|Introduction and Gigabyte Z87 Features|
|We’ve already seen what ASUS has to offer in the way of its Republic of Gamers Z87-based motherboards, and now we’re having a look at Gigabyte’s take on Intel’s latest chipset that supports 4th generation Core Series Haswell processors. Gigabyte sent us a sampling of three motherboards that offers a broad overview of the options in the company’s line: the solid and affordable Z87X-UD4H, their G1.Sniper5 gaming beast, and the Z87X-OC Force flagship overclocking board.
Gigabyte's Primary Z87 FeaturesThe heart of Gigabyte’s Z87 platform is its Ultra Durable 5 Plus, which includes its heatsink design, CPU power design, and DualBIOS feature. The heatsinks on these Z87 boards vary somewhat from mainboard to mainboard, but as a line they offer passive, active, and water cooling setups around the CPU socket and chipset. For example, the Z87-UD4H has a passive heatsink, but both the G1.Sniper5 and Z87X-OC Force have fans and posts that are geared for liquid coolers.
The motherboards also feature an all-IR (International Rectifier) digital CPU power design, including PWM controllers and PowlRstage ICs that were built to work together to offer precision tuning and optimal cooling.
Gigabyte’s DualBIOS design offers a main BIOS and a backup BIOS--literally, two separate chips--so that if something goes terribly wrong with the main BIOS, the backup is there to ensure that you can recover everything with no trouble.
The company is particularly proud of the quality of their board components. For example, these Z87 boards have black solid caps that are rated for 10,000 hours at 105 degrees C. The USB and LAN ports each have a dedicated protection filter for preventing damaging electrostatic discharges, and Gigabyte also used one fuse for every USB port instead of one fuse for multiple ports; the idea is that if a fuse blows, you only lose a single USB port instead of a whole bank. This is actually a rather attractive feature; USB ports are notorious for crapping out at times, so allowing one port to cough up a hairball while the rest remain healthy is a welcome build feature.
Further to the point of craftsmanship, the motherboards’ CPU sockets are gold-plated, which prevents corrosion and thus helps ensure a longer lifespan for the board itself; on some models, such as the Z87X-OC Force, the interior of the PCI and DIMM slots have gold, too. Finally, the PCBs have two layers of copper in the circuit board sandwich, which Gigabyte says enables larger power loads to flow from component to component and also wicks away heat better.
Gigabyte has, as is typical, taken great care in the construction of these motherboards, employing small enhancements that add up. For example, the Z87 boards have a high-capacity front headphone amplifier designed to drive 600Ω loads, an Intel Gigabit LAN, and plenty of fan speed support. Each board has plenty of fan connectors (no fewer than 6), and Gigabyte put in OPT fan support, so users can implement a water pump that will run continuously at full speed (or just support a dual-fan cooler).
Gigabyte has also employed cFosSpeed traffic shaping and prioritization technology for better network performance and fast charging of mobile devices connected to USB (whether the computer is on or not) with On/Off Charge 2.
Refreshed Software, The Gigabyte App Center
With the Z87 generation, Gigabyte has completely rethought its bundled software. There’s always been a lot of applications stuffed onto Gigabyte’s drivers and utilities discs, but now most of them are all under one convenient umbrella called the Gigabyte App Center.
|With its striking red accents that pop against a black and gray color scheme, the Z87X-UD4H represents a solid mid-range offering in Gigabyte’s lineup of Z87 boards. Its feature list is essentially a rundown of all the platform offerings with virtually no special extras, but the board certainly looks and feels high-end.
The ATX mainboard supports up to 32GB of DDR3-3000(OC) memory over four DIMM slots, and the onboard graphics options include DisplayPort, HDMI, DVI-D, and D-Sub. The board has a plethora of expansion slots, including three PCIe x16 slots (running at x16, x8, and x4), three PCIe x1 slots, and a PCI slot, and it supports up to 2-way SLI or CrossFire.
The rear I/O panel is home to a PS/2 port (for old time’s sake); the aforementioned D-Sub, DVI-D, HDMI, and DisplayPort ports; optical S/PDIF; six USB 3.0 ports; two eSATA ports; gigabit LAN jack; and six audio jacks.
These days, pretty much every motherboard in the mid range and above has physical power and reset buttons on the PCB, and indeed the Z87X-UD4H has them too, as well as a Clear CMOS button.
