When it comes to PC gaming hardware, ASUS' Republic of Gamers brand comes to mind, offering motherboards, graphics cards and even notebooks. Although we have always felt that ASUS' ROG boards are targeted more at overclocking enthusiasts than actual gamers, there aren't other serious alternatives out there (besides, these two groups are often one and the same). Until now, that is.
Gigabyte has introduced a new series of gaming motherboards, known as G1-Killer. With a military theme appropriate for the Call of Duty/Battlefield generation of gamers, these motherboards (there are three models, the G1.Assassin, the G1.Sniper and the G1.Guerrilla) come with some very interesting, gamer-specific features that may finally give ASUS some proper competition.
For instance, it's the first time that we have seen Creative's X-Fi digital audio processor (CA20K2) on a motherboard. It's the exact same chip that you'll find on an X-Fi audio card. Often, vendors use a Realtek chip to handle Creative's EAX and not with an audio chip from Creative. Gigabyte has also partnered with Bigfoot to offer its Killer 2100 Gigabit network solution onboard.
Sounds familiar? Those in the know will have heard reports of ASUS' upcoming ROG Rampage III Black Edition that promises something similar, except that instead of Creative's audio solution, ASUS' own Xonar is used. In short, Gigabyte and ASUS are heading for an epic clash in the gaming motherboard niche and well, fireworks or rather gunfire is expected.
We got the flagship Gigabyte G1-Killer motherboard here in our lab, codenamed G1.Assassin. This XL-ATX motherboard has all the highly touted features of this series and is based on Intel's X58 chipset (LGA1366), which has the adequate PCIe lanes for the 4-way/3-way multi-GPU support that Gigabyte requires for a gaming behemoth. As the performance of an Intel X58 board is more or less known (you can browse our many X58 reviews), we are only going to highlight the main features on this board. And of course, the unique design.
As a motherboard, we see no issues with layout and it shouldn't, given the XL-ATX size. The unique military design is a polarizing factor that will garner equal share of love and hate. Perhaps one needs to be a certain target audience to appreciate the design fully.
Gigabyte has equipped this board with high-end additions that primarily enhance the networking and audio aspect. Many gamers play with headphones and it makes sense to improve this. Along with the high-quality audio components, it's quite the coup to have the actual Creative X-Fi hardware onboard. Meanwhile, though latency and 'lag' are constant concerns for gamers, whether Bigfoot's networking solution will alleviate all these problems is a big question mark.
Other aspects like multiple GPU support and fast storage have been covered before and there's little here that differ from the competition. It remains to be seen whether this audio and networking focus will be popular among gamers. At least if the G1-Killer does not fulfill internal expectations, Gigabyte will have the satisfaction of knowing that their rival ASUS likely won't fare any better with the similar ROG Rampage III Black Edition.
Finally, for such high-end boards, one can expect to pay quite a king's ransom for it. The lowest end model, the G1.Guerrilla is reported to cost US$300 and given its larger size and greater number features, the G1.Assassin obviously will cost more. Local distro, CDL Trading has just informed us that the SRP is tentatively set at S$749, which is around the price range of Gigabyte's X58 UD7 or the EVGA X58 SLI Classified. At such prices, you would have expected everything except the kitchen sink thrown in, but unfortunately, that's not the case. For example, the board lacks a NVIDIA NF200 bridge chip to enable more PCIe lanes.
In the end, it really depends if you're the right target audience to appreciate the efforts put into this elaborate board and if you can afford to fork out such a big sum. The other concern one might have is that the successor to the Intel X58 platform, codenamed Ivy Bridge, is likely to be available in the third quarter of the year. Also, for those game enough to ignore the Intel SATA 3Gbps controller, the Sandy Bridge platform can meet up or even succeed the Intel X58 system performance. So unfortunately, the G1.Assassin might have limited appeal due to the 'crossroads situation' the industry is in currently.