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Gigabyte GA-H77N-WIFI Mini-ITX Motherboard

Gigabyte GA-H77N-WIFI Mini-ITX Motherboard

July 19, 2013 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Gigabyte GA-H77N-WIFI

LGA1155 mini-ITX Motherboard
Manufacturer
Gigabyte
Retailer
NCIX
Street Price
CDN$100

The goal was a simple one. Build a build a small, stable, cool and quiet Windows desktop for a family member. It didn't have to be flashy or fancy, it just had to do its job and not be noticed. Check email, surf the web, play music and HD video, and not bog down to a crawl when playing mindless Flash based games. That last point was absolutely vital I was told.

Combing through the current landscape of computer hardware, I settled on a
relatively low priced Intel build with integrated graphics. While AMD recent
APUs have made good strides, its true strengths — discrete-class graphics
and affordable quad core processing — simply weren't needed. What I required
was snappy single-threaded operation and high energy efficiency to make it easy
to cool quietly in a compact enclosure.

The selection of AMD mini-ITX motherboards was also much smaller. I didn't
want to settle on a board just because it was the best choice of three. If you
ask me for just one piece of advice when it comes to DIY PCs, it would be that
the motherboard is the most important component. It defines what you can add
to it and what it's capable of — the system's identity is tied to the mainboard.
And frankly, it's a pain to replace, so get it right the first time so hopefully
you'll never have to.

I found several sub-$100 LGA1155 mini-ITX models during my search but they
all were based on the old H61 chipset. I don't prescribe to the notion that
everything new is automatically better but these budget boards lacked what I
consider basic modern features, namely SATA 6 Gbps and USB 3.0. I didn't really
need either, but I wanted some degree of future-proofing or whatever you want
to call it — even if it is less than a year. If the time came for the machine
to be repurposed for some other use, I wanted some degree of versatility.

For a bit more money, a Gigabyte caught my attention, the GA-H77N-WIFI. It seemed almost too good to be true. A series 7 board, it had everything I wanted and might ever want. SATA 6 Gbps, USB 3.0, gigabit ethernet, HDMI, S/PDIF, and even WiFi and Bluetooth. The few reviews I found were favorable and it was on sale at NCIX for about CDN$100. A few mouse-clicks and keyboard strokes and a day later, it was ready for pickup along with a compatible 55W dual core Ivy Bridge processor.

When Intel's series 7 motherboards launched in anticipation of Ivy Bridge,
the H77 chipset took the same role as its predecessor, H67, a budget mainstream
model with all the basic necessities for most users. Compared to the top of
the line Z77 chipset, H77 is missing a couple of advanced features, though arguably
they aren't all that useful on a mini-ITX model.

The big one is CPU overclocking via multiplier, the only way to achieve a good
overclock with a modern Intel chip. Without it, one must resort to core frequency
adjustment, which results in instability beyond a few MHz. A "Z" series
board is also required for Lucid's Virtu application to access features of the
integrated graphics chip, namely Intel's Quick Sync video transcoding engine
while using a discrete graphics card. Finally, with H77, the CPU's PCI-E lanes
cannot be split up into multiple slots (e.g. 8x/8x), an irrelevant omission
for the mini-ITX form factor with its single expansion slot.

Gigabyte H77N-WIFI : Specifications

(from the product
web page
)
CPU

Support for Intel® Core™ i7 processors/Intel® Core™ i5 processors/Intel® Core™ i3 processors/Intel® Pentium® processors/Intel® Celeron® processors in the LGA1155 package

L3 cache varies with CPU

(Some Intel® Core™ processors require a graphic card, please refer "CPU support List" for more information.)

Chipset Intel® H77 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 2200(OC)/1600/1333/1066/800 MHz memory modules

* To support DDR3 1600 MHz, you must install an Intel 22nm (Ivy Bridge) CPU.

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 1920x1200

2 x HDMI ports, supporting a maximum resolution of 1920x1200
Audio Realtek ALC892 codec

High Definition Audio

2/4/5.1/7.1-channel

Support for S/PDIF Out
LAN 2 x Realtek GbE LAN chip (10/100/1000 Mbit)
Wireless Communication module Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Supports Intel Wireless Display (WiDi)

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.)

