like many other high-end products, pricey PC gear has a tricky value proposition. The best bang for your buck usually lies near the middle of the product range. Diminishing returns set in after that: higher prices typically deliver smaller performance gains and less critical added features.
This trend is especially apparent in motherboards. The increased integration of modern CPUs has largely removed performance from the equation. For most applications and games, high-end motherboards are no faster than their budget peers. They may offer more ports and slots, but the underlying interfaces run at the same speeds, and the additional expansion capacity is another example of diminishing returns. These days, even low-end boards have enough connectivity to satisfy the needs of most enthusiasts.
Yet here we are with Gigabyte’s uber-expensive G1.Sniper 5.
This Z87-based Haswell board sells for $400—more than double the price of the Gigabyte Z87X-UD3H we reviewed last year. The Sniper doesn’t deliver better benchmark scores or smoother gaming frame rates, though, and its mid-range sibling is already sufficiently equipped to host a potent PC. Why spend our time on something that costs so much more?
Because the G1.Sniper 5’s integrated audio combines a Creative processor with fancy capacitors, isolated circuitry, and a swappable amplifier chip. That’s worth a listen. Also, the board has a smorgasbord of networking options, including a Killer NIC that can prioritize gaming packets. That’s a good excuse to spend some time playing Battlefield 4.
And then there’s the fact that the G1.Sniper 5 is Gigabyte’s flagship desktop board. It’s a premium product with all the bells and whistles the company can muster. We want to see what happens when Gigabyte pulls out all the stops. Don’t you?
The G1. Sniper 5 is more motherboard in pretty much every sense. It even has a bigger footprint than standard ATX fare. The 12″ x 10.4″ board is 0.8″ wider than that form factor allows, pushing it into XL-ATX territory.
Due to its formidable size, the Sniper may not fit into smaller ATX cases. Even those that accommodate it could still crowd the SATA connectors lining its lower right edge. Folks with larger enclosures should be fine, though. We didn’t encounter any issues installing the board in a spacious Corsair Obsidian Series 750D mid-tower.
Anyone considering the G1.Sniper 5 probably doesn’t have a tiny case. After all, this monster is built to host up to four graphics cards and 10 storage devices—far more hardware than smaller enclosures can take.
The extra SATA ports are nothing special. They stem from a Marvell chip and conform to the same 6Gbps standard as the six ports tied to the Intel chipset. The Z87 chipset’s native ports are faster, and they have more extensive RAID support. We’ve yet to see a third-party SATA controller trump the native implementation in the Z87 Express.
The support for quad CrossFire and SLI configs is more interesting. Most Z87 boards are limited to two-card setups that split the CPU’s 16 PCIe Gen3 lanes evenly between a pair of x16 slots. This dual-x8 mode is powered entirely by the processor, and through the miracle of product segmentation, it’s available only on the Z87 platform. Motherboard makers sometimes add a third PCIe slot fed by up to eight Gen2 PCIe lanes in the Z87 chip, but this config is only approved for CrossFire. Nvidia doesn’t endorse it for three-way SLI.
On the G1.Sniper 5, all four PCIe x16 slots connect to a PCI Express switch chip from PLX. The chip splits 32 lanes of Gen3 connectivity between the slots. The first and third slots get 16 lanes each for dual-card configs, and they also share that bandwidth with the second and fourth slots to enable x16/x8/x8 and x8/x8/x8/x8 setups.
Despite the extra lanes it provides to the x16 slots, the switch is still bottlenecked by its 16-lane Gen3 link with the CPU. However, the switch can pass peer-to-peer traffic between the PCIe slots without burdening the processor. Getting any more PCIe connectivity to the CPU requires stepping up to Ivy Bridge-E, which has 40 Gen3 lanes built in.
In addition to having enough slots for extreme multi-GPU configs, the G1.Sniper 5 has enough space between them to fit beefy coolers. There’s enough room for two triple-wide cards and four double-wide ones. Three PCIe x1 slots are included, as well.
