Gigabyte Z77X-UP4 TH Motherboard
By Gabriel Torres on August 6, 2012
The Z77X-UP4 TH is a mainstream socket LGA1155 motherboard from Gigabyte targeted to the “Ivy Bridge” processors (third-generation Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 processors). Its main highlight is the presence of two Thunderbolt ports. Let’s see what the Gigabyte Z77X-UP4 TH has to offer.
The Intel Z77 is an upgraded version of the Z68 chipset with the same basic features (Intel Smart Response Technology and Virtu video switching technology), plus native support to four USB 3.0 ports. It also includes the addition of two new technologies: Smart Connect (allowing the computer to receive emails and refresh webpages while it is in sleep mode) and Rapid Start (faster boot times).
In addition, the Gigabyte Z77X-UP4 TH supports the Virtu Universal MVP, which allows you to combine the performance of the integrated graphics processor available in the CPU with the performance of any video card installed. This is similar to what occurs with the Hybrid SLI and ATI Hybrid Graphics technologies, with the notable difference of not being limited to GPUs from a specific manufacturer.
So far, Gigabyte has released only two motherboards with Thunderbolt ports, both based on the Intel Z77 chipset. In the table below, we compare their main specifications. Prices were researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this article. For further information on Thunderbolt, please read our “Everything You Need to Know About the Thunderbolt Connection” tutorial.
PCI Express x16 3.0
3 (x16/x0/x0 or x8/x8/x0 or x8/x4/x4)
3 (x16/x0/x0 or x8/x8/x0 or x8/x4/x4)
PCI Express x1 2.0
Yes, dual-band 802.11b/g/n
10 phases total
12 phases total
* The Thunderbolt ports are available as mini DisplayPort connectors, so the motherboard has DisplayPort ports available as Thunderbolt ports.
In Figure 1, you see the Gigabyte Z77X-UP4 TH motherboard.
The Gigabyte Z77X-UP4 TH comes with three PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots, three PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots, one standard PCI slot, and one mSATA slot.
Usually, on motherboards based on the Z77 chipset, only the first two PCI Express x16 slots are controlled by the CPU. The other PCI Express x16 slots are controlled by the chipset, operating at a lower speed (almost always x4) and only compatible with the 2.0 specification, which offers half of the 3.0 bandwidth. On this motherboard, however, the three slots are controlled by the processor.
However, since socket LGA1155 Intel CPUs only offer 16 PCI Express 3.0 lanes, the speed configuration for these slots are as follows. If only the first PCI Express x16 slot (“PCIEX16”) is used, it operates at x16. If the first and the second PCI Express x16 slots (“PCIEX16” and “PCIEX8”) are used, both operate at x8 speed. And if the three PCI Express x16 slots are used, the first operates at x8 speed, but the other two operate at x4 speed. Also, the third PCI Express x16 slot only works when an “Ivy Bridge” CPU is installed; it is incompatible with “Sandy Bridge” processors.
When installing dual-slot video cards, you “kill” the slot immediately to the left (looking at the motherboard with its rear connectors facing up) of the slot being used. If a third dual-slot video card is installed (in the third PCI Express x16 slot), you will need a case with at least eight expansion slots.
The PCI Express x16 slots support both SLI and CrossFireX technologies.
Since the Intel Z77 chipset doesn’t support standard PCI slots, the Gigabyte Z77X-UP4 TH uses an ITE IT8892E bridge chip to connect the standard PCI slot to a PCI Express 2.0 x1 lane.
The mSATA slot is not a Mini PCI Express slot, meaning you can’t install a Wi-Fi card in it. It is designed specifically for SSDs using the mSATA form factor. This slot is connected to the “SATA2 5” port, so you can’t use this SATA port when an mSATA SSD is installed. This slot uses a SATA-300 connection.
In order to properly accommodate the Thunderbolt controller, the board makes use of a PLX PEX8605 switch chip. This chip automatically switches the available PCI Express lanes to the devices that need them. On motherboards with too many PCI Express devices without a switch chip, you need to manually disable devices on the motherboard setup in order to achieve full performance on devices connected to the USB 3.0, SATA-600, and Thunderbolt ports when transferring files at the same time.
Intel socket LGA1155 CPUs have an embedded memory controller, meaning that it is the processor, not the chipset, that defines what memory technologies you can have and the maximum amount of memory that is possible. The motherboard, however, may have a limitation as to how much memory can be installed.
The integrated memory controller from socket LGA1155 processors supports DDR3 memories up to 1,333 MHz (“Sandy Bridge” CPUs) or up to 1,600 MHz (“Ivy Bridge” CPUs). According to Gigabyte, the Z77X-UP4 TH only supports these official speeds.
The Gigabyte Z77X-UP4 TH has four memory sockets. Since DDR3 memory modules can be found in capacities up to 8 GB, you can have up to 32 GB with this motherboard if you use four 8 GB modules.
In order to enable the dual-channel mode, you must install two or four memory modules. On the Gigabyte Z77X-UP4 TH, the first and third memory sockets are gray, while the second and fourth are black. When installing two memory modules, use the gray sockets.
The Intel Z77 chipset is a single-chip solution that is also known as a PCH (Platform Controller Hub). This chip supports two SATA-600 ports and four SATA-300 ports, supporting RAID (0, 1, 10, and 5). This motherboard doesn’t bring any additional SATA controllers.
