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GIGABYTE Z97X-Gaming G1 Black Edition Review

AkG

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,274
GIGABYTE's entry into the Z97 motherboard market will be built atop the shoulders of their new Z97X-Gaming, the newest iteration in the G1-series. It represents a new direction for their design, hardware and marketing teams; one which hopes to bring the G1 series onto a more neutral ground without sacrificing its gaming roots.

Gigabyte's gaming orientated motherboards have had a rather tumultuous history with seemingly equal portions of detractors and aficionados. Whether you consider yourself part of the former or the latter group one thing is for certain: there are very few enthusiasts who don’t know about these boards and their pedigree. With such firmly entrenched brand recognition, Gigabyte has taken a risk by moving in another direction. Gone is the overly aggressive firearm motif that adorned previous versions, and so too is the whole "Sniper" and "Killer" taglines. In its place is a much tamer, more civilized naming scheme which literally states what these motherboards are made for: Gaming.

At the very top of the new <i>Gaming</i> series is the GIGABYTE Z97X-Gaming G1 WIFI Black Edition. While this is quite the mouthful and a long way away from the G1.Sniper 5 that it replaces as the de-facto halo gaming product from GIGABYTE , the core features will certainly make it a clear Sniper successor. In relation to the rest of GIGABYTE's Z97 lineup, this one sits near the top.

As with the Z87 G1.Sniper 5, the Gaming G1 Black Edition (as we will call it for everyone's sake) is a PLX-enabled ATX motherboard which allows for either two video cards to run in full 16/16 mode or <i>four</i> GPUs in 8/8/8/8 mode. For those of you doing a double take and wondering how that's possible with a platform that only has 16 primary lanes, keep on reading.

As we know, video performance is only half the equation of a truly immersive gaming experience. Thus Gigabyte has backstopped the impressive PCI-E capabilities with an integrated soundcard that promises to provide an immersive, realistic audio experience Just as with the G1.Sniper 5 it replaces, this Core3D based integrated audio solution has been electrically separated from the rest of the motherboard, uses its own high end components, and even makes use of a replaceable op-amp.

To ensure that your games load as fast as possible the Gaming G1 Black Edition not only uses Intel's all new Z97 chipset, but also ups the ante with dual Marvel 88SE9172 controllers for a total of ten SATA ports. Then to make it as future proof as possible, GIGABYTE has included a SATA Express port that -when supporting SSDs become available - will allow 10Gb/s speeds over a single special SATA port. Mix in numerous USB 3.0 ports, a 802.11AC 866 WiFi + BlueTooth 4.0 adapter card, Killer <i>and</i> Intel NIC's, as well as HDMI, DVI, and a DisplayPort, and the G1.Sniper 6….err the Gaming G1 Black Edition is simply loaded with features.

On the software side of the equation GIGABYTE has revamped and refined their included software suite to make it faster, more powerful, and easier to use. Even the BIOS has been refined, and thanks to dual 128MB BIOS options it promises to be the best GIGABYTE has released to date.

Further helping to prove to detractors that this Gaming motherboard is all grown up and has put its 'L33T' days in the past, GIGABYTE has upgraded aesthetics as well. They have removed all the goo-gaws and other accouterments that previously adorned their gaming motherboards while the green and black color scheme is now as dead as disco. It has been replaced by a more elegant and refined black PCB with a red and black scheme that culminates in a new water/air heatsink design that uses the exact same low-key logo that adorns GIGABYTE's very own video card line.

Taken as whole this $365 motherboard appears to have what it takes to both impress and sooth both critics and fans of the previous Sniper/Killer series. However, this motherboard has its sights set on a wider audience and GIGABYTE intends this new Gaming series to be able to compete against the likes of ASUS' Deluxe series and not just the likes of ASRock's Fatal1ty type motherboards. To do this, all these 'killer' features need to work as well as they look on paper; otherwise the Gaming G1 Black Edition will never break out of the hardcore PC gaming niche like GIGABYTE wants it to.

