The Gigabyte GA-Z87N-WIFI is a value-oriented mini-ITX motherboard for Intel’s Haswell CPUs. With the enthusiast performance Z87 chipset, its US$130 price-tag seems like a steal.
October 15, 2013 by Lawrence Lee
LGA1150 mini-ITX Motherboard
Whenever a new desktop processor architecture drops there’s usually a buildup of excitement before the first wave of mini-ITX motherboard using the new technology hits the market. This waiting period has shortened with every generation, not surprising given how everything to do with miniaturized computing is becoming increasingly fashionable. Most recently, when Intel’s Haswell chips were launched, compatible mini-ITX boards were all ready to go, though it took some time for us to get our hands one one.
If you look at the current crop of such boards, you’ll notice they’re mostly separated into two distinct categories and price ranges. At around the US$200 level there are high-end enthusiast offerings using the Z87 chipset and armed with sophisticated voltage regulation circuitry to aide in overclocking along with other advanced features and software (some of which are gimmicky) designed to appeal to enthusiasts. At US$100 and below there are a bunch of budget SKUs based around the lower-end H81 and H87 chipsets.
H81 is a barebones chipset that has limited support for system memory, SATA 6 Gbps, and USB 3.0, and doesn’t support CrossFire/SLI or overclocking at all. H87 doesn’t have these restrictions except for overclocking — that’s Z87’s main advantage. Basically, if you want to mess around with your clock speeds, you usually have to pony up the big bucks. The Gigabyte GA-Z87N-WIFI doesn’t quite fit in this paradigm, walking out in no man’s land as it were.
Like the cheaper offerings, it’s light on extras and a few corners have been cut compared to its premium full-fledged counterparts. However, it comes it at a much more attractive price while retaining the Z87 chipset’s advantages. It’s currently available for about US$130 or about two thirds of what you would pay for one of the fancier models.
Despite being a "budget" board, it’s hard to complain about what you get in terms of features. The Z87 chipset is packed with everything most users would want. All four of its SATA ports are of the 6 Gbps variety, there’s plenty of USB 3.0 ports and headers to go around, and RAID is on menu if you’re looking for more flexible storage options. Gigabyte also included a NIC supporting 802.11n and Bluetooth for wireless connectivity, two gigabit ethernet controllers (one Atheros and one Intel) for advanced networking setups, and three video outputs, one DVI, and two HDMI, though we would have preferred a DisplayPort.
Gigabyte GA-Z87N-WIFI: Specifications
(from the product
Support for Intel® Core™ i7 processors/Intel® Core™ i5 processors/Intel® Core™ i3 processors/Intel® Pentium® processors/Intel® Celeron® processors in the LGA1150 package
|Chipset||Intel® Z87 Express Chipset|
|Memory||2 x 1.5V DDR3 DIMM sockets supporting up to 16 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.
Dual channel memory architecture
Support for DDR3 1600/1333 MHz memory modules
Support for non-ECC memory modules
Support for Extreme Memory Profile (XMP) memory modules
(Please refer "Memory Support List" for more information.)
|Onboard Graphics Integrated Graphics Processor||1 x DVI-I port, supporting a maximum resolution of 1920×1200|
2 x HDMI ports, supporting a maximum resolution of 4096×2160
* Support for HDMI 1.4a version.
Maximum shared memory of 1 GB
|Audio||Realtek® ALC892 codec|
High Definition Audio
Support for S/PDIF Out
|LAN||Intel® GbE LAN chip (10/100/1000 Mbit)(LAN1)|
Atheros® GbE LAN chip (10/100/1000 Mbit)(LAN2)
* Teaming is not supported.
|Wireless Communication module||Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, supporting 2.4 GHz Single-Band|
Bluetooth 4.0, 3.0+HS, 2.1+EDR
|Expansion Slots||1 x PCI Express x16 slot, running at x16|
(The PCIEX16 slot conforms to PCI Express 3.0 standard.)
