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Gigabyte GA-H77TN Thin Mini-ITX Motherboard

Gigabyte dips its toes into the Thin mini-ITX waters with the LG1155-based GA-H77TN. An alternative to the Intel DQ77KB, it hits most of the same marks at a sizable discount.

Gigabyte GA-H77TN Thin Mini-ITX Motherboard

October 28, 2013 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Gigabyte GA-H77TN
LGA1155 Thin Mini-ITX Motherboard
Manufacturer
Gigabyte
Street Price
US$120

Intel has been responding to the technology industry’s shift towards all things
small. Though their Atom chips powered the netbook revolution — which has
run its course — they didn’t actively evangelize the standard. After launching
the Sandy Bridge processor architecture, which offered both great performance
and energy efficiency, Intel changed their tune. The now ubiquitous term "ultrabook"
was developed and pushed HARD as a way for their PC hardware partners to compete
with the popular Macbook Air (incidentally powered by Intel processor and chip,
of course). Intel has even developed chips to drive both Windows and Android
based phones and tablets.

Intel hasn’t ignored the desktop side of things, either, launching the NUC
(Next Unit of Computing), their fresh take on a powerful barebones micro nettop
PC. They are also heavily promoting the Thin mini-ITX standard, a slimmed down
version of the mini-ITX form factor. Intel has positioned this low profile standard,
with its small size, excellent energy efficiency, and reasonably powerful hardware,
as the basis for a new generation of sleek all-in-one PCs that take advantage
of Windows 8’s touch interface. Being able to build a monitor and chassis around
a tightly defined motherboard form factor rather than a custom designed board
makes it possible for smaller makers to get into the AIO market. Intel’s
Thin-ITX for AIO strategy
is sound, given the declining popularity of old
school towers, and you can be assured many of the current generation AIOs are
Thin-ITX based.


The Gigabyte H77TN box.


The board ships with a manual, driver disc, an I/O shield, small screws for installing an mSATA drive, and a power cable with one slimline SATA plug and four standard SATA connectors.

Thin-ITX’s advantages transcend Intel’s primary goal, as PC enthusiasts have
always been enamored with slim, compact, and efficient machines for a variety
of uses. It’s especially tempting now because you can drop in a real desktop
CPU onto one of these boards, such as Intel’s own DQ77KB,
and even cool it passively with a case like the Akasa
Euler
. The DQ77KB is a bit pricey (US$150) due to its use of
the business-oriented Q77 chipset. Gigabyte is one of the first Intel partners
to join the Thin-ITX bandwagon with a more affordable solution better suited
for home use, the GA-H77TN.

The feature list is more or less the same as the Intel DQ77KB. It supports
any LGA1155 processor with a TDP of 77W or lower, up to 8GB of DDR3 SO-DIMM
memory, two SATA 6 Gbps and two SATA 3 Gbps drives, and USB 3.0. Further expansion
is available via three slots, one PCI-E 4x (which will require a riser to be
compatible with most low profile cases), one mini PCI-E, and and one mSATA.
The most likely candidates for these respective slots are a TV tuner card, a
wireless NIC, and a small SSD. Video output is available through HDMI and DisplayPort,
but there’s also a LVDS connector with adjustable voltage (via onboard jumpers)
which can come in handy for the aforementioned AIO systems or industrial uses.

External 12~19V power is required but it has an uncommon port size used by
some Dell and HP laptops. The necessary plug has an external diameter of 7.4
mm and an internal diameter of 5.1 mm — this information should be front
and center, but it took a lot of digging to find it buried in the product web
page’s FAQ section.

Gigabyte GA-H77TN: Specifications
(from the product
web page
)
CPU

1. Support for Intel® Core™ i7 processors/Intel® Core™ i5 processors/ Intel® Core™ i3 processors/Intel® Pentium® processors/Intel® Celeron® processors in the LGA1155 package (Supports up to 77W)
2. L3 cache varies with CPU

(Some Intel® Core™ processors require a graphic card, please refer "CPU support List" for more information.)

ChipsetIntel® H77 Express Chipset
Memory1. 2 x 1.5V DDR3 SO-DIMM sockets supporting up to 8 GB of system memory
* Due to a Windows 32-bit operating system limitation, when more than 4 GB of physical memory is installed, the actual memory size displayed will be less than the size of the physical memory installed.
2. Dual channel memory architecture
3. Support for DDR3 1600/1333/1066/800 MHz memory modules

(Please refer "Memory Support List" for more information.)

