Nice, Gigabyte restyled their motherboard series towards something really impressive and added features like the KillerNIC, X-Fi DSP and more onto the Intel Z68 chipset platform. It's merely a small handful of the extra features, but certainly are very prominent (though expensive) ones. The end result is a very cool looking motherboard with a tremendous high-end feature-set.
Now make no mistake, the price of this puppy is steep, an astonishing 415 actually, and we do feel that the board for this kind of money could have been a little more complete. I mean that is serious dough so you may expect the very best and the maximum on features.
What's nagging me is very simple, I'd like to have seen a second Ethernet jack, we didn't find any power/reset/cmos buttons on the motherboard, the FAN headers could have been placed a little more convenient and yeah, we would have liked to see more internal SATA connectors. Typically for a regular Z68 motherboard they are not really requirements, but for a motherboard over 400 EUR, well .. I almost expected it to make me cappuccino so to say.
Our overall experience with the Gigabyte G1 Sniper 2 gaming edition motherboard was very pleasant. The benefits even outweigh the features as everything already was tweaked to the maximum. So you pop in a processor and just know you'll have maximum compatibility and maximum performance.
Talking about performance, as you have noticed the baseline performance was a notch faster than the competition. Now that is not magic or a huge tweak, no Gigabyte applies a little trick.
Typically when you stress a Core i7 2600K on all cores the turbo mode will set one core at 3500 MHz, one at 3600, one at 3700 and one at 3800. Gigabyte changed that (at least on our board) so whenever the cores are in use, they will ALL peak to 3800 MHz. If you have another brand motherboard, look up in your BIOS, as in each and every motherboard you can select and configure the turbo multipliers manually with a K model processor. The difference with this board is that Gigabyte already applied that tweak at default for you.
The next buff feature -- the BigFoot's Killer NPU (Ethernet), yeah we stated it many times already -- it means absolutely nothing to us as latency is found in-between your network router towards the server you play on, not your internal network. Sure you can do a little LAN traffic shaping and speed up gaming packets, but once you pass that router and the data-packets enter cyber-space... it will not matter as you can't turbo charge a data-packet. If we ping a connection from Europe towards USA, there's not a thing that can improve the ping times compared to a good Intel or Realtek NIC and the BigFoot Killer NPU. But we'll say this though, it is a quality high-speed NIC alright and it certainly wont bother you to use it anyway. We love the little software suite as well and overall it just is an excellent NIC, wether or not it makes a difference to you as a gamer ... we doubt it.
Audio then, now I know that Creative Labs drivers are a bit of a discussion topic here on the forums, personally I hardly have issues with their products and drivers and really do like their audio solutions. As such I very much enjoy the Creative Labs X-Fi (20K2) DSP mounted into the motherboard. Really, you get truly excellent multi-channel audio quality compared to the typical Realtek codec standards. Next to that it brings along EAX (5.0) and OpenAL with it. Next to that you get the software suite including the Crystallizer and Environmental Audio Extension 5.0, these are all kick ass features for a motherboard integrated audio solution. Dolby Digital Live and DTS Connect are supported as well as a Built-in Front Audio Headphone Amplifier. Not that Realtek audio is bad or anything, but I like the integration of this audio solution as it is 10x better than Realtek's offering. The X-Fi solution wins hands down in features, versitility and quality.
The new Intel Smart Response Technology is something interesting but we feel will be very limited to a small group of enthusiast users that understand and know what they need to do before getting it set up properly. The idea is simple, use an SSD to cache the most used data of the operating system HDD. The downside here is a fairly complicated setup and an investment of an SSD. And though we feel once you purchase an SSD you will not want to compromise with the HDD injected into that core data, it might end up as a sound solution. The performance increases are impressive none the less and combined with a small and cheap SSD, this might be an excellent alternative for the budget minded that dream of SSD performance.
Though not a specific Intel feature, pretty much all Z68 boards will come with graphics switching technology, whether that comes from NVIDIA (Optimus) or Lucid Virtu will be dependant on the ODM (Original Device Manufacturer), but with Intel having a sizable share in Lucid, we think most Z68 motherboards will see the light of Virtu, allowing your motherboard to quickly switch in-between the Sandy Bridge IGP and the dedicated graphics card. Admittedly, the current control software is a joke to look at and it isn't stable either. None the less, you do get to choose from the best of both worlds, nothing is faster than transcoding a movie with MediaShow Espressso over say a Core i7 2600K processor with the now enabled benefit of Quick Sync being active. Normally when a dedicated graphics card is installed, these features would be lost. And that's where Virtu will help out, you assign your IGP to that transcoding job whereas for gaming the dedicated graphics card kicks in. We like the idea, the implementation itself needs to get a whole lot better though. But it is a decent enough start.
So yeah, the Z68 series motherboards have a lot to offer and as such they are hard to beat. The combination of this motherboard with Intel's Z68 and Lucid Virtu mode is interesting. Z68 is what H67 and P67 should have been, these two chipsets stirred up a lot of confusion. We do know for sure that hardware wise this board is absolutely magnificent.
Tweaking wise we achieved the very same results as on P67, I mean you can clock a K series Sandy Bridge processor quite quickly to roughly 4.7 to 5.0 GHz on each and every motherboard in your hands. Your tweak results are more based on processor yield and cooling rather than the motherboard to be frank.
In case you missed it, the 4.8 GHz overclock had another tweak as well, we tested some really spiffy G.Skill RipjawsX 2133 MHz (CAS7) memory in our overclocked mode. And that certainly kicked ass memory bandwidth wise. All we did was activate the XMP profile and set out DIMM Voltage to the advertised 1.65V, we had no stability issues whatsoever.
So let's wrap it up. The Gigabyte G1.Sniper 2 offers stunning looks, great performance and feature set that is extensive. There are minor points here and there that I think could have been better, but the end result remains simple, it is an astonishing motherboard. Very nice, and as such very much recommended if it suits your budget, a Guru3D top pick no doubt. The inclusion of high-end audio and the Killer NIC however make this motherboard expensive ... maybe even tooexpensive as you'll need to caugh up a good 400 EUR. It does not make this motherboard less classy than it is though.
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