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Gigabyte G1.Sniper3 Z77 Motherboard Review
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Date: Jul 16, 2012
Section:Motherboards
Author: Seth Colaner
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Intro, Specs, and Bundle
Over the last few months, we have looked at plenty of Z77 based motherboards here at HH, covering a wide range of price points. But today we dive deep into one of the higher-end models available, the Gigabyte G1.Sniper3. We slapped an Ivy Bridge chip in this one instead of the Sandy Bridge Core i7-2600K and 2700K's we've tested in the boards thus far, to see how well Intel's newest chips and the Z77 work together. Specifically, we used an Intel Core i5-3470 chip, which we reviewed in depth here.

The Gigabyte G1.Sniper3 supports LGA 1155 processors and features support for up to 32GB of DDR3-2066 (OC) system memory. As a gaming motherboard, Gigabyte saw fit to include support for up to 4-way SLI and CrossFireX (up to PCI-E x8 with four cards and PCI-E x16 with two) too.




Gigabyte G1.Sniper3
Specifications & Features
CPU:

Chipset:
Memory:


Onboard Graphics:
Audio:




LAN:

Expansion Slots:



Multi-Graphics:
Storage:





USB:




Form Factor:
Supports LGA1155 Intel Core i7/i5/i3/Pentium/Celeron processors
L3 cache varies with CPU
Intel Z77 Express
4 x 1.5V DDR3 DIMM sockets supporting up to 32 GB of system memory
Dual channel memory architecture
Support for DDR3 2666(OC)/1600/1333/1066 MHz memory modules
D-Sub, DVI-D, HDMI, DisplayPort
Creative CA0132 chip
Support for Sound Blaster Recon3Di
High Definition Audio
2/5.1-channel
Support for S/PDIF Out
Qualcomm Atheros Killer E2200 LAN chip (10/100/1000 Mbit) (LAN1)
Intel GbE LAN phy (10/100/1000 Mbit) (LAN2)
2 x PCI Express x16 slots, running at x16 (PCIEX16_1, PCIEX16_2)
2 x PCI Express x16 slots, running at x8 (PCIEX8_1, PCIEX8_2)
2 x PCI Express x1 slots
1 x PCI slot
Support for 4-Way/3-Way/2-Way AMD CrossFireX/NVIDIA SLI technology
Chipset:
2 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors (SATA3 0/1) supporting up to 2 SATA 6Gb/s devices
4 x SATA 3Gb/s connectors (SATA2 2/3/4/5) supporting up to 4 SATA 3Gb/s devices
1 x mSATA connector
2 x Marvell 88SE9172 chips:
4 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors (GSATA3 6/7/8/9) supporting up to 4 SATA 6Gb/s devices
Chipset:
Up to 2 USB 3.0/2.0 ports on the back panel
Up to 4 USB 2.0/1.1 ports (available through the internal USB headers)
Chipset + 2 VIA VL810 Hubs:
Up to 8 USB 3.0/2.0 ports (4 ports on the back panel, 4 ports available through the internal USB headers)
E-ATX Form Factor; 30.5cm x 26.4cm 



All told, this Sniper3 board has four PCI-E x16 slots, two PCI-E x1 slots, and a PCI slot for plenty of expansion options. There are six total SATA 6Gbps ports (two via the chipset and four from Marvell chips) in addition to four SATA 3Gbps ports and an mSATA connector. Between the chipset and VIA chips, the board supports up to ten USB 3.0 ports, four USB 2.0 ports, and a pair of FireWire ports, as well. Onboard D-Sub, DVI-D, DisplayPort, and HDMI ports are available via the rear I/O panel should you want to take advantage of Ivy Bridge's integrated graphics or leverage LucidLogix's Virtu GPU Virtualization software.

  

Although it lacks a teaming function, the Sniper3 does have dual LAN ports; one runs on the Qualcomm Atheros Killer E2200 LAN chip, while the other uses Intel’s Gigabit LAN technology.

     

Befitting a higher-end motherboard, the G1.Sniper3 comes with plenty of accessories; there’s the requisite manual, multilingual installation guidebook, drivers and utilities disc, I/O shield, and half-dozen SATA cables, but that’s just the start. The box also includes a dual CrossFireX bridge and two-, three-, and four-way SLI bridges; a USB 3.0 front panel with two ports; and a Gigabyte Sniper-themed poster and stickers, in case you like to decorate your case with terrifying images of death. (No judgement.)

