09/29/2011 | 01:57 PM
In the beginning of this year Gigabyte launched a new gaming mainboard line-up called “G1-Killer”. At first there were three mainboard models in it: G1.Guerrilla, G1.Assassin and G1.Sniper. You may have already seen the review of the latter model on our site (it was reviewed together with an overclocking GA-X58A-OC board). Each of the mainboards in the new gaming series is unique and interesting in its own way, but all of them suffer from one permanent drawback. All of them are based on Intel X58 Extreme chipset and therefore are designed for LGA1366 processors only. However, this platform has already become morally outdated and spends its final days in the market giving way to the new LGA2011 form-factor. Therefore, it is quite logical that Gigabyte’s G1-Killer series continued expanding into the much more popular LGA1155 platform.
Gigabyte G1.Sniper 2 mainboard launched in early August is built on the latest and most functionally rich LGA1155 chipset – Intel Z68 Express. The distinguishing feature of this product is its unique design, rich accessories set, and extensive functionality delivered by the chipset and the latest developments from Creative Technology and Bigfoot Networks.
Even the littlest details of the “G1-Killer” series stick to the military theme. There is a bullet instead of the dash in the series logo, a bullet hole instead of the dot on the letter “i”, and there is a gun instead of the last letter “r”. The packaging of the actual G1.Sniper 2 mainboard is designed as a slightly rusty box with machine gun cartridge belts.
The back of the box decorated with bullet holes has a photograph of the mainboard and a brief description of its selected features.
The mainboard inside the box is placed into a clear plastic blister box with an additional cardboard insert for extra cushion. All accessories are packed into an individual box located beneath the mainboard:
The accessories are sufficient, but there is nothing remarkable about them. However, you still can make USB 3.0 ports available on the front panel, too. We have already seen mainboards that allow using the internal USB 3.0 connector. Some mainboards come with a special bracket that allows bringing a pair of USB 3.0 ports to the back panel. Since there are at least two USB 3.0 ports on the mainboards back panel, the brackets for the 3-inch bay in the front of the system case seem to be a much more useful accessory. We have already seen units like that bundled with mainboards from many vendors, including Gigabyte, but it is the first time we see a unit to fit into a 5-inch bay:
I have to say that this solution seems to be much more convenient. The small 3-inch bay may be occupied or even missing altogether, but there a free 5-inch bay is almost always available in any system case. Besides two USB 3.0 ports, there is an automatic overclocking button and an eSATA/USB Combo connector. The external SATA device is powered via the USB bus and if necessary this connector may be used not only for eSATA, but also for USB devices. There is a set of retention screws for this panel among the mainboard accessories. Moreover, you also get a large double-sided “G1-Killer” mainboard series poster and a set of transfer stickers. You can use them to decorate your PC case with the series logos, bullet holes and ammo.
Unlike older Gigabyte mainboards and current lower-end models that are built on blue textolite, and unlike new dark Gigabyte mainboards using black textolite and components, the “G1-Killer” series products have been lightened up by some bright green color. Eight-phase processor voltage regulator uses highly integrated components, where two MOSFETs and a control unit are combined into what is known as Driver MOSFET. The number of active phases in the VRM circuitry may change dynamically depending on the CPU utilization. It is reflected by the row of diodes called the Phase LED. Although you will need to install Dynamic Energy Saver utility for the Phase LED indication to work correctly. The board is equipped with the new “Locked and Loaded” cooling system, which we have already criticized in our Gigabyte G1.Sniper review, because back then the developers got carried away with the looks and sacrificed the cooling efficiency in the process. That cooling system used large heatsinks with secure screw-on retention, but their effective cooling surface wasn’t large enough because of very few fins they had that is why they had hard time cooling the relatively hot Intel X58 Express and the LGA1366 processor VRM circuitry.
Since the processor voltage regulator circuitry on Gigabyte G1.Sniper 2 is laid out differently, the cooling system includes one more heatsink (the top one on the photo above), which is the only one that looks like a real efficient cooling unit. It is still quite heavy and massive, is screwed on to the board, which allows it to smooth out abrupt temperature spikes, but at the same time it has prominent ribbed profile on its entire surface, which ensures effective heat transfer and dissipation. There is a cylindrical groove that goes along the entire heatsink right in the middle of it, which could theoretically allow placing a heatpipe in it. however, there is really no need for this additional heatpipe, because the heatsink does its job very well, just like the second heatsink over the processor VRM components, even though the latter is designed as a rifle barrel and therefore only half of it has fins. The heatpipe connects this heatsink with the central one, which in this case doesn’t cool anything directly. It serves purely aesthetical purposes and also functions as additional heat-dissipating surface. As a result, the cooling system that was barely coping with its task on the LGA1366 Gigabyte G1.Sniper board even with an additional fan, worked so impeccably well on the new Gigabyte G1.Sniper 2 that it didn’t need any additional fans even during overclocking experiments.
