Gigabyte GA-F2A85XN-WIFI (A85X Mini-ITX) Motherboard
With only 17cm x 17 cm of area to work with, available real estate limits what manufacturers can put on a mini-ITX motherboard. However, for the Gigabyte GA-F2A85XN-WIFI, Gigabyte has done a very good job at offering what users need the most. The F2A85XN-WIFI does not come with a lot of the bells and whistles that we find on gaming boards or extreme overclocking boards. However, Gigabyte is able to pack in quite a lot of extra features, including DualBIOS, a WiFi card, Bluetooth, and plenty of USB and SATA ports on such a tiny board.
The F2A85XN-WIFI comes in the typical cardboard box. Inside we see the motherboard is placed on top of the box and underneath the board is where the accessories are located. There is not much includes with the board: we get the usual driver disk, a utility disk, rear IO plate, quick start guide, a manual, a wireless antenna, and two SATA cables.
The board features Gigabyte Ultra Durable 4 Plus, which means it utilizes all solid Caps and IR PowIRstage that is rated to operate at higher temperature for up to 50,000 hour component lifespan. The Ultra Durable 4 Plus branding includes Ultra Cool, Ultra Performance, and Ultra Safe. Combined, they provide lower operating temperatures, higher overcloking stability with Lower RDS MOSFET. Another feature of the Ultra Durable 4 is the UEFI DualBIOS for fail-safe protection that can render the main BIOS failure due to virus attack, hardware malfunction, improper OC settings or power failure during the update process
Compared to the standard ATX board layout, we see Gigabyte placed the A85X chipset on the left side of the CPU as oppose to the typical right side. It is placed toward to upper left side of the board. The region around the CPU area is about the same size as the standard ATX board cut into 17×17 cm size with components pushed closer together and the CPU socket has been pushed back slightly toward the rear of the board.
Lining the top edge of the board is where most of the internal connectors are located. Starting from the right, we see the main ATX 24-pin power connector. Next to it is the four SATA ports, followed by an internal USB 3.0 header. Just below the USB 3.0 header is where we will find the internal USB 2.0 header and the front panel header. Right under the USB headers is where the A85X chipset is located, just behind the rear IO ports. A small low profile heatsink sits above the chip that is small and short enough that it won’t pose any clearance issue. All together (both internal and external), the board comes with four USB 3.0 ports (two on the rear and two via the front header), six USB 2.0 ports (four on the rear and two via the header), and four SATA 6Gbps ports which is sufficient for average users.
Since all connectors and ports (USB, SATA, PS/2) are being handled by the A85X chipset, we do not find many additional chips on the board except the SuperIO and the audio chip. The AMD A85X chipset supports up to six SATA 6 Gbps with RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 10, and JBOD but due to space limitation, we only get four on the board. Unfortunately though, Gigabyte did not route one the two remaining SATA ports to the rear panel for eSATA. The AMD A85X chipset not only handles the necessary IO but also features AMD Dual Graphics technology where you can add another graphic card to work in conjunction to the integrated GPU for additional monitor support or extra performance.
Right below the SATA ports are the two BIOSes and next to it is the CPU fan header and the clear CMOS header. The DualBIOS is an unique feature that we often find on high-end motherboards where two BIOSes are located on the board to provide a back up in the event the primary one is corrupted due to overclocking or inappropriate flashing. We are glad to see Gigabyte retained such feature on the board.
Moving down from the A85X chipset is where we will find the add-on mini-PCIe WiFi and Bluetooth module. It hops along the PCI Express 2.0 lanes on the A85X chipset to provide the wireless connectivity. It is powered by Qualcomm-Athero AR5B22 chip that is a dual band (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi card with support for 2×2 MIMO for a maximum throughput of 300 Mbps. The chip also handles Bluetooth 4.0, 3.0, 2.1+EDR. It is baffling to see some systems in 2013 still bundle with a wireless adapter without 802.11n and 5GHz support so we applaud Gigabyte’s implementation here. While it is not the latest 802.11ac, it at least supports 5GHz-n specification for up to 300 Mbps. The Bluetooth 4.0 also supports Smart Ready Technology. Gigabyte provides a very good looking external antennae that offers 180 degree adjustment where you can improve signal quality by adjusting the antennae left or right.
