MSI Z87M Gaming Review

ccokeman - 2013-10-26 20:16:36 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: January 20, 2014
Price: $159

MSI Z87M Gaming Introduction:

Last year when Intel launched its Fourth Generation Core series processors and supporting Z87 chipset, its partners launched a myriad of high performance motherboards. It's all so the Fourth Gen Core series processors from Intel had the best chance of success when it came to reliability and ultimately chip performance. What we saw with MSI's offering was the company moving in the right direction to capture a larger part of the lucrative gaming centric motherboard market by offering features that gamers want. Things like better onboard sound, Killer Gaming's E2200 series network hardware, easy performance improvement through OC Genie 4, one touch overclocking, and good reliability thanks to the company's Military Class IV component selection.

Priced at $159, the MSI Z87M Gaming is priced around $30 less than the full size Z87-GD65 Gaming and MSI took all that was good with the Z87-GD65 Gaming and put it into a smaller MATX form factor, giving us the Z87M Gaming. With its pedigree established, let's see if lightning can strike twice in the same product line.

MSI Z87M Gaming Closer Look:

MSI's packaging of its Gaming series products is bright and has a ton of eye appeal if you are shopping in a traditional brick and mortar retail outlet. The Dragon themed red and black imagery has taken over as the look to have for motherboards targeted at the enthusiast and gamer. The front features a tribal dragon image in silver/grey as the dominant feature of the package, while you have support for Fourth Generation Core series processors from Intel and the inclusion of a Killer Gaming E2200 series NIC. The back panel looks at some of the more specific features the MSI Z87M Gaming has to offer. Here the Killer Gaming E2205 is touted as a tool to reduce ping and latency for an improved online experience. Further mentions include Audio Boost, one second overclocking with OC Genie 4, Sound Blaster Cinema, Military Class IV component selection, and how the PS/2 Gaming port is more robust and features gold contacts. All important features that help set the MSI Gaming series apart from the crowd. You even get multi GPU capabilities with the Z87M Gaming!

Internally you have two levels to the packaging. The top layer holds the board in place securely while the bottom level holds the substantial bundle of accessories. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The accessory bundle included with the Z87M Gaming consists of the documentation and hardware needed to get the board functioning to its maximum capacity. For documentation you get the users guide, installation guide, "Do Not Disturb" door tag, and the driver/utility disc. The hardware side of the bundle includes the basics, such as the quartet of SATA 6Gbps data cables, a pair of M-Connectors, SLI Bridge connection (Crossfire Bridges are included with the video cards), a good looking case badge, and I/O shield. The case badge on its own will stand out from the crowd if you proudly display it. The I/O Shield offers three-way protection in the form of an EMI protection with an aluminum shield, in addition to the force absorbing foam inner core layer. M-Connections have been a standard on MSI boards for several years and make installing front panel connections onto the board much easier.

 

 

 

When I looked at the Z87-GD65 and the MPower Max boards from MSI, I found that the company had indeed turned the corner and offered a top notch product for the end user. With a list of high end features, the boards performed well right out of the gate and delivered excellent performance. The hope is that by shrinking the form factor we get the same solid performance we saw last year.

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.

MSI Z87M Gaming Closer Look:

Every motherboard manufacturer has its own set of software tools that best work with its hardware; MSI is no different in that respect. Included with the Z87M Gaming are the following tools.

Super Charger is used to manage the power supply through the identified high current USB 2.0 port to allow charging your portable electronics such as smartphones, tablets, or multimedia devices. Fast Boot gives you a direct ticket into the BIOS when this option is enabled in the BIOS. Using the GO2BIOS button functions similarly and is needed since the keyboard is inactive when in Fastboot mode. Super RAID is a tool that looks like a front end for access into Intel's Rapid Storage Technologies. MSI Utility is used as a one stop source for the utilities package and sits on the edge of the screen until called for, eliminating shortcuts on the desktop for a cleaner work space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By including the Killer Gaming E2205 ethernet connectivity, you by default gain access to the Killer Network Management software package. This software package enables the end user the ability to tailor Internet bandwidth by application. For use on the MSI Z87M Gaming the interface gets a decidedly Win 8 look to it throughout the menus. Killer's implementation is said to improve bandwidth and reduce ping and lag in games.