I would like to particularly draw your attention to the importance of ensuring proper cooling for the processor voltage regulator components. Over the past few years insufficient cooling of the processor VRM circuitry caused at least two mainboards to fail in our tests during overclocking experiments. I could add that both of them were Gigabyte products, although I am sure that it is simply a coincidence. Any mainboard can overheat, if you don’t take proper precautions, but Gigabyte G1.Sniper 2 simply didn’t need an additional fan at all, even during overclocking. The cooling system on Gigabyte G1Sniper 2 is the most efficient cooling system of all LGA1155 mainboards we have tested so far.
The mainboard is equipped with two PCI, two PCI Express 2.0 x1 and two PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots that support AMD CrossFire and Nvidia SLI graphics configurations. A single graphics accelerator will work at full speed, but with two graphics cards installed, the slots will be twice as slow. I have to say that this is one of the first mainboards that supports third generation PCI Express stand, which should become popular as soon as new processors and graphics cards come out. Another important distinguishing feature of the new Gigabyte G1.Sniper 2 is the integrated Creative CA20K sound processor supporting X-Fi Xtreme Fidelity and EAX Advanced HD 5.0 technologies. The integrated sound amplifier uses special high-quality Nichicon Muse capacitors, so this part of the board has additional screening on it. Moreover, there is a Bigfoot Killer E2100 Gigabit network processor instead of a traditional network controller. The chipset provides support for two 6 Gbps SATA ports (white connectors) and four 3 Gbps SATA ports (black connectors), from which only three are visible and the fourth exists as an eSATA/USB Combo on the back panel. The additional Marvell 88SE9172 controller delivers another two 6 Gbps SATA ports (gray connectors).
The mainboard back panel offers the following:
The components layout shows that the board has five fan connectors. The rotation speed of the CPU fan depends on the processor temperature taken off the integrated thermal diode. For adjustment convenience, there is an individual thermal diode integrated next to each of the remaining four fan connectors. It is a rare feature these days, but the rotation speed of each fan may be adjusted automatically. All fan connectors are four-pin ones, but they allow adjusting the rotation speed of three-pin fans, too. Other mainboard features are quite standard for the products of this company. There is a special USB port for mobile devices charging marked “ON/OFF Charge”. The board is equipped with two BIOS chips, it uses very convenient color-coding for the front-panel connectors, the marking for all slots is put not only onto the PCB next to the slot, but also right inside the actual slot.
We summed up the technical specifications of the Gigabyte G1.Sniper 2 mainboard in the following table:
I would like to add that this mainboard is a little larger than a regular ATX: it is 264 mm wide instead of 244 mm. However, it shouldn’t be a problem during system assembly, because in most cases it is the length that is critical, not the width.
Unlike many other mainboards that started using UEFI, Gigabyte implements the so-called Hybrid EFI technology. The idea behind this technology is that they continue using the good old time-tested AWARD-based BIOS, where only the support of 3+ TB hard disk drives is implemented via EFI. However, let’s start from the main screen and work our way deep into all the interesting pages of the BIOS Setup step-by-step. I have to stress that currently only Gigabyte mainboards will display the actual frequency of the overclocked processor, while all other mainboards will always show its nominal clock, no matter in which mode it is actually working.
Just in case I would like to remind you that you can get full access to all parameters of the Gigabyte mainboard BIOS only by pressing Ctrl-F1 in the main BIOS window.
It is very convenient that “MB Intelligent Tweaker (M.I.T.)” is the first item on the menu list. This section contains all parameters related to overclocking and system performance fine-tuning. The start-up page of this section only shows you the list of available sub-sections and reports basic system info:
Then we see a purely informational sub-section called “M.I.T. Current Status” that displays the current system settings. Here we can notice some inaccuracy: when Intel Turbo Boost is on, the processor clock multiplier will increase at least to 34x.
The “Advanced Frequency Settings” sub-section allows adjusting frequencies and multipliers. You will also be able to track all settings changes by looking at the informational parameters and their values.
