- Packaging and Specification
- Motherboard Layout Overview
- Components Overview
- CPU Cooler and GPU clearance
- BIOS Layout
- Test Bench and Testing Methodology
- Futuremark Benchmarks
- Memory Benchmarks
- USB 3.0 Benchmark
- SATA III Performance Test
- LAN Performance Test
- Boot Load Test
- Online Purchase Links
- View All
Mini-ITX motherboards need to be designed in a way that a PC builder will find it comfortable to implement in a mini-ITX case. Unlike cases made for mATX motherboards and upwards, mini-ITX cases will always have space limitations to provide a sleek and small form factor. A motherboard might look good in the pictures, open test benches and maybe in custom builds where the chassis is made around a motherboard., but in reality, the pairing the two from retail units is challenging. If you also notice, many case makers have semi-built systems with no cabling for the GPU and SATA drives, which usually amounts to a particular mess once you start populating it. This is why I needed a mini-ITX case and a motherboard at the same time to make the connection between the two. In this case, it was CM Elite 130 mini-ITX case.
Gigabyte Z97N-WiFi is a mini-ITX motherboard packed with certain features on paper that would attract a lot of those who want good enough performance for gaming and at the same time maintain a form-factor to make it look like an HTPC- or simply and HTPC which happens to have a GPU good enough for gaming. Sure, there are gaming themed motherboards around but I always felt that motherboards of all things is pretty difficult to associate with gamers, especially with professional gamers who play DOTA2 AND Counter-strike that puts significantly lesser loads on value and mainstream PC hardware components compared to the games you get today. But to be fair, if you keep aside the ‘G’ themes, some turn out to be pretty neat.
That’s a tale for another day.
The packaging is strong enough to protect the motherboard. Gigabyte manages to give a good deal of relevant information about the motherboard, but having a front view of the motherboard will be much better for people to get a better idea of the motherboard’s layout.
You get a couple of reading materials, couple of SATA cables and an antenna which connects to Intel WiFi 802.11 AC and Bluetooth 4.0 module.
The specifications are as follows:
|Chipset||Intel Z97 Express Chipset|
|Onboard Graphics||Integrated Graphics Processor – Intel HD Graphics support:
|Wireless Communication module||
|Internal I/O Connectors||
|Back Panel Connectors||
|I/O Controller||iTE I/O Controller Chip|
|Operating System||Support for Windows 8.1/8/7|
|Form Factor||Mini-ITX Form Factor; 17.0cm x 17.0cm|
Gigabyte managed to squeeze six SATA ports. This is excellent, considering manufacturers tend to implement about 4 of them for miniITX. If you’re an end-user who is shifting from an mATX and upwards form factor to miniITX form factor, but need a motherboard that can allow you to connect few drives? All you need to think about now is getting a good mini-ITX motherboard with that many 3.5″ bays at max.
This is particularly useful. I do wish that the SATA ports nearer to the first DIMM slot was inverted. It more of a minor inconvenience, especially when you need to remove your SATA cables with locking latch. Other two SATA ports are below the 24 pin ATX connector. They’re not right-angled but considering right angled SATA ports would take more space, I am sure people would rather prefer more SATA ports given the choice.
The front panel connectors, the USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 header are in the line, with a PCIe x16 and a front panel audio header connector to its top left corner.
From left: 2x USB 2.0 port with a Keyboard/motherboard PS/2 port, a dual wireless antenna connector with a DVI-I port, surprisingly followed by 2x HDMI ports, a total of 4x USB 3.0 ports and 2x Gigabit Ethernet ports and 6x audio jacks with an SPDIF out connector.
What should be appreciated that given its form factor, 2x HDMI and 2x Ethernet does provide a good deal overall, for those who require it.
Unlike certain motherboard manufacturers who have a direct antenna that connects on the motherboard (like how Zotac ID92 Plus has), there’s a long enough cable so that you can place it on your desk.
The motherboard has 4+2 power phase. Towards the top, you’ll find the 4-pin power connector, COM port header and the only two fan headers you have on this motherboard- 4 pin black for system and 4 pin white for CPU fan. Below the COM port, you’ll find the 2 pin CMOS Clear header.
Gigabyte implemented an Intel Dual-band WiFi-AC 7260 AC WiFi+ Bluetooth 4.0 module on the mini PCIe slot running via the PCIe lanes. It places nearer to the I/O ports towards the rear like a daughterboard to ensure it doesn’t eat up any space.
As one would expect, the mini-ITX motherboard supports two DIMM slots, therefore supporting up to 16GB DDR3 memory.
As you can see, there are two PTN 33600BS controllers that are responsible for the HDMI output via the connector. As you’d expect, there are 2x HDMI connectors on the rear I/O ports, something unexpected on a mini ITX. The motherboard uses Intersil ISL9582 four phase digital PWN controller. Another eye-raising implementation is the dual gigabit Ethernet controllers- Intel I1217-V for LAN 1 and Qualcomm Atheros AR81 for LAN 2. They’re both gigabit LAN.