High-end motherboards are usually loaded with exotic electrical components, and the G1.Sniper 5 is no exception. The board is populated with Chemi-Con capacitors that have solid-state cores and 10,000-hour lifetime ratings. There are fancy chokes, of course, and PowerIRstage MOSFETs from International Rectifier.
The Sniper uses the same MOSFETs as Gigabyte’s other enthusiast-oriented Haswell boards, but it has more of them overall: 16 for the CPU. Like the premium electrical components, the extra phases are meant to smooth power delivery to the CPU and to potentially improve overclocking headroom. The thing is, Intel moved voltage regulation onto the CPU die in Haswell. Fancy power circuitry probably helps less now than it did with previous generations of CPUs, which relied more heavily on the motherboard.
Beefy heatsinks sit on top of the Sniper’s power circuitry. There’s a tiny fan, too, and it’s very quiet… for now. I always wonder how long smaller spinners will maintain a low acoustic profile. At least the fan should come in handy with liquid-cooled setups that generate little airflow around the socket. The VRM coolers have a hollow channel within and barbs on either end, so they can be looped into a liquid cooling system, as well.
All this extra heatsink hardware crowds the CPU socket on three sides. Compatibility with some coolers may be compromised as a result, and we can’t test every combination of parts. We can, however, measure the clearances between the socket and other important landmarks.
As on most Haswell boards, the closest source of potential conflict is the DIMM slot next to the socket. Standard-height memory shouldn’t be a problem, but taller modules can interfere with wide CPU coolers.
These relatively short VRM heatsinks are unlikely to compromise cooler compatibility, but they can make installation a little awkward, especially if you have short, stubby fingers like mine. The heatsinks leave little room around the screw holes for cooler retention brackets.
Otherwise, the G1.Sniper 5 is free of annoying clearance issues. All of the onboard ports and slots are easily accessible, and so are critical elements like the internal headers, onboard battery, and CMOS-related switches.
There are actually three CMOS switches. Two control access to the board’s backup firmware chip, while the third resets the settings for the primary one. The backup firmware is a nice touch that’s been available on Gigabyte motherboards for a while. I also like the fact that the CMOS reset switch is an actual button rather than an old-school jumper. That said, I wish the reset button were located in the rear port cluster, where it would be accessible without cracking open the case.
As it stands, the rear cluster has lots of pretty much everything else: one DisplayPort out, six USB 3.0 ports, and pairs of HDMI, S/PDIF audio, Gigabit Ethernet, and USB 2.0 ports. There’s even a combo PS/2 jack for keyboard aficionados who refuse to give up the IBM Model M. Too bad the gold-plated audio jacks are devoid of color coding; one must consult the manual to identify which one is which.
Internal headers expand the Sniper’s USB payload, but there’s a caveat attached. Only the two USB 3.0 ports tied to the primary internal header are connected directly to the Z87 chipset. The remaining two internal ports and all six external ones are routed through a pair of Renesas hubs, each of which splits a single USB 3.0 connection between four ports. That much bandwidth sharing could compromise performance on certain ports if multiple high-speed devices are used concurrently.
We’ve seen similarly funky USB 3.0 configurations on Gigabyte’s other Haswell boards. The G1.Sniper 5’s onboard audio is a little more unusual, as we’ll demonstrate on the next page.
Integrated audio turned up to 11
Most motherboards combine the chipset’s integrated audio controller with a separate codec chip that handles analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog conversions for the onboard ports. This approach is very economical, but the sound quality with analog speakers and headphones tends to be fairly marginal, which is why we typically recommend discrete sound cards to folks with decent speakers or headphones.
The G1.Sniper 5’s audio implementation is sort of like an integrated discrete card:
Instead of ye olde Realtek codec, the Sniper sports a Creative Sound Core3D chip that handles controller and codec duties. The associated circuitry is isolated from other onboard components to reduce interference, and it’s laced with audio-specific Nichicon capacitors that purportedly improve sound quality. There are two amplifier chips onboard, too. One is tied to the front-panel headphone out, while the second drives the same sort of jack in the rear cluster.
