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A first look at Gigabyte's next-gen Intel motherboards

The eight series plus one

Brace yourself, because a batch of new motherboards based on Intel's next-gen chipsets is just around the corner. Gigabyte is prepping no fewer than 37 different models, almost all of which will be available stateside. I got a closer look at a bunch of them at a press event earlier this week. I can't divulge certain details just yet, but I can tell you about some motherboard-specific features. And I can show you pictures—lots of pictures.

The new boards are split into four families, each with a different focus. There are the standard versions, of course, plus gaming-specific mobos, SOC variants optimized for hardcore overclockers, and a whole new line of Black Edition products with longer warranty coverage. Let's start with the G1.Gaming series, which ditches the green theme of Gigabyte's previous gaming boards in favor of a black-and-red aesthetic that looks eerily familiar.

Every major motherboard maker seems to be using a similar color scheme for its next-gen gaming gear. They're not necessarily copying each other, though. According to Gigabyte, system integrators requested the color scheme because it's easy to match with other components, such as graphics cards and memory.

System builders are partly to blame for the oversized VRM heatsinks, too. Most boards can get by without these coolers, Gigabyte says, but the massive hunks of metal are included for show. Boutique builders apparently think motherboards with smaller heatsinks look too pedestrian, and they're not interested in them as a result.

Gigabyte claims the market for so-called gaming motherboards is more interested in appearances than hardware specifications. A lot of PC enthusiasts probably don't share that mindset, but enough people do that all the big mobo makers now have gaming-specific brands. At least the G1 boards are separate from Gigabyte's more traditional enthusiast fare.

The G1.Gaming line comprises 12 members in all. It has everything from an ultra-high-end monster that supports four-way SLI to a compact Mini-ITX offering that isn't ready for the spotlight just yet. Get this: the top-of-the-line board actually has two PLX switch chips. One divides the CPU's Gen3 PCI Express lanes for multi-GPU configs, while the other shares the chipset's Gen2 connectivity between all the onboard slots, peripherals, and ports.

We don't yet have a complete feature matrix detailing which features are available on which boards. Expect the gaming stuff to sport Qualcomm Killer networking chips and upgraded integrated audio, though. The G1 flagship pairs Creative's Sound Core3D audio processor with high-end Nichicon capacitors and a replaceable OP-amp. Realtek codecs replace the Core3D chip in the middle and lower tiers, but you still get a handful of perks via Creative SBX ProStudio software. Amplified audio outs are available even on some of the cheaper offerings, as well.

Some of the gaming boards feature separate power circuitry for a couple of their rear USB ports. These dedicated lines purportedly deliver cleaner power to USB DACs, and there are probably picky audiophiles out there who swear they can hear the difference. Obsessive-compulsive types with self-powered DACs also have the option to cut power to the "DAC-UP" ports, leaving only the audio signals behind.

For hardcore overclockers, Gigabyte is prepping a pair of SOC boards that borrow super-overclocked branding from the company's hot-clocked graphics cards. If your cooling solution doesn't employ liquid nitrogen, the SOC boards are probably overkill. But they do a few interesting things for competitive overclockers seeking benchmark records. Individual DIMM and PCIe slots can be disabled via dip switches, for example, and the memory lines have been subtly massaged. There are more than two dozen onboard buttons, and I couldn't tell you what most of them actually do. But I know it's related to running at the ragged edge, where sub-zero temperatures are required and systems need to be stable only long enough to run a benchmark and capture a screenshot.

Gigabyte's premium OC offering for the 8-series generation uses a PLX switch to provide enough PCIe connectivity for four-way SLI configurations. That chip apparently has a bit of associated latency that can reduce benchmark scores, so Gigabyte dropped it to improve performance with single- and dual-card configs. Quad setups just aren't popular in extreme overclocking circles, at least among people who buy their own motherboards.

Thanks to firmware tweaks, the SOC boards can be overclocked on the fly within the UEFI, with no need to reboot. This real-time overclocking capability is set to be available on all of Gigabyte's next-gen boards—or at least on the ones that support CPU overclocking, anyway.