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The Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming G1 WIFI-BK is a high-end socket LGA1150 motherboard based on the new Intel Z97 chipset, supporting the fourth and the forthcoming fifth generation Core i processors. It brings high-end network and audio interfaces, four PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots, ten SATA-600 ports (allowing one SATA Express connection), and eight USB 3.0 ports. Let’s take a good look at it.
The “new” Intel Z97 Express chipset is a rebranded Z87 chipset for marketing reasons. They are identical and, therefore, have the exact same specifications. Some motherboards based on this chipset support the new SATA Express and M.2 (sucessor to the mSATA) connectors, but these are mechanical features provided by the motherboard, and not by the chipset.
Like the Z87, the Z97 supports six USB 3.0 ports, six SATA-600 ports, Smart Response (installing an SSD as a cache for the main hard drive), Smart Connect (allowing the computer to receive emails and refresh webpages while in sleep mode), and Rapid Start (faster boot times) technologies.
The Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming G1 WIFI-BK is part of Gigabyte’s G1 Gaming series, which, as the name suggests, is aimed at the gamer customer. It is also a “Black Edition” motherboard, which means each one of those motherboards was tested under stress for 168 hours (seven days) in order to assure the best reliability.
You can see the Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming G1 WIFI-BK motherboard in Figure 1. It uses the ATX form factor, measuring 12” x 9.6” (305 x 244 mm).
The Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming G1 WIFI-BK comes with four PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots and three PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots.
Usually, on motherboards based on the Z87 chipset, only the first two PCI Express x16 slots are controlled by the CPU. The other PCI Express x16 slots are controlled by the chipset, operating at a lower speed (x4 or x1) and only compatible with 2.0 specifications, which offers half of the 3.0 bandwidth. On this motherboard, however, the four slots are controlled by the processor, using a PLX PEX8747 switching chip, thus all slots are PCI Express 3.0.
The second PCI Express x16 slot (PCIEX8_1) shares bandwidth with the first one (PCIEX16_1), which means that the first slot works at x16 speed if the second one is not used, and at x8 if there is a video card installed in the second one. The same happens with the third and fourth slots. So, the possible slot configurations are x16/x0/x16/x0, x16/x0/x8/x8, and x8/x8/x8/x8.
All the PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots support both SLI and CrossFireX technologies.
The PLX PEX8747 chip, which allows the high-end slot configuration, is shown in Figure 3, without its heatsink.
[nextpage title=”Memory Support”]
Intel socket LGA1150 CPUs have an embedded memory controller, meaning that it is the processor, not the chipset, that defines what memory technologies you can have and the maximum amount of memory that is possible. The motherboard, however, may have a limitation as to how much memory can be installed.
The integrated memory controller from socket LGA1150 processors supports DDR3 memories up to 1,600 MHz. According to Gigabyte, the Z97X-Gaming G1 WIFI-BK supports memories up to 3,200 MHz.
The Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming G1 WIFI-BK has four memory sockets. You can install up to 32 GiB with this motherboard if you use four 8 GiB modules.
In order to enable the dual-channel mode, you must install two or four memory modules. On the Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming G1 WIFI-BK, the first and third memory sockets are black, while the second and fourth are gray. When installing two memory modules, use two sockets with the same color.
[nextpage title=”On Board Peripherals”]
The Intel Z97 chipset is a single-chip solution, which is also known as a PCH (Platform Controller Hub). This chip has six SATA-600 ports, supporting RAID (0, 1, 10, and 5). The Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming G1 WIFI-BK comes with four additional SATA-600 ports, controlled by two Marvell 88SE9172 chips (supporting RAID 0 and 1). The SATA ports are installed on the motherboard edge and rotated 90°, so the installation of video cards will not block them.
Notice that the two SATA-600 connectors at the middle (dark gray) block can be used as two standard SATA ports or as one SATA Express port.
The Intel Z97 chipset supports 14 USB 2.0 ports and six USB 3.0 ports. The Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming G1 WIFI-BK offers eight USB 2.0 ports, two at the rear panel and six available through three headers located on the motherboard. There are eight USB 3.0 ports, all of them controlled by the chipset. Four of them (two at the rear panel, and two available through a header) are connected directly to the chipset, while the other four (located in the rear panel) are connected to two USB 3.0 ports from the chipset by way of two Renesas uPD720210 hub chips.
