|Intro, Specs, and Bundle|
|We’ve looked at our share of Z68-based motherboards here at HotHardware, and the Gigabyte G1.Sniper2 is another stand-out to consider.
The G1.Sniper2 is in Gigabyte’s line of Sniper/Guerilla/Assassin gaming motherboards, although it’s currently the only one in the family with the Z68 chipset.
This ATX board supports the gamut of Intel socket LGA1155 chips, from the mighty Core i7 on down to Celeron processors, as well as up to 32GB of DDR3-2133 memory over four DIMM slots. On the graphics side, the G1.Sniper2 offers Intel’s integrated graphics of course (which powers an HDMI port with a maximum resolution of 1900x1200) as well as two PCI-E x16 slots (one x16 and one x8), two PCI-E x1 slots, and two PCI slots, with support for two-way SLI/CrossFireX.
For storage, the chipset powers a pair of SATA 6Gbps connectors, three SATA 3Gbps connectors, and one 3Gbps eSATA/USB combo connector (on the back panel), while a Marvell 88SE9172 chip delivers another couple of SATA 6Gbps connectors. The former supports RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10, while the latter supports RAID 0 and 1.
The G1.Sniper2 comes with a driver/utilities/software disc and a trio of manuals--one for the motherboard in English, a multilingual installation guidebook, and an Intel SRT installation guide. Predictably, it also has a rear I/O panel, a two-way SLI bridge, and a smattering of SATA cables.
Like some of its predecessors, this motherboard has a 5.24-inch front panel that you can install. The panel sports a pair of USB 3.0 ports, an eSATA/USB port, and a Quick Boost overclocking button.
And for those who love to trick out their cases, bedrooms, basements, or what have you, Gigabyte included a colorful poster (one side is scary-looking men, and the other is a human-shaped target) as well as a cornucopia of death-y, bullet-y stickers.
|Layout and Features|
|Like the other motherboards in the G1.Sniper/Guerilla/Assasin family, the G1.Sniper2 sports a black PCB with gunmetal black and neon green accents--a striking color palette, although we wonder at the usefulness of a Sniper wearing neon green. (It just seems a little counterproductive. We digress.) The heatsinks evoke gun barrels, and there’s a banana clip with a bullet peeking out of the top for extra intimidation. One of the gun barrels has a quintet of neon green lights.
Also like most Gigabyte boards you’ll see, there are no physical buttons on the G1.Sniper2, which is a little odd for a higher-end board of this type.
There are heatsinks galore around the CPU socket, but they didn’t in any way interfere with our sizable CPU heatsink. For that matter, even with a big dual-fan heatsink sitting on top, we were able to fairly easily get to all the fan and power connectors.
Next to the CPU socket are four memory slots, which are conveniently color-coded in black and neon green so you can easily tell where to put your first pair of DIMMs. The PCI-E slots are spaced so that there’s ample room for two PCI-E x16 cards (which will operate at x8 each) in an SLI or CrossFireX setup.
The back panel features seven USB 2.0/1.1 ports and two USB 3.0 ports, an eSATA/USB Combo connector, an optical S/PDIF Out connector, an HDMI port, a PS/2 port, five audio jacks including line in/mic in and line out, and a gigabit LAN port powered by the Bigfoot Killer E2100 chip. (Note that the G1.Sniper2 supports a total of eighteen USB ports between the chipset and a pair of Etron EJ168 chips.)
Gigabyte definitely worked to bake in strong audio capabilities to this board. It features Creative Soundblaster Digital Audio Processor (20K2), X-Fi Xtreme Fidelity, and EAX Advanced HD 5.0, along with a built-in front audio headphone amplifier.
There are many included utilities and software with this motherboard, which are all available on the driver disk. Some of the more notable utilities include EasyTune 6, for adjusting a variety of settings from the OS; Gigabyte EZ Smart Response, which provides an easier way to configure Intel’s SRT; Cloud OC, which lets you overclock your machine via the Internet; 3TB HDD unlock, which does what it sounds like it does for larger hard drives; and Smart 6, which gives you control over a variety of settings in the OS environment. If Smart 6 sounds a lot like EasyTune 6, it’s because they are indeed a lot alike.
