GIGABYTE Z97X-Gaming G1 WiFi-BK LGA 1150 Review

GIGABYTE has come to market with a great execution of concept that is shrouded by me-too branding. The Ultra Durable BLACK EDITION motherboards are tested to work before you purchase, and not only that, these motherboards are load tested to work for a full week before you ever open the box.

Introduction

GIGABYTE is one of the most well known of all the motherboard manufacturers in the enthusiast industry. It has a hugely diverse product portfolio and covers a wide range of offerings in variable price points and options ranges.

The G1 GAMING series has been around in some form for awhile now. Previously the G1 Gaming series had distinguished itself in a world of red and black, blacked out, and even black and gold color schemes with a green and black color scheme often clad in a ridiculous "gun motif" or ammunition styled heat sinks. We’ve seen stuff like that from MSI and others, but GIGABYTE actually did it best. Love it or hate it, GIGABYTE had a personality of its own in the G1 series.

Today things have changed. GIGABYTE now emulates the ASUS’ Republic of Gamers motherboards with a black and red color scheme and even an eyeball logo that looks like a straight knock off of one of ASUS’ motherboards. To go a bit further, GIGABYTE has adopted the "Black Edition" brand. While ASUS reserved the Black Edition moniker for only its very best motherboards (using the name only twice so far) GIGABYTE will seemingly apply the name to several motherboards as there are currently at least three of these so far according to the GIGABYTE website.

GIGABYTE’s lack of personal identity in this matter isn’t entirely unexpected. It is simply following suit with what ASUS and MSI have already done. ASUS was one of the earliest to offer red and black color schemes and of course ROG pioneered the "eye" logo, Black Editions, and all of that. MSI took its standard motherboards and made one or two minor changes, and then went red and black along with ASUS. MSI then slapped the "GAMING" brand on the boxes. This has had a hugely positive effect for MSI and boosted sales in many parts of the world. So again it’s no surprise that GIGABYTE would want a piece of the action. So while MSI copied ASUS first, GIGABYTE did "red and black" and the "Black Edition" name with little flare. And keep in mind that we here at HardOCP like red and black....a lot.

Now this isn’t to say that the G1 series is any worse in terms of hardware than it was last generation. I just feel like the individuality and brand identity has been diluted in a thinly veiled attempt to capitalize on the success of others and "do as they do" because it’s a safe money making strategy. It’s a safe strategy but at best it puts GIGABYTE on equal footing rather than allowing GIGABYTE to excel in anyway. GIGABYTE, MSI and ASUS all produce excellent motherboards on the whole and while we have no doubt this scheme will be financially successful for GIGABYTE in some capacity, we would much rather see GIGABYTE continue with its own branding identity.

Now that we are thoroughly done thrashing GIGABYTE branding, onto the motherboard itself.

(Editor’s Note: While Dan has been fairly harsh on GIGABYTE here for being somewhat lacking in originality when it comes to branding, the GIGABYTE BLACK EDITION branding carries with it a specific message, and quite frankly I see it as a very good message. These Ultra Durable BLACK EDITION motherboards are tested at the factory for stability using a 168 hour / 7 day load test. I tend to blow off the copycat marketing personally as this is something that has run rampant in the motherboard industry since the mid-90s. What I am impressed here is with the criteria that GIGABYTE wants these motherboards to stand up to. And this testing is not just a test of the specific model of the motherboard, the motherboard inside that BLACK EDITION box has been tested to work, and not only work, but to work under load for a hell of a long time. We started focusing on this years ago with stress testing motherboards and are very glad to see GIGABYTE run with this. There is nothing more frustrating that building a new system and then watch it all come to a screeching halt because of a DOA motherboard or a motherboard that has other defects. And the fact of the matter is that this happens to all brands of motherboards. I like this angle of attack by GIGABYTE as it should give the guy or gal laying down his hard earned cache a bit of confidence knowing that days are not lost to returns and exchanges that keep the rest of your expensive hardware sitting on a shelf waiting for a slot or a socket to call home.)

