MSI Z97 GAMING 5 Motherboard Review
Here we have the successor to the best Z87 motherboard of the last 12 months. That board was the MSI Z87-G45 GAMING and here we have the new MSI Z97 GAMING 5. The last Z87-G45 board was so good that not only did is get one of our prestigious Platinum awards but I also bought one and used it as the base for a £3,000 water cooled SLI Gaming rig. A decision that I have never regreted. As you can see the new Z97 GAMING 5 has a lot to live up to…
The MSI Z97 GAMING 5 came well packaged in a predominately black box adorned with the MSI Gaming Dragon in white. The front of the box gives very little away other than Killer networking and Audio Boost 2 technologies.
The back of the box goes to highlight some of the features of the Z97 GAMING 5; some new like the USB Audio Power (delivering continuous 5V over USB, even when multiple devices are connected) and Audio Boost 2 (with its EMI Shielding), and some old like the Killer networking.
Within the box we find the GAMING 5 sitting on the top wrapped in what appears to be an anti static bag, with the accessories and paperwork hiding beneath.
In the box in addition to the motherboard itself we find the following:
At the time of writing the MSI Z97 GAMING 5 is retailing for approximately £108 on Amazon and comes with a 3 year warranty.
courtesy of MSI
- Supports 4th and 5th Gen Intel® Core™ / Pentium® / Celeron® processors for LGA 1150 socket
- Supports DDR3-3300(OC) Memory
- M.2 + USB 3.0 + SATA 6Gb/s
- Audio Boost 2: Reward Your Ears with True Quality
- Killer Ethernet: Kill Your Lag
- USB Audio Power: Surve Stable 5V Power & Better Signal Transmission over USB
- XSplit Gamecaster: Show off Your Skills and Achievements
- Guard-Pro: Improved Protection and Power Efficiency
- OC Genie 4: Overclock in 1 Second
- Gaming App: Boost Your Frame Rate
- Click BIOS 4: Easily Fine-tune Your System
- Multi-GPU: NVIDIA SLI & AMD CrossFire Support
- Sound Blaster Cinema 2: Realistic Surround Sound Experience
- Gaming Device Port: Optimized with Triple Gold-plating for High Polling Rate Gaming Devices
First impressions of the MSI Z97 GAMING 5 are extremely good, this is one clean, cool looking board. It’s a little subtler than the Dragons that preceded it, but it definitely has a touch of class about it. The south bridge heat-sink is now a little more prominent than before, although still the same size, and the north bridge heat-sinks are well kind of generic, but they still look pretty good too. Let’s take a tour around the board and see what’s what…
Looking at the right side of the board we see the four DIMM slots supporting up to 32GB RAM with support for memory modules up to 3200MHz. Then working right to left, we find CPUFAN2 in the far right corner (some distance from the CPU!?) just below the RAM slots. Then passing the V-Check Points solder points (as it’s only available on GAMING 6 and above), we find the main ATX 24-pin power connector. To the left of this we find the first of three PWM fan headers (SYSFAN3) and the USB 3.0 connector, next we have the six SATA 3 6GB/s ports all controlled by way of the Intel chipset. Note that SATA ports 5 and 6 will be disabled while using the M.2 port. Finally we come across that smart large south bridge heat-sink.
Looking at the bottom of the board (again working right to left) we have the second of three chassis fan headers (SYSFAN2) followed by two USB 2.0 headers. Next we have the two front panel headers, supporting both front panel functionality and additionally speaker/buzzer/power and suspend functionality. Next we have that all important debug LED (with a special trick up its sleeve), TPM header and a Serial port header. Then we have something I’ve never seen before and additional audio power connector, allowing additional power to be provided to the rear audio port in an attempt to better the audio output. Just to the left and up from this position we have the audio power switch allowing you to switch from on-board power to dedicated power, using the cable supplied. I addition to this we have the PCIe lanes, that are setup as follows:
PCI_E1 (PCIe 2.0 x1 slots) is used for PCI Express x1 lane width cards.