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/Gaming_G1_BE/mfg.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>
 
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AkG

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Joined
Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,274
Specifications

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AkG

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Messages
5,274
The Z97 Chipset; The Evolution Continues

The Z97 Chipset; The Evolution Continues


By now nearly everyone is familiar with Intel’s tick-tock strategy where every die shrink of a previous microarchitecture is succeeded by a new architectural revision. Hence the recent 22nm Haswell will soon be replaced with Broadwell, a family of chips based on Haswell’s design but built using a 14nm manufacturing process. This pattern of constant updates is realistic within the CPU world but the processor’s partner chipsets have always seemed to lag behind. Many will come to this conclusion when looking at Intel’s latest chipset, the LGA1150-based Z97.

Z97 actually presents an interesting case study in how certain key elements in a motherboard’s toolkit have moved forwards while others have retained the status quo since Z87 was rolled out in 2013. In the course of a year graphics and networking interfaces just haven’t evolved while storage technology has been given a boost of adrenalin through the ratification of SATA 3.2. This means in its most basic form Z97 and its associated H97 sibling are identical to their predecessors but have some additional storage compatibility bolted on to keep pace with current trends.

One interesting aspect of Z97 is its launch timeframe which was pulled forward. Instead of being introduced alongside Broadwell in Q4 of this year, Z97 can be considered a mid-life refresh that preempts (and fully supports) Intel’s upcoming Devil Canyon CPUs. Broadwell compatibility is built in as well.


To many of you the block diagram above will look eerily similar since it’s nearly identical to the one posted in our Haswell / Z87 article. Every Z97 board will board full backwards compatibility with 4th generation Haswell and 5th generation Broadwell processors as well as the upcoming Haswell refresh, code named Devil’s Canyon. This grants the board access to 16 PCI-E 3.0 lanes which can be split into two x8 lanes for SLI and Crossfire support or a one x8 and two x4 setup for applications that require more accessory PCI-E lanes. There’s also the usual 1600MHz DDR3/3L compatibility alongside a display output for multi monitor support from the processor’s integrated GPU core.

The Processor Graphics communicates with and ultimately outputs its display signals to the PCH via the FDI or Flexible Display Interface. This runs in parallel with the DMI interface, a link between the CPU and the PCH that features four bi-directional PCI-E lanes that can operate at speeds of up to 2 GB/s. This results in 4 GB/s of aggregate bandwidth if both upstream and downstream lanes are used to their theoretical maximum. These features have been staples within Intel’s chipset design for years now.

Moving down to the PCH itself, we have the usual capabilities for up to six SATA 6Gbps ports, six USB 3.0 ports (or 14 USB 2.0) and up to eight PCI-E 2.0 lanes. The “up to” designation is derived from Intel’s use of a purpose-built Flexible IO interface which we’ll talk more about on the next page. In short, Flex IO allows four of the PCH’s PCI Express lanes to be used for either PCI-E or SATA / USB 3.0 functionality depending on a motherboard manufacturer’s design goals.

While the integrated 10/100/1000 MAC, its partner Ethernet connection and the Intel HD Audio controller aren’t anything new, the addition of Intel’s Rapid Storage Technology support for PCI Express storage devices is a pretty major addition. With it, PCIe-based SSDs will now have access to RST’s broad support toolkit which includes everything from RAID implementation to power management and other key features. Typically many of these were gained through ad hoc drivers from PCIe SSD manufacturers but now Intel is adding compatibility at the chipset level.


The H97’s layout follows very much the same guidelines as Z97 but with features that are targeted towards system integrators and corporate clients rather than enthusiasts. The main differentiators here are a lack of dual graphics card support and no integrated backbone for the optional Extreme Tuning Utility but the addition of Intel’s Small Business Advantage Platform and Identity Protection Technology. Motherboards based around the H97 PCH will likely be seen at significantly lower price points than those using Z97.