All settings related to processor technologies are gathered on a separate page called “Advanced CPU Core Features”. It was pretty strange to see that all power-saving technologies were disabled by default. It will most likely have a serious effect not only on the mainboard power consumption in idle mode, but also on the performance, because Intel Turbo Boost will be only partially functional.
“Advanced Memory Settings” sub-section allows fine-tuning the memory sub-system.
Numerous memory timings have been moved to individual pages. The timings may be set for all three memory channels simultaneously or for each of them individually.
“Advanced Voltage Settings” sub-section allows adjusting the voltages. The processor voltage may be locked at a certain value or may be increased by adding a certain value to the nominal setting. In the latter case, even if you change any of the voltages during overclocking, the mainboard will leave all Intel power-saving technologies up and running. In idle mode the mainboard will lower not only the processor clock frequency multiplier, but also the CPU Vcore. However, in this case we can’t counteract the processor Vcore drop under heavy load. Multi-Steps Load-Line parameter will be unavailable, which means that it will only work when we set the processor core voltage to a fixed permanent value. By the way, you can not only increase the voltages, but also set them lower than the nominal, which may be very handy in some cases. For example, if you need to have your CPU work at lower frequencies or if you use low-voltage memory modules.
The contents of the “Standard CMOS Features” are as standard as its name.
“Advanced BIOS Features” section offers you to choose the boot-up devices order and adjust a few other parameters:
“Integrated Peripherals” section has a long list of options for configuring additional onboard controllers.
“Power Management Setup” has pretty common parameters:
“PC Health Status” section reports the current voltages, temperatures and fan rotation speeds. Gigabyte mainboards retained their ability to adjust the rotation speed of three-pin fans, too. A while ago, it could only be done automatically, but they have recently introduced an option for manual adjustment in the BIOS. Here you can also disable the real-time temperature control for some diodes with the help of Easy Tune 6 utility.
You can get access to some additional features if you use specific functional keys in the main window of Gigabyte’s BIOS. By pressing F9 you will display system information on your screen.
You can also press F11 to save one of the eight full BIOS settings profiles. Each profile may be assigned a descriptive name, and if you are trying to overwrite a profile, you will be warned. You can load a profile from a menu by pressing F12. Besides manually saved profiles, the mainboard automatically saves all configurations that passed the startup POST successfully and they can also be restored if necessary. You can also save and load profiles using external media.
By pressing F8 you will launch the built-in BIOS updater – Q-Flash Utility.
The BIOS of Gigabyte mainboards is pretty convenient to work with and has all parameters necessary for overclocking and system fine-tuning. It is a little sad that Gigabyte mainboards on Intel Z68 Express chipset lost their ability to deal with the processor Vcore drop under heavy load. Also, the BIOS could use a few options for configuring Gigabyte’s proprietary technologies, such as dynamic adjustment of the number of active phases in the CPU voltage regulator circuitry depending on the CPU utilization. Other mainboard makers have already done it, and Gigabyte mainboards still require Dynamic Energy Saver utility to be installed. As for the brand spanking new EFI BIOS and computer mouse support, the boards use Hybrid EFI Technology to provide support for 3+ TB HDDs, and you can always use Gigabyte Touch BIOS for added convenience.
We carried out our tests on a testbed that included the following components:
We used Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 64 bit (Microsoft Windows, Version 6.1, Build 7601: Service Pack 1) operating system, Intel Chipset Software Installation Utility version 188.8.131.520, Nvidia GeForce/ION Driver 280.26 graphics card driver.
Very few contemporary mainboards have AHCI mode enabled by default for storage devices. Most of them still have the good old IDE. Gigabyte mainboards have it worked out differently: they give the user a choice. IDE is set in the BIOS by default, but upon first boot-up you will be offered an option to switch to AHCI, or not. Once the choice has been made, this message will no longer pop up.
The strangest thing about this mainboard is that all its power-saving modes and technologies are disabled in the BIOS by default. It definitely affects the mainboard power consumption, because in idle mode neither the CPU clock frequency multiplier, nor its Vcore will go down. However, it also affects the performance, because in this case Intel Turbo Boost technology is only partially functional. The faulty default optimal settings cause the processor clock multiplier to be always increased to 34x, and its Vcore to also be always higher (it would only drop to 1.2 under heavy load).
In our article called From UD3P to UD7: Four Gigabyte Mainboards for LGA1155 on Intel Z68 Express Chipset we already discussed Gigabyte mainboards where we had to manually enable all Intel power-saving technologies and Intel Turbo Boost. However, it is not necessary for Gigabyte G1.Sniper 2. Everything would work just fine if only they put Auto instead of Disabled in the BIOS: in this case the clock frequency multiplier would change from 34x to 37x depending on the CPU utilization, and in idle mode it would drop down to 16x together with the voltage.