Onboard GraphicsIntegrated Graphics Processor:

1. 1 x HDMI 1.3 port, supporting a maximum resolution of 1920×1200
2. 1 x DisplayPort, supporting a maximum resolution of 2560×1600
3. 1 x LVDS connector

Audio1. Realtek ALC887 codec
2. High Definition Audio
3. 2/4/5.1/7.1-channel
* To configure 5.1/7.1-channel audio, you have to use an HD front panel audio module and enable the multi-channel audio feature through the audio driver.
LAN1 x Realtek GbE LAN chip (10/100/1000 Mbit)
Expansion Slots1. 1 x PCI Express x4 slot (Supports 25W only)
(The PCIEX4 slot conforms to PCI Express 3.0 standard.)
2. 1 x Mini PCI Express x1 slot
Storage Interface ChipsetChipset:

1. 2 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors (SATA0/1) supporting up to 2 SATA 6Gb/s devices
2. 2 x SATA 3Gb/s connectors (SATA2/3) supporting up to 2 SATA 3Gb/s devices
3. 1 x mSATA connector
4. Support for RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, and RAID 10

USB ChipsetChipset:

1. Up to 4 USB 3.0/2.0 ports on the back panel
2. Up to 5 USB 2.0/1.1 ports available through the internal USB headers (Card reader/Touch panel/webcam and other devices)

Internal I/O Connectors 1 x 2-pin power connector
1 x CPU fan header
1 x system fan header
2 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
2 x SATA 3Gb/s connectors
1 x mSATA connector
1 x SATA power connector
4 x USB 2.0/1.1 headers
1 x front panel header
1 x front panel audio header
1 x digital microphone header
1 x AIO speaker header
1 x LVDS connector
1 x LVDS drive voltage header
1 x flat panel display power header (both panel and backlight inverter)
1 x flat panel display power connector
1 x backlight switch header
1 x flat panel display switch header
1 x WIFI activity indicator LED header
1 x Clear CMOS jumper
Back Panel Connectors1 x HDMI port
1 x DisplayPort
4 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports
1 x RJ-45 port
2 x audio jacks (Line Out, Mic In)
1 x DC-In power connector
I/O ControlleriTE I/O Controller Chip
H/W Monitoring1. System voltage detection
2. CPU/System temperature detection
3. CPU/System fan speed detection
4. CPU fan speed control
* For 4-pin CPU coolers only.
* Whether the CPU fan speed control function is supported will depend on the CPU cooler you install.
BIOS1. 1 x 64 Mbit flash
2. Use of licensed AMI EFI BIOS
3. PnP 1.0a, DMI 2.0, SM BIOS 2.6, ACPI 2.0a
Operating SystemSupport for Microsoft® Windows 8/7
Form FactorThin Mini-ITX Form Factor; 17.0cm x 17.0cm
Remark1. Due to different Linux support condition provided by chipset vendors, please download Linux driver from chipset vendors’ website or 3rd party website.
2. Most hardware/software vendors may no longer offer drivers to support Win9X/ME/2000/XP SP1/SP2. If drivers are available from the vendors, we will update them on the GIGABYTE website.

PHYSICAL DETAILS

Given the size of the mini-ITX form factor, layout really isn’t important as
long as there are no glaring interference issues. Since they are rarely installed
in tower cases and with so little space on the PCB, the ATX paradigm gets thrown
out the window. The H77TN’s layout is similar to Intel’s thin ITX board, the
DQ77KB.


Compared to most modern mini-ITX boards, the CPU socket is shifted toward the side while the chipset heatsink is brought closer to the center.


The H77TN appears to use a 3+1 power phase design. There is no VRM heatsink
so the MOSFETs near the bottom edge of the board are bare, but that’s
not unusual given the lower TDP limit.


Surprisingly, the PCH heatsink is more substantial than most of Gigabyte’s regular sized mini-ITX lineup.


To keep the board low profile, full size DIMMs have been abandoned in
favor of SODIMMs. A SATA power connector next to the memory slots provides
power for any additional drives via an included expansion cable.


Being a thin board, the connector selection at the rear is minimal. Just two video outputs are offered, HDMI and DisplayPort, and for audio there’s only line-out and mic-in ports (multi-channel audio is doable only via the front panel audio header). There are also four USB 3.0 ports and an RJ45 (Realtek GBLAN) jack, as well as a DC-In port for power.


Gigabyte has gone with unusually large DC-In port that isn’t compatible
with most AC/DC power bricks. The port has an external diameter of 7.4
mm, an internal diameter of 5.1 mm, and a depth of 12.5 mm. We’ve opted
to use a Cooler
Master SNA 90
, a universal 90W adapter which ships with a variety
of tips and is claimed to be 90% efficient.

TEST METHODOLOGY

Test Setup:


Test configuration device listing.

