Intel Z77 Chipset motherboard Reviewccokeman -
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MSI's high end enthusiast offering for the Z77 Platform is the Z77A-GD65 that supports Intel 2nd and 3rd generation Core series processors using the LGA 1155 socket. The front of the packaging shows a few of the features of the board that are Intel-based as well as MSI-specific. MSI-specifics include the Military Class III build philosophy where the components used meet or exceed Military spec MIL-STD-810G. MSI's Z77A-GD65 comes with a three year warranty that should cover the user until the next upgrade cycle in case something fails. OC Genie II one step overclocking features a new implementation that moves the overclocking to the entire system not just the CPU. Click BIOS II is MSI's latest UEFI BIOS strategy that is full of new features including customizable OC Genie II BIOS profiles. SLI and CrossfireX Multi GPU solutions are supported along with switchable graphics technology from Virtu for both low power 2D and full power 3D performance. The back side of the packaging goes into detail on some of the features including Military Class III where DrMOS II is explained along with Hi-c Caps, Super Ferrite Chokes and solid capacitors that all combine to increase the longevity of the parts as well as improving on the thermals and power efficiency. A new OC Genie implementation that overclocks not only the CPU but the integrated graphics, memory and storage devices. Other mentions include Super Charger for charging iPads and iPhones at a higher rate, Winki 3 - a low overhead Linux distribution that enables a much faster boot time to get online without waiting through the entire post and windows load cycle and THX TruStudio Pro audio support. Inside the package the accessory bundle is stored on top of the MSI Z77A-GD65.
The accessory bundle that comes with the Z77A-GD65 includes the documentation, software and hardware. Included are the users manual, driver disk, software guide, quick install guide and certificate of quality and stability. This certificate verified that the components used including DrMos II, Hi-c Caps, Super Ferrite chokes and solid capacitors have passed Military Spec MIK-STD-810G for low pressure, temperature, humidity, shock high temperature, temperature shock and vibration. The hardware side of the bundle includes SATA cables, an IO plate, MSI branded SLI cable, M-Connectors and V-Check cables that come in handy when checking voltages at the V Check points.
The MSI Z77A-GD65 is a full size ATX form factor motherboard designed to use Intel 2nd and 3rd generation Core series processors. It features an LGA 1155 socket and four DIMM that slots support up to 32GB of DDR3 2667Mhz(OC). The blue and black theme is used throughout with the layout set up to allow up to three graphics cards in an SLI or CrossfireX configuration. The back side of the PCB is bare with the exception of the CPU retention mechanism back plate. The heat pipe based cooling solution employed is held in place by screws instead of push pins.
The IO panel connectivity includes a PS/2 port for use with a keyboard or mouse, four USB 2.0 ports, Clear CMOS button, Optical and Coaxial S/PDIF outputs, HDMI port, Intel 82579V Gigabit LAN, 2x Intel controlled USB 3.0 ports, VGA and DVI-D ports that support resolutions up to 1920x1200 that can be used with Lucid's Virtu switchable graphics technology and the Realtek ALC 898 controlled eight channel audio connectivity that supports THX TruStudio Pro. Expansion possibilities include three 16x PCIe slots that can be used in a 1x 16x or 2x 8x configuration with 2nd generation Intel Core series processors. Additionally there are a total of four PCIe 1x slots for use with sound cards or PCIe based solid state drives.
Connectivity along the bottom of the board is for the peripherals and front panel. Starting from the left is the front panel audio header, system fan header, trusted platform module, Voice Genie connector, front panel connection headers, IEE1394 header and three USB headers, one of which (red) supports the SuperCharge feature. Above the SuperCharge ready USB 2.0 header is the diagnostic LED and dual BIOS switch.
Additional connectivity can be found with the SATA ports. From the left are two Asmedia controlled SATA 6Gb/s ports, the four SATA 3Gb/s ports in black that are controlled by the Z77 chipset and to the right the SATA 6Gb/s ports again controlled by the Z77 PCH. RAID is supported across the Z77 controlled ports. Next to the SATA ports is the USB 3.0 header used for additional USB 3.0 connectivity. Memory support comes in the form of four slots capable of holding up to 32GB of DDR3 2667Mhz (OC) in a dual channel configuration. Moving up is a 4 pin PWNM controlled fan header, the 24 pin ATX power connector, V Check points, Power, Reset and OC Genie switches. As a board designed for the enthusiast the V Check points are a valuable tool for verifying the voltage applied are correct. From left to right you have CPU vcore, CPU VTT, Graphics core voltage, Memory, PCH and two ground points.
Across the top of the PCB are the Power Phase indicator lights for the CPU power phases. There are multiple fan headers (both 3 pin and 4 pin), the heat sink over the VRM and the EATX 8 pin auxiliary CPU power connector.
The LGA 1155 socket supports 2nd and 3rd generation Core series processors from Intel. Covered in a black chrome finish makes it easy to see the retention mechanism is from Lotes. Surrounding the socket are the components that make up the power circuit and include Hi-c Capacitors, Super Ferrite chokes, a DrMOS package and solid capacitors that create a stable, cooler running platform with excellent power modulation. While overclocking I used the V Check points to verify the voltage and measure droop, and was surprised to see the load line calibration tools in the Click BIOS II mitigated any droop whereas trusting the software that showed a huge droop.
Keeping the power circuits and the Z77 PCH cool is the job of the large heat pipe-connected series of heat sinks attached to the Z77A-GD65. A large passive sink covers the Z77 PCH while the power circuits are interconnected by means of a heat pipe allowing the airflow from the CPU cooling solution to exhaust air out the back of the chassis.
As a full featured board the MSI Z77A-GD65 is a good start for this look at the latest boards employing this PCH solution. Will its Military Class III build philosophy make a difference in the short term?