The mini-PCIE appears to be just for expansion only and will not accept mSATA SSD. It will accommodate half size mini PCIE card only as there is a tiny capacitor that will block anything longer.
Gigabyte’s unusual board layout places the CPU very close to the PCI Express slot. From the base of the CPU socket, there is about 1.5 cm to the edge of the first DIMM slot. There is about 2.2 cm from the edge of the CPU socket to PWM heatsink. The left side of the board is pretty open for large heatsink but the side close to the PCI Express is tight in space with only 1 cm of space between the PCIE slot and the heatsink bracket. It is possible to use a slightly bigger heatsink than the reference unit but we would suggest to choose an unit with the width less about 90 cm (about the length of the heatsink bracket) to ensure no clearance issue if you plan to use a discreet graphic card.
The full size two DIMM slots are next to the edge of the board. They support 1.5V DDR3 memory 21331866/1600/1333/1066 MHz and up to 64GB of total memory are supported though we have yet seen a single stick 32GB or 16GB DDR3 on the market so the at least at the moment, you can populate up to 16GB (2x8GB) of DDR3 memory, which is aplenty for most uses. AMD Memory Profile and Intel XMP profiles are both supported. The DIMM latch is extremely close to the sole PCI Express x16. While there is no issue of using the latch with the graphic card installed, we would still suggest removing the card before the memory. Obviously, if you are using a video card with large components protruding on the rear of the card, then it may not work with the board.
Sandwiched between the CPU socket and the PCI Express slot is the 4 pin auxiliary power connector. The placement of such connector is a bit hard to reach if you have the graphics card installed. The use of the 4 pin auxiliary power connector as opposed to 8-pin would mean less power go to the processor but given the fact that not many people would try to break the overclocking world-record with a mini-ITX board, it is not something that anyone would worry about.
Gigabyte choose to use a laptop style CMOS battery where two wires coming out of the battery are connected to the headers on the motherboard. This saves some previous space on the mini-ITX board. Gaining access to the battery header is a bit difficult as it is nested behind the PWM heasink next to two tiny capacitor. Just next to it is an additional fan header.
The rear, we find the standard ports. Here we have a PS/2 keyboard and mouse combo port, four USB 2.0, two USB 3.0, a Display port, a HDMI port, a dual-link DVI-D, a Gigabit Ethernet port, 8 channel audio port with optical S/PDIF port, and the two antenna connectors. The only thing that we would like to see is maybe an external clear CMOS button but other than that it has a good mix of ports. The USB ports support Gigabyte’s On/Off charge technology where you can charge any mobile device via USB regardless if the PC is on. The Gigabit Ethernet is handled by the Realtek 8111E and the audio is from Realtek ALC892, a pretty standard chip found on most motherboards on the market. It supports Dolby True HD and DTS HD and up to 192kHz/24bit 8 channel LPCM audio output.
Gigabyte bundles the GA-F2A85XN-WIFI with the typical array of drivers that includes AMD Chipset driver 12.102, Realtek HD audio R2.7, Realtek 811/8168 Lan driver, AMD AHCI Driver 1.2.001.0337, ON/OFF Charge. In addition, it also includes Gigabyte’s in house and other utilities such as Easy Tune 6, @BIOS, Smart Recovery 7, DMI Viewer, Face-wizard, Update Manager, Auto Green, Realtek Ethernet Diagnostic Utility, Lan Optimizer, AMD GAME, and Gigabyte 3TB Utility. Furthermore, other included software are Chrome browser, Google Toolbar for IE, Norton Internet Security 2013 60 days trial, and a list of Cyberlink software that includes PowerDVD 12, PowerDirector 11, Power2Go 8, PhotoDirector 4, YouCam 5, and MediaExpresso 6.7. The Cyberlink software titles are not included but rather they will direct to the Cyberlink’s website to download the trial version of the software.
The EasyTune 6 is Gigabyte’s own system monitoring and overclocking tool. It has not changed much since we first saw it a few years back. While the interface is easy to navigate, its interface is slightly outdated. It does get the job done and its small footprint is something worth mentioning that is not as bloated as the Asus AI Suite. If you have used older Gigabyte’s board, you should not be a stranger to the EasyTune.