Gigabyte's bundled software also includes TouchBIOS, which lets you adjust BIOS settings from the OS (more on that later) and LucidLogix Virtu technology. The G1.Sniper2 also includes support for PCI-E Gen 3.
|BIOS and Overclocking|
|Gigabyte is fairly unique in the motherboard market in that the company still uses an old BIOS interface at a time when most manufacturers have flashy, colorful, and powerfully appointed UEFIs. To each his own--you could argue that there are pros and cons to each approach--but the fact is that there isn’t much to talk about regarding this motherboard’s BIOS. With some minor exceptions, it’s pretty much the same thing you’ve seen on any Gigabyte board in the recent years.
That is not to say that there aren’t a multitude of ways to tweak the G1.Sniper2’s settings. Indeed, there are several. You can of course adjust settings manually from the BIOS, but you can also use the Smart QuickBoost utility, the EasyTune6 utility, the OC button on the back I/O panel, the OC button on the optional front panel, or the TouchBIOS utility. If you really want to test its limits, you can also overclock your system over the Internet with the Cloud OC utility.
Using the old standby method of manually adjusting settings via the MB Intelligent Tweaker (M.I.T.), we reliably hit 4.5GHz on standard air cooling. TouchBIOS is essentially just a GUI of the BIOS running within the Windows environment, so it offers the same tools as the actual BIOS.
Using the Smart QuickBoost utility, you can click a button to overclock the system on one of three settings: Faster, Turbo, and Twin Turbo. You have to be a little careful with Smart QuickBoost, as it will give a quick boost to whatever settings you already have. Thus, if you already have the system overclocked, QuickBoost might offer an easy one-button overclock to, say, 5.2GHz if you already overclocked the system to 4.5GHz. With stock settings, even the Twin Turbo setting is 4.2GHz the Core i7 2600K we used for testing.
Oddly, the EasyTune6 utility looks and feels almost identical to Smart QuickBoost, but the three options are “1”, “2”, and “3”, and the highest automatic overclock it offers is 4.1GHz on our Core i7 2600K CPU.
The system also automatically overclocked itself to 4.2GHz when we used the back panel or front panel OC buttons.
|PCMark Vantage and PCMark 7|
|Test System Configuration Notes: When configuring our test system for this article, we first entered the system BIOSes and the board to its "Optimized Defaults". We then saved the settings, re-entered the BIOS and set the memory frequency to DDR3-1333. We updated the OS and installed the drivers necessary for our components. Auto-Updating and Windows Defender were then disabled and we installed all of our benchmarking software, performed a disk clean-up, defragged the hard drives, and ran the tests.
First up, we ran our system through Futuremark’s total-system performance evaluation tool, PCMark Vantage. PCMark Vantage runs through a host of different usage scenarios to simulate different types of workloads including High Definition TV and movie playback and manipulation, gaming, image editing and manipulation, music compression, communications, and productivity.
Most of the sub-tests used to come up with the final scores in each category are multi-threaded as well, so the tests can exploit the additional resources offered by a multi-core CPU.
The Gigabyte G1.Sniper2 didn’t do as well in the PCMark Vantage test. It posted the second lowest score of the boards we compared it to, below the two other Gigabyte boards. It did reasonably well in the Communications sub-test but trailed behind the pack in the more important sub-tests, including Gaming, Productivity, and Memories. However, the variance between each of the boards tested is not large, relatively speaking.
Futuremark's PCMark 7 is the latest version of the PCMark suite, recently released this spring. It has updated application performance measurements targeted for a Windows 7 environment. Here's what Futuremark says is incorporated in the base PCMark suite and the Entertainment suite, the two modules we have benchmark scores for you here.
The PCMark test is a collection of workloads that measure system performance during typical desktop usage. This is the most important test since it returns the official PCMark score for the system
* Windows Defender
* Importing pictures
Video Playback and transcoding
* DirectX 9
Web browsing and decrypting
The Entertainment test is a collection of workloads that measure system performance in entertainment scenarios using mostly application workloads. Individual tests include recording, viewing, streaming and transcoding TV shows and movies, importing, organizing and browsing new music and several gaming related workloads. If the target system is not capable of running DirectX 10 workloads then those tests are skipped. At the end of the benchmark run the system is given an Entertainment test score.
