REVIEW MSI Z97m Gaming Motherboard Review

Discussion in 'Intel x86 CPUs and chipsets' started by gazza30, Aug 4, 2014.

  1. gazza30

    gazza30 Member

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    Msi Z97m Gaming review​

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    First off special thanks to MSI Australia for this sweet little package, fantastic looking boards MSI's Z97 Gaming range whether it be from the Z97-G43 GAMING or all the way up the Z97 GAMING 9 AC.

    I'll be looking at the Z97m Gaming motherboard MSI's top shelf M-ATX board with more features than you can poke a stick at. Did a quick search and seems to retail for around the 200 dollar mark not a bad price point for a board with a lot of features.

    In the box the usual stuff plenty of sata cables with stick on labels, Shiny user guide , driver/software disc , sweet looking black io back panel , sli bridge , and the M connectors making it a breeze to attach those pesky power/reset cables once you fit the board to your case of choice.

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    Bios is well laid out and even for a first time MSI user you'll find no problem zipping around setting things up just the way you like.
    From the main bios page you have quick access to settings tab containing all your boot , advanced settings like usb , sata mode and pcie settings to name a few. Next every Overclockers favourite tab simply called OC. Cpu multi , bclk settings ram speed and timing changes can all be made here and that's just to scratch the surface.

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    The hardware page another well visited tab gives plenty of options to fine tune your fan profiles as well by simply dragging points up and down a graph until you find a noise vs temp profile that you and your cpu can live with.

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    You've probably already guessed who these boards are aimed as the name gives it away so its no surprise MSI have put a lot of focus into tailoring the Z97m for gamers giving them quality sound and network solutions with The Killer E2200 network chip and for sound the Realtek ALC1150 Codec Supporting S/PDIF output and 7.1-Channel High Definition Audio.

    Picture below left shows on-board sound and near the heat sink you see a chip with a K on it that's your Killer Nic.

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    I've tested a couple of boards now running the Killer nic and I'm pretty impressed checking network performance over my home network i was able to achieve some decent speeds of 92/100MB/s to and from my NAS same speeds i get with my 24/7 rig with on-board Intel nic. Gaming performance was smooth and problem free. Bundled software works well if you choose to install it giving you the ability to prioritize bandwidth for important tasks like gaming etc.
    I would loved to have tested online download speeds etc but due to my location DL speeds can go from ok to shite pretty quick so any consistency is impossible.

    Sound has also been given some extra attention on the board with its own isolated section of the board for the audio circuitry which is separated by a red LED path which lights up when the board is powered.
    Dual headphone amps supporting up to 600Ω headphones and Nichicon capacitors specially designed for audio plus gold audio connectors with a dedicated amplifier output highlighted in red on the back io panel.

    Something new I've not seen before is the option to add some extra power available to devices such as USB DAC's via the supplied 4 pin Molex adaptor.
    Overkill you might say but recently I had an issue with my current USB DAC powered from a high end motherboard and was getting poor sound and the fix was to power it externally so it was either electronic interference or lacking power, either way the MSI Z97m has got you well covered.
    One small gripe is that the adaptor is a tad short which might make it hard to hide the bulky Molex connector for those of you wanting ultra clean/tidy builds.

    Tested sound in game as well as general movies and music etc and I'd have to say its by far the best on-board sound i've heard to date both my trusty old Sennheiser PC 350's and Audio Technica's ATH-ADG1 sounded fantastic i'd be hard pressed to find an excuse for the need of a dedicated sound card
    and unless your used to the best of the best money can offer you'll be pleasantly surprised by what MSI have achieved here. The bundled software also let you choose from several presets optimized for music , movies etc or you can customize it to your own liking.

    While were looking at the back io panel the rest is pretty standard stuff but on the left you'll see the red usb and ps2 ports well these are supposed to be More responsive and offer Smoother gameplay and Faster reactions.
    Do they? look i got caught up mid review playing hours of games BF4 Farcry etc and swapping between ports i honestly couldn't tell the difference but the fact the board has them why not use them it certainly did no harm.
    Moving on you've got a clr cmos button for when things go bad without the need to dive into your case , HDMI and display port , killer network port , more usb ports and also two esata 6Gb/s ports

    Not sure why esata is included especially as a third party ASMedia ASM1061 chip had to be added to the board to run them no doubt adding to the cost of the board.
    Anyone even use esata? let me know keen to see if people think its important or not?

