Gigabyte G1.Sniper 5 Motherboard
By Rafael Otto Coelho on July 17, 2013
The Gigabyte G1.Sniper 5 is a high-end socket LGA1150 motherboard targeted for the “Haswell” processors (fourth-generation Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 processors). Its main highlights include the presence of a professional grade audio circuit, two Gigabit Ethernet ports (one of them being a high-end Killer E2200 controller chip), Wi-Fi interface, and more.
The new Intel Z87 chipset provides two important upgrades compared to its predecessor, the Z77: six USB 3.0 ports instead of four and six SATA-600 ports instead of only two. Another important difference between the two chipsets is where the video outputs of the motherboard are connected. While with both chipsets the video is generated by the CPU, on the Z77 the video signal was routed to the chipset, and the video outputs were connected to the chipset. On the Z87 chipset, the video outputs are connected directly to the processor. Both chipsets support up to three independent video monitors. The Z87 supports all other features provided by the Z77, such as Smart Response (installing an SSD as a cache for the main hard drive), Smart Connect (allowing the computer to receive emails and refresh webpages while it is in sleep mode), and Rapid Start (faster boot times) technologies.
You can see the Gigabyte G1.Sniper 5 motherboard in Figure 1.
The Gigabyte G1.Sniper 5 comes with four PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots, and three PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots.
Usually, on motherboards based on the Z87 chipset, only the first two PCI Express x16 slots are controlled by the CPU. The other PCI Express x16 slots are controlled by the chipset, operating at a lower speed (x4 or x1) and only compatible with 2.0 specifications, which offers half of the 3.0 bandwidth. On this motherboard, however, the four slots are controlled by the processor, using a PLX PEX8747 switching chip, thus all slots are PCI Express 3.0.
The second PCI Express x16 slot (PCIEX8_1) shares bandwidth with the first one (PCIEX16_1), which means that the first slot works at x16 speed if the send one is not used, and at x8 if there is a video card installed in the second one. The same happens with the third and fourth slots. So, the possible slot configurations are x16/x0/x0/x0, x16/x0/x16/x0, x16/x0/x8/x8, and x8/x8/x8/x8.
All the PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots support both SLI and CrossFireX technologies.
The PLX PEX8747 chip, which allows the high-end slot configuration, is shown in Figure 3, without its heatsink.
Intel socket LGA1150 CPUs have an embedded memory controller, meaning that it is the processor, not the chipset, that defines what memory technologies you can have and the maximum amount of memory that is possible. The motherboard, however, may have a limitation as to how much memory can be installed.
The integrated memory controller from socket LGA1150 processors supports DDR3 memories up to 1,600 MHz. According to Gigabyte, the G1.Sniper 5 supports memories up to 3,000 MHz.
The Gigabyte G1.Sniper 5 has four memory sockets. Since DDR3 memory modules can be found in capacities up to 8 GiB, you can have up to 32 GiB with this motherboard if you use four 8 GiB modules.
In order to enable the dual-channel mode, you must install two or four memory modules. On the Gigabyte G1.Sniper 5, the first and third memory sockets are green, while the second and fourth are black. When installing two memory modules, use the green sockets.
The Intel Z87 chipset is a single-chip solution, which is also known as a PCH (Platform Controller Hub). This chip has six SATA-600 ports, supporting RAID (0, 1, 10, and 5). The Gigabyte G1.Sniper 5 comes with four additional SATA-600 ports, controlled by one Marvell 88SE9230 chip (supporting RAID 0, 1, and 10). The SATA ports are installed on the motherboard edge and rotated 90°, so the installation of video cards won’t block them.
The Intel Z87 chipset supports 14 USB 2.0 ports and six USB 3.0 ports. The Gigabyte G1.Sniper 5 offers six USB 2.0 ports, two located on the motherboard rear panel and four available through two headers located on the motherboard. There are 10 USB 3.0 ports, all of them controlled by the chipset. Two of them (available through a header) are connected directly to the chipset, while the other eight (six located at the rear panel and two available through a header) are connected to four USB 3.0 ports from the chipset by way of two Renesas uPD720210 hub chips.
The Gigabyte G1.Sniper 5 doesn’t support FireWire ports.
