Intel calls this Sandy Bridge. Sandy Bridge represents an evolutionary change to Intel's CPUs. With it we find even higher-end CPUs with a built in GPU. The new silicon requires a new socket and of course a new chipset. This is the P/H/Q 67(5) Chipset. As the date nears for the release of Intel's new CPU, we are starting to see the influx of motherboards built around the new P6x chipset. Interestingly, GIGABYTE was the first out of the gate with early "preview" samples. We have had a few days to take a deep look at the new P67A-UD7 and to see how it is put together.
Unfortunately, we cannot give you any performance numbers, but we can tell you about how it is built and also what you will get with it when you pick it up.
The Box and What's InsidePackage and Contents
I have to say that I like the new style of packaging that GIGABYTE is using. The box for the P67A-UD7 is a glossy black with a partially faded image of the board on the front. The part that is most visible is the new 1155 CPU socket and the redesigned cooling. Of course, there is still room for a few logos and a corner banner proclaiming the P67A-UD7's Unlocked Performance.
Under the "hood" of the box we find some more typical marketing material. There is small window that allows you a glimpse of the motherboard (the area around the CPU socket). There are also a few images of the new cooling system and a drawing of how it works.
On the inside of the flap there is even more marketing material. This is similar to the usual items you would find on a higher-end motherboard.
Inside is a nice pile of loot. You get a few SATA cables, a bracket for external SATA (including power cables), an SLI bridge and even a Three-way SLI bridge.
One thing that is interesting to find in the box is the warning label about not using an 1156 CPU in this board. This is a fairly important warning as the sockets are very close in size. You can actually fit an 1156 CPU in this board. However, it will not work and in the end you will have a dead board and CPU for your efforts.
The MotherboardThe Board
The P67A-UD7 is a sleek and sexy looking board. The new gold and black cooling system is quite eye catching. The new black PCB is certainly a departure from the older blue. However, the layout is also a little cluttered. You have quite a bit going on here.
Starting in the upper half of the board we get a nice glimpse into the power regulation. GIGABYTE has moved back to massive phase arrays. Here we see the ferrite chokes for the 24-phase power regulation system available on the P67A-UD7. This is part of the "unlocked performance" you get with this new board.
We also note that GB has placed a small CMOS switch near the 24-pin power connector. This is fairly close to the reset switch (which is the small blue button visible).
In the shot above we can see that the RAM slots are shifted a little to the left of the board. This does make the space around the CPU a little tight. In fact, there is a row of small capacitors right next to the CPU socket. Thankfully these are low rise and should not interfere with most CPU coolers. We also get a nice look at the cooling system. This is quite a departure from older UD7 boards as there is no extra cooling. The SilentPipe II is gone. Instead we find large slices of metal that are wrapped around the metal heat pipe. We are really looking forward to seeing how well this keeps things cool.
Here we see the peripheral slots; we have PCIe and PCI mixed in together. We can clearly see four PCIe x16 mechanical slots, but as usual not everything is as it seems. Only two of these slots are going to give you full x16 (these are run by a single NF200 hidden under a cooling block just below the CPU socket), while the other two are only x8.
But outside of the slots there is something else that is noteworthy. If you look closely you can see two NEC USB 3.0 controllers. This is odd as from everything we have heard USB 3.0 is built into the new P67 chipset. What we have found is that the P67 uses up a single x1 slot which then runs out to the USB 3.0 controller and a VLI 4 port USB 3.0 Hub to replicate the ports. VLI is actually VIA in disguise and the VLI VL810 is actually visible at the top of this image just above the PCIe x1 slot.
Here we find out why GB has decided to go with the NEC (or Renesas on some boards) controller plus VLI VL810 for USB 3.0. Along the bottom edge of the board are some USB 3.0 headers. Unfortunately as of this writing there is nothing to plug into these ports. But it is nice to know they are there.
Moving over to the other side of the board, we find a few interesting and unexplained items (we will know more once we get into the full review). We see the now familiar eight ports for SATA drives. However, the board manual says that four are SATA 3.0. We are only seeing one Marvell controller here for this. This could mean that at least one set of SATA 3.0 ports is being controlled by the P67 chipset. If this is true, that could be a huge deal for performance on whatever ports are being controlled. Again, we cannot wait to see what we find out.
The I/O panel is full of surprises. We find a total of six USB 3.0 ports, three GBe LAN ports, a dual purpose PS/2 port and more. The interesting thing that is not here is any kind of VGA out. With the new Intel CPUs there should be a built in GPU; however, the P67A-UD7 does not have any output to monitor of any sort.
Final ThoughtsFinal Thoughts
The P67A-UD7 from GIGABYTE has raised many questions. The product is clearly an almost complete redesign from their typical high-end layout. Gone are things like the Silent Pipe II cooling system and the 12 phase power that we had seen before. Now we are seeing a much more "brute" force attack on performance and also in design.
It is clear that the P67A-UD7 is not meant as a low end product. The removal of the VGA ports means that you cannot rely on the built in Intel Graphics, but will have to grab something from AMD or NVIDIA for your gaming and benchmarking pleasure.
The extra USB 3.0 ports come as something of a surprise. With the limited number of USB 3.0 devices these are something of a mystery. Still, I suppose they can be used for future devices. The overall effect of the board is of something new from GB. The black PCB, slots and even the new gold and black cooling suggests performance and power.
We really cannot wait to kick this thing into high gear and see what we can get. You can bet that as soon as we know how well it runs we will be letting you know, too.
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