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Gigabyte GA-Z87N-WIFI Mini-ITX Motherboard Review

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GA-Z87N-WIFI Bundled Software

Time for a bit of a confession: normally, I don’t mess with the included drivers or applications when I purchase a new motherboard. After installing the OS, I’ll grab the latest driver versions directly from the manufacturer’s website, then only install a bundled application if I specifically need it to unlock some sort of functionality (fan control, etc.). I just don’t like dealing with the “bloat” of a bunch of extra utilities that I may never use – that being said, it was interesting taking a closer look at what Gigabyte had to offer. Let’s see if there’s anything in here that’s worth the install…

GA-Z87NWifi_InstallApps

Of course, the first utility you’ll probably encounter is Gigabyte’s Xpress Install, which runs the initial setup of all drivers and applications that are bundled with the GA-Z87N-WIFI. While it’s definitely the fastest way to get up and running I couldn’t find a way to exclude one or two elements (I’m looking at you, Norton…) and still perform a “one-click” express install. Hopefully it’s as easy as clearing the checkbox for each product that you *don’t* want and then using the express install option, but I wasn’t willing to try it (refer to my above comments on bloat – I despise having to go back through and clear out applications later…). Anyway, the drivers and applications were pretty simple to install one at a time using this utility.

APP Center

GA-Z87NWifi_AppCenterMenu

Gigabyte’s AppCenter is the one utility you will want to be sure gets installed, as it unlocks some of the advanced features most enthusiasts will look for (namely, software based fan control and overclocking with EasyTune). There are additional packages that can be added to this menu, which resides in the system tray and opens on the lower right corner of your screen. Once the number of “add in” applications grows beyond the five listed in the screenshot above, a scroll bar appears to accommodate the others in the list which helps keeps this menu from overtaking the entire screen. The Live Update utility shown on the bottom will always remain visible, as it is the primary utility from which a user can install additional Gigabyte apps and driver updates.

Live Update

GA-Z87NWifi_AppCenterLiveUpdate

Launching Live Update automatically checks for the latest versions of drivers and utilities and includes a handy description for each item. Checking the box in the upper left (top of the list) will stage all items for an update, but you may want to do this from the “All” section.

GA-Z87NWifi_AppCtrLiveUpdate2

Clicking on “All” makes adding or updating drivers and Gigabyte applications a simple and easy process. I especially appreciate the short descriptions for each item, which helps give you an idea of what the different applications do – while “Fast Boot” is pretty self explanatory, what about “EZSetup”? Live Update works pretty well, and helps change my opinion on bundled software. On future Gigabyte boards, I’ll definitely be using this utility. My one complaint: if any application fails to install for any reason, Live Update will download it again before attempting to reinstall.  It doesn’t keep a temporary cache of downloaded installers, so if you have any trouble with a particular utility you’ll be better off saving the installer from the manufacturer’s product page. (Note: I know the Z97 boards have since been released, along with new versions of these software packages. This very well might have been fixed in an update, but I have not been able to confirm this as of yet. A true fresh install probably won’t run into this issue.)

@BIOS

The @BIOS utility is a simple BIOS updater/installer.  I’m apparently a bit old fashioned since I prefer to do these updates offline and from the BIOS itself; it seems Gigabyte might be as well, since this utility commonly fails in a 64-bit OS. Well, at least it did on the Gigabyte AMD boards I’ve used… I ran into numerous issues with this utility updating a Gigabyte Sniper A88X to the latest BIOS, but @BIOS seems to work just fine on the GA-Z87N-WIFI. It certainly simplifies the update process, but it obviously requires an existing Windows installation to function.

EasyTune (+ System Information Viewer)

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get EasyTune to install on my test system – it seems another fresh OS install is in order. Apparently AMD Overdrive or previous EasyTune installations can conflict with the EasyTune installer – to save time, the screenshots from EasyTune and the System Information Viewer are from the GA-Z97N-WIFI refresh model, which is currently hosting a Pentium G3258 Anniversary Edition CPU (some of the frequencies will be different than the i5-4670K used in this article). As far as I can tell, this is the same version of EasyTune as the one used on the GA-Z87N-WIFI.

GA-Z87NWifi_EasyTuneOCB

EasyTune is Gigabyte’s overclocking and fan control software. The Intel chipsets are treated to a drastically better version than the AMD boards I’ve used, and I would imagine this utility would get the most use from enthusiasts out of the entire software suite. A range of presets are available in the “Smart Quick Boost” section, but I’d imagine most users would be much more interested in the Advanced CPU OC portion of the utility.

GA-Z87NWifi_EasyTuneAdvOCB

The Advanced CPU OC section contains Frequency, Voltage and Graphics settings all in one location. You can set and save profiles as well, but this utility needs to be running in order for the settings to take effect (or remember to check the “Retain overclock settings after reboot” box in the preferences menu – only do this once you have a stable overclock!).

GA-Z87NWifi_SIVSmartFanAdvB

The System Information Viewer utility allows a user to set a custom fan curve for both the CPU Fan and System Fan headers. There are presets available in the Smart Fan Auto section (Full Speed, Standard, Performance and Quiet), but more granular control is possible in the Advanced menu (shown in the screenshot). The Calibrate option helps ensure your particular fan is matched up to an optimal workload/fan speed range. System information, alerts, and temp/fan/voltage logging are all available from this utility as well.

Cloud Station

Perhaps one of the most interesting applications bundled with the GA-Z87N-WIFI is Gigabyte’s Cloud Station software. It consists of a few different parts:

  • HomeCloud – enables remote access to your machine (think Teamviewer or Splashtop). There are QR codes for Android and Apple platforms, providing easy access to the mobile apps that are necessary to use this function.
  • GIGABYTE Remote – probably intended for HTPC applications, this utility allows you to use a touchscreen device (tablet, smartphone) as a wireless keyboard / touchpad.
  • Remote OC – essentially what it sounds like: adjust OC settings remotely from a smartphone or tablet.
  • AutoGreen – an interesting feature, this utility suspends the PC when a paired bluetooth device leaves bluetooth (10m) range. Sort of a proximity security, in a way. I could imagine this may get a bit annoying in use – you may not want your PC to sleep the moment you step away, but at least locking your machine could be handy (there are Disable, Suspend, Standby and Hibernate settings). It’s too bad it doesn’t turn on the machine when you approach it…
  • HotSpot – a fairly typical WIFI sharing app, which allows other devices to use the on-board WIFI to share an internet connection. You’ll need to make sure your wireless NIC allows this feature to enable it.

 Miscellaneous

There are other utilities available, usually allowing a user to adjust BIOS settings from within Windows. They range from Fast Boot (configures the fast boot settings in the BIOS), USB Blocker (disables certain USB “profiles” like Mass Storage, Networking, etc.) to Smart TimeLock (set a time limit in hours for computer use, with weekday and weekend settings along with “blackout” times where the machine cannot be used) and Smart Recovery 2 (a simple backup utility that runs on boot and can back up your entire drive to another physical or network location). Some are just a simple portal to BIOS settings, others add some intriguing functionality.

The entire suite may not be for everyone, but the Gigabyte APP Center utility allows you to choose what you want to install anyway. Overall, the blue tones throughout and common design between the utilities make the APP Center a pretty cohesive experience. There were the occasional spelling errors here and there which detracted ever so slightly from the experience, but nothing substantial. The functionality is all there, but a bit more polish and Gigabyte would have one of the better software bundles I’ve used.

On the topic of functionality, let’s get to the testing and see what type of performance the GA-Z87N-WIFI is capable of.


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