 

 

 

The use of the Realtek ALC 1150 codec brings with it the Realtek HD Audio manager control panel that proves to be fully functional. An added enhancement is the inclusion of the Sound Blaster Cinema Suite. This enables the use of several preset options including Movie, Game, Music, and a Custom profile. Configurable within the profiles are Surround, Crystalizer, Bass Boost, Smart Volume, and Dialog Plus.

 

 

MSI Live Update 5 is useful for checking MSI's servers for updates to the installed utilities, BIOS, and drivers. This process can be run automatically or as a manual process. Simply choose what you want to do and start the process.

 

 

Command Center is MSI's tuning and monitoring program. This application has come a long way to get to the current iteration, and features a red and black interface to go along with the theme. There are five functional areas with a few sub menus to include the CPU, GPU, DRAM, RAMDisk, and OC Genie. The CPU section allows the user to modify the clock speed and multiplier increasing the speed of the processor. Voltage adjustments are available for all the pertinent voltages under the advanced menu at the bottom of the page. While not specifically spelled out with its own tab, the fan control feature set can be set to run in Smart mode or in a manually configured mode.

DRAM functionality is more limited here, but the basics work in this menu. The GPU Section is used when an MSI Gaming series video card is installed and calls up MSI's VGA Boost option set to increase the current flow to the card for higher overclocking potential. The RAMDisk feature was something new with the MPower Max, but is now available for the Gaming series allowing the end user to utilize a portion of their system RAM as a small, fast storage drive to reduce the time it takes to open commonly used files. OC Genie leads the user through the steps to use this one second overclocking feature set while identifying the steps the controller takes to reach a successful overclock.

 

 

 

 

The advanced section at the bottom of the utility allows access to three separate menus: Voltage, Fan, and DRAM. The voltage option allows the user to manually configure the voltages needed to run the processor and memory at max speed, or tune for the lowest voltages when running stock speeds. The fan section is where you will allow the fans to be tuned by the board's controller or set up manual profiles. The DRAM section allows for tuning memory sub timings from within the OS to help you find the best combination of settings.

 

 

Buried in the settings menu is a recording tool used to record over time how the voltages, temperatures, and fan speeds are tracking to let the end user know if there is a problem that can then be tied to actions on the system.

 

 

MSI brings a full suite of tools to the table for the end user with this addition to the Gaming line up. A functional overclocking tool is a must in today's competitive sales environment.

MSI Z87M Gaming Closer Look:

MSI has come a long way and continues to do so with its Click BIOS, with the latest iteration being installed on this board. Click BIOS 4 is a UEFI BIOS from AMI that is an ACPI 5.0, PnP1.0a, SM BIOS 2.7, and DMI 2.0 multi language ready BIOS. A pair of 64MB Winbond ICs each contain the BIOS. Each BIOS can be accessed via a two position switch that can select from BIOS A or B should you want to use each one differently or just use the redundancy as a fail safe backup. The main BIOS page is where you will navigate from one tab to the next. The GUI provides basic information at the top of the page including CPU temperature, date, time, installed processor, CPU, and DRAM frequency, as well as the installed DRAM capacity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Settings: The first section is Settings, where you can check the system info under System Status. The Advanced tab is when you manage the IGP settings, enable or disable Intel Rapid Start and Smart Connect Technologies, and setup the power management features. The Boot section is where you manage the boot priority of the installed storage devices. Security is where you can set up an admin password and configure the chassis intrusion settings, while Save and Exit allows for a reset to factory defaults or the acceptance of any system changes.

 

 

OC: This section is the area where the performance of the installed hardware can be managed from setting the bclock adjustments; voltages for the CPU, memory, and control circuits; the memory speed and timings; and bclock strap settings, as well as DRAM ratios to pull the most performance out of the installed CPU and memory. This area is fairly robust and the window to the right gives a brief description of the adjust line item. If you will be manually tuning the Z87M Gaming, this is the area you will spend the most time tweaking for performance.

