MSI Z87-G45 GAMING Motherboard Review
A few weeks ago I took a look at one of the best Gaming motherboards yet to pass through pcGameware, the MSI Z87 GD-65 GAMING. Today I will be taking a look at its little brother the MSI Z87-G45 GAMING.
Like its bigger brother the Z87-G45 GAMING is an Socket 1150 ATX form factor motherboard from MSI’s Gaming Range, missing from the Z87-G45 board are the following features found on the GD65.
- No additional SATA 6GB/s ports, just the 6 via the Intel chipset
- No on-board buttons for OC Genie, Gaming Mode, Power & Reset
- No DualBIOS
- No Debug LEDs
- No Voltage Check Points or cables
- In the Box – only one pair of SATA cables, no SLI Bridge, no Q-Connectors
The MSI Z87-G45 GAMING came well packaged in an extremely smart black and red box, adorned with a silver dragon. The front features a few logos highlighting the board’s credentials:
- RECOMMENDED BY FNATIC
- Killer E2200 GAME NETWORKING
- INTEL CORE
- INTEL Chipset Z87
The back of the box has a wealth of information regarding the Z87-G45’s features. In addition to the Specifications and I/O overview the following are the main highlights.
- AUDIO BOOST (REWARD YOUR EARS WITH TRUE QUALITY) – The entire design of the Audio Boost circuitry has been designed to get the best performance out of studio-level materials, ensuring optimal audio reproduction of Games, Movies and Music.
- KILLER ETHERNET (KILL YOUR LAG) – Tired of lag? Fret no more! MSI’s GAMING motherboards are equipped with Killer Ethernet that eliminates latency and ping spikes and lets you concentrate on your frags and kills.
- OC GENIE 4 (OVERCLOCK IN 1 SECOND) – OC Genie 4 supercharges your OC experience! When enabled, OC Genie overclocks your entire system and the new Gaming mode puts your overclocked system into overdrive! Tuned by professional overclockers, OC Genie 4 hands you record-breaking performance on a platter.
- MULTI-GPU – The Multi-GPU capabilities make it possible to intelligently scale graphics performance by combining two or more compatible GPUs and unlock game-dominating power.
- SOUND BLASTER CINEMA – Realistic surround sound and the ability to clearly hear specific sounds in gaming environments make your ears a decisive tool on the battlefield.
- MILITARY CLASS 4 – MSI’s new Military Class 4 components support you while you’re questing, racing, battling and shooting your way to the top. Delivering record-breaking stability when you need to keep cool in the heart of battle.
- GAMING DEVICE PORT – Double your reaction speed thanks to the special PS/2 and USB ports that are optimized with triple gold plating for high-frequency gaming devices.
On opening the box we get to see the Z87-G45 GAMING in all its glory (well, once the anti static bag has been removed!). Below you can see the paperwork and accessories included within the box.
In addition to the motherboard the MSI Z87-G45 GAMING comes with the following paperwork and accessories:
- x2 SATA Cables (x1 with 90 degree plug)
- I/O Shield
- User Guide
- Quick Installation Guide
- Drivers & Utilities Disc
- Door Hanger (I’M SORRY BUSY GAMING)
At the time of writing the MSI Z87-G45 GAMING is retailing for approximately £120 and comes with a 2 year warranty.
courtesy of MSI
|CPU (Max Support)||i7|
|FSB / Hyper Transport Bus||100MHz|
|Chipset||Intel® Z87 Express Chipset|
|DDR3 Memory||DDR3 1066/1333/1600*/1866*/2000*/2133*/2200*/2400*/2600*/2666*/2800*/3000*(*OC) HMz|
|Max Memory (GB)||64|
|PCI-E Gen||Gen3 (16,0,0), (8,8,0), (8,4,4)|
|USB 3.0 ports (Rear)||4|
|USB 2.0 ports (Rear)||2|
|Audio ports (Rear)||6+Coaxial / Optical SPDIF|
|VGA Max Share Memory (MB)||1760|
WOW! That’s the first impression you get when looking at the MSI Z87-G45 GAMING for the first time, this board’s a thing of beauty that’s for sure. The board has such a clean overall look to it, not adorned with too many logos and monikers, or silly heat-sinks. In fact those dragon styled CPU PWM heat-sinks are so subtle it’s even easy to miss, very tasteful! As there’s less on the board itself, in some ways it even looks better than its bigger bother the Z87-GD65.
Starting at the bottom of the MSI Z87-G45 GAMING and working left to right first we find the HD Audio front panel output followed by the Serial port and one of three System Fan headers (all with PWM support). Next to this we find a TPM module connector and the two front panel connectors, closely followed by three USB 2.0 headers.
Along this bottom edge is where many of the additional features of the Z87-GD65 GAMING can be found (OC Genie, Power, Reset buttons etc), these are not present on the Z87-G45 GAMING.
