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Seven $260-$320 X79 Express Motherboards, Reviewed

Gigabyte GA-X79-UD3

We've seen a lot of excitement surrounding Gigabyte’s $260 X79-UD3, from early overclocking failures to recent spectacular successes. But before we consider the firmware that bridges this transition, a quick look at the hardware could demonstrate why this continues to be such a newsworthy product.

The least-expensive of today’s contenders, the X79-UD3 still includes a standard set of mid-market enthusiast features, such as front- and rear-panel USB 3.0, eSATA, and two additional SATA 6Gb/s ports via a third-party controller. Gigabyte goes one step further, though, by endowing this product with four-way SLI support, rather than the three-way capability we'd expect to find on a more affordable platform, besting its own X79-UD5.

Gigabyte does remove a few things to facilitate the X79-UD3’s lower price, such as the UD5-version’s Bluetooth/Wi-Fi card and eight-DIMM support. But only a minority of enthusiasts will miss those particular features (surely not the gamers who prefer to play over wired network connections).

The X79-UD3’s only major layout weakness comes from the placement of two SATA ports along the bottom edge, where attached cables would typically block the installation of a fourth graphics card. While most users in the -UD3's target market don’t actually want or need ninth and tenth internal drives, they're equally justified in not wanting to pay for a feature they can’t use.

A minor issue that affects installation into some cases is the bottom-rear-corner audio connector, which is roughly half of an inch beyond the reach of many front-panel audio cables. A larger problem could be USB 2.0 and front-panel LED/power header placement, since those cables must typically be smashed flat to fit beneath a performance graphics card’s oversized fan cover. There are no perfect solutions to that problem, though the base of the plastic shell that surrounds each header also forces it to be roughly 1 mm taller.

Though only four SATA cables are included, the X79-UD3 adds an impressive collection of bridges to enable multi-card graphics arrays. CrossFire and SLI are presented alongside three- and four-way SLI, and users who need more-elaborate CrossFireX configurations will usually find an extra bridge with each of their cards.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.