Something that we have wondered since the introduction of the integrated audio CODEC is; what do you do about gamers? For most people the answer is simple - you buy add-in cards to get the video, audio and networking performance that you want. However, most of the really high end boards are expensive. The costs of getting a great gaming system can be cost prohibitive once you look at what is really needed.
Well, GIGABYTE has an answer and one that we have been waiting on since CES 2011. We recently showed this off to you in a very brief preview. Well, now we have the performance to go along with these images.
This board is the G1.Assassin; part of the G1 Killer line-up. When you pick this board up you get an X58 chipset, a Creative labs X-Fi audio card and a Killer NIC built onto the board. You all get this for $529.99 on NewEgg.com which comes in a little less than buying the parts separately (as we will show you a little later). You have seen the pictures and the brief descriptions, now let's look at the performance we can get from this new board from GIGABYTE.
The Box and What's Inside
Package and Contents
We have shown you the packaging of the G1.Assassin before, but will go over it again briefly here.
The box is made up to look like an ammo can in size, shape, and coloration. It would have been pretty cool to have it really be an ammo can (a cardboard one, but still). However, the effect works as intended. The "front" has the name clearly placed on the package as well as the required logos (Intel, Creative, Killer Networks etc). You also get the new GIGBAYTE Gaming Motherboards logo.
The back of the box is more detailed with a picture of the G1.Assassin (complete with labels). GIGABYTE has gone the extra mile to detail how the Assassin fills their four criteria of Super Sight, Super Speed, Super Shield, Super Hearing.
Inside this is a camouflaged box that contains what you are really looking for.
Once you get through the multiple levels of packaging you find all of the goodies that GIGABYTE is including. There are even a couple of sheets of stickers (for those of you that are into that sort of thing) along with a poster.
For those of you that are looking for the treasure in the pile, it is the USB 3.0 front breakout box complete with an eSATA port and a quick boost button.
The G1 Assassin is a fairly decent looking board (as we have already told you). It has what is supposed to be a military look to it. Even the board level cooling is made to look like the weaver combat system that is in use by the US military. It is also built on the E-ATX form factor similar to the X58A-UD9, so if you are looking to use this make sure you have a case that it will fit into.
Kicking things off, up by the RAM slots we find a green and black color scheme; again we suppose in keeping with the military theme. We were a little surprised to find out that GIGABYTE left off any board level power and reset buttons. Although this is not a big deal really, we were still a little surprised at this omission.
The CPU socket is clean, but nothing to write home about. Looking around, we do find two 8-pin Aux ATX power connectors. These are probably needed with the extra components on the board (like the Killer NIC and the full Creative audio card). These are a little awkward to work with once the board is mounted in a case. Still, they are not that bad to get to.
Talking about power, the G1.Assassin looks like it needs quite a bit of it. Not only do you have the two 8-pin aux power connectors, but there are two additional 4-pin Molex connectors. The manual does not say they are required, but if you are looking to load this board up I would suggest making sure these are connected. As we mentioned before, there is a reason for this power need. One of them is visible in the last picture just above; this is the Killer Networks E2100 Network Processor.
Moving down towards the bottom of the board, we find the appropriate number of slots needed for three-way SLI and Quad Crossfire. Although there are four x16 mechanical slots, there are only two that will operate in full x16 mode; these are slots one and three. The other two (slots two and four) are x8 only. There are two additional x1 slots and a "throw back" PCI 2.0 slot just to keep things interesting.
To the left of the peripheral slots we find the space on the board that GIGABYTE has set aside for the full Creative X-Fi card. This includes the OpAMPs, the Creative CA20K2-2AG audio processor and memory buffer. This is a vast improvement over the typical Realtek, SoundMax or other audio CODEC that relies on the CPU for its audio processing. Of course, there is a possibility that the Creative audio processor could impact PCIe performance, as Creative has had a problem with excessive PCI polling in the past.
Flipping the board around, we find a bank of eight SATA ports. Six of these are the typical SATA 2 (the black ones), while the two remaining ports are SATA 3 and controlled by a Marvell controller and fall under the heading of GSATA. You also can see the stylized cooling we (and everyone else) have told you about. I do find it funny that they actually put a label saying this could not be assembled into a real weapon, though.
The I/O ports on the G1.Assassin are typical for a motherboard in its class. In all the G1.Assassin is a well layed out and planned board. Now, let's see if it performs!