We’ve seen headphone amps on motherboards before. However, the Texas Instruments OPA2134PA chip attached to the Sniper’s rear headphone out is socketed, allowing users to swap in different OP-amps. Gigabyte includes a second OP-amp—Analog Devices’ AD827JN—plus the oversized tweezers required to yank the chips out of the socket. The mobo maker also sells a separate OP-amp kit with three additional chips: Linear Technology’s LT1358, National Semiconductor’s LM4562NA, and Texas Instruments’ OPA2111KP. Each amplifier has a slightly different acoustic profile, and we’ll explore their impact on audio quality in a moment. First, we should address Creative’s contribution.
The Sound Core3D identifies itself as a Recon3Di audio device. It comes with Creative’s Sound Blaster Pro Studio software, which serves up surround-sound virtualization for stereo devices, a “scout” mode that makes footsteps easier to hear in games, and echo cancellation to improve voice input. The software also offers other ways to mess with the audio signal, but surprisingly, there’s no real-time encoding for multi-channel digital output. Folks who want surround sound in games will have to use the analog outputs.
We weren’t able to conduct blind listening tests with the Sniper, but I did spend a fair amount of time listening to music with various configurations. These more casual tests were conducted with mid-range Sennheiser HD 555 headphones and a selection of tracks from Neil Young, Radiohead, and The Heavy.
First, I compared the unamplified front-channel output to the amplified headphone jack with the stock OP-amp installed. These two were easy to tell apart; the unamplified out sounded dull and muddled, as if it were working with a limited frequency range. With the OP-amp lending a hand, there was more separation between the various elements in each track, and the sound quality improved noticeably overall. Radiohead was more poignant, The Heavy was more soulful, and Neil Young was more engaging. The amplifier added a crisp liveliness and improved clarity, seemingly without any drawbacks.
Encouraged by these initial results, I grabbed Asus’ Xonar DSX sound card off the shelf. This card was the favorite in our last round of blind listening tests, and it sells for only $60. It’s also our recommended upgrade for folks seeking superior sound quality to typical integrated audio.
The Xonar and the Sniper’s amplified out sounded more closely matched than the two onboard ports from the first comparison. That said, the low end of the spectrum definitely kicked harder and deeper on the Xonar. This bassy grunt added a balanced fullness that was absent on the Sniper. Higher up the spectrum, the clarity I noticed on the Sniper in the first round of tests felt artificial and overly sharpened next to the Xonar’s more natural output.
For an encore, I started swapping OP-amps to see if I could notice their impact on the Sniper’s sound quality. This task required shutting down the system to switch the chips. Perhaps because of the extra time and effort involved, it wasn’t as easy to pinpoint minute differences between the various options. Most of them sounded very similar, but the Linear Technology OP-amp stood out; it seemed to have brighter vocals and more muted bass than the others. None of the OP-amps made the Sniper sound as balanced and natural as the Xonar.
We also tested analog output quality objectively with RightMark Audio analyzer. All the configs from our listening tests were plugged into a separate Xonar Phoebus sound card, which captured their output of a 24-bit, 96kHz test track. RMAA grades analog signal quality on a scale between “very poor” and “excellent.” We’ve translated those values to a numerical scale that starts at low of one and peaks at six. Higher values are better.
The Xonar scores the best overall. The unamplified line out doesn’t look too bad according to these coarse measurements, but there are more obvious differences between it and the others if we look at the accompanying graphs. Click on the buttons below each one to switch between the line out, which is displayed by default, and the alternatives.
Total harmonic distortion
These graphs are a little indulgent, but they nicely highlight the differences between the Xonar DSX and the rest of the configs. The discrete card has lower noise levels, less distortion, and a broader frequency response than the Sniper’s onboard audio.
For the most part, the OP-amps look like an improvement over the unamplified line out. However, they have shallower frequency responses at the low end of the spectrum, which explains the punch missing in our listening tests. The frequency response of the Linear Technology LT13581 amplifier falls off at the higher end of the spectrum, too.
I didn’t notice any issues with the integrated audio in our listening or signal quality tests, which were conducted with the system idling at the Windows 8.1 desktop. Firing up a graphics load produced a noticeable buzzing sound, though. This buzzing was audible at normal volume levels with not only the Sennheiser headphones, but also cheap earbuds.
