With the LGA1366 socket being relatively old compared to it's LGA115x siblings, the X58 boards have been a little thinner on the ground as manufacturers have brought us P55 and then P67 based motherboards.
We've seen a few minor revisions to include some of the 333 feature-set, or tweak the odd thing here and there, but wholly new boards have been somewhat sparse.
Gigabyte have been beavering away on a new range of motherboards, the G1-Killer series. This consists of three models at varying price-ranges, the G1.Assassin, the G1.Sniper and the G1.Guerilla. Today we've got the full-fat, fully featured, top of the range G1.Assassin that comes complete with everything but the kitchen sink. There probably is a kitchen sink in the box somewhere.
Let's let Henry Kao, Gigabytes Senior VP of R&D explain :
“GIGABYTE is thrilled to be able to introduce the world’s first motherboard series designed solely for elite gamers. The G1-Killer series features the industry’s most advanced hardware and software solutions from Creative and Bigfoot Networks onboard as well as the top-notch quality and durability users have come to expect from GIGABYTE. So, lock and load gamers, the GIGABYTE G1-Killer series motherboards deliver a gaming experience unlike any other.”
A glance at the technical specs lends much weight to his claims, so without further ado.
There is little debate that the Assassin has all that you could desire. If you've got a checklist of features you want to get in return for your investment then this has all of them ticked.
4-way CrossFireX™ and 3-SLI™
Onboard Creative Soundblaster X-Fi Digital Audio Processor (20K2)
Bigfoot Networks Killer™ E2100 Game Networking Platform
Locked and Loaded Heatpipe Design
X-Fi Xtreme Fidelity™
Front Access Control Panel with OC button
5 Smart Fan Connectors
EAX® AHD 5.0™
SATA 3.0 (6Gbps), USB 3.0 and 3x USB Power
GIGABYTE Ultra Durable™ 3
Dolby® Digital Live
Maximum CPU Power Delivery
Dual CPU Power
Front Audio Headphone Amplifier
Nichicon High-end Audio Capacitors
These features make their way to all three models exception the G1.Guerilla which has the Creative X-Fi software rather than a dedicated audio chip and the Assassin is the only model that supports Quad-GPU with the Sniper and Guerilla being triple GPU. Although the Assassin is ATX-XL to gain that extra card slot so if you've got a more modest tower then you would have to pick the Sniper to get the same features as we have today, minus the fourth PCIe socket obviously.
Anyway, we have the ATX-XL board in our hands and a suitably large case so let's take a look shall we.
Pictures Part 1 - Accessories
Grab yourself a cuppa and let's crack on. The board is designed like an Ammo box and a very attractive piece of artwork it is too. Although a flaming skull holding a dagger is perhaps something we'd expect to see on a kids M16, you need to put any prejudices aside and accept Gigabyte have gone the full hog with the Military theme.
Speaking of which, fake bullet holes on the back.
Once the box is removed things improve greatly with the latest digital camouflage pattern. Very nice.
Should you desire to duplicate the design of the motherboard, or perhaps advertise your purchase, there are plenty of stickers included to allow you to do so.
Besides the standard cable package, we also have a branded IO Shield. A very cool feature is the drive-bay USB 3.0 allowing you to use the latest USB3.0 compliant hardware without being stuck fumbling about at the back of the case.
One thing that will make the eyes of the oldsters amongst us go a bit misty is the inclusion of a Quick Boost button to enable overclocking in the middle of a firefight. To those who remember 486 Turbo buttons, what goes around..
On to the Assassin itself.
Pictures Part 2 - The Motherboard
Motherboard colour schemes have gone through a few changes over the years. For a long while all you could get were blue ones, and variants of that. Then in the last couple of years it seems every big motherboard has been black and red. It's nice to see Gigabyte giving us a different option here with a very, unavoidably nVidia, green colour scheme.
The CPU socket is kept relatively free despite a 16 phase power circuit making sure that the board has serious overclocking potential.
Four PCIe slots provide plenty of space for your graphics cards and thanks to the ATX-XL sizing there is enough cooling to keep even the most power hungry GPUs cool. Speaking of power hungry, above the top PCIe slot there is a molex input to make sure the Assassin can keep everything smooth.
Inputs and outputs are well covered with both SATA2 and SATA3 covering your storage needs. Round the back we have the standard connections with 4 USB3.0 ports, 2 USB2.0 ones, Creative outputs and two PS2 sockets.
One of the big features of the Assassin is the inclusion of a KillerNIC E2100 Network chip that claims to maximise the latency of your connection by giving bandwidth priority to gaming traffic.
