Gigabyte G1.Assassin Preview - Guns Ablazing

Launch SRP: S$749

No Holds Barred

No Holds Barred

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.

Green and matte black makes a nice change from Gigabyte's usual colors. Gigabyte has gone all cosplay on us with heatsinks that are sculpted to look like parts of a rifle.

If it looks larger than usual to you, it is. Like many high-end boards, Gigabyte has chosen the XL-ATX form factor to ensure that there is enough PCB space for its four PCIe 2.0 x16 slots. First thing you should do - check that your casing supports this size. Else it's time to shop for a new case before you pursue your dream PC.

A magazine for your rifle? Nope, it's just the heatsink for the ICH10R controller. But it certainly looks close enough.

These LEDs light up to illuminate the 'gun barrel' design of this heatsink.

For a high-end motherboard, we were surprised that the rear panel did not come with more ports. Besides the audio jacks, we also found eight USB ports, with four USB 3.0 ports (blue) thanks to Gigabyte's inclusion of two VIA USB hubs. That's quite a handful. As for the Gigabit LAN port, with Bigfoot's Killer NIC, you'll just need one, right?

The usual six DIMM slots for the triple-channel memory architecture on the Intel X58. Gigabyte says that they support up to 24GB of memory running at DDR3-2200MHz.

There are no onboard power/reset buttons to our surprise. Perhaps Gigabyte is expecting gamers not to fool around overclocking and tweaking, but to actually hone their gaming skills. Besides the front panel headers, there are four USB headers, with two headers meant for USB 3.0. This is a board that has USB 3.0 covered extensively.

With all the fuss surrounding Intel's Sandy Bridge motherboard recall issue, the X58 is blissfully unaffected. The six black SATA 3Gbps ports are from the ICH10R Southbridge and Gigabyte has added to them with two SATA 6Gbps ports from a Marvell 88SE9182 chip.

The four PCIe 2.0 x16 slots arranged to allow for dual-slot graphics cards. Support for up to 4-way ATI CrossFireX and 3-way NVIDIA SLI is present. The lack of PCIe lanes that Gigabyte could have amended with an NVIDIA NF200 chip does make it less appealing for the highest end user.

The Creative X-Fi chip, along with its own dedicated memory module. So you'll get the complete Creative suite of supported technologies, from EAX 5.0 to the X-Fi Crystalizer. As part of its gamer-oriented features, the board also has high capacity amplifiers able to drive 150Ω loads, which together with the proper high-quality headphones, will lead to less distortion and crisper audio.

Another audio enhancement is the presence of Nichicon Audio Capacitors, which according to Gigabyte, "deliver the highest quality sound resolution and sound expansion to create the most realistic sound effects for professional gamers."

The Killer E2100 chip comes with its own 1GB of dedicated DDR2 memory, allowing it to handle the network traffic on behalf of your CPU. So there's more processing power available for your games. Overkill? The 4-pin power connector here is for your graphics cards, especially for multiple high-end graphics cards.

Whether you will actually use it is another question, but Gigabyte has provided for a second 8-pin ATX power connector.

No surprises here about the driver MOSFETs and solid capacitors. It's after all a very high-end product from Gigabyte. A new VRM provides up to 16 phases of power on the G1.Assassin.

A front panel that can be mounted in your casing is included, with 2 more USB 3.0 ports, an eSATA/USB combo port and a Quick Boost button. Gigabyte says that pressing the Quick Boost button will automatically overclock the system, giving it an instant boost.

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.