Packaging________________________________________________________________ Packaging is the standard Gigabyte white box with features clearly detailed. On the back of the box we find one thing that stands out – X-Fi. Though this board does not have the actual X-Fi chip it does allow the X-Fi feature set to be enabled on the Realtek ALC898. The one question here is, because we want HW sound acceleration, can the Alchemy software increase frame rates in games and/or enable EAX features without an actual Creative Labs sound chip? We will try to run a couple of tests to find out.
Detailed Views____________________________________________________________VRM cooling is neat and tidy using a heat pipe to help keep temperatures nice and even; thus, the Chipset and VRMs were kept within +7 degrees (measures at the heat sinks with a dual probe thermocouple) of case ambient at idle and ~14 degrees above case ambient while the CPU was being stress tested. A variance of 7.0 degrees between the chipset and the VRM heat sinks was noted during AIDA stress testing with the CPU clocked at 4.6Ghz using 1.320v. All in all this seems to be a good cooling solution for the chipset and VRMs when not using extreme cooling and going for world records.
The on-board mSATA II port (located in the center of the board) comes in very handy when you are limited in expansion options, you want to use this port for ISRT (Smart response SSD drive caching) or you just want to use it – because it is there. For our testing the SSD caching option was used; thus, we feel this is a value added feature as all boards do not have a mSATA port.
Speaking of value added – Gigabyte has given us some of the bells and whistles we do love so much. The Dual BIOS switch (located at the bottom of the motherboard) and POST readout (visible from most angles with Debug codes in back of manual) are here as are the on board power on button, reset button and clear CMOS button and are easily accessible with a pencil eraser. The Voltage test points can be a bit of a bother without long test probes or probe extensions.
Ports, Ports, Ports! Nine internal SATA ports and one external SATA port comprised of – 2x SATA III Intel, 4x SATA II Intel and 3x SATA III ports powered by Maevell internal and one Marvell external SATA III port. The Intel ports and two of the Marvell ports are raid capable. Adding to these are four rear panel USB 3.0 ports, two front panel USB 3.0 ports via the included 3.5″ drive bay insert, two USB 2.0 rear panel ports and one external IEEE 1394 Firewire provided by a VIA VT6308 port. Headers provide further expansion in the form of one IEEE 1394 header also provided by the VIA VT6308, and 4 additional USB 2.0 headers powered by the VIA VL810.
Manual___________________________________________________________________ The manual is very detailed (I usually do not cover this but as of late I have seen some poorly written manuals that were lacking in content and detail) allowing even a novice to get things up and running in short time. From motherboard layout and chipset block diagram to CPU and memory installation Gigabyte has you covered. Beyond this the manual also covers the BIOS and included software in the same detailed fashion.