 

 

 

 

M-Flash is where the user can flash or back up the latest BIOS revisions. Through the course of testing the Z87M I flashed several of the available BIOS to see how they functioned. Using the M-Flash tool proved to be anti-climactic as it just worked as intended. Put the BIOS file on a flash drive, chose your file, then flash and reboot. Three BIOS flashed and no failures prove to me that the tool works.

 

 

OC Profile: This section allows the user to save up to six distinct profiles that can be named individually so you at least remember what each profile was. This way you get easy access without having to reconfigure the BIOS each time you want to change to a more or less aggressive profile. You can save profiles to or from a flash drive for added profile capacity.

 

 

Hardware Monitor: This section opens to show configurable fan profiles and controls for the five onboard PWM fan headers. The current voltages supplied by the power supply are registered on the bottom of the window in small charts. CPU and System temperatures are in the upper right of the window on this page.

 

 

Board Explorer is a pretty cool feature that shows visually which parts of the PCB are occupied with hardware and highlights them in a bright red. Using a mouse to roll over the Z87M you get a brief explanation or picture of the items that are installed.

 

 

 

As a UEFI BIOS you get full mouse and keyboard support so that you can freely navigate the menus and sub-menus in Click BIOS 4. On this gaming series board I found that the mouse issues I experienced with the Z87-GD65 were non-existent using the same Mad Catz Rat 3 mouse. I see this an improvement to MSI's intuitive and well laid out Click BIOS.

MSI Z87M Gaming Specifications:

CPU
4th Generation Intel® Core™ i7 / Core™ i5 / Core™ i3 / Pentium® / Celeron® processors for LGA 1150 socket
Please refer to CPU Support for compatible CPU; the above description is for reference only.
 
Chipset
Intel® Z87 Express Chipset
Main Memory
Support four DDR3 1066/1333/1600/1866*/2000*/2133*/2200*/2400*/2600*/2666*/2800*/3000*(*OC) MHz DRAM, 32GB Max
 Dual channel memory architecture
 Supports Intel® Extreme Memory Profile (XMP)
 Supports non-ECC, un-buffered memory
Slots
2 x PCIe 3.0 x16 slots
 2 x PCIe 2.0 x1 slots
On-Board SATA
SATAIII controller integrated in Intel® Z87 chipset
 Up to 6Gb/s transfer speed.
 Supports six SATA ports (SATA1~6) by Z87
 Supports Intel® Smart Response Technology, Intel® Rapid Start Technology and Intel® Smart Connect Technology*
 Supports Intel Core processors on Windows 7 and Windows 8.
2 x SATAIII controller integrated in ASMedia® ASM 1061 chipset
 Up to 6Gb/s transfer speed.
 Supports two e-SATA ports (back panel) by ASM 1061
RAID
SATA1~6 ports support Intel Rapid Storage Technology enterprise (RAID 0/1/5/10) by Intel Z87
USB
Intel Z87 Express Chipset
 6 x USB 3.0 ports (4 ports on the back panel, 2 ports available through the internal USB connectors)
 6 x USB 2.0 ports (2 ports on the back panel, 4 ports available through the internal USB connectors)
RENESAS UPD720202 chipset
 2 x USB 3.0 ports on the back panel
Audio
Realtek® ALC1150 Codec
 7.1-Channel High Definition Audio
 Supports S/PDIF output
LAN
1x Killer E2205 Gigabit LAN controller*
 The Killer Network Manager is only available for Windows 7 and Windows 8 currently. The supported drivers for other operating systems would be available on the website if provided by vendor.
Multi-GPU
Supports 2-Way AMD CrossFireTM Technology*
 Supports 2-Way NVIDIA® SLITM Technology
 Supports Windows 7 and Windows 8.
Internal I/O Connectors
 
