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GIGABYTE 9-Series LGA1150 Motherboards Preview

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,087
Location
Montreal
A couple of days ago we had the opportunity to get an exclusive first look at a large portion of Gigabyte's upcoming Intel 9-Series LGA1150 motherboards. Although we can't share some specific details like what chipset they use, what the chipset features are, nor show any related logos, we can show you some of the most interesting North America bound models. We have to emphasize the "some" part since Gigabyte's 9-Series line-up will consist of of thirty-seven models, thirty-two of which will be released shortly.

Why so many? Well differing feature demands from the various regions around the world is one factor, but Gigabyte is also betting on the fact that since support for Windows XP finally expired on April 8, there will be an uptick in demand for motherboards as people decide to upgrade their OS and likely build new desktop computers from scratch. They see the Intel 9-Series chipsets as a particularly long-term offering due to its support for current 4th generation and upcoming 5th generation Intel Core processors.


Thankfully, that vast ocean of products has been divided across four motherboard series, two of which are current series that have been renamed, one of which is brand new, and lastly there is the venerable Ultra Durable line. With such a plethora of options, does one of these motherboards have your name on it? Keep reading to find out. Even if you’re not planning an upgrade in the foreseeable future, you will absolutely still want to see what unique concept Gigabyte have based on their newest series on, its really never been attempted before in the consumer hardware industry. There are products for nearly every single price point.

What follows is a quick overview of of Gigabyte's boards that will be available in the coming weeks. Hold on because there will be a lot of info thrown out in a few short pages by stay tuned later in May for our reviews for a number of these boards.
 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,087
Location
Montreal
G1 Gaming Series Motherboards

G1 Gaming Series Motherboards


First, let’s take a look at the G1.Killer...err, make that the new G1 Gaming series. Yep, the simultaneously beloved and reviled gaming series from Gigabyte has been rebranded due to some regions feeling that the “Killer” moniker was a little too aggressive sounding. This isn’t a change in name only, but a total image makeover as well. Gone is the eye-catching lime green colour scheme with bullets, guns, and skulls galore, replaced with a more subdued – and obviously much more common – black and red patina. This isn’t exactly a controversial choice, since it merely puts Gigabyte in-line with the identical aesthetics of the ASUS’ Republic of Gamers (RoG) and MSI’s Gaming motherboard series.

At the moment, we are aware of nine different G1 Gaming models, which are:

  • Z97X-Gaming G1 WIFI
  • Z97X-Gaming G1
  • Z97X-Gaming GT
  • G1.Sniper Z97
  • Z97X-Gaming 7
  • Z97N-Gaming 5
  • Z97X-Gaming 5
  • Z97MX-Gaming 5
  • Z97X-Gaming 3

We were able to see five of these new models in-person, so check out below for some up-close shots.

Z97X-Gaming G1 WIFI​


Click on image to enlarge

The Z98X-Gaming WIFI model is the flagship of the new G1 Gaming lineup, and is by far the most featured filled model that Gigabyte is releasing. The clichéd “everything and the kitchen sink” analogy definitely applies to this model, but in a good way. First and foremost, what you will notice is the brand new red and black colour scheme. Although more generic than the previous colour scheme, it does make for one sleek motherboard...if you actually care about motherboard aesthetics.

As you can see on the PCH heatsink, Gigabyte have adopted the well-known logo that has thus far only adorned their graphics cards. It is part of the rebranding away from the military themed images. Something else that may catch your eye are the two G1/4 threaded fittings on the MOSFET heatsink. This model does indeed allow for water-cooling of the motherboard’s power delivery section, and Gigabyte have wisely left it up the user to decide what size barbs they want to use based on their own personal loop requirements.

One of this model’s key differentiators is 4-Way SLI and 4-Way CrossFire support courtesy of a PLX chip. This PCI-E multiplier expands the 16 PCI-E lanes coming from the processor, and allows the board to run in x8/x8/x8/x8/x8 mode in a quad graphics card configuration, or x16/x16 when two graphics cards are used. The downside of the PLX chip is that it runs exceedingly hot and adds extra latency to the graphics subsystem. Due to the potentially hefty PCI-E power requirements, there is SATA-based power connector on the right side of the motherboard.



Click on image to enlarge

On the connectivity front, this high-end model features ten SATA 6Gb/s ports, or eight ports and one SATA Express 10Gb/s port. The reason for this decrease is that the SATA Express connector requires two SATA ports as well as a small, newer port (zoomable image). Surprisingly, this flagship model does not come with an M.2 slot, although looking at the PCB there really is nowhere to put one. This motherboard features two gigabyte LAN ports, one supplied by a Killer E2200 gaming controller and one from an Intel part. There is also wireless connectivity in the form of dual-band 802.11ac – albeit it 867mbps form – and Bluetooth 4.0.