PCI_E2 (PCIe 3.0 x16 slots) is used for PCI Express x16 lane width graphics cards.
PCI_E3 (PCIe 2.0 x1 slots) is used for PCI Express x1 lane width cards.
PCI_E4 (PCIe 2.0 x1 slots) is used for PCI Express x1 lane width cards.
PCI_E5 (PCIe 3.0 x16 slots) is used for PCI Express x8 lane width graphics cards.
PCI_E6 (PCIe 2.0 x1 slots) is used for PCI Express x1 lane width cards.
PCI_E7 (PCIe 3.0 x16 slots) is used for PCI Express x4 lane width graphics cards.
Taking a look at the left side of the MSI Z97 GAMING 5 in the bottom right corner we find Audio Boost 2 (controlled via a Realtek ALC1150 chipset) and its associated circuitry. Next to this we have a chip that I’m not sure of (it may be the networking controller!). Finally we have the main I/O panel (see detailed layout below). Also near the centre of the board just below the CPU power phase heat-sink is the final of three 4-pin system fan headers (SYSFAN1).
The top of the Z97 GAMING 5 is dominated by the 1150 socket, to the right of this we find the main CPU ATX 8-pin power socket. To the left we find the main CPU fan header CPUFAN1. It’s also worth noting that those power phase heat-sinks are firmly attached to the motherboard by way of screws, so no issues holding on to one while handling the board. Not like another motherboard recently tested… 😉
We feel here at pcG it’s important to have a debug LED on a motherboard as it’s always so useful if things go wrong. Well done MSI… But wait there’s more to this debug LED than meets the eye, as once booted the LEDs show CPU temperature, GENIUS! Shame then that they’re green and not red… 😉
Gone are the old Dragon heat-sinks from the Z87-G45 and in with the new, a little subtler this time to say the least, but if you look carefully there’s still a dragon image on the ends of the heat-sinks.
Audio Boost now in its second incarnation aboard the Z97 GAMING 5, now not only has EMI shielding (inc fancy red illumination) and supports an additional power source by way of the Audio Power Adapter (supplied), but it now lights up red instead of pink! 😉
Just above the main x16 PCIe slot we find a new addition for Z97, the M.2 connector, supporting either M.2 SATA 6Gb/s modules or M.2 PCIe modules for up to 10Gb/s transfer speeds.
Above we can see the MSI I/O shield installed, not the greatest I/O shield we have seen, but at least it’s not plain silver…
Looking at the back of the board there’s not much to see as always. But it’s good to see all of those logos on the back instead of the front, making the MSI Z97 GAMING one clean looking board. Also if you look carefully you can see the trace line of the EMI Shielding at the back right of the board.
|As the new Devil’s Canyon CPUs were not available at the time of review (and to be fair there’s very little (in fact almost nothing!) between a Haswell and a Haswell Devil’s Canyon anyway!), our testing was performed with an Intel Core i5-4670K.|
A new build was put together to house the MSI Z97 GAMING 5 motherboard and the Haswell 4670K CPU. The following components were used:
|Case||Cooler Master HAF XB||Power Supply||Corsair AX760i|
|Motherboard||MSI Z97 GAMING 5||CPU||Intel Core i7-4670K|
|CPU Cooler||Raijintek Themis||RAM||Kingston HyperX Beast 8GB 2400MHz|
|Graphics Card||MSI GTX 770 GAMING OC Edition||SSD||Kingston M.2 (SM2280S3/120G)|
|It’s worth noting that we are using a rather new tech here, an Kingston M.2 120GB SSD (SM2280S3/120G), this is fully supported by the M.2 port aboard the MSI Z97 GAMING 5. We here at pcG are big fans of the MSATA (outgoing) and the new incoming M.2 SSDs, as they’re so easy to fit, support transfer speeds up to 10 GB/s and capacities up to 1TB. All of this without any wiring too! Awesome, I think… 😉|
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 (1.4) was downloaded and installed via the MSI M-FLASH utility within the UEFI and was used throughout testing…
- Intel Chipset Driver (INF driver ver: 10.0.17)
- Realtek High Definition Audio Driver (22.214.171.12445)
- Killer LAN Driver (126.96.36.1995)
- Intel USB3.0 Driver (188.8.131.52)
- NVIDIA Graphics (337.88 WHQL)
During testing the following tools/benchmarks & games were used/played:
Installation of the MSI Z97 GAMING 5 was simple enough, with the motherboard having a good overall layout. The board booted first time without issue, so it was straight into the UEFI for some basic BIOS checks. After confirming the CPU speed 3.4GHz (for our Core i5-4670K) and seeing that our test RAM (Kingston Beast) was running at the default setting of 1333MHz. It was time to install Windows 7 on to the Kingston M.2 120GB SSD.
