Pros: Firewire, 4 memory slots, roomy layout
Cons: F3 shipping bios is troublesome, picky about memory.
Socket AM3 is the newest offering from AMD. Main improvements over earlier chips is multi-cores (like having multiple cpus) and improved bus speeds. The higher performance DDR3 memory chips also contribute to the overall speeds possible with this board.
I've been building Gigabyte products for years, for the most part they have been fantastic motherboards. I generally make it a policy to not buy brand new stuff...and this experience reminds me why. It generally takes about a year for all the little issues to be worked out of a new product due to the huge variety of what can be plugged into the board that's just the reality; let somebody else have the teething issues.
A friend of mine wanted a hot new system for video editing and some gaming and music handling, this was on sale at directron and had everything he wanted so I decided to give it a go.
What's in the box:
Floppy and IDE cable
Four SATA cables
External SATA backplane connector with 5 pin power connection
CDROM with drivers and utilities
AMD socket AM3 supporting Phenom X4 (and presumably higher)
Firewire (a) 2 on backplane, one more internal connector (no connector supplied)
Built in audio (junk replace it)
Crossfire ready (2 pcie x16)
2 pcie x4 slots
two pci slots
On board cmos clear switch(no more dumb little jumpers)
On board power switch
6 usb ports on backplane
6 SATA ports (southbridge), 4 more SATA additional controller
plugs for 4 more usb plugs on motherboard (no connector supplied)
Dual bios (not socketed)
Gigabyte recovery utility included on their cd
What I wish it had:
Many motherboards used to incorporate a readout (i.e. post card) that would provide a two digit code to assist in troubleshooting; not on this board.
Socketed Bios (if you trash your bios it's very handy to be able to order a updated chip and pop it in without sending the whole board back for a reprogram). The dual bios seems to have made this a thing of the past, Gigabyte also includes some sort of backup utility as well.
Install CPU & fan (watch orientation of cpu carefully, these are not as well marked as earlier chips but they still only go in one way..bent pins are still a very bad thing)..the blank sections on the bottom of the cpu are a bit easier to line up with the matching parts of the socket than the traditional arrow (which is really hard to see on this socket for whatever reason).
Install memory (be sure it pops all the way down, new sockets usually need a bit of force to seat the chip properly)
Connect the power supply: (note: at least 500W recommended and the unit must have an auxiliary 8 pin connector (for the video cards if I'm not mistaken); meaning you're nearly guaranteed to need a new power supply. The board will run with a 4 pin auxiliary connector but not with crossfire. Dual rail power supply is always preferred over a single 12V rail when running dual video cards.
As with all new boards, check the button cell that backs up the cmos, often these boards have been on a shelf for a little while and these are dead or close to being so; I just replace them automatically to be safe. Many motherboards won't boot if that battery is dead.
Install at least one pcie video card (ATI crossfire ready or not--i.e. single ATI cards work. Nvidia video cards work singly but no SLI support)
Install the backplane SATA connector
Install at least one Hard Disk
(don't install any more than this till the machine is loaded and running, this policy avoids possibly conflicts between hardware and resources used)
***NOTE: There are two SATA controllers on this board. The white plugs are from the onboard 790 chip southbridge, the blue are from a secondary Gigabyte controller. Always plug your first hard drive (boot drive) and primary cd/dvd player/burner into the white connectors. It shouldn't matter which white connector, but, if you plug to the blue, the machine cannot see the os to startup and it also won't load windows from the SATA cdrom/dvdrom. The onboard IDE connector is "always" seen first so if for some reason you cannot get the OS disk to be seen and load from a SATA device, try hooking up a good old fashioned IDE cdrom/dvdrom and that should work (remember to appropriately set master/slave jumper).
Connect keyboard and mouse, USB keyboard and mouse were supported perfectly (on some systems windows won't properly setup with usb keyboard/mouse you need to keep an old ps2 keyboard and mouse around or use a adapter for the mouse). My wireless logitech mouse was supported just fine (connects via usb)
Enter bios and set the cdrom as the first boot device, the hard drive as the second boot device. (as with most boards hit DEL key after first screen posting memory and listing devices)
Put windows in the optical device (this motherboard also supports a variety of other external methods of loading/backing up an OS, drivers, etc.).