On the bottom left corner we have the Creative CA20K2 which is a major upgrade to the standard X-fi software solutions found on most other motherboards.
There is no doubt that Gigabyte have played the Military theme to the maximum. The southbridge heat-sink is particularly impressive being a perfect replica of a 7.62 magazine. The power phase cooling is staring down the barrel of a gun. So good is this that the warning that the heatsink cannot be assembled into a gun must be useful for any customs checks.
Pictures Part 3 - The System
If you're a fan of the green, then this certainly is the case for you. We're having a change of tack today and running with a water-cooled setup courtesy of SpecialTech.
It's so nice to be able to put together a rig that isn't reliant upon blue or red for the colour scheme. Kudos to the current manufacturers for giving a full choice to consumers of the main three colours.
A Mushkin PSU is supplying our power today, with a lovely green LED fan that accentuates the look of the whole system.
RAM is provided by the Corsair Vengeance. The design of the Vengeance heatsink really matches the Military theme of the Assassin motherboard.
Performance is provided by two Zotac GTX580s which will give more than enough oomph for anything we desire.
Of course as cool as it looks off, turned on is where the real lush factor comes into play.
Let's turn the lights off and the system on.
Pictures Part 4 - All About the Glow
There really isn't much to be said about this. The photos speak for themselves.
Sexy or what.
Both of our test setups were identical except for a CPU and a GPU change which I'll get to in a second.
Gigabyte G1-Assassin X58 Motherboard
Intel Core i7-950 @ stock and overclocked. Also Intel Core i7-980X @ 4.8GHz
12GB Corsair Vengeance. 3x4GB @ 1600 7-8-7-24
Zotac GTX580 AMP! Single card @ stock, SLI @ 900MHz Core
2x256GB Kingston V+ in Raid 0
XSPC Rasa 750 Water-cooling Kit
Mushkin Joule 1200w PSU
As you can see from our test specifications this is very different from our normal OC3D bench rig setup which has left us with a bit of a quandary as to what to compare it to. We really haven't run a similar specification system and so what we're gonna do is run the i7-950 tests like we normally do, but also dig the monster i7-980X and pair it up with the Zotac GTX580s in SLI to really see what you can do with almost unlimited cash.
Because of the rather unique nature of the testing today we aren't putting it against a single system throughout all the graphs, but against a few different things. So pay attention.
Starting off as we always do by seeking the highest BCLK available we find the Assassin is exceptionally good, giving us a 220MHz BCLK.
With a rather serious 1.55v on the vCore the Assassin helps our i7-950 up to a monstrous 4.6GHz.
Of course 1.55v is a bit high to run as a 24/7 overclock so backing things off to 1.44v on the CPU Core we end up with a clock speed of 4.5GHz.
This is all kept nice and cool with the XSPC water-cooling doing a sterling job. The maximum core temperature reached a relatively cool 78°C. Given that this is a Prime95 temperature it shows how well the XSPC Rasa 750 works.
The other CPU we're using today is the Core i7-980X, and the Gigabyte G1.Assassin gives us the highest overclock we've achieved from this processor of a spectacular 4.8MHz.
If it's processor records that the Assassin is aiming at then it's hitting nothing but bullseyes.
PC Mark Vantage
If ever you're wondering how an SSD can help you generally, the difference between the Bench 950 and the Assassin 950 is largely down to the brilliance of the Kingston SSDs in RAID. The capabilities of the Assassin when overclocked are staggering. Either with the i7-980X or the i7-950 is easily handled by the Gigabyte.
The impressive nature of the overclocking capabilities of the G1.Assassin are revealed starkly by the difference between the stock i7-950 and the overclocked i7-950. This really is a board that delivers as good as it looks.
Once again you can see how well the G1.Assassin copes with being heavily overclocked. It's a serious feather in its cap that even with a hefty amount of voltage running through the CPU and a powerful GPU it doesn't even bat an eyelid.
The Assassin when overclocked managed to score higher in the float x8 test than the stock i7-950 manages in the double x4 test. If that isn't impressive we're not sure what is.
3D Mark Vantage
In the Performance test you can see how well the overclock manages to help things along. Really though despite the costings involved the 980X SLI test gives us a frankly jaw-dropping 52000 P-Score. Even with Extreme settings we see a magnificent 28000 which is much higher than many P-Scores we've seen.
3D Mark 11
3D Mark 11 is desperately disappointing in that it didn't want to play ball at all with our SLI setup. This isn't an uncommon issue but obviously with two hardcore cards, a fantastic mobo and a mega overclock on the CPU we were hoping to see a result. Fingers crossed Futuremark sort this out quickly.