  

But wait--There’s more--including an external eSATA panel with two eSATA ports, Molex power cables, two more long SATA cables, and a Molex-to-dual-SATA power adapter cable. A dual-band WiFi a/b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0 combo PCI-E expansion card with dual antennas came along for the ride, too.
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Layout and Features
Gigabyte didn’t reinvent the wheel with the G1.Sniper3, as its PCB is quite similar to other boards in the Sniper series. The basic color scheme starts with a black board onto which is mounted black and neon green components with black heatsinks. Unlike the slightly more gun-themed G1.Sniper2, which had a banana clip (with a bullet sticking out of the top) chipset heatsink and gun barrel-looking heatsinks around the CPU socket, the G1.Sniper3 has more traditional-looking fins for both. It’s not as sexy, but it’s not as silly, either; plus, the gold skull emblem on the G1.Sniper3’s southbridge heatsink is pretty sharp.



Another feature the G1.Sniper3 does not share with previous motherboards in the family are onboard buttons, which is a new (and welcome) thing for Gigabyte. There’s a large power button that glows orange, and right below that is a debug LED. The nearby reset switch and CMOS buttons are more inconspicuous, and there’s a manual switch to toggle between the main BIOS and backup BIOS, as well.


The back panel has plenty going on; there’s a PS/2 port; six USB 3.0 ports; two LAN ports; optical S/PDIF out; a quintet of audio jacks; and D-Sub, DVI-D, DisplayPort, and HDMI ports.

Gigabyte did its customers a solid on the audio side by including Creative Sound Core3D audio, which features THX TruStudio Pro and CrystalVoice technologies for enhanced gaming audio performance as well as a built-in headphone amp on the front panel. There are four additional amps supporting the speaker outputs.





     

The G1.Sniper3, like other Gigabyte boards, features an all-digital PWM controller array, which users can control via Gigabyte’s 3D Power utility. The utility is pretty and simple, with just three sections--phase, voltage, and frequency--each of which has a handful of settings users can adjust using simple sliders.



As always, Gigabyte included a truckload of other software and utilities. Intel Rapid Start and Intel Smart Connect, which enable fast boot times and keep communications like email and social media connected with the cloud even while the system’s asleep, are both there, as is Gigabyte’s EZ utility which is designed to make it even easier to use the aforementioned features.

Other goodies include Xpress Recovery2, for compressing and backing up data; EasyTune 6, for tweaking system performance in the Windows environment; Q-Share, which enables data sharing on a network; easy RAID configurations through XHD; and more.
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UEFI BIOS and Overclocking
Gigabyte’s 3D BIOS has a simple mode and an advanced mode, which is a setup several manufacturers are using these days.

The simple mode consists of a row of icons at the bottom of the screen (Advanced, Boot, Language, Fan Control, Time, Load Defaults, and Save & Exit), a real-time CPU and memory frequency clock in the upper-right corner, and a large 3D representation of the motherboard. The image can be flipped 180 degrees, and when you mouse over a particular section of the board, a text balloon will appear describing that particular component; if you click the component, you can access a menu that lets you adjust its settings.

    

To get to the Advanced mode, just click the Advanced icon in the lower left corner. This mode also uses a graphical interface, but it’s more subdued and evokes the layout of the old AWARD BIOS many enthusiasts were used to a couple of years ago.

There are but six sections in Advanced Mode--M.I.T., System, BIOS Features, Peripherals, Power Management, and Save & Exit--and for the most part, everything you’re looking for is where you’d expect it to be. Finding what you need isn’t difficult, yet Gigabyte has included a bevy of options for fine-tuning performance, from CPU and memory settings to fan power.

    

Although we do like the look of Gigabyte’s 3D BIOS and feel that it’s organized fairly well, performance is another issue entirely, which is something we’ve stated in previous reviews. After developing a UEFI relatively late in the game, we had high hopes for Gigabyte’s 3D BIOS, but up to this point it’s been a bit of a let down--compared to UEFI utilities from Asus and ASRock, Gigabyte's solution feel slow and can be frustrating.

    

With the latest version of the BIOS (F5), things improved somewhat, but there are still some issues we’re not thrilled with. The mouse performance in the BIOS is still laggier than we’d like, navigation isn’t especially intuitive, and it seems as though the system doesn’t always feel like recognizing mouse clicks. Further, once you’ve selected an item, it’s not always clear that you have actually selected it nor how exactly you’re supposed to input a setting change. It’s not that it’s impossible to figure it out, it’s just that it’s not readily apparent; in other words, it looks like an interface you’ve used before, but it doesn’t feel like it. When you’re using a good interface, you shouldn’t have to think for a moment about that sort of thing.

Overclocking with the Z77 Express Chipset
Taking Things Up A Notch of Three
When motherboards perform more or less equally in benchmarks with the same components attached, overclocking sometimes separates the men from the boys, so to speak--and the Gigabyte G1.Sniper3 is very manly indeed.

With the slew of other Z77 motherboards we’ve reviewed recently, we found that they could all be pushed to about 4.6GHz with an Intel Core i7-2600K on air cooling and without any voltage alterations. Aside from the EVGA Z77 FTW, which stepped out with a monster clock of 4.83GHz, the Gigabyte G1.Sniper3 is a cut above the pack at 4.73GHz with a base clock of 105 and a multiplier of x45.