1 x mini-PCI Express slot for the wireless communication module
|Storage Interface Chipset||4 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors supporting up to 4 SATA 6Gb/s devices|
Support for RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, and RAID 10
|USB Chipset||Up to 4 USB 2.0/1.1 ports (2 ports on the back panel, 2 ports available through the internal USB header)|
Up to 6 USB 3.0/2.0 ports (4 ports on the back panel, 2 ports available through the internal USB header)
|Internal I/O Connectors||1 x 24-pin ATX main power connector|
1 x 4-pin ATX 12V power connector
4 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
1 x CPU fan header
1 x system fan header
1 x front panel header
1 x front panel audio header
1 x USB 3.0/2.0 header
1 x USB 2.0/1.1 header
1 x serial port header
1 x S/PDIF Out header
1 x Clear CMOS jumper
|Back Panel Connectors||1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse port|
2 x HDMI ports
2 x antenna connectors
1 x DVI-I port
4 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports
2 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
2 x RJ-45 ports
1 x optical S/PDIF Out connector
5 x audio jacks (Center/Subwoofer Speaker Out, Rear Speaker Out, Line In, Line Out, Mic In)
|I/O Controller||iTE® I/O Controller Chip|
|H/W Monitoring||System voltage detection|
CPU/System temperature detection
CPU/System fan speed detection
CPU/System fan speed control
* Whether the fan speed control function is supported will depend on the cooler you install.
|BIOS||2 x 64 Mbit flash|
Use of licensed AMI EFI BIOS
Support for DualBIOS™
PnP 1.0a, DMI 2.0, SM BIOS 2.6, ACPI 2.0a
|Unique Features||Support for Q-Flash|
Support for Xpress Install
Support for APP Center
* Available applications in APP Center may differ by motherboard model. Supported functions of each application may also differ depending on motherboard specifications.
Support for ON/OFF Charge
Support for Wi-Fi Share
Support for Cloud Station
|Bundle Software||Norton Internet Security (OEM version)|
Intel® Rapid Start Technology
Intel® Smart Connect Technology
Intel® Smart Response Technology
Intel® Wireless Display
|Operating System||Support for Windows 8/7|
|Form Factor||Mini-ITX Form Factor; 17.0cm x 17.0cm|
|Remark||Due to different Linux support condition provided by chipset vendors, please download Linux driver from chipset vendors’ website or 3rd party website.|
Most hardware/software vendors may no longer offer drivers to support Win9X/ME/2000/XP. If drivers are available from the vendors, we will update them on the GIGABYTE website
Given the size of the mini-ITX form factor, layout really isn’t important as long as there are no glaring interference issues. As they typically aren’t installed in tower cases and there’s so little space on the PCB, the ATX paradigm gets thrown out the window. The Z87N-WIFI’s layout is similar to Gigabyte’s other mini-ITX models with the CPU socket on the bottom half of the board and most of the peripherals and connectors located in the upper portion.
The Z87N-WIFI features a revamped BIOS/UEFI interface with graphical improvements and mouse support. This overhaul has been long overdue and brings them into the same league as ASUS and MSI.
BIOS/UEFI Summary: Gigabyte GA-Z87N-WIFI
|Host/PCIe Clock Frequency||80.00 to 133.33 MHz.|
|Processor Graphics Clock||400 to 4000 MHz|
|System Memory Multiplier||8.00 (640 MHz) to 29.33 (9776 MHz)|
|DRAM Voltage||1.160 to 2.100 V|
|PCH Core Voltage||0.650 to 1.300 V|
|NB Voltage (Dynamic)||-0.800 to +0.350 V|
|CPU VRIN External Override Voltage||1.000 to 2.300 V|
|CPU Vcore Voltage||0.500 to 1.800 V|
|CPU Graphics Voltage (VAXG)||0.500 to 1.700V|
|CPU RING Voltage||0.800 to 1.800 V|
|CPU System Agent Voltage||-0.300 to +0.400 V|
|CPU I/O Analog Voltage||-0.300 to +0.400 V|
|CPU I/O Digital Voltage||-0.300 to +0.400 V|
With many advanced options available in the BIOS/UEFI, it’s clear that this is an hardcore enthusiasts’ board. The degree of frequency and voltage adjustment is more than enough for most overclockers. For those looking to limit their environmental footprint, undervolting with offset options are offered as well.
