Motherboard manufacturers have been waiting (im)patiently for Intel to release the fourth generation Core processor to the public. The architecture change from the current third generation chips isn't huge, truth be told, but it does require a different socket for the CPU - LGA1150 vs. LGA1155 - and thus requires the purchase of a new motherboard.
The success of the fourth generation chip, codenamed Haswell, therefore has very direct consequences for a cohort of Taiwanese motherboard manufacturers. Chief amongst them is Gigabyte, who is putting great stock in the Haswell chip, because it is releasing a deluge of models today.
At the lower end of the financial scale is the GA-Z87-D3HP, priced at around £100. A cursory examination reveals that it looks much like its Z77 chipset-based predecessors, due to Intel keeping the same dual-channel memory architecture and providing enough CPU-level integration to require a single motherboard chip that, here, is hidden under a stylish heatsink.
The more value-conscious boards tend to rely on the features present in the various CPUs and eschew adding extra bells and whistles because of unnecessary cost inflation. The D3HP is a case in point, and saving money where it's sensible to do so, the board measures 224mm wide, or 16mm less than a standard ATX model.
Component layout doesn't suffer as a result of a smaller-sized board as there's generous clearance around the all-new LGA1150 socket that is home to the fourth generation Core chips alone; there's no backwards compatibility with any other Intel CPUs, unfortunately.
But spatial limitations preclude the installation of enthusiast-friendly features we normally see crop up in the middle of Gigabyte's range, so no debug LED, voltage-monitoring points, on-board buttons, and over-the-top heatsinks. Instead, a small heatsink covers the all-digital PWMs and another svelte model the chipset; it is positioned low enough not to interfere with the installation of long graphics cards. There are no status LEDs anywhere on the board, meaning novice users may have a hard time working out the reasons for a failed boot.
Fan headers are split into two groups of two, encompassing a couple by the CPU and two mid-board, and Gigabyte thoughtfully includes another by the SATA ports at the bottom, ostensibly for front-intake fan(s). Gigabyte also takes USB 3.0 seriously on even this relatively budget board, with two front-mounted headers, just below the DIMM slots, powered by a couple of Renesas controllers and a further six ports on the back that use four from the Renesas controller and just two from Intel's own USB 3.0. It seems strange for Gigabyte not to use the full complement of six Intel-provided USB 3.0 ports.
Intel bumps up the storage specification to six SATA 6Gbps ports for Z87 (about time) and Gigabyte has all six ports facing upwards. We like that the D3HP keeps the dual BIOSes and easy-to-connect front-panel headers intact, while the rest of the ports at the bottom service good ol' USB 2.0 and a Trusted Platform Module.
Intel's Z87 specifications wave goodbye to the legacy PCIc slots but, quite rightly, Gigabyte resurrects a couple through an additional PCIe-to-PCIc bridge, and we believe that mainstream boards need the greatest amount of compatibility.
The two mechanical x16 PCIe slots sandwich a couple of x1s, which is a pretty standard setup, but just like Z77 and due to the PCIe lane allocation from the CPU, the bottom one runs at x8 if a second graphics card is added into the mix. Do be aware that only AMD's CrossFireX technology is supported, so no SLI. We suppose boards higher up in the range will use various bridging fabrics for full-speed operation in multi-GPU mode for both graphics companies. Oh, and top marks for the D3HP for using the latest Intel Gigabit LAN and the ever-dependable Realtek ALC892 audio Codec.
Intel has now moved the digital display logic from the chipset, per Z77, to the actual processor itself. Gigabyte adds the D-sub connectivity through the Z87 chipset, and the combination of DVI, HDMI and D-sub represents a sensible choice for a board of this ilk. For what it's worth, the LAN column is an all-Intel affair, as the two blue-coloured USB 3.0 ports underneath also stem from the Z87 chipset.
There really isn't any reason for Gigabyte to reinvent the wheel with value-orientated Z87 motherboards. The D3PH looks good, subjectively speaking, provides easy access to all the ports and sockets, and is also equipped with a shiny, new BIOS. Let's have a gander.