Most clients will likely look at both of these platforms’ primary capabilities and overlook a key option being added by Intel this time around: Device Protection Technology. This feature may be optional for motherboard manufacturers but we hope to see it being implemented on more systems. Device Protection and its associated Boot Guard institute a boot block at the hardware level against malware attacks. This prevents repurposing of the platform to run unauthorized software but is only available on Devil’s Canyon CPUs rather than existing Haswell processors.
 
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SATA Express & M.2 Through Flex IO

SATA Express & M.2 Through Flex IO


While there may not be many additions to Z97 from a functionality standpoint, the porting of Intel’s Rapid Storage Technology into the PCIe interface has some major implications for the PCH’s storage subsystem. First and foremost, it has allowed motherboard manufacturers to incorporate M.2 and SATA Express onto their boards.

Both M.2 and SATA Express are rolled into the new SATA 3.2 specification which was ratified last year. Both use a combination of standard SATA and a PCI Express bus alongside AHCI and NVMe interface standards for an ultra fast 10 Gbps data pathway. That represents a major performance uplift in comparison to current SATA 6Gbps drives.


The implementation of SATA Express and M.2 has been achieved through the use of Intel’s Flexible IO interface. Essentially, the PCH houses a total of 18 ports which are split into three predominant groups: four SATA, six PCIe 2.0 and four USB 3.0 which make up the main connectivity options. The PCIe ports are typically used for connection to third party controllers or providing secondary PCI Express functionality to supplement the motherboard’s primary x16 slot(s).

Flex IO steps into this equation by providing four additional ports that are configurable. #5 and #6 can be used for either a pair of PCIe 2.0 lanes or USB 3.0 while ports #13 and #14 are either PCIe 2.0 or SATA 6G. The only limitation here is the Flex ports have to be paired up and maximum number of PCI Express lanes can’t exceed eight. This means if #13 and #14 are configured for PCIe, #5 and #6 will need to use USB 3.0 and vice versa.

On some boards, these additional Flex I/O ports will be combined with the six static ports and paired up with a PLX port multiplier to deliver an additional eight PCI-E 3.0 lanes for triple GPU support. This means sacrificing dedicated bandwidth towards Thunderbolt, additional networking capabilities and other controllers


Motherboard builders can use those configurable Flex IO ports and provide a two lane PCI Express 2.0 interface to a compatible SATA Express / M.2 controller. This grants SATA Express and M.2 a theoretical bandwidth of 10Gbps but both interfaces can’t be used at the same time; it’s either one or the other. In addition, due to PCH limitations, there is a lack RAID compatibility, though some boards will use a PCI-E multiplier chip and support up to two SATA Express ports. RAID is still possible through the use of two M.2 drives running in parallel within a secondary enclosure that’s linked to the motherboard via the SATA Express interface.

As you might expect the implementation of these high speed storage standards is completely different when moving from one board to another. For example, some motherboards will disable secondary PCI-E slots when either an M.2 or SATA-E drive is detected while others will use the aforementioned port multiplier approach so the storage interfaces remain independent of other functions.

With all of this talk of high speed interfaces, there are still some limitations here. Since Intel has limited the Z97’s PCI Express lanes’ bandwidth to the 2.0 standard, any SATA 3.2 devices will be granted only a fraction of their available bandwidth without the use of expensive bridge chips and other, more exotic solutions. While dual lane controllers are the norm now, quad lane units which double the available bandwidth will be available in the coming months. This could leave Z97’s version of SATA Express and M.2 at a distinct disadvantage against add-in-board style PCI-E drives which can use more lanes and thus provide significantly higher performance.


Another bit of good news here is the backwards compatibility of SATA Express with the existing SATA 6Gbps standard. Since the SATA-E port is composed of two SATA connectors alongside a plug for the PCIe communications, its two 6Gbps connections can be used for standard drives as well.

