It doesn't seem five minutes ago that we were first taken in by the looks of the Gigabyte Sniper. The gun and magazine shaped heatsinks really caught our eye, as Gigabyte went the full hog down the military theme.
The second edition of the Sniper scaled these elements back a little, whilst still remaining committed to the general theme, and now with the release of the Z77 chipset we have the Sniper 3 already upon us. Surprisingly the military design has been yet further reduced with the name and packaging being the only parts that hold true to the original idea.
Whilst it's a real shame that Gigabyte didn't have the bravery to continue being the most recognisable motherboard around, the underlying hardware should be just as good as it's ever been. Let us find out if the Sniper lives up to its name reputation, or if the aesthetics aren't the only part to have been kicked to the kerb.
The specifications are as high as we'd expect from a motherboard that costs the thick end of £280, with an array of connections covering everything you could realistically hope to install in a big E-ATX package.
|Onboard Graphics||Integrated Graphics Processor:|
|IEEE 1394||VIA VT6308 chip:|
|Internal I/O Connectors|
|Back Panel Connectors|
Just like the Sniper 2 before it, the G1.Sniper 3 has a very military theme going on with the packaging, looking just like a 50 cal ammo box. Considering how much technology has been packed in to the top end Gigabyte motherboard, it's a testament to how well the designers worked that the rear is still clearly laid out.
The internal box is mad of the same sturdy cardboard that the outer one is, so there is no fear that your purchase wont arrive in tip top condition. Lifting the lid we're greeted with the motherboard itself, and more accessories than anyone could possible expect to find.
Four SLI/Crossfire bridges, two manuals, two driver CDs, and a very high quality IO shield are only the start. We also have external USB ports, eSATA, a Wireless card and two aerials, as well as seemingly enough SATA cables to run a server farm.
And here is the Sniper itself. As you can see the green that we've become accustomed to is still heavily present, but any other nods towards its heritage have all been removed. No gun-barrel-shaped power phase heatsinks, no bullet-in-a-magazine chipset heatsink.
Up Close cont
As we'd expect from a high-end board the Sniper 3 is expecting you to use multiple GPUs, and has spaced the PCI Express slots accordingly. Although it's odd to see both PCIe x1 ports potentially covered up by your GPUs, so it's something to bear in mind if you want SLI/Crossfire as well as a soundcard for example.
The mSATA 1.8" SSD slots are becoming more common on the latest motherboards, and manufacturers are still trying to find the best place to put them. We think with the Sniper 3 Gigabyte have got it right, just behind the main SATA ports.
There is plenty of power available for overclocking, and it's also worth noting that the layout of the power phases allows for easy sub-zero cooling too. The top right corner has the standard high-end feature set of a CMOS clear, reset and power buttons as well as voltage monitoring points and a clear 7 segment display.
The Creative onboard sound has a small EMI shield, something many motherboards would do well to adopt. No matter where you look on the G1.Sniper 3 there are connection points, fan headers, and those wonderful design touches that really let you know you're holding a quality component.
Finally the connectors are six SATA 6Gb/s ports and four SATA 3Gb/s ones. Round the back we have the normal selection of multiple display outs, twin LAN, USB 3.0 ports, a combined PS2 and the audio connections.
The 3D BIOS is as easy to use as always, being capable of anything from minor adjustments to full-on hardcore tweaking. It's really one of the most user-friendly BIOS's around. For our shots we're sticking to the Advanced screens which are more recognisable.
The M.I.T (Motherboard Intelligent Tweaker) is neatly divided into frequency, voltage, Memory and health screens. There are plenty of load-line calibration options wherever you look, allowing you to really push your CPU hard should the mood take you.
BIOS - Other
Although you'll spend most of your time in the M.I.T section, it doesn't mean that the rest of the 3D BIOS has been left behind. Every screen has a plethora of options allowing you full control over all the elements of the Sniper 3, as well as your connected hardware. It's truly a joy to use.
In fact the only fault we can find is that the shipped BIOS, like every Gigabyte one, doesn't work with high DPI gaming mice, but a painless upgrade via a USB stick or even via Windows fixes that issue.
For those of you who were wondering about the lengthy delay between Z77 reviews it's all to do with the ease of obtaining a HD7970 to continue our testing. The world financial crisis hits everywhere. Thankfully Sapphire stepped in with a HD7950 which enabled us to return to the Ivy Bridge testing, so maximum kudos to them. Just worth noting when we come to the 3D tests that the GPU isn't the HD7970 that the other Z77 reviews were tested with.
Gigabyte Z77 G1.Sniper 3
Intel Core i7-3770K
8GB G.Skill Trident 2400 @ 10-12-12-31
Cougar CM1000 PSU
Corsair F80 SSD
Thermalright Silver Arrow
Windows 7 x64
With the eternal quest for more power efficiency our initial results with Z77 motherboards weren't exactly amazing, as the latest chipset seemed to require countless tweaks to remain stable at decent overclocks. Just when we thought we'd have to relearn how to overclock a LGA1155 CPU along comes the Sniper 3, which was as easy to overclock as the P67/Z68 motherboards ever were. A simple voltage boost and increase on the CPU multiplier and everything ran like clockwork. It's reassuring to know that it wasn't our ability at fault, but rather the other motherboards.
So here we have a wonderful 5GHz on air, using only 1.38v on the core. Very impressive stuff by the Sniper 3.
Of course we like to run with as little voltage as possible, especially with the reduced tolerance for high voltages on the 22nm CPUs, and so dropping down to default volts we were still able to see 4.8GHz from our i7-3770K, and that's what we'll be using for our overclock tests.
