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Gigabyte GA-F2A85XN-WIFI Mini-ITX Motherboard

Gigabyte GA-F2A85XN-WIFI Mini-ITX Motherboard

August 5, 2013 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Gigabyte GA-F2A85XN-WIFI

FM2 mini-ITX Motherboard
Manufacturer
Gigabyte
Street Price
US$110

If you're looking for a mini-ITX motherboard for an Intel Sandy or Ivy Bridge processor, there are a couple of dozen to choose from at a variety of different price points. If on the otherhand, you're interested in an AMD model, the selection is pitiful by comparison — just a handful. It's a bit puzzling why their mini-ITX adoption rate is so low, after all, mini-ITX is the form factor du jour for building home theater PCs and simple small boxes with a low environmental footprint, and Trinity/Richland APUs are well-suited for both.

Of the limited number of boards to choose from, the Gigabyte GA-F2A85XN-WIFI is actually the current premium model, even though its street price is just US$110. I reviewed the GA-H77N-WIFI not long ago and its clear that the two products not only share much of the same DNA but seem to be effectively clones of one another, almost mirror reflections. The two are value packed with usual features like S/PDIF, gigabit ethernet, USB 3.0, and SATA 6 Gbps, but also dual HDMI connectors (no DisplayPort) and a mini PCI-E adapter providing both 802.11n and Bluetooth 4.0 support.

The biggest difference, aside from the socket type, is the H77N-WIFI uses a chipset that lacks overclocking capabilities, something that doesn't exist on the AMD side. The A85X chipset is AMD's flagship, comparable to Intel's more expensive Z77 chipset, and this gives the F2A85XN-WIFI some extra appeal to enthusiasts and the like.



The box.



Package contents.

Budget boards aren't typically loaded with extras and the F2A85XN-WIFI comes with almost
the bare minimum. Included is a driver/utility disc, manuals, I/O shield, two SATA cables, and an external WiFi antennae. The antenna has a plastic exterior, is rotatable, and the base is magnetized to keep it in place. This is a nice step up from the wobbly rubber/plastic antennae included with the H77N-WIFI.

Gigabyte GA-F2A85XN-WIFI: Specifications

(from the product
web page
)
APU

FM2 Socket:

AMD A series processors

AMD Athlon™ series processors

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

Chipset AMD A85X
Memory 2 x 1.5V DDR3 DIMM sockets supporting up to 64 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.

* The maximum 64 GB of system memory can be supported using 16 GB (or above) memory modules. GIGABYTE will update the memory support list on the official website when the memory modules are available on the market.

Dual channel memory architecture

Support for DDR3 2400(OC)/1866/1600/1333/1066 MHz memory modules

Support for AMD Memory Profile (AMP)/Extreme Memory Profile (XMP) memory modules

“Memory support is dependent on memory module compatibility and system OS”.

(Please refer "Memory Support List" for more information.)
Onboard Graphics APU with integrated AMD Radeon™ HD 8000/7000 series graphics:

* To use the onboard graphics ports, you must install an AMD APU with integrated graphics.

1 x DVI-D port, supporting a maximum resolution of 2560x1600

* Support for 2560x1600 resolution requires both a monitor and cable that support Dual Link DVI.

* The DVI-D port does not support D-Sub connection by adapter.

2 x HDMI ports, supporting a maximum resolution of 1920x1200

* Support for HDMI 1.4a version.

Support for DirectX 11

Maximum shared memory of 2 GB
Audio Realtek® ALC892 codec

High Definition Audio

2/4/5.1/7.1-channel

Support for S/PDIF Out
LAN Realtek® GbE LAN chip (10/100/1000 Mbit)
Wireless Communication module Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, supporting 2.4/5 GHz Dual-Band

Bluetooth 4.0, 3.0+HS, 2.1+EDR
Expansion Slots 1 x PCI Express x16 slot, running at x16

(The PCI Express slots conform to PCI Express 2.0 standard.)

