GIGABYTE GA-Z97N-WIFI LGA 1150 Motherboard Review

GIGABYTE’s Z97N WiFi has a lot to offer small form factor PC enthusiasts. Many hardware enthusiasts have gravitated to the "less is more" approach over the years, but it is easier now than ever. GIGABYTE's latest SFF offering proves good things come in small packages and it won't break the bank.

Introduction

GIGABYTE recently surpassed ASUS as the world’s number one seller of motherboards in the world which is no small achievement. GIGABYTE achieved this through quality, innovation and a diverse product portfolio. GIGABYTE has over 7,000 employees and a billion dollar plus annual income. GIGABYTE’s offerings are as diverse as its motherboard offerings including graphics cards, power supplies, computer cases, networking equipment smart phones, tablets, and computer peripherals.

GIGABYTE has earned its reputation and its market position with quality motherboard offerings found in many price points. Despite that it’s no secret I’m often very critical of GIGABYTE’s offerings. Normally I think the UEFI BIOS is horrible and the firmware quirky at best. I’ve had some inconsistent software experiences lately as well. The last two GIGABYTE motherboards I’ve looked at have been more consistent and easier to work with so for me at least that’s a step in the right direction. I feel as though GIGABYTE has done very well on the hardware side of things but that the firmware they sometimes drop the ball. That’s been changing lately as my experiences with GIGABYTE motherboards continue to improve. I have high hopes for the Z97N WiFi because up until now I’ve really only felt like ASUS’ mini-ITX offerings were worth recommending.

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The GA-Z97N-WIFI (rev. 1.0) is taking on ASUS’ dominance in the mini-ITX market. While I wouldn’t call it a match for the Republic of Gamers Maximus VII Impact, I would call it a threat to the Z97I Plus. The Z97N WiFi may be a tiny mini-ITX motherboard but it has a lot to offer in terms of features. The expansion slot capabilities and multi-GPU connectivity is sacrificed due to the form factor, but the Z97N WiFi offers three network connectivity options, plenty of SATA ports, and plenty of USB ports. The Z97N WiFi also sports an audio solution utilizing an isolated PCB and dedicated audio capacitors from Nippon Chemicon.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

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The packaging on the Z97N WiFi is exactly what you’d expect. The box does open weird in that the bottom part of it is integrated into the box flap. Inside the box you’ll find very few accessories. Included are: User guide, multilingual installation guidebook, driver disc, WiFi driver disc, wireless antenna, SATA cables and an I/O shield.

Board Layout

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The layout of the Z97N WiFi is solid despite the motherboard being very small. The Z97N WiFi uses a four phase power configuration. This seems like a very low amount of phases, however quality trumps quantity almost every time.

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The CPU socket area is clean despite the lack of PCB real estate. The cooling hardware is basic and the four phase power components are naked. While cooling would have been nice valuable real estate would have been sacrificed to get it. Fortunately you will have more trouble choosing a cooler to fit the chassis than the motherboard due to the design simply being well thought out.

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The GIGABYTE Z97N WiFI has two 240-pin DDR3 DIMM slots supporting up to a total of 16GB of memory. Memory speeds up to 3100MHz DDR3 are supported through overclocking. Due to only having two slots color coding wasn’t necessary. Clearance-wise these aren’t too bad but you may have trouble with some of the nearby SATA ports.

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The chipset itself is housed right next to the CPU socket and above the PCI-Express x16 slot. It is cooled with a passive heat sink that uses the cheap plastic push pins and springs for retention. I would much rather have preferred GIGABYTE to have used screws for this. The SATA ports are the vertical type which is necessary in this case even though I hate them. Again these ports can be difficult to reach when the system is fully assembled because the cooler, graphics card and RAM all flank the SATA ports.

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There is a single PCI-Express 3.0 x16 slot. There isn’t much else to say given that there isn’t anything else going on at this location of the PCB beyond being in close proximity to many other connectors. Fortunately they are all on "top" of the PCI-Express x16 slot.

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The I/O panel is packed with connectivity options. There are two USB 2.0 ports, 4x USB 3.0 ports, 1x PS/2 keyboard and mouse port, 1x DVI-I port, 2x wireless antenna jacks, 2x HDMI ports, 2x RJ-45 ports, 1x optical output and 5 mini-stereo jacks for analog audio output.