The 2x 64 Mbit BIOS is towards the lower right corner of the motherboard. I am not sure why Gigabyte preferred to stick the BIOS battery with a connector on the board and not use a right angled CMOS battery dock. But when you see the area around the CMOS battery, you’ll notice that there’s barely any space. Given the fact that on a 17cm x 17cm motherboard, they manage to put a lot, including dual Gbe LAN, I say that’s fair enough.
Realtek ALC ALC892 audio Codec is paired with this motherboard.
Managing to put a lot of features wouldn’t mean anything if CPU coolers and GPUs would block them from ever being used.
Even if you plan on using a tower CPU cooler like the NH-U12S, the clearance is impressive for a miniITX. But I used a Noctua NH-U14S to give a better idea of how much clearance the motherboard provides.
I wish they gave more thought when they designed Gigabyte Z97X SOC, an ATX motherboard which barely has any clearance between the air CPU cooler and the first PCIe x16 slot which had to be left vacant. Just make sure that you connect the SATA cables on the motherboard and then install the CPU tower, in case you need extra space for your hands. Install the motherboard on the case, then the front panel connectors, 24 pin ATX and 4 pin connectors, the USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 cables, front panel headers- and then the GPU.
The problem is not the clearance that the motherboard provides, but rather the natural space restrictions you’ll have to deal with when installing the motherboard inside a mini-ITX case. The thought behind this motherboard layout is brilliant! That’s how motherboard layout should be made, and not just to keep open test bench users happy. HTPC users, Gamers and hardware enthusiasts who need mini rigs- these are the majority of your buyers. The ones who put a motherboard inside a case.
Dual fan air cooler setup with NH-U14S will be an obstacle for the first DIMM slot, but that shouldn’t be an issue with NH-U14S and pull fan setup towards the rear I/O, or NH-U12S because of the slim profile it provides to ensure maximum compatibility with the DIMM slots. Noctua also provides a compatibility list with all motherboards, including the Z97N WiFi.
Gigabyte Z97N-WIFI’s BIOS GUI is no different from Gigabyte Z97X-SOC‘s BIOS. There are three interfaces- Gigabyte Startup Guide, Classic Mode and Smart Tweak Mode. The Startup Guide is the first screen you’ll interact with, greeted by a choice of languages that you’ would prefer to use. Rest of the options help you to set the system’s date & time, Fast Boot setting, boot option, SATA controller and resetting the BIOS option.
Most of the time, people would end up using Classic mode. Other than familiar interface and layout. They really need to stop using orange and dark colour scheme for Smart Tweak Mode, or else provide few more?
Anyways, most people would stick with Classic Mode unless they wish to see Voltage, Fan speed, Temperature along with CPU and system status readouts in real time while changing the settings. I hope they don’t decide to use black and gray for Smart Tweak because that’s just going to look depressing. Colour combos, people’s preference. But I am sure many will agree that Classic is easier to read compared to Smart Tweak. Smart Tweak is a good looking interface, but it’s something that will take some time to get used to. Other motherboard manufacturers have similar BIOS layout as the Classic Layout, so it’s not very easy for a lot of hardware enthusiasts to get used and accustomed to a layout that’s unique.
It gives me great pleasure every time I put up a review. It’s always good to appreciate the support that the manufacturers give from time-to-time to review their own products and others on behalf of the readers. Thanks to companies such as Asus, Gigabyte, Kingston, WD and Coolermaster who give me hardware support by updating my test rig no strings attached. Thumbs up to these guys! I would like to thank:
- Gigabyte India for providing Gigabyte 890GPA UD3H Rev 1.0 motherboard
- Asus India for providing Asus 990FX Sabertooth motherboard
- Kingston Taiwan for providing hardware support with memory kits and SSD drive.
- WD India for providing WD 300GB HLFS Velociraptor Hard Drive and 4x WD Red 3TB NAS drives
- Coolermaster India for providing Coolermaster GX450 RS-450-ACAA-D3 Power Supply
|Test Setup for:||Gigabyte Z97N-WIFI Mini-ITX Motherboard|
|BIOS + Processor||F4 Retail BIOS + Intel i7 4790K/ Intel G3258+ Noctua NH-U14S CPU Cooler|
|GPU||Intel HD4600 onboard|
|Memory||Kingston HyperX Blu 8GB 1600MHz DDRIII|
|Primary OS drive||SanDisk Extreme 240GB SSD + WD Red 3TB WD30EFRX NAS Drive|
|Power Supply||Corsair TX750|
|Chassis||Lian Li A70F Full Tower PC Case|
The test setup’s core components for the Haswell Refresh i7-4790K and the Gigabyte Z97X-SOC is the same and for both reviews, F4 was the BIOS that I’ve used.