The @BIOS provides the ability to update BIOS through internet and the Smart Recovery 7 is based on the Windows 7 Shadow Copy Service technology that provides system backup. The DMI viewer provides motherboard hardware information, the Face Wizard provides customizing BIOS boot up screen, the Update Manager lets you automatic update Gigabyte’s software by the Internet, and the Auto Green works with Bluetooth device where if a device is out of the range after a certain period of time, the hard drive will turn off to save power.
A few special tool included with the board is the WiFi Share where it lets you share files and folders with other devices over the wireless network. The good thing about this is that it will work with any wireless adapters and motherboards so you are not limited to just Gigabyte products. You are able to share files across different PCs and laptops. All you have to do is install the software on both devices and enable the features to get ready to share files across both devices. We tried to use the WiFi Share with the Asus UX31E but could not get the program to start the share. While we had no problem installing the software, we were not able to turn on the WiFi share option, we encountered error saying that “WiFi Share softAP could not be started.”
The same software also provides the ability to turn the PC into a wireless hotspot so that you can share internet connection across multiple devices. At the moment, the WiFi Share only works with PCs since it requires both devices to have the WiFi Share software installed and Gigabyte has yet to release a mobile version so you are not able to use it to share files between PC and the mobile devices. We hope that Gigabyte will release a software update.
The GIGABYTE Cloud Station utility helps GIGABYTE Apps (and future GIGABYTE Apps) to communicate, share resources and control desktop PC systems. The Apps interact with the PC via Bluetooth, WiFi, or USB. At the moment it only works with iOS devices and Windows 7/8. Currently, there are two pieces of software that will interact with the board: EasyTune Touch and Picture View. The EasyTune Touch allows you to remotely control the PC that offers the ability to change CPU and memory frequency and voltages. There is also three levels of automatic system tuning. It also displays system information and provides hardware monitor as well as reboot and shut down the PC. Gigabyte also bundles Picture View App that allows sharing photos from the iOS to the desktop much easier process.
The BIOS for the F2A85XN-WIFI has not yet been updated to the new 3D UI that we have seen with the Z77 chipset or the latest Z87 boards from Gigabyte. While the BIOS is UEFI, it lacks the pretty interface from the Intel counterpart and looks more like the Advanced Mode from Gigabyte’s 3D BIOS. Do not think that this actually a bad thing since we found that the 3D BIOS was a bit laggy and we were much prefer the text based BIOS as it gets the job done without the lag. The overall layout BIOS has not changed much where on the top we got six menu and underneath them is where we will find the sbumenu. Gigabyte has organized the settings into: M.I.T, System, BIOS Features, Peripherals, Power Management, and Save and Exit.
Under the M.I.T is where all of the overclocking settings are located. The board offers the ability to adjust the CPU and memory frequency. It also offers the ability to adjust voltages for the CPU, NB core, DRAM, Vcore and NBVID loadline calibration. Obviously, if you are an overclocker, it is most likely that you would be choosing the A10-6800K or any of the K series APU where overclocking is as simple as raising the CPU clock ratio as oppose to messing with the BCLK clock speed.
The System give a quick overview of the system information that includes the BIOS version. Here is where we can adjust the time and the date. In addition, it provides a quick glance of the ATA port information.
The BIOS feature is where we find the boot options.
The Peripherals is where we can adjust the rest of the motherboard ports. Here is also where we can switching between the initial display setting from the onboard to the PCI express.
Power Management does not need much information as we can see that the board offers the ability to resume by Alarm, keyboard, or mouse.
Lastly, the board’s BIOS offers the abiliyt to save up to 8 profiles and Q-Flash where we can flash BIOS directly within the BIOS. We also have the option to take screenshots by pressing the F12 key (useful feature for reviewers or share BIOS setting).
|Motherboards||FM2: Asus F2A85V PROGigabyte F2A85XN-WIFI|
|Ram||Kingston HyperX Gray 4 GB (2x2GB)G.Skill RipJawX 2133MHz|
|CPU Cooler||Thermalright SI-128|
|Hard Drives||Seagate Barracuda XT 3TB|
|SSD||1x OCZ Vertex 3 240GB SATA III 6Gb/s SSD|
There is not much difference between the other A85X motherboards on the market. Though the Gigabyte F2A85XN-WIFI tends to score a tad under the Asus F2A85-V Pro. The mixed workload that includes the GPU and storage seems to favor the Asus board slightly. However, the Gigabyte board does really well in the Computational benchmark.