As previously mentioned, the “SATA2 5” port is shared with the mSATA slot, so this port can’t be used when an mSATA SSD is installed.
All SATA ports are located at the motherboard’s edge and rotated 90°, so video cards won’t block them. See Figure 6.
There are no eSATA ports on this motherboard.
The Intel Z77 chipset supports 14 USB 2.0 ports and four USB 3.0 ports. The Gigabyte Z77X-UP4 TH offers six USB 2.0 ports through three headers located on the motherboard; and eight USB 3.0 ports, six located on the motherboard rear panel and two available on a header located on the motherboard, near the main power supply connector. The four additional USB 3.0 ports located on the rear panel are controlled by a VIA VL800 chip.
The Gigabyte Z77X-UP4 TH doesn’t have FireWire ports.
The two Thunderbolt ports are controlled by an Intel DSL3510L chip.
This motherboard supports 7.1+2 audio format, i.e., eight channels plus two independent channels for audio streaming. On this motherboard, the audio is generated by the chipset using the Realtek ALC892 codec, which is a mainstream-grade product, providing a 97 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog outputs, 90 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog inputs, and up to 192 kHz sampling rate for both inputs and outputs, with 24-bit resolution. These specifications are good for the average user, but if you want to work professionally with audio editing or converting analog audio sources into digital format, you will need to pick a motherboard with at least 100 dB signal-to-noise ratio for its inputs.
The motherboard has on-board optical SPDIF output. Additionally, there are two headers, labeled “SPDIF_IN” and “SPDIF_O,” which can be used to add SPDIF ports if necessary. It is important to point out that it is uncommon for a motherboard to have SPDIF input, so this may be an advantage if you are looking for a motherboard with this feature, even if it is not supported out of the box.
The analog audio outputs are independent only if you use a 5.1 analog speaker set. If you install a 7.1 analog speaker set, you will need to use either the “mic in” or the “line in” jacks.
The portrayed motherboard has one Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Realtek RTL8111E chip.
In Figure 7, you can see the motherboard rear panel with a shared PS/2 keyboard/mouse connector, six USB 3.0 ports, VGA output, DVI-D output, HDMI output, Gigabit Ethernet port, two Thunderbolt ports, one optical SPDIF output, and the analog audio jacks.
The Gigabyte Z77X-UP4 TH has two BIOS chips, so if the main BIOS chip is corrupted by a virus or a bad BIOS upgrade, you can still recover the motherboard.
The portrayed motherboard supports the installation of a TPM (Trusted Platform Module), a module that encrypts data in order to increase the computer’s security level.
In Figure 9, you can see all of the accessories that come with the Gigabyte Z77X-UP4 TH.
The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the Gigabyte Z77X-UP4 TH has six phases for the CPU main voltage (Vcc a.k.a. Vcore), two for the CPU VSA voltage (memory controller), and two for the CPU VTT voltage (PCI Express and DMI interfaces). Therefore, it uses a “6+2+2” configuration.
Each phase is driven by an IR3550M integrated circuit, which incorporates the three required transistors (“high side,” “low side,” and “driver”). These chips can use a switching frequency of up to 1 MHz (four times higher than the standard frequency of 250 kHz), allowing the motherboard voltage regulator to achieve higher efficiency (up to 95%, according to the chip manufacturer).
The voltage regulator is controlled by an IR3567A integrated circuit, using a digital design.
The Gigabyte Z77X-UP4 TH uses solid electrolytic capacitors. All coils on this motherboard are solid, ferrite-core models, which can provide up to 20% improvement in efficiency.
If you want to learn more about the voltage regulator circuit, please read our tutorial on the subject.
The Gigabyte Z77X-UP4 TH has a few overclocking options. Below, we list the most important ones (F3 BIOS):
The main specifications for the Gigabyte Z77X-UP4 TH include:
The Gigabyte Z77X-UP4 TH is targeted to the mainstream user who wants a motherboard with Thunderbolt ports. This motherboard also brings three PCI Express x16 3.0 slots, even though they don’t work at x16 speed when more than one video card is installed. However, this is expected on a mainstream product.
Another highlight of this motherboard includes the presence of an mSATA slot (even though it is SATA-300 and shared with one of the available SATA-300 ports); two BIOS chips; eight USB 3.0 ports; a PLX PEX8605 chip that allows performance to stay high when the Thunderbolt ports are used in conjunction with SATA-600 and USB 3.0 ports; an excellent voltage regulator circuit; and decent overclocking features, including the possibility of configuring the CPU base clock in 0.01 MHz increments.
The most obvious drawback to this motherboard is the presence of only two SATA-600 ports. The audio codec may be of concern for professionals converting analog audio to the digital format, due to its mainstream signal-to-noise ratio. (By the way, near the audio codec the manufacturer printed “108 dB.” This information is incorrect, as this audio codec presents an output signal-to-noise ratio of 97 dB. The manufacturer aknowledged this mistake and will fix this on the next production batch.)
In summary, if you are a regular user looking for a motherboard with Thunderbolt ports, the Gigabyte Z77X-UP4 TH may fit your needs. However, if you are a more demanding user or are building a workstation to work professionally with audio and video editing, we recommend that you consider the Gigabyte Z77X-UP5 TH instead.