The Z87X-UD4H's box contains the usual: a user manual and quick installation guide, driver and utilities disc, four SATA cables, the I/O shield, and an SLI bridge. It's not a decked-out bundle but for the money, it's a very good value.
|Gigabyte G1.Sniper 5|
|The latest in Gigabyte’s Sniper series of gaming motherboards is the G1.Sniper 5, which features the same familiar neon green and black color scheme. The banana clip-looking cover on the southbridge is gone, replaced by a more subdued design that’s accented by a tiny gold skull. Around the CPU socket is an active heatsink, and it’s designed to be ready for a liquid cooling system if you so desire. You can also load it up with fans aplenty, as there are nine fan headers on the PCB.
Like the Z87X-UD4H, the G1.Sniper 5’s four DIMM slots support up to 32GB of DDR3-3000(OC) RAM. The IGP supports two HDMI ports and a DisplayPort, and the expansion slots can handle up to 4-way SLI or CrossFire for monster GPU setups. There are two PCIe x16 slots at x16 (even with a dual-GPU setup), two PCIe x16 slots at x8 each, and three PCIe x1 slots.
The rear I/O panel sports a PS/2 port, a pair of HDMI ports, DisplayPort, both a coax and an optical S/PDIF, six USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, two LAN ports, and five audio jacks.
Note that although there are two LAN ports--one a Qualcomm Atheros Killer E2201 chip and one Intel GbE LAN--teaming is not supported. However, it does come with a wireless card that offers dual-band 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4GHz and 5GHz) and Bluetooth 4.0, 3.0+HS, and 2.1+EDR.
One of the G1.Sniper 5’s most notable features is AMP-UP Audio. Basically, for gamers or audiophiles with specific tastes in sound chips, Gigabyte made this board so that you can actually remove the OP-AMP with the included tweezer-like tool and swap in a different one. You can buy them in a number of places, and with this feature you can easily pop a new one onto the PCB.
The G1.Sniper 5 has the same onboard button configuration as the Z87X-UD4H: power, reset, clear CMOS, BIOS switch, and SB switch, with voltage measurement points.
In the box you’ll find a pile of goodies including one additional OP-AMP chip, the IC extractor tool, wireless module, 3.5-inch front panel with a pair of USB 3.0 ports, a CrossFire connector and several SLI connectors as well as the usual manual, driver disc, quick installation guide, six SATA cables, and the I/O shield.
|Gigabyte Z87X OC Force|
|The Gigabyte Z87X OC Force is decorated in Halloween colors, and that orange and black can only mean one thing: it’s an overclocking board. Indeed, Gigabyte has this motherboard tricked out with extra overclocking goodies. A simple addition is a metal bracket called the OC Brace that helps keep graphics cards snugly secured in place. The board's heatsink system--which is essentially identical to that of the G1.Sniper 5 except that the southbridge has an active heatsink, too--is called OC Cool.
There’s also OC Peg, which is an extra SATA power port attached directly to the PCB that you can plug into to give more juice to the system for more stability when using a multi-way graphics setup. In addition, the OC PCIe Switch feature lets you turn given PCI lanes on or off so you can effectively “remove” a graphics card without going through the hassle of physically pulling it out.
With OC Turbo, the system will optimally overclock a CPU based on the memory and processor setup, and the OC Trigger Switch lets you jump between high and low frequencies, so if you’re just booting and dinking around on your PC, you can keep things low-power, but if you’re testing or are otherwise looking for a performance boost, you can flip the switch to engage your higher frequencies.
The OC Gear button can change BCLK steppings, and there are two sets of +/- buttons that let you bump up the BCLK and CPU ratio incrementally. There’s also the predictable power and reset buttons as well as voltage read points.
Like the other two Z87 boards from Gigabyte we’ve looked at, this one supports up to 32GB of DDR3-3000 (OC) system memory, and it has the same onboard DisplayPort and pair of HDMI ports as the G1.Sniper 5.
Three of this mainboard’s PCIe x16 slots run at x16 even with three cards installed, and there are two more PCIe x16 slots (x8 connected) and a pair of PCIe x1 slots, and it supports up to 4-way SLI or CrossFire setups. There are ten total SATA 6Gbps ports--six from the chipset and four from a Marvell chip--with the former supporting RAID 0/1/5/10 and the latter RAID 0/1/10.