One of the highlights of this motherboard is the professional-grade onboard audio, generated by a Creative Sound Core 3D chip (5.1 channels, 24-bit resolution, 102 dBA signal-to-noise ratio at the analog outputs and 101 dBA signal-to-noise ratio at the analog inputs). This chip is covered by a gold-plated shield, and all the audio section is physically separated from the other circuitry by a line that glows in green (there are some green LEDs at the solder side of the board, near the semi-transparent line). These features reduce interference and helps the audio section to achieve its nominal signal-to-noise ratios. All the capacitors on this circuit are audio models from the Japanese manufacturer Nichicon. The analog audio outputs are independent and gold-plated, and the motherboard also comes with an on-board coaxial and optical SPDIF outputs.
Another unique feature of the G1.Sniper 5 is the replaceable operational amplifier (op-amp) for analog headphones. You can choose to use the Burr-Brown OPA2134PA op-amp that comes with the board, or an LM4562 that also comes with the motherboard, in order to adjust the audio nuances to your personal taste. Probably, only a seasoned audiophile will hear the difference, but it is very cool to swap components on your motherboard, which comes even with an integrated circuit extractor tool to do so.
The portrayed motherboard has two Gigabit Ethernet ports, one controlled by an Intel I217V chip and the other controlled by an Atheros Killer 2201 chip, which is a high-performance Gigabit Ethernet controller.
The Gigabyte G1.Sniper 5 comes with a Wi-Fi/Bluetooth module. This module supports the IEEE802.11n/g/b/a standards, with dual band (i.e., 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz). The module supports Bluetooth 4.0 and it is also compatible with Bluetooth 3.0.
In Figure 9, you can see the motherboard rear panel with two USB 2.0 ports, a shared PS/2 keyboard/mouse connector, coaxial SPDIF output, six USB 3.0 ports, DisplayPort output, two HDMI outputs, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, optical SPDIF output, and the analog audio jacks.
This motherboard comes with a POST diagnostics display, so you can see, through a two-digit code, which component is preventing your computer from turning on. There are also a clear CMOS, a reset, and a power buttons at the corner of the motherboard, as well as voltage monitoring points.
The G1.Sniper 5 comes with two BIOS chips, selectable by the switches shown in Figure 11.
In Figures 12 and 13 you can see the remaining accessories that come with the Gigabyte G1.Sniper 5.
The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the Gigabyte G1.Sniper 5 has 16 phases for the CPU. The voltage regulator uses an IR3563B controller chip (digital design). This controller provides eight phases, and each of these phases are connected to a phase doubler integrated circuit, creating the final 16 phases. One IR3550M chip (which combines the low side and the high side transistors in a single package) is used per phase.
Another interesting feature is the voltage regulator cooling system. It is an active cooler, with one heatpipe and a 40 mm fan. It is also prepared for a liquid cooling system, as shown in Figure 14.
Figure 15 reveals the voltage regulator circuit without the cooler.
The Gigabyte G1.Sniper 5 uses high-end solid capacitors and all coils on this motherboard are ferrite ones. If you want to learn more about the voltage regulator circuit, please read our tutorial on the subject.
The main specifications for the Gigabyte G1.Sniper 5 include:
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.
The Gigabyte G1.Sniper 5 is a top-shelf motherboard targeted to the enthusiast user who wants to build a high-end computer using one of the new “Haswell” CPUs (fourth-generation Core i3, Core i5, or Core i7 processors) and wants all the possible bells and whistles, including professional-grade audio and a high-end Gigabit Ethernet controller.
The highlights of this motherboard include the professional audio processor from Creative with replaceable operational amplifier for analog headphones, two Gigabit Ethernet ports (one of them being a controller by a high-end Killer E2200 processor), Bluetooth 4.0, dual-band Wi-Fi, 10 USB 3.0 ports, 10 SATA-600 ports, four PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots, a high-end voltage regulator circuit with 16 phases, active cooler for the voltage regulator supporting liquid cooling, and more.
Another important feature of this motherboard is the presence of a PCI Express switch chip, which makes it possible for the motherboard to have many additional features and the ability to switch bandwidth automatically to the device that is requiring it. Because of this, all PCI Express x16 slots are controlled by the CPU and therefore CPU, and they support CrossFireX and SLI arrays with up to four video cards, which is impressive.
The only drawback we see with this motherboard is the way the USB 3.0 ports are configured. The Z87 chipset supports six USB 3.0 ports, but the manufacturer wanted to add ten. While two of them are connected directly to the chipset, the other eight are connected to four USB 3.0 ports of the chipset, by way of two hub chips. If you use two or more ports that are actually connected to the same USB 3.0 port on the chipset at the same time, the performance will drop. But this is a minor flaw compared to the incredible set of high-end features of the Gigabyte G1.Sniper 5 motherboard.