Gigabyte Z77X-UP5 TH Motherboard
By Gabriel Torres on August 23, 2012
The Z77X-UP5 TH is a socket LGA1155 motherboard from Gigabyte targeted to the “Ivy Bridge” processors (third-generation Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 processors) loaded with a lot of extras, such as two Thunderbolt ports, one mSATA slot, dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, and more. Let’s see what the Gigabyte Z77X-UP5 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-UP5 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 connectors.
In Figure 1, you see the Gigabyte Z77X-UP5 TH motherboard.
The Gigabyte Z77X-UP5 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-UP5 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 and additional SATA-600 and USB 3.0 ports, 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-UP5 TH only supports these official speeds.
The Gigabyte Z77X-UP5 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-UP5 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). Differently from the Z77X-UP4 model, the portrayed motherboard has an additional SATA-600 controller (Marvell 88SE9172 chip), adding one internal SATA-600 port and an eSATA-600 port.
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.
The SATA ports controlled by the chipset are located at the motherboard’s edge and rotated 90°, so video cards won’t block them. See Figure 6. The SATA-600 port controlled by the additional chip is located on the motherboard’s left edge (as seen with the motherboard rear connectors facing up).
The Intel Z77 chipset supports 14 USB 2.0 ports and four USB 3.0 ports. The Gigabyte Z77X-UP5 TH offers six USB 2.0 ports, two located on the motherboard rear panel and four through two headers located on the motherboard; and 10 USB 3.0 ports, four located on the motherboard rear panel and six available through three headers located on the motherboard. This is another difference between the UP5 and the UP4 models, as the UP4 comes with eight USB 3.0 ports. However, the additional USB 3.0 ports available on the Gigabyte Z77X-UP5 TH are not “real” USB 3.0 ports; they are connected to the four USB 3.0 ports controlled by the chipset using two VIA VL810 hub chips.
The Gigabyte Z77X-UP5 TH has two FireWire ports, one on the motherboard’s rear panel and another available through a header. The UP4 model doesn’t come with these 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 a Realtek ALC898 codec, which is an outstanding solution, providing an impressive 110 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog outputs, 104 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. This means you are able to capture and edit analog audio (e.g., converting LPs to CDs or MP3 files, converting VHS to DVDs or any other digital format, etc.) with this motherboard without adding any background noise.
The codec used is another major difference between the UP5 and the UP4 models, as the UP4 model uses the Realtek ALC892, which provides lower signal-to-noise ratio (i.e., lower audio quality).
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 the chipset using an Intel WG82579V chip to make the interface with the physical layer. The UP4 model uses a Realtek RTL8111E controller.
Another highlight of this motherboard is the presence of a PCI Express x1 expansion card containing wireless network (Wi-Fi) and Bluetooth 4.0 (24 Mbps) capabilities, which doesn’t come with the UP4 model. This expansion card supports the IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n standards and is a dual-band device, i.e., it supports the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies. Its two antennas allow you to reach higher transfer speed when using the IEEE 802.11n standard compared to single-band devices operating at 2.4 GHz. The Bluetooth 4.0 and dual-band Wi-Fi are important features to understand when comparing this motherboard to competing products.
In Figure 8, you can see the motherboard rear panel with VGA output, DVI-D output, four USB 3.0 ports, HDMI output, two USB 2.0 ports, an eSATA-600 port, a Gigabit Ethernet port, two Thunderbolt ports, an optical SPDIF output, and the analog audio jacks.
The Gigabyte Z77X-UP5 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 motherboard also has a POST diagnostics display, which is not available on the UP4 model. This display allows you to identify which component is failing if the computer is not turning on.
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. (This encryption can be done through the BitLocker feature available on Windows.)
In Figure 11, you can see all of the accessories that come with the Gigabyte Z77X-UP5 TH.
The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the Gigabyte Z77X-UP5 TH has eight 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 an “8+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 IR3563A integrated circuit, using a digital design.
The Gigabyte Z77X-UP5 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-UP5 TH has a few overclocking options. Below, we list the most important ones (F4 BIOS):
The Gigabyte Z77X-UP5 TH also has voltage monitoring points for you to monitor the chipset (“PCHIO”), memory (“VDIMM”), CPU PLL, integrated video controller (“VAXG”), integrated memory controller (“IMC”), CPU VTT, and CPU core voltages using a voltmeter.
The main specifications for the Gigabyte Z77X-UP5 TH include:
The Gigabyte Z77X-UP5 TH is targeted to the user who wants a motherboard with Thunderbolt ports and needs features not available on the Z77X-UP4 TH from the same manufacturer. The main differences that were added on the UP5 include the dual-band Wi-Fi/Bluetooth 4.0 expansion card, a high-end audio codec, two FireWire ports, one additional SATA-600 port, the inclusion of one eSATA-600 port, two additional USB 3.0 ports, a POST diagnostics display, and voltage monitoring points. For the user who is building a system to work professionally with audio and video editing or the user who wants to have the motherboard with the highest number of features possible, we consider the Z77X-UP5 TH a far better option than the UP4, even though it costs more.
Other advantages of the portrayed motherboard are the same as the ones found on the Z77X-UP4 TH, such as the configuration for the PCI Express x16 slots. 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. On the other hand, when three video cards are installed, the second and the third slot work at x4 speed.
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; 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.