The LAN test is done with the following Hardware: Thecus N2310 2-bay NAS+ 2x WD Red 3TB WD30EFRX NAS HDDs in RAID 0 Mode.
Benchmarks are as follows:
Futuremark Benchmarks: 3DMark 2013- Cloud Gate, Sky Diver, FireStrike; PCMark Vantage x64, PCMark 7, PCMark 8: Home and Work Test
Memory Benchmarks: AIDA64 Cache & Memory Benchmark and Maxmem2 Benchmark
SATA III Performance Test: AS SSD and ATTO Benchmark (Primary Drive: SanDisk Extreme II 240GB SSD)
LAN Performance Test: Latency and throughput test
QuickBoot Comparison: Startup Items- uTorrent, Avira Antivirus, Asus Xonar DX drivers
3DMark (2013) Benchmark
PCMark 7 Benchmark
PCMark 8 Benchmark- ‘Home’, ‘Work’ and ‘Creative’ Presets
Primary drive (SSD- SanDisk Extreme Pro II 240GB) Performance:
Secondary Storage (Mechanical- WD Red 3TB NAS HDD) Performance:
Intel NAS Performance Test
Even though one of the Ethernet controllers is the same as the one found in Gigabyte Z97X-SOC, there a different in LAN performance.
While downloading via the Intel I1217V controller on the Gigabyte Z97N-WIFI seems to be good, its the opposite when it comes to uploading via LAN. I am not sure why Gigabyte didn’t use Intel’s controller for both Ethernet port.
Gigabyte Z97N-WIFI has a much better stability for boot in comparison with the much older Gigabyte 890GPA-UD3H and Gigabyte Z97X-SOC. This test was done with no Fast Boot options, but if you’re interested to know the different in performance between boot options, you can check out the test I did on the SOC for you to get a better idea.
2x LAN, 6x SATA III, 2x HDMI, enough clearance around the motherboard to install CPU air coolers like Noctua NH-U12S and also Noctua NH-U14S with pull fan setup. This motherboard is feature-packed. All you need is a case with 6x HDD slots and you’re set!
I am not sure, but maybe next time Gigabyte can try to squeeze M.2 port somewhere. It has its usefulness for notebooks, ultra books and even in mini-ITX systems. How can you do it? Having a daughterboard-type PCB with a connector on it? Or having it on the rear PCB, like how ASROCK did it with Z97E-ITX/AC. Even M.2 for 30mm and 42mm drives will suffice.
Looking at the layout and after installing it on CM Elite 130 mini-ITX case, the layout of the motherboard and placement of the connectors are really well-thought. This is a good motherboard for first-time mini-ITX PC builders, and its something that can be appreciated.
The pricing in India is something that’s extremely discouraging. While in United States via Amazon US, the Z97N-WIFI is priced for $143.71 (INR 8,895 at the time of writing), in India, it’s priced for Rs. 11,895. A sharp INR 3,000 difference?
It’s not just the same pricing in Flipkart, assuming they still insist that end-users in India should purchase their branded motherboards from retail stores over online (irony is that it’s no secret that it’s the same retail stores that sells in Amazon, Flipkart and via their own website), two well-known retail stores ITDepot and Prime ABGB are selling it for the same price. Add few more cash and you buy a fully loaded ATX motherboard. If you see a lot of components out there, especially from direct competitors, to a good extent most value and mainstream motherboards have a reasonable price match against Newegg and Amazon. If it’s possible with others, why not Zoidberg? (Er…Gigabyte India)
It does matter. A premium of Rs. 3,000 is the price that you can almost buy a CM Elite 130. For Rs. 3,000/- you can buy a basic 450W units from CM, Corsair and Antec. Do you get the drift, yo??
US$144 is a very good price for a motherboard with this many feature packs and well-though layout. If you’re upgrading from ATX to mini-ITX but want to salvage most of your components, this will keep you happy for a LONG time.
The issue is about overclocking. Unlike in motherboards like the SOC, bumping the clock needs more VCORE than it should. Probably it’s because of the four-phase design and/or taking power via the 4-pin ATX. With G3258, I was able to bump up to 3.7GHz easily. There’s also a lack of passive cooling for the MOSFETs. There’s also a flaw in the BIOS where the system where the auto CPU overclock preset option ‘CPU Upgrade’ shows i7 4790K, even when the motherboard was using Intel G3258. Clearing CMOS has no effect.
- Well-placed connectors and layout
- Adequate CPU clearance for large 120mm and some 140mm size CPU coolers
- 6x SATA III
- 2x HDMI
- Dual gigabit-LAN
- WIFI antenna comes with a long cable so that it can be placed accordingly
- Pricing in India higher than what it should be
- 4 pin ATX power+ four phase. Could have implemented a 6-phase design
- Could have used CMOS battery dock instead