More traditional fare... with a twist
While the SOC and G1.Gaming camps are somewhat specialized, the standard Ultra Durable clan should have broader appeal. These boards are supposed to offer the best combination of features and pricing. Some of them borrow features from the gaming family, but they're largely more straightforward overall.
Speaking of borrowing, the color scheme for this bunch is familiar from Asus' 8-series boards. The tone is richer, and it's at least limited to the heatsinks. I'm not surprised to see it again. Multiple mobo makers have told me the black-and-gold look is popular in China, a country that now represents over half of Gigabyte's global business.
By now, eagle-eyed readers will no doubt have noticed some M.2 slots and SATA Express ports in our pictures.
The arcane rules attached to this particular product embargo forbid me from commenting on the origin of those connectors, but you can probably guess. A certain next-gen chipset has long been rumored to support both standards. Note that it's a "next-gen" chipset. The name is verboten, but the math isn't difficult. Look, the secret combination of alphanumeric characters is clearly written on the motherboards I'm allowed to show you:
Last, but not least, we have the Black Edition breed.
Apart from their mostly murdered-out color schemes, these boards are physically identical to products in the standard and gaming families. However, they undergo a week-long burn-in test before shipping to customers, which should cut down on DOA boards and premature failures. They're also covered by a five-year warranty.
Gigabyte spent more than a million bucks building a dedicated Black Edition test lab at its factory in Nanping, Taiwan. The lab is capable of hammering 3,000 systems simultaneously, and once it's up to speed, it should be one of the largest Litecoin mining operations in the world. Yep, Gigabyte is going to use cryptocurrency mining to stress not only Black Edition motherboards, but also a new line of graphics cards. The exact test config hasn't been finalized yet, and it's unclear whether the onboard storage, networking, and other peripherals will be targeted.
Gigabyte hasn't decided what to do with the proceeds from the operation, either. Charity is one option—just think of the children. Another is giveaways exclusive to Black Edition owners. I wonder how the virtual cash generated by the lab will compare to the cost of running it. On top of the power consumption and cooling requirements, maintaining a few thousand PCs running at full tilt will require some manpower, especially since the boards and graphics cards will all be swapped out weekly.
In the U.S., Black Edition boards are expected to command about a $10 premium. That doesn't seem like too much to ask for additional testing and longer warranty coverage, though registration is required for the latter. Registering will also grant Black Edition owners access to a private website and possibly even live video streams from the test lab.
There are new firmware and software features to accompany the updated motherboards, of course. Gigabyte's updated UEFI supports 19 different languages. It also sports an intro screen and setup guide for newbies, plus a Smart Tweak mode optimized for keyboard-only navigation. The fan controls may be improved, as well, but I didn't get a definitive answer on that front.
On the software side, EasyTune's integrated hardware monitor has left the tweaking utility to pursue a solo career as a separate application. The two apparently couldn't agree on matters of system polling. Gigabyte has also added Game Controller software that lets users program a range of hotkey functions on keyboards that don't have built-in macro support. There's even a sniper mode that decreases the mouse sensitivity for precise headshots.
I haven't played with the new firmware and software yet, but the changes sound more evolutionary than revolutionary. The same goes for the motherboard tweaks. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though. Gigabyte's 8-series boards are pretty good, and small refinements can have a big impact on the overall user experience. We'll have a full report on what it's like to actually use Gigabyte's new hotness soon. In the meantime, you can peruse some additional board shots in the image gallery below.