* Whether PCI Express 3.0 is supported depends on CPU and graphics card compatibility.
Storage Interface Chipset:

2 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors (SATA3 0/1) supporting up to 2 SATA 6Gb/s devices

2 x SATA 3Gb/s connectors (SATA2 2/3) supporting up to 2 SATA 3Gb/s devices

Support for RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, and RAID 10

* When a RAID set is built across the SATA 6Gb/s and SATA 3Gb/s channels, the system performance of the RAID set may vary depending on the devices being connected.
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

1 x serial port header

2 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors

2 x SATA 3Gb/s connectors

1 x USB 3.0/2.0 header

2 x USB 2.0/1.1 headers

1 x CPU 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 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

2 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports

4 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 fan speed control

* Whether the CPU fan speed control function is supported will depend on the CPU 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 eXtreme Hard Drive (X.H.D)

Support for Auto Green

Support for ON/OFF Charge

Support for Q-Share

Support for EZ Setup

Support for Intel Wireless Display (Intel WiDi)

Exclusive Bluetooth 4.0/WiFi module
Bundle Software Norton Internet Security (OEM version)

Intel® Rapid Start Technology

Intel® Smart Connect Technology

Intel® Smart Response Technology
Operating System Support for Microsoft® Windows 8/7/XP
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.

Being a mini-ITX motherboard, it has some limitations compared to the ATX enthusiast
boards I am used to working with. Present are four SATA ports (two of which
are 3 Gbps), two DIMM slots, and two USB 3.0 connectors at the back, though
an internal header is provided. As H77 is a mainstream/budget chipset, most
users will end up using integrated graphics which the H77N-WIFI supports via
one DVI-I and dual HDMI ports. This setup lacks a DisplayPort, which is required
for Ivy Bridge's triple display support.

The real interesting thing about this board are the connectivity options. It's equipped with a pair of Realtek gigabit ethernet connectors which some savvy users with the right hardware use to team a pair of cable/DSL modems to make a single super high speed internet connection out of two cable/DSL lines. A second NIC can also be useful if the PC is to be used as a router/firewall and for other advanced server functions. A regular Joe has no need of this but WiFi and Bluetooth is certainly pertinent. The board has a half-size mini PCI-E slot filled with a WiFi 802.11n and Bluetooth 4.0 adapter. Few mini-ITX boards have wireless connectivity, let alone one at this price point.



The box.



Package contents.

Budget boards aren't loaded with extras and the H77N-WIFI comes with almost
the bare minimum. Included is a driver/utility disc tucked inside a manual,
I/O shield, two SATA cables, and a pair of external WiFi antennae. The antennae
are made of plastic and rubber and have one meter long cables. They're not particularly
hefty and don't have magnets on them like the ASUS antennae so it's easy to
knock them over.

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. The GA-H77N-WIFI has, for the most part, a standard layout for a mini-ITX model. 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. The CPU socket is on the bottom half of the board while most of the peripherals and connectors are located on the upper portion.



Expandability isn't a strong-point for the form factor. There's only one PCI Express slot and two DIMM slots, but four SATA ports (two 6 Gbps) are available as well as a mini PCI-E connector populated by the included WiFi/Bluetooth adapter.



The area around the CPU socket is orderly but the surrounding MOSFETs and inductors lack any sort of cooling. Like many previous LGA1155/1156 mini-ITX models, the socket resides on the lower half of the board, very close to the PCI Express slot, limiting your heatsink options if you wish to utilize a discrete graphics card.



Surprisingly, the included wireless NIC is a brand name card, the Intel Centrino Wireless-N 2230. Due to the proximity of the PCH heatsink, it cannot be swapped out for a full sized mini PCI-E card.



The PCH cooler is quite small with little exposed surface area. Surrounding it are the 4-pin AUX12V port, an internal USB 3.0 header, the SATA connectors, and the various switch/LED pin-outs.



The back panel is stocked with a nice selection of connectors including dual HDMI, DVI-I, S/PDIF, USB 3.0 (the two blue ports) and connectors for the WiFi antennae.

BIOS/UEFI

The H77N-WIFI features the now standard Gigabyte UEFI DualBIOS with a graphical
user interface and mouse support. It first presents you with a simplified view
with a run-down of the clock speeds, etc., but users who want to get their hands
dirty will want to enable the advanced menu.



Advanced Frequency Settings.


