Gigabyte G1.Sniper M3 Motherboard Build and Living Review
After some wait due to Intel's reticence to release the chips I was very pleased to get my hands on this motherboard from Gigabyte. The first Killer range of boards became available about a year ago in April 2011 and there are now two models in this range, the full ATX sized Sniper3 and the MicroATX sized Sniper M3. Both are based on the Intel Z77 chipset and are compatible with the latest Intel Core IvyBridge and previous SandyBridge processors. This is a very nice board and if you are into gaming then it is one of the range and the latest in the line of G1.Killer series from this tier1 manufacturer.
As I already mentioned, this new chipset from Intel will support both the SandyBridge and the IvyBridge ranges of processors. That means that there is a huge lineup to choose from when deciding on the CPU to marry up to this board, any of the following will be fine i7 3xxx, i5 3xxx, i7 2xxx, i5 2xxx, i3 2xxx, Pentium Gxxx and Celeron Gxxx. Saying that, it is worth double checking the CPU support list found here: http://uk.gigabyte.com/support-downloads/cpu-support-popup.aspx?pid=4168
as this will also show you the BIOS version needed for each processor.
The external packaging of the retail motherboards is much better than the original styling of the earlier boards. It is much cleaner and shows at a glance the major features without even picking it up.
The board is supplied with 6 SATA cables, SLI Bridge and backplate.
This is a very nice board and if you are into gaming then it is one of the range and the latest in the line of G1.Killer series from this tier1 manufacturer. Based on the latest Z77 chipset from Intel it now is in it's third incarnation and to my eyes at least a big step forward visually in that the "over the top" guns and gun parts have been done away with. I am sure that I will not be alone in feeling this way!
This particular motherboard is the smallest version of the gaming series and fits the MicroATX format. For all that it is still a potent platform especially if you are looking for a board to build an HTPC or something along those lines, as it still retains most of the features of the full size Sniper 3 which is top of the range as far as gaming goes. Even with it's diminuative size this motherboard doesn't miss out on many features and does allow for a smaller build footprint which can be useful for people wanting a more mobile system to be able to take to friends houses and Lan parties etc.
The motherboard battery that supplies a maintenance voltage for the CMOS is the usual CR2032 but is situated in a rather awkward spot just above the top PCIE slot and between the rear panel ports and the CPU socket. This makes it difficult to get at to replace or even remove to clear the CMOS if necessary without removing other hardware first like the graphics card or CPU cooler. I think it could have been located in a better position. There is a jumper for clearing the CMOS (CLR_CMOS) near the front panel connector block but as I am sure you are aware sometimes this is not enough on it's own.
Gigabyte has moved the USB3.0 header from the more usual location to up near the 24 pin main power input to the board. This is a good choice in my opinion as it does help to hide the cables away and run them in the same area as the power cables helping to keep the cable clutter tidy.
The M3 motherboard is not greedy when it comes to supplied power either and apart from the standard 24 pin socket there is the 4 pin12v ATX one near the CPU socket as well. Gigabyte still recommends a 500W PSU for this platform but, as we shall see later, a smaller one will suffice. As with anything it is all relative and it depends on the load that you intend to put on it.
With the new Ivybridge chips having a bit more under the bonnet as far as graphics capabilites goes there will be some people who do without a discrete GPU totally. However for the more serious gamers the capability to run dual Crossfire and SLI cards will be welcome. These PCIE slots have now been upgraded to version 3.0. That is of course dependant on the CPU and the expansion card installed also supporting the standard. If two GPUs are installed Gigabyte has had the forethought to move the usable slots as far apart as possible. This helps with airflow and therefore cooling. Between the x16 and x8 slots are a single PCIE x4 and a PCIE x1 slot too.
Apart from the x1 slot all the others are physically x16 in size but are electrically limited by their connections. A new software that has found it's way onto the platform to make the most of the onboard Intel HD4000 on chip graphics is Lucid Virtu which when set up properly will make use of both the onboard and discrete graphics capabilities which will enable a cost and power saving use of the Intel GPU when normal low grade programs are run like emailing, internet surfing, office programs etc and then automatically swap over to the power graphics option when a game is going to be played or some heavy graphics program will be run. The on die graphics element supports DirectX 11 where available.
The sound system has also been upgraded on this board which should make a lot of people happier. There is a dedicated Creative SoundBlaster Recon3Di which will give more clarity and effects that will benefit games especially. The change is not only the chip but also the higher standard of components used in the audio circuitry like the Nichicon capacitors rather than the "run of the mill" makes. This will allow features such as letting gamers hear their enemies at a far greater distance therefore giving them an edge. Also included is the ability to amplify the outputs of both the back and front audio ports. This can be disabled in the BIOS if you have a seperate sound card that you would prefer to use instead.