The rear I/O panel has a PS/2 port, optical S/PDIF, two HDMI ports, DisplayPort, six USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, six audio jacks, and the aforementioned two LAN ports. We already mentioned the OC Brace that comes with the OC Force and a wireless module, and the box also contains a 3.5-inch front panel with two USB 3.0 ports, eight voltage measurement cables, one CrossFire and three SLI bridge connectors, I/O shield, six SATA cables, quick installation guide, user manual, and driver disc. It's locked and loaded for performance.
|UEFI and Overclocking|
|More than any other aspect of its Z87 mainboards, the area that Gigabyte has invested the most in is cleaning up its previously lack-luster UEFI BIOS. This has been our primary (and one of our only) complaints about the last couple of generations of Gigabyte motherboards. Today, that has changed for the better...
The company was late to the game as the rest of the industry migrated away from AWARD BIOSes and developed graphically rich UEFIs that offered keyboard and mouse support and are generally easier to use. As a result, Gigabyte rushed its 3D BIOS out the door, and it showed. Their UEFI was slow, glitchy, and just overall poorly executed.
That’s all different now, and actually, instead of trying to fix its older 3D BIOS, Gigabyte chucked it wholesale and started from scratch. The result is a UEFI BIOS that’s at least as good as any other motherboard maker’s, and it offers some slick features all its own.
There are some “neat” features such as the ability to change the look of your UEFI background through opting for a different color scheme or actually loading in a photo of your own, but the overall look of the new BIOS is a huge step up from where it was. The main dashboard view gives you an overview of the whole system without offering a neutered easy mode, and it’s fairly easy to find your way around. The tabs are organized well and contain more or less what you expect them too--and offer more granular configuration options in some cases that you might expect.
Further along the road toward greater personalization and customization, Gigabyte’s new UEFI offers shortcuts to some of the most-used items such as loading defaults, performance adjustments, etc., but you can create and edit your own shortcuts, too.
In general, the new UEFI is smoother, prettier, and gives users more options for how they want to tweak their systems. You can enter in numbers to set parameters, but you can also drag a slider or select a preset from a drop-down menu. You can also create your own customized tab o’ goodies with all your preferred menu items all in one space.
But for all the good work that Gigabyte has done here, there are some odd features that are a bit confusing and just seem unnecessary and cumbersome. For example, you can switch from the new UEFI to the old one; press F2, and there you are, in the old and not-that-great UEFI. It just seems confusing.
Still, the new look and feel of the BIOS is far superior than anything Gigabyte has attempted before; the company finally has a mature UEFI for its users.
BIOS Overclocking Features and Results
As is the case these days with major manufacturers, Gigabyte offers a host of ways to adjust your system’s settings, including two different UEFI BIOS environments, desktop software, and in some cases (such as the OC Force), hardware buttons on the PCB.
|Test Setup and PCMark Tests|
|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/UEFI and set the memory frequency to the maximum officially
supported speed for the given platform. The 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
Our system included an Intel Core i7-4770K processor, ZOTAC NVIDIA GeForce GTX 285, 4GB of Kingston DDR3-1600MHz RAM, and an OCZ Vertex 4 SSD with Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 x64.
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. Below is what Futuremark says is incorporated into 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 scores here are tightly clustered, although the Maximus VI Gene nudges out the rest of the field by a razor-thin margin in all of the tests except for Entertainment.
|Cinebench R11.5 and POV-Ray|
|Cinebench R11.5 is a 3D rendering performance test based on Cinema 4D
from Maxon. Cinema 4D is a 3D rendering and animation suite used by
animation houses and producers like Sony Animation and many others. It's
very demanding of processor resources and is an excellent gauge of pure
Again we see a tight cluster of scores, this time in Cinebench. The Maximus VI Impact turned in a higher score compared to the rest of the field in the multithreaded test, although the tiny motherboard beat out the competition by the slimmest of margins. The Maximus VI Formula did the same in the single-thread test.
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 there's incredible parity between these systems; each one scored within a few points of one another, and those point differentials represent rather insignificant percentages.
|LameMT 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 MP3 audio encoder that is
used widely in a multitude of third party applications.
In this test, we created our own 223MB WAV file and converted it to the MP3 format using the multi-thread capable LAME MT application, in both single and multi-thread modes. Processing times are recorded below, listed in seconds. Shorter times equate to better performance.
What else can you say here except that each board delivered identical scores?