Measurement and Analysis Tools

1080p Video Test Clips


1080p | 24fps | ~10mbps
H.264/MOV:
Rush Hour 3 Trailer 1
is a 1080p H.264 encoded clip inside an
Apple Quicktime container.

1080p | 24fps | ~22 mbps

H.264/MKV 1080p: A custom 1080p H.264 encoded clip inside an Matroska container.


1080p | 24fps | ~2.3 mbps

Flash: The Dark Knight Rises Official Trailer #3, a YouTube HD trailer in 1080p.

Estimating DC Power (if ATX power supplies are used for
testing)

The following power efficiency figures were obtained for the
Seasonic SS-400ET used in our test systems:

Seasonic SS-400ET Test Results
DC Output (W)
21.2
41.6
60.2
81.9
104.7
124.1
145.2
AC Input (W)
32.0
58.0
78.0
102.0
128.0
150.0
175.0
Efficiency
66.3%
71.7%
77.1%
80.3%
81.8%
82.8%
83.0%

This data is enough to give us a very good estimate of DC demand in our test
systems. We extrapolate the DC power output from the measured AC power input
based on this data. We won’t go through the math; it’s easy enough to figure
out for yourself if you really want to.

Testing Procedures

If available, the latest motherboard BIOS is installed prior to testing. Certain services/features
like Indexing, Superfetch, System Restore, and Windows Defender are disabled
to prevent them from causing spikes in CPU/HDD usage. We also make note if energy
saving features like Cool’n’Quiet/SpeedStep or S3 suspend-to-RAM do not function
properly. If a WiFi adapter is present, it is disabled unless the system lacks wired ethernet.

Our main test procedure is designed to determine the overall system power consumption
at various states (measured using a Seasonic Power Angel). To stress the CPU, we use either Prime95 (large FFTs setting) or CPUBurn depending on which produces higher system power consumption. After 10~15 minutes of load (when temperatures stabilize), We also measure the hottest points on the external heatsinks using an infrared thermometer. To stress the IGP, We use FurMark, an OpenGL benchmarking and stability testing utility.

Finally, storage subsystems are tested briefly using CrystalDiskMark (1000 MB of 0x00 fill test data) and a Kingston HyperX 3K 120GB solid state drive. For USB and eSATA we use an external eSATA/USB 3.0 dock to connect the drive.

TEST RESULTS

Boot Performance

To test boot time, the BIOS/UEFI was optimized by setting the hard drive recognition
and other delays set to minimum, taking care not to disable common functionality
like USB support, POST messages, etc. and measured the time it takes to reach
the Windows loading screen (we stop here because this is the point where the
rest of the hardware becomes a factor).

The boot process on the H77TN is incredibly quick, hitting the Windows loading screen in a mere 8.5 seconds. It was faster than every desktop motherboard we’ve tested over the past year or so.

Power Consumption

Note: each of the systems compared were tested with different power adapters, which possibly played a significant role in the noted power consumption differences.

When sitting idle, the H77TN had a huge power consumption advantage over the DQ77KB while video playback was more or less even. However when it comes to energy efficiency, Intel’s Core i3 powered NUC is tough to top.

The H77TN barely edged out the DQ77KB in our heavy load tests. The numbers are very close, primarily due to the similar feature-set, and the fact that the Pentium G2120’s 55W TDP isn’t enough to push the system hard enough to reveal any advantages in either board’s power regulation. Under normal conditions, neither board combination pulls over 40W from the wall.

Cooling

To test the board’s cooling, the CPU was stressed for ~15 minutes with Prime95. Temperatures of the boards’ chipset heatsinks were recorded using a spot thermometer. The highest temperatures were taken for comparison.

The H77TN’s chipset heatsink is up to task, matching the DQ77KB heatsink’s result. Both run very cool with a 55W TDP chip on an open testbed. The bare MOSFETs next to the CPU socket measured in the 30~35°C above ambient range which is very low in our experience.

Fan Control

The H77TN is odd in that it comes with literally no extra software, neither on the driver disc, or on the website. All previous Gigabyte boards we’ve tested shipped with the EasyTune utility which included fan control features. The H77TN has some basic BIOS settings, but if you want extra fan functionality, you’ll have to figure it on your own.


BIOS: fan control options.

The BIOS is severely limited, offering no CPU, GPU, or memory options except
for a non-specific overvoltage setting for the RAM. Fan control options are
available but they’re stripped to the bone, offering no customization. The only
options are "Enabled" and "Disabled" and while you can choose
between 3-pin and 4-pin control for the system fan, the 3-pin fans we tested
with it always ran at full speed, so it’s really PWM control only on both.


SpeedFan main screen with correlations entered.