Since it’s aimed at gamers, Gigabyte paid particular attention to the audio capabilities of this model. It has been outfitted with a proper hardware-based Creative SoundCore 3D quad-core audio processor, and thus supports the whole range of proprietary Creative gaming audio utilities and tools.

For those who’s audio requirements extend past just gaming, Gigabyte have designed this motherboard with a User replaceable OP-AMP – an industry first –and AMP-UP audio technology with GAIN switches, allowing users to better drive their higher Ohm headphones. High quality electrolytic Nichicon MUSE ES audio capacitors ensure smooth power delivery to the audio components. Since Gigabyte have recognized their increasing popularity, there are now two DAC-UP USB ports, which are special ports that have been isolated from the rest of the motherboard in order to minimize the noise that gets transferred to your external USB DAC. All the audio jacks have been gold-plated, which is less about improving conductance than just preventing the ports from tarnishing in certain environments, which can cause that sporadic scratchy noise that you’ve likely heard before when plugging your headphones into an audio output port. Lastly, there is the somewhat translucent
audio separation line
on the PCB, which isolates and protects the analog audio subsystem from being affected by interference from the motherboard’s numerous other components. This is a design feature that you will see on most of this new generation's full-size motherboards.

Basically, this is the motherboard to buy if you want it all and don’t like compromises. Having said that, as you will see next, the Gaming GT model ain’t half bad either...


Z97X-Gaming GT​


Click on image to enlarge

Much like its bigger brother, the Z97X-Gaming GT features support for 4-way graphics thanks to a PLX chip. On this motherboard the PLX has been placed under the “northbridge” heatsink, so it does get some cooling but will also heat up the MOSFET section. Speaking of which, the MOSFET heatsink is also different, with an alternative design that does water-cooling support.



Click on image to enlarge

On the connectivity from, the Gaming GT makes due with two less SATA ports and only features one gigabit LAN port, but the Killer E2200 LAN controller remains. Both the WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity have been stripped from this model. This model also loses the hardware-based Creative audio solution, but does still feature a solid Realtek ALC1150 CODEC that can utilize SoundBlaster audio tools in software-mode. They have also used lower-end audio capacitors for the audio subsystem.

Overall, at the right price this could be an attractive option for those who don’t need the extra wired/wireless connectivity and make use of an external audio solution (USB DAC for example).


Z97X-Gaming 7​




Click on image to enlarge

Next up we have the slightly more mainstream Gaming Series models, which are actually very attractive offerings for your average user that won’t ever need support for three or four graphics card. As sweet bonus, these models actually all feature an M.2 slot, which promises some high-speed next-generation storage performance.

This Gaming 7 model for example is effectively identical to the Gaming GT, just with the aforementioned additions and subtractions.


Z97X-Gaming 5​



Click on image to enlarge

The Gaming 5 is again very similar to the higher-end models, but it does away with the OC Touch panel in the top right-hand corner of the motherboard, which is where the real-time manual overclocking and temperature/voltage monitoring features are on the pricier Gaming Series models. All these models share a similar PCH heatsink design and logo.


Z97X-Gaming 3​


The Gaming 3 model was installed a system, so we couldn't get as close a look at it. However, at first glance it appears to quite similar to the Gaming 5, just with a simpler MOSFET heatsink design that matches the one used on the Z97X-SLI which you will see in the Ultra Durable Series section.
 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,087
Location
Montreal
SuperOverClocking Series Motherboards

SuperOverClocking Series Motherboards



First introduced with the X58A-OC back in 2011, the highly rated OverClocking Series has been relabeled to SuperOverClocking (SOC) Series to put the motherboard division in line with the company’s graphics card naming scheme. Thankfully, that’s the end of the changes. The uniquely attractive – maybe only in the eyes of this writer – black and orange colour scheme remains intact, as does the intense overclocking-first focus of this rare-breed of motherboards.

Z97X-SOC Force​


Click on image to enlarge

The SOC Force features an all-digital 8-phase power design, which allows for adjustable frequency/phase/voltage control via an International Rectifier PWM controller. The CPU socket area is quite free from clutter, so it will have no issues accommodating large LN2 pots, cascade heads, or complex water-cooling setups.

As on all OC/SOC models, the OC Touch panel is definitely one of the best features. It not only allows users to manually adjust the CPU multiplier and BCLK in real-time via dedicated buttons, but thanks to the Gear button users can now select whether to change the BCLK by extremely precise increments. The eleven voltage headers and voltage measurement pads are also obviously indispensable for any serious overclocker. The new OC DIMM Switch, which allows overclockers to turn off the signal going to individual memory channels, and OC PCIe Switch, which allows users to disable any of the four PCI-E x16 slots, are definitely going to be widely used as well. Basically, this is most impressive OC Touch panel ever outfitted to any GIGABYTE model, and we look forward to testing it out.

