Gigabyte offers early peek at Z87 motherboards

Intel’s next-generation processor isn’t due for a couple of weeks, but that isn’t stopping motherboard makers from previewing their wares. We’ve already seen what Asus has in store for Intel’s upcoming flagship Z87 platform. Now, it’s Gigabyte’s turn to show off. We flew down to Los Angeles last week to check out the company’s upcoming boards, and we have much to report.

Gigabyte’s Z87 boards are split into three main categories: overclocking, gaming, and everything else. The OC models are really designed for the hard-core overclocking crowd; unless you have a canister of liquid nitrogen in your closet, you should probably look elsewhere. There are some interesting features for competitive overclockers, though.

Most of the new innovations are found on the Z87X-OC, which will be the cheaper of the two OC boards. This is a stripped-down model designed to break records, and Gigabyte says its in-house overclockers were instrumental in its development. Among the new features is an OC Ignition switch that keeps the board powered even when the system is turned off. Any connected fans and pumps will continue to run, including those on graphics cards plugged into the system.

Onboard buttons are popular on overclocking boards, and the Z87X-OC is peppered with more of ’em than I’ve ever seen. There are buttons to change the multiplier, base clock, and bclk strap. Users can also invoke their favorite settings profile, a pre-baked one of Gigabyte’s design, or the last known good settings. There’s even a button for switching between high- and low-frequency modes, which should make it easier to benchmark configs that are stable for only brief periods of time.

Both OC boards come with a special brace that holds expansion cards steady when the board is running outside a case. This brace also makes a nice kickstand if you want to prop up the board and take in its neon-Halloween color scheme.

The Z87X-OC Force pictured above drops some of the overclocking-specific goodies in favor of extra connectivity, including a Wi-Fi expansion card that plugs into one of the PCIe slots. The Force is a more traditional high-end motherboard, and it certainly looks the part. So does the gaming-oriented G1.Sniper 5.

The Sniper trades overclocking features for fancier peripherals, including a swanky integrated audio implementation. Under the gold-plated EMI shield sits a Sound Core3D audio processor. Fancy Nichion capacitors are used throughout the audio circuitry, whose traces have received some special attention. The Sniper’s power and ground traces steer clear of those running to the audio ports, which should reduce interference that can compromise output quality.

In addition to its discrete audio chip, the Sniper has a dedicated headphone amplifier. It also boasts a second amplifier tied to a separate stereo output at the rear. This amp is socketed, allowing standard op-amps to be swapped in at will. The board will come with two of its own: a Burr Brown OP2134PA and a Texas Instruments LM4562NA. Gigabyte plans to sell a separate kit with three additional op-amps, as well. The op-amps have different characteristics, allowing users to choose one that suits their musical—and personal—tastes.

Socketed op-amps are usually reserved for high-end sound cards, so it’s nice to see them pop up on a motherboard. I’m curious to see how the Sniper’s integrated solution stacks up against our favorite discrete sound cards. Several other mobo makers have upgraded integrated audio for select Z87 models, and we may have to compare them in some blind listening tests.

The G1.Sniper 5 will be joined by a microATX M5 variant with the same audio implementation. Like its ATX counterpart, the micro board sports a Killer NIC. It doesn’t have the secondary Intel GigE controller available on the full-sized Sniper, though. You also miss out on the ATX model’s quad PCI Express x16 slots.

Gigabyte’s lineup of standard Z87 offerings includes a couple of high-end models with dual Thunderbolt ports. Most of the range has been upgraded to Ultra Durable 5 Plus, denoting the use of all-digital power circuitry and high-end electrical components like International Rectifier power stages and Chemi-Con capacitors. Oversized heatsinks are also part of the Plus package.

Although all of Gigabyte’s Z87 boards have matte black circuit boards, there’s loads of variety in the accent colors. Orange and green are reserved for the OC and Sniper families, respectively, while different standard models have splashes of blue, red, silver, and even gold. Apart from the bulky heatsinks, the designs look pretty restrained overall.

There are three smaller models in the standard Z87 family: two microATX and one Mini-ITX. The latter looks particularly sweet and offers both integrated Wi-Fi and dual Gigabit Ethernet jacks. Unlike Gigabyte’s Z77-based Mini-ITX board, this Z87 variant will have full CPU voltage control. An H87 version will be offered, too, but I wouldn’t expect it to have robust overclocking options.

All of the Z87 boards in Gigabyte’s lineup will come with company’s updated DualBIOS firmware interface. Don’t let the name fool you: this is full-fledged UEFI implementation. It’s also completely new. Gigabyte wasn’t happy with the 3D BIOS interface on its Ivy Bridge boards, so it started over from scratch.

The interface is highly configurable; users can adjust not only the color scheme, but also the background image. They can also switch between high- and low-resolution flavors of the UI. The high-res version surrounds the main settings panel with all kinds of system monitoring information, including real-time graphs of certain variables. Only the main panel persists in the low-res mode, an arrangement that keeps navigation consistent across the two versions.