1 x mini-PCI Express slot for the wireless communication module
Multi-Graphics Technology Support for AMD Dual Graphics technology

* Only A series APUs support AMD Dual Graphics.
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, RAID 10, and JBOD
USB Chipset:

Up to 4 USB 3.0/2.0 ports (2 ports on the back panel, 2 ports available through the internal USB header)

Up to 6 USB 2.0/1.1 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 APU fan header

1 x system fan header

1 x front panel header

1 x front panel audio header

1 x S/PDIF Out header

1 x USB 3.0/2.0 header

1 x USB 2.0/1.1 header

1 x Clear CMOS jumper

1 x chassis intrusion header
Back Panel Connectors 1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse port

2 x HDMI ports

1 x DVI-D port

2 x antenna connectors

2 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports

4 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports

1 x RJ-45 port

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

APU/System temperature detection

APU/System fan speed detection

APU/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 @BIOS

Support for Q-Flash

Support for Xpress Install

Support for EasyTune

* Available functions in EasyTune may differ by motherboard model.

Support for Smart Recovery 2

Support for ON/OFF Charge

Support for Wi-Fi Share

Support for Cloud Station
Bundle Software Norton® Internet Security (OEM version)
Operating System Support for Windows 8/7/Vista/XP

* Support for Windows 8/7 only when an APU with integrated AMD Radeon™ HD 8000 series graphics is installed.
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 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. As they typically aren't installed in tower cases and there's so little space on the PCB, the ATX layout paradigm gets thrown out the window. While it's an FM2 motherboard, the F2A85XN-WIFI's layout is similar to most Intel mini-ITX models with CPU socket is on the bottom half of the board and most of the peripherals and connectors are located on the upper portion.



Starting with LGA1156, almost all Intel mini-ITX boards have had the CPU socket positioned close to the PCI-E 16x slot. I cringed every time I saw it but as it was the norm, it felt pointless to criticize it. Seeing this on the AMD side though is a disappointment as there are other models available with a more "traditional" layout. The 4-pin AUX12V positioning might also be problematic for some users.



Helping cool the six phase power regulation circuitry is a funny looking 30 mm tall heatsink mated to the MOSFETs.



Both the F2A85XN-WIFI and its H77 counterpart are equipped with a woefully tiny chipset heatsink. However in my experience the A75/A85 FCH doesn't heat as much as Intel's PCH.



Plugged into the mini PCI-E slot is a half-size Atheros-based WiFi and Bluetooth combo adapter. Note that some electrical components prevent the use of a full-size card.



The back panel is stocked with usual assortment of connectors, though the video outputs are an odd combination. Rather than DisplayPort or VGA connectors, Gigabyte went with dual HDMI and DVI-D, the latter of which lacks the analog pins necessary to connect a VGA adapter.



The included WiFi antenna is as sleek as one can be. The cables are 75 cm long and the base is magnetic so you can stick it on top of a case without worrying too much about knocking it over accidentally. The antenna swivels in a 180 degree arc to suit your needs accordingly.

BIOS/UEFI

The F2A85XN-WIFI features the now standard Gigabyte UEFI DualBIOS with a graphical
user interface and mouse support. It offers all the functionality you would expect from a modern motherboard though some of the settings are scattered in different sub-menus.





Advanced Frequency Settings.


BIOS/UEFI Summary: Gigabyte GA-F2A85XN-WIFI
Setting
Options
BCLK/PCIe Clock Control 100 to 140 MHz
GPU Clock 300 to 2000 MHz
CPU Voltage 0.800 to 1.800 V
CPU Voltage (Dynamic) -0.800 to +0.350 V
NB Voltage 0.800 to 1.800 V
NB Voltage (Dynamic) -0.800 to +0.350 V
Memory Frequency 800 MHz to 2400 MHz
Memory Timing Options Intermediate
DRAM Voltage 1.200 to 1.900 V

Glancing at the options in the BIOS/UEFI, it's clear that this isn't a hardcore enthusiasts' board. The degree of frequency and voltage adjustment is enough for most overclockers but there are no ridiculous high limits aside from the GPU clock. It does have a couple of nice touches that I like to see, the ability to undervolt, and dynamic voltages adjustments which apply both when the APU is idling, on full load, and anywhere in-between.