An interesting innovation found on these new SOC models is the surface-mounted memory slots, which are an easily identifiable change once you flip the motherboard over. GIGABYTE claim that this new design should help improve memory overclocking at the very highest levels.



Click on image to enlarge

Connectivity-wise the options are somewhat limited, but given the focus on this motherboard, that's not really an issue. There are six SATA 6Gb/s ports, but if you elect to use of SATA Express, that drops down to four SATA 6Gb/s ports...which is still more than often for those who are mainly focusing on CPU and 3D benchmarking tasks. Overclockers running their systems on a test bench will likely rejoice at the new OC Connect feature, which are the two front-facing USB ports that will stop users from having to blindly fiddle with the rear I/O panel when trying to plug in a USB device.

This model does support 4-Way CrossFire, but only 2-Way SLI. The reason for this is because GIGABYTE wanted to focus on pure performance they elected not to included a latency-increasing PLX PCI-E multiplier chip. As a result, in 4-Way configuration the motherboard must run in x4/x4/x4/x4 mode, which doesn't meet the requirements for NVIDIA's 4-Way SLI certification. Practically speaking, given the fact that this is PCI-E x4 Gen. 3, there really shouldn't be any bandwidth bottleneck issues. What about those who "need" 4-Way SLI? Well there's obviously the aforementioned Z97X-G1 Gaming model, but this "need" will be better met by an upcoming platform anyways.

Z97X-SOC​




Click on image to enlarge

Truthfully, there is only one significant difference between the SOC Force and SOC model, which is that the CPU power design has been dropped from 8 phases down to 4 phases. Although that might seem pitifully low compared to what we have been in the past, the modern über-robust components used on these models means that for you are unlikely to encounter any actual overclocking differences between both models, even if you're going sub-zero and extreme.
 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,087
Location
Montreal
Black Edition Series Motherboards

Black Edition Series Motherboards


While the Black Edition moniker might invoke thoughts of a Top-of-the-Line model with a focus on sleek aesthetics and higher performance, the reality is actually much more interesting. With the Black Edition Series Gigabyte is putting a focus on reliability with an extensive testing regiment that has never been seen before in the motherboard industry, nor any other consumer-oriented computer hardware that this writer is aware of.

While motherboard’s are all currently checked at various steps in the manufacturing process, the final product has never before been thoroughly tested before leaving the factory. With this new initiative, every single Black Edition model will be tested for 168 hours - a full 7-day week – running LiteCoin on both the CPU and the GPU. With a planned production rate of 3,000 motherboards per week, the logistics that many motherboards at one time is impressive. That is 3,000 processors, 3,000 graphics cards, 3,000 DDR3 memory kits, 3,000 power supplies, etc. Speaking of which, those 3,000 graphics cards will actually be Black Edition models that are tested simultaneously with the motherboards. We might even see a Black Edition combo pack sometime in the future. GIGABYTE have apparently spent upwards of a $1 million retrofitting their Nanping Factory to be able to house - and more importantly handle the power load of - these 3,000 systems.

Why? Well for starters, buying a Black Edition model will basically guarantee that you don’t get a Dead-on-Arrival (DOA) motherboard, and it will also ensure that every part of the motherboard functions as it should. That peace of mind is definitely going to be an attractive option for many, especially if the proposed price premium of only about $10 ends up being accurate. These Black Edition models will feature a 5-year warranty in North America, which arguably more than makes up for the price difference.

Although you might not have noticed it at first glance, the Z97X-Gaming G1 WIFI that we posted in the G1 Gaming section is actually a Black Edition model, as per its Z97X-Gaming G1 WIFI-BK designation. There will be a Z97X-UD5H-BK (as seen below), as well as a slightly lower-end Z97X-UD3H-BK.


Z97X-UD5H-BK​




Click on image to enlarge

Aside from the reliability testing and longer warranty, this Z97X-UD5H-BK model features a different and more subdued black and gold colour scheme compared to the regular "Ultra Durable" Z97X-UD5H, which you can see on the next page. It is otherwise identical specifications wise, so let's see what the Ultra Durable Series models offer next.
 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,087
Location
Montreal
Ultra Durable Series Motherboards

Ultra Durable Series Motherboards


The mainstream Ultra Durable Series is obviously GIGABYTE's bread and butter, so there are more models here than in any other series, and they hit all the sweet spots that you would expect when it comes to price and features.

