Gigabyte’s GA-Z77N-WiFi Mini-ITX motherboard reviewed

Over the past few weeks, we’ve covered a collection of Mini-ITX motherboards based on Intel’s Z77 Express platform. All of them have been priced at $150 and up, making the next model to pass under our microscope a potential bargain. Gigabyte’s GA-Z77N-WiFi has the same Ivy Bridge socket and Z77 platform hub as its rivals, but with a price tag that’s 20 bucks lower, at just $130 online.

At first glance, it’s hard to see why Gigabyte is charging less. This board has all the trappings of a modern Mini-ITX design, including a full-sized PCI Express x16 slot, plenty of USB 3.0 ports, multiple digital display outputs, and both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. The firmware is one of those newfangled EFIs, and Windows tweaking software is included, too. There are even dual Gigabit Ethernet jacks in the rear port cluster.

So, what gives?

Certainly not the aesthetics. The Z77N-WiFi is served on a matte black circuit board lined with matching components and a pewter-colored chipset heatsink. The tops of the capacitors provide a subtle splash of purple to an otherwise monochromatic palette. This is one good-looking motherboard, even if the green Mini PCI Express wireless card doesn’t quite match.

From above, we can easily spot one difference between the Z77N-WiFi and most of its contemporaries: the auxiliary 12V power connector is a four-pin unit rather than an eight-pin one. Four-pin 12V power is sufficient for even a top-of-the-line Core i7-3770K processor, at least at stock speeds, but it’s clear this board wasn’t designed with headroom for extreme overclocking.

The underlying Z77 Express platform hub puts no limits on extra-curricular clock boosting, offering unrestricted access to the CPU multipliers on K-series processors. However, Mini-ITX systems are far from ideal for overclocking. The form factor’s tiny 6.7″ x 6.7″ footprint crowds the socket, and most Mini-ITX enclosures leave little room for beefy coolers. You can get sense of the socket’s proximity to other components in the picture below. We’ve measured the distance between the CPU retention bracket and several landmarks, including the PCIe slot, the closest DIMM slot, and the edges of the board.

All Ivy Bridge motherboards situate the socket relatively close to the DIMM slots, and this one is no different. The narrow gap between the socket and the PCIe slot is more worrisome. Folks with larger aftermarket coolers can avoid encroaching on the system memory by using shorter DIMMs, but even low-profile expansion cards are tall enough to interfere with CPU coolers that extend south of the socket region.

At least the PCIe and DIMM slots are the only potential sources of conflict. All of the other components stick very close to the surface of the circuit board. Gigabyte tucks the cabling for the wireless card neatly out of the way, too.

The wires run past a quartet of Serial ATA ports, two of which operate at 6Gbps speeds. You won’t find an open mSATA slot onboard, which is a little surprising given Gigabyte’s penchant for putting mini SSD slots on its full-sized motherboards. mSATA slots are usually limited to 3Gbps data rates, so you’re better off using one of the 6Gbps ports with a 2.5″ SSD.

Next to the SATA ports sits the front-panel connector array. The individual pins are color-coded but unlabeled, so the manual will have to be consulted when wiring the case. Since making front-panel connections inside a cramped Mini-ITX chassis can be a little awkward, Gigabyte ought to include a separate pin block to simplify the process. Front-panel pin blocks should really come standard with every enthusiast-oriented motherboard.

To its credit, Gigabyte has spruced up the I/O shield. A soft, foam-lined cushion sits between the external shield and the motherboard, banishing exposed edges that might slice your fingers. The little tab associated with the HDMI port in the top-right portion of the shield is nice and blunt, and it’s short enough to avoid getting caught in the port when the shield is in place.

In a bit of a twist, the Z77N-WiFi has two HDMI outs accompanying its DVI port. There are also dual USB 3.0 ports linked to the Z77 platform, plus an internal header for two more. And dual Ethernet jacks backed by a pair of Realtek controllers. Noah took two crabs, too.

