Manufacturer:MSI UK Price (as reviewed):£116.76 (inc. VAT) US Price (as reviewed):$149.99 (ex. Tax)
Unlike many of its competitors, who seem to operate with the objective of drowning the market in overlapping SKUs, MSI’s Z87 product stack is refreshingly simple to follow. Below £100 there’s the G41 and G43, before bumping up to the £120 G45-Gaming and £170 GD65-gaming. Further up are the super-high end MPower overclocking boards, but for most of us MSI is offering a fairly straightforward choice between its entry, mid-level and high-end Z87 boards.
The Z87-G45-Gaming sits at that mid-range point and at less than £115 is substantially cheaper than many of the other enthusiast-targeted boards on the market. Despite the cut-price though, the G45-Gaming more than looks the part, with a black PCB, VRM heatsinks and Southbridge cooler, trimmed in an anodised red, dragon-styled trim.
The G45 Gaming’s feature set also belies its low price. It supports up to three-card CrossFire and two-card SLI thanks to a trio of PCI-E 3.0 16x slots. The slots share x16 lanes of bandwidth between them, so a single slot gets x16 lanes, a pair of slots both run with x8 lanes and three cards run at x8, x4, x4. As they’re all PCI-E 3.0 though, this still means double the bandwidth of like-for-like PCI-E 2.0 slots. Alongside are no less than four PCI-E 1x slots. Fitting a pair of dual-slot GPUs will obscure a pair of these, but that still leaves a couple for expansion cards.
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Elsewhere the G45 Gaming offers the standard Z87 chipset’s six SATA 6gbps ports, but compliments them with a full set of 90° right-angled connectors to help keep cabling tidy. This is complemented by a 90° right-angle USB 3.0 header - a nice touch for what is fast becoming the most awkward motherboard connector behind the 24-pin and 8-pin power connectors.
The SATA situation is further improved with the addition of an mSATA slot right in the middle of the board. This slot takes SATA 6gbps bandwidth from the SATA6 port, so connecting an mSATA drive will disable this port. Sadly, mSATA drives are yet to see industry-wide SSD adoption, with the likes of Samsung’s SSD 840 and OCZ’s Vector yet to make the jump to the smaller form factor, so its inclusion wouldn’t be top of our list when picking motherboard features. Regardless, it’s a neat extra that would further negate cabling should you chose to use it, as the power and data connections are integrated right into the board.
Click to enlarge - A pair of chunky VRM coolers line the CPU socket, while 90° angled SATA and USB 3 header connectors keep cabling neat.
Looking to the rear I/O you’ll find MSI has swapped out the Intel Gigabit LAN port favoured by many for a Killer NIC E2205 gigabit Ethernet port. We’ve never been convinced by the lag-busting, frag-winning claims of Killer NIC, but the bundled software does allow you to monitor bandwidth and assign priority to certain applications.
The rear I/O also boasts both coaxial and optical S/PDIF outputs, four chipset USB 3.0 ports, a pair of USB 2.0 ports, six 3.5mm outputs for the on-board 7.1 channel audio (courtesy of a Realtek ALC1150 codec and a PS2 port). On-board display outputs consist of VGA, DVI and HDMI while rounding out the rear I/O is a clear CMOS switch, making it possible to reset the BIOS without having to take your PC apart.
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Sadly, the clear CMOS button is the only on-board button that the G45 Gaming boasts. This means there’s no on-board power or reset switches and, more frustratingly, no LED post-code readout. These are incredibly useful extras when troubleshooting and certainly we'd rather have them than an mSATA slot, but their omission underlines the board’s cheaper price tag. Oddly MSI has still chosen to include a set of voltage read-out points, although we’re sure few if any G45 Gaming owners will use them.
With its reasonable feature set, the G45 Gaming is still well laid out. The aforementioned 90° ports keep cabling neat, and all the headers and 24-pin power connector are close to the board edges. Five 4-pin fan headers are all placed sensibly too, with a pair servicing the CPU socket and a rear fan header above the expansion slots. Our only complaint is the placement of the 8-pin EPS12V connector, which is vertically aligned and a few inches away from the edge of the board, making it tricky to reach when looping the cable behind a motherboard tray.
Well laid out and with a sensible set of features to match its affordable price the G45 Gaming is off to a strong start; let’s find out if it can hold its ground in the face of dearer opposition when it comes to system performance and overclocking.
Chipset Intel Z87
CPU support LGA1150 compatible
Memory support 4 slots: max 32GB DDR3 (2,400MHz)
Expansion slots SLI and Crossfire support, Three 16x PCI-E 3.0 slots (One at x16, two at x8, three x8, x4, x4), four 1x PCI-E
Sound 7.1-channel HD audio via Realtek ALC1150
Networking Killer NIC E2205 Gigabit LAN
Ports 6 x SATA 6Gbps via Intel Z87, 1 x mSATA, 6 x USB 3 (2 x via headers), 6 x USB 2 ( 4 via headers), LAN, audio out, line in, mic, Coaxial and Optical S/PDIF out, HDMI, VGA, DVI,