Firmware and software interfaces
Despite packing a lot more hardware than most of Gigabyte's Haswell boards, the G1.Sniper 5 has pretty much the same firmware interface and software tuning utility. That's not necessarily a bad thing; Gigabyte's 8-series motherboard firmware has the best-looking interface around.
The screenshot doesn't really do the UI justice. I shrank it to fit on the page, but the actual interface is drawn at 1080p resolution. Everything looks incredibly crisp next to the low-res alternatives on competing boards.
The interface isn't just a pretty face, either. It's loaded with mouse-friendly tabs, sliders, and drop-down menus that make navigation a breeze for anyone familiar with modern Windows software. The firmware works with just a keyboard, too. There are shortcuts for switching between the various menus and tabs, and most values can be keyed in directly. Both experts and novices should find the firmware easy to use.
If you don't like how the menus are organized, up to six tabs can be filled with a custom mix of options. The shortcuts listed in the main screen can also be changed.
This next bit feels like beating a dead horse, but I have to call Gigabyte out once again for engaging in sneaky overclocking. If the firmware's default memory speed is changed, the Sniper secretly turns up Haswell's CPU multipliers for multi-core loads. The resulting clock speed never exceeds the maximum Turbo limit for single-core loads. However, that single-core speed is applied to all four cores, even if the processor is fully utilized. This devious tactic is often used to artificially inflate benchmark scores, and there's no excuse for it.
I also have a bone to pick with the firmware fan speed controls, which are a little restrictive. Manual control is limited to an awkwardly named "speed percentage" setting that changes the slope of the fan speed profile. There's no ability to target specific temperatures or fan speeds anywhere along that profile. At least individual controls are at least provided for five of the nine onboard fan headers. Users can also choose between three pre-baked profiles for each fan.
More extensive fan controls are available in Gigabyte's latest EasyTune software. This Windows utility was completely overhauled for the Haswell generation, and it's a big improvement over the company's previous efforts.
EasyTune includes a calibration function that measures the actual fan speed across the full range of available voltages. It offers custom controls for six onboard headers, and users can manipulate six points along each fan profile. There's a fixed-speed mode, as well, plus the usual pre-configured profiles.
EasyTune's overclocking section is packed with the most common clock, multiplier, and voltage controls. Power-related variables can be tweaked with EasyTune, too, and the whole software interface is easy to use.
That praise aside, the integrated hardware monitor is pretty awful. The real-time graphs are ugly and unnecessarily large, and there's no way to customize or log what they show. I had to shrink and tightly crop the massive 800x800 monitoring window just to fit it below.
Yeah, forget about monitoring system variables with a discreet window tucked in a corner of your desktop. The main EasyTune interface is even larger, but at least it has a cohesive design. The monitoring window's white legends and beige horizontal bars completely clash with the rest of the aesthetic.
The G1.Sniper 5 is equipped with numerous overclocking options, so we tested a couple of them. First up: the auto-tuning mechanism built into the EasyTune software. This hands-free feature takes care of the entire overclocking process. It's also fairly intelligent. Clock speeds are increased incrementally, and stability is tested to determine the optimal configuration for each system.
On our Core i7-4770K, which was strapped to a Corsair H80 water cooler, the auto-overclocker settled on a CPU speed of 4.6GHz with single- and dual-core loads, 4.5GHz with three-core loads, and 4.4GHz with quad-core loads. The chip tops out at 3.9GHz in its stock configuration, so that's a nice boost for very little effort.
Alas, the auto-tuner was far too heavy-handed with the CPU voltage. It hit the CPU on two fronts, with a higher core voltage and an additional offset, causing the chip to run at nearly 1.55V under load. That's more voltage than we recommend for Haswell even with a dual-fan radiator attached. CPU temperatures spiked to 95°C, and throttling kicked in immediately.
Auto-overclocking mechanisms can be ideal for newbies, and they can also provide a useful starting point for seasoned enthusiasts. Gigabyte needs to dial this one back to serve both audiences, though.
Since our audience is more of a hands-on crowd, we also overclocked the CPU manually. And we were more successful. The peak all-core speed hit 4.6GHz with zero throttling, and it only took multiplier tweaks and a core voltage of 1.34V to get there. The firmware's "auto" voltage setting wasn't very helpful, though. We had to start adjusting the CPU voltage manually at 3.9GHz. With the auto setting, the system kept hard locking under load.
Our system actually made it up to 4.7GHz, but more voltage was required to avoid BSOD errors under load. With more voltage came higher temperatures, which caused the CPU to scale back its clock speed. Tweaking other voltage and power settings didn't help, and we didn't have any LN2 on hand, so we called it a day. 4.6GHz is among the fastest overclocks we've achieved with this cooler and CPU.
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