There’s only one Realtek chip driving the integrated audio; it feeds a nice mix of analog jacks and a digital S/PDIF output. Surround-sound digital output is supported for content with pre-encoded tracks, like movies and music, but not for games, which require real-time encoding. The Realtek drivers can virtualize surround sound for stereo devices. However, this feature works only when paired with Matrix-compatible receivers. You can’t just plug in any old pair of headphones and get pseudo-3D audio.

While the Z77N-WiFi’s built-in audio is pretty basic, the integrated wireless is anything but pedestrian. An Intel wireless card provides not only 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0, but also WiDi. Otherwise known as Intel Wireless Display, this tech can broadcast 1080p video to remote displays, a capability that might come in handy if you’re running a projector or have no elegant way to string an HDMI cable to your TV. A compatible WiDi receiver is required at the display, though.

WiDi is pretty neat, but I wish it allowed mobile devices to broadcast content to home-theater PCs. The HTPC would need a WiDi-compatible adapter, of course, but it could be connected to any old display over a standard cable. Intel tells me this scenario is technically feasible, but it’s unclear when or even if WiDi will provide such functionality.

Some of the Wi-Fi antennae that come with PC motherboards feel cheap and flimsy. Not the ones bundled with the Z77N-WiFi. The subtle black antenna pods each sit at the end of more than three feet of sturdy cabling, allowing placement for maximum reception and minimum visibility.

Tweaking options

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…

Overclocking

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.

Performance highlights

If you’ve been following our motherboard coverage for the past few years, you’ll have noticed a lot of graphs with bars all about the same length. The inconvenient truth for mobo makers is that their products don’t have a substantial impact on PC performance. A system’s processor and graphics card are the real bottlenecks for modern applications, while the storage subsystem—specifically, whether it’s solid-state—plays a role in determining overall responsiveness. Even motherboard I/O performance is relatively consistent from one product to the next, since the majority of ports stem from common platform hubs and a shallow pool of available peripheral chips.

Sometimes, there are exceptions to this general rule. The only way to suss them out is to test boards exhaustively, which we’ve done with the Z77N-WiFi. The resulting mountain of benchmark data tells us this board for the most part performs like its peers. We have a few pages of supporting graphs to back up that assertion, but you don’t need to scroll through them all. First, the highlights.

We’ll start with a quick confirmation. Whether you’re encrypting, compressing, or encoding data, the Z77N-WiFi is about as fast as rival boards based on the same platform and accompanying components.

There’s somewhat more variance between the boards in our gaming metrics, which combine a traditional FPS measure with a much more telling 99th percentile frame time. The Z77N-WiFi comes out ahead on both fronts, but only by modest margins.

We typically see bigger performance differences between motherboards in our boot time test. The results don’t disappoint.

Well, they might for Gigabyte. The Z77N-WiFi cold boots into the OS slower than its rivals, although it still gets to the Start screen in less than 17 seconds. Unlike on the other boards, the firmware lacks an explicit “fast boot” option. It is possible to tweak the initialization of certain devices, but we couldn’t speed up the boot process without sacrificing necessary features like boot-time USB and SATA support. There doesn’t appear to be a way to control the time delay for the initial POST screen, which adds a few seconds to the boot process.

In our peripheral tests, the Z77N-WiFi produced few surprises. For the most part, the performance differences between it and the other Mini-ITX mobos were within single-digit percentages. The only exceptions arose versus the Asus and ASRock boards, which employ special software to speed USB transfers.

RoboBench, our multi-threaded file copy test, nicely highlights the higher transfer rate enabled by Asus’ USAP Boost feature. ASRock’s Turbo equivalent is less effective, and it has some stability issues that need to be worked out. Even without turbo-charged software, though, the Z77N-WiFi’s USB performance is hardly slow.

Power consumption

Does motherboard power consumption play out like performance?