AI Tweaker menu.

Mini-ITX systems typically don't have many fans, so the F2A85XN-WIFI is only equipped with a pair of PWM fan headers. Basic control is available in the BIOS/UEFI. Users can use the predefined "Normal" and "Silent" settings or choose "Manual" to adjust how quickly the fans react with a bit more refinement. After some trial and error, I found that "Normal" was the equivalent of the 1.75 setting while "Silent" corresponded to 1.00.

Boot Performance

To test boot time I optimized the BIOS menu by setting the hard drive 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 (I stop here because this is the point where the O/S drive speed becomes a factor).

The boot process on the F2A85XN-WIFI is about average for an FM2 board, hitting the Windows loading screen in under 12 seconds. It's not particularly quick, but for some users, it will reach this point before the monitor even comes out of standby mode.

TEST METHODOLOGY

Test Setup:



Test configuration device listing.



In-Case Test Setup:

Measurement and Analysis Tools

Video Test Clip



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




1080p | 24fps | ~33mbps
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)
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 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.

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. I 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, I 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), I also measure the hottest points on the external heatsinks using an infrared thermometer. To stress the IGP, I 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 I use an external eSATA/USB 3.0 dock to connect the drive.

TEST RESULTS

Power Consumption (A8-5600K)

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.
On this board, the CPU is driven by a 6 power phase design but surprisingly the proportion of power derived from the +12V line was very similar to the 4-phase F2A75M-D3H.

The F2A85XN-WIFI's energy efficiency was similar to previously tested models when playing H.264 video but the power consumption during Flash video rendering was about 5W lower. The idle draw was also very low, tied for the lowest I've encountered on an AMD board.

As the load increases, the efficiency of the F2A85XN-WIFI only got better. During all the load tests, the average reading on the power meter was 8~12W lower than the closest performing model, the ASUS F2A85-M Pro. Typically mini-ITX models have stripped down power regulation due to size limitations, giving them better idle than load power efficiency. This makes the F2A85XN's results ever more impressive.

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.

Despite its undersized chipset heatsink, the surface temperature of the FCH cooler peaked at just 31°C above ambient on full CPU load which is comparable to previously tested FM2 boards. The VRM heatsink on the otherhand took quite a beating, heating up to 46°C above ambient (close to 70°C in the lab).

Note that our test heatsink is of the downblowing variety but it's a large model with the fan sitting high up, far away from the PCB and set to a relatively low speed. A slimmer model with a fan that sits closer to the socket would presumably do much better.

Fan Control

Using SpeedFan to track the CPU and System temperatures and fan speeds, I connected 2000 RPM PWM fans to the CPU_FAN and SYS_FAN headers, set both to "Silent" in the UEFI/BIOS (the equivalent of the manual 1.00 PWM value/°C setting) and put the system on full CPU load.



Load test: CPU temperature vs. fan speeds.

The CPU_FAN reacted fairly linearly to the CPU temperature but it seemed that a fail-safe activated at about 65°C, kicking it into high gear. Surprisingly I found that the SYS_FAN header responded to the system (FCH chipset) temperature which is a truly odd choice for a mini-ITX board.

Given the proximity of everything on the board, any fan that can affect the CPU temperature will also affect the FCH. Designing them to react to different sensors doesn't make any sense. This feature is far more useful in an ATX tower where perhaps a front or side fan can blow over the chipset. In a mini-ITX case, everything is jammed tightly together.



EasyTune fan control menu.

