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MSI Z97M Gaming Motherboard Review

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The familiar dragon associated with MSI’s gaming series is featured on the front of the box. On the rear, some of  the features of the MSI Z97m are highlighted and explained in more detail.

MSI Z97MAfter cracking open the box, you can see MSI has included a few accessories with the MSI Z97M.  The package contains the motherboard, full user manual, quick start guide, cable labels, door hanger, 4 SATA cables, Audio Power cable, SLI Bridge, M-connectors, I/O shield, and driver and software CD.

MSIZ97MHere’s the MSI Z97M Gaming in all her glory. The MSI Z97M Gaming, as the name suggests is a mATX form factor that has two full length PCIe 16x slots, 16x on the top slot and 8x on the bottom slot, and two PCIe 1x slots. The PCB of the MSI Z97M Gaming is 6 layers. The board can support four memory modules with a max overclocked speed of 3300 MHz.

A high resolution image of the MSI Z97M Gaming motherboard is available here. (right click and open in new window)

 

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CPU power delivery is composed of an UPI Semiconductor uP1649 4-phase VRD 12.5 controller with four uP9151 drivers doubling the phases through eight pairs of ON Semiconductor NTMFS4C05N (Low-Side) and NTMFS4C08N (High-Side) LowRDS(on) Power MOSFETs with eight 0.47uH “Super Ferrite” chokes and six 560uF solid capacitors. Memory power delivery is handled by a single-phase UPI Semiconductor uP1504S with two pairs of NTMFS4C08N and NTMFS4C05N.

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Clearance around the CPU socket is good however, depending on the HSF used the upper left securing mechanism may be a little tough to get at.

MSI Z97M Gaming Features

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Audio for the MSI Z97M Gaming is provided by a Realtek ALC1150 IC and  TWO Texas Instruments OP1652 amplifiers with Nichicon MW capacitors. MSI choose to use two amplifiers for the Z97M Gaming to provide users with enough audio power to both the rear and front ports. It’s nice to see MSI taking high quality audio on their motherboard serious. For those that use USB headsets, they will not benefit from this board’s particular audio implementation but what MSI did instead is route the rear +5V USB 3.0 port power via the +12V rail for steady power output.

DSC_0644Continuing with the audio system on the MSI Z97M gaming, an AUD_SW1 is present in the right side of the picture above, to use this feature the user will have to plug a molex power connector in to the Direct Power adapter then plug that into the header to the right of the switch, then with the power off move the switch to the left. This allows the power supply to deliver power directly to the audio subsystem and is supposed to deliver better sound. According to MSI this is only for the audio jacks on the back of the motherboard. Notice, the audio circuit is separated from the rest of the PCB, this is done to reduce or eliminate any interference from the motherboard components.

 

DSC_0634Moving along to the edge of the board, at the top right, you will find the OC Genie, reset, and power buttons installed directly onto the PCB.

 

DSC_0630Housed between the on board buttons and the power supply connector is the dual LED diagnostic panel. This panel can give you information if the board fails to boot, or is having issues. The codes are located in the user manual under the section Debug code LED Table.

 

MSI Z97M Gaming Connectors

DSC_0895The Asmedia ASM 1061 IC bridge controller handles the eSATA connections on the back panel.

 

DSC_0896Networking on the MSI Z97M Gaming is controlled by the Killer E2205 Gigabit Ethernet controller. The E2205 supports network speeds of 10/100/1000 as well as jumbo frames.

 

 

MSI Z97MThe PCIe slots are staggered between the different types. Sitting between the 16x slots is the M.2 SSD slot. When an M.2 drive is installed in the MSI Z97M SATA ports 5 & 6 will be unavailable. The port supports either a M.2 SSD drive or a M.2 PCIe module. The audio Direct Power connector can be seen next to the AUD_SW1.

DSC_0620The six SATA ports are provided by the Intel Z97 chipset and are backwards compatible with the older SATA standards.

 

DSC_0641On the back of the motherboard are the I/O connectors. Notice how the PS/2 port and the two USB ports underneath are red?  MSI has configured these as the gaming device ports. These ports have a high polling rate to ensure gaming devices (keyboards, mice, controllers) can transfer data at maximum capacity. Next up is the clear CMOS button, if an overclock happens to go wrong you no longer need to open the case to get to the clear CMOS. Digital optical out, HDMI, and Display port are the next connections on the motherboard. Six USB 3.0 ports as well as two eSATA ports are located on the rear. The audio connectors are gold plated to ensure superb conductivity. The two USB 3.0 ports located under the RJ45 network port are designed to have a constant stable 5v output for the consumers that use USB or external sound devices.

 

 

Article Index: >>    « Introduction | UEFI Overview and Overclocking »

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Tom Brokaw

Tom is a network and computer hardware enthusiast. He has been reviewing hardware products around for various sites around the net since 1999. He has modded a few cases back in the day.

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