BIOS Summary: Gigabyte GA-H77N-WIFI
Setting
Options
CPU/PCIe Base Clock 80 to 150 MHz
Turbo Power Limit 60 to 1200 W
Core Current Limit 10 to 300 A
Memory Timing Options Intermediate
DRAM Voltage
1.200 to 2.000 V
Graphics Clock 400 to 1600 MHz
Integrated Graphics Memory Size 32 to 1024 MB
DVMT Total Memory Size 128 MB, 256 MB, MAX

Being an H77 motherboard, there are too many adjustments to be made in the UEFI/BIOS. Frequency manipulation is on the table but those familiar with Sandy/Ivy Bridge overclocking know the CPU base clock can't be raised by more than a few extra Hertz without causing instability. GPU overclocking is on the menu but you can't apply an extra juice. Voltage controls are absent except for DRAM. This also shuts out users looking to undervolt in an attempt to save power.

Another issue I encountered was a limitation of the memory frequency. If you are using a Sandy Bridge processor, you're restricted to a maximum of 1333 MHz. I've seen this issue noted on the specifications of other H77 motherboards so I have to assume this is a limitation of the chipset. I normally wouldn't lose any sleep over this as the CPU performance difference between 1600 MHz and 1333 MHz is negligible. However, integrated GPU performance, particularly for integrated chips, relies fairly heavily on DRAM frequency to make up for other shortcomings. If you plan on doing some basic gaming using a Sandy Bridge CPU, this is something to keep in mind.





AI Tweaker menu.

As mini-ITX systems typically don't use many fans, fan control is often a secondary
concern when it comes to mini-ITX motherboards. There are controls for both
of the available fan headers in the BIOS/UEFI, but they're rather simple. If
you're feeling adventurous, choose "Manual" to adjust the slope of
the fan speed curve (not actually curved, it's completely linear) between 0.75
and 2.50 PWM value / °C. Presets are also available but it's the same as
choosing the slope manually. The options have just been culled down to two and
they've been renamed to "Silent" and "Normal."

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 H77N-WIFI is average, hitting the Windows loading screen in a little under 14 seconds. It's not particularly quick, but for some users, it will reach this point before the monitor activates from standby mode.

TEST METHODOLOGY

Test Setup:



Test configuration device listing.



Measurement and Analysis Tools

Video Test Clip



1080p | 24fps | ~22 mbps

H.264/MKV: A custom 1080p H.264 encoded clip inside an Matroska container.



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 (Core i5-2500K)

Unfortunately it is 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, Gigabyte has gone with a basic 4+1 power phase design which pulls more power from the AUX12V connector than most LGA1155 models, especially on heavy load. With both the CPU and GPU stressed, approximately 96% of the total power draw was coming through the the 4-pin connector.

Simpler power phase designs often translate into good idle efficiency but poor load efficiency and that's certainly the case here. When idle or playing H.264/MKV video, the total system power draw was only 20W and 25W DC respectively, very low for this CPU. On load, boards with more sophisticated power regulation pulled ahead. Cooling may also have played a part as the H77N-WIFI is the only model compared that lacks a VRM heatsink and its PCH heatsink is diminutive. As these integral components heat up, they become less efficient.

Cooling

To test the board's cooling, I stressed the CPU for ~15 minutes with Prime95. Temperatures of the boards' chipset heatsinks were recorded using a spot thermometer. The highest temperatures were taken for comparison.

On full CPU load, the surface temperature of the PCH cooler peaked at 47°C above ambient. This was slightly warmer than the Zotac H67-ITX WIFI but considerably hotter than most LGA1155 boards I've tested. This result is not surprising considering the scant onboard cooling. I should point out that no instability was observed, caused by this issue or any other, but it would probably be a good idea to have some direct airflow blowing over the PCH.

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

Being a budget model, it's understandable that Gigabyte didn't put any advanced fan control features on the H77N-WIFI. However, even though control is offered on both fan headers, I only managed to get automatic control working on the CPU_FAN header. The BIOS/UEFI SYS_FAN setting was seemingly ignored and any fan connected to that header ran at full speed. Control of the CPU_FAN header also required a 4-pin PWM fan, so 3-pin fans also run at maximum.



Load test: CPU temperature vs. fan speeds.

Using SpeedFan to track the CPU temperature and fan speeds, I connected a 2000 RPM PWM fan to the CPU_FAN header and a 1300 RPM PWM fan to the SYS_FAN header, set both to "Silent" in the UEFI/BIOS (the same as 0.75 PWM value/°C) and put the system on full CPU load. The CPU_FAN behaved as expected, rising with the CPU temperature in a predictable manner while the SYS_FAN remained at full speed throughout.



EasyTune fan control menu.

Gigabyte's dated EasyTune utility does enable control of the second header
but once again, only PWM fans are supported and the slopes offered are all straight.
You get to choose two minimum/maximum fan speed and temperature points and the
fans ramp up linearly as they did in the load test.