    Around to the front 6 sata ports are on offer however if you choose to take advantage of the M.2 slot to make the most of the crazy bandwidth on offer you loose the use of sata ports 5 and 6.

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    Worth noting that this seems to affect all the Z97 boards I looked at so I'm guessing its a chipset limitation. This board doesn't offer the latest standard sata express port like some manufacturers but hint on there product page that you can use a Sata Express adaptor that fits in the M.2 slot. It would have been nice to include a bundled sata express adaptor for when the new standard becomes a little more mainstream.

    List of basic specs
    CPU (Max Support) i7
    M.2 port 1
    FSB / Hyper Transport Bus 100MHz
    Chipset Intel® Z97 Express Chipset
    DDR3 Memory
    DDR3 1066/1333/1600/1866*/2000*/2133*/2200*/2400*/2600*/2666*/2800*/3000*/3100*/3200*/3300*(*OC) MHz
    Memory Channel Dual
    DIMM Slots 4
    Max Memory (GB) 32
    PCI-Ex16 2
    PCI-E Gen Gen3 (16,0), (8,8)
    PCI-Ex1 2
    SATAIII 6
    USB 3.0 ports (Front) 2
    USB 2.0 ports (Front) 4
    RAID 0/1/5/10
    LAN 10/100/1000*1
    TPM 1
    USB 3.0 ports (Rear) 6
    USB 2.0 ports (Rear) 2
    Audio ports (Rear) 6+Optical SPDIF
    eSATA 2
    Display Port 1
    HDMI 2
    VGA Max Share Memory (MB) 1760
    DirectX 11
    Form Factor M-ATX
    SLI Y
    CrossFire Y


    The general layout of the board is pretty good the usual problem may arise if you decide to use one of the many massive tower coolers perhaps overhanging your first ram slot so choose your hardware wisely. I chose the Corsair H100 so was not an issue for me.

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    I crammed in 4x4gb sticks of mixed Gskill and Corsair ram and had no issue running at 2400-2600mhz stable but settled on running 2 x 4gb sticks of Corsair vengeance pro c10 2666 ram for all the gaming and benchmark testing you'll see shortly.
    Also as with a lot of m-atx format board although they come with pcie x1 slots and this board has 2 they will be blocked by one of your gpu's if you decide on a crossfire or sli setup something to consider.


    test setup

    CPU Intel 20th Anaversary G3258 @ stock then @ 4.8ghz
    Motherboard MSI Z97m Gaming
    GPU Amd 290x (@ stock throughout testing)
    SSD Samsung 840pro x 2 (non raid OS / game, benchmark drive)
    Ram Corsair C10 2666 Vengance Pro kit 2 x 4gb
    PSU Corsair AX 1200
    Cooling Corsair H100

    Why choose the G3258 well something different and if your putting together a system and can't afford a 4770k or 4790k at the time you'll always be better off spending the extra penny's on the gpu and saving for the 4790k later at 60-70 dollars the G3258 will hardly break the bank and is happy to overclock way above spec and still be run cool and handle pretty much any game.

    Righto lets put the MSI Z97m gaming through the wringer, choose a few 3d benchmarks a couple of game tests and show of a bit of Memory overclocking potential with some old school Super Pi 32m.

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    Stock on the left OC'd on the right

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    Stock on the left OC'd on the right

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    As you can see the MSI Z97m has no problem overclocking this little champ of a cpu all the way to 4.8 and further if you like in the end I settled for an overclock of 4.8 at 1.375 vcore temps where decent and machine was very stable.

    Click Links to display games settings you might be surprised!!

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    Lastly a bit of Memory overclocking with SuperPi 32m Special thanks to Robbo from OCAU's very own Hwbot team thanks a lot for the tips with the MSI bios.

    Superpi for those that don't know prefers XP by a long way so these times on Win 7 are just to show the Z87m is a well rounded board with plenty of potential for gamers and overclockers alike.

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    Summing it up theres a lot to like a bout this board and not a lot to moan about really.

    The Likes

    Great price point for a board with many features
    Great sound
    Looks fantastic from board to bios to box
    Good network performance
    Plenty of great bundled software for sound , network and msi's own overclocking tool Command centre all of which work very well.