Battlefield 4 and the Unigine Nature benchmark reliably produce the buzzing noise. It’s only apparent on the Sniper’s amplified output, and it’s not just my imagination. RMAA captures the behavior nicely. The following graphs come from “loopback” tests that route the motherboard’s audio through the onboard line input. (They aren’t directly comparable to the graphs above as a result.) The Nature benchmark provided the graphics load.
The amplified output has more distortion and higher noise levels with the graphics load running. The audible buzzing is apparent with hot-clocked GeForce GTX 680 graphics cards and also with a low-end Radeon R7 250. Further investigation with the motherboard installed inside a Corsair Obsidian Series 650D enclosure yielded similar results, this time with the addition of fainter feedback during web browsing and even when moving the mouse rapidly over icons. I’ve reproduced the buzzing with different system components and with the rig connected to a separate wall socket.
This behavior is the opposite of what we’d expect from onboard audio that’s supposed to be isolated from interference. Gigabyte has been working with us to pinpoint the issue, but we haven’t narrowed it down yet. We actually sent our test system to the company after it was unable to reproduce the problem in its labs. Gigabyte tells us it has replicated the buzzing with our hardware, but only with a GeForce GTX 680 installed. We’ve also noticed that a Newegg user review mentions similar sound interference. The investigation continues, and we’ll update this article as we learn more.
Fancy networking and extra goodies
You didn’t think the G1.Sniper 5’s excess stopped at the integrated audio, did you? The board is also loaded with networking options, including dual Gigabit Ethernet connectors. One of the GigE jacks is fed by an Intel controller, while the other is backed by a Qualcomm Killer E2201 NIC.
The Qualcomm controller is supposed to improve online gaming performance by prioritizing related networking packets. The system is managed via software, allowing users to set preferences on a per-application basis. Apps can also be blocked entirely if you don’t want them accessing the network at all.
Packet prioritization is smart, but handling it at the PC level won’t help if your roommate is swamping a shared router with BitTorrent packets. Still, I was curious to see how the software managed traffic on a single machine, so I fired up a Battlefield 4 multiplayer session alongside a BitTorrent download.
Before the download started, BF4 reported a ping time of about 50 ms. The gameplay was smooth, and all was well. With the download active and the Killer NIC’s management mojo at work, the ping time climbed to 100-150 ms. BF4 still felt fine, though. I didn’t detect any noticeable lag, and I didn’t seem to be getting killed more frequently.
After I disabled packet prioritization, BF4 ping times shot up to 180-250 ms. My perception of the gameplay didn’t reflect the increase, though. The game still felt good, perhaps because my reflexes and mad skillz have diminished greatly since my days as a regular online gamer. Or maybe Battlefield 4‘s network code is especially tolerant of this kind of scenario.
Next, I tried Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. It reported similar ping times in each scenario, but I noticed some in-game jerkiness with the BitTorrent download running in the background. Enabling the Killer NIC’s traffic management reduced the jerkiness slightly. Packet prioritization didn’t eliminate the hitching completely, though.
The fact that ping times were reduced in both games shows that traffic management makes a difference. However, my own impressions suggest that the perceived benefits can be more difficult to detect.
I didn’t do any gaming tests with the Sniper’s Intel NIC, but I did compare it to the Qualcomm chip in a quick file copy test. The Killer was clearly the faster of the two; it transferred several gigabytes of mixed files in 82 seconds, while the Intel chip took 13 seconds longer to copy the same folder.
Much of our networking discussion has revolved around wired offerings, but the Sniper has a wireless component, too. Technically, it’s not part of the board. Gigabyte ships the Sniper with a separate wireless card that fits into one of the PCIe slots. That card is just a conduit for the Mini PCIe module that supplies the wireless connectivity. I guess Gigabyte couldn’t find any room to accommodate the mini module directly on the board.
The wireless card is powered by Atheros hardware that supports 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0. The lack of faster 802.11ac connectivity is disappointing, especially given the Sniper’s price point. 802.11ac wireless is available on much cheaper Haswell boards.
