Mini-ITX system builds have become a very popular option for those who might be limited on space or looking to integrate a HTPC with their entertainment center. GIGABYTE has a few different Mini-ITX motherboards in their repertoire, but today we’ll be looking at the Z97N-WIFI revision 1.0 offering. At first glance, the motherboard seems to have everything you need for a sweet small form factor (SFF) build, so let’s take the Z97N-WIFI for a spin and see what GIGABYTE has in store for us.
Specifications and Features
The Z97N-WIFI doesn’t use third party controllers for additional storage or USB connectivity, which is pretty common on Mini-ITX motherboards given their size constraints. There is an abundance of network connectivity available via an included WIFI/Bluetooth module and dual LAN jacks. The 7.1 channel HD audio comes via the Realtek ALC892 CODEC. If you use a supported CPU that has built-in graphics, you’ll find plenty of display connectivity with two HDMI ports and one DVI-I. The below specifications were pulled from the GIGABYTE product page.
|GIGABYTE Z97N-WIFI Specifications|
|Onboard Graphics||Integrated Graphics Processor – Intel® HD Graphics support:|
GIGABYTE classifies the features into three different categories – Performance, Durable, and Safe. Let’s begin with a motherboard overview that will highlight many of the high-level features found on the Z97N-WIFI. All images and description below courtesy GIGABYTE.
Under the Performance set of features, we find the Intel Gigabit LAN, the integrated 2T2R 802.11ac WIFI + Bluetoth 4.0 module, and the bundled software that features GIGABYTE’s App Center.
Intel Gigabit LAN
Intel® Gigabit LAN networking, a popular choice with gamers that features several performance-enhancing features such as advanced interrupt handling to help reduce CPU overhead and Jumbo Frame support for extra large data packets.
Integrated 2T2R Dual Band IEEE802.11ac WIFI + BT 4.0
This motherboard comes with an exclusive IEEE802.11ac WiFi module that supports up to 867Mbps wireless networks and Bluetooth 4.0. IEEE802.11ac WiFi runs at up to 867Mbit/s and the bundled 2.4GHz/5GHz dual-band, 2T2R antenna gives you wide coverage.
GIGABYTE’s App Center is a full featured set of desktop utilities designed to help you get the best performance possible from your system.
GIGABYTE App Center
GIGABYTE APP Center gives you easy access to wealth of GIGABYTE apps that help you get the most from your GIGABYTE motherboard. Using a simple, unified user interface, GIGABYTE APP Center allows you to launch all GIGABYTE apps installed on your system.
Cloud Station is another useful piece of software, especially for HTPC applications. It allows you to use your smart device as a remote control, turn your PC into a wireless access point, and even overclock your system remotely.
GIGABYTE Cloud Station
GIGABYTE Cloud Station™ is composed of several GIGABYTE unique apps that allow your smart phones/tablet devices to communicate, share resources, and control desktop PCs via wireless connection.
For network traffic prioritization, GIGABYTE has their LAN Optimizer utility.
GIGABYTE LAN Optimizer
GIGABYTE LAN Optimizer is designed to allow the user to manage different types of network traffic so that data streams such as HD media, web browsing or online gaming can be prioritized, taking precedence over large data downloads that tend to strangle overall network bandwidth.
The Durable set of features include the use of all solid capacitors, Low RDS(on) MOSFETs, and gold plated CPU socket pins.
All Solid Caps and Low RDS(on) MOSFETs
GIGABYTE uses All Solid Caps (Capacitors) and Low RDS(on) MOSFETs which are rated to work at higher temperatures to provide a longer lifespan.
5x (15μ) Gold Plated CPU Socket Design
GIGABYTE 9 Series motherboards come equipped with a gold plated CPU socket, which means that enthusiasts can enjoy absolute reliability and longevity for the CPU socket overtime, without having any concerns about corroded pins and bad contacts.
The last set is the Safe features, which include safeguards designed to protect the motherboard from potential failure. These enhancements protect you from a bad BIOS flash, provide ESD protection, anti-surge protection, and protect against possible damage from high humidity.
GIGABYTE Patented DualBIOS (UEFI) Design
GIGABYTE 9 series Ultra Durable™ motherboards feature GIGABYTE DualBIOS™, an exclusive technology from GIGABYTE that protects arguably one of your PC’s most crucial components, the BIOS. GIGABYTE DualBIOS™ means that your motherboard has both a ‘Main BIOS’ and a ‘Backup BIOS’, making users protected from BIOS failure due to virus attack, hardware malfunction, improper OC settings or power failure during the update process.
ESD Protection for USB and LAN
GIGABYTE 9 Series motherboards raise the bar in terms of protecting your system, providing advanced electrostatic discharge (ESD) protection for both your Ethernet LAN and USB ports, both common sources of ESD-related failures. Each LAN and USB port is paired with a dedicated protection filter that can withstand high electrostatic discharges, protecting your system from common electrical surges and even direct lighting strikes.
