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MSI Z97S SLI Plus review

18 Aug 2014
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
94
inc VAT

The Z97S SLI Plus provides multi-GPU support and the new Intel Z97 chipset features at a good price

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Specifications

Processor socket: LGA1150, Dimensions: 305x244, Chipset: Intel Z97, Memory slots: 4, PCI-E x16 slots: 3, PCI-E x1 slots: 2, PCI slots: 2, USB ports: 2x USB, 4x USB3, Video outputs: VGA, DVI-D, HDMI

The MSI Z97S SLI Plus is a budget Intel Z97-based motherboard aimed at gamers. It doesn’t have any of the onboard power and overclocking switches and buttons of more expensive enthusiast motherboards such as the Asus Z97-Pro, but it does have the faster storage options afforded by the Z97 specification. These include M.2 and SATA Express ports, which allow data transfer speeds up to 10GB/s rather than the 6GB/s speed of regular SATA3 ports. As with other Z97-based boards, you can only use the M.2 port or the SATA Express port, not both at the same time. There are eight SATA3 ports in total, so you’ll have no trouble attaching regular SATA3 SSDs, hard disks and optical drives.

Other highlights of the board include three PCI Express x16 expansion slots, making it ideal for gamers looking for a relatively inexpensive motherboard to use as a base for a gaming PC. The first PCI-E x16 slot runs at x16. If you then install a card in the second slot, both cards will run at x8. If you add a third card the first card will run at x8 and the second and third cards will run at x4. The board supports 3-way CrossFire for AMD cards and 2-way SLI for Nvidia models.

The board also has two PCI-E x1 slots, but one of these will be obscured if you install a dual-width card in the first x16 slot, and possibly even if you install a bulky single-width card. Older PCI cards can also be accommodated thanks to two legacy PCI slots.

The Z97S SLI Plus’s range of connection ports might look spartan, but the essentials are there, including six USB3 ports, two USB ports, a PS/2 port for attaching an older keyboard or mouse, a Gigabit Ethernet port and six 3.5mm audio jacks. Admittedly, there are no coaxial or optical S/PDIF outputs to connect to certain amplifiers, or buttons that let you boot straight into the BIOS or clear the CMOS, but what is there will be enough for most users. There are three USB headers and a single USB3 header in the middle of the board, so you can add up to six extra USB ports and two extra USB3 ports to your PC with the necessary backplates.

PERFORMANCE

Intel Z97 motherboards use the LGA1150 processor socket, so you can use 4th-generation "Haswell" Intel Core processors as well as the upcoming 5th-generation "Broadwell" Core processors. We tested the Z97S SLI Plus with a "Haswell" Intel Core i5-4670K processor, and were happy to see a score of 112 overall, as this is around what we expect to see with this processor. We also overclocked the processor to 4.7GHz, which led to an overall score of 138 in our PC benchmarks. Again, this is around what we expect to see from this chip running at this speed.

Sadly, the Z97S SLI Plus lacks the automatic overclock features we’ve come to love on new Gigabyte and Asus boards such as the Gigabyte GA-Z97X-Gaming 5 and Asus Z97-A. The automatic overclock features on those boards led to a significant performance boost with very little effort, and are ideal for casual users who want to benefit from a modest overclock but have little expertise or interest in the mechanics of it. We’d love to see this feature in the BIOS of future MSI boards.

DATED BIOS

Happily, though, the Z97S SLI Plus has a wide range of overclocking features that you can tweak manually, and you can alter the frequency and voltage of your processor’s cores and graphics processor and your RAM, as well as those of the Z97 chipset. As there are no onboard buttons for overclocking, booting into the BIOS and so on, the Z97S SLI Plus is best suited to those enthusiasts who’ll want to apply a good overclock once to boost their PC's performance, rather than those who want to tweak settings frequently.

The Z97S SLI Plus’s BIOS looks the same as the UEFI BIOS we've seen on many MSI motherboards. We liked it when UEFI was still in its infancy, but we’ve seen better organised and structured versions on recent Asus and Gigabyte motherboards, which have struck a better balance between fancy graphics and easy access to information. You’ll soon learn where everything is in the MSI board's setup pages, but it is looking and feeling dated compared with the competition. The Z97S SLI Plus comes with an MSI-branded version of the Intel Extreme Tuning Utility, however, so you can tinker with clock and voltage settings from Windows without having to enter the BIOS at all. The utility also lets you perform CPU and RAM stress and benchmark tests.

Despite its dated BIOS, we like the Z97S SLI Plus. It's a great buy for those who simply want a motherboard with all the new features of the Z97 chipset for their next multi-GPU gaming PC at a reasonable price. 

Hardware
Processor socketLGA1150
Form factorATX
Dimensions305x244
Processor support4th- and 5th-generation Intel Celeron, Pentium and Core processors
Processor external bus100MHz
ChipsetIntel Z97
Supported memory typeDDR3
Maximum memory speed3200MHz
Memory slots4
Maximum memory32GB
Motherboard power connectors1x 24-pin ATX, 1x 8-pin 12V
PCI-E x16 slots3
PCI-E x4 slots0
PCI-E x1 slots2
PCI slots2
Motherboard fan headers3
SATA II ports0
SATA III ports8
RAID support
Wired network ports1x 10/100/1000Mbit/s
Motherboard sound (ports)Realtek ALC892
USB ports2x USB, 4x USB3
USB headers3x USB, 1x USB3
Video outputsVGA, DVI-D, HDMI
Other portsPS/2, RJ45, 6x 3.5mm audio ports
Cables included4x SATA cables, 1x SLI ribbon
Motherboard clock adjustmentCPU/GPU/RAM/chipset
Motherboard voltage adjustmentCPU/GPU/RAM/chipset
Buying information
Price including VAT94
Warrantytwo-year RTB
Supplierwww.ebuyer.com
Detailswww.msi.com
Part codeZ97S SLI Plus