The G1.Sniper 5 comes with a few extras in addition to the wireless card. CrossFire and SLI bridge connectors are included in the box along with a 3.5″ bay insert with dual USB 3.0 ports.
Most motherboards and cases have only two front-panel USB 3.0 ports, but the Sniper has internal headers for four ports, so the bay insert is definitely useful. I don’t like the white lettering, though. We all know what a USB 3.0 port looks like, and a blank face would be a better match for all-black cases.
Now, I wouldn’t be averse to making a few additions to the bay insert. Some of the features from this corner of the board would be nice to have up front:
The Sniper is equipped with onboard power and reset switches, of course. For the bay insert, I’m more interested in the POST code display and the CMOS reset button. The voltage probing points are pretty cool, too, though you have to be pretty hard-core to probe motherboard voltages manually.
The final extra of note really isn’t an extra at all. Every motherboard comes with an I/O shield, but it’s usually littered with bits of sharp metal that can slice fingers and poke into ports. The Sniper’s shield is nicer to work with; it has a smooth, cushy back that makes installation much easier.
You know what else makes mobo installation much easier? A port block that consolidates the wiring for the case’s front-panel buttons and LEDs. Wiring these connections individually is possibly the single most annoying thing about assembling a new PC. Port blocks effectively remedy the issue, and they cost only pennies to produce, but Gigabyte doesn’t include them with its motherboards. That’s unconscionable for an ultra-high-end product like the G1.Sniper 5.
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 800×800 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.
Performance and power consumption
As I alluded in the intro, modern motherboards typically have little impact on overall system performance. The CPU and GPU generally dictate application and gaming performance, while the storage subsystem—specifically, whether there’s an SSD installed—can influence load times and general responsiveness. That’s it for big-ticket items. Even peripheral performance tends to be pretty consistent from one motherboard to the next.
Instead of running the G1.Sniper 5 through our usual motherboard benchmark suite, we ran a handful of tests to confirm that it’s as fast as the other Z87 boards we’ve reviewed. And it is, at least once the firmware is configured to observe the processor’s correct Turbo behavior. The numbers are so close that there’s really no point to graphing them.
That said, the Sniper boots a few seconds slower than most of the Z87 boards we’ve tested. With all the fast-boot options enabled, it takes about 21 seconds to get to the Windows 8 Start screen. Of course, the Sniper also has more on-board peripherals than most of its peers. Those devices need to be initialized, which tends to lengthen the boot process.
Additional onboard devices also contribute to the Sniper’s power consumption, which we measured at the wall socket with our test system at idle, playing a 1080p YouTube video, and under a full load combining Cinebench rendering with the Unigine Valley demo. Here, the differences are worth highlighting.
The G1.Sniper 5 consumes a fair bit more power than the other Z87 boards we’ve tested. The gap between it and Gigabyte’s Z87X-UD3H is close to 20W in each test. Of course, the PCIe switch alone has a “typical” power rating of 8W. Then there’s the Creative audio controller, the amplifiers, and the additional networking and storage chips.
The Sniper’s beefy power regulation circuitry may contribute to the higher power consumption, as well. For what it’s worth, we also measured power consumption with the Sniper’s power-saving profile enabled. Turning on this firmware-level feature only cut power consumption by a couple of watts, though
As always, it’s important to keep the figures in perspective. An increase of 20W probably isn’t going to add a lot to the average monthly utility bill. The Sniper’s higher power draw does generate more heat that must be evacuated from the case, but anyone who drops four bills on a mobo probably has sufficient cooling. They just might have to deal with a smidgen more fan noise.
