In recent months we have taken a look at a number of Z97 boards, including Gigabytes exceptional Z97X- Gaming G1 WIFI-BK and their more affordable, mainstream Z97X-Gaming 5. Of course when it comes to motherboards there are many needs and budgets which require solutions and so as with their competition Gigabyte offer many, many versions of boards based on this chipset.
One of Gigabytes options for consumers looking to build a compact but feature packed system (especially those aiming to game) is the Z97N-Gaming 5. This Mini-ITX board has support for the latest i7 CPUs on socket 1150 as well as offering Wireless-ac, Killer NIC and enhanced audio. Today we have one for review.
Gigabyte stick with similar styling to the other boards in this series for the packaging on the Z97N-Gaming 5. We get a little information on the key features on the product on the front with more detailed info on the specifications around the other sides. Inside we find a manual, other documentation, stickers, SATA cables, I/O shield and Wi-Fi antenna.
The Gigabyte Z97N-Gaming 5
As is common with recent boards from Gigabyte we have a nice black and red colour scheme on this model with a few gold/metal flashes here and there. The PCB features multiple layers, two of which are specific to the left and right audio signals and that combines with the dedicated audio portion of the board towards the bottom left. More on that in a moment.
Elsewhere Gigabyte use 15u gold pins on the CPU socket and our ultra-durable branding means the presence of aspects such as high quality solid capacitors. There are two memory slots in dual channel configuration with support for DDR3-3200+ and a maximum capacity of 16GB. Moving down the board we find five SATA 3.0 ports with support on those 6GB/s connectors for RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10.
Down at the bottom left of the board we find the single PCIe 16x slot which is PCIe 3.0 spec and then to the side of that is our audio area which is separated from the rest of the board by track lighting. That area includes built in rear audio amplifier (600Ohm), Realtek ALC1150 (115dB SNR) 7.1 audio processor and Japanese Nichicon audio capacitors. Elsewhere we have a Killer E2200 NIC which gives us the benefit of some enhanced configuration software (just like the audio which uses SoundBlaster X-Fi MB3 software).
In terms of connectors, on the board itself we find 24pin and 8pin power inputs. An internal USB 3.0 header, USB 2.0 header and HD Audio connector. Two fan headers are present and we also get the built in Wireless-ac (2.4GHz and 5GHz) card. Then round at the back panel we find PS/2, 2x USB 2.0, Wi-Fi, DVI, HDMI(4K), DisplayPort and optical audio. Next up is an eSATA port, four USB 3.0s and the Killer NIC’s GB LAN. Finally there are our gold plated 3.5mm audio outputs.
Looking through the BIOS we find that going compact doesn’t mean we lose functionality. The board has the usual Gigabyte Dual BIOS with various skins but the main one for most people is likely to use the newer GUI shown above. It allows significant tweaking and we can flash our BIOS from USB which is always appreciated.
On the software front we get the latest edition of App Centre. App Centre allows us to use Gigabytes software tools to tweak, maintain and monitor our board and even some little additions like Cloud Station which brings tablet/smartphone functionality and Smart Switch brings back the classic Start menu experience to Windows 8/8.1.
When deciding to go with a mini- ITX board there is always a concern that we will lose out on a whole load of features which are normally present on a larger board. Of course some of them are guaranteed to be missing, for example multiple 16x PCIe slots but its all the little things which can be an issue. For example often we can end up with a limited BIOS or reduced memory speed compatibility. In the case of the Z97N-Gaming 5 Gigabyte have done a great job of keeping all of the key features, from the two mentioned above to the latest CPUs and high end GPUs. Some decent audio hardware also makes an appearance, as does Killer NIC and we have plenty of ports (and internal headers) to expand our connectivity. Really our only little niggle, for a board of this type, is that we could do with maybe one extra fan header. That said, we do appreciate the 5th SATA header, right at the edge of the board which could have been a location of this additional fan.
In terms of performance the Z97N-Gaming 5 is near identical to the Z97X-Gaming 5 which is one of Gigabytes ATX alternatives. So we dont loose anything there. In terms of the competition with AMDs comparable platform we can see from the performance results on the next page that Gigabyte (and Intel) win more often than they loose. The most notable aspect which may swing a purchase is if you would use the integrated GPU. That is a real strong point on AMD and of course Gigabyte to offer models such as the F2A88XN-WiFi to cover that route.
That brings us to value where the Z97N-Gaming 5 retails for $150/£110 (approx.). Given the decent warranty, high level features, pleasing design and desktop like performance it is hard not to recommend it for anyone building a compact Intel system.