 1x 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
 1 x TPM connector
 1 x Chassis Intrusion connector
 1 x Clear CMOS jumper
 1 x Slow mode booting jumper
 1 x Power button
 1 x Reset button
 1 x OC Genie button
 1 x OC Genie mode switch
 1 x 2-Digit Debug Code LED
Back Panel I/O Ports
1 x PS/2 keyboard/ mouse combo port
 2 x USB 2.0 ports
 1 x Clear CMOS button
 1 x LAN (RJ45) port
 6 x USB 3.0 ports
 1 x Optical S/PDIF OUT connector
 2 x HDMI ports
 1 x DisplayPort
 2 x eSATA ports
 6 x OFC audio jacks
BIOS
The motherboard BIOS provides "Plug & Play" BIOS which detects the peripheral devices and expansion cards of the board automatically.
• The motherboard provides a Desktop Management Interface(DMI) function which records your motherboard specifications.
Dimension
9.6 in. x 9.6 in. (24.4 cm x 24.4 cm) Micro-ATX Form Factor
Mounting
9 mounting holes.
 

 

MSI Z87M Gaming Features:

 

 

All information courtesy of MSI @ http://us.msi.com/product/mb/Z87M-GAMING.html#overview

MSI Z87M Gaming Testing:

Testing the MSI Z87M Gaming motherboard will involve running it through OCC's test suite of benchmarks, which includes both synthetic benchmarks and real-world applications, to see how each of these products perform. The gaming tests will also consist of both synthetic benchmarks and actual gameplay, in which we can see if similarly prepared setups offer any performance advantages. The system will receive a fully updated, fresh install of Windows 7 Professional 64-bit edition, in addition to the latest drivers for each board and NVIDIA drivers for the NVIDIA GTX 770. In the past we had locked the clock speed on the processor to eliminate any easily controlled variables due to processor speed. However there is a difference in how each manufacturer handles the CPU default and boost speeds creating opportunity for one board to deliver a higher level of performance. This variable is a point of difference between boards. The majority of users will run the stock settings making this point a valid concern so we are changing up the test methods to capture this difference.

Testing Setup: Socket 1150

 

Comparison Motherboard:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

 

As we saw with the Z87-GD65 Gaming from MSI, the end user gets a pretty good selection of options when it comes to overclocking the CPU and memory. OC Genie 4 offers push button overclocking with two distinct modes, Turbo and Gaming, along with the full suite of options if you chose to manually tweak the latest version of MSI's Click BIOS 4 UEFI BIOS. Add in the Control Center option and it's hard to go wrong whichever way you choose to go. Let's start out with overclocking in Control Center. Voltages, bclock, and multiplier options are there to use to reach pretty modest goals. 4400MHz was possible without any hassle or failures of any kind, and I was able to tweak the settings in the operating system to match the clock speed my 4770K is capable of via manual tuning in the BIOS. The benefit of overclocking in the OS is that you can try to reach speeds that the chip cannot boot with, but can run at benchmark stable speeds.

OC Genie 4 allows the end user to have the ability to set up a sweet and simple conservative overclock using just the touch of a button. Over the last few MSI boards I have tested with this feature, including the Z87M Gaming, I have found that this hardware based solution works as advertised. The overclocks on the 4770K are fairly conservative, but need to be so due to the clock speed tolerances of the majority of Core i7 4770Ks. Using the mode switch, a 4000MHz and 4200MHz Prime 95 stable overclock is applied respectively.

Manual tuning in the BIOS is the option that takes some work, but is ultimately the most rewarding. By adjusting just a few key voltages and setting the memory to its XMP Profile, the Z87M Gaming would deliver just over 4.6GHz out of my 4.7GHz capable chip. Not bad for an MATX board to say the least. Memory overclocking with higher clock speeds is going to be fully dependent on the strength of the CPU's memory controller. The Z87M Gaming did easily handle the 2400MHz rated memory used in the test system.