We’ve covered most aspects of the G1.Sniper 5 already. In case we missed anything, here’s a full rundown of the key specifications and firmware options.
|Platform||Intel Z87 Express, socket LGA1150|
|DIMM slots||4 DDR3, 32GB max|
|Expansion slots||4 PCIe 3.0 x16 via CPU and PLX PEX8747 switch
(x16/x16, x16/x8/x8, x8/x8/x8/x8)
3 PCIe x1 via Z87
|Storage I/O||6 SATA RAID 6Gbps via Z87
4 SATA 6Gbps via Marvell 88SS9230
|Audio||6-channel HD via Creative Sound Blaster Recon3Di|
|Wireless||2.4/5GHz Dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi via Atheros AR5B22
1 PS/2 keyboard/mouse
6 USB 3.0 via Renesas uPD720210
2 USB 3.0 internal headers via Z87
2 USB 3.0 internal headers via uPD720210
2 USB 2.0 via Z87
6 USB 2.0 internal headers via Z87
1 Gigabit Ethernet via Qualcomm Atheros Killer E2201
1 Gigabit Ethernet via Intel I217-V
1 analog front out
1 analog headphone out
1 digital S/PDIF output
|Overclocking||Per-core Turbo multiplier: 8-80X
Uncore multiplier: 8-80X
Base clock: 80-266.66MHz
DRAM clock: 800-2933MHz
CPU gear ratio: 1.0, 1.25, 1.66, 2.5
CPU voltage: 0.5-1.8V
CPU core offset voltage: -0.3-0.4V
IGP voltage: 0.5-1.7V
IGP offset voltage: -0.3-0.4V
CPU ring voltage: 0.8-1.8V
CPU ring offset voltage: -0.3-0.4V
CPU external override voltage: 1.0-2.905V
System Agent offset voltage: -0.3-0.4V
Analog I/O offset voltage: -0.3-0.4V
Digital I/O offset voltage: -0.3-0.4V
PCH core voltage: 0.65-1.3V
PCH IO voltage: 1.05-1.9V
DRAM voltage: 1.15-2.1V
|Fan control||All: predefined silent, normal profiles
CPU, CPU Opt, SYS1-4 slope PWM: 0.75-2.5
This might be one of the longest spec tables we’ve ever had in a mobo review. Yikes.
The G1.Sniper 5 is a study in excess on multiple fronts. It supports two-, three-, and four-way CrossFire and SLI graphics configurations, which is a rarity for Haswell boards. It also boasts exotic onboard extras, including one of the most hard-core integrated audio implementations we’ve seen on a motherboard. Don’t forget about the cornucopia of networking options and the extra SATA and USB ports, either. This is without a doubt the most extreme Z87 board we’ve tested to date.
At the same time, it’s also another 8-series motherboard. The Sniper has the same performance and overclocking potential as the other Z87 boards we’ve tested, and the firmware and software are identical to what Gigabyte offers on its other Haswell offerings. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Z87 is an excellent platform. Gigabyte’s latest firmware and software utility are great, too, despite a few rough edges here and there. The trouble is, that puts a lot of pressure on the Sniper’s extras to justify the board’s lofty price.
On the networking front, the Killer NIC has fast transfer rates, and its management software should benefit folks who game and download on the same machine. The wireless card is nice, but it’s a separate piece rather than an integrated component, and it’s limited to 802.11n Wi-Fi. Support for the faster 802.11ac standard would be more appropriate for a premium product.
Gigabyte deserves credit for equipping the Sniper with an innovative integrated audio solution. I love the fact that picky listeners can swap OP-amps to suit their tastes, and the OP-amp definitely makes a difference. This is the best-sounding motherboard I’ve heard. At the same time, however, the output quality isn’t as good as that of our favorite budget sound card. The buzzing issue we encountered is also worrisome, though it appears to be limited to certain hardware combinations.
The Sniper does have some nice little extras that are free of caveats. The quad PCIe x16 slots probably deserve to be in that category even if they’re bound by a 16-lane link to the CPU. There’s no way around that limitation with Haswell. The bay insert is a nice touch, and so is the padded I/O shield. Seriously, though, no port blocks? This is a $400 motherboard.
Or it used to be, anyway. As I type this, the Sniper is discounted to $360 at Newegg. Factor in the $100 mail-in rebate that’s good until the end of March, and the effective price drops to only $260. I didn’t start this review expecting the G1.Sniper 5 to be a good value, but that price changes the math completely.