Articles: Mainboards

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Testbed Configuration

We performed all our tests on a testbed built with the following components:

  • Gigabyte G1.Sniper 5 rev. 1.0 mainboard (LGA1150, Intel Z87, BIOS version F7)
  • Intel Core i5-4670K CPU (3.6-3.8 GHz, 4 cores, Haswell, 22nm, 84 W, LGA1150)
  • 2 x 8 GB DDR3 SDRAM G.Skill TridentX F3-2133C9Q-32GTX (2133 MHz, 9-11-11-31-2N timings, 1.6 V voltage)
  • Gigabyte GV-R797OC-3GD (AMD Radeon HD 7970, Tahiti, 28 nm, 1000/5500 MHz, 384-bit GDDR5 3072 MB)
  • Crucial m4 SSD (CT256M4SSD2, 256 GB, SATA 6 Gbit/s)
  • Scythe Mugen 3 Revision B (SCMG-3100) CPU cooler
  • ARCTIC MX-2 thermal interface
  • Enhance EPS-1280GA 800 W PSU
  • Open testbed built using Antec Skeleton system case

We used Microsoft Windows 8 Enterprise 64 bit (Microsoft Windows, Version 6.2, Build 9200) operating system, Intel Chipset Device Software driver package version, AMD Catalyst 13.4 graphics card driver.

Default and Overclocked Mode Details

As usual, we had no problems assembling and starting up our test configuration. The G1.Sniper 5 is designed in the E-ATX form-factor but has a standard length, so it is going to fit easily into ATX computer cases, save for the most compact ones. We then updated the BIOS to the latest version available. When starting up, the mainboard shows a picture with reminders about the active hotkeys.

You can enter the BIOS interface by pressing Del. The F9 key will show you a window with system information (you can open the same window by pressing F9 in the BIOS). F12 shows a menu for choosing a boot device. The End key will launch the integrated firmware update tool Q-Flash. We don’t see the Tab key in the list although it is traditionally used to remove the startup picture. This option is available in the BIOS Interface but there’s no point in enabling it: after transitioning to the UEFI BIOS, Gigabyte mainboards have ceased to output any data about the POST procedure. It is hardly a downside because today's mainboards start up very fast. To make the process even faster, you can enable Fast Boot in the BIOS.

Haswell-based CPUs have a number of downsides, but they should be given credit for consuming less power than their predecessors when idle. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet seen a mainboard to enable this advantage by default. With every LGA1150 mainboard, you have to manually turn on each CPU power-saving technology for that. Gigabyte’s mainboards have such options on the BIOS page called Advanced CPU Core Settings. By the way, if an option is set to Auto, it doesn’t mean the corresponding technology will work.

One of the downsides of Haswell-based CPUs is that their high-precision integrated regulator sets voltage too high as soon as you try to tweak it. That's why the automatic overclocking features available in Gigabyte's BIOS (CPU Upgrade and Performance Upgrade) aren't practical for overclocking a little and cannot be used for overclocking much. Instead, you can enable the K OC option for safe and energy-efficient overclocking. It works like the MultiCore Enhancement or Enhanced Turbo options on mainboards from other brands, but is better. The mentioned options increase the CPU frequency multiplier at high loads to the maximum level which is normally permitted by the Intel Turbo Boost technology for single-threaded loads only. For our Intel Core i5-4670K processor it means that the clock rate is increased to 3.8 GHz at any load instead of dynamically changing from 3.6 to 3.8 GHz. The K OC option from Gigabyte increases the frequency multiplier by x2 at any load. As a result, the CPU will be clocked at 3.8 GHz at high loads, at 3.9 (instead of 3.7) GHz when three of its cores are in use, and at 4.0 GHz when only one or two CPU cores are in use.

We recommend the same method – increasing the clock rate without changing CPU voltage – to overclock any processor, especially the Haswell, which has the above-mentioned problem with its integrated voltage regulator. It is easy to overclock this way on Gigabyte mainboards. You only have to set the CPU Vcore and CPU Vcore Offset options at Normal in their BIOS, so that the voltages remained at their defaults and were not increased by the mainboard automatically. Then you just step up the frequency multiplier, looking for the highest clock rate your CPU is stable at. Our CPU was stable at 4.3 GHz, which is quite high for a Haswell.

Energy efficient overclocking is only possible if you don’t increase voltage. It will ensure higher performance and, despite the increased power consumption, you can expect long-term savings due to the reduced amount of energy spent for each computation. Energy efficient overclocking is going to be environment-friendly as we showed in our Power Consumption of Overclocked CPUs review. However, when we test mainboards, we want to check them out under different conditions and loads, so we choose what overclocking method ensures the highest results. Higher clock rates and voltages mean harsher test conditions and it is under such conditions that we can better see any flaws or problems in mainboard design. That’s why we overclock our CPU to 4.5 GHz in our mainboard reviews, fixing the voltage at 1.150 volts and using the XMP settings for our memory modules.

When we overclock by fixing the CPU voltage at a certain level, some of the power-saving technologies get disabled. The CPU's frequency multiplier is lowered at low loads but its voltage always remains high. Anyway, we stick to this overclocking for the duration of our tests, especially as it doesn't affect the computer's idle power draw much.

In our ASUS Z87-Deluxe review we focused on the CPU’s cache memory frequency. When the Intel Core i5-4670K works in its standard mode, its cache memory frequency varies dynamically in a range of 800 MHz to 3.8 GHz. The same is true for the ASUS Z87-Deluxe, but when the CPU was overclocked, its cache memory frequency got fixed at 3.8 GHz whereas on other mainboards it would vary in sync with the CPU clock rate from 800 MHz in idle mode to 4.5 GHz at high loads.

The G1.Sniper 5 turns out to have peculiarities of its own in this respect. When the CPU is overclocked to 4.5 GHz, its cache memory frequency varies in a range of 2200 at low loads to 4000 MHz at high loads. Moreover, when the CPU works in its standard operation mode, the range is 1400 to 3800 MHz.

It must be noted, however, that the cache memory frequency doesn’t affect performance much in most cases. For example, the recently tested Gigabyte GA-Z87-D3H performed quite fast, enjoying an advantage over its opponents at overclocked settings, i.e. when the CPU had a lower cache memory frequency than on the other mainboards. Let’s see what the G1.Sniper 5 can offer in terms of performance.

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