We also tested this Gigabyte motherboard with an Ivy Bridge Intel Core i5-3470 (3.2GHz), and with that mid-range chip inside, we hit just under 4.2GHz (base clock 105, multiplier x40). The reason for the lower clock is that the i5-3470 is just a partially unlocked processor, which inhibits what you can do when overclocking. For example, the multiplier can only go four bins higher than the stock Turbo clock, which is 3.6Ghz--hence the low multiplier of x40.

With a higher-end Sandy Bridge chip inside, though, you can see how well this board overclocks. Note that there are plenty of additional settings begging to tweaked, including memory, CPU voltage, and fan power, so there’s plenty of headroom yet to explore.
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Test Setup and PCMark 7
Test System Configuration Notes: When configuring our test systems for this article, we first entered their respective UEFI menus and set each board to its "Optimized" or "High performance Defaults". We then saved the settings, re-entered the BIOS and set the memory frequency to the maximum officially supported speed for the given platform. The hard drives were then formatted, and Windows 7 Home Premium x64 was installed. When the Windows installation was complete, 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, cleared temp and prefetch data, and ran the tests.

In order to both see how an Ivy Bridge chip would do in a Z77-based motherboard and also get data for comparison to other boards we’ve tested recently, we ran our benchmarks twice--once each with the Intel Core i5-3470 (Ivy Bridge) and Intel Core i7-2600K (Sandy Bridge).

The Core i5-3470 is a fine processor and enjoys the perks of Ivy Bridge, but it’s a decidedly mid-range CPU as opposed to the higher-end Core i7-2600K. For example, the i5-3470 lacks Hyper-Threading, so it’s running four cores/four threads instead of four cores/eight threads, so bear that in mind when evaluating benchmark scores.

Futuremark PCMark 7
General Application and Multimedia Performance
Futuremark's PCMark 7 is the latest version of the PCMark whole-system benchmarking suite. It has updated application performance measurements targeted for a Windows 7 environment and uses newer metrics to gauge relative performance, versus the older PCMark Vantage.

Below is what Futuremark says is incorporated in the base PCMark suite and the Entertainment, Creativity, and Productivity suites, the four 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
Storage
-Windows Defender
-Importing pictures
-Gaming

Video Playback and transcoding
Graphics

-DirectX 9

Image manipulation
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.

The Creativity test contains a collection of workloads to measure the system performance in typical creativity scenarios. Individual tests include viewing, editing, transcoding and storing photos and videos. At the end of the benchmark run the system is given a Creativity test score.

The Productivity test is a collection of workloads that measure system performance in typical productivity scenarios. Individual workloads include loading web pages and using home office applications. At the end of the benchmark run the system is given a Productivity test score.



The deltas between these motherboards is small; in the overall PCMarks score, in fact all but one are within a few dozen points of one another. The G1.Sniper3 with the Ivy Bridge chip did take the top spot by a slim margin, though; it was also tops in the Productivity sub-test and trailed the pack ever so slightly in the Entertainment sub-test but lagged behind by a little more in Creativity.
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Cinebench R11.5 and POV-Ray
Cinebench R11.5 is an OpenGL 3D rendering performance test based on Cinema 4D from Maxon. Cinema 4D is a 3D rendering and animation 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 computational throughput. This is a multi-threaded, multi-processor aware benchmark that renders a 3D scene 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.

Cinebench R11.5
3D Rendering Benchmark



The G1.Sniper3 scored pretty much right on par with the best boards in Cinebench with the Core i7-2600K; with the Ivy Bridge chip, the outcome was less impressive. As we mentioned previously, though, the Core i5-3470 lacks Hyper-Threading, so a 5.63 isn’t a terrible score compared to the field, all things considered--especially in light of the fact that its single-thread score was a solid one.

POV-Ray Performance
Ray Tracing Benchmark
POV-Ray , or the Persistence of Vision Ray-Tracer, is an open source tool for creating realistically lit 3D graphics artwork. We tested with POV-Ray's standard 'one-CPU' and 'all-CPU' benchmarking tools on all of our test machines and recorded the scores reported for each. Results are measured in pixels-per-second throughput; higher scores equate to better performance.



In POV-Ray, the G1.Sniper3 was just a few points behind the top scorers in the multi-threaded test with Sandy Bridge inside (and topped the others in the single-thread test), while it lagged behind the field by about the same margin we saw in Cinebench with the Ivy Bridge chip. However, note well that in the single-thread test, the G1.Sniper3/Ivy Bridge combo won the day by a step or two.
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LAME MT and SunSpider
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.

LAME MT
Audio Conversion and Encoding
In this test, we created our own 223MB WAV audio 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.



