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