GIGABYTE G1.Assassin 2 Review The G1 Assassin 2 is a 3rd generation G1 Killer. It’s a gaming board, but the best of the best gaming boards. Sure other boards might have some overclocking features like buttons, voltage read points, and cool sub-zero temp meters but what gamer is ever going to use those while gaming? I am not saying that this board doesn’t overclock, it in fact does overclock great, but it is more geared towards gamers and thus you only pay for gaming features. It’s built upon the basic GIGABYTE X79 design of the UD3, but souped up just like the UD7, instead with different goodies. GIGABYTE has kept basic cost structure the same, with their G1 series being ~$150 more than their mid-range offering of the UD3 or UD4 in some cases. The reason why it is higher is because of some very nice parts used on the board. When we say XF-I and G1 in the same sentence, we aren’t talking about the Realtek ALC889 codec paired with software emulation which most if not all current motherboards labeled with XF-I have(excluding G1 Killer series), but we are talking about a real XF-I setup hardware wise as well. We are talking about a Creative 20K2 processor, 128MB DDR memory, 5 AMPs for outputs, some very nice DACs and ADCs, and some sexy audio capacitors. When we talk about a gaming NIC we aren’t talking about a Realtek or Intel NIC, we are talking again about a Bigfoot e2100 implementation, along with its own resources as to not eat into those of the CPU. If you add in the advanced fan and temperature control that all the G1 carries $150 more is not much if you already were going to get those other things. Even if you just wanted a sound card the idea still sounds good as you will have un-obstructed SLI as well as more freed up resources. So many resources are off-loaded from the main system, you could put the G1 Assassin 2 up against any of board in the GIGABYTE X79 line up and run some gaming benchmarks and you might be surprised as to the gains. Sure a few FPS might not sound a like a lot to most of you, but there are people who upgrade from Z68 to X79 just for a few FPS in BF3. If you take that amount of FPS gained by going Z68 to X79 and then use the G1 Assassin 2 and you can increase that margin of improvement by almost 30% extra compared to going from one platform to another! Today’s review is going to be just as in depth as my others, but I am introducing some new cool diagrams that will interest some of my readers who want a cooler technical feel to reviews. Just remember you might have to click on them, as some are too big to fit on the screen. GIGABYTE Website for product specs Here is the review at my website if you want higher res images as well as better formatting. Box, Accessories, Overview The Digital PWM and VRMs Closer look at Audio, NIC, and Fan/Temp Closer look at the board’s ICs Heatsink Overview BIOS Overclocking and OC Tips Benchmarks (BF3, BFBC2, COD included) Conclusion and Sin's Gaming Skillz Box, Accessories, Overview Here we have the typical G1 Assassin box, green is reserved for the Assassin while beige is reserved for the Sniper and Guerilla models which are not part of the X79 lineup. Sin’s Take: It is a very big box, but what is inside is really cool. A lot of accessories, 4 SATA6GB/s cables, with nice black SLI bridges, a stylish backpanel, and even USB 3.0 front panel bay. We also have a large assortment of stickers to go along with everything. We have a small little surprise that wasn’t with us on previous GIGABYTE boards, that is the Bluetooth 4.0 and Wifi add-in card. It comes with its own adapter for USB, as well as two nice antennas, which we are very glad GIGABYTE included. Sin’s Take: I am glad GIGABYTE included antennas, as “sometimes” PCs are put under desks and then their signal reception is cut in half. This way one can replace and even extend the antennas to their liking. Currently there is no BT 4.0 to PCI-E bridge chip, so we have to currently deal with USB internal header. The cable is included. Now you see three new buttons on the G1 Assassin 2, only one of which was on a previous G1 board. The G1 Sniper 2 had and OC button, and so does this board. The OC button will clock your CPU to 4GHz no matter its make or model, it doesn’t discriminate. Then we have a brand new switch, this switch is dual color and is the dual BIOS switch. Hit the switch while the computer is turned off and you can load into the backup BIOS at your own will, no more hitting ATL+12 just to flash the backup, now you can actually get into