MSI Z87M GAMING Motherboard Review
As you should already know, we very recently reviewed the rather nice BitFenix Colossus M MATX case. Of course you’ll also know that the pcG Test Rig contains the MSI Z87 G45 Gaming motherboard which is an ATX board. Square peg, round hole? Yep, that’s right, the Test Rig motherboard was never going to fit…… So in step our friends at MSI to the rescue!
So here we have the MSI Z87M GAMING. Which on paper looks like a shrunken version of MSI’s flagship Gaming series motherboard, the rather excellent MSI Z87 GD65 Gaming. This means not only does the Z87M Gaming offer a small form factor, but it’s fully feature packed and should be able to stand toe-to-toe with the biggest and best LGA 1150 motherboards on the market!
‘LET THE GAMES BEGIN!
MSI GAMING motherboards are designed to provide gamers with best-in-class features and technology. Backed by the imposing looks of MSI’s Dragon, each motherboard is an engineering masterpiece tailored to gaming perfection.
THE BEST GAMING WEAPONS AT HAND
Up front we have the usual high quality MSI Gaming style design. This as always is predominately black with a huge silver dragon on the front. It also features the MSI G series badge, product model, MSI and Intel logo’s, as well as the usual recommendation from well known e-sports team FNATIC. Whilst covering the following features.
On the back is a very thorough and detailed breakdown of all the Z87M key features, specifications and I/O overview.
- 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.
- MSI Z87M Gaming M-ATX motherboard
- Insulated I/O Panel
- 4 x SATA Cables
- SLI Bridge
- 2 x Front M-Port Adapters
- Drivers and Utilities Disc
- User Guide
- Quick Installation Guide
- MSI Gaming Badge
- MSI Gaming Door Hanger
- Test Rig Setup
- Intel Chipset Driver (INF driver ver: 126.96.36.1997)
- Realtek High Definition Audio Driver (188.8.131.5288)
- Killer Network Driver (184.108.40.2060)
- Intel USB3.0 Driver (220.127.116.11)
- Renesas USB3.0 Driver (18.104.22.168)
- NVIDIA Graphics (320.49 WHQL)
- Prime 95
- 3DMark (Firestrike)
- Unigine Heaven 4.0
- Batman Arkham Origins
- Tomb Raider
- Metro Last Light
- Survarium (Beta)
- Battlefield 4
- Sim City
- Benchmark Results (CPU @ 4.2GHz (1.250v) : RAM @ 2400MHz) with MSI TWIN FROZR GAMING GTX 760 OC Edition (OC Mode – Core:1085MHz/Boost Clock:1150MHz/Mem:6008MHz)
- Additional Software/Features
lifting the lid on the box shows off the micro dynamo for the first time and damn it looks good!
Sifting through the rest of the box we find a whole lotta contents.
courtesy of MSI
|Form Factor||Micro-ATX – 24.4cm x 24.4cm|
|Graphics Interface||PCI-e x16 GEN 3.0|
|Memory Speed (Mhz)||1066/1333/1600/1866/2000/2133/2200/2400/2600*/2666*/2800*/3000* (*Overclocked)|
|Back Panel I/O||1x PS/2 keyboard/ mouse combo port, 2x USB 2.0 ports, 1x Clear CMOS button, 1x LAN (RJ45) port, 6x USB 3.0 ports, 1x Optical S/PDIF OUT connector, 2x eSATA ports, 6x OFC audio jacks, 2x HDMI port, 1x DisplayPort|
|Internal I/O||24-pin ATX main power connector, 1x 8-pin ATX 12V power connector, 6x SATA 6Gb/s connectors, 2x USB 2.0 connectors (supports additional 4 USB 2.0 ports), 1x USB 3.0 connector (supports additional 2 USB 3.0 ports), 2x 4-pin CPU fan connectors, 2x 4-pin system fan connectors, 1x Front panel audio connector, 2x System panel connectors, 1x TPM connector, 1x Chassis Intrusion connector, 1x Clear CMOS jumper, 1x Slow mode booting jumper, 1x Power button, 1x Reset button, 1x OC Genie button, 1x OC Genie mode switch, 1x 2-Digit Debug Code LED|
|Expansion||2x PCI-e 3.0 x16 (Bandwidth at x16 single mode, x8/x8 dual mode), 2x PCI-e x1|
*additional details available here
Ok, so we have all seen one or two MSI Gaming motherboards before, but does this make them look any less gorgeous? Hell no! As per the usual, we have the red and black, dragon styled CPU PWM heat-sinks. This time round however, the South-bridge heat-sink is a little different, the Gaming dragon has been redesigned and the MSI logo is illuminated!
