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Tom's Hardware's 2009 Gift Guide: Part 1, For System Builders

Motherboard: Gigabyte P55A-UD6
By: Ed Tittel

If you’re looking for an excellent motherboard for your LGA 1156-based processor, and the Asus Maximus III Formula also covered in this guide doesn’t have the feature set for which you're looking, consider the Gigabyte GA-P55A-UD6 instead.

This solid platform costs about the same as the Asus model, but it offers support for USB 3.0 and 6.0 Gb/s SATA, as well as a raft of other features. Just one word of warning if these advanced features appeal: the controllers for both capabilities tie into the motherboard’s (and thus, CPU’s) integrated PCI Express. Using one or the other, or both, drops your primary graphics card transfer rate to x8. If you then decide to run in CrossFire or SLI mode, the USB and SATA controller get their connectivity from P55 instead, cutting total throughput to each in half.

If you can live with this limitation, there’s a lot to like about Gigabyte's P55-based flagship, though. It works with both LGA 1156-based Core i7 and i5 processors, and its six DDR3 slots support up to 16GB of system memory. "Six slots?" you ask. That's right. Although the Lynnfield-based processors only feature dual-channel memory controllers, Gigabyte is able to expose four slots on one channel and two on the other, giving you a little more room to upgrade if you opt for our recommended 8GB kit today.

The board's Realtek ALC889 audio codec supports up to eight channels (7.1) of high-def audio, including Dolby Home Theater. The dual Realtek RTL8111D GbE LAN chips support teaming and Smart Dual LAN to boost your bandwidth above 1 Gb/s on switched Gigabit Ethernet networks.

You’ll also find a boatload of ports and slots on this motherboard. It includes three x16 PCI Express slots (slot two tops out at x8 and slot three at x4 signaling rates), plus two PCIe x1 slots, and two conventional PCI slots. You can use the motherboard with either ATI CrossFire or Nvidia SLI (bearing in mind that slot one will slow to x8 signaling and USB 3.0/SATA 6 Gb/s interfaces run at half-speed, but still significantly faster than USB 2.0). There are six SATA 3 Gb/s connectors, and the board includes built-in support for RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10. There are two 6 Gb/s SATA connectors with built-in support for RAID 0 (not many 6 Gb/s drives are available just yet, but we should see plenty hit the market next year, including revamped SSDs that can really exercise this capability). Those who need to use legacy devices will appreciate continuing support for an IDE connector that handles ATA-133/100/66/33 for one or two drives. You’ll also find an integrated floppy disk controller as well.

Another nice touch about this motherboard: lots of fan headers: six in all, including a power fan, three system fans, a chipset fan, and a CPU fan. Rear panel connectors include a single PS/2 mouse/keyboard port, coaxial and optical S/PDIF audio outs, two FireWire ports, six USB 2.0/1.1 and six USB 3.0/2.0 ports, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, and a full complement of analog audio outputs.