Unigines Heaven benchmark shows how GPU specific it is in that even with our overclock the results don't really differ much from stock. Although naturally the extra horsepower ensures that our minimum frame-rate doesn't drop to anywhere near the levels of the stock test.
With the image quality up to 8xAA we gain a single frame at average and once again the overclock enables the card to keep running at full tilt rather than have a brief low moment as it struggles to keep up with the eye-candy demands of Unigine.
With some trepidation we fired up Crysis Warhead. It's quite surprising to see that although we have an enormous leap in frame-rate with the single card between stock and overclocked, a 26 frame-rate improvement, the difference between the single GTX580 and the SLI system was nowhere as high as we hoped.
Crysis Warhead Enthusiast
Setting Crysis Warhead to levels that would have left Deep Blue gasping for air not long ago, the SLI setup absolutely screams through giving us a monster 68FPS average. There are many things that two cards can give you, but you really do need to push them hard to see the benefits. Clearly the Gigabyte Assassin has absolutely no troubles at all here.
Far Cry 2
When we recently returned Far Cry 2 to the benchmarking fold we've found it surprisingly tough on systems, as you can see from the lack of difference between the different cards on offer. One setup clearly dominates the proceedings yet again and it's no surprise it's the monster that is our SLI rig. The SLI scaling is almost 100% (about 99.99%) showing what a beast the Gigabyte board is. No matter what you put in it it wont be a limiting factor.
We've often mentioned Metro 2033 as being a curious twin of Far Cry 2. Rather than rely on brute horsepower to get the job done it takes advantage of every DirectX tweak in the book. Once again the Assassin gives us 100% scaling between the two GTX580s. If you want to go SLI, there clearly is a new King in town.
There is no denying that todays review was slightly different than the norm. With so many modern systems being within a gnats chuff of each other we really wanted to give a range of results, rather than try and find the nth of a percentage difference between two identical performers.
Hopefully it's been as fun for you as it has been for us. Before we get to the meat of the conclusion we wanted to say how well the XSPC water-cooling kit performed. Between the tests and building, and various things that we do in the course of a review, the CPU block was on and off like a honeymooners underthings. Not once did we encounter any issues at all and it was a joy to work with.
It was also great to get a chance to build a full system rather than the more open-plan nature of our bench setup, and whilst the incredible green of the CoolerMaster case might not be to everyones taste, there is argument about how great the internals look. Especially when powered up.
As for the Gigabyte G1.Assassin itself there is very little we can add to the clear results from the previous pages.
Packaging is absolutely superb. Gigabyte have taken the Military theme and really run with it. From the ammo box look of the outside, to the MARPAT style box it really builds up anticipation for the board itself. Even the accessories package is fantastic and whilst we personally wouldn't put fake bullet holes on our cases, we understand many can't wait to do so.
Of course it would all be for nought of the board itself was a plain affair, but the design of the heatsinks is spectacular. We can't recall such a holistic design carried even to the heatsinks. Normally companies stick with a colour-scheme at most, but Gigabyte have gone all out and get the deserved plaudits.
We could almost stop there because we know there are many who buy things purely for the aesthetics, but the G1.Assassin isn't all show and no go. No siree Bob.
At stock it's pretty much what we'd expect. There or thereabouts with the rest of the X58 boards. Hence us wanting to try something different. Overclocking was a joy and we managed to obtain the highest overclock we've seen out of our Core i7-980X CPU. The i7-950 managed to overclock to the same high level as we've seen from other premium boards, and the Gigabyte handled them all with aplomb.
However if you're looking to buy this to solely run a single card you're somewhat missing the point and might be better served by the Sniper. This is all about multiple GPUs and although we only tested in SLI here, there is not a single doubt that the Gigabyte Assassin is THE go to choice if you want the very best.
We saw as close to 100% scaling as you're ever likely to see in our gaming tests, and if that doesn't cock your pistol we can't imagine what will. That's without mentioning the KillerNIC, the Creative chip, the multiple SATA3 and USB3.0 ports, 16 phase power circuitry. Really the list of features is near endless.
Of course a premium product comes with a premium price-tag and the Assassin is no different weighing in at a hefty £420. With the X58 replacement on the horizon it could be argued that it's not a wise investment for those who want endless upgradeability. But that isn't what this is about. This is about owning the absolute best, no compromises, right now.
Despite the price-tag it's a clear and easy winner of the OC3D Gold Award. We only wish more companies would put the same amount of effort into giving us a product which not only looks good but performs well. And most importantly, isn't blue or red.
Thanks to Gigabyte, and the various other partners, for providing the hardware for todays review. Discuss in our forums.