it! Horray! Underneath that we welcome a ClearCMOS button, something missing from all G1 series board up to now. Sin’s Take: GIGABYTE has always been about the quality, what they might not have had in features they always made up for in quality. Now they aren’t cutting back quality, but rather including some simple features that motherboards should have with a $300+ price tag, like ClearCMOS buttons and Dual BIOS switches. We will take a closer look at the sections of the board, but this picture is meant to give you a general idea of the color scheme and layout. The socket area seems to be shifted away from the back panel, and the DIMMs are on both sides to increase performance of the memory to allow for more bandwidth in quad channel. Sin’s Take: Some people complain about losing DIMMs, but performance should be greater by having less. When I see a green and black motherboard, I am reminded of DFI boards. When I was a small overclocker, about 8 years ago, all I wanted was one of those cool DFI boards. Not only because they were great overclckers, but because they looked so damn cool! They had UV reactive slots, something GIGABYTE should think about! We have the Bigfoot NIC, and the Creative solution in the same area as on all G1 boards. You see a lot of chips between those DIMM slots and the back panel. The memory slots are very close to the CPU on purpose, they have to be to provide good performance and overclocking potential. The CPU heatsink is shaped like a gun barrel; it has a metal shroud on it with GIGABYTE written on it. As well as holes, this is required for good airflow, something that is required around the CPU socket area on every X79 board if you are going to overclock over 4.0 GHz. Sin’s Take: You see two capacitors between the CPU and each side of the DIMMs, keep an eye out for the number of capacitors you see put in this position, it can hint towards quality of the electrical design of the memory sub system. The PCH heatsink is connected to the VRM heatsink by an 8mm copper heatpipe. The gun is decorative, and it a bit too much for some people. We have 6 SATA ports from the Intel PCH, the white ones are SATA6G from Intel, while the black are SATA3G from Intel. The gray SATA ports are SATA6G from Marvell SE9172. We have a USB 3.0 front panel header in the perfect position to service a front panel USB 3.0 bay, like the one provided. Sin’s Take: Sometimes we take for granted the positioning of our SATA and USB headers, but GIGABYTE has been doing it right consistently. Now a lot of you don’t enjoy the gun on your motherboards, here is the deal, my G1 Assassin and G1 Sniper 2 both have AR-15s and now I have a G1 Assassin 2 with a nice 8mm handgun. If we went to gaming war and I lost to you, I could at least use my heatsink to try and shoot you, but then again maybe that is why they have that warning written on the heatsink “not meant to be used as a weapon, cannot be used as a weapon”. Being serious for a second, the gold emblem is pretty nice, it is not some cheap plastic (as in it will actually dissipate heat), and if you have one or more high powered GPUs it/they will cover the heatsink anyway. To each their own, but after messing with this board for a while, I have become attuned to its radical qualities. If we are going to complain about appearance, why don’t we complain about how most boards that have “black” PCBs actually look brown? At least this board is actually black and doesn’t bleed copper through its PCB like those so called black boards. This PCI-E slot arrangement is optimal, as the first slot is 16X and so is the last 16X Slot. The middle one is 8X. All of the 16x slots are directly wired, no multiplexers (switches) required. This should increase overall performance by a very small amount. It is good that GIGABYTE included a PCI slot, as the X79 Express chipset supports this natively. At this angle we can also see that if you only have 2 GPUs, each will have a great amount of breathing room. The XF-I high-tech audio capacitors are also well positioned. Here is a diagram of the PCI-E: As you can see the 1X slots are driven by the PCH, as the X79 Express chipset has 8X PCI-E lanes. Many are connected to other ICs, like for extra SATA and USB 3.0 as well as the Creative audio and Bigfoot NIC. The back of the board carries a few MOSFETs and that is about it. Sin’s Take: Let’s talk about why those MOSFETs aren’t heatsinked. The reason is because they are low-side MOSFETs, but that two Low-Side MOSFETs are used instead of just the standard one on this