Mostly, but the Z77N-WiFi is among a cluster of three boards with notably lower power consumption at idle and under our light video playback load. Crank the system up to full load, and the tables turn. Suddenly, the power-hungry Asus P8Z77-I Deluxe pulls the fewest watts at the wall socket, while the Gigabyte Z77N-WiFi draws the most.

The Z77N-WiFi appears to have less efficient power regulation circuitry than its peers, at least under load. We’re only talking about a few watts, though; you’re unlikely to notice the difference on your utility bill.

That’s it for our performance highlights. If you’d like to peruse more detailed information on our system configurations and test results, please continue onto the next page. You can also skip straight to the conclusion for our final thoughts on the board.

Detailed specifications

Here’s a full run-down of the Z77N-WiFi’s key specifications and firmware options.

Platform Intel Z77 Express, socket LGA1155
DIMM slots 2 DDR3, 16GB max
Expansion slots 1 PCIe 3.0 x16
Storage I/O 2 SATA RAID 6Gbps

2 SATA RAID 3Gbps

Audio 8-channel HD via Realtek ALC892
Wireless 802.11n Wi-Fi via Intel Wireless-N 2230

Bluetooth 4.0

Ports 1 DVI-I

2 HDMI

1 PS/2 keyboard/mouse

2 USB 3.0 w/ 2 headers

4 USB 2.0 w/ 2 headers

2 Gigabit Ethernet via Realtek RTL8111F

1 analog front out

1 analog bass/center out

1 analog rear out

1 analog side out

1 analog line in

1 digital S/PDIF output

Overclocking Per-core CPU multiplier: 16-63X
DRAM multiplier: 8-32X
GPU clock: 400-1600MHz

Base clock: 80-133.33MHz

DRAM voltage: 1.2-2V

Fan control CPU, system: speed/temp slope control

We’ve covered the most important elements already, so let’s move onto a bonus shot we snuck in for everyone who didn’t skip to the conclusion.

Our testing methods

We used the following system configurations for testing. If you’re curious about the other boards, check out our full reviews of the Asus P8Z77-I Deluxe, ASRock Z77E-ITX, and Zotac Z77-ITX WiFi. We’ll have similar coverage of MSI’s Z77IA-E53 soon.

Processor Intel Core i7-3700K 3.5GHz
Motherboard Asus P8Z77-I Deluxe ASRock Z77E-ITX Gigabyte GA-Z77N-WiFi MSI Z77IA-E53 Zotac Z77-ITX WiFi
Bios revision 0801 1.70 F2 10.2 229
Platform hub Intel Z77 Express Intel Z77 Express Intel Z77 Express Intel Z77 Express Intel Z77 Express
Chipset drivers Chipset: 9.3.0.1026

RST: 11.7.0.1013

Chipset: 9.3.0.1026

RST: 11.7.0.1013

Chipset: 9.3.0.1026

RST: 11.7.0.1013

Chipset: 9.3.0.1026

RST: 11.7.0.1013

Chipset: 9.3.0.1026

RST: 11.7.0.1013

Audio Realtek ALC898 Realtek ALC898 Realtek ALC892 Realtek ALC892 Realtek ALC892
Memory size 8GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type Corsair Vengeance DDR3 SDRAM at 1600MHz
Memory timings 9-9-9-24-1T
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 4000 with 9.17.10.2932 drivers
Hard drive Corsair Force Series GT 120GB

Samsung 830 Series 256GB

OCZ RevoDrive 3 X2 240GB

Power Supply Corsair AX850 850W
OS Microsoft Windows 8 Enterprise x64

Thanks to Intel, Corsair, Samsung, OCZ, and Asus for providing the hardware used in our test systems. We should also thank the motherboard makers for providing their products for review.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

Some further notes on our test methods:

  • DiRT Showdown was tested with medium detail settings and a 1366×768 display resolution. We used Fraps to log a 60-second snippet of gameplay from the demo’s first race. To offset the fact that our gameplay sequence can’t be repeated exactly, we ran this test five times on each system.
  • Power consumption was measured at the wall socket for the complete system, sans monitor and speakers, using a Watts Up Pro power meter. Our video playback load used this 1080p YouTube trailer for the movie Looper. The full-load test combined AIDA64’s CPU stress test with the Unigine Heaven DirectX 11 demo running in a 1280×1024 window.
  • The Force GT 120GB SSD was used as the system drive for all tests. The Samsung 830 Series 256GB was connected as secondary storage to test Serial ATA and USB performance, the latter through a USAP-compatible Thermaltake BlacX 5G docking station. With RoboBench, we used the Samsung SSD as the source drive and the OCZ RevoDrive 3 X2 240GB as the destination for the read speed tests. Those roles were reversed for RoboBench’s write speed tests.
    The Samsung/OCZ tag team also powered our Ethernet transfer tests. The RevoDrive served as the source and destination on the host system, while the 830 Series SSD performed those duties on the remote machine. That remote rig was based on an Asus P8P67 Deluxe motherboard with an Intel 82579 Gigabit Ethernet controller. The two systems were connected via a single Cat 6 Ethernet cable.

    The Samsung and OCZ SSDs were secure-erased before each test that involved them. The Corsair drive was also wiped before we loaded our system image.

  • Analog audio signal quality was tested using RMAA’s “loopback” test, which pipes front-channel output through the board’s line input. We tested with the boards idling and with a combined load consisting of AIDA64’s CPU stress test, the Unigine Heaven demo, and a CrystalDiskMark 4KB random I/O test running on the Samsung SSD attached via USB 3.0.

The tests and methods we employ are usually publicly available and reproducible. All tests were run at least three times, and we reported the median of those results. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.

Memory bandwidth

Since all our systems used the same 1600MHz Corsair DIMMs with identical timings, don’t expect meaningful differences in memory bandwidth.

Productivity

SunSpider JavaScript performance

We tested the latest SunSpider release, version 0.9.1, in a special build of Chromium (the open-source version of Chrome) that we keep around for such purposes.

TrueCrypt disk encryption

TrueCrypt’s AES algorithm benefits from acceleration via Intel’s AES-NI instructions, which are supported by our Ivy Bridge CPU. We’ve also included results for another algorithm, Twofish, that isn’t accelerated via dedicated instructions.

7-Zip file compression and decompression

The figures below were extracted from 7-Zip’s built-in benchmark.

Video encoding

x264 HD benchmark

This benchmark tests one of the most popular H.264 video encoders, the open-source x264. The results come in two parts, one for each of the two passes the encoder makes through the video file. We’ve chosen to show them separately, since that’s typically how the results are reported in the public database of results for this benchmark.

Gaming

DiRT Showdown

We busted out our Inside the second methods to testing gaming performance. While we aren’t showing all of our fancy latency graphs, we have included results for FPS and the 99th percentile frame time.

Boot time

Here, we measured the boot time after a full system shutdown. We used a stopwatch to time each test and stopped the clock when the Windows 8 Start screen finished loading.

The Z77N-WiFi doesn’t really separate itself from the pack in our application tests. Only the board’s relatively sluggish boot time stands out in this first batch of results.

Serial ATA performance

CrystalDiskMark

TR RoboBench

TR developer extraordinaire Bruno “morphine” Ferreira created RoboBench, a scripted file copy benchmark that relies on Windows’ built-in robocopy command to execute eight parallel file transfer threads. The movie file set contains eight similarly sized files totaling 5.6GB, while the mixed set has a diverse collection of 14,000 files that adds up to 10.6GB.

All the boards are basically even through the bulk of our SATA tests, but the field spreads out a little when copying our mixed RoboBench file set. There, the Z77N-WiFi falls to last place in both the read and write tests. It’s still not far behind the leaders, though.

USB performance

CrystalDiskMark

TR RoboBench

Even without fancy software to speed things up, the Z77N-WiFi’s USB transfer rates are still very fast. Credit the Intel USB 3.0 controller built into the Z77 platform.