The BIOS here is nothing out of the ordinary for a GIGABYTE motherboard. You have all of the features and pages you would expect to find. It is a nice layout once you get used to it. We will go through some of the pages you get in the images below.
The M.I.T (Motherboard Intelligent Tweaker) pages are nicely put together. Each subsection is only one "page" and contains the items that you need for that portion of overclocking.
If you are looking to overclock then here is where you will spend most of your time.
It is a lot of moving around, but the single pages make things easy to find and also make it harder to overlook an important setting.
Of course, you still have the other sections that you need just to get things going, like the Integrated Peripherals page and others.
Overall the G1.Assassin's BIOS is well done, but nothing unusual.
Kicking the Assassin into high gear was simple enough. We started in the BIOS this time (we did not use the EZTune 6 utility). We pushed the BCLK up to 169MHz and the multiplier to 26. This yielded an overclock of 4.394GHz. This was stable through all of our testing. We did try to push over this and get up to 172 on the BCLK (our highest so far with this CPU), but it would not hold.
You can see the CPUz validation here.
If you know anything about GIGABYTE then you know about their overclocking and system tweaking utility "EasyTune6". This is a fairly complete utility, but it does have some cosmetic and navigation issues. The overall software is nice, but it can be bulky and cumbersome to navigate. When you first launch the software you get the Tuner page. This page has some quick overclocking profiles that you can click on to get a fast boost to your system (that might be why GIGABYTE calls it QuickBoost). But let's start at the beginning.
The first tab in the EasyTune suite is the CPU tab. This gives you pretty much the same information that you get from CPU-Z. It is a nice touch, but I think that it might be better as a sidebar or a button inside another tab instead of its own tab.
The next tab is a continuation of the CPU-Z like functions and provides information about your memory. Not bad information to have, but again I think it could be part of another page to keep things simple.
The next tab brings us back to the tuner. Since we have already seen the QuickBoost page, let's talk about your other options here. As you can see above, after the three choices of the QuickBoost you can click over to the easy overclocking tools. Here you can adjust only the BCLK and Ratio. Since you do not want to play with the BCLK too much, you will end up in the Ratio settings.
Of course, you know that GIGABYTE is not going to leave you with just the simple tools like we find in QuickBoost and the easy overclocking. You knew they would have something more advanced than that, and they do. This is called (unsurprisingly) the advanced mode. These tools give you some great flexibility when it comes to Windows based overclocking. You can even adjust the memory performance form here. This is something that many other boards are still missing.
Moving on from the CPU overclocking tools, we come to a GPU overclocking tool. It is interesting that this tool was willing to let us overclock our test GPU considering that it was from another manufacturer.
Smart fan settings are the cool thing to have now and if you can use tools to adjust these inside Windows then you are even cooler.
The hardware monitor tab offers a fairly functional collection of monitoring utilities that can let you keep track of voltages and temperatures. In all EasyTune6 is a pretty nice suite, but it could use an overhaul to make it even better.
As all overclocking results are dependent on the hardware you use, your results may vary. Results of our overclocking tests are included in the performance section with the stock scores.
Important Editor Note: Our maximum overclocking result is the best result we managed in our limited time of testing the motherboard. Due to time constraints we weren't able to tweak the motherboard to the absolute maximum and find the highest possible FSB, as this could take days to find properly. We do however spend at least a few hours overclocking every motherboard to try and find the highest possible overclock in that time frame. You may or may not be able to overclock higher if you spend more time tweaking or as new BIOS updates are released. "Burn-in" time might also come into play if you believe in that.
Test System Setup and Comments
We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: GIGABYTE, ASUS, Intel, Corsair and Sceptre.
The G1.Assassin is an easy board to setup, but you do have more than a few items you have to check on and of course configure. The first item that comes to mind is the Killer NIC. This is, according to Killer Networks, a network control processor. It is designed to act as a specialized QoS device that is capable of identifying certain types of packets and forwarding them ahead of other packets. Killer Networks calls this the "bullet" packet.
Getting into the application that comes with the KillerNIC E2100, we find what looks like the internals to a router. We were not surprised as after all, this is a QoS processor.
Killer Networks has included a pretty decent monitoring utility that can let you keep track of what your system has going on (it is a little more functional than Task Manager).
The applications tab serves a couple of purposes; the first is to let you see what could be using up your gaming bandwidth. The second is a little less obvious until you think about it. It can let you identify potential malware present on your system. If you see an application that is taking up a ton of bandwidth that should not be, you can remove or block it.
