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MSI Z97M Gaming Review

MSI Z97M Gaming Review

Manufacturer: MSI
UK: £109.99 (inc VAT)
US: $169.99 (ex Tax)
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We're expecting Devil's Canyon samples to arrive any minute now but in the mean time, we're looking at the first micro-ATX Z97 motherboard to arrive in our lab.

There's fierce competition in the sub £160 price bracket and so far, every board bar one we've looked at has pushed our CPU to its maximum of 4.8GHz and have either offered plenty of useful features for an additional premium, or offered solid performance and overclocking for a lower price.

The choice is yours of course - extra bling or a few extra bucks in your back pocket. MSI's Z97M Gaming is arguably a good match of the two, which is also why its Gaming 7 motherboard picked up an award in our Z97 group test.

The former that we're looking at here retails for £110 at time of writing yet sports quite a few useful features. There's no out-of-the-box support for SATA Express but pretty much everything else is here.

MSI Z97M Gaming Review MSI Z97M Gaming Review
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There's an M.2 port (we're about to start testing this on all compatible motherboards as well) plus two a piece PCI-E 16x and 1x slots with Nvidia's SLI and AMD's CrossFire both being supported. The downside here is that if you do fill both the 16x slots then it's unlikely you'll be able to use either of the 1x slots. The Z97M Gaming isn't alone here - Asus's Maximus VII Gene has the same issue, although it sports a SupremeFX Impact II discrete sound card that slots into a proprietary port on the PCB.

MSI Z97M Gaming Review MSI Z97M Gaming Review
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Thankfully, the Z97M Gaming isn't totally devoid of a way round this, and includes it's own noise-isolated sound processor by way of its Audio Boost 2 and Realtek ALC1150 audio codec. This looks fairly funky in the bottom left hand corner of the board as it's illuminated too although in a less fancy way than on Asus's Maximus VII Hero. Incredibly, MSI has also managed to squeeze on-board power, reset and CMOS clear buttons and an LED POST code readout alongside its OC Genie automatic overclocking button. These are in addition to a Killer E2205 Gigabit network controller, four 4-pin fan headers. and heat pipe touting power circuitry heatsinks.

MSI Z97M Gaming Review MSI Z97M Gaming Review
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In general, the layout is excellent. The SATA 6Gbps ports are all mounted parallel to the PCB for a neater look and all the usual ports are installed right at the edge of the PCB. The only qualm we have, and we're being picky, is that the 8-pin EPS 12V connector is mounted slap-bang next to the top heatsink - this will likely only be an annoyance for approximately 15 seconds while you go about your installation and cable tidying. There's plenty of room around the CPU socket too, and we found most single tower heatsinks could have a fan at the rear as well and still not foul the DIMM slots.

Specifications

  • Chipset Intel Z97
  • Form factor Micro-ATX
  • CPU support LGA1150 compatible (Haswell, Haswell Refresh, Broadwell)
  • Memory support Dual-channel, 4 slots, max 32GB
  • Sound 8-channel Realtek ALC1150 Codec
  • Networking Killer E2205 Gigabit LAN
  • Ports 6 x SATA 6Gbps via Intel Z97, 2 x eSATA 6Gbps via ASMedia AMD1061, 1 x M.2, 6 x USB 3.0 (2 x via header), 6 x USB 2.0 ( 4 x via header), 1 x LAN, audio out, line in, mic, Optical S/PDIF out, HDMI, DisplayPort
  • Dimensions (mm) 244 x 244
  • Extras LED POST code read-out, power and reset buttons, clear CMOS button, OC Genie function, isolated audio circuitry,