So we've looked at a good value Gigabyte motherboard, an MSI offering that was spectacular in every department, so now let us provide the a final option which is a performance motherboard in a small package. The Gigabyte G1.Sniper M5.
Demonstrating how quickly the Sniper series has settled in to the Gigabyte range, it didn't seem two minutes ago that we were surprised by the G1.Snipers performance, and equally impressed by the commitment to the military theme in terms of packaging and board design. Each variant has moved further away from the Sniper concept in design ethos, whilst retaining the good performance of the early efforts.
So if you're looking for a mATX motherboard to place your new Haswell CPU in, let's see if the G1.Sniper M5 could be just the ticket.
The big selling point of the M5 is the inclusion of the Creative Sound Core 3D chip. Rather than utilising one of the many RealTek variants, Gigabyte have gone full on with Creative, and some very clever alternatives which we'll look at on another page.
The tale of two halves on the M5 packaging. The front is clear and concise, whilst the rear is the usual scattergun arrangement of technology logos and product highlights.
In keeping with the usual G1.Sniper colour scheme the M5 is black and green. If you're someone who likes nVidia GPUs and Razer gaming gear, you wont have a problem in matching up your colours.
The Z87 utilises soundchips, and then a combination amplifier. This has brought some clever thinking from Gigabyte. If you can pick and choose which amplifier you want, then why not let the user pick and choose depending upon their requirements? To this end the M5 allows you to swap out amps, and their is one (of many) included in the M5 package.
Because of the naturally cramped conditions with a mATX motherboard the big gap is between the first PCIe and the second, with the third right up against it, and no legacy PCI. The soundcard section of the board is, as it was on the previous Sniper motherboards, a separate PCB to try and help reduce interference.
The CMOS clear, Reset switch and Power switch are on the top right hand corner of the M5. We know that real estate is hard to come by, but we're not convinced that having the CMOS clear and Reset switch barely a finger width apart is a good idea and can imagine many accidental CMOS clears.
Connections are in keeping with the new Z87 method of purely SATA 6Gbps ports. Round the back we have two USB 2.0's, 4 USB 3.0, the gold plated audio jacks and display connetions alongside the Gigabit LAN.
Considering that the M5 is designed as more of an enthusiasts board, we find it strange that Gigabyte have chosen to skin their fantastic new BIOS in the way they have. The D3HP had clock speeds and voltages all within easy glance regardless of the screen you're on, whereas the G1.Sniper M5 merely is black and green to match the motherboard.
BIOS - Other
There are plentiful fan options to make sure that you can have the perfect balance between cooling and noise, intake and exhaust.
Only a couple of generations ago and onboard sound was still pretty shabby and a soundcard was one of the default things you had to purchase along with a graphics card. Recent innovations have seen onboard audio becoming a much more viable option, although a card such as the ASUS Xonar or Creative Soundblaster still had enough to offer to be worthy of purchase.
Gigabyte have taken the unique step of allowing the user to decide the style of audio reproduction they prefer by utilising a socket for the amplifier chip, rather than soldering it to the PCB. The M5 itself comes with two chips, and a further three are purchasable as an add-on. Motherboard microtransactions.
Gigabyte Z87 G1.Sniper M5
Intel Core i7-4770K
Club3D HD7970 Royal Ace
Corsair Vengeance Pro 2400MHz
Corsair Neutron GTX
Windows 7 x64
During our testing we used the new Corsair Vengeance Pro 2400Mhz 16GB kits.
If you're in the mood for some black and green action the M5 comes with built in green LEDs to provide a backlight for the motherboard and a gentle glow in your case. These also help highlight the 'separate pcb' area for the audio components to reduce interference and increase audio quality.
Despite the compact size of the M5, the performance implications due to it being part of the G1.Sniper range certainly come to the fore in the overclock. The GD65 hit 5GHz but for heat and stability reasons we lowered to 4.8, whereas on the M5 we still managed that 5GHz screeny but our bench stable clock was 4.9GHz, and that is our overclock speed for today.
We reiterate our opinion that if you're determined to overclock the Core i7-4770K then you really need to invest in a seriously sturdy cooling arrangement. So often in the past people have said to ensure your cooling is great before overclocking, but the 4th Generation CPU demands exceptional cooling.
There is very little between the M5 and GD65 in power draw terms, although it's nice to see that the HD7970 only draws around 60W or so. Proof you don't need a 1KW PSU.
Considering that the M5 is 100MHz higher than we saw on the MSI GD65 Gaming, the AIDA64 results don't really reflect that. In fact it's a little back and forth in the CPU tests and the MSI edges the Memory results.