Starting in the top left we have the MSI Z87M I/O Panel (pretty handy that!), 8 pin power socket and the always cool MSI Gaming Dragon heat-sink north-bridge cooler.
Up in the top right we have CPUFAN1 and CPUFAN2 headers, four DDR3 slots (these only have the release catch at the tops) and the OC Switch…. Yep, an OC Switch. When set to Gear1 this allows a maximum overclock of 4.0GHz using MSI OC Genie, when set to Gear2 this gives OC Genie a little extra grunt and allows an overclock of 4.2GHz.
Moving a little down the right side we the we have the ever handy Debug LEDs, Power, Reset and OC Genie Button. Some of you may wonder why have such things on a motherboard? The Debug LED display makes life a whole lot easier in the event of an issue. If a code pops up, simply read the User Guide or Google it to find out your potential problem, better still you can do this without the need for a monitor! Power and Reset again may seem an odd choice, but they save a lot of time when testing your new build out without having to plug in your case I/O headers (very handy for compact cases where the case I/O may not be quickly plugged in or unplugged). The OC Genie button is also surprisingly handy as I discovered using an emergency TV as a monitor which had a rather aggressive Overscan causing almost the entire UEFI BIOS to be hidden from view.
Then on the bottom right we have the 24 pin power socket, USB 3.0 header, and six SATA 3.0 sockets.
From the bottom right lives the Z87M Gaming FP1 (Front Panel) and FP2 headers for connecting up to your case I/O panel, SYSFAN2 header, two USB 2.0 sockets, TPM (Trusted Platform Module) header, CI1(Chassis Intrusion) connector, SYSFAN1 header and AUD1 (Front Panel Audio) connector.
Sound good so far? How about the on-board audio? MSI have chosen to use their own Audio Boost sound processor If you take a closer look around the SPU, you’ll notice a feint greenish line running across the silicon circuit, this is EMI (Electromagnetic Interference) shielding which should help cut out any sound interference from the rest of the Z87M.
Then round to the Z87M I/O Panel we have 1x PS2, 2x USB 2.0, 1x Clear CMOS button, 1x LAN(RJ45) port, 6x USB 3.0 port, 1x optical S/PDIF Out connector, 2x eSATA ports, 6x OFC audio jacks, 2x HDMI port (supporting a maximum resolution of 4096×2160@24Hz, 24bpp/ 2560×1600@60Hz, 24bpp/ 1920×1080@60Hz, 36bpp), as well as 1x DisplayPort (supporting a maximum resolution of 4096×2160 @24Hz, 24bpp/ 3840×2160 @60Hz, 24bpp)
So as you can see, MSI really have not skimped on the features when designing the Z87M Gaming, in fact I’m in a bit of a state of shock that they’ve even manage to squeeze it all on!
For testing purposes we used an Intel Core i5-4670K, a CPU that we know is normally good for 4.5 GHz when overclocked.
A new build was put together to house the MSI Z87M GAMING due to its MATX format. The following components were used:
|Case||BiFenix Colossus M|
|Power Supply||Corsair Professional Series AX760i|
|Motherboard||MSI Z87M GAMING|
|CPU||Intel Core i5-4670K|
|CPU Cooler||Raijintek Themis|
|RAM||Kingston HyperX Beast 8GB 2400MHz|
|Graphics Card||MSI TWIN FROZR GAMING GTX 760 (OC Edition)|
|SSD||Kingston HyperX 3K 120GB|
A new installation of Windows Home Premium 64bit (Service Pack 1) was performed and the following drivers were 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 (1.2) was downloaded and installed, this was installed directly via the UEFI/BIOS via the MSI MFlash function.
During testing the following tools/benchmarks & games were used/played:
The MSI Z87M GAMING came to life with the first press of the power button, actually via the on-board power button too as initial testing/setup was done with the side panel of the Colossus M case removed. The first job that I undertook was to update the BIOS. This was done without issue via the MSI M-Flash function within the UEFI.