 

 

Command Center OC      Manually tuned BIOS OC

 

OC Genie 4 Gaming OC      OC Genie 4 Turbo OC

 

Maximum Core Clock Speed:

Each CPU has been tested for stability at the listed overclocked speeds. These clock speeds will represent the level of performance shown by the over-clocked scores in the testing.

 

 

Benchmarks:

  1. PCMark 7
  2. SiSoft Sandra 2013
  3. Cinebench 11.5
  4. X.264 5.1
  5. AIDA 64 3.00
  6. Crystal Disk Mark
  7. ATTO 2.47
  8. iPerf
  9. Rightmark Audio Analyzer
  1. 3DMark
  2. Metro: Last Light
  3. DiRT 3

MSI Z87M Gaming Testing:

PCMark 7 is the latest iteration of Futuremark's popular PCMark system performance tool. This version is designed for use on Windows 7 PCs and features a combination of 25 different workloads to accurately measure the performance of all PCs from laptops to desktops.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

 

  

  

 

  

 

SiSoft Sandra 2013 is a diagnostic utility and synthetic bench marking program. Sandra allows you to view your hardware at a higher level to be more helpful. For this benchmark, I will be running a broad spectrum of tests to gauge the performance of key functions of the CPUs.

Overall Score

   ]

 

Comparing the MSI Z87-GD65 and Z87M Gaming series boards shows that even when shrinking the form factor, MSI's Gaming series boards are delivering similar levels of performance across each of these tests. Something we should see throughout this review.

MSI Z87M Gaming Testing:

Cinebench 11.5 is useful for testing your system, CPU, and OpenGL capabilities using the software program, CINEMA 4D. We will be using the default tests for this benchmark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

X.264 Benchmark: This benchmark is used to measure the time it takes to encode a 1080p video file into the x264 format. The default benchmark is used with an average of all four tests on each pass taken as the result.

  

  

 

AIDA64 Extreme Edition 3.0 is a software utility designed to be used for hardware diagnosis and benchmarking. I will be using the Cache and Memory benchmark tool to measure memory performance.

 

  

  

  

  

 

The performance gap between the full size and mini me sized Gaming series boards are minimal at best.

MSI Z87M Gaming Testing:

Crystal Disk Mark 3.0: Crystal Disk Mark is a hard drive benchmark designed to measure the read and write speeds of drives by using 4K blocks, 512K blocks, and sequential data. For the test, we chose the 1000MB option.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ATTO 2.47: will be used to measure USB 3.0 performance using an SSD attached to an external USB 3.0 drive dock.

  

  

  

  

 

Again we see almost identical performance between the two boards when looking at the internal SATA drive performance. USB 3.0 performance seems right on target with both boards when connected to the 3.0 external housing.

MSI Z87M Gaming Testing:

LAN performance will be tested via a utility to gauge the performance of the onboard network solutions. The motherboard being tested will be connected via a Gigabit switch to another system with an integrated Gigabit network solution on board.

iPerf is a small lightweight utility run from the command prompt and can be used to measure both TCP and UDP performance on a network. iPerf is cross platform software and open source. The test is configured to run for 20 seconds with a window size of 256 KB and four simultaneous streams that should be able to saturate the TCP link on a good NIC.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rightmark Audio Analyzer 6.25 is used to test the sound solution on board each motherboard. Nothing beats a good set of ears and headphones but this is a graphic representation of the capabilities of the installed hardware. Sampling mode is 24-bit 44kHz.

 
MSI Z87M Gaming
MSI Z87-GD65 Gaming
ASUS ROG M6E
Frequency Response dB
+0.46,-0.10
+0.52,+ 0.30
+0.42-+0.03
Noise Level dBA
-91.0
-91.3
-99.8
Dynamic Range dBA
91.0
91.2
99.6
Total Harmonic distortion %
0..130
0.131
0.463
Intermodulation distortion +noise
.266
0.259
0.463
Stereo Crosstalk,db
-89.4
-91.6
-94.9
Intermodulation distortion + noise (Swept Freq) %
0.323
.323
.430
Frequency Response (Swept Sine), db
+0.1,-0.1
+0.1,-0.1
+0.1, -0.2

Using the Killer E2205 controller allows the Z87M Gaming to deliver improved bandwidth. Both the Z87M and Z87-GD65 Gaming use the same Realtek ALC1150 codec and deliver results that show up as very good in the testing.

