Keener pricing: what gets the chop?Cheaper X58 boards
The road to PC performance nirvana is still best tread by following the high-end Intel path, because while AMD's six-core Phenon II X6 make a strong case as chips a mid-range system, there's no getting around the fact that Intel's Core i7 980X EE is to benchmarks what Usain Bolt is to sprinting (is that injured? - ed.)
Intel segments its chips via both socket form factors and families. The X58 chipset is required to run the performance Core i7 900-range of processors, from the £190 Core i7 920 to the £800 Core i7 980X EE. Most motherboard partners have several X58 boards in their arsenals, and much like the supporting chips, pricing varies greatly - from £130 to £500.
Perhaps no company better illustrates the wide degree of X58 designs than Gigabyte. Crashing in at £435 is the X58A-UD9 - the choice for those who like to break world records for breakfast. Most users will want a board that's less flash and cash, and Gigabyte has a bevy of choices under £200, headlined by the well-featured X58A-UD3R v2.0 for <£150. But now there's another budget X58 in the stable. Known as X58 USB3, how does a £135 retail price grab you?
The USB3 becomes the cheapest X58 board from Gigabyte, so the question(s) we need to answer in this review is what has the company given up when reducing £15 off the retail price of the already-excellent UD3R v2.0?
A cursory look at the board shows that Gigabyte hasn't made any obvious concessions. Layout and component cooling are both good, with plenty of room around the socket in spite of the large heatsinks, and six DIMM slots means that memory capacity won't be an issue. For those new to computing, Gigabyte throws in a basic POST troubleshooting by using a bunch of LEDs next to the DIMM slots and 24-pin power connector. Power regulation isn't quite as comprehensive as on other Gigabyte X58 boards, however, but this shouldn't be telling unless looking for the ultimate overclock.
Closer inspection shows that the USB3 variant sticks with the six Intel-provided SATA 3Gb/s ports and forgoes the additional four SATA - via the Marvell (6Gb/s) and Gigabyte (3Gb/s) controllers - found on the UD3R. This is why the port-spacing looks a little odd on this model. What's more, should you need it, the legacy IDE and floppy ports also get the chop. This makes for a cleaner-looking board, in our opinion, and the layout is such that graphics cards won't block-off any ports.
Speaking of graphics cards, the USB3 supports both NVIDIA SLI and ATI's CrossFireX in a two-card formation. The bottom x16 mechanical slot is restricted to x4 electrical operation. Gigabyte replaces the UD3R's fourth x16 mechanical slot with a x1 on the USB3 - between the two primary x16 slots, sharing bandwidth with the x4 - which means you can't run a gaming-orientated three-card multi-GPU setup.
The two blue-coloured USB ports give the board its name, providing gobs of bandwidth if you have compliant devices. The back is rather sparse when compared to the next model up, UD3R, because it misses out on eSATA support (JMicron controller is also missing), FireWire (although there are board-mounted ports), and an optical S/PDIF out.
The first-page verdict
Here's the real skinny with the X58 USB3. Take it in isolation and it has almost every feature that most users would need, save for SATA 6Gb/s, we suppose. But then compare it with the next X58 board in Gigabyte's stable - X58A-UD3R v2.0 - which attracts a £15 premium, and the missing features, detailed above, begin to tot up - SATA 6Gb/s, eSATA, IDE, three-way graphics, optical S/PDIF, etc.
It's a case of looking at what you need and making an informed decision, but on the face of it, the X58 USB3's sensible layout and features may well tickle the fancy of those who want a bargain-basement X58 board.