Within the main panel, users can define custom tabs with their favorite settings. Most settings can be manipulated in multiple ways: there are sliders to drag, lists of options to scroll through, and fields that allow values to be keyed in directly. The interface is responsive when navigating with the keyboard, but the mouse tracking feels a little laggy. It’s not as bad as some of the early UEFIs we encountered on Sandy Bridge boards, but there’s definitely room for improvement.

In addition to revamping its motherboard firmware, Gigabyte has overhauled the accompanying Windows software. This clean-sheet redesign has been in development for about a year, and it shows. The interface is streamlined, consistent, and reasonably responsive. Unfortunately, it’s also modeled after Windows 8 tiles, which means some elements are unnecessarily large. At least the software runs on the desktop rather than in Win8’s Modern UI.

The EasyTune tweaking component offers pre-baked profiles for newbies and manual controls for seasoned enthusiasts. No surprises there. The fan controls are similarly segmented, but there are a few new twists. Gigabyte has incorporated a calibration routine that probes the range of rotational speeds supported by each fan connected to the board. There’s more granularity in the adjustable fan curves, and temperature-based speed control can be applied to a greater number of onboard headers.

This early look at Gigabyte’s Z87 offerings really only scratches the surface. Expect more details when our Haswell mobo reviews start rolling out next month. In the meantime, you can check out some additional pictures of the boards in the gallery below.

Comments closed
    • merrymarian
    • 6 years ago

    look! some 87 Series mobos are already listed.
    [url<]http://geizhals.at/eu/?cat=mbp4_1150[/url<]

    • Dr_b_
    • 6 years ago

    Would be nice if they ported the updated bios design to their previous generation UEFI boards, x79, etc. The gigabyte bios needs a lot of work in the x79.

    • brute
    • 6 years ago

    one of those looks just like the old DFI boards, and the other looks like the old (P45/P55 or whatever) EVGA boards.

    nice oging, gigglebite! so orignal

      • ColeLT1
      • 6 years ago

      You are right, the green and black does remind me of my old DFI x48 board:
      [url<]http://splak.net/computer/watercooled/HPIM0343.JPG[/url<]

      • Krogoth
      • 6 years ago

      Orange and Black PCB board looks similar to DFI’s P4-Athlon64-era LANParty boards. 😉

    • albundy
    • 6 years ago

    no SATA Express ports? i thought the Z87’s would have them according to TR’s previous posts. somewhat disappointed.

    • ronch
    • 6 years ago

    Mobo makers these days go through a lot of trouble making their boards look pretty by adorning them with fancy-colored PCBs and almost-silly-looking heatsinks. In fact, if these things were brought back in time to, say, 1990, these boards would’ve looked downright ridiculous. But hey, it’s 2013, right? You gotta have at least a dozen colors on your next mobo. Admire it all you can because once you put your setup together and bolt the case shut you’ll probably never see your pretty little motherboard again unless you’re gonna put something new inside or your system’s thrashing all over the place.

      • Ryhadar
      • 6 years ago

      Or your case has a window and you can see it just fine?

        • ronch
        • 6 years ago

        Even if it did, I’d rather fire it up than look at the window while my PC burns electricity.

    • DeadOfKnight
    • 6 years ago

    Looking forward to the inevitable z87 mobo round-ups.

    • halbhh2
    • 6 years ago

    There’s something about this endless progression that finally is just boring. Z77, Z87, yawn

      • ronch
      • 6 years ago

      I’m kinda worried what comes after the Z97. You know, Z is the last letter in the alphabet..

      LOL

        • derFunkenstein
        • 6 years ago

        Maybe that’s why after 2 years AMD is still stuck on 990. What comes next?

        • DPete27
        • 6 years ago

        Desktop PCs won’t exist by then, no need to go any higher.

          • Maxwel
          • 6 years ago

          Nonsense, desktops will always be around. Laptops will be replaced by tablets.

    • kmieciu
    • 6 years ago

    And still no desktop boards with soldered R-series cpu…

      • chuckula
      • 6 years ago

      Those aren’t supposed to launch until later this year anyway so it’s not a big surprise.

    • My Johnson
    • 6 years ago

    Fan control has become very important to me lately as the default can’t take into consideration all parameters of the installation, and the fan is either too aggressive or too weak. I’m all for improvements in this area.

    • ronch
    • 6 years ago

    I’ll take the G1.Sniper 5 if I were out for a fancy Z87 board. I don’t overclock so the G1.Sniper 5 should fill the bill. Those swappable op-amps should also send a few shivers down Realtek’s spine, considering how board makers seem to be taking Creative seriously again, at least on their high end models.

    • swiffer
    • 6 years ago

    Is it just me or are all of the Gigabyte boards far more interesting than the ASUS ones released earlier? I can’t help but formulate schemes when looking at the mATX and ITX boards.