Overall, we are a little confused with the way this mainboard works in the nominal mode, however, there were no surprises during overclocking. The mainboard could easily let our processor speed up to its maximum frequency of 4.7 GHz. The memory overclocking experience wasn’t as successful: we had to stop at 1600 MHz, although unlike other Gigabyte mainboards, this one didn’t need us to increase the memory timings.
We always overclock our system with the intention to use it in this mode continuously for a long time. But despite this fact, we do not look for easy solutions and do not disable additional controller and other mainboard features. And in most cases we try to preserve all processor power-saving technologies. The same is true our today’s case: even during overclocking all processor power-saving technologies on Gigabyte G1.Sniper 2 remained up and running lowering the processor clock multiplier and core voltage under heavy loads.
In conclusion I would like to say a few words about O.C.Button for automatic system overclocking. We all know very well that no automatic system can even remotely compare with what you can achieve during manual overclocking, when you can find maximum or the most optimal settings for your system. However, each automatic overclocking tool has its own unique imperfections. I have to say that automatic overclocking has been implemented pretty successfully on Asus mainboards. They increase the base clock a little bit, raise the memory frequency, allow the processor clock multiplier to go up, but keep all power-saving technologies intact. An example of a not very successful implementation of an automatic overclocking tool will belong to MSI: their mainboards simply increase the voltage and multiplier and completely disable all power-saving technologies. However, in any case, you will switch from nominal to overclocked mode, while Gigabyte allows combining the two. When you press the O.C.Button, it starts glowing blue and the processor clock frequency will increase to 4.1 GHz under heavy load. All power-saving technologies will remain up and running, so that the CPU Vcore and multiplier could drop down in idle mode. You can go back to the nominal operation mode by pressing the O.C.Button one more time or by rebooting the system.
I am sure you will agree that we do not always need overclocking. The processor working in energy-efficient mode when its frequency and voltage are lowered is still capable to cope adequately with the majority of everyday tasks. Only when you switch to complex time-consuming calculations, media content processing or gaming, you need higher clock speeds and this is when you press the magic button and immediately get the desired performance boost. You no longer need higher speeds – press the button and go back to the nominal operational mode. The only downside to this brilliant implementation of the automatic overclocking feature is the fact that O.C.Button is located on the back panel, so it will be inconvenient to reach, especially during frequent use. However, do not forget that the mainboard comes with a unique 5-inch panel for the system case front, where we also have the O.C.Button. I absolutely loved it and would definitely use this auto-OC function on my home system all the time. It would be great if Gigabyte could make something similar for their regular mainstream mainboards, too.
As usual, we are going to compare the mainboards speeds in two different modes: in nominal mode and during CPU and memory overclocking. The first mode is interesting because it shows how well the mainboards work with their default settings. It is a known fact that most users do not fine-tune their systems, they simply choose the optimal BIOS settings and do nothing else. That is why we run a round of tests almost without interfering in any way with the default mainboard settings. For comparison purposes we are going to also include the results of Asus P8Z68 Deluxe, P8Z68-V Pro and Asus P8Z68-V as well as Gigabyte GA-Z68XP-UD3-iSSD mainboard. The results are sorted out in descending order on the diagrams. Gigabyte G1.Sniper 2 is marked with a darker color.
We used Cinebench 11.5. All tests were run five times and the average result of the five runs was taken for the performance charts.
We have been using Fritz Chess Benchmark utility for a long time already and it proved very illustrative. It generated repeated results, the performance in it is scales perfectly depending on the number of involved computational threads.
A small video in x264 HD Benchmark 4.0 is encoded in two passes and then the entire process is repeated four times. The average results of the second pass are displayed on the following diagram:
We measured the performance in Adobe Photoshop using our own benchmark made from Retouch Artists Photoshop Speed Test that has been creatively modified. It includes typical editing of four 10-megapixel images from a digital photo camera.
In the archiving test a 1 GB file is compressed using LZMA2 algorithms, while other compression settings remain at defaults.
Like in the data compression test, the faster 16 million of Pi digits are calculated, the better. This is the only benchmark where the number of processor cores doesn’t really matter, because it creates single-threaded load.