Gigabyte's antiquated EasyTune utility makes an appearance once again and its fan control capabilities are almost as limited as in the UEFI/BIOS. The CPU and System fan can be set to a minimum speed of 10% and 20% respectively and the maximum speed cannot be altered from 100%. If you decide to let EasyTune handle your fans, you'll need to set the maximum temperature fairly high in order to keep things running quietly, even if you have quality cooling.



SpeedFan screen with correlations inputted.

If you prefer to use SpeedFan, both headers are fully controllable via PWM once the application is set up properly (find the "IT8728F" chip in the Advanced menu and change PWM 2-3 mode from "SmartGuardian" to "Software controlled"). The same CPU and System (chipset) temperature sensors found in EasyTune are also available, reported as "Temp3" and "Temp1" 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

All A75/A85 chipset motherboards are equipped with AMD's own native SATA 6 Gbps controller and I've run this test many times with similar results so I didn't bother doing it again on this particular model. Intel's solution is superior across the board, especially with the smaller 512K block size, which means operations dealing with small files.

It's notable however that the difference is only above ~400 MB/s which is beyond the capability of most SSDs. The popular SandForce drives like the one I used can only achieve these numbers using highly compressible data. All things being equal, its unlikely any difference in performance would be noticed.

USB 3.0

USB 3.0 can purportedly produce data rates of up to 4 Gbps (512 MB/s) but in practice I've never seen anything come close. When connected internally, the test drive is capable of 500 MB/s when working with 512K block sizes. The A85X's controller is a only slightly slower than solutions from Intel and VIA but they're all roughly in the same ballpark.

This lack of performance isn't a huge deal if you're working with external hard drives and flash drives, but SSDs and other high-throughput devices would probably be better off using Thunderbolt as an interface.

WiFi

For the WiFi test, I sent a large file transfer (700MB) to a GBLAN-connected machine. I should note that the 802.11n router servicing our lab is not the greatest — it has never been able to obtain a throughput higher than 50 mbps. Still the relative difference should be noteworthy. For this comparison, I pitted the F2A85XN-WIFI's Atheros NIC against a USB adapter form ASUS, and a PCI Express controller from Intel.

The ASUS USB-N13 got completely trounced in this test, not even cracking the 10 mbps mark. I wouldn't describe either the Intel or Atheros adapters as particularly fast either but they were miles ahead of the USB adapter. The onboard WiFi trailed the Intel NIC by 6.4 mbps but that's still enough for many forms of high definition video.

The file transfer results mirrored what I saw with regard to signal strength. The Centrino reported the greatest signal strength of the three, particularly for further away off-site networks, followed by the Atheros, and then the ASUS. I should also note that USB-N13 only picked up three SSIDs, while the other two detected five (each spotted a different fifth network so I excluded it from the chart). The USB adapter's poor results are probably in part due to the lack of an external antenna.

Energy Efficiency vs. Intel

Aside from the processor, our Intel and AMD mini-ITX test components are identical and therefore ideal for a direct comparison. The two chips used also have similar power envelopes. The Core i5-2500K and A8-5600K are rated for 95W and 100W respectively.

The two platforms are roughly in the same ballpark when it comes to power consumption. If you discount Blu-ray playback, the AMD configuration performed slightly better under light loads. Under heavy loads, the Intel combination had some compelling victories when running real-life, non-synthetic applications.

In-System Test

To give our readers an idea of what to expect with regards to heat and noise, we installed the F2A85XN-WIFI into an average sized mini-ITX case for, the SilverStone Sugo SG05, and conducted some thermal and acoustic tests. The case's stock FSP 300W SFX power supply and 120 mm fan are both relatively quiet. To keep noise down further we used a Corsair Force GS SSD, a newer, more energy efficient APU, the 65W A10-6700, and a high quality low profile cooler, the Noctua NH-L9a.



System assembled. The case's drive was misplaced so the SSD was mounted to a modified expansion slot cover.