I wouldn’t put too much stock in the substantially higher performance of Asus’ USAP Boost mode in CrystalDiskMark’s 4KB random I/O tests. USB 3.0 is used primarily for secondary external storage, and sequential throughput is more important for that mission. Performance with random I/O is more relevant for system drives, which are typically connected via Serial ATA.

PCI Express performance

CrystalDiskMark

Apart from a couple of outliers, the Z77N-WiFi closely matches the PCI Express performance of the other boards.

Ethernet performance

NTttcp

TR RoboBench

Some may scoff at Gigabyte’s use of Realtek Gigabit Ethernet controllers, but the chips are no slower—and no more resource-hungry—in these tests than the Intel and Broadcom equivalents on the Asus and ASRock boards.

Analog audio signal quality

RightMark Audio Analyzer grades analog signal quality on a scale between “very poor” and “excellent.” We’ve translated those values to a numerical scale that starts at low of one and peaks at six. Higher values are better.

Our first set of results was gathered with the systems idling (apart from the RMAA app, of course). The second batch is based on tests conducted with the system under a combined CPU, GPU, and USB load.

 

  RightMark Audio Analyzer audio quality at idle: 24-bit/192kHz
  Frequency response Noise level Dynamic range THD THD + Noise IMD + Noise Stereo Crosstalk IMD at 10kHz Overall score
Asus P8Z77-I Deluxe 6 4 4 5 4 5 6 5 5
ASRock Z77E-ITX 6 5 5 5 4 4 5 5 5
Gigabyte Z77N-WiFi 6 4 4 5 3 5 5 5 5
MSI Z77IA-E53 6 4 4 5 3 4 5 5 4
Zotac Z77-ITX WiFi 6 4 4 5 3 4 5 5 4

 

  RightMark Audio Analyzer audio quality under load: 24-bit/192kHz
  Frequency response Noise level Dynamic range THD THD + Noise IMD + Noise Stereo Crosstalk IMD at 10kHz Overall score
Asus P8Z77-I Deluxe 2 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 1
ASRock Z77E-ITX 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 2 2
Gigabyte Z77N-WiFi 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 2 1
MSI Z77IA-E53 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 2 1
Zotac Z77-ITX WiFi 2 1 1 3 1 1 1 2 2

The Z77N-WiFi doesn’t distinguish itself from the competition in RMAA’s analog audio quality tests. Like the other boards, the Gigabyte scores much lower under our system-wide load than it does when idling.

Discrete sound cards strive to isolate the audio circuitry from board-level noise that can affect analog output quality. Unfortunately, Mini-ITX mobos have only one expansion slot, and it’s usually reserved for a graphics card. It would be nice if there were more PC audio solutions with USB interfaces.

Conclusions

Even before I cracked open the box, I have to admit to having a bit of a crush on the Z77N-WiFi. How could I not? I already knew the board was priced much lower than other Mini-ITX models based on the same Z77 platform. I’d also seen the spec sheet, so I knew Gigabyte hadn’t cut any obvious corners. This puppy has all the essentials for a modern PC, including a PCI Express slot for discrete graphics, USB 3.0 for external storage, and plenty of other connectivity options.

The built-in networking is particularly robust, with dual Gigabit Ethernet controllers complementing an Intel wireless card that boasts Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and WiDi support. Compatibility with Intel’s Wireless Display tech is a nice perk, even if it’s probably not a must-have feature for most users.

Like most crushes, my initial infatuation waned the more time I spent with the board. The firmware’s jumpy pointer tracking is annoying, especially since the graphical interface makes such good use of mouse input. Worse is the fact that the firmware sneakily overclocks the CPU when the memory frequency is changed. Despite this apparent eagerness to turn up clock speeds, there’s no CPU voltage control for voluntary overclocking.