The Network page gives you options to adjust the Killer NIC E2100 to suit your network. The entries for Download and Upload speed can be detected by the software depending upon the firewall you have in place. The Gaming Router we used for this testing prevented the utility from working at all. It set both up and down speeds to 1.5Mbps. The real speeds are much higher than that, so I ended up manually setting them. This improved performance quite a bit, as did creating profiles for games in my router.
The Advanced Page is just what it says; it is a page of advanced options. These options grant you extra control/ monitoring for the NCP (Network Control Processor). So far our testing shows that the E2100 while behind a restrictive firewall does not have much of an effect on gaming speed. This is because you still have to pass that traffic through the firewall before it hits the Internet. Still, once we opened up the router for gaming traffic we found a nice increase in responsiveness.
The next item on the list is the X-Fi card that is integrated into the motherboard. Here you have Creative's own software to tinker with. For the average gamer you can install this and leave it alone. The default mode is the gaming mode, so this should be more than enough. But if you are looking for more from your audio, Creative does have a few other modes to play around with.
The other modes are Entertainment and Audio Creation. They are self-explanatory, so we will not waste any time on them.
The last piece of software that GIGABYTE adds to the list is the Smart6 suite. I am not sure why it is included, though, as most of the gamers I know would not bother installing it.
Synthetic Tests - Part I
With any system you will want to see a combination of synthetic testing and real-world. Synthetics give you a static, easily repeatable testing method that can be compared across multiple platforms. For our synthetic tests we use Finalwire's AIDA64, Sisoft Sandra, Futuremark's 3DMark Vantage and PCMark Vantage, Cinebench as well as HyperPi. Each of these covers a different aspect of performance or a different angle of a certain type of performance.
Memory is a big part of current system performance. In most systems slow or flakey memory performance will impact almost every type of application you run. To test memory we use a combination of Sisoft Sandra, AIDA64 and HyperPi 0.99.
Version and / or Patch Used: 2011
Developer Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.net
Product Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.net
Buy It Here
The G1.Assassin lost some ground in memory performance. This could be due to overhead from the Creative audio card or the KillerNIC. We will have to dig a little deeper to be sure, but we know for certain that we should be seeing memory performance that is a little higher than this.
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.00.1035BETA
Developer Homepage: http://www.aida64.com
Product Homepage: http://www.AIDA64.com
Buy It Here
Replacing Everest in our labs is AIDA64. This new testing suite is from the core development team from Lavalys and continues that tradition. The guys have thrown in better support for multithreaded CPUs as well as full 64 bit support. We use this to test memory and HDDs for now, but may find ourselves opening this up to other areas of the motherboard.
Again we see something dragging the memory performance down a little. This will have an impact on our workstation oriented tests and could impact gaming as well.
Version and / or Patch Used: 0.99
Developer Homepage: www.virgilioborges.com.br
Product Homepage: www.virgilioborges.com.br
Download It Here
HyperPi is a front end for SuperPi that allows for multiple concurrent instances of SuperPi to be run on each core recognized by the system. It is very dependent on CPU to memory to HDD speed. The faster these components, the faster it is able to figure out the number Pi to the selected length.
For our testing we use the 32M run. This means that each of the four physical and four logical cores for the i7 and the four physical cores of the i5 is trying to calculate the number Pi out to 32 million decimal places. Each "run" is a comparative to ensure accuracy and any stability or performance issues in the loop mentioned above will cause errors in calculation.
Here we see the direct impact of the slower memory performance. Our HyperPi times are a little slow here compared to other X58 boards we have tested.
Synthetic Tests - Part II
Disk Drive Controller
The system drive controller is an important part of system performance. In most modern boards your drive controller will run off of the PCI-e bus. The PCI-e bus performance can be affected by poor trace layout as well as many other design choices that show up on different boards.
For testing we use Sisoft's Sandra and AIDA64.
Drive speed was good for the Assassin with speeds ranking with the top boards in our testing group. This speed will help offset some of the performance hit taken from the slow memory performance.
AIDA64 shows us average to good read speeds for all of the three controller types (SATA 2.0, SATA 3.0 and USB 3.0).
Synthetic Tests - Part III
Here is where we dig out the FutureMark tests.