M.2 meanwhile is essentially a small form factor version of SATA Express that is compatible with Intel’s Smart Response Technology’s caching or it can be utilized as a primary storage interface. Due to the costs involved in higher capacity M.2 SSDs, we can’t see this being used as a primary means of storage for most systems. However, it could be extremely beneficial in the mATX and mini ITX markets where space is at a premium.

Another big question lies in Z87’s lack of SATA Express and M.2 support. There isn’t anything stopping Z87 motherboards from incorporating either of these but since the SATA 3.2 standard was ratified so close to that Lynx Point’s rollout, the necessary controllers and associated SSDs weren’t available until only recently. That means most Z87 boards didn’t include M.2 ports until the architecture’s final months. SATA Express was left off the table entirely due to Intel’s lack of PCIe-based support in their Rapid Storage Technology software stack. This has all changed with Z97 so we’ll likely see M.2 and SATA Express, both cornerstones of the SATA 3.2 interface, quickly become defining features.
 
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Packaging and Accessories

Packaging and Accessories



In what is sure to be a continuing trend throughout this review, the Gaming G1's packing is not only every bit as eye catching as the previous G1.Sniper 5 but it is also much more mature and 'grown up' looking. Also note that just like the G1.Sniper 5, this box is massive and weighs a ton, so expect higher shipping charges in some instances.


The Gaming G1 is housed in its own cardboard container with a plastic lid with the accessories located in small cardboard trays below it.


The accessory list which accompanies the Gaming G1 is certainly above average and you do get a rather nice selection of parts but it has been cut down somewhat. Specifically the Sniper's excellent op-amp IC extractor is MIA, as is the secondary audio op-amp. Anyone looking for the customizable audio experience to carry on here will be a bit disappointed.

On the positive side there are a lot of goodies included. There's an insulated style IO shield, six braided SATA 6Gbps data cables and a USB 3.0 front adapter bracket with two USB 3.0 / 2.0 ports. For graphics cards, a ribbon style 2-way SLI and Crossfire bridges are present and accounted for along with a PCB style 3-way SLI bridge cable and a PCB style 4-way SLI bridge.

There are also two GIGABYTE stickers, a PCIe x1 WiFI + Bluetooth adapter, a single bi-pole antenna for the WiFi card, a User Manual, quick installation guide, two driver and utilities DVDs, and a certificate stating this motherboard has gone through one hundred and sixty eight hours of testing before leaving the factory.


This is certainly an impressive list of accessories but in addition to the missing op-amp and extractor, this accessory list also has the same shortcomings of the G1.Sniper 5. Firstly, the front USB 3.0 adapter is rather flimsy and shouldn’t be included on such a high caliber motherboard.


While Gigabyte has upgraded the included PCIe x1 combination Bluetooth 4.0 / 802.11AC wireless daughter card (it now uses an Intel 7260HMW 802.11AC controller) this unit’s antenna array remains the same as the previous generation's. Instead of two magnetic based antennas it is equipped with the same single di-pole module which combines both antennas into one package. We would have preferred to see two independently adjustable antennas which would have made fine-tuning the wireless array much easier. Again though, this is an extremely minor point which likely won’t noticeably affect wireless performance in most situations.
 
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Closer look at the Gaming G1 WiFi

Closer look at the Gaming G1 WiFi




Above is a general layout of the ATX form factored GIGABYTE Gaming G1 Wifi Black Edition with labels of the key parts. Of special note is the user-friendly color-coded front panel header.


Let's start with the white elephant in the room or rather, the hot brunette with red highlights. There are no ifs, no ands, and certainly no buts about it: this is not your kids' gaming motherboard. Much like a tomboy that seemingly blossoms overnight into a drop dead gorgeous supermodel, so too has GIGABYTE's 'Gaming' motherboard series gone from being the oddball of the industry to being one of the best looking.

There is absolutely nothing about this motherboard that will cause a negative response in consumers, and the only real nod to its gaming roots is the GIGABYTE 'eye' logo on the Z97 heatsink. No guns, no ammunition, no green color scheme. That alone makes this new Gaming G1 Black Edition a major improvement over the past G1.Sniper series and more in line with their mainstream UD series of motherboards.