With stability then proven at stock/default settings (see below) it was time for some overclocking…
Navigating the MSI’s Click BIOS 4 is simple enough with everything nicely laid out in a specific place. Glancing at the front screen tells you pretty much everything you would need to know. Being an MSI GAMING board means that we also have the option of using OC Genie to help with the overclocking. This simple button (top left) within the UEFI overclocked our Intel Core i5-4670K from its stock 3.4GHz to 4.0GHz while dragging our Beast memory from the default 1333MHz up to its XMP setting of 2400MHz. All of this can be done at the touch of one single button in the UEFI. Nice!
For manual overclocking (don’t be afraid it doesn’t get much simpler) I entered the Overclocking Settings (OC) section within the UEFI and dialled in a 45 CPU Ratio and a 1.26 volt CPU Core Voltage. Voila! One stable 4.5GHz overclock. Then to ensure the Kingston Beast memory was running at 2400MHz I set XMP to Profile 1. See image below right.
I was also able to get a 4.7GHz overclock (with XMP) stable with this board but it required a hefty voltage of 1.350 volts, any further just resulted in BSODs within Windows. This is of course more down to our CPU than it is the MSI Z97 GAMING 5.
For testing purposes I ran the motherboard at both its Load Optimized Defaults speed of 3.4GHz (RAM: 1333MHz) and at 4.5GHz (RAM: 2400MHz), which is fine for everyday use at a voltage of 1.26 volts.
- Benchmark Results (CPU @ STOCK: 3.4GHz (1.040v) : RAM @ 1333MHz) with NVIDIA GTX 770
|Metro Last Light||1920×1080||58.00|
|Unigine Heaven 4.0||1920×1080||980|
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 Stock (3.4GHz – 3.8GHz Turbo) and 4.5GHz, but the additional performance is there, even if it’s negligible. Strangely (this is the now the third time this has happened!) Unigine posted a strange result as the performance went down a little when overclocked, although it’s still within the margin of error. Weird!