In the PCMark 7 test, the G1.Sniper2 did much better, posting the second-best score in PCMarks and the highest score in the Entertainment test.
|LAME MT Audio Encoding and Cinebench|
|In our custom LAME MT MP3 encoding test, we convert a large WAV file to the MP3 format, which is a popular scenario that many end users work with on a day-to-day basis to provide portability and storage of their digital audio content. LAME is an open-source mid to high bit-rate and VBR (variable bit rate) MP3 audio encoder that is used widely around the world in a multitude of third party applications.
In this test, we created our own 223MB WAV music file and converted it to the MP3 format using the multi-thread capable LAME MT application in single and multi-thread modes. Processing times are recorded below, listed in seconds. Shorter times equate to better performance.
The audio encoding test showed very little differentiation between the motherboards, although the Gigabyte Z68-UD4 technically brought up the rear.
Cinebench R11.5 is an OpenGL 3D rendering performance test based on Cinema 4D from Maxon. Cinema 4D is a 3D rendering and animation tool suite used by 3D animation houses and producers like Sony Animation and many others. It's very demanding of system processor resources and is an excellent gauge of pure computational throughput. This is a multi-threaded, multi-processor aware benchmark that renders and animates 3D scenes and tracks the length of the entire process. The rate at which each test system was able to render the entire scene is represented in the graph below.
Although our featured board posted the lowest number of the bunch, the scores for all the motherboards were fairly closely clustered, so it’s not something to give too much weight to. The variance between test runs is often a few tenths of a percent in this benchmark.
|Low-Res Gaming: Crysis and ET:QW|
|For our next set of tests, we moved on to some in-game benchmarking with Crysis and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. When testing processors with Crysis or ET:QW, we drop the resolution to 1024x768, and reduce all of the in-game graphical options to their minimum values to isolate CPU and memory performance as much as possible. However, the in-game effects, which control the level of detail for the games' physics engines and particle systems, are left at their maximum values, since these actually do place some load on the CPU rather than GPU.
With our ET:QW and Crysis scores, the G1.Sniper2 finally stands out. In the former, our board came in second to the ASUS P8Z68 Deluxe, but bested the others and it took the top spot in Crysis by a good margin.
|Total System Power Consumption|
|Before bringing this article to a close, we'll take a look at power consumption of this motherboard. Throughout all of our benchmarking and testing, we monitored how much power each consumed with a power meter. Our goal was to give you an idea as to how much power it used while idling on the desktop and while under a heavy workload. Keep in mind, this is total system power consumption being measured at the outlet and not the the individual motherboards alone.
When it comes to power consumption, the G1.Sniper2 is a bit of an odd duck. At idle, it drew 124W--far more than the next-biggest power consumer, the ASUS board that drank 112W. However, when going full bore, the Sniper consumed just 166W, which is less than all but one of the other motherboards on the list.
|Performance Summary and Conclusion|
|Although the Gigabyte G1.Sniper2 delivered somewhat mixed benchmark scores, at times dropping behind the pack and other times leading the way, overall it performed well. One limitation worth mentioning is that it only supports two-way SLI/CrossFireX, which limits its graphics expansion capabilities. For a board in this class, we were a little surprised at that.
Further, the G1.Sniper2 is not cheap; its MSRP is $359.99. We looked at other Z68 boards that cost a lot less yet deliver similar performance. Some boards certainly have better graphics expansion options, though admittedly going beyond two cards is a much more limited market need.
Let’s face it, you can always juice a system here or there to get some more performance out of it, but stability is always a problem. There’s a narrow margin between squeezing more performance out of your system and having it crash on you, and the worst time for a crash is in the middle of a game. The G1.Sniper2 is a rock; it feels as solid as any board we’ve tested of late, and despite our tinkering and tweaking, it never crashed until we overclocked it to beyond the limits of our CPU at 4.7GHz.
Additionally, we suspect that an overclocker with more patience and time could probably push our system farther than we did and maintain stability.
The G1.Sniper2 is a motherboard built for gamers, and although it’s somewhat limited in graphics expandability, this board possesses other qualities near and dear to gamers: it overclocks very well and remains stable when you need it most. It also looks pretty sweet should you want to showcase your rig to fellow gamers.