First, there is a revised colour scheme, which keeps the matte black PCB but ups the amount of gold on the heatsink's compared to last year's Z87X-UD5H. There is also a new UEFI Dual BIOS that makes good use of the larger ROM chips that GIGABYTE have added to this generation by supporting 19 languages, smoother mouse control, and improved navigation via shortcuts. More importantly though, there is a cool new basic interface with icons for simple tasks, and a new Smart Tweak Mode that will allows users to adjust performance and overclock settings from within the BIOS in real-time, no need to reboot. The legacy/advanced BIOS mode is still present and accounted for, so like on previous generations so you will still be able to manually tweak just about every setting you can thing of.

Based on the models that we were presented, all Ultra Durable Series models feature support for both M.2 and SATA Express connectivity. The Killer E2200 and Intel GbE LAN controllers are used prominently across this series, so you will find some models with both chips, some with the Killer gaming part and others with the highly compatible Intel NIC. You will also find six Smart Fan 4-pin PWM headers on all the Ultra Durable models.

Software-wise, GIGABYTE App Center has been refreshed, and is once again where you will find the utilities in one convenient place. EasyTune has now been split into two, since the monitoring aspect of that tool was causing polling/DPC latency issues that could affect system performance. That monitoring functionality has now been transferred to the new System Information Viewer tool. There is also a new Gigabyte Game Controller tool that allows for precise control options for the mouse and keyboard, as well as a handy Gigabyte Smart Switch that is basically an anti-Windows 8 tool that will gives you a Windows 7-like Start Menu.

At this moment, these are the models that we are aware of:

  • Z97X-UD7 TH
  • Z97X-UD5H
  • Z97X-UD3H
  • Z97N-WIFI
  • Z97X-SLI
  • Z97X-D3H
  • Z97-HD3

We were able to take a hands on look at five of them, which you can see below.


Z97X-UD5H​



Click on image to enlarge

This model is second highest-end in the Ultra Durable Series, behind only the flagship Gigabyte Z97X-UD7 TH (which we were not shown). As such it is one of the few models with the user-friendly Quick Buttons on the top-right corner of the motherboard, which consists of onboard power and reset buttons, clear CMOS button, Dual BIOS DIP Switch, and voltage read points. These might not be key selling points for your average user, but they are a most for those who run their systems off of a test bench.

The UD5H comes with a 12-phase power design, which is more than any of the other 9-Series models, but with slightly less sophisticated MOSFETs components than the G1 Gaming or SOC models. Multiple graphics cards support is present in the form of 2-Way CrossFire and 2-Way SLI. There are eight SATA 6Gb/s ports, and support for SATA Express (which needs two SATA ports itself), as well as an M.2 port. This model features two LAN ports courtesy of both a Killer E2200 and Intel I217V gigabit LAN controller, while audio is supplied by a Realtek ALC1150 CODEC.


Z97X-UD3H​



Click on image to enlarge

The UD3H looks very similar to its higher-end sibling, but loses the Quick Buttons, four CPU power phases, two SATA 6Gb/s ports, and the Killer E2200 NIC is replaced by an Intel part. Everything else appears identical, including the prominent PCB separation line that shields the audio circuitry from the rest of the components.


Z97X-SLI​



Click on image to enlarge

Although it looks very similar the Z97X-Gaming 3, this Z97X-SLI has a cut-down CPU power design with only 4 phases. On the plus side, as far as we know, this is the only model that has two SATA Express ports. When combined with the M.2 slot, that makes this model a high-performance storage standout. The single gigabit LAN port is supplied by an Intel I217V GbE NIC, while the audio comes from a RealTek ALC1150 CODEC. At the back of the motherboard we can see that the rear I/O panel looks rather sparse, but the only notable omissions are an optical audio output and DisplayPort video output.


Z97N-WIFI​


Click on image to enlarge

As you can probably tell, the Z97N-WIFI is a Mini-ITX motherboard, and although fully featured it does have to do without some of new high-speed connectivity options of its larger siblings. It comes with six SATA 6Gb/s ports, but both SATA Express and M.2 are excluded from this model. However, it does come with wireless connectivity in the form of dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11ac 867Mbps and Bluetooth 4.0. On the rear I/O panel there are DisplayPort, DVI, and HDMI video outputs for HTPC or PC gaming console use.


H97N-WIFI​



Click on image to enlarge

The H97N-WIFI features exactly the same specifications as the Z97N-WIFI, albeit with an H-class chipset and support for the Intel Small Business Advantage (Intel SBA) framework.


To conclude, clearly these new motherboards are interesting for those upgrading from older systems, but what do they offer owners of more modern systems? Well as you there's been a definite uptick in high performance storage connectivity options, so that and the arrival of the upcoming Haswell refresh and/or 5th generation Intel Core processors might prove quite enticing down the road for those with Bloomfield, Sandy Bridge, or even Ivy Bridge based systems. Having said, that we have to admit that current Haswell/Z87 owners can definitely sit tight and feel confident in their hardware. At worst, they can just upgrade their system with a PCI-Express SSD if they start feeling the need for I/O speed.
 
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