Intel Z97 Chipset Launch Review featuring Gigabyte, MSI and ASUS
Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming G1 WiFi-BK vs. MSI Z97 Gaming 5 vs Asus Maximus VII Hero
It is probably fair to say that Intel don’t stealth launch their products… sure they have NDAs but by the time those expire we know pretty much everything about a new product. Part of this is of their own making, for example allowing feature previews a few weeks in advance of launches but much of it is to do with leaks. So for some time now we have known that the next generation Intel chipset was on the way and today it properly launches under the Z97 branding. We have three boards to run through our performance tests today, all with completely different approaches to Z97 and they are Gigabytes Z97X-Gaming G1 WIFI-BK, the MSI Z97 Gaming 5 and the Maximus VII Hero from ASUS.
Gigabyte Ultra Durable Black Edition – Z97X-Gaming G1 WiFi-BK
Gigabyte are going through a little bit of a rebrand with their new series of boards, adding the gaming tag and enhancing the Ultra Durable brand to Black Edition. What do we get with this board, some really nice items… obviously all the standard things are here like stickers, documentation and software discs but added to that we get all the SLI (up to 4way) and CrossFire connectors we might need, a USB 3.0 bracket and high quality padded I/O shield. Added to that are some rather nice braided SATA cables and a PCIe based Wi-Fi card (AC spec with Bluetooth 4.0) which features the excellent Intel AC-7260 adapter with WiDi (Wireless Display) compatibility.
What does Black Edition mean to us? It means that the board has gone through 168 hour durability testing (7 days) before shipment to guarantee quality. These tests include Litecoin mining and the Gigabyte facility can test 3000 boards at a time. Black Edition also means 5-year warranty and as well as providing a signed certificate of validation photos will be taken during the testing which allow users to see how their board holds up.
Looking around the black PCB we see that it uses socket 1150 with support for upcoming Intel CPUs and this socket has 15µ gold plated pins (standard is 5µ). Gigabyte have built in a CPU fan/pump header which is designed for full speed operation on watercoolers and backed it with a 2nd header for dual fan cooling. Then we have power circuitry heatsinks which feature G1/4 threaded fittings.
Gigabyte Dual BIOS makes an appearance on this board allowing us to recover from any issues such as overclocking too far and 100% digital controllers are present for CPU and memory power delivery. Mixed with the 10000 hour certified solid state capacitors (DuraBlack, manufactured by Nippon Chemi-con) and onboard Debug LED and power/reset buttons (inc CMOS) we get a suite of features which offer stability, recoverability and performance options.
Down on the bottom left corner of the board we find our PCIe slots which run through 16x, 1x, 16x, 1x, 16x, 1x and 16x. Two of the 16x slots are PCIe 3.0 full spec, two are PCIe 3.0 8x. Then, as with their last generation boards, Gigabyte add enhanced audio features to this generation. The enhanced audio features start with the Creative Sound Core 3D audio processor and its gold plated shielding (and software suite) then continues with swappable OP-AMP (with gain boost). LED trace lighting is again present and Gigabyte opt for MUSE ES acoustic capacitors (Nichicon bi-polarized).
Looking further round the board Gigabyte opt for 10 SATA 6GB/s ports on this product and add to that a SATA Express port for next gen storage requirements (10GB/s).
Moving up the PCB we find the first of our power connectors (SATA and 24-pin) which combine with the 8-pin connector in the top left corner. Around the DIMM area (4x slots, Dual Channel, 32GB) we find onboard power/reset, debug LED and a USB 3.0 header along with voltage read points.
Then turning round to the back panel we find PS/2, 2x USB 2.0, 6x USB 3.0 and optical audio. The 3.5mm audio ports along with DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort are all gold plated and then we have two LAN options. One is Intel based and one is Killer E2200 with access to a tuning suite in Windows. Gigabyte also add an additional feature for audio enthusiasts in this area, USB DAC-UP which offers noise free power delivery over USB to an external Digital-to-Analog convertor.
Gigabyte use an evolution of their UEFI BIOS on this board and it offers all of the functionality we need to configure our board and maximise its performance. The key options are shown to us in the centre of the screen with summary information surrounding. Additionally Gigabyte also offer a classic mode for those who prefer the old style BIOS and added is a new Smarte/Quick setup option for those who just want the basics.
What else is worth noting? In addition to the latest mouse/keyboard GUI BIOS Gigabyte support Chromium OS (including from USB drives) and we get the latest edition of App Centre. App Centre allows us to use Gigabytes software tools to tweak, maintain and monitor our board including remote access to our system (Home Cloud), control from our mobile device (Remote / Remote OC) and even some little additions like auto-lock of our system when it detects our phone has gone out of range. Game Controller adds sniper mode and keyboard/mouse response time tuning along with macro functions and Smart Switch brings back the classic Start menu experience to Windows 8/8.1.
Other Gigabyte Options?
For those who don’t need the feature spec and accompanying price tag Gigabyte offer a wide range of alternative models which include the G1.Sniper Z97 which is shown above. It has many of the same specifications such as the Killer NIC and enhanced audio with LED lighting but goes more basic on the PCI/PCIe slot layout and cooling potential, for example going with standard passive heatsinks on the power circuitry. We will take a more detailed look at this board soon.