While the aesthetics are obviously different, even on just a cursory glance it is rather obvious that GIGABYTE used the Z87 G1.Sniper 5 as a foundation for the Gaming G1. However, while it does stay true to its roots, this highly capable and complete motherboard's features far exceed that of anything GIGABYTE has previously released with a PC gaming focus.


As with the G1.Sniper 5, the overall layout of the Gaming G1 Black Edition is very well thought out with most of the buttons, connectors, and ports easily accessible and free from possible obstruction. The cooling system may be missing the G1.Sniper's small fan but it too has been upgraded over past motherboards.

While the G1.Sniper 5 basically required active cooling either from air or water, the Gaming G1 Black Edition does not. Its heatsinks are bigger, heavier and have upgraded internal designs for passive cooling. This combined with improved water inlets that allow the consumer to choose what size G1/4 barbs to use makes for one impressive package.


On the surface of things the Black Edition's 8 phase PWM design may seem like a major step down from the Sniper 5's "16 phase" setup but there's more to this story than what first meets the eye. The Sniper used eight "true" phases an with eight virtual phase design (8+8), so while each phase will have slightly more stress placed upon it, the differences for all but hardcore overclocking enthusiasts will be minimal.

The Gaming G1 uses either the exact same or upgraded components as its predecessor so only real difference is the lack of 8 virtual phases and the accompanying phase multipliers. This means it has an all-digital power design consisting of IR3580 PowerIRstage ICs, sealed ferrite-core chokes, and Nippon Chemi-Con 10K ‘DuraBlack’ solid electrolytic capacitors. As the name suggests the 10K ‘Black’ caps are rated for 10,000 hours of use instead of the typical 3K-5K. This backstopped with 168 hours of stress testing (including a week's worth of Litecoin mining) makes for a very persuasive argument in the Gaming G1's favor.


The four DDR3 memory slots are fed by a digital 2-phase power design which uses an International Rectifier IR35870 with IR3598 phase doubler. It does also supports overclocked memory frequencies of DDR3-3200 – or 1600MHz, though it will take a highly binned set of RAM sticks and a great CPU to reach such lofty overclocking levels.


One of the main things which separates this motherboard from other Z97 models is the inclusion of a PLX PEX8747 hub with a maximum of 48 PCI-E 3.0 lanes. In this iteration, it utilizes the existing architecture’s PCI-E bandwidth to provide the Gaming G1 WiFi with 32 native Gen3 lanes. These can be either used in a dual x16, x16 / x8 / x8 or quad x8 configurations making GIGABYTE’s gamer-oriented board one of the few Z97 platforms with native quad GPU compatibility.


For gaming enthusiasts there is a good amount of space between the two main PCIe x16 slots and the two secondary mechanical x8, PCI-E slots. With that being said, a fourth dual slot GPU will overhang some of the secondary headers running along the board's bottom edge. This really isn't a huge issue, and should only impact the very, very few who opt for quad video card setups.

The only real disappointment we have with this layout and design is that none of the x16 slots can act as a PLX override slot, meaning the processor’s native switching has been removed from the equation. This means that single video card users will have a slightly lower performance compared to non-PLX enabled motherboards, as the PLX switch's added latency could add an almost imperceptible amount of system overhead and slightly impede video performance in benchmark-specific scenarios.

The whole bottom of the motherboard is festooned with ports as well: three USB 2.0 headers, three fan headers and front audio output. Also of note are the dual BIOS dip switches The first switch enables or disabled the dual BIOS function of the Gaming G1, whereas the next DIP switch selects the active BIOS. Position 1 tells the motherboard to boot from the main BIOS and when in position 2 it will use the backup BIOS.
 
