Gigabyte G1.Sniper Z87 Review (Page 3 of 12)

Page 3 - A Closer Look, Board Layout, Test System

The Gigabyte G1.Sniper Z87 follows a pretty standard layout around the board, with added touches such as the appealing matte black soldermask, and a LED-lit strip behind the I/O ports when powered on. LED strips are also present to separately highlight the analog and digital portions of the board. In my opinion, the Gigabyte G1.Sniper Z87 is very satisfying to look at. Of course, your decision on whether or not you will get this motherboard based on aesthetics alone is truly subjective, and probably not a very wise metric. Around the G1.Sniper Z87, you will not find 100% Japanese-made solid state capacitors, because the ones that are not solid state are related to its audio subsystem. Gigabyte would like to point out this is technically still a 100% solid state capacitor design, as everything relevant to the digital side of things still is. Either way, we are not complaining. What we have here are high end Nichicon MUSE ES series bi-polarized audio grade capacitors, used to provide the best resolution and expansion of sound, desirable for its high performance and superior audio filtering characteristics. This is something no generic solid state capacitors can provide. They are the same ones found on the Auzentech X-Fi HomeTheater HD and on the original Gigabyte G1.Sniper. I am surprised to see that Gigabyte has included such high end capacitors on a $170 motherboard.

As you can see from the photo above, the Gigabyte G1.Sniper Z87 has two heatsinks on the left and top side of the CPU socket that is colored in gunmetal, silver, and green color. This design dissipates heat from two of the four sides of the CPU socket. While the control over the memory lanes, PCIe x16 lanes, and onboard graphics is on the CPU itself, the Z87 hub is essentially in charge pretty much everything else on the board. This includes stuff like Serial ATA ports, USB ports, and some PCIe lanes.

One thing to note here is that the G1.Sniper is one of the rare boards that feature a dedicated LAN processing chip and high performance integrated sound. Not only does it have a BigFoot Killer E2200 NPU, Gigabyte also installed Creative's high end Sound Core3D as part of the system. We will cover that in detail in just a moment.

A shot at the back side of the motherboard, showing its clean design. Those that own heatsinks utilizing aftermarket backplates will have nothing to worry about. You will find Intel's backplate here, but heatsinks designed for LGA 1150 will have no problems fitting their respectively heatsink backplate on with this plate in place. If you have noticed, there is one feature on this motherboard that is advertised on many high end Gigabyte and ASUS boards. There are two inner layers of copper integrated into the PCB, used to improve its cooling efficiency by spreading the heat as evenly as possible all around. It also allows current to flow more freely with lower resistance. Screws are also evident on this side for a better and more secure mount of the various heatsinks situated on the other side. As always, components that need to handle higher mechanical stress are through-hole mounted.

Taking a close look around the LGA 1150 socket area, we are able to identify the usual array of components related to the CPU voltage regulator circuit, including a decent array of chokes, and a couple of heatsinks. They are decently sized compared to most heatsinks would be, and I suspected I would not have much issues installing larger heatsinks such as the Noctua NH-C14 with a fan on the underside. Gigabyte uses a regular voltage regulator module on the G1.Sniper Z87 with an 8-phase power design, which is the same as the original G1.Sniper motherboard. Working in conjunction with the Dual CPU Power and Driver MOSFETs, this would deliver more power to the CPU while maintaining system performance and power stability. Generally speaking, the more phases the better (Although eight is plenty, especially for a mid-range motherboard).

The RAM slots are placed a reasonable distance away from the CPU socket in standard dual channel array configuration. This may not be an issue for most of us, but if you happen to have a very large heatsink, having taller heatspreaders on your RAM may be an issue of physical interference with your CPU heatsink/fan. The ATX 24-pin power connector is placed along the side of the motherboard, which is quite standard. Next to it, you will see an internal USB 3.0 connector. On the other side, there is an onboard power button, LCD post indicator, CMOS clear button, and reset button. You will also notice two switches between the 24-pin connector and the RAM slots. The one on the right changes between single and dual BIOS boot and the one on the left changes which BIOS you want to boot from (Either the Dashboard or Advanced Mode BIOS, as aforementioned on the previous page). On the side note, if you have noticed from this angled shot, the G1.Sniper Z87 is slightly narrower than standard ATX motherboards, so you will not find any mounting holes on the right side of the motherboard. It will still, however, mount in standard mid-tower cases. I think it would have been better to have a little more PCB in this area, because the three additional screws will make a more secure mount on your motherboard tray.