SpeedFan, our fan control utility of choice proved to be invaluable. A pair of temperature sensors running off the IT8728F chip turned out to be the PCH and CPU temperatures respectively, while most of the other sensors were unidentifiable and displayed constant readings throughout testing. Separate PWM controls for each fan header were available after some configuration — find the "IT8728F" chip in the Advanced menu and set the PWM modes to "Software controlled" to enable the "Pwm2" and "Pwm3" controls.


Fan speed and temperature over time (CPU load).

To test the board’s fan control system, we connected a pair of 4-pin PWM 2,000 RPM fans, placed the CPU on load, and monitored temperatures and fan speeds.

The CPU fan came alive when the CPU temperature reached 57°C but the speed didn’t seem to form a linear relationship with the temperature, instead taking a step approach once it reached about 60°C. Judging by the graph, the CPU fan isn’t very aggressive; its maximum speed probably doesn’t kick in until 80°C or so. The SYS fan speed appeared to be tied to the PCH (chipset) temperature, which very slowly increased by only a few degrees during testing. It’s unlikely the SYS fan will ever exceed 50% speed without user intervention.

Storage Subsystem Performance

To test storage subsystems We used CrystalDiskMark, the 1000 MB setting with 0x00 fill test data, and a Kingston HyperX 3K 120GB solid state drive (compressible data produces the best possible speeds out SandForce drives). The drive was connected using an Icy Dock external dock which supports eSATA and USB 3.0 (limited to 3 Gbps and 5 Gbps respectively).

The performance of the H77TN’s SATA 6 Gbps and USB 3.0 controllers is very
similar to previously Intel series 7 chipset boards (Z77, Q77, H77) and not
worth detailing. Below we’ve presented our previous comparisons between various
SATA/USB chipsets/controllers. Intel’s solution is slightly faster than AMD,
though you need a high throughput device to truly take advantage of it.

SATA 6 Gbps

USB 3.0

FINAL THOUGHTS

Having tested out the Intel
DQ77KB
and now the Gigabyte GA-H77TN, it looks like Thin Mini-ITX boards
are going to be more or less the same. The layouts and feature-sets of the two
boards requirements are such that it’s difficult to add any features or make
other modifications. Another Gigabyte model, the B75TN looks virtually identical,
and the only real difference is in the board chip or PCH. They are all equipped
with four SATA ports, two SO-DIMM slots, and support one PCI-E 4x, mini PCI-E,
and mSATA device. While this standard configuration isn’t as functional and
versatile as a full-blown desktop, the basics are covered fairly well and the
form factor offers the best computing performance for an ultra small/slim PC.
Being able to drop in a full fledged desktop processor into something not much
thicker than a notebook motherboard is impressive any way you look at it.

Despite all the similarities with the DQ77KB, the H77TN does manage to distinguish
itself in a few ways. Energy efficiency is a strong-point for both boards but
the H77TN’s idle power consumption is truly excellent, though our choice of
power adapter may have contributed to this result. The only small system/configuration
without a cut-rate CPU that can beat it in this department is the Intel
NUC
, but its low frequency mobile Core i3 is not much of a match for
a Pentium G2120. The fan control system, though rudimentary and lacking customization,
actually works (we never could get the DQ77KB’s fan controls to respond). The
only negative point we found was the laptop-style DC-In port, which really should
be mentioned more prominently to prevent would-be buyers from running into compatibility
issues. We have a dozens of DC power adapters at our disposal but only two would
work with this board: a Dell notebook adapter (model number A90PM111) and a
Cooler Master universal laptop power adapter.

To some, the biggest differentiator is the chipset, which means the choice
really boils down to how the system is going to be used. The Q77 chipset is
more professional in that it includes many of Intel’s advanced management and
security features. This is useful in a business environment where the IT department
has to deploy, maintain, and safeguard a fleet of identical PCs. The H77 is
a more mainstream chipset that lacks these extras, making it a better choice
for consumer machines, like home theaters, small servers, and kiosks. H77 is
also cheaper, affording the Gigabyte H77TN a substantial price advantage over
the DQ77KB (US$120 vs. US$150), further adding to its broader
appeal.

Our thanks to Gigabyte
for the GA-H77TN and Cooler
Master
for the SNA 90 used in this review.

* * *


Gigabyte GA-H77TN
is Recommended by SPCR

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Gigabyte GA-F2A85XN-WIFI Mini-ITX Motherboard
Gigabyte GA-H77N-WIFI Mini-ITX Motherboard
Intel DQ77KB: A Low Power LGA1155 Motherboard
Akasa Euler Fanless Thin ITX Case
Intel Next Unit of Computing Kit DC3217BY

* * *

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