MSI Z87M Gaming Reviewccokeman - January 20, 2014
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MSI Z87M Gaming Closer Look:
When you pull the Z87M Gaming out of the box you can see that there were some concessions made to deliver the same hardware in the MATX form factor. Most notably is the reduction in expansion capabilities, although dual GPUs are supported. It's built upon a six layer PCB that is as black as the night on both sides, so you will not get that brown color under a flash. Much like on its other high end boards, the PCB is designed to have improved EMI and humidity resistance. Built using the Z87 PCH as the base building block, the Z87M Gaming is ready for use with socket 1150 Intel Fourth Generation Core series processors like the 4770K used to test the Z87M Gaming. Memory support is available for DIMMs rated up to 3000MHz. The dragon graphics that are a big part of the look on this series from MSI take center stage with the imagery used on the heat sinks that are held in place with spring loaded screws. The back of the PCB carries much of the silk screening of the feature set. For most of us that will be a two time view; once on install and once when we upgrade.
Connectivity options on the I/O panel include, from left to right, a PS2 Gaming port that supports the use of a mouse or keyboard, a pair of USB 2.0 sockets, CMOS clear button, Killer E2205-controlled Gigabit LAN port, a total of six USB 3.0 ports (four by the Intel Z87 and two by way of RENESAS UPD720202 chipset), a pair of HDMI 1.4 ports, a single DisplayPort, Optical S/PDIF output, a pair of eSATA ports, and the six gold plated audio jacks for the Realtek ALC1150-controlled 7.1 sound solution. Expansion capabilities include support for dual GPUs in CrossfireX or SLI through a pair of PCIe 3.0 16x slots with additional support through a pair of PCIe 2.0 1x slots. The dual 16x slots support MSI's VGA Boost technology that boosts the power limits when MSI Gaming series video cards like the GTX 770 Gaming are inserted for improved overclocking and overall higher FPS. The sound solution hardware is packed into the left edge of the board and is isolated from the rest of the PCB. Included is an EMI shielded ALC1150 codec that feeds to an OPA1652 amplifier and high grade audio capacitors that are capable of driving studio quality 600 ohm rated listening hardware.
Around on the bottom edge of the PCB, connectivity starts with the front panel audio connection. Just below that is the PCB indicator that will tell you how many layers this particular board has. Six would be the correct answer if you were guessing. Next is a 4-pin PWM controlled fan header, slow mode jumper, TPM header, a pair of USB 2.0 headers, and another 4-pin system fan header. Once you get to the right hand corner it gets a little crowded, with the CMOS jumper, front panel connections, and the chassis intrusion connector. Right here is a good reason to use the M-Connectors included in the accessory bundle.
Storage capabilities are standard for the Z87 chipset with all of the SATA ports being 6Gbps ports. With the cut down size of the form factor only six drives can be connected with support for RAID 0/1/5/10 and Intel's storage technologies, including Smart Response, Rapid Start, and Smart Connect. A USB 3.0 header occupies the space between the SATA 6Gbps ports and the 24-pin ATX power connector for use with either a back panel plate supporting two USB 3.0 ports or with the latest cases on the front panel. At the top of the PCB are the onboard power, reset, and OC Genie 4 buttons. These will be seldom used if you pack this little jewel away in a case, but are there just in case since the Z87M has the same overclocking credentials as the full size Z87-GD65.
The OC Genie 4 button supports two different modes for one button overclocking, Gaming mode and Turbo mode, but called Gear 1 and Gear 2 in the manual. Using this option to overclock nets you a 4.0 and 4.2GHz overclock with nothing else but the push of a button. Haswell has brought memory overclocking to new heights with speeds currently over 4400MHhz in the record books. The Z87M Gaming supports up to 32GB of DDR3 at speeds up to 3000MHz right out of the box. Unfortunately memory rated that high come with an equally stellar price tag. However finding a good set of 2800MHz rated memory and pushing the limits may get you there for less coin.
Around the top side of the PCB there is not a lot to see, but you do get a pair of PWM fan headers including the CPU specific connection point. The OC Genie 4 OC Mode switch sits between the two fan headers. To the right of the VRM heat sink is the 8-pin auxilliary CPU power connector, about where you usually find it on boards using Intel's latest sockets. Just behind the I/O connections are diodes that improve ESD protection.
MSI's Z87M Gaming is built around the Intel Z87 PCH for use with socket 1150 processors, including the Fourth Generation Core i7 4770K. An eight phase power system is used featuring MSI's own Military Class IV components that include Dark Capacitors, Super Ferrite Chokes, Hi-C Caps, and what MSI calls Military Class Essentials. It's a new method of constructing the six layer PCB to improve resistance to humidity and EMI interference, and add ESD protection. LOTES makes the CPU retention mechanism in a dark chrome finish that fits the theme of the Z87M Gaming.
Cooling the components on the board is the job of the heat sink package. Much like on the full size Z87-GD65, the theme of the packaging carries over to the board in a big way. The VRM heat sink is interconnected with a large heat pipe to allwow the thermal load to be carried out the back of the chassis with help from the rear exhaust fan. What's not readily evident until you get down and look is that this implementation has the heat sink shaped to match the tribal dragon on the front of the package. A cool touch to round out the board. The passive heat sink over the Z87 PCH also uses the dragon to effect with a red and black design.
As a smaller version of the Z87-GD65, the Z87M Gaming is visually up to the task of a small form factor build. Its got all the hardware necessary to equal the performance of the full ATX form factor boards in the Gaming series from MSI. Let's see how it handles the load.