- Benchmark Results (CPU @ 4.5GHz (1.260v) : RAM @ 2400MHz) with NVIDIA GTX 770
|Metro Last Light||1920×1080||59.00|
|Unigine Heaven 4.0||1920×1080||979|
What can be seen from the data above is that when it comes down to it a Gaming PC that’s running at 4.5GHz & 2400MHz isn’t much faster than one running at 3.4GHz and 1333MHz! Sorry guys but its true…
Th performance of the MSI Z97 GAMING 5 is along the same lines of all of the other Z and H97 motherboard that we have recently tested. Lending some kudos to the fact that it’s not the performance that you should be thinking about. It’s now more about features and value when it comes to a good Gaming board. Luckily for the MSI Z97 GAMING 5 it has both! 😉
Hardware (Audio Boost 2)
Here on the new MSI Z97 GAMING 5 motherboard we once again find the Realtek ALC1150 chipset providing on-board audio. Of course we have seen this chipset many times before and it has always impressed, with its low noise and good sound quality. But here on the GAMING 5 we have not only EMI Shielding and dual headphones amps but also a rather unusual addition; a dedicated power lead!? This Audio Power Adapter can be optionally connected to the motherboard’s Direct Audio Power Connector (AUDPWR1) and in turn connects to your PSU by way of a spare molex connector. Activating the on-board Audio Power Switch (AUD_SW1) then allows the rear audio ports to be driven by a dedicated power source. Result? Well we should get better sound…
In reality (and I think I have a well trained ear) I couldn’t really tell the difference, which is a shame. I was also expecting and hoping for a little more power (volume) in the delivery, but alas not. Installing the Sound Blaster Cinema 2 app also didn’t really help the sound per se, so now you can mess with the sound via software (profiles such as Game, Movie, Music etc), it’s nice to have, but it doesn’t improve much on what is already a good sound output. So Audio Boost 2 is just as good as it used to be, but I’m not sure it’s much better…
It’s also still no replacement for a dedicated sound card like the Creative Sound Blaster Zx, that you’ll want to use if your going to be using a high end headset such as the QPAD QH-1339 or the beyerdynamic MMX 300.
Hardware (KILLER™ E2200 Game Networking)
Software (Command Center)
The central command centre for the MSI Z97 GAMING 5 is MSI’s Command Center, a great piece of simple to use software that allows you to not only monitor the state of your system, But also allows you to overclock it as well. With support for CPU, RAM and IGPU tuning. Having said that the Click 4 UEFI is so good, it almost makes Command Center redundant. But which ever way you choose, the interface is well laid out and easy to use.
There’s a wealth of other features that the MSI Z97 GAMING 5 offers, but it would take too long to cover them all here, besides some of them a a little superfluous, especially when you consider the board to be a Gaming board. Some of the highlights include: USB Audio Power, X-Split Gamescaster, Gaming Device Support and the Gaming App. For further details follow this link.
Well it looks like MSI have done it again; we were extremely impressed with last year’s Z87-G45 GAMING, but MSI have taken that Platinum award winning design and improved it. Therefore the MSI Z97 GAMING 5 goes straight to the top of the best Gaming motherboard chart.
As per usual the board came well packaged with what seems like a host of accessories, some of them useful too; like the SLI bridge, x4 SATA cables and the M-Connectors. The new Z97 GAMING 5 looks better too, now with a nice clean black PCB, red Audio Boost lighting (instead of pink!) and red EMI shielding illumination around the on-board SPU. The board may not look quite as nice as the ASRock Fatal1ty Z97X Killer but it does look cooler… 😉
The GAMING 5 fired up first time without issue and remained rock solid throughout testing at both stock speeds as well as our overclocked speed of 4.5 GHz (Intel Core i5-4670K) and 2400MHz XMP (Kingston Beast). We even found that we could push our 4670K to 4.8 GHz but struggled with stability in Windows at this point, although we know that is the limit of our Core i5 sample. At 4.7GHz the MSI Z97 GAMING’s stability was rock solid though, although we would not recommend these kind of speeds as voltages often need to pass 1.3 volts.
Of course if you don’t want to overclock manually there’s OC Genie 4, that will do the job for you (and set your RAM to its XMP setting) all at the touch of a single button found within the UEFI. Always a nice feature to see this, if you don’t want to get your hands dirty. In addition to this new features such as the debug LED, that acts as a CPU temperature reading once the PC has booted, is just Genius (now why didn’t I think of that!?). Then add in all of the other Gamer features, such as Killer networking, Audio Boost 2 (with dedicated amps, EMI shielding and dedicated power source) and full SLI and CrossFireX support and once again MSI have a great Gamer’s motherboard on their hands.
Factor in the low price of around £110 (at the time of review) and MSI not only have one of the best Gaming motherboards to date, but they also receive another Platinum award from pcGameware, that’s two in a row… 😉
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Where possible we always use Amazon’s price for Value…
Many thanks to MSI for providing this sample for review