Gigabyte's 3D BIOS looks pretty slick. The "3D" component of the UEFI-based firmware is attractive and original, with individual tuning sub-menus that pop up when the user clicks on specific regions of the board.
Too bad the board is a stylized microATX model rather than a Mini-ITX match for the Z77N-WiFi.
The semi-transparent sub-menus have easy-to-use tabs and mouse sliders, making navigation a breeze. There is some unsightly overlap with a few menus, though. For all its reliance on mouse input, the firmware's cursor tracking is also surprisingly poor. Input with our Corsair M60 mouse feels jumpy, laggy, and imprecise—noticeably worse than on similar boards from other manufacturers. The transition between the 3D interface and the firmware's more traditional array of tweaking options is a little choppy, as well.
Once in the "Advanced" interface, all appears to be well. Mouse tracking is still rough, but the UI can be navigated easily with just the keyboard. Changing variables is simple, too. Most values can be keyed in directly, saving users from wading through long lists of potential candidates.
Disappointingly, however, the firmware plays fast and loose with Turbo multipliers. If the motherboard's memory speed is set manually, even to something innocuous like 1600MHz, the firmware takes the liberty of boosting the processor's clock speed with multi-core loads.
According to Intel's specifications, the Core i7-3770K should peak at 3.9GHz for single-core loads and 3.7GHz when all four cores are occupied. The Z77N-WiFi sneakily applies the maximum Turbo speed of 3.9GHz regardless of the number of active cores, a practice that Intel deems to be overclocking. Worse, the CPU Core Features menu suggests that the correct Turbo Ratios are being observed. You have to go a separate status screen for any indication that CPU clock speeds are being manipulated.
There are several problems with this behavior, which we've observed on motherboards from at least one other firm. First, there's no reason the CPU clock speed should change if the user alters the memory frequency, a completely unrelated setting. Also, a motherboard should never overclock the user's hardware without his explicit consent. I've yet to hear a defensible justification for this practice, and Gigabyte hasn't provided us with an explanation.
If you want to bump up the memory frequency without pushing the CPU beyond stock speeds, the per-core Turbo multipliers can be locked to their default values manually. You're free to overclock the CPU manually, too, but there is a serious impediment on that front. The firmware is devoid of CPU voltage options. Only the DRAM voltage can be tweaked, putting a major damper on CPU overclocking.
Despite the overclocking aspirations of its platform hub, the Z77N-WiFi has been designed with more sedate systems in mind. Temperature-based speed control is available for the CPU and system fans, which should help to keep noise levels nice and low. The array of "numeric PWM value divided by degrees Celsius" options will probably be a little confusing for uninitiated users, though. At least the manual tuning mode is accompanied by a "silent" preset that's self-explanatory.
The fan controls in Gigabyte's EasyTune6 software are easier to understand, with draggable points along the speed profiles for both onboard fan headers. They're not as granular as the best implementations, but these fan controls are certainly adequate.
"Adequate" sort of describes the software as a whole. EasyTune6 has been around for a while now, and it works well enough for the basics. However, the app is showing its age. Gigabyte tells us a revamped software suite is in the works, and we hope to see it available for the Z77N-WiFi.
EasyTune6's overclocking section provides a handful of tweaking options but still no CPU voltage control. Bummer. There's no auto-overclocking mechanism, either, so you'll be on your own when turning up the clocks. Speaking of which...
Without CPU voltage control, we didn't expect to set any overclocking records with our Core i7-3770K. And we didn't. With a Corsair H80 water cooler bolted to the CPU and a hot-clocked Asus Radeon HD 7970 riding shotgun, we pushed the CPU to 4.5GHz without any hiccups. That was as far as she would go.
At 4.6GHz, the system booted and occasionally made it to Windows, but the blue smilie of death was soon upon us, usually followed by a crash. Unable to give the CPU more power, we quickly gave up.
We've had the same chip running 400MHz faster on other Z77-based Mini-ITX boards, albeit with extra voltage, so the Z77N-WiFi clearly left some headroom on the table. That said, we did manage a respectable 600MHz jump over the CPU's maximum Turbo speed.
|Friday night topic: quadcopters!||20|
|The TR Podcast video 173: Torquing the Titan||1|
|Report: AMD R&D spending falls to near-10-year low||77|
|Deal of the week: Ultra-wide IPS for $750, 16GB DDR4-2666 for $190, plus more||47|
|Broadwell Xeon D lands on Mini-ITX boards||34|
|Half-Life 2: Update mod adds modern polish to old classic||57|
|The TR Podcast is live, so come ask us stuff!||1|
|AMD shows off DirectX 12 performance with new 3DMark benchmark||84|