Gigabyte claims that the two USB2.0 ports on the rear panel provide a low-noise power, for use with audio and other DAC interfaces.
The Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming G1 WIFI-BK does not support FireWire or Thunderbolt ports.
One of the highlights of this motherboard is the professional-grade onboard audio, generated by a Creative Sound Core 3D chip (5.1 channels, 24 bit sampling, 102 dBA SNR at the analog outputs and 101 dBA SNR at the analog inputs). This chip is covered by a gold-plated shield, which helps to reduce induced noise. All the audio section is physically separated from the other circuitry by a line that glows in red (there are some LEDs at the solder side of the board, near the semi-transparent line). All the capacitors on this circuit are bi-polarized audio models from the Japanese manufacturer Nichicon. The analog audio outputs are independent and gold-plated, and the motherboard also comes with an on-board optical SPDIF output.
The operational amplifier (op-amp) of the analog audio section is replaceable. You can use the Burr-Brown OPA2134PA op-amp that comes with the board, or buy a kit with a different amplifier and an IC extraction tool, to adjust the audio nuances to your personal taste. There are also two small switches that allow you to set the gain of the main audio output.
The portrayed motherboard has two Gigabit Ethernet ports, one controlled by an Intel chip and the other controlled by an Atheros Killer 2201 chip, which is a high-performance Gigabit Ethernet controller.
The Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming G1 WIFI-BK comes with a Wi-Fi/Bluetooth module. This module supports the IEEE802.11ac standard (supporting both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands) and Bluetooth 4.0.
In Figure 8, you can see the motherboard rear panel with a shared PS/2 keyboard/mouse connector, two USB 2.0 ports, DVI-I output, DisplayPort output, HDMI output, six USB 3.0 ports, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, optical SPDIF output, and the analog audio jacks.
[nextpage title=”Other Features”]
This motherboard comes with a POST diagnostics display, so you can see, through a two-digit code, which component is preventing your computer from turning on. There are also a clear CMOS, reset, and power buttons. The motherboard also brings voltage monitoring points.
The Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming G1 WIFI-BK comes with a 3.5” bay USB 3.0 adapter, shown in Figure 10.
In Figure 11, you can see the remaining accessories that come with the Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming G1 WIFI-BK.
[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]
The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming G1 WIFI-BK has eight phases for the CPU. The voltage regulator uses an IR3580 controller chip (digital design).
The cooler of the voltage regulator circuit is prepared for a liquid cooling system.
The Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming G1 WIFI-BK uses high-end “black” solid capacitors (a.k.a. 10K capacitors) and all coils on this motherboard are ferrite ones.
If you want to learn more about the voltage regulator circuit, please read our tutorial on the subject.
[nextpage title=”Overclocking options”]
The portrayed motherboard has several overclocking options. Below, we list the most important ones (F4 BIOS):
- Host/PCIe Clock: Min: from 80.00 MHz to 133.33 MHz in 0.01 MHz increments
- Processor Base Clock (Gear Ratio): 1.00x, 1.25x, 1.65x or 2.50x
- CPU Graphics Clock: from 400 MHz to 4,000 MHz in 50 MHz increments
- CPU voltage (Vcore): from 0.500 V to 1.800 V in 0.001 V increments
- CPU voltage (Vcore) offset: from -0.300 V to +0.400 V in 0.001 V increments
- CPU Graphics Voltage: from 0.500 V to 1.800 V in 0.001 V increments
- CPU Graphics Voltage offset: from -0.300 V to +0.400 V in 0.001 V increments
- CPU Ring Voltage: from 0.800 V to 1.800 V in 0.001 V increments
- CPU Ring Voltage offset: from -0.300 V to +0.400 V in 0.001 V increments
- CPU System Agent Voltage offset: from -0.300 V to +0.400 V in 0.001 V increments
- CPU I/O Analog Voltage offset: from -0.300 V to 0.400 V in 0.001 V increments
- CPU I/O Digital Voltage offset: from -0.300 V to 0.400 V in 0.001 V increments
- CPU VRIN External Override: from 1.000 V to 2.400 V in 0.010 V increments
- Memory Voltage: from 1.150 V to 2.100 V in 0.005 V increments