Six black colored Serial ATA connectors are angled perpendicular to the motherboard for optimal cabling convenience. All of them are rated at 6Gb/s native to the Z87 chipset, which supports RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10. The advantage here is there is no additional chip needed for controlling the Serial ATA ports, as they are natively controlled directly by Z87 chipset. This is important for maximum performance. It's also good to note that Gigabyte has implemented a dual BIOS chip for redundancy against BIOS corruption.

The Gigabyte G1.Sniper Z87 integrates Qualcomm's Atheros Killer E2201 chip for network processing. This is one of those things that are nice to have, but not necessarily a necessity -- with today's fast processors, I doubt it really makes a difference compared to a good integrated network controller like Intel's own. Either way, I am not complaining about having more features!

Moving onto the expansion slots, from top down, we have one PCIe x16 followed by another PCIe x16 slot, which splits into x8 electrically in a dual-card configuration, as aforementioned. These are sandwiched between three PCIe x1 slots (One at the top and two in between), followed by two legacy PCI slots. With this arrangement, the end user is able to utilize up to two graphics cards in CrossFireX or SLI mode, with one expansion slot spacing between them. This arrangement allows you to easily fit dual slot graphics cards, and it is not likely you will need to install a sound card anyway thanks to the awesome onboard sound. That said, I am not sure if we actually need PCI slots in 2014; most expansion cards have moved on to PCIe in the last few years already.

What I really like about the G1.Sniper Z87 is that it has a Creative Sound Core 3D audio, which includes Creative's CA0138 audio processor. Nichicon MUSE ES series bi-polarized audio grade capacitors are also used, as I have mentioned earlier. On the topic of audio capacitors, the Nichicon MUSE ES are green capacitors rated at 33uF @ 16V. Meanwhile, its operational amplifier, also known as an OpAmp, is a Texas Instruments OP2134 advertised for its high performance low noise and high speed from its manufacturer, and is capable of driving up to 600Ω loads like your headphones.

Gigabyte offers a good amount of connectors at the back panel. In order from left to right and top down, we have two USB 2.0 ports, PS/2 port for mouse or keyboard, coaxial S/PDIF output, DisplayPort, HDMI, USB 2.0 port, two USB 3.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet port, yet another two USB 3.0 ports, and finally, a full set of analog 3.5mm jacks and an optical S/PDIF out connector. I cannot say this is a generous array of connectors, but it should be more than sufficient for most users.

During operation, a green LED strip light up on the motherboard.

Our test configuration is as follows:

CPU: Intel Core i7-4770K
CPU Cooling: Cooler Master Nepton 280L
RAM: Patriot Viper 3 Series Black Mamba Edition PC3-17000 4x8GB
Graphics: Gigabyte GeForce GTX 770 OC 4GB
Chassis: SilverStone Fortress FT04
Storage OCZ Agility 3 240GB
Power: Cooler Master Silent Pro Gold 1000W
Sound: Integrated Creative Sound Core 3D
Optical Drive: N/A
Operating System: Microsoft Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit

Compared Hardware:
- Gigabyte G1.Sniper Z87 (Intel Z87, $170 at press time; Turbo Boost enabled)
- Gigabyte G1.Sniper Z87 (Intel Z87, $170 at press time; CPU overclocked to 4.5 GHz)

As most motherboard models perform almost identically, we chose to overclock the Intel Core i7-4770K CPU to test the G1.Sniper Z87's potential performance in overclocking. The CPU used is a retail processor purchased at a local retail store.

Page Index
1. Introduction, Features, and Specifications
2. Bundle, Chipset, BIOS
3. A Closer Look, Board Layout, Test System
4. Benchmark: AIDA64 CPU
5. Benchmark: AIDA64 FPU
6. Benchmark: AIDA64 Memory
7. Benchmark: PCMark 8
8. Benchmark: 3DMark
9. Benchmark: PassMark PerformanceTest 8.0
10. Benchmark: SuperPI 1M, Cinebench R15
11. Onboard Sound (RMAA 6.3.0) Analysis
12. Overclocking and Conclusion