A tale of three results. Processor MultiMedia clearly favours the higher overclock of the M5, the Cryptography bandwidth test prefers the MSI, and the Processor Arithmetic test of SiSoft Sandra is nip and tuck, with just the edge towards the faster M5 overclock.
Similar to the previous results, the real-world testing of PC Mark it very balanced between the two enthusiast boards. PC Mark perhaps edges towards the G1.Sniper M5, whilst PC Mark 7 is tight with perhaps the edge to the MSI GD65 Gaming, although the Productivity result clearer favours the M5 and the Computation is heavily towards the GD65.
PC Mark Vantage
PC Mark 7
The 80-odd MHz higher CPU clock speed of our M5 overclock shows itself in wPrime95, which relies entirely upon pure clock speed to attain its results.
Regardless of which of the two high performance motherboards you choose, the i7-4770K ably manages to produce some good video encoding results.
Talk about inseparable, take a look at the results of CatZilla. 10 points and 3 points apart in the 1080P and 1440P tests respectively.
Naturally with an improved overclock we see a better performance in CineBench R11.5. Indeed only the second really noticeably better score so far.
If you've been reading along with us so far you'll know that despite a higher overclock the M5 isn't really making the best of the potential extra performance, and Unigine Heaven is delightful proof of it, being identical in every test except for the 8xMSAA 1080P test, where the M5 is a tenth of a frame better.
In what has been a theme for our Z87 reviews, it doesn't matter what speed your CPU is running at, the HD7970 is unquestionably the limiting factor.
Resident Evil 6
Such is the performance of the i7-4770K that again it's all about the HD7970. Moving on.
3D Mark Vantage
The P score shades towards the M5 thanks to the extra CPU performance, but oddly the Extreme preset slightly prefers the MSI GD65 offering.
3D Mark 11
As we move towards newer benchmarks the gap closes, to the point that the 3D Mark 11 Extreme test are only 2 points apart. Which is identical in practise.
Wrapping things up with 3D Mark, and unsurprisingly the motherboards are neck and neck. Perhaps the only point of note is in the very gentle Ice Storm test, namely that D3HP with its lesser overclock is better than the GD65 which is better than the best overclock of the M5. Odd.
The G1.Sniper M5 is a bit of a pocket rocket.
With stock results being so stable across all of our test motherboards we only looked at the overclocking performance today, and the M5 performed admirably, albeit with a very minor note of caution. The MSI GD65 Gaming easily achieved 5GHz although we had to reduce the speed to 4.8GHz for our testing because of the high temperatures. The Gigabyte M5 however was stable at 4.9GHz, even if it couldn't quite squeeze 5GHz out of it. So at a glance it should have given us better results.
In practise that clock speed was only really beneficial in the extreme calculation heavy tests such as CineBench or wPrime, whereas the GD65 was equal to it in all our other tests and occasionally ahead on memory bandwidth and PC Mark. That is by no means to slight the Gigabyte G1.Sniper M5 though. Merely pointing out that it didn't quite make the most of the extra megahertz.
When the first G1.Sniper appeared the heatsink was in the shape of a gun, with the magazine cooling the chipset. The next version just had the magazine on the chipset, and with the Z87 M5 Gigabyte have given up completely trying to make the motherboard themed to the name. We don't know if the rather realistic weapon heatsinks gave them export problems, or whether it's just a cost-saving measure, but we know that we liked the unique design whereas now it's all a bit generic.
Audio though is tremendous and reflects the effort that Gigabyte have put in to bring the finest sound quality yet seen on a motherboard. The Creative 3D chip is separated off from the main part of the PCB which helps to reduce interference from the rest of the components. The really fantastic thing though is the ability to switch the amplifier to one that better suits the type of music you listen to. We often choose our speakers and headphones depending upon whether we prefer an Aria to ACDC, a symphony to Skrillex, so why shouldn't we be able to further tune our listening experience. It's not only a matter of forcing you to purchase the motherboard equivalent of a DLC expansion pack, as Gigabyte have provided a chip in the M5 box. That way you can swap them around yourself and if your speakers/headphones/ears aren't capable of spotting the difference you can save your money, and if you find the sound transformed then you can purchase the additional three chips.
All in all a nice compact motherboard with very good performance and the brilliant, innovative AMP-UP audio, only let down slightly by the generic nature of the design compared to previous Sniper models. If you prefer your motherboards in the mATX format, and love the colour green, then the Gigabyte G1.Sniper M5 is an excellent choice and worthy of our Gold Award. The AMP-UP feature is especially worthy of note and wins our very rarely offered OC3D Innovation Award too.
Thanks to Gigabyte for supplying the Z87 G1.Sniper M5 for review. Discuss your thoughts in the OC3D Forums.