- Chipset voltage (“PCH Core”): from 0.650 V to 1.300 V in 0.005 V increments
- Chipset interface voltage (“PCH IO”): from 1.050 V to 1.900 V in 0.005 V increments
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
The main specifications for the Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming G1 WIFI-BK include:
- Socket: LGA1150
- Chipset: Intel Z97
- Super I/O: ITE IT8620E
- Parallel ATA: none
- Serial ATA: six SATA-600 ports controlled by the chipset (RAID 0, 1, 10, and 5) supporting one SATA Express connector; and four SATA-600 ports controlled by two Marvell 88SE9172 chips (RAID 0 and 1)
- External SATA: none
- USB 2.0: eight USB 2.0 ports, two at the rear panel and six available through three headers on the motherboard
- USB 3.0: eight USB 3.0 ports, six on the motherboard rear panel and two available through a header; four of the eight ports are controlled by the chipset by the way of a Renesas μPD720210 hub chip
- FireWire (IEEE 1394): none
- Thunderbolt: none
- On-board video: controlled by the CPU; one DVI-I, one DisplayPort, and one HDMI connectors
- On-board audio: produced by a Creative Sound Core 3D chip (5.1 channels, 24-bit resolution, 102 dB SNR for the outputs, and 101 dB SNR for the inputs), on-board optical SPDIF output, and audio amplifier for analog headphones with replaceable operational amplifier (OPA2134PA)
- On-board LAN: two Gigabit Ethernet ports, one controlled by an Intel I217V chip, and one controlled by an Atheros Killer E2201 chip; Wi-Fi adapter (dual-band IEEE 802.11ac); Bluetooth 4.0 adapter
- Buzzer: no
- Infrared interface: no
- Power supply required: EPS12V
- Slots: four PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots (working at x16/x0/x16/x0, x16/x0/x8/x8 or x8/x8/x8/x8), and three PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots, PLX PEX8747 switch chip
- Memory: four DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to DDR3-3200, 32 GiB maximum)
- Fan connectors: two four-pin connector for the CPU cooler, and five four-pin connector for auxiliary fans
- Extra features: two BIOS chips, POST diagnostics display, voltage monitoring points, power and reset buttons, and block on the voltage regulator for liquid cooling solutions
- Number of CDs/DVDs provided: two
- Programs included: motherboard utilities and drivers
- More Information: https://www.gigabyte.com
- Average Price in the U.S.*: USD 380.00
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.
The Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming G1 WIFI-BK is a high-end motherboard targeted to the enthusiast user who is building a high-end computer using a “Haswell” CPU (fourth-generation Core i3, Core i5, or Core i7 processors) and wants it to be compatible with the future “Devil’s Canyon” (enhanced fourth-generation) and “Broadwell” (fifth-generation) “Core i” processors.
The highlights of this motherboard include the high-end audio interface, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, Bluetooth 4.0, IEEE802.11ac Wi-Fi, eight USB 3.0 ports, ten SATA-600 ports (supporting one SATA Express connector), four PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots, and support for liquid cooling for the voltage regulator circuit.
Another important feature of this motherboard is the presence of a PCI Express switch chip, which makes it possible for the motherboard to have many additional features and the ability to switch bandwidth automatically to the device that is requiring it. Because of this, all PCI Express x16 slots are controlled by the CPU, supporting CrossFireX and SLI arrays with up to four video cards, which is impressive.
The 168-hour stress test is also a sign that the motherboard has a focus on stability and durability.
The only drawback we see with this motherboard is the way the USB 3.0 ports are configured. The Z97 chipset supports six USB 3.0 ports, but the manufacturer wanted to add ten. While two of them are connected directly to the chipset, the other eight are connected to four USB 3.0 ports of the chipset, by way of two hub chips. If you use two or more ports that are actually connected to the same USB 3.0 port on the chipset at the same time, the performance will drop. But this is a minor flaw compared to the incredible set of high-end features of the Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming G1 WIFI-BK motherboard.