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Closer look at the Gaming G1 WiFi Cont'd

Closer look at the Gaming G1 WiFi Cont'd



Along the top edge near the RAM slots and gold plated CPU socket, GIGABYTE has included two 4-pin PWM capable CPU fan headers. However, instead of the usual position near the upper edge of the motherboard (ie: near the ram slots) the dual CPU fan headers have been moved to the other end of the ram slots and reside near the first PCIe slot. This will make plugging and unplugging fans a touch harder if the first x16 slot is populated. On the positive, side the additional fan header will be of great interest to consumers running dual fan cooling solutions since they can be precisely controlled via the BIOS without the need for fan splitter cables.


The 24-pin ATX power connector is in its usual spot and the large LED-illuminated onboard power button, small reset and small clear CMOS buttons are in the far-right corner of the motherboard. As mentioned in the G1.Sniper 5 review, having all three buttons so close together is a touch problematic if you're fishing around for them.

GIGABYTE has also carried over the seven voltage measurement points we saw on the G1.Sniper 5. These hard read points will obviously be indispensable for any overclocker, though once again we do wish that actual headers were included instead of simple pads.


Just to the left of the onboard power button is the integrated LED diagnostic display which makes troubleshooting startup issues a lot easier.


To the left of the main power connector is the sole internal front-panel USB 3.0 header which can supply up to two USB 3.0 ports. While this is a downgrade from the G1.Sniper 5's 2x2 design, for most consumers the loss of the additional header is neither here nor there. If this is of concern to you (e.g. your case has four front USB 3.0 ports that get used a lot) this may be a deal breaker for you.

Just in front of this USB 3.0 header is the OC-PEG port. This is a SATA power connector that can be used to ensure that the PCI-E slots get all the power that they require for particularly power hungry Crossfire or SLI configurations.


To the left of the OC-PEG are the ten SATA 6Gb/s ports and the single SATA Express Port. The leftmost six ports (two black and four dark gray) are controlled via the Intel Z97 chipset while the four rightmost (light grey) are linked to two Marvell 88SE9172 controllers.

While there are technically ten SATA 6Gb/s ports and a single SATA 10Gb/s 'Express' port, this does not mean you can attach eleven drives to the Black Edition. Rather, if you do use the SATA Express port the bottom two SATA ports to the right it will be disabled (labeled 'SATA3 5', and 'SATA3 4'). This is because SATA Express requires nearly twice the bandwidth of standard SATA ports and the Z97 chipset is unable to provide enough bandwidth for 6 SATA ports and one SATA Express port at the same time.

GIGABYTE could have alleviated this issue by including an additional controller, as some other manufactures are doing but the inclusion of four additional Marvell based SATA ports should make this a non-issue for most consumers.


Flipping the board over we see that just like the G1.Sniper 5, the Gaming G1's VRM and chipset coolers are held in place by screws with springs. While this does give appropriate tension we would like to see an upgrade to physical backplates which would provided additional support.

Also of interest are the numerous red LEDs which been strategically placed to allow light to filter up through the PCB and create the red “racing stripe” on the Gaming’s topside. This is more of a fringe benefit to the design as it also isolates the audio components from the rest of the board and helps reduce interference.
 
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Closer Look at the Gaming G1 WiFi Cont'd 2

Closer Look at the Gaming G1 WiFi Cont'd 2



The Z97 chipset is located directly underneath the sexy red heatsink. Directly left of this heatsink is the ITE IT8620E Super I/O controller, which has previously been seen on some GIGABYTE AM1 motherboards. TIt monitors several critical parameters on the board, including power supply voltages, fan speeds, and temperatures.



besides the PLX PEX8747 chipset, the Black Edition's standout feature is its onboard audio solution. While the Creative Sound Core3D chip is among the better options available it is not all that unique and many other motherboards have included this quad-core, 7.1 output capable chipset. What makes GIGABYTE's board stand out is the removable OP-AMP. Unlike most gaming orientated boards which have the headphone OP-AMP soldered on, GIGABYTE has included a socketed solution. This means swapping it out for a different, higher end OP-AMP is a quick and painless solution which is covered by the board’s warranty.