The built-in fan controls are relatively simple. Both of the board’s fan headers are controllable with three different presets. Manual control gives you eight options for the slope of the speed to temperature reaction.
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 O/S, CPU, and drive become factors).
The boot process on the Z87N-WIFI is about average compared to the last few boards we’ve reviewed, hitting the Windows loading screen in 12.5 seconds. It’s not particularly quick, but for some users, it may reach this point before the monitor even comes out of standby mode.
Measurement and Analysis Tools
Video Test Clip
H.264/MKV 1080p: A custom 1080p H.264 encoded clip inside an Matroska container.
Flash 1080p: The Dark Knight Rises Official Trailer #3, a YouTube HD trailer in 1080p.
H.264 Blu-ray: A short section (chapter
4) of the Blu-ray version of Disturbia, the motion picture, played
directly off the Blu-ray disc. It is encoded with H.264/AVC.
Estimating DC Power
The following power efficiency figures were obtained for the
Seasonic SS-400ET used in my test system:
Seasonic SS-400ET Test Results
DC Output (W)
AC Input (W)
This data is enough to give us a very good estimate of DC demand in my test
system. I extrapolate the DC power output from the measured AC power input
based on this data. I won’t go through the math; it’s easy enough to figure
out for yourself if you really want to.
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.
For an Intel-based motherboard, the Z87N-WIFI uses very little power under light load. It was more frugal than previously tested Sandy and Ivy Bridge combinations, and also edged out the Intel DZ87KL-75K, an enthusiast ATX Haswell board, in every test.
When working on more demanding tasks, the energy efficiency takes a nosedive. It pulled an additional 6W when video encoding with TMPGEnc compared to the DZ87KL-75K, and running Prime95, the difference ballooned to 24W for a 22% increase. It seems that as the stress placed on the CPU increases, the power efficiency decreases. This is most likely due to the Z87N-WIFI’s relatively simple 4-phase power design.
Unfortunately it’s difficult to ascertain exactly how much of the energy draw
is generated by the processor alone, as the amount of power pulled from the
AUX12V/EPS12V connector depends on how board power regulation has been implemented.
The Z87N-WIFI relies more on the +12V line than other models due to its basic VR system.
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.
With a undersized chipset heatsink, the surface temperature of the PCH cooler peaked at 38°C above ambient on full CPU load, significantly warmer than the well-cooled DZ87KL-75K, Interestingly, the Sandy Bridge +/ H77N-WIFI combination ran hotter still despite using the same cooler. VRM cooling is nonexistent so we have no comparison to make there, but some of the bare MOSFETs were running at just under 100°C (about 80°C above ambient). Despite this apparent lack of cooling, we did not encounter any stability issues during testing.
Software & Fan Control
Software is one area that Gigabyte has been trailing its competitors for quite some time. Their EasyTune utility was really beginning to show its age when ASUS upgraded their AI Suite with the launch of their Sandy Bridge motherboards. Thankfully, the antiquated UI is gone — the Z87N-WIFI is part of a new breed of Gigabyte boards shipping with more modern software.
The only downside is all of Gigabyte’s software isn’t bundled together. You first have to install APP Center, then all the other utilities have to be installed one at a time. They’re essentially applets that run through APP Center. ASUS’ system is a bit better in that you can download the entire AI Suite and customize the install to choose which utilities you want.
The updated EasyTune application handles all your overclocking and fan control needs and the interface uses a sleek blue/white on black color scheme. For most things, there is an easy and advanced menu to choose from.
Overclocking can be accomplished through quick and easy presets that automatically adjust the CPU multiplier and voltages to achieve the desired clock speed. If you prefer to get your hands dirty, the advanced menu gives you sliders for a bunch of advanced settings. It looks a lot like Intel’s Extreme Tuning utility. Unfortunately like most similar software, changes are not enacted on the fly — they require a reboot in most cases.
The fan control section definitely takes a page out of ASUS’ book. There usual presets are available but there’s also a calibration option that is very similar to ASUS" Fan Xpert 2. It runs connected fans through the range to determine when they top spinning to give a more custom tailored experienced. In the advanced menu, fans can be set to a fixed speed or you can plot multiples points on a fan speed to temperature graph. This is a huge upgrade from the adjustable slope in the BIOS/UEFI.