There are no big surprises here; all of the boards posted close scores regardless of which processor was inside.

SunSpider JavaScript Benchmark
JavaScript Performance Testing
Next up, we have some numbers from the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark. According to the SunSpider website:

This benchmark tests the core JavaScript language only, not the DOM or other browser APIs. It is designed to compare different versions of the same browser, and different browsers to each other. Unlike many widely available JavaScript benchmarks, this test is:

Real World - This test mostly avoids microbenchmarks, and tries to focus on the kinds of actual problems developers solve with JavaScript today, and the problems they may want to tackle in the future as the language gets faster. This includes tests to generate a tagcloud from JSON input, a 3D raytracer, cryptography tests, code decompression, and many more examples. There are a few microbenchmarkish things, but they mostly represent real performance problems that developers have encountered.

Balanced - This test is balanced between different areas of the language and different types of code. It's not all math, all string processing, or all timing simple loops. In addition to having tests in many categories, the individual tests were balanced to take similar amounts of time on currently shipping versions of popular browsers.

Statistically Sound - One of the challenges of benchmarking is knowing how much noise you have in your measurements. This benchmark runs each test multiple times and determines an error range (technically, a 95% confidence interval). In addition, in comparison mode it tells you if you have enough data to determine if the difference is statistically significant.

All of the systems were testing using the latest version of Internet Explorer 9, with default browser settings, on a clean installation of Windows 7 Home Premium x64.



Well, well, well; the G1.Sniper3 with Ivy Bridge inside steps out with the top score here--note that lower scores are better. The rest of the scores in this test are tightly clustered, and the G1.Sniper3 with Sandy Bridge finished in the middle of the tight pack.
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Low-Res: Gaming Tests
For our next series of tests, we moved on to some more 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 a load on the CPU rather than GPU.

Low-Resolution Gaming: Crysis and ET: Quake Wars
Taking the GPU out of the Equation






We’ll call it a fluke perhaps, but the G1.Sniper3 didn’t do well in Crysis, posting a score 6.5 FPS behind the top scorer and failing to crack the 160FPS ceiling altogether. With Ivy Bridge, the motherboard’s score dropped another 5 FPS to 153.62.

The story is a little different in ET:QW, where the G1.Sniper3 with the Core i7-2600K was edged out only by another Gigabyte board. The Core i5-3470 didn’t fare especially well, but it did score within just 5 FPS of the ASRock board.
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Total System Power Consumption
Before bringing this article to a close, we'd also like to talk a bit about power consumption. Throughout all of our benchmarking and testing, we monitored how much power each of our Z77 Express-based test systems was consuming with a power meter, and compared them to the reference systems used throughout our benchmark tests.

Total System Power Consumption
Tested at the Outlet
Our goal was to give you an idea as to how much power each configuration used while idling at the Windows desktop and while under a heavy CPU workload. Keep in mind, this is total system power consumption being measured at the outlet and not the the individual power consumption of the motherboards alone.



As you might expect from a gaming motherboard, the G1.Sniper3 is a little power-hungry, relatively speaking of course. At idle, it topped 100W regardless of the processor inside, which is significantly more than any other board in our chart. However, what’s apparent is that the Core i5-3470 is far more efficient, pulling the least amount of power of any other contender when under load. That’s just a 40W increase between its idle and load power requirements.
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Summary and Conclusion
Performance Summary: The Gigabyte G1.Sniper3 delivered solid numbers across the board--not necessarily blowing away the competition, but certainly edging it out on occasion and holding its own throughout testing. The Crysis score was lower than expected, but based on our other tests, this board doesn't have any performance concerns. Although it does gobble up more juice at idle than any other Z77 Express-based motherboard we've tested to date.


Gigabyte G1.Sniper3

Where the G1.Sniper3 shines is overclocking; we were able to goose the system to 4.73GHz with the Core i7-2600K inside (with air cooling and stock voltages), which was much better than all but one of the other boards we've tested so far. Further, the motherboard proved to be rock stable as we pushed the base clock up to 106 (with a x45 multiplier) without any stability issues whatsoever. The best performance actually came at 105/x45, but the system never crashed once even when we had it overclocked too far for it to operate at an optimal level.

With so much headroom, plenty of features, and ample graphics expansion--remember that this mainboard supports four-way graphics with cards running at x8 each--the G1.Sniper3 is as feature rich as they come.

The price tag isn’t bad, either--you can snag one of these bad boys for $279.99. Granted, you can opt for a Z77 board that costs less and still get the performance and features you need, but if you’re looking for a gaming motherboard with excellent overclocking and expansion capabilities, and eye-catching aesthetics, the G1.Sniper3 definitely gives you the right bang for your buck.




   
  • Great overclocking headroom
  • Excellent stability
  • Graphics expandability
  • Good looks
  • Not substantially better than other Z77 options
  • Power hungry
 






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