As with the G1.Sniper the default OP-AMP which comes pre-installed is a Burr Brown OPA2134 but a second OP-AMP (i.e. the Texas Instruments LM4562NA) isn't included this time around. On the positive side the audio circuitry has been thoroughly isolated to reduce EMI and high quality Nichicon MUSE ES capacitors have been added for enhanced quality.


The Gaming G1's connectivity options on its rear I/O panel are excellent with many being plated in gold. There are two USB 2.0 ports, a single mouse/keyboard combination PS/2 port, a SPDIF port, six USB 3.0 ports, a HDMI port, a DisplayPort and a DVI-I port. There are also 5.1 audio jacks with a dedicated OP-AMP powered headphone jack capable of powering 600ohm headphones.

Of special note is the two USB 2.0 ports which have been designed with USB DACs in mind. Unlike usual USB ports these two supposedly supply power that is especially clean and free of noise. This should help improve sound fidelity through USB soundcards but with such an excellent onboard solution included, we doubt many will ever make use of these ports for their intended purposes.


Rounding out the included features are the two dedicated NICs. Once again GIGABYTE has opted for a Qualcomm’s Atheros ‘Killer’ E2205 Network Processing unit and Intel’s latest generation ‘Clarkville’ I217V.


To provide consumers with wireless abilities GIGABYTE has once again gone with a single lane PCIe wireless adapter card. This time around it uses an Intel 7260HMW 802.11AC controller which is dual band, uses a 2x2 setup and is capable of 866gb/s via the 5Ghz spectrum and 300gb/s 2.4 wireless N. It also comes with Bluetooth 4.0 capabilities. This little card usually retails for $30 sans antennas at most online retail stores.
 
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Hardware Installation

Hardware Installation


In order to test how different hardware combinations will fit onto the GIGABYTE Gaming G1 WiFi Black Edition, we installed a Noctua NH-U12S, a 16GB dual channel kit of G.Skill Trident X memory, and a PNY GTX 780 XLR8 OC video card.

The GTX 780 is a long length, dual slot GPU so it should so it should provide a good reference for other premium video cards and highlight any spacing issues. The NH-U12 is a moderate sized aftermarket CPU cooler so it should provide a good reference for other coolers so we can see if there any clearance issues around the CPU socket. We installed the memory in the sockets closest to the CPU to ensure clearance with 4 DIMMs.


As expected the Gaming G1 WiFi Black Edition has a decent amount of room between the memory slots and CPU socket. Because of this there should be no clearance issues even with all slots populated with standard height RAM. Of course, very deep CPU cooling solutions will overhang the first and possibly second slots, so proper heatsink selection will still be important but this motherboard is simply more forgiving in this regard than most 1150 motherboards.


Even when using thin profile CPU heatsinks, users will likely run into clearance issues if they opt for a memory cooler. If you are interested in such things, we recommend taking the plunge into water cooling to reduce compatibility problems but even then completely smooth sailing will be difficult. By moving the onboard power switch to where they have, GIGABYTE has in effect made it impossible to use if you use a RAM cooler, as it will sit directly over the power button.


On the positive side the low profile VRM heatsinks shouldn't cause cause any compatibility issues with most air coolers. At worst you may have to remove one of the black water inlet caps to increase distance between the VRM heatsink and the CPU heatsink.

Since these heatsinks do wrap around three sides of the CPU socket, the amount of room between them and a typical heatsink's mounting bracket is limited. So while they will technically fit, many larger CPU cooling solutions will take a contortionist to install all four mounting bolts. Even the smaller Noctua U12 took a lot patience to get all four bolts installed.


Switching from air to water cooling proved rather uneventful as there is more than enough room between the waterblock and its adjacent components. Once again the gap is rather small and larger water blocks could be a tricky proposition, but installing a typically designed block should prove to be a much easier proposition than installing a tower cooler.