Looking at the top of the board we see the two CPU fan headers (with PWM support) and then the gorgeous dragon heat-sinks (MSI have really stole the show here!). The top corner of the board is obviously dominated by the Socket 1150; a new socket for Intel Haswell CPUs, although only the pin configuration is different meaning that most Socket 1155 Coolers should fit fine.
On the far right we also find the 8-pin CPU 12v power connector, in a rather unusual position (certainly not the same as the GD65), this position may prove to be me awkward when it comes to cabling later…
On the right side of the board we find the six SATA ports on the left, all of which are provided by the Intel chipset. Next we find the USB 3.0 port, beautifully angled at 90 degrees; this prevents that enormous loop up and over the motherboard caused by the cable normally being rather thick and inflexible. Next to this we find the second of three System Fan headers (with PWM support). Next to this we have the main 24-pin 12v power connector. You can also see here where the Voltage Check connector found on the Z87-GD65.
Looking at the left side of the Z87-G45 GAMING we find the main I/O ports (see below), with the Audio out jacks almost hiding the the third and final PWM controlled System Fan header. To the right of this we find the upgraded on-board Realtek Audio (Audio Boost), with Gold plated audio jacks, a headphone amplifier, EMI shielding and high quality audio capacitors.
Below left we can see a rather nifty additional port that can be found in the centre of the Z87-G45 GAMING, and that’s an mSATA port. This port basically accepts mSATA SSDs, these are currently available up to 256GB in capacity (physical size is about x2 Fifty Pence pieces, amazing!) and supports Read/Write speeds in excess of 550MB/s and 500MB/s respectively. This makes them perfect for a boot drive, it also means less wiring and that you can have a PC up ‘n running with no additional storage, I like this (a lot!).
For testing purposes and to ensure we put the MSI Z87-G45 GAMING through its paces we used Intel’s highest spec Haswell CPU, the Core i7-4770K.
A new build was put together to house the MSI Z87-G45 GAMING and the Haswell 4770K CPU. The following components were used:
|Case||CM Storm Stryker||Power Supply||Corsair AX860|
|Motherboard||MSI Z87-G45 GAMING||CPU||Intel Core i7-4770K|
|CPU Cooler||Cosair H100||RAM||Kingston HyperX Beast 8GB 2400MHz|
|Graphics Card||MSI TWIN FROZR GAMING GTX 780 (OC Edition)||SSD (mSATA – on-board port)||ADATA SX300 (64GB)|
|It’s also worth noting that I’m using an mSATA device as my boot drive, this plugs easily into the centre of the motherboard. This natty little Mini SATA device is about the size of two Fifty Pence pieces and comes in capacities up to 256GB, with speeds up to 550/500MB/s Read/Write. It actually overrides the sixth Intel STATA 6GB/s port, meaning that the SATA6 port will be unavailable when using mSATA. I’m really impressed with this setup, I’m currently using a ADATA SX300 64GB version.|
A new installation of Windows Home Premium 64bit (Service Pack 1) was performed and the following drivers were then installed. The latest MSI Drivers were used and can been obtained here (I did not use the ones on the disc as I wanted to be using the latest).
* The latest BIOS version (1.3) was downloaded and installed . This was done via MSI’s M-Flash utility within the UEFI.
- Intel Chipset Driver (INF driver ver: 18.104.22.1687)
- Realtek High Definition Audio Driver (22.214.171.12423)
- Killer Network Driver (126.96.36.1991)
- Intel USB3.0 Driver (188.8.131.52)
- NVIDIA Graphics (320.49 WHQL)
During testing the following tools/benchmarks & games were used/played:
The MSI Z87-G45 GAMING powered up first time with no issues and after a quick check in the UEFI, the first job was to update the BIOS from version 1.2 to 1.3. This was easily accomplished via MSI’s M-Flash utility and a memory stick.
The Click BIOS 4 UEFI is excellent, well laid out and easy to navigate, not sluggish like some of the UEFIs of days past, with both mouse tracking and mouse wheel support proving very responsive. With the overall aesthetic matching the motherboard itself, it’s very slick indeed.
With Windows 7 64Bit successfully installed onto the 64GB ADATA SX300 mSATA, it was now time for some testing (READ Gaming) to ensure the board’s stability.
With stability proven at the Load Optimized Defaults setting (below left), it was time to take a look at that OC Genie 4 button, that’s not present on the G45 GAMING! Oh but it is, it’s in the UEFI; in the top left corner of the UEFI is an OC Genie button, one click of this and a Save Settings, sees the PC reboot now with the 3.5GHz Haswell CPU now at a far speedier 4.0GHz (below centre). This also forced the Kingston HyperX Beast memory to run at its XMP setting of 2400MHz.
Also shown below is the rather impressive Hardware monitor section from the MSI UEFI, yes that right that’s actually a UEFI shot…
With the MSI Z87-G45 GAMING now running at 4.0GHz (1.2250v) courtesy of OC Genie, further overclocking required some manual intervention. Instead of using MSI’s Command Center software I went straight to the UEFI. Knowing that our test Intel Core i7-4770K was capable of 4.5GHz I dialled in a 45 multiplier and set the V.Core voltage to 1.250 volts. Voila, a stable 4.5GHz overclock, easy eh…
It’s also worth noting that at this speed (4.5GHz) I was still able to run the Kingston HyperX Beast modules at their XMP setting of 2400MHz, which is impressive. This is due to the fact that as the Core speed of the CPU increases it becomes increasingly more difficult to hold the higher memory speeds. It may even be possible to overclock the CPU further if the memory speed was reduced, although thermals are already getting the better of us.