SpeedFan screen with correlations inputted.

Like many times in the past, SpeedFan comes to the rescue. 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 the first "Temp2" 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

As with previous series 6 and series 7 motherboards, the H77N-WIFI's SATA controller outperformed AMD's solution by a modest amount. Most of the advantage was with the smaller 512K block size, which means mainly operations dealing with small files. It's also notable that the difference is 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 H77N-WIFI's Intel controller was substantially slower across the board, like most USB 3.0 controllers I've encountered. Most of them are roughly the same in my experience when it comes to speed.

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 (1.4GB) to a GBLAN-connected machine via an Actiontec V1000H modem/router in the adjacent room. I should also note my router is not the greatest — it was provided by my ISP and the speed has never been an issue as I use WiFi for internet access only and no network video streaming.

For this comparison, I pit the H77N-WIFI's Intel NIC against a pair of add-on adapters from ASUS, one PCI Express, the other USB.

First a quick look at range and signal strength. Of the three, the Intel solution picked up the most SSIDs (eight), while the PCE-N13 only detected five, though the networks it did see reported excellent signal strength. The USB-N13 found seven but the signal strength was weak on all except the closest WLAN (mine).

The H77N-WIFI's adapter completed the test with an average transfer rate of 31.6 mbps, not terrific for wireless-N, but fast enough to stream most 1080p content except perhaps uncompressed Blu-ray rips. It outpaced the USB adapter but the PCI-E NIC was superior to both by a big margin.

FINAL THOUGHTS

For basic users, the Gigabyte GA-H77N-WIFI fits the bill nicely, particularly
as the platform gives you access to Intel's low power dual core Sandy and Ivy
Bridge chips which deliver a considerable level of performance while generating
a low environmental footprint. The H77N-WIFI's energy efficiency is excellent
under light loads so it's a strong candidate for outputting media and server
duty. As a server, four SATA ports may be too few, but you could always add
a PCI-E controller card to increase its total capacity. What really tips the
scales for the H77N-WIFI is the inclusion of Intel's Centrino 2230 Bluetooth
4.0/802.11n adapter, delivering connectivity options that are absent in all
boards in the same price range.

The board is less ideal for enthusiasts and gamers, but it's certainly not out of the question, primarily due to the nature of the mini-ITX form factor. Many will bemoan this model simply because it's based on the the H77 chipset which lacks some of the high-end features of Z77. CPU overclocking in particular is a sore-point but it can be argued that mini-ITX cases aren't conducive to that sort of thing in the first place. Gamers, in particular, would have a tough time with this, as their hot, high-end graphics cards would make it difficult to cool the CPU even at stock speeds. Those who encode a lot of video may also lament the lack of access to Intel's Quick Sync encoding engine when using discrete graphics, but if they're serious about video editing, they should really be doing it in a bigger machine, preferably with plenty of RAM and a beefy heatsink.

It's clear that Gigabyte cut some corners to get this board down to the CDN$100
level. Heatsinks on the board are almost nonexistent. There is no VRM heatsink
and the PCH cooler is the worst I've seen on any series 7 motherboard. Not only
is it small but the heatsink doesn't have much surface area either; its shape
doesn't make efficient use of the limited allotted space. While not a critical
flaw, this is a concern that would have lingered if I hadn't gone for a 55W
dual core processor rather than the 95W quad core used for comparison testing.

Fan control, understandably, has taken a backseat but you would still expect
it to work properly. The BIOS/UEFI control for the second fan header didn't
work for me, though it was controllable once I hit the Windows desktop and had
access to EasyTune and SpeedFan. For me, fan control being limited to 4-pin
PWM fans is a bigger problem. Most CPU coolers are equipped with PWM fans these
days but almost all the fans included with cases are the old school 3-pin variety,
so finding an alternative control method will likely be required to fully take
advantage of this feature.

The Gigabyte GA-H77N-WIFI is not a motherboard with every feature under the
sun nor is a stripped down model suitable only for mundane office type use.
Gigabyte straddled the line in an attempt to create an affordable motherboard
with broad appeal, and for the most part they've succeeded. It's a nice budget
board with a little something for everyone at an appetizing price. I spent my
own hard-earned money for this board and have no regrets. Coming from someone
who reviews hardware on a regular basis, that's solid praise.

* * *



Gigabyte GA-H77N-WIFI
is Recommended by SPCR

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* * *

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