Creative's collection of audio components are surrounded by a metal shield to help stop electro magnetic interference which is possible to be picked up from surrounding motherboard parts. Another help to the high quality audio output. This is one of the similarities between the full blown Sniper 3 motherboard and this M3 smaller version. The boards are very similar in many ways but certain features such as the Bluetooth module and previously mentioned Killer LAN are not included with the M3. The full blown board also enables the use of quad SLI and Crossfire setups but at a substantially higher price point. This is a very capable motherboard and when the cost is taken into account it makes an ideal platform for anyone looking to build a very mobile but powerful gaming system.
Along the bottom of the motherboard are dispersed a series of connector sockets.
There are three USB2.0, one of which is designated for the On/Off Charge function and is coloured red as opposed to the black of the others. Also included, although I have yet to see anyone use one is a TPM connector. Next to that is the Creative output for the Front Panel Audio. This should be a much better quality than the usual headphone port that is found on most front panels.
At the far end is the rest of the Front Panel Connectors and they follow the usual format. There is also an extra SATA2 port vertically mounted to finish them off. For those who prefer to let the motherboard control their fans there are four fan headers spaced equally around the board. All of them are four pin headers with the top two being PWM controlled. Just above the F_PANEL header are a couple of bare pins denoted CLR_CMOS and are for shorting to clear the CMOS memory.
I really don't know why the manufacturer has continued to offer the TPM header on these boards as I can't see any gamer actually utilising it at all. In my opinion it is just a cost and real estate waste. On the other hand I would have liked to have seen the Bigfoot Killer LAN port added, as that wouldn't have been wasted space.
The rear panel has most of the usual ports plus a couple of newer ones due to the potential onchip graphics capabilities. There is a PS2 port that is dual functional in that it will take either a keyboard or mouse. Above that are two USB1.1/2.0 ports. Next to these are a VGA (D-Sub) and a DVI-D socket, these along with the HDMI and Display Port next door form the full compliment of graphics connectors.
There are two more USB1.1/2.0 ports above a ESATA 3Gb/s outlet. On the connector block alongside is the Intel Gigabit LAN port above two USB3.0 ports. Lastly is the audio block which supports 8 channel (7.1) sound. Integrated with this is an optical spdif socket. Once in the OS dual monitor support is enabled if wished. This is not possible in the BIOS though.
The CPU is protected by a plastic cover for transport and it is worth noting that this cover should be retained, just in case you want to remove the CPU in the future.
Removing the plastic cover reveals the CPU socket.
The pins are very delicate and care must be taken not to damage any during installation or removal of the CPU.
There is a surprising amount of room around the CPU socket, for such a small motherboard and it will easily accommodate a watercooling CPU block or a large air cooler. I will be covering both of these options, in greater depth, later in the review.
There are four DDR3 Memory slots capable of handling a total of 32 Gb of RAM (4x8GB modules) if wanted. Of course it is best to check with the memory manufacturer for compatibility before purchasing RAM to check for compatibility. Most makers have a QVL (Qualified Vendors List) on their website for just this reason.
This board uses Gigabyte's 3D BIOS which is now more stable and trouble free than when it was first released with the X79 chipset. Of course, Gigabyte's long term feature the Dual BIOS is still here but even that has been overhauled. It now has large chips both in capacity and size and uses a UEFI instead of the original BIOS. This allows for mouse driven usage as well as profile saving and many other smaller benefits like the GUI 3D look. This is completely optional and either that style or the more common "Advanced" look can be chosen. This will probably not be used by the serious overclocker or gamer as such but it is a little less daunting for those unfamiliar with BIOS use as, it is more self explanatory. Gigabyte is moving away from Award BIOSes and going over to AMI(American Megatrend Incorporated). In my view it is a step forward and has more options to allow the user more power to tweak the settings. UEFI also gives the user the opportunity to use 2.2TB + hard drives, GPT etc
Ultra Durable has gone up a notch too. It has gone from Ultra Durable 3 to UD4 now. It encompasses Over temperature protection, Power failure safety, High humidity protection and Electrostatic safety. The humidity barrier is part of the actual makeup of the GRP in as much as it is the way the glass strands are woven into sheeting before being incorporated into the layers for the board. These are much finer and so have a much closer weave to allow less space for the ingress of water into the fabric. The other points are all enabled by components fitted to the board during manufacture like the solid state fuses.One more leap forward that Gigabyte has made over it's competitors is that now all the power facilities are digital. This is a real boost for overclockers because it enables them to have much more control over the performance of their boards. They now have complete control over the phases, frequencies and voltages which is another reason for having a more elaborate BIOS.
Overall, I have to say that this motherboard, despite its diminutive size certainly punches well above its weight. Packed with features that many ATX boards lack, it is a real testament to Gigabyte's ingenuity and desire to lead the way with their hardware.
In the next installment of this Living Review, I will be uncovering the RAM Modules I am going to use on this excellent motherboard.........