    The Dislikes

    Only one onboard usb3 header
    Short molex adaptor for direct audio power
    No onboard sata express or M.2 sata express adaptor bundled

    Thanks for looking and let me know your thoughts if your already an owner of one of the MSI gaming range :thumbup:
     
  2. Bullants

    Bullants Member

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    Very nice review Gaz :thumbup:
     
  3. mtma

    mtma Member

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    It's rather interesting the type of memory socket used on the motherboard.

    I was just caught out building my my new machine, I used MSI's regular Z97 mATX board, and the RAM ZIF clips interfere with the back plate my graphics card came with. It appears MSI realised this limitation when they made the Z97 gaming and have put a different style of socket in to sidestep it.
     
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2014
  4. OP
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    gazza30

    gazza30 Member

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    Thanks Bullant really fun board to play with.

    Yeah quite a few boards I've used lately seem to favour these ram slot with clips only on one side I must say I'm a big fan of them.
    I've had issues before with removing / installing ram with GPU installed on double clip style slots before is a bit of a pain having to remove GPU especially if you've water cooled everything and went with that clear rigid tube people are favouring at the moment. Guessing your board is the MSI Z97m-G43 maybe ?
     
  5. OP
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    gazza30

    gazza30 Member

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    Couple more bench mark screenshots this time a little 3D mark Vantage.

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  6. vellanet

    vellanet Member

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    Great review! Has anyone seen these in stock anywhere?
     
  7. OP
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    gazza30

    gazza30 Member

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    Sure have PCCG have them in stock last I looked :thumbup:
     
  8. robbo2

    robbo2 Member

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    That's a nice board there. Seems that lately MSI have really been listening to their customers and delivering on what they want. Solid review as always mate.
     
  9. OP
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    gazza30

    gazza30 Member

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    Thanks Robbo definitely a lot of features here no doubt there are some pretty happy MSI owners out there :thumbup:
     
  10. Ratzz

    Ratzz Member

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    Thorough review, well done.

    I considered one of these boards when starting my current build, they certainly look like MSI has lifted its game a whole bunch.

    For me the deal breaker was only 6 SATA ports.. and now I see you lose 2 of those if you want M.2? I'm so glad I went for a Gene instead, 8 SATA and the M.2 uses PCIE so you don't lose any. I actually though all M.2 used PCIE, shows how wrong you can be. Strange decision by MSI to limit SATA so severely.

    I prefer their approach to audio vs the Asus daughter board though, the damn thing just gets in the way, only clears my top GPU by a few mm and if you want to run front panel audio there is no hiding the cabling...

    Its very apparent they are listening , it was always a contender which previous efforts haven't been IMO for some years. I'll definitely be looking at them closely when I move to X99.
     
  11. OP
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    gazza30

    gazza30 Member

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    Glad you enjoyed the read.

    Guessing MSI decided that for the majority 6 sata ports are plenty and the added cost of using 3rd party controllers like AsMedia etc to add more ports would surely add to the cost not to mention the poor performance they usually offer.
    I see what you mean about the daughter board on the gene , they must of run out of room on the board or thought that a separate pcb might be preferred by people wanting to use a soundcard in the x4 slot although if its as good as the MSI offering i'm not sure most would need it. :thumbup:
     
  12. Ratzz

    Ratzz Member

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    I think the sound is meant to be electrically isolated in the same way MSI has done, they've just done it with a daughterboard (with its own special socket) instead of the MSI way. Obviously leaves some extra room on the board too though. Its an excellent sound card, far better than I need as would the MSI one be too I would imagine. I think I would prefer the way MSI have done it, but I assume a few potential features would be lost as well due to the space its taking on the board.

    6 ports would have been fine on the MSI, its just a shame you have to lose a couple for the M.2 drive. 4 is not enough these days.

    Mind you... M.2 drives aren't exactly falling from the sky yet so by the time they are readily available the next edition board might be out :) Hopefully they'll address that then. I'd hope that the M.2 next time might be on a PCIE x4 slot by then, where it belongs.
     
  13. OP
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    gazza30

    gazza30 Member

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    Yeah your right still very few M.2 drives and zero sata express drives yet kind of wondering whether these might go the same way as thunderbolt and never really take off. Time will tell I guess.
     

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