Power Failure Protection with Anti-Surge IC
GIGABYTE 9 series Ultra Durable™ motherboards also feature special anti-surge ICs that protect your motherboard, and your PC from any surge in power delivery that may occur, helping to ensure that your PC is equipped to deal with any potentially irregular and inconsistent power delivery.
Humidity Protection with New Glass Fabric PCB
There is nothing more harmful to the longevity of your PC than moisture, and most parts of the world experience moisture in the air as humidity at some point during the year. GIGABYTE 9 series motherboards have been designed to make sure that humidity is never an issue, incorporating a new Glass Fabric PCB technology that repels moisture caused by humid and damp conditions.
The retail box does an excellent job of letting the potential buyer know the capabilities of the motherboard. The box top and sides are loaded with GIGABYTE branding and show a few high-level features. The bottom of the box is packed with more detailed information on the features and specifications of the Z97N-WIFI.
With the box top opened, you’ll find the motherboard wrapped in an anti-static bag with the accessories sitting below. The accessories include an I/O shield, two SATA cables, the WIFI antenna, support DVDs, and the product documentation.
Before we zero in for an up-close look at the Z97N-WIFI, here are several pictures taken from various angles. You’ll see the motherboard is comprised of a black PCB with black slots and connectors. With black being a popular choice for a motherboard color, the looks of the Z97N-WIFI should appeal to the vast majority of people.
The GIGABYTE Z97N-WIFI Up Close
The bottom edge of the motherboard is pretty much dominated by the PCI-E 3.0 x16 slot. To the left of the PCI-E slot, you can see the Realtek ALC892 audio CODEC and the front pane audio header just above it. To the right side of the PCI-E slot is where the Dual-BIOS chips are located and four of the six SATA 6 GB/s ports.
Moving to the right side of the motherboard, things get a little busier. Here we have the front panel USB 3.0 and front panel USB 2.0 headers. Next to those are the headers for a case’s wiring and the last two SATA 6 GB/s ports. All the SATA ports on the motherboard are native to the Intel Z97 chipset and support RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10. Lastly in this area, we have the 24-pin ATX power connector and the two DIMM slots. The DIMM slots support up to 16 GB of DDR3 memory at speeds up to 3100 MHz (OC).
Moving around to the top edge, we find the 4-pin CPU fan header and a 4-pin system fan header. Having only one system fan header could be a problem for some people, depending on the case they use. Also located at the top edge is the 4-pin AUX CPU power connector, COMM port header, and the clear CMOS jumper.
The left side of the motherboard is where all the I/O connectivity is located. There are two USB 2.0 ports sitting on top of the combo PS/2 port at the upper section. Next, is the WIFI antenna connectors, the DVI-I display connection, followed by two HDMI ports. Two LAN jacks (Intel I217V and Atheros 8161-BL3A) and four USB 3.0 ports are next in line. It’s a bit of an odd choice to have dual LAN jacks when you already have onboard WIFI, but some people may have a use for it. The last I/O section is where the audio jacks are located, which support up to 7.1 HD audio setups. The onboard audio is based around the older Realtek ALC892 CODEC and does not offer any of the board separation, EMI shielding, or high-end audio capacitors so prevalent on competing motherboards. However, I did notice on the GIGABYTE website there is a revision 1.1 of this motherboard that does offer many of those audio features.
Located just behind the I/O area is the Intel 7260HMW Dual Band AC7260 wireless and Bluetooth 4.0 combo module. The sealed CR2032 battery is taped to the back of the I/O area and is similar in design to what you see in laptop applications.
For a motherboard this size, the CPU socket area is wide open and agreeable to installing just about any CPU air cooler or water block. The only area of concern might be how close the capacitors are to the left side of the CPU socket. Around the CPU socket area, you’ll see the 4+2 (4-CPU/2-Memory) power phase design. You might also notice the absence of any passive cooling over the MOSFETs. The MOSFET design GIGABYTE uses is said to run much cooler than traditional designs, so proper airflow through the chassis should alleviate any potential heat related problems there. The only heatsink on the motherboard covers the Z97 PCH, and it was found to be making excellent contact with its target.
Having a look at a few of the ICs that provide important functions of the motherboard, we’ll start with the dual Gigabit network controllers. As we mentioned earlier one is provided by the Intel I217V, and the other is the Atheros 8161-BL3A controller.
Providing voltage regulation for the CPU power phases, GIGABYTE chose the digital Intersil ISL9582 VRM. For a Super I/O controller, we found the ITE IT8620E. It provides monitoring of critical system parameters, such as fan speeds, temperatures, and PSU voltages.
Two NXP PTN3360DBS ICs provide high-speed level shifting for the DVI and HDMI display connections. Lastly, the Realtek ALC892 CODEC provides the onboard audio solution.