board. So half the Low-Side FETs are on the back of the board, meaning when these FETs are switched on along with those on top of the board, these FETs are doing half the work they normally would if there was just the standard 1 low-side FET. They don’t get that hot at all, not enough to warrant a flat piece of metal, of course physical protection wouldn’t be bad. In this case the 2oz Copper PCB absorbs much of the heat. G1 board spacing makes sure that nothing is too close together, especially the memory and PCI-E slots. The Digital PWM and VRMs If you haven’t noticed already I love VRMs, kind of a weird thing to say, but I think they are the one most important parts of the motherboard, and that is a reason I tend to always take a closer look at them. Their VRMs are top notch, no corners are cut like I see on many value oriented brands from Tier 2 companies. The CPU VRM is 8+1+2 (CPU+VCCSA+VCCIO). The CPU VRM is run by a 6+2 phase IR 3567. This is a VRD 12/12.5(SNB, SNBE, IB, IBE, Haswell) certified fully digital PWM. Now what makes a Digital PWM? The error correction loop has to be corrected digitally for a PWM to be considered Digital. Just being able to work with SVID doesn’t make a true PWM digital. For example, some MSI boards which state “Hybrid-Digital” are really using analog PWMs and consider being able to use SVID which is an LGA1155 requirement as making the PWM digital. SVID is a 3-wire digital bus between the CPU and the PWM which allows the CPU to change the VID itself depending on the frequency, in analog PWMs the digital signal is immediately converted to analog to be processed. The G1.Assassin 2 uses 4 of the 6 PWM phases which are then doubled to 8 through an IR specific X-Phase (doubler) chip. This chip takes a PWM input, and then divides it into two outputs, but the chip also has two driver chips. In the end you input a PWM signal and get two sets of driver signals from one tiny IC. Each set of driver signals can run a single phase, so two phases per one chip. Each chip can run 2 phases, and we have 4 for the CPU Vcore VR, and 1 for the CPU VCCSA(IMC) which gives us 8 phases for the CPU VCore, but only 1 phase from the doubler is used for the VCCSA. The doubler improves efficiency compared to not using it, and it has integrated drivers and that is the only reason I could think of as to why GIGABYTE would use one just for one phase other than the fact that it has a driver in it already. The diagram below explains this for those of you who like visuals. Please Click to Enlarge Diagram Here is a closer shot of the components: This board uses the same IR MOSFETs as the UD7, but while the UD7 has 16 phases, each composed of 1 high-side and 1 low-side MOSFET, the Assassin 2 has 8 phases using 1 high-side and 2 low-side MOSFETs. This is done to make sure that the 8-phases provide enough power to the CPU. So this board has a Tri-MOSFET design compared to the UD7. The MOSFETs used for the High-Side are IRH8330, and for the low-side IRH8318 IR recently bought Chil, and thus have now started developing their own Digital PWMs. The IR3567 is the master PWM of the board. This board also has two smaller slave PWMs, used for the DDR and VCCSA outputs. Two IR 3570s are 3+2 phase Digital PWMs. Here is one side of the DRAM VRM. Now here we have no obvious MOSFETs, instead we have an IR power-stage. A power-stage consists of 2 MOSFETs (one high and one low side) and a driver. They are basically DrMOS just with a different operating protocol. These offer higher efficiency and output compared to the traditional power stage. Each of these is capable of 40A continuous output, more than enough for 2 or even 4 DIMMs, but each set of 2 DIMMs has one. Compared to the UD3, the Assassin 2 has two VCCSA phases instead of just one. Run by the same power stages are the memory, and using one of the IR3570’s PWM outputs, these provide a total of 80A output for the IMC. Finally we have a single phase analog PWM made by Intersil ISL6545 for the PCH, same as found on all Z68 GIGABYTE boards. It uses Renesas MOSFETs. Closer look at Audio, NIC, and Fan/Temp Here we have removed the heatsink, and you can see the rest of the heatsink a bit later. Sin’s Take: Don’t boards just look so much better when you can see the entire thing? I love being able to tell how everything works, and nothing is hidden. Let’s take a look at the the Audio, I have diagrams for you to feast your eyes on! Enjoy them! Please Click Picture to Enlarge The Creative 20K2 is supplied power by its own VRM! It has