One of the things that has often frustrated us over the years at Atomic is the inherent confusion among manufacturers between overclockers and PC gamers. While both fall squarely in the ‘Enthusiast’ category, needs and wants vary greatly depending on what you want to use your hardware for.
In recent years, thanks to aging console platforms acting like an Albatross around the neck of PC gamers, the two markets have diverged significantly. There is no longer a need to overclock to get the best out of one’s hardware, and by redirecting the cash that would be otherwise spent on fancy overclocking features to higher end products, your average gamer can avoid tweaking altogether.
If you're running a single 1080P screen you don’t even need to consider high end GPUs anymore, let alone motherboards that support two, three, or four graphics cards. You don’t need a myriad redundant power phases if you just want to game on your Core i5, and the miniscule benefits of aggressive memory tweaks would likely never be noticed on even the most demanding of PC titles.
Just because you don’t push your system to within an inch of its electrical life doesn’t mean that you don’t care about your PC, though. It certainly doesn’t mean you won’t hunger over the biggest and fastest hardware out there either. There is still a crossover between overclockers and gamers, but throwing both sets of needs into the same basket ultimately ends up making you pay more for features that you’ll never use.
When Gigabyte launched its G1 series of gaming motherboards at the start of 2011 it was clear that it was making a distinction between the two enthusiast camps. Even though the boards (which initially were all LGA1366-based) were clearly premium products, they had features tailored to gaming, rather than massive arrays of redundant power chips and deep tweakability. This alone marked them out as different to their main competition, ASUS’ Republic of Gamers lineup.
A year and a half later, after a few iterations on the original philosophy, we are seeing a different approach with the Z77-based members of the family. There are two boards in the Z77 G1 lineup, and while there are some key features that are quite similar, they are clearly targeted at two different types of gamers.
The somewhat sparse looking Micro-ATX G1.Sniper M3 is the closest to the earlier products, with one key difference – price. Besides a Creative Core3D audio chip and headphone amplifier, most of the solid feature-set is delivered by the Z77 chipset, which has allowed the board to sit around the very reasonable $200 mark. Gamers don’t actually need anything more than Micro-ATX except in some fringe cases where they are running numerous monitors and need more than two GPUs to drive them, so the smaller form factor is fine with us.
The G1.Sniper M3 is a markedly different board (and in our minds more suitable for gamers) than the more expensive ASUS ROG Maximus V Gene, which combines gaming and overclocking features in one package.
On the other hand, the recently arrived G1.Sniper 3 is more featured than the previous offerings in the range. Not only does it have the Core3D audio, but it also has a Killer-NIC (now owned by Atheros and apparently much cheaper to implement) as well as Intel Gigabit LAN. There's also four-way SLI and Crossfire support, an 802.11n and Bluetooth 4 PCI-E card, m-SATA slot, a pile of extra USB 3 ports, extra SATA ports and comes in the slightly wider E-ATX form factor (although the manual confusingly says it is the much more obscure XL-ATX).
But even more than this, overclocking features are now appearing on the board, with voltage monitoring points, on-board power and reset switches and LED readout. It is more like the ASUS ROG range in terms of features, coming full circle and aiming at both gamers and overclockers, unlike the other boards in the lineup. It also comes with a much higher pricetag, currently a touch over $200 more than the Sniper M3.
The G1.Sniper 3 has a raft of gaming features but also a hefty dose of overclocking features that gamers don't need.
For those of us in the office who put gaming well before tweaking, the M3 is a much more tempting offering, letting us redirect the extra dollars towards a better GPU. Although there are a few features like the extra Ethernet port and mSATA that we’d like to see on a board that doesn’t involve us having to spend on extreme overclocking support.
While in some ways it's a shame that Gigabyte is moving back towards lumping gamers and overclockers into the same basket with the Sniper 3, the original G1 philosophy is continuing on in the form of the Sniper M3, and doing so at a price that makes sense for those who want a gaming motherboard without having the premium pricetag that usually accompanies 'gaming' hardware.