GIGABYTE’s UEFI BIOS
There are a few different ways you can use the UEFI BIOS. You can choose the Startup Guide area for basic setup options to get you on your way. It uses a tiled interface to navigate through the different areas, which include easy access to boot sequence, time and date, SATA controller options, etc.
For a more detailed set of options, you can use the S.T. Mode (Smart Tweak) area. It provides a nice GUI in a compact design for accomplishing anything from overclocking, system setup, and monitoring. Most of the options are controlled by moving “sliders” forward or back, and it can take a little getting used to. Once you use it for a while, it becomes second nature and works quite well. Below are a few screenshots of some of the different areas inside S.T. Mode.
You can toggle between S.T. Mode and Classic Mode by pressing the F2 key. Once inside Classic Mode, you’ll find a layout that’s presented in a more familiar design. The M.I.T. tab is where you land when first entering Classic Mode, which is where all your overclocking options are located within the six sub menus. All the frequency, memory, and voltage settings can be adjusted from here to help you get the system overclocked. Within the PC Health Status sub menu, you’ll find the monitoring and fan control options.
The System Information tab gives you information on the BIOS version and is where the date and time can be set.
The BIOS Features tab is where all the post behaviour options are located. From here you can set your boot priorities and a few Windows 8 specific parameters.
Moving over to the Peripherals tab, you’ll find the options for enabling/disabling many of the onboard features. Configuration settings for SATA, Super I/O, Intel Smart Connect, and the Intel LAN controller are available in this tab.
The Power Management tab has several power-on and resume settings. The last tab is the Save & Exit area where you can save or discard any changes made during the current session. Also located here is the ability to save up to eight profiles directly to the BIOS, or an unlimited amount to a USB storage device.
Benchmarks and Overclocking
|CPU||Intel i7 4790K Haswell|
|Memory||G.SKill TridentX DD3-2400 MHz 2x8GB|
|SSD||Samsung EVO 500 GB SSD|
|Power Supply||Corsair HX1050 Professional Series|
|Video Card||EVGA GTX 780 Ti Classified|
|Cooling||Swiftech Apogee HD CPU Waterblock – 360 mm Radiator – MCP35X Pump|
We’ll use our usual set of benchmarks to test compression, rendering, video conversion, and memory performance. We’ll toss in a few synthetic benchmarks as well. Very seldom do we see any differences when we compare motherboards within the same chipset class, especially given we keep the same CPU, chipset, memory, and GPU standardized. To that end, we’ll simply provide screenshots of the stock and overclocked test results. This basically gives us a chance to do a quick in-house comparison of past Z97 based motherboards we’ve reviewed and look for any abnormalities the motherboard may exhibit during the benchmark runs. If any are found, we’ll be sure to report them.
By adjusting a few voltages and power delivery options, we were able to stabilize the CPU at 4.7 GHz and leave the memory set to 2400 MHz. Overclocking proved to be very easy using the options available in the UEFI BIOS. We’ll use the 4.7 GHz setting for the overclocked benchmark results you see below. We’ll see if anything is left once we get to the Pushing the Limits section of the review. For the stock benchmark runs, the CPU was locked down at its turbo speed of 4.4 GHz, which is how we do our stock testing.
Compression, Rendering, and Video Conversion Benchmarks
Cinebench R10 – R11.5 – R15
x264 Pass 1 and 2
PoV Ray R3.73
Wprime 32M and 1024M
SuperPi 1M and 32M
AIDA64 Cache & Memory
The Z97N-WIFI was rock solid stable throughout all our testing and performed very well. The performance numbers above are right on par with the other Z97 motherboards reviewed to date. It’s a very capable motherboard at stock speeds, and even more so when overclocked. All in all, a good showing on the performance front.
Pushing the Limits
For our Pushing the Limits section, we usually like to see how high we can overclock the CPU and make it to the desktop for a quick suicide run of wPrime and SuperPi. As usual with the i7 4790K we possess, we landed at 4.9 GHz with the CPU voltage set to 1.5 V. We wouldn’t call it completely stable at that speed, but it gives you an idea of the overclocking potential the motherboard can offer.
One of the enticing things about the Z97N-WIFI is its versatility. It would be great as the basis for a HTPC, LAN Box, price conscious gaming rig, or home media server. Couple that with its overclocking ability, and you have a motherboard that should appeal to the enthusiast crowd as well.
The Z97N-WIFI offers plenty of connectivity with its six SATA ports, dual LAN/WIFI/Bluetooth support, and plenty of USB connections. GIGABYTE didn’t cut corners and outfitted the board with its Ultra-Durable components, which will ensure a long lasting product.
As far as pricing goes, the Z97N-WIFI can be purchased at Newegg for $137. That price lands it at the lower end of the spectrum for Z97 Mini-ITX motherboards. Given the features the motherboard offers, it’s priced just about perfect when compared to competitor offerings.
If you find yourself being lured into the increasingly popular SFF arena, you’ll definitely want to check out the GIGABYTE Z97N-WIFI. It might just be exactly what you’re looking for.
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