Version and / or Patch Used: 22.214.171.124
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/
Product Homepage: www.futuremark.com
Buy It Here
For overall system performance we use PCMark Vantage. This is run in both x86 and x64 mode to give the best indication of performance.
Well, it looks like for general computing the G1.Assassin is not at the top of the list. Don't get me wrong; this is still one fast board, but we really expected more from it.
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.1
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.3dmark.com
Buy It Here
For synthetic gaming tests we used the industry standard and overlockers bragging tool 3DMark 11. This is a test that strives to mimic the impact modern games have on a system. Futuremark went a long way to change from the early days of graphics driven tests to a broader approach including physics, AI and more advanced graphics simulations. 3DMark v11 uses the DX11 API in addition to having support for CPU based Physics. Gone are the days of the PhysX inclusion giving you inflated scores.
For a gaming motherboard the G1.Assassin was not where we expected it to be. We would have thought that the 3DMark scores would be well up there. However, they are more towards the middle of the pack. True, all of the scores are very close here, but still...
Cinebench R11. x64
Version and / or Patch Used: R11.5 x64
Developer Homepage: http://www.maxon.net/
Product Homepage: www.maxon.net
Download It Here
Cinebench is a synthetic rendering tool developed by Maxon. Maxon is the same company that developed Cinema4D, another industry leading 3D Animation application. Cinebench R11.5 tests your systems ability to render across a single and multiple CPU cores. It also tests your systems ability to process OpenGL information.
The G1.Assassin falls in the middle of the pack for Cinebench performance. At least it does at stock speeds. When you overclocked it we saw the performance jump up to the top of the list.
Real-World Tests - Part I
Real-world testing allows us to see how well a product will perform when used in the same manner as it would be in your house or office. It is an important side to performance testing as it can uncover hidden glitches in the way a product performs.
It is especially true when testing a mainboard; there are so many components of a board that have to interact that any problems between parts can cause a failure of the whole.
For real-world testing we use some common applications and functions. We test with LightWave 3D for rendering performance, AutoGK for transcoding from DVD to AVI and two games for gaming testing.
Rendering of 3D Animation is a system intensive endeavor. You need a good CPU, memory and HDD speed to get good rendering times. For our testing we use LightWave 3D. This software from Newtek is an industry standard and has several pre-loaded scenes for us to use.
Version and / or Patch Used: 9.6
Developer Homepage: http://www.newtek.com
Product Homepage: http://www.newtek.com/lightwave/
Buy It Here
Again we see a large difference between stock and overclocked performance. This tells me that the BIOS needs a little more work to get things dialed in right. This is good news as it means the addition of the KillerNIC and the X-Fi are not the cause.
Version and / or Patch Used: 2.55
Developer Homepage: http://www.autogk.me.uk/
Product Homepage: http://www.autogk.me.uk/
Download It Here
AutoGK stands for Auto Gordian Knot; it is a suite of transcoding tools that are compiled into an easy to install and use utility. It allows you to transcode non-protected DVDs and other media to Xvid or Divx format. For our testing purposes we use a non-DRM restricted movie that is roughly 2 hours in length. This is transcoded to a single Xvid AVI at 100% quality.
Well, the AutoGK scores are not bad, but they are not great either. Still, this is a gaming board and perhaps we will see this in our real world gaming tests coming up next.
Real-World Tests Part II
Here we have our real gaming tests. Each of the games we chose uses multiple cores and GPUs. They are able to stress the system through use of good AI. Both have decent positional audio that adds impact to the sound subsystem of the board. We ran each game through the level or parts listed and recorded frame per second using FRAPS. This brings the whole game into play.
*** A word on gaming as a motherboard test; ***
Despite the fact that most games are very GPU limited, we are still noticing HDD and even audio creating issues in gaming performance. Because of this you may see differences in the number of frames rendered per second between different boards. Usually the difference is very small but occasionally, because of bad tracing, poor memory or HDD performance this difference is significant. The issues are often more prevalent in older versions of DirectX but can still pop up in DX10 and 11.
Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 (DX9)
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0
Timedemo or Level Used: First combat until the school is cleared
Developer Homepage: http://www.infinityward.com
Product Homepage: http://modernwarfare2.infinityward.com
Most of you know about the game Modern Warfare 2, it caused quite a bit of controversy in the latter half of 2009. The game is a first person shooter with a heavy combat emphasis. It follows the events in the first Modern Warfare very closely and brings back several characters from the original.