Load chipset drivers off included cd-reboot
Get your antivirus package going as soon as possible(some antivirus won't run until updates are loaded)
Go to internet explorer under tools and go to windows update, let machine sit for hours loading updates (stay away from IE 8 for now, too many bugs)
If you couldn't get your antivirus and anti-malware going earlier do it now.
Look for driver updates for video card, chipset, audio etc.
Check the bios version, gigabyte includes a utility to update the bios through windows, these work fairly well but it's still more dangerous to do a bios update from windows than it is from a floppy drive or a usb zip drive before windows loads under the command prompt (us old techies still call it the DOS prompt even though windows stopped running on top of DOS quite awhile ago).
Gigabyte provides a "tweaking" utility, if you know what you're doing you can squeeze a bit more performance from your system; but this isn't for everyone (if you set the wrong stuff, it will automatically fall back to a working configuration on the next boot).
After everything is installed and running I believe in "burning" the new setup by leaving it on for at least 48 hours continuously. There are also software utilities (some of which are free) that will test components by continuously running algorithms that will make your system work hard (i.e. it pegs out the cpu). If something is going to fail, it will do it under a heavy load, this also gets everything all heated up so you can make sure there are no heat problems brewing in your setup(and the theory is it will get all your solder joints on the motherboard good and hot which will make em fail if they're going to. A good graphics intensive game, such as city of heros/city of villains or one of a ton of other recently released computer games is also a excellent test of your system; these really stress a system out well. There are also video demonstration/test bed utilities that sometimes come on your video driver disk that will give frame rate readouts etc. that are also a good test.
On first build, I got all my components together, installed the hardware and all it would do was beep video card error; another video card didn't help. If you don't know, Beep codes are a throwback to the good old ancient history of personal computers, instead of a "post card" as some later motherboards include, a pattern of beeps gives you a clue what is wrong...that single "beep" you get when the machine beeps is music to the ears because it means everything talked correctly and it's all running correctly. After messing around for hours and even trying a "bench boot" outside the case, I couldn't get it going and I didn't have components to swap; had to sent it back to directron. I believe all they did was update the shipping bios from F3 to F4 (which often makes all the difference in the world) but they didn't include any notes about what they did so that's only a guess. Ask before you buy which Bios is on it, F3 is the shipping version from Gigabyte......make sure it's F4 or later, for all the money they want for this thing it would be something I'd demand.
This board is picky about memory. I started with a pair of patriot 2 meg chips bought from directron. After the return all it would do is beep power error with the components installed. I tried another older power supply same result. I had purchased a set of crucial chips for myself for a future build, bingo! machine finally booted. Patriot are supposed to be like Kingston..lower priced but I haven't had problems with them in the past. Which memory a motherboard "prefers" depends on what chips it was "tuned" with. This one apparently likes Crucial chips, other brands that are well regarded are Mushkin, Corsair and Samsung.
AMD is only supporting crossfire on their new chipsets because they purchased ATI awhile agao...shame they did that. I won't be getting one of these for myself because I don't want to lose my investment in my set of SLI nvidia video cards. An Nvidia version of the 790 chipset is due out soon, I hope gigabyte builds an equivalent to this board with SLI support via the Nvidia chipset.
My hardware setup:
AMD X2 Phenom 3.0 ghz cpu (got this due to old bios problem because the shipping bios should support it, will soon install the phenom x4 2.6 ghz my friend purchased)
4 megabyte Crucial DDR3(pair of 2 meg chips
Sapphire 4830HD (ATI chip) with 1 meg onboard ram
Seagate 1.5 terabyte 3.5" internal hard drive
XP 32 bit professional OS (no good 64 bit OS out yet that supports everything and I refuse to get VISTA due to Microsoft's current licensing rip off for OEM os disks).
What I think of this?
This was a very annoying install. I've never had so much problem with a Gigabyte product in the past; they are generally excellent motherboards. I'm sure most of the issue is that it's a new product having teething pains. All this just reminds me why it's my policy to never buy anything that just comes out; let somebody else deal with the hassles. The new DDR3 memory is not available at any of my local sources yet so plan to purchase it online. The new DDR3 memory has a dizzying number of speeds, and, to make it worse there are two different ways to classify it; make sure you really closely check what you're buying. This board will handle PC-8500 aka 1066 DDR3 memory, about the slowest and the cheapest right now and it also handles "dual channel" aka "ganged" mode memory chips. PC-8500 is not fast enough to run at bus speed with the faster cpus but unless you're trying to squeeze every ounce of performance from your system you won't really notice much difference in the real world. You can spend as much on a set of fast memory chips as you did on the whole computer...I started basic, can upgrade later but I'm really not convinced that three hundred dollar memory chips will make a giant amount of difference; I'd need to see some hardware tests to believe that one. The faster memory means that the memory bus runs at the same speed as the cpu bus...which can give performance boosts that's one of those things it's up to you how much you can spend.