its own BIOS as well as its own 128MB DDR SDRAM. The audio subsystem is only as good as its weakest component, same goes for every system in a computer. In the case of audio systems the weakest output component in terms of processing rate and output quality is the DAC (Digital to analog converter), but in this case the DAC is high quality. The digital output of the APU (Audio Processing Unit) is turned from 1s and 0s into electrical signals for our ears by the DAC. Then the output is taken to 5 different Amplifiers to boost the output. There is one AMP per output. The signal is then filtered through different sets of high quality Nichicon capacitors and then to the TOSLINK outputs made by Lottes. The Front panel header is also supplied audio in this way, and even the front panel header and its own AMP! Audio input can be delivered to the APU by two separate ADC (analog to digital converters). The electrical signals are converted to 1s and 0s, and then fed to the APU just like the audio output is given to the sockets. The DAC is made by Cirrus Logic and the ADC is made by Wolfson, both components you would find on the high quality sound cards made by creative. For more details please look at the diagram, make sure to click it to see it in full view. Sin’s Take: I love ICs, and I love figuring out how each fits into the big picture. This audio layout is so cool just to look at and try to understand, while it has been the exact same components from the first G1 series board I have to the most recent, the layout has also slightly changed. Now we have some EMI shielding, the one thing that was missing from the first G1 series boards. You can see the shield around the audio capacitors. The Bigfoot NIC: Below you can see how the NIC works. Please Click Picture to Enlarge The Bigfoot NPU (Network Processing Unit) provides excellent control over the operations of your NIC. The Marvell physical layer device is what actually connects the Bigfoot processor to the jack. The NPU needs a lot of power, so it is provided by 2 VRMs, each a single phase. A Spansion flash ROM provides updates to the NPU when necessary. 1GB DDR2 provides the NPU with a lot of resources. Sin’s Take: While you cannot control the speed of the internet after your modem/router, you can control how networking is done within your computer, and this is what the NPU is good at. It will throttle internet to other programs when you play games, and you can control this on every level. If you have Verizon FIOS, please set priority for Steam games to level 2 instead of level 1. Please Click Picture to Enlarge First let’s go over the Super I/O the iTE IT8728F which provides most fan support and all the voltage monitoring and even PS/2 keyboard and mouse port. This chip is paired with a Winbond W83L786NG which provides the rest of the fan and temp monitoring. The picture above demonstrates each chip’s domain. Closer look at the board’s ICs Please Click Picture to Enlarge The above diagram displays what all the chips that provide extra connectivity as well as the connectivity provided by the PCH. The X79 Express chipset a very powerful platform controller hub, it does almost all the work, yet it is helped by various USB 3.0(2xFresco Logic FL1009) and SATA6GB/s(2x Marvell SE9172) controllers. We did expect 4 extra SAS-SATA6GB/s ports from the X79 PCH, but Intel cut them out at the last minute. Dual 64Mbit/8MByte BIOS ROMs provide a very powerful UEFI interface. So powerful even that the button for OC works with the BIOS. It can change the CPU frequency in real-time. An iTE8725E is a particularly tricky IC, most likely specifically made and programmed for what GIGABYTE needs. I believe it controls phase switching, as well as hardware overclocking support in many respects that other chips do not cover. On LGA1155 boards this chip controlled LLC, but now that and overvoltage of various parameters are integrated into the Digital PWM. Dual Clock generators, one of them provides the 100MH/z base clock for PCI-E and the other provides support for the dividers I believe. The quality of these two chips can enhance BLCK OC. Heatsink Overview Removed from the board we can see a nice heatsink, it has a gun so to some of you its not that cool. I tend to agree it is a bit much, but it does kind of grown on you. GIGABYTE has used a high quality mounting system for both the VRM and the PCH heatsink, no plastic push pins here A heat pad for the VRM heatsink, and some thermal paste for the PCH. Remember this isn’t a weapon, too bad though.