The CPU testing on the latest version of AIDA64 shows how close the Z77 motherboards are in performance terms, both at stock settings and when overclocked. As the load increases, such as the zLib test, the Sniper 3 remains perfectly stable where the other boards started to throttle back.
The memory benchmarks are a tale of two halves, with the stock results being very impressive indeed, and the overclock results just being shaded by the UD5 and D3H.
SiSoft Sandra has always been outstanding at separating the various components from the rest of the system and is therefore one of the purer tests we run. The Gigabyte G1.Sniper 3 certainly comes out of it looking outstanding. In both the Arithmetic and MultiMedia tests it stands proudly at the top when everything is at stock, but the overclocked results really highlight how stable the Sniper 3 is as an overclocking platform, utterly dominating the graph.
PC Mark Vantage
Further demonstrating how well the system works as a unit, PC Mark Vantage gives some excellent results regardless of the CPU speed. Both stock and overclock benchmarks give some very impressive numbers, with the gaming test emphasising that, despite only having a HD7950 behind it, the Sniper 3 still trumps the rest.
PC Mark 7
In the newer PC Mark 7 the results are much closer, although still if you're planning to run at stock the Sniper 3 is the one to beat. With the overclock in place though all three of the Gigabyte boards are very tight indeed, although the Sniper does just shade it.
Thanks to the Sniper 3 we finally see the CPU score that we were expecting. The UD5 wasn't very close, the D3H was better, but the Sniper 3 really takes advantage of the power of the i7-3770K.
The G1.Sniper 3 maintains its excellent record of topping every chart so far, and POV-Ray continues this. At stock it's all very close with none of the motherboards particularly standing out, but again the bulletproof overclock on the Sniper 3 shows it's hand and dominates proceedings.
As much as we go on about the overclocking, the stock results are probably the most impressive. A second faster in the 32M test and 12 seconds faster in the 1024M place test when compared to the other stock setups. The Sniper 3 is a flier. The stability of the overclock remains in place as even the harsh 1024M test doesn't cause it to flinch.
Unigine Heaven 0xAA
Although Unigine is mainly here to demonstrate the underlying performance, rather than that of the GPU, with only a HD7950 in our Sniper 3 setup compared to the HD7970 in the others, there is obviously a GPU performance deficit that even the Sniper 3 can't overcome, although it's still impressive.
3D Mark Vantage
Finally the old favourite 3D Mark. In Vantage we were surprised at how well the HD7950 performed, given its relative performance deficit to the HD7970. We know how good the the HD7950 is, but the Sniper 3 turns it into a star.
3D Mark 11
As the more modern of the two 3D Marks it's not surprising that the harsher testing 3D Mark 11 puts the GPU through that our Sniper 3 setup isn't quite capable of matching the full-fat HD7970.
Any review that we do, because of the nature of hardware testing, tends to be largely focussed upon the performance of the component in question. Maybe it comes with a nod towards the price and design, but this is a business that places a heavy emphasis on the final numbers above all else so, barring something exceptional, how much we enjoyed testing it doesn't often crop up. With the G1.Sniper 3 this focus upon performance is as large as ever, but we also need to draw your attention to the ease of our experience.
Starting with the design, and with such a clear theme as we've seen from the Sniper range it's a good place to start, it's all rather disappointing if we're honest. The packaging leads us to expect the same gun/rifle themed design as we've seen before, but the heatsinks are now exactly the same as we'd find on any other motherboard. It's gone from being a motherboard that was instantly recognisable, to a generic one that happens to be green. Maybe the difficulty of shipping something that looked like a gun around the world caused too many problems, but even still it's a shame that a design which was so very different, ends up looking so very similar.
However, this is the only disappointing thing about the whole package. The actual layout of the board is fantastic, with plentiful connection options, lots of fan headers, and a wealth of displays, probe points and the like. Everything is very clearly labelled and exactly where you'd expect it to be. It's a joy to work with. The 3D BIOS continues this trend of providing an exceptionally user-friendly experience. If you're new to BIOS tweaking the 3D display is clear and easy to follow, and yet if you want to tweak a near infinite array of things you can do that too. This is made even easier because the labels in the BIOS are clear and even if you don't know where to find a certain option you just need to read and be reassured that if you want Loadline Calibration, that's exactly what it will be called.
Performance is yet another box ticked. Overclocking the Sniper 3 was a breeze. There was no need to tweak a near-infinite array of settings to obtain a stable overclock, and my goodness was the overclock stable. The Sniper 3 didn't have any headroom manually adjusted and yet still could give us a 5GHz overclock, and a bulletproof 4.8GHz one. Not only were the overclock results excellent, but the stock results were streets ahead of anything we've seen so far. The only thing to always remember is auto settings can also mean its over volting areas far to much so for the extreme end of the spectrum its always safer to manually set as many volts as possible. If you don't know, get in the forums, ask and learn.
The only flies in the ointment are the slight one about the vanilla design, and more importantly the big price-tag. We're big fans of getting great value for money here at OC3D, and will always prefer a decent performance/price combination over a wallet-emptying sledgehammer, but the Sniper 3 is leagues ahead of the other Z77s we've tested.
To keep with the Sniper theme, it's an instakill headshot. A great looking motherboard, with fantastic performance, a true joy to actually use, more accessories than you could hope to utilise and a bombproof BIOS. It can be everything from a simple stock runner all the way up to a sub-zero overclocking beast and we love it. The Gigabyte G1.Sniper 3 is a bona fide, unquestionable, Gold award winner. Fantastic.
Thanks to Gigabyte for supplying the G1.Sniper 3 for review. Discuss in the OC3D forums.