All of the systems were tested using the latest version of Internet Explorer 9, with default browser settings, on a clean install of Windows 7 Home Premium x64.
Although again the scores are tightly clustered, it's the Gigabyte G1.Sniper 5 that turns in the best performance, by a hair. The slowest was the ASUS Maximus VI Formula, and overall the Gigabyte boards fared a bit better than the ASUS boards.
|Low Res Gaming: Crysis and ETQW|
|For our next set of
tests, we moved on to some in-game benchmarking with Crysis
(DirectX) and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars (OpenGL). 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 place some load on
the CPU rather than GPU.
The ASUS motherboards and the Gigabyte Z87X-UD4H posted scores within a few FPS of one another, but the G1.Sniper 5 and Z87X-OC Force took a small nap on these. In Crysis, the difference is more pronounced, as the G1.Sniper 5 came in about 5 FPS below the lead group, while the Z87X-OC Force was another few FPS below that. The gap isn't as pronounced in ET:QW, but the lower scores on two of Gigabyte's more high-end boards just shows they're tuned with tight specifications with clock timing chips set less aggressively.
If you wanted to gain this small bit of performance back, you could just overclock by a few MHz here or there.
|Total System Power Consumption|
|Throughout all of benchmarking and testing, we also monitored how much power our test systems consumed
using a power meter. Our goal was to give you all an idea as to how
much power each configuration used while idling and while under a heavy
workload. Please keep in mind that we were testing total system power
consumption at the outlet here, not just the power being drawn by the
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the little Impact was by far the most efficient motherboard in this group at idle, pulling just 69.7W at the wall, especially in contrast to the burly G1.Sniper 5, which wanted 117W. The Z87X-UD4H is more closely aligned here size wise and with respect to on-board features. We see more parity when all of the systems are under load, though; the Impact and the Z87X-UD4H were close at 157W and 160W respectively, and the Gene and Formula were relatively efficient under load.
|Performance Summary and Conclusion|
|Performance Summary: The three Gigabyte Z87 boards that we tested performed solidly in our benchmarks, with the exception of a couple of softer scores in the gaming tests. The boards posted strong overclocks with excellent stability, and although overall they were a hair behind what the trio of ASUS boards were able to manage, it was encouraging to see that BCLKs on the G1.Sniper 5 and Z87X-OC Force had a bit of leeway, even with the CPU multiplier jacked way up on our particular processor.
Gigabyte has been making quality motherboards for a long time, and this latest batch is more of the same. They boast high-quality components and carefully designed layouts to milk the best performance and durability out of them. However, unlike the last couple of generations of Gigabyte boards that were solid on the hardware side but lagged behind the industry on the BIOS side, the Z87 lineup enjoys a BIOS with a rich GUI and smooth navigation and performance. There are more than enough parameters to adjust to keep an overclocker happy for weeks on end, too.
Personally, I’m not in love with the fact there are two completely separate BIOS environments; it seems to me that if one isn’t sufficient then you’re probably doing it wrong (despite the fact that the new BIOS seems to be great by itself). It just seems like overkill, especially in light of the fact that you can also adjust system settings using software in the Windows environment, and in the case of the Z87X-OC Force, you also have a pile of buttons on the PCB dedicated to overclocking. Still, I can see how some might really like all the extra options.
Speaking of the software, Gigabyte deserves a nod for reworking all of its bundled software and utilities. Having almost everything centralized in one place with the Gigabyte App Center makes it easier to find what you need, and the unified UI is a refreshing change from the various looks of the different pieces of software on previous generations of Gigabyte boards.
Prices for the Gigabyte Z87X-UD4H, G1.Sniper 5, and Z87X-OC Force vacillate a bit online. You can snag the UD4H for as low as $187.85 and as much as $229; the G1.Sniper 5 for $389; and the Z87X OC Force for $409 or so.
With full recognition that cost is only part of the equation and that if you really want a top-of-the-line gaming or overclocking motherboard price is no object, the Z87X-UD4H presents the best value here. That’s by no means a knock on the other two boards; it’s just that while all three are excellent, the UD4H is just about as good as the costlier motherboards if you don't need all the bells, whistles and expansion options. Despite the fact that the other two offer some additional features, those extra features are only going to be worth the extra dollars to certain types of users.
Removing cost as a factor, you’d be happy with any of these three Gigabyte boards in your system.