Now that everything is running well I like the board. This motherboard has a huge number of upgrade possibilities. Firewire has become a bit of a rarity on many motherboards because Apple gets royalties for every board that uses it; I find it a little strange that firewire B has been out for awhile but they put only A on the board, perhaps a royalty matter. The AM3 chips have a great reputation for being overclockable if you're into that sort of thing. I bought a boxed cpu that included a fan but the included fans are often "basic" and not suited to overclocking, you may want to invest in a third party fan (i.e. heatpipe). The fans on these chips install similarly to the older AM2 chips, lock onto the ring around the cpu and use a flip handle to tension it down so it doesn't move. The amd stock fan includes a patch of heat sink compound but you may wish to invest in some artic silver 5 compound made for the latest cpus to ensure better heat transfer. The bios selections on this motherboard, like most Gigabyte products, are comprehensive...a tweaker would have a great time with this board. A lot of bios settings can be a real blessing if you're trying to troubleshoot some sort of strange problem.
It's a great board, this time it was a very annoying install, with later bios versions yours may not be the problem I had. If you purchase it from a place that offers testing (for a fee of course) take advantage of that. I wish I'd spent the 20 at directron to test it before I got it because I ended up paying 12 bucks and time to send it back. This is the newest AMD tech out for the consumer, you may want to wait another 6 months to a year to let them get the rest of the bugs out.
Query: Why can't this board support SLI if it's got two pcie slots? I was really curious about why if this board appears to have the right hardware that only crossfire works here and not SLI. Apparently it's mostly a Nvidia licensing issue (and apparently all about who's sued them about it). Either standard "supposedly" works if the motherboard runs two pcie x16 slots (although I did read the SLI needs a bit more hardware support than crossfire does). Nvidia drivers supposedly look for a "tag" in the bios of the motherboard. Apparently at one time the hackers had found a way around the issue (in the drivers) but lately nvidia has patched for that work around and worked diligently to stop it from occuring again. The x85 intel chipset (apparently only Intel processors) can support both SLI and crossfire because Nvidia got sued over the stance and due to something in their contract lost that court case; so if you go intel and have that particular chipset you can have both crossfire and sli support on your motherboard. Personally, I really think Nvidia is making a mistake with that stance...their chipsets were at one time really well regarded but not as much lately. Perhaps I need to rethink my objections to ATI video cards, since AMD purchased them there seem to be a whole lot fewer issues with them. I've got a pair of nvidia 9600's in my desktop but I can attest that the sapphire card I put in my friend's box seems to be able to produce equal quality in my favorite game (city of heros) and that's with only one card.... I don't like companies that try to create monopolies for themselves (i.e. microsoft or issues like this one) or companies that allow big brother into my computer without my permission (i.e. the Intel chip ID fiasco about 20 years ago which is why I'll never have an Intel cpu if I can avoid it) so perhaps an ATI crossfire setup is in my future, not sure yet.
Update: This board is getting tough to find for sale. My favorite computer parts site has stopped carrying it and I haven't seen it on newegg.com for awhile either. Gigabyte generally makes excellent products.....maybe this was just one of thier occasional slightly bad apples. My friend is not particularly savvy in the computer stuff and I get the occasional call that it's doing something weird or won't boot right or something. The bios update utility doesn't seem to have the latest bios that you can get on the gigabyte site, I need to make a moment to go look to see if they have newer. Have not yet tried crossfire on this board, as I said initially this one wants champagne memory chips...maybe that's the issue but the ones in there now are good chips. I never have the hiccups he has when I use it...I told him I'd get him another board and take it off his hands maybe it just likes me better ;-). I still think it's a great board just a little quirky apparently, I'm also running win 32 bit professional on that system...possibly an upgrade to xp 64 bit oor windows 7 64 bit might help a lot (you could not pay me to have vista, even a free copy). I am still impressed with the new ATI cards but I have found that if the computer doesn't boot with the monitor active (such as on kvm setups) the resolution may not be correct which can cause a few issues if you switch back and forth between machines.