Now, you don’t necessarily need higher voltages to overclock your CPU. We got our Core i7-3770K up to 4.5GHz without. If you’re building a small-form-factor desktop or home-theater PC, you may prefer to keep the processor at stock speeds so it consumes less power and can be cooled more quietly. In that case, though, you might as well use a cheaper board based on the H77 Express platform.

There are only two differences between the H77 and Z77 platforms. The first is the Z77’s CPU overclocking support, which the Z77N-WiFi’s lack of voltage adjustment severely limts. The second is the ability to fuel dual-x8 PCI Express configurations for multi-GPU graphics, a moot point for Mini-ITX boards with only one full-sized expansion slot.

As it turns out, the Z77N-WiFi has an H77 twin that’s identical apart from the platform hub. The H77N-WiFi sports the same Intel wireless card, the same port payload, and the same sexy circuit board. The two even share the same manual. And as an added bonus, the H77N-WiFi costs only $105—$25 less than the Z77 model.

Anyone looking to build a stock-clocked miniature desktop or HTPC should definitely have the H77N-WiFi on his short list. The Z77N-WiFi is more difficult to recommend. $130 is a bargain for a Z77 Mini-ITX board, but if you’re going to go that route, it’s worth shelling out a little more for greater overclocking potential.

Comments closed
    • stephaniej3xoxx
    • 7 years ago
    • danazar
    • 7 years ago

    Why, oh why, is there no CPU voltage control? This makes no sense to me, especially since it’s a Z77 board. I already own a Z77-UP5TH, and the BIOS voltage controls are excellent there, so it’s not like they don’t know how to do it right.

    I realize this board is meant for small spaces, and not for overclocking. But voltage control has other uses, too, especially for a board like this. Intel pushes higher default voltages than necessary, which increases power consumption and heat under load; with voltage control and a little patience, you can find a lower voltage that’s still rock-solid stable.

    To me, this is a much bigger deal than Realtek controllers. I want a compact Linux NAS/firewall/router, and this thing is ideal enough that I just ordered one on Newegg. Built-in WiFi, dual Ethernet (even if it is Realtek), quality solid-state caps, and a mature/stable BIOS (the reviews of Zotac’s BIOS and performance scared me off their Z77 board). That’s enough to do what I want.

    But this is going in a really tiny case to run 24/7; if I could shave a little off the voltage, I’d be in heaven.

      • MadManOriginal
      • 7 years ago

      Wouldn’t a box like that be sitting idle or at low load a lot of the time? You could dig more and find out what kind of CPU speed controls there are, for example you might be able to limit turboboost or set the CPU speed lower, that would reduce peak power draw as well.

        • danazar
        • 7 years ago

        Yes, but even doing that, you’re still relying on the CPU’s programmed voltage regulation instead of manual control. These are Intel’s desktop processors, and they’re intentionally set on a spread of higher voltages than strictly necessary. Intel gets dual benefits from this; stability is assured on their desktop CPUs with less binning and testing, and their desktop CPUs don’t compete so much with their much-higher-priced “low-voltage” models. You can reduce the power you’re using that way, but giving up a lot of performance in the process.

        Here’s an example at Anandtech: [url<]http://www.anandtech.com/show/5763/undervolting-and-overclocking-on-ivy-bridge[/url<] On the stock voltage chart, notice the difference between 1.1V and 0.9V at stock speeds. It's a difference of 20 watts, at the same CPU speed! The max temperature is about 10C higher at 1.1V, too. Since the CPU in that test setup defaulted to 1.08V under load, you can see how manual undervolting would really benefit if you planned to stay at stock speeds. With real manual voltage control, you don't have to choose so drastically between power consumption and CPU speed. You can tweak things to get a balance of both. (And to address your other point: Two reasons I want to roll my own NAS/router are for private VPN use and on-the-fly video transcoding, both of which can load a CPU.)