The SG05 measures 22.0 x 27.6 x 17.6 cm or 8.7 x 10.9 x 6.9 inches (W x D x H).


System Measurements
System State
Idle
H.264/MKV Playback
TMPGEnc Encoding
CPU Load
CPU Fan Speed
1030 RPM
1650 RPM
CPU Temp
21°C
25°C
67°C
69°C
Chipset Temp
40°C
42°C
55°C
56°C
HDD Temp
29°C
30°C
39°C
43°C
GPU Temp
47°C
51°C
77°C
79°C
20 dBA
20 dBA
23 dBA
23 dBA
System Power (AC)
30W
40W
102W
106W
System fan speed: 900 RPM (full speed).

Ambient temperature: 23°C.

Building a quiet and cool running mini-ITX system is obviously a bigger challenge than a spacious microATX/ATX configuration but with the right components, it's not particularly difficult. Our system was fairly quiet regardless of what actions it was performing. At idle and during H.264 video playback, I cranked the CPU fan speed to as low as SpeedFan would allow; the resulting noise level was a respectable 20 [email protected] and all the internals were operating at comfortable temperatures. It could have been much lower if we had slowed down the system fan but as the board can only control PWM models, I felt it was fair to leave it as is. For my load tests, I adjusted the CPU fan speed to 1,650 RPM in an attempt to keep the temperature under 70°C. Video encoding and Prime95 bumped the output to 23 dBA but the noise level was certainly bearable and the pitch/tone was not unpleasant. I did not perform our standard CPU + GPU load test as our A10-6700 chip throttles the CPU to keep the APU within its designated power envelope causing similar power and thermal measurements as the CPU load test alone.

The peak power consumption was 106W AC but assuming 80% efficiency, the DC power draw was about 85W. This system could easily have been powered by a silent DC-DC power supply with a 120W brick.

Gigabyte will be sending us an equivalent Intel mini-ITX motherboard in the near future so we can make a direct comparison of environmental properties between the two platforms.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Gigabyte GA-F2A85XN-WIFI is very similar to the GA-H77N-WIFI I reviewed a couple of week previous. Much of what I said about the H77N-WIFI applies here as well. It's nice energy efficient board for basic computing, hooking up to a TV, or for a small server (a proper server requires additional SATA ports). However, for gamers and enthusiasts, the F2A85XN-WIFI isn't a compromise as it has a VRM cooler and overclocking capabilities. This extra versatility really makes the Z77N-WIFI, a more expensive Z77 chipset board, its true analog on the Intel side. The F2A85XN-WIFI also has a better designed and more attractive WiFi antenna.

Even discounting these differences, I found the F2A85XN-WIFI to be more impressive based on how well it stacked up against other FM2 boards. Of the three FM2 boards we've reviewed, the F2A85XN-WIFI absolutely dominated them in load energy efficiency. I'm talking about a difference of about 10W, which is huge when the total consumption is only 75~100W.

Like most budget boards, there are a couple of places that need improvement. You can't expect the fan control to be exemplary on a budget mini-ITX model but limiting control to PWM fans is frustrating when almost every fan included with a case is of the 3-pin variety. In addition, if you let Gigabyte handle the fan speeds, the system fan reacts to the chipset rather than the CPU temperature, something that makes absolute no sense for this form factor. To top it all off, the accompanying software is antiquated and restrictive — use SpeedFan instead, it's just better in every conceivable way. Also, both the chipset and VRM heatsink are undersized, though for the chipset its more forgivable as the FCH on FM2 boards doesn't seem to heat up as much as the PCH on Intel motherboards.

Despite these issues, if you're looking for a small AMD motherboard for a SFF system, the F2A85XN-WIFI fits just about any niche you have in mind, and does so with first class energy efficiency, at least for an AMD model.

* * *



Gigabyte GA-F2A85XN-WIFI
is Recommended by SPCR

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* * *

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