There are good and bad things about complex performance tests. However, Futuremark benchmarking software has become extremely popular and is used for comparisons a lot. To estimate the average performance of our test platform PCMark 7 quite measures the performance in common algorithms that are frequently used on an everyday basis. The diagram shows the average of three test runs:
3DMark11 suite measures the graphics sub-system performance in the first place. The diagram below shows the average results after three test runs in 3DMark11 Performance mode with default settings:
Since we do not overclock graphics in our mainboard reviews, the next diagram shows only CPU tests from the 3DMark11 – Physics Score. This score is obtained in a special physics test that emulates the behavior of a complex gaming system working with numerous objects:
We use FC2 Benchmark Tool to go over Ranch Small map ten times in 1920x1080 resolution with high image quality settings in DirectX 10.
Resident Evil 5 game also has a built-in performance test. Its peculiarity is that it can really take advantage of multi-core processor architecture. The tests were run in DirectX 10 in 1920x1080 resolution with high image quality settings. The average of five test runs was taken for further analysis:
As we have expected, the performance of related mainboards is practically the same and in most applications they show equal results. Only in Adobe Photoshop the different between Gigabyte G1.Sniper 2 mainboard and the other testing participants is bigger than normal, and it is very far behind the others in SuperPi. The thing is that most of our test applications use multi-threading and in this case the CPU works at 3.4 GHz in all cases. And in the above mentioned two applications all mainboards may increase he CPU clock to 3.7 GHz, while Gigabyte G1.Sniper 2 cannot, since its power-saving technologies are disabled by default and Intel Turbo Boost is only partially functional.
Now let’s run the same tests with the CPU and memory overclocked. The following table shows you the difference in the system parameters:
Again, we don’t see much different in performance between our testing participants, although ASUS P8Z68-V, Gigabyte G1.Sniper 2 and Gigabyte GA-Z68XP-UD3-iSSD fall a little behind in the 7-Zip and 3DMark 11 Physics Score tests. This is quite logical because the performance in these tests is more sensitive to memory frequency, which was lower on these particular mainboards – 1600 MHz. It isn’t a huge difference compared with other mainboards which memory worked at 1866 MHz, but it is nevertheless quite noticeable. Therefore, you shouldn’t overestimate the importance of high memory clock, but at the same time you shouldn’t totally neglect it either.
We performed our power consumption measurements using an Extech Power Analyzer 380803. This device is connected before the PSU and measures the power draw of the entire system (without the monitor), including the power loss that occurs in the PSU itself. In the idle mode we start the system up and wait until it stops accessing the hard disk. Then we use LinX to load the CPU. For a more illustrative picture there are graphs that show how the computer’s power consumption grows up depending on the number of active execution threads in LinX. The mainboards are sorted in alphabetical order on the diagrams.
It is hard to overlook dramatically high - almost 100 W – power consumption of Gigabyte G1.Sniper 2 mainboard in idle mode. And the reason is not the faulty design, power-hungry controllers or any other peculiarities that make it consume so much power. This is the consequences of the fact that all power-saving technologies are disabled by default. So, we should blame incorrect default settings, because during overclocking when all power-saving was on, the board’s power appetite wasn’t that much different from any others’.
I am sure that Gigabyte considers the integrated Creative CA20K2 sound processor and Bigfoot Killer E2100 network controller to be the key features of their G1.Sniper 2 mainboard. It is true, only Gigabyte mainboards from the gaming “K1-Killer” series boast these features, so we won’t deny their benefits. However, it is important to keep in mind a few other peculiarities of this product. It has very smart and thought-through design, supports all contemporary features and interfaces including USB 3.0 and SATA 6 Gbps. Yes, IEEE1394 (FireWire) support is missing, but is it really necessary? You can use the graphics core integrated into the processor, utilize unique technologies of the Intel Z68 Express chipset such as LucidLogix Virtu and Intel Smart Response. The board overclocks processors well, memory – a little worse, but I have to specifically stress its extremely handy automatic overclocking feature that allows to quickly and easily go back to the nominal system settings. And don’t forget the 5-inch panel that brings USB 3.0 and eSATA/USB Combo to the system case front as well as a very efficient cooling system with truly unique looks and style. All in all, this mainboard has a ton of advantages, but one pretty serious drawback: all power-saving modes and technologies are disabled in the BIOS by default, which seriously affects not only power consumption but also performance, because in this case Intel Turbo Boost technology is only partially functional. I am sure that the owners of Gigabyte G1.Sniper 2 mainboard will have no problem enabling all of them manually. However, it is manufacturer’s responsibility to ensure that the most optimal settings are chosen for the default mode, including power-saving and Intel Turbo Boost.