At 4.5GHz and with a Core voltage of 1.250v temperatures were reaching 80 degrees, with the CPU cooled by a Corsair H100 AIO liquid cooler. There’s no doubt about it the Haswell CPU is one warm processor, not dissimilar to the outgoing Ivy Bridge CPU.
- Benchmark Results (CPU @ 4.0GHz (1.100v) : RAM @ 2400MHz) with NVIDIA GTX 780
|Metro Last Light||2560×1440||46.00|
|Metro Last Light||1920×1080||65.33|
|Unigine Heaven 4.0||2560×1440||FPS 33.9 Score 854|
|Unigine Heaven 4.0||1920×1080||FPS 53.7 Score 1352|
|Unigine Valley 1.0||2560×1440||FPS 37.4 Score 1566|
|Unigine Valley 1.0||1920×1080||FPS 62.8 Score 2629|
As you can see from the two sets of data there’s not much of a performance difference in the scores when looking at both 4.0GHz and 4.5GHz, but the additional performance is there, even if it’s negligible. Also scanning the results from the Z87-G45’s bigger brother the MSI Z87-GD65, we can also see there’s no real discernible performance difference between the two motherboards.
- Benchmark Results (CPU @ 4.5GHz (1.250v) : RAM @ 2400MHz) with NVIDIA GTX 780
|Metro Last Light||2560×1440||46.33|
|Metro Last Light||1920×1080||67.00|
|Unigine Heaven 4.0||2560×1440||FPS 34.0 Score 856|
|Unigine Heaven 4.0||1920×1080||FPS 54.0 Score 1359|
|Unigine Valley 1.0||2560×1440||FPS 38.1 Score 1594|
|Unigine Valley 1.0||1920×1080||FPS 62.8 Score 2628|
- Additional Software/Features
Of course the MSI Z87-G45 GAMING is packed full of other features that will excite the Gamer, let’s take a look at some of them now.
|Gaming Audio is one of my favourite subjects, I guess I’m an aspiring Gaming Audiophile, if there is such a thing. Therefore I was very interested to see what the Realtek ALC1150 chipset and MSI’s Audio Boost could deliver when compared to other on-board solutions and dedicated cards. For testing I used a premium grade headset, the QPAD QH-1339 (review here). First impressions were good, if not outstanding, it would appear that although there’s an on-board headphone amplifier, output from the back of the motherboard doesn’t seem too strong, allowing the volume to be set to full in some games! But what is apparent is the clarity of the sound being produced, not only was it extremely clear and well defined but also totally devoid of any interference or noise. Probably the best on-board sound I have tested (please see Sound Blaster Cinema below also), but lacking just that little bit of extra oomph that a dedicated card often brings.|
On the Z87-GD65 there was an OC Genie button (and a Game Mode switch) on the motherboard, but this is missing from the lesser Z87-G45. But all is not lost as there’s a rather nice little OC Genie button in the UEFI, one press of this saw our 3.5GHz Core i7-4770K overclocked to 4.0GHz, while the installed Kingston Beast RAM was automatically set to its XMP profile.
I like this approach to overclocking, as it gives you something for free straight out of the box (well after 1 seconds work!), the 4.0GHz overclock proved rock solid throughout testing too.
The MSI Z87-G45 GAMING maybe missing some of the options found on its bigger brother the Z87-GD65 GAMING, but to be honest that’s not necessarily a bad thing as it grants you a saving of around £40. All the great qualities of the GD65 are still present here though, making the MSI Z87-G45 GAMING a real steal at around £120.
The motherboard came well packaged, although there’s not much in the box save for a couple of SATA cables and the obligatory I/O shield. The board itself is still a thing of beauty (as long as you like red dragons, I guess!), the board has a clean layout too, especially here in G45 form, with very little cluttering up the board. Yes it may be missing the overclock and power buttons, an additional x2 SATA ports, dual BIOS and V.Check points but this is stuff most Gamers can live without; more importantly it still has Killer Ethernet, Audio Boost, Sound Blaster Cinema, OC Genie and full support for CrossFire and SLI, what more do you want? Delve into the impressive UEFI and there you find it easy to overclock your Haswell to it’s limit, we reached 4.5GHz with just a couple of tweaks!
If you think there’s something missing from this board then maybe look to the GD65 instead, but at approximately £120 I truly cannot fault the MSI Z87-G45 GAMING motherboard, from a Gaming perspective this motherboard has pretty much everything you’ll ever need. In fact I’m so impressed that I’m going to base my new personal Rig Build on this very board, I don’t think I can really say much more than that…
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