    Also: It’d be genius if Gigabyte made their midrange boards Red/Black since ASUS considers that a ‘premium’ color scheme.

    • ronch
    • 6 years ago

    Man, everyone’s showing off their Haswell-supoorting boards these days. Somehow you gotta feel sorry for little ol’ AMD tucked in a dark corner, forgotten while everyone parties for Haswell’s imminent release.

    /drama

      • My Johnson
      • 6 years ago

      Mobile is all the rage and where it’s at for profits, so I don’t think they aren’t too much butt-hurt over it. But I noticed that too.

        • ronch
        • 6 years ago

        [quote<]so I don't think they aren't too much butt-hurt over it[/quote<] ... until their quarterly results come out, that is. And yeah, perhaps mobile (and high end servers, too) is where it's at, unfortunately, AMD doesn't have a strong presence there as well to compensate for their lackluster performance in the desktop space. Revenue from the PS4 and Xbox 720 consoles are probably just starting to trickle in, so we won't know how well sales from those things will actually help AMD.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 6 years ago

      Part of the reason – maybe the whole reason – is that there’s not been a really NEW AMD chipset in a really long time. The 900-series is a renaming/rehashing of the 800 series, and it debuted in 2011 to boot. The A85, A75, and A55 are basically the same silicon that debuted with Llano at around the same time.

      • chuckula
      • 6 years ago

      JUNE 4 IS RICHLAND LAUNCH DAY!

      Obviously, those marketing drones at Intel were just trying to steal AMD’s thunder by intentionally changing their product launch to coincide with AMD’s much bigger and more impressive premier of Richland to a world that is desperately in need of AMD’s APU HSA TLA technology. I’m sure that the truth will win out, and on June 4, we won’t even notice the background noise from Intel about some Hasbeen or another.

        • ronch
        • 6 years ago

        Chucky loves his CAPS LOCK key.

    • pedro
    • 6 years ago

    A bit weird have a tiny little fan on a mobo designed with the ‘audiophile’ in mind.

      • Wirko
      • 6 years ago

      Will mask other noises.

      • ronch
      • 6 years ago

      Not a problem since audiophiles have their volume control knobs turned all the way to max anyway.

      • hiro_pro
      • 6 years ago

      i am not a fan of any fan built into a motherboard. fans dont seem to last near as long as motherboards and replacing them is hug pain (unless there have been improvements that i missed).

    • RdVi
    • 6 years ago

    The Sniper mATX doesn’t look final to me. Only a simple HS on the south bridge?

    I like the new colour schemes, the lower end boards look better than the higher end ones to me though.

      • MadManOriginal
      • 6 years ago

      Uh, yeah, Southbridge chips don’t need much in the way of cooling. It’s kind of an odd thing to pick out as making the board ‘not final’ though…what stands out to me is the lack of VRM cooling of any kind. That’s not always necessary either, but it’s expected on overclocking/gamer oriented boards and there are outlines and mounting holes on the PCB so I suspect they’ll be on the final version.

        • RdVi
        • 6 years ago

        That’s what I meant when I said ‘only’ a HS on the SB – the emphasis was on the the fact that that’s the only place a HS featured, the fact that it was of a simple design was secondary but made it much more clear that the board is not final. It’s the only HS on the entire board and it doesn’t have any styling to it that makes it look like the rest of the series. Clearly the cooling has not been finalised for it and there will be VRM HS’s and a SB HS to match the larger G1.

    • Star Brood
    • 6 years ago

    None of these boards show the weird eSATA/Mini USB/Mini HDMI hybrid port we saw on the ASUS board.

    • Bensam123
    • 6 years ago

    Woaw, did they have a artist come in and restrict the color palette they’re allowed to use on their boards? In this day and age, how much would it really cost them to consult a artist for some color coordination?

    With my attempts in overclocking, there is one thing that I really want. That is a CMOS reset button on a switch I can sit on the bottom of the case so I can easily just click it when I need to reset my bios. Reset buttons on the back of the computer are weak… cause they’re on the back of the computer. So after the nth time getting up, I just say fuck it and reach over inside the case to move the jumper. Reaching inside to flip the jumper is a pain in the ass as well, that’s why it would be great if it was on a dongle.

    I’ve seen a few automatic bios recovery thingers in the bios and in my experience they only work about 50% of the time (with the current one on my AMD Asus board not even being worth trying). They are pretty cool though. The best implementation was from ASRock so far.

      • swiffer
      • 6 years ago

      Sure. Just [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811999196<]use this[/url<], unscrew it from the plate and dangle it out (or mount it to) the front of your case.

        • Bensam123
        • 6 years ago

        Not the same as it being included. The same could be said about other motherboard accessories. A work around isn’t a answer to a suggestion.

        I’m not entirely sure why I got rated down for this either. -6 for a accessory most OCers would use who have their computer sitting on their desk. Unless this is about exercise and being ‘lazy’, but after six hours of doing this, you’d get tired of doing it to. A good OC takes a lot of tweaking.

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