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The GIGABYTE Z97X-Gaming G1 WIFI-BK is based on Intel’s Z97 Express chipset and as a result supports all that goes with that. USB 3.0, SATA Express, SATA 6Gb/s, and more. GIGABYTE of course offers features beyond the chipset itself. These include things like a feature rich audio solution, 10k capacitors, audio specific audio capacitors, AMP-UP audio, dual USB DAC-UP ports, Killer NIC E2200, Intel Gigabit LAN, 802.11AC wireless networking, gold plated connectors, a gold plated CPU socket and a heat sink with an integrated waterblock.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

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The packaging is adorned with various marketing slogans and terminology and follows the all black style not at all unlike ASUS’ Black Edition boards use. The contents were well protected and arrived with all accessories accounted for and showing no signs of damage. The bundle is extremely rich as you’d expect from a higher end offering like this one. You get plenty of documentation, case badges SLI bridges from 2, to 4-Way SLI varieties, an I/O shield, wireless card, USB 3.0 I/O bracket, and probably more SATA cables than you will likely ever need.

GIGABYTE took a queue from MSI and offers a certificate of stability. There are no benchmarks, indications of what the testing entailed or anything like that. It does state that the motherboard passed a 168 hour (7 day) torture test ensuring reliability and stability. The package indicates that this is some sort of "server level" testing which frankly doesn’t really mean much to me. The usage scenarios for server equipment and enthusiast motherboards don’t really correlate a whole lot leading me to indicate this is more marketing speak than anything.

Board Layout

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Eventually after staring at it long enough I began to see the board for what it was. On that front the layout and some of the design choices are definitely GIGABYTE specific with many of the features following their way of thinking. The isolated audio is something ASUS does as well but GIGABYTE uses a very different capacitor and audio chip selection. The analog, replacable OP-AMP is also a very different design choice than ASUS is making on their ROG boards now. The SATA power based auxiliary power connector near the SATA ports, SATA express and slot design are all done just as you’d expect GIGABYTE to have done.

The motherboard layout is really good. They’ve given the reset and clear CMOS buttons enough distance from each other to prevent accidents with the clear CMOS button, all the power connectors are thought out and placed where you’d really want them to be. Again I just don’t have anything to complain about here that isn’t related to aesthetics.

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The CPU socket area seems to be a bit crowded by the large hybrid water block and heat pipe based cooling hardware. Fortunately you can still mount relatively large coolers here and any potential clearance issues are largely avoidable with the right cooling and memory choices. The water block is compatible with 1/4" fittings for those looking to take advantage of the built in water cooling hardware.

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The four 240-pin DDR3 DIMM slots use single sided retention latches due to clearance issues with traditional two sided latch retention hardware. The slots are color coded to denote proper dual channel memory mode operation. A maximum memory configuration of 32GB is supported at up to DDR3 3200MHz speeds are supported through overclocking.

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The chipset itself is cooled via a heat pipe heat sink combination attached to the MOSFET cooling hardware. It’s a hideous reddish orange with a cheap knock off of ASUS’ ROG logo stamped on it. The heat sink is very plain and lacks any sort of style. This unit is functional and I’m sure plenty of readers will be happy about that but it isn’t an attractive solution, nor one that has any sense of style in my opinion.

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The expansion slot area is actually an area where I think GIGABYTE usually shines even over their ASUS counterparts. The Z97X-Gaming G1 WiFi-BK has 4 PCI-Express 3.0 x16 slots supporting variable configurations of multiple graphics cards up to 4-Way SLI and CrossfireX. Thanks to the inclusion of a PLX PEX8747 chip, the system can operate in a 16x0, 8x8, 8x8x8 or 8x8x8x8 configurations. I rather like the even spacing of these as they are ideal for a standard ATX motherboard. 3 PCI-Express 2.0 x1 slots are also provided for added connectivity should they be needed. Just behind the expansion slots you’ll find the isolated audio hardware with Nichicon audio capacitors. This also has the OP-AMP socket which has a TI Burr Brown OPA2134 OP-AMP in it. This area also lights up with Tron style red lights just as ASUS boards do. The "Sound Core3D" audio chip is covered by a gold EMI shield.

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The I/O panel uses gold connectors for the bulk of devices. There are two low noise "DAC-UP" USB ports for use with audio devices to eliminate static. The DVI port, DisplayPort and audio ports are all gold plated. 6x USB 3.0 ports are provided along with two RJ-45 (LAN) ports, 1x optical output and 5 mini-stereo jacks for analog audio. Lastly there is a PS/2 mouse/keyboard combination port as well.