In operation, the software seemed to work fine. We did notice that the System fan reacted to the system (chipset) rather than CPU temperature, which is much more useful on larger form factors where the two components are further away from one another. On an ATX board, the chipset tempearture is usually impacted more by a discrete GPU, so you could have a side panel fan activating in response for example. The board has a pair of 4-pin PWM fan headers but this is deceiving as the SYS_FAN header can only be controlled via voltage. Not unusually, the CPU_FAN header is limited to PWM control only.
If you prefer to use SpeedFan, both headers are controllable (with the same CPU_FAN/PWM and SYS_FAN/DC limitations) once the application is set up properly (find the "IT8728F" chip in the Advanced menu and change PWM 1-2 mode from "SmartGuardian" to "Software controlled"). The same CPU and System (chipset) temperature sensors found in EasyTune are also available, reported as the first "Temp3" and "Temp1" sensors respectively.
Storage Subsystem Performance
To test storage subsystems I 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).
SATA 6 Gbps
The Z87 chipset’s SATA support is superior to that of previous Intel chipsets in that it natively allowed for six 6 Gbps ports, three times as many as the 7-series. The controller itself however seems to be unchanged. Our results with CrystalDiskMark were right in line with a Gigabyte Z77 and Intel Q77 model.
A couple of extra USB 3.0 ports are also supported by Z87 but again, the results were very similar to the previous generation, though there were some sizable gains in write speed with small block sizes.
For the WiFi performance test, we sent a large file transfer (700MB) to and from a machine connected via gigabit ethernet and timed the operation to calculate the average transfer rate. We also checked signal strength to the various wireless networks in our area by going to the MS-DOS command line and using the the "netsh" tool.
It should be noted that the 802.11n router servicing our lab is not the greatest, an Actiontec combination router/gateway from our ADSL provider. It also happens to be placed in a central location, about a few feet away with only one wall between it and our test systems. This should produce ideal results.
The Atheros adapter that shipped with the F2A85XN-WIFI edged out the Z87N-WIFI’s Intel adapter in downstream performance. However, the upstream performance was awful — it took three times as long to complete the transfer. The Z87N-WIFI produced more balanced transfer rates.
The reported signal strength was similar for both adapters but the Intel NIC failed to detect two of the five SSIDs. However, we suspect that the Intel NIC simply simply drops these less reliable connections from the list due to low signal strength — achieving a stable connection with these networks is unlikely.
Like many of Gigabyte’s other products, the GA-Z87N-WIFI is all about value. Haswell motherboards can get pricey, especially Z87 mini-ITX models, many of which hover around the US$200 mark. The Z87N-WIFI is a much more affordable option, packing all the basic functionality inherent in the chipset, including overclocking capabilities, and rounding it out the feature-set with a competent wireless 802.11n/Bluetooth adapter, an extra integrated gigabit NIC, and a second HDMI output. The software bundle is also much improved, especially the new version of EasyTune, which finally gives Gigabyte a modern, easy-to-use, and attractive way for users to control fans and make low-level performance adjustments.
Its excellent low idle and light load power consumption makes it an energy efficient choice for an always-on home server or home theater PC though it can be argued that Z87 is overkill for such a usage case. Its main advantage over the more affordable H87 chipset is the ability to adjust the multiplier to achieve higher clock speeds, which of course draws more power, presumably for heavy load applications that need the extra horse power. The Z87N-WIFI, with its basic 4-phase power scheme is less than ideal for this type of work — the more it’s taxed, the more its efficiency declines. The board’s cooling is also rudimentary with an miniature chipset heatsink and completely bare VRMs. Having overclocking as an option is appreciated but we wouldn’t attempt to break any clock speed records.
The Z87N-WIFI can be considered by some to be a budget model with some nice extras while others may think of it as a no-frills enthusiast offering. We hold the compromise view, that it’s a solid mid-ranger in that juicy center of the market, with a little something for everyone. There may be more suitable boards depending on your specific needs, but otherwise the Z87N-WIFI is a jack-of-all trades unlikely to disappoint.
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