As with most games in the Call of Duty franchise it features a heavy AI load. This is not because of a complex AI routine, but more due to the sheer number of enemies in any given combat situation. It is also our single DX9 based game in our testing suite. Settings are shown below.
The G1.Assassin does very well in Modern Warfare 2. We are happy to see the numbers up where they are. Of course, the numbers are very close together, but still, I was getting a little worried to see some of the results early on. The audio quality in this game was also outstanding thanks to the Creative X-Fi audio card built into the board.
Far Cry 2 (DX10)
Version and / or Patch Used: V1.00
Timedemo or Level Used: Clearing the Safe house through to the Rescue
Developer Homepage: http://www.ubi.com
Product Homepage: http://farcry.us.ubi.com
Far Cry 2 is a large sandbox style game. There are no levels here so as you move about the island you are on you do not have to wait for the "loading" sign to go away. It is mission driven so each mission is what you would normally think of as the next "level".
In the game you take the role of a mercenary who has been sent to kill the Jackal. Unfortunately your malaria kicks in and you end up being found by him. Long story short, you become the errand boy for a local militia leader and run all over the island doing his bidding. Settings we used for testing are shown below.
Wow, ok, now here is something. We double and triple checked these numbers and they are accurate. Looking into the situation further, it appears that the audio in Far Cry2 is pretty intensive. This means that on boards with a CPU driven CODEC you are going to take a performance hit. Not so on the Assassin, though.
Battlefield Bad Company 2 (DX11)
Version and / or Patch Used: V1.00
Timedemo or Level Used: From washing up on the beach to the mine fields.
Developer Homepage: http://www.ea.com/
Product Homepage: http://badcompany2.ea.com/
Battlefield Bad Company is another sequel and also another game "franchise". Bad Company 2 is also our DX11 Shooter game. The game follows a fictitious B company team on a mission to recover a Japanese defector. This puts you back in World War II (at least for the beginning of the game) while the multi-player game is centered on much more modern combat. For our testing we used the single player mode. Settings are shown below.
Well, from top of the world the G1 drops back a few levels. It is still a good board if Bad Company 2 is your game.
While the FPS were not as high as some of the other boards we tested, the one thing that the G1 Assassin has that the others do not is a dedicated audio processor. This does help with performance even if it is not noticeable in the actual frame rate. We were very impressed with the audio quality as well; it even passed our Tube Amp test.
The gaming performance over the internet was excellent once we had things dialed in on our router.
In all we can see the G1.Assassin as a very solid gaming board, especially if you are looking for top end audio and networking.
Power Usage and Heat Tests
We are now able to find out what kind of power is being used by our test system and the associated graphics cards installed. Keep in mind; it tests the complete system (minus LCD monitor, which is plugged directly into an AC wall socket).
Power draw from the G1.Assassin was more than expectable for the amount of hardware that is built onto the board. After all, you are talking about a full audio card and a network processor that are drawing power along with the other items on the board.
As a new measure, we are now monitoring the heat generation from the key components on the motherboard; this being the Northbridge, Southbridge (if it contains one) as well as the Mosfets around the CPU. The results are recorded at idle and load during the power consumption tests.
Well, it looks like the cooling on the board is all for show. We saw temps that were much higher than we would have expected. They were not alarming or anything that was a cause for concern, but still, with the effort that went into the cooling, we expected more.
The G1.Assassin is $529.99 at NewEgg.com at the time of writing. That is a whole lot of money to shell out for a motherboard. At least that is what you would think if the Assassin was just a motherboard. However, the G1.Assassin is anything but "just a motherboard".
For starters, you are getting the built in value of a $100 audio card. Then on top of that you get the KillerNic E2100 (another $100 or so). That leaves you with a $330 product. For a Three-way SLI enabled X58 motherboard with good overclocking potential, that is not a bad deal at all. We were quite impressed with the way the Assassin handled our gaming tests. True, the frame rates were not over the top, but we were given a great gaming experience. GIGABYTE needs to do some tweaking to the stock BIOS profile to make up some of the mainstream performance issues we saw, but that should not be too hard. We would not be surprised to find out that there is at least one new BIOS in the works for this product.
The KillerNIC E2100 does require a little leg work to get working with your typical home firewall/router, but again, this is not that big of a deal. Thinking about the market this is geared towards, we imagine that most potential buyers of this will have home networking gear with gaming profiles built in. The G1.Assassin is a great product and one that we feel is an indicator of things to come in the future.