The Click BIOS 4 UEFI is is well laid out in general, and adorned with the Gaming dragons, it certainly look the part. I don’t like the fact that certain fields within the UEFI are editable via the keyboard yet there’s no indication that this is the case. making a lot of initial setting changes guesswork…
With stability proven at the Load Optimized Defaults setting (3.4 GHz stock), it was time to take a look (READ: press) at that ever so useful OC Genie button. On the Z87M there’s actually one on the board as well as one within the UEFI (you can also use OC Genie within windows via MSI Command Centre). I used the one on the board , that handily glows blue when depressed, showing its active state. With this enabled the MSI Z87M GAMING booted to a new OC sate with the CPU now at 4.0 GHz and the Kingston Beast RAM running at its optimal speed of 2400MHz. But there’s more to come: As the Z87M has another neat trick up its sleeve (well on the motherboard to be fair!), and that’s the fact that the OC Genie button has an additional switch. A quick flick of this allows the 4.0 GHz overclock to be increased to 4.2 GHz. Nice!
With OC Genie exhausted any further overclocking was going to require manual intervention. So with 1.250 volts dialled in on the CPU Core voltage I headed for 4.5GHz. And Failed! So I backed off, to 4.4 GHz and I still could not boot into windows without seeing a BSOD (Blue Screen of Death). Even with more voltage dialled in on the Core I couldn’t get past 4.3GHz, which is disappointing to say the least, and is a far cry from the other MSI GAMING boards we’ve tested.
It doesn’t seem to be the CPU and or the Core Voltage that is at fault here, there’s something else; but I damned If I can work it out for now… 🙁
|Metro Last Light||2560×1440||30.33|
|Metro Last Light||1920×1080||45.67|
|Unigine Heaven 4.0||2560×1440||494|
|Unigine Heaven 4.0||1920×1080||815|
|Batman Arkham Origins||2560×1440||67|
|Batman Arkham Origins||1920×1080||108|
That’s pretty much standard fair then when it comes to Gaming, the Haswell CPU delivers no more performance than that of Ivy Bridge in pretty much all of the benchmarks. Of course this is no fault of the MSI Z87M GAMING, the board performed well in testing with no obvious concerns.
The MSI Z87M GAMING is packed full of other features that will excite the Gamer, let’s take a look at some of them now (these have been explored before in the MSI Z87-GD65 Review).
|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. 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.|
Last but not least we come to MSI’s OC Genie 4, a simple 1 sec overclock button found at the top right of the board, and it is truly as simple as that. With the button depressed (lights blue) our Intel Core i5-4670k was now running at 4.0GHz instead of its default 3.4GHz. With OC Genie On the memory is also now forced to run at its XMP setting, in the case of the Kingston HyperX Beast, that was 2400MHz up from 1333MHz! Now flick the Game Mode switch (that’s now 2 seconds, cue red LED) and we’re now running at 4.2GHz.
I like this approach to overclocking, as it gives you something for free straight out of the box (well after 2 seconds work!), the overclock proved rock solid throughout testing too. The only oddity is the fact that the highest setting overclock comes from flicking a not so nice switch on the motherboard, where the OC Genie button is far nicer, a little more thought could have been made here. While I’m having a little moan (I think this is the first in this review!), why do we have so many different LED colours (Red, Green, Blue) on such a beautiful Red dominated motherboard!? Green and red maybe, but blue…
The MSI Z87M GAMING packs quite a punch for such a small Form Factor. Almost all of the options from its bigger brother (MSI Z87 GD-65 GAMING) are here, mighty impressive for a MATX board. The motherboard came well packaged in a MSI Gaming Dragon box, a design that has won MSI a lot of followers over the last year, and for good reason.
Even in its small form factor the Z87M GAMING looks good, with its dragon heatsinks for the CPU power phase and the South Bridge section of the board. While the Z87M may be smaller it still manges to include, MSI’s Audio Boost, Killer Networking and the geared OC Genie control. This geared control allows OC Genie to operate at one of two possible OC frequencies (4.0 or 4.2 GHz). In addition to this the board also sports a handy debug LED, something that’s missing from our favourite MSI board the Z87 G-45 GAMING.
The MSI Z87M also supports both Nvidia’s SLI and AMD’s Crossfire technologies for some real awesome fire-power. Although having two cards in such proximity is never a good idea (see here). Otherwise the layout of the board in general is very good, although an additional System Fan Header would be nice. There’s also some nice lighting on the South Bridge and also some odd lighting (PINK!?) on the Audio Boost chipset.
From a performance point of view the Z87M performed well, especially in it’s OC Genie state. Although it was both strange and a shame that I couldn’t seem to manually overclock our new Intel Core i5-4670K passed 4.3GHz, even with 1.28 volts applied to the Core.
Overall the Z87M GAMING is another great motherboard from MSI and one that you may even want to consider even if you’re doing an ATX build, because most of the Bell ‘n Whistles for Gaming are still here…
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Many thanks to MSI for providing this sample for review