There is virtually no difference when comes to data encryption.
With video transcoding, again, there is essentially no difference at all.
Same result with the Cinebench 11.5 CPU test.
Though, in the OpenGL test, the Gigabyte board scored a tad lower than the Asus board.
If we want to be nick-picking we can see that when comes to gaming with the integrated GPU, the Gigabyte’s board again just trails the Asus’s ATX board ever so slightly. Though, we doubt anyone would be able to tell any difference between the two boards.
Since the F2A85XN-WIFI uses AMD A85X for the storage controller, its performance is in line with what we would expect out of the chipset. AMD A85X chipset’s SATA 6 Gbps controller is still lagging behind the Intel’s offering but the board is consistent with other A85X boards.
Idle the system with the board consumes 52 watts of power and under load we see the board consumes 134 watts of power. Initially we observe the board’s power consumption jumped to 142 watts but it stabilized to 134 watts. The idle power consumption is a about 7 watts higher than Asus’s board and 4 watts higher than Gigabyte’s own ATX board that we have tested. However, under load it is 8 watts fewer than the other boards we have tested.
Despite only having a four pin auxiliary ATX power connector, we were still able to overclock our A10-6800K to 4.6 GHz without much of an issue by simply raising the BCLK. This is a tad lower (100MHz) than what we were able to achieve with the Asus board. With any FM2 processor it seems like 4.5-4.6 GHz is a sweet spot before hitting the thermal headroom using an air-cooler. Any higher clockspeed would require water or more extreme cooling. Obvious, no one is going to be using the mini-ITX board for the title of the fastest overclocking but the optino is certainly there for those who wish to push their hardware a little bit more.
A quick search online and we can see that there are a handful of mini-ITX motherboards for the FM2 socket but if you want a board with the latest A85X chipset, there are only two boards available: the Gigabyte F2A85XN-WIFI and the ASRock FM2A85X-ITX. The rest of the mini-ITX boards use either the A75 or the A55 chipset. The ASRock board is retail at about $100 while the Gigabyte’s board is about $110. For extra $10, the Gigabyte’s board includes a very robust wireless adapter that supports dual band (2.4 and 5.0 GHz) and dual stream (2×2), Bluetooth 4.0, and DualBIOS. While it may lack the number of SATA ports compared to the ASRock board, we would gladly trade a couple of SATA ports for the wireless adapter, as it probably would be more useful. The included six SATA 6 Gbps ports, four USB 3.0 and six USB 2.0 port should offer plenty of connectivity for most users.
Not only does Gigabyte bundle the board with a wireless chip, it also tosses in a rather useful WiFi share software tool in addition to others that we are familiar from Gigabyte (EasyTune6, @BIOS, and Smart Recovery). The Cloud Station seems to have some potential in this ever growing market of mobile devices but lack of proper Android support is something that we hope Gigabyte will fix soon.
The F2A85XN-WIFI’s layout does have some clearance issue if you plan to use slightly larger CPU cooler and/or large graphic card. You just got to choose your components wisely when going with the board. Given to the FM2 platform overall system build cost, Gigabyte had to make some sacrifices such lack of 802.11ac wireless adapter, but all together, the board is the best mini-ITX board out there for FM2 socket that the money can buy.
We have always believe that AMD FM2 platform offers a very good price for performance. If you are on the market for a budget small form PC to serve as a media server or a portable gaming PC, you really cannot go wrong with the Gigabyte F2A85XN-WIFI especially if you pair it with the 65W AMD A10-6700 APU.
|Wireless and Bluetooth 4.0 adapterSix SATA 6Gbps portsDualBIOSPrice
|May have clearance issue with larger heatsinkHard to reach auxililary power and the secondary fan header