MSI Z87M Gaming Testing:

3DMark: The just released version of Futuremark's popular 3DMark suite is designed to let a wider range of the user base the ability to make a comparative analysis of the gaming prowess of their systems from entry level PCs to notebooks and Extreme Gaming PCs.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DiRT 3 is the third iteration of this series. Published and developed by Codemasters, this game uses the EGO 2.0 game engine and was released in the US on PC in May of 2011.

Settings

 

 

Part first-person shooter, part survival horror, Metro: Last Light is the followup to the extremely popular game Metro 2033. Developed by 4A games and published by Deepsilver, this game uses the 4A game engine. In this game set a year after the missile strike on the Dark Ones you continue on as Artyom as he digs deeper into the bowels of the Metro.

 

 

Settings:

 

 

 

In these gaming tests, the margin between the Z87M and Z87-GD65 Gaming series boards are for all intents and purposes identical. A higher clock speed helps in the 3DMark and DiRT 3 testing, but overall the impact is minimal. Where you can see a difference is when using an MSI Gaming series video card from AMD or NVIDIA with the use of the VGA Boost technology to drive GPU clock speeds higher.

MSI Z87M Gaming Conclusion:

Having seen what the MSI Z87-GD65 can do as far a performance and usability go, it's good to see that the apple does not fall far from the tree when shrinking the form factor down. If you had to choose based solely on performance in a blind "taste test", you would be hard pressed to see the difference in performance between the Z87M and Z87-GD65 Gaming from MSI. That in a nutshell is what you get. The feature set on the Z87M Gaming mirrors that of the Z87-GD65, but you lose a little bit of capacity more than anything else. Capacity? Yep, you lose the capacity to run more than two video cards in SLI or CrossfireX, you lose a few SATA 6Gbps ports, and the exclusion of an mSATA slot on the board. On the flip side you gain an additional HDMI port that helps support up to 4K resolutions using the on-chip graphics.

At this point let the form factor be your guide, with the price differential between the ATX and MATX boards are right at $30, with the Z87M Gaming currently selling for $159. Overclocking the Z87M Gaming was just as easy as it was on the Z87-GD65, however I just could not get 4.7GHz fully stable on the Z87M Gaming. Maybe a little ring rust, but running the Z87-GD65 at 4.7GHz was just the same as when I reviewed it back in June of 2013. Memory overclocking with my Hynix MFR-based memory was just as easy with a quick push up to 2800MHz possible with some sub-timing tuning. However to get there the clock speed and ring ratio need to drop down to a max of 42 on my specific Core i7 4770K. A golden chip it is not.

If manually tuning the BIOS is not something you choose to delve into, MSI provides its OC Genie 4 one second overclocking tool that is as simple to use a pushing a button and booting the system. MSI offers two ranges that are both conservative, but are indeed Prime 95 stable without any added voltage tuning to deliver system stability.

To deliver the overclocking and reliability that the enthusiast and gaming communities demand, MSI equips its Gaming series boards as well the rest of the product stack with Military Class IV components, including Dark Capacitors, tantalum filled Hi-C Caps, Super Ferrite chokes, and Military Class Essentials that beef up the six layer PCB to provide long term reliability along with cooler operation and improved efficiency. MSI's sound solution delivers excellent sound quality using the Realtek ALC 1150 codec coupled with specific audio capacitors, all running through a built-in headphone amplifier. Sound Blaster SBX Pro Studio technologies are used to enhance your gaming experience.

Overall I have to say that MSI has moved into a space mostly occupied by one of its chief rivals and laid claim to that turf with the Z87M Gaming. It's got impressive looks for that image and performance to back the looks up. At $159 with a three-year warranty, the Z87M is a solid option if you are looking for a small form factor build.

 

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