The motherboard market is an extremely competitive one. It depends on a few chipset suppliers—namely AMD, Intel, Nvidia, SiS and VIA—and has several large companies that control the majority of the market--Asus, ECS, Foxconn, Gigabyte, and MSI. Other players occupy niche markets or specialize in specific areas, but they don’t pull the strings anymore. Differences among motherboards can be found in areas such as component quality, features, overclocking capabilities, power efficiency, and support, but you still need to be an enthusiast to appreciate most of these.
Gigabyte just took a new direction in order to improve its mainstream motherboards. The new Ultra Durable 3 combines high-quality components with a larger amount of copper within the layers of the circuit board.
Motherboard makers who want to be successful in the retail market have been optimizing their products for maximum performance. Tight specifications and advancing integration of key functions—such as the memory controller moving into the processor—leave less room for performance tuning. This means that the only way to differentiate is to provide better overclocking capabilities.
All major brands have invested a lot into improving board designs and into adding overclocking options. The result is impressive: even mainstream motherboards based on current chipsets for the Intel Socket 775 platform can reach a 450 MHz base clock speeds (FSB1800-2000), if not more.
At the same time, motherboard companies and end-users have become sensitive to power consumption. While knowledgeable users will agree that high-performance products will always require more power to get tasks done quickly, the trend is toward efficiency and, more importantly, a reasonable balance. PCs and their components should require as much power as necessary to deliver the level of performance required, but as little power as possible, especially when components run idle. This information is particularly important for less technical users, as many people still believe that PCs always require the same amount of power, no matter what they do.
Dynamic Power Management
In an effort to increase energy efficiency, motherboard makers have to do the splits between providing stable power supply circuits and making sure that motherboards only utilize as much power as needed at various loads. Multiple voltage regulator phases improve power supply stability at high loads, but they decrease efficiency at low loads. To achieve this goal, more motherboard makers use dynamically switched voltage regulators, which enable additional phases at high loads and switch them off when little power is needed.
Back to the Roots?
Since there is very little room for further improvement, Gigabyte decided to modify its motherboard products at the basic level. The firm introduced a technology that it markets as Ultra Durable 3. This feature includes using what Gigabyte considers to be the highest-quality components, such as ferrite choke cores, solid capacitors, and low resistance MOSFETs (field effect transistors that are used for voltage regulation). It combines these with a greater amount of copper within the individual layers of the printed circuit board for the ground and power inner layers. In this way, Gigabyte hopes to reduce voltage regulator temperatures by improving heat dissipation through the increased amount of copper, and to reduce resistance within the copper layers, which Gigabyte says helps to further lower operating temperatures. As a consequence, stability and overclocking margins should increase as well. We put the company's EP45-UD3P on our test bench, which is a mainstream Core 2 motherboard equipped with the new Ultra Durable 3 feature.