          • MadManOriginal
          • 7 years ago

          Come on though, those are artificial 100% loads using OCCT, even real-world 100% loads don’t draw that much power. I understand what you’re getting at, and being an efficiency extremist is fun, but then look at the idle power draw numbers in this review: 30W, and that’s with a grossly overpowered PSU. So if you decrease the voltage, how much power would be saved…5W? 10W (doubtful)? That’s too close to being negligible in the grand scheme to make it a deal-breaker. It’s one hard drive, or a CF light bulb. Once the differences are that low, other features like the dual NIC etc should take much greater precedence.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 7 years ago

    i’m in the wrong place. ignore.

    • 4-C
    • 7 years ago

    I have built a system with this board and another with its sibling the H77. Both suffer some problem with Wifi. I cannot successfully/reliably connect to my router. I’ve made multiple attempts and they either fail outright(almost always) or connect for a short time(very rarely) and then stop working. Right now my thinking is that it is some kind of driver issue. The problem exists under Windows 7 Pro (64bit) but when I boot the system with a PCLinux live CD, Wifi worked fine. Also installed a version of Win 7 Ultimate that seemed to work OK but I didn’t keep it installed long.
    As I have the latest driver from Gigabyte not sure what to do other than reach out to Gigabyte’s support team. Also seems odd that I found the same problem on both H77 & Z77 boards.

    Was there not a test of the Wifi capabilities in this review, or did I just miss it? I’d be curious to know if anyone else is having issues.

      • MadManOriginal
      • 7 years ago

      You should try downloading the drivers directly from Intel, there’s a good chance they’re newer than the ones Gigabyte provides.

    • chelseyhartz4xxo
    • 7 years ago
    • SuperSpy
    • 7 years ago

    Man, I thought this would be the perfect heavy-duty VPN box until I read:

    [quote<]And dual Ethernet jacks backed by a pair of Realtek controllers.[/quote<] =(

      • Bauxite
      • 7 years ago

      The only “consumer” ITX board with an intel NIC (I did all the research awhile back):

      Asus p8z77-i (the one with vrm card)

      Other than that there are various intel, notably dq77kb (dual, one with ikvm) and whatever supermicro comes up with.

    • willmore
    • 7 years ago

    [quote<]According to Intel's specifications, the Core i7-3700K[/quote<] From page two. Should be i7-3770K

    • OneArmedScissor
    • 7 years ago

    Could you include one measurement in the power test that uses a power brick? I’m not asking for it to be redone for each board or a change to the test setup, but just something else for the sake of comparison.

    I appreciate the emphasis on smaller boards, wifi, and integrated graphics. Thanks!

    • Bensam123
    • 7 years ago

    Still would rather eye up the boards in the $80-100 range. Geoff you can do better!

    Nice review otherwise. There is only so much you can write about when they all use the same chipsets. How about some FM2 boards to spruce things up and offer a interesting perspective?

      • chuckula
      • 7 years ago

      There’s one: [url<]http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813157357[/url<] It's $100, and doesn't include any wifi, so the $130 for the supposedly "overpriced" Intel board really isn't unreasonable.

        • Bensam123
        • 7 years ago

        WTF is with you and assuming I’m talking specifically about Intel boards pitted exclusively against AMD? That was two different thoughts. Jesus christ.

        Intel has plenty of boards in the $80-100 range.

        [url<]http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductList.aspx?Submit=ENE&N=100007627%20600009028&IsNodeId=1&bop=And&ShowDeactivatedMark=False&Order=PRICE&PageSize=100[/url<] [quote<]Still would rather eye up the boards in the $80-100 range. Geoff you can do better! [b<]¶PARAGRAPH¶[/b<] Nice review otherwise. There is only so much you can write about when they all use the same chipsets. How about some FM2 boards to spruce things up and offer a interesting perspective?[/quote<] You're fucking terrible. Either you blow at reader comprehension as I've said before or you just enjoy trolling.

      • MadManOriginal
      • 7 years ago

      This board has gone on sale in the past for $110. The H77 version is $105. The only cheaper Z77/H77 ITX board is an AsRock for $100.