Due to its staggered PCIe x16 slot configuration the first PCIe slot is awfully close to the RAM slots, the VRM heatsink, and even the 4-pin CPU fan header. This ultra-cozy layout is why the lower half of the ram slots does not have clips - otherwise, the video card would have to be removed before installing or uninstall any memory.

By the same token, installing RAM was very easy and while tight plugging in a CPU fan is possible. However, we do have to wonder if the same could be said of any video cards which have backplates. This would certainly exacerbate this issue, but as with the C shaped VRM heatsinks and CPU cooler hiccups, proper video card selection will keep compatibility problems well within the tolerable range.

 
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BIOS Rundown - Startup Guide & Classic Mode

BIOS Rundown



Even though GIGABYTE just recently revamped their BIOS layout for the then new Z87 series, it has once again been tinkered with, tweaked, refined, and generally upgraded for the Z97 generation. Arguably the largest and most noticeable difference is the all new Startup Guide which reminds us strongly of what was once called the Windows Metro User Interface.


This greatly simplified BIOS UI is what you are greeted with as upon first boot up but you can change it to one of the other modes afterwards. As with GIGABYTE's older "3D Mode", it really makes great use of the graphical user interface (GUI) and was obviously designed for mouse-centric navigation. Startup Guide does not have all the functionality of the other modes, but it is not meant to. It simply gives novice users an easy way to visualize and alter some of the most common settings.

With an eye towards ease of use and slowly assimilating novices into the world of BIOS settings, it is a resounding success. Lots of people (even hardcore PC gamers) aren't comfortable interacting with a classic BIOS, so this extremely user-friendly interface should help alleviate those fears. By the same token, and just like 3D Mode before it but to even a greater extent, Startup Guide is a little too simple and too basic.


Obviously with Startup Guide being used as GIGABYTE's "training wheels", the intermediate mode meant for experienced people who like things old school is the tried and true Classic Mode. This is a dead ringer for the Classic Mode which ships with GIGABYTE s G1.Sniper 5, warts and all. So Classic Mode is neither the easiest to use, nor the hardest. Rather it is has its own share of quirks but in return for a somewhat outdated approach users get a much, much more powerful interface than the Startup Guide.

Also like previous iterations Classic Mode has been broken down into six main sections: MIT, System Information, BIOS Features, Peripherals, Power Management, and Save & Exit.


The Motherboard Intelligent Tweaker (M.I.T.) section has also been broken down into six main sub-menus. These are where enthusiasts should expect to spend most of their time while in the Classic BIOS mode.

The main MIT landing page also gives a brief overview of the major system frequencies, memory sizes and timings. For a more detailed perspective, the MIT current status page is where you should head.


When the Advanced Frequency Settings sub-menu is opened, you are greeted with all the essential system clock control options: base clock frequency, IGP frequency, CPU multiplier, and memory multiplier.

As expected the Advanced CPU Core settings sub-sub-menu option on the Advanced Frequency Settings page is where you can enable or disable the various CPU-specific options like Turbo Boost, C1E, C-STATE, Thermal Monitor, and Enhanced SpeedStep (EIST). This is also where the Turbo Boost ratios for each processor core and the Uncore ratio can be modified.


GIGABYTE’s Advanced Memory Settings section is self-explanatory. Within this section you can select the memory multiplier, change the performance profile, monitor the memory voltage, and obviously tweak the memory timings. Each memory channel has its own section, within which you can alter the primary and secondary timings. It has just about every memory setting that an enthusiast or overclocker will need to fine-tune their memory modules.

As with most UEFI BIOS layouts, the Advanced Memory Settings subsection also contains an Advanced Voltage Settings sub-menu. This separate page is where you can fine tune the digital VRM or simply adjust the primary and secondary system voltages. We wish there were more drop-down menus in this section. As it is you can manually type in whatever you want, but that is not particularly useful when you don't know or don’t remember what the default voltages are.
 
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