        • Bensam123
        • 7 years ago

        [url<]http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductList.aspx?Submit=ENE&N=100007627%20600009028&IsNodeId=1&bop=And&ShowDeactivatedMark=False&Order=PRICE&PageSize=100[/url<] There are plenty of other boards in the $80-100 range (some cheaper). Why does it need to use the Z/H77 chipset specifically? Everything goes on sale at some point or another so that's rather moot. $50 can buy you quite a bit, including a faster processor, more memory, a bigger SSD (or just one to begin with), a WIFI dongle, a capture card, and/or a better video card depending on how you mix and match these things.

          • MadManOriginal
          • 7 years ago

          Because to make a comparison it should be between equivalent items. You’re saying that cheaper/older chipset boards with fewer features are cheaper…duh.

            • Bensam123
            • 7 years ago

            Like mini-itx systems… That would be remotely relevant if I were suggesting changing sockets or processors, I’m not.

            [url<]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Intel_chipsets#Core_i_Series_chipsets[/url<] If you really think four USB 3 ports and two SATA 3 ports over SATA 2 and USB 2 for a home theater system are worth $50, that's your own prerogative.

            • MadManOriginal
            • 7 years ago

            So you’re basing it solely on form factor?

            It’s every buyer’s prerogative if certain features have value. But it should be everyone’s prerogative when talking about price to compare equivalent products. Incoming car analogy…do people cross-shop between Kia and Mercedes, or pretend like the two are direct substitutes just because they both have 4 wheels and move?

    • windwalker
    • 7 years ago

    [quote=”Geoff Gasior”<]Noah took two crabs, too.[/quote<] What's that about?

      • derFunkenstein
      • 7 years ago

      Realtek + Genesis 6:19 = “Noah took two crabs, too.”

    • Convert
    • 7 years ago

    I’ve been mulling around the idea of buying another mini-itx board. I have a 775 currently that I think I will put in to my new NAS but one of the newer boards with a pentium processor for even lower power consumption sounds pretty nice. I would really like one with dual NICs too as I would have one dedicated to my lab and the other to my home network. Oh well, I guess the one I have now will do.

    What cooler is that anyways? The fans look different from the listings on newegg.

      • DPete27
      • 7 years ago

      That’s because those fans don’t come stock with the cooler. They’re either the [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16835181027<]Corsair SP120 Performance[/url<] or [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16835181025<]SP120 Quiet[/url<] fans.

        • Dissonance
        • 7 years ago

        This. We swapped out the H80’s stock fans for SP120 Quiet models.

    • Deanjo
    • 7 years ago

    Looked good right up until I read that neither nic was an intel.

      • smilingcrow
      • 7 years ago

      People often complain about this issue so curious to know why. Performance! Linux drivers!

        • Deanjo
        • 7 years ago

        Performance and reliability. You will almost always see better throughput speeds with an intel nic (sometimes substantially, I have no issues maxing out a gbit connection maximum throughput with an intel where it is rare to get over 80 MB/s with another brand).

        • Bauxite
        • 7 years ago

        realtek = realcrap for real uses (file server, router, etc)

        Its ok for a normal desktop though

    • NeelyCam
    • 7 years ago

    [quote<] The subtle black antenna pods each sit at the end of more than three feet of sturdy cabling, allowing placement for maximum reception and minimum visibility.[/quote<] Three feet??!! Maximum reception? I bet the cable loss kills any placement benefit one might have..

    • JohnC
    • 7 years ago

    Yet another generic Z77 motherboard with predictable benchmark results….
    It would be more interesting if you guys would test something, well, more “interesting”, like the Asus ROG series (for example Maximus V Gene) and, for example, see if the Asus’ claims about “superior noise isolation” for their “SupremeFX” on-board audio are actually true, especially under the heavy load conditions. Then test out other features, like ROG Connect and such…

    • MadManOriginal
    • 7 years ago

    This board would be one of my FIRST choices for a mini ITX board.

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