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MSI Z97M Gaming review

Andrew Unsworth
24 Sep 2014
Expert Reviews Recommended Logo
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
110
inc VAT

The MSI Z97M Gaming is a great board with high-end and advanced features that gamers and overclockers will love

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Specifications

Processor socket: LGA1150, Dimensions: 244x244, Chipset: Intel Z97 Express, Memory slots: 4, PCI-E x16 slots: 2, PCI-E x1 slots: 2, PCI slots: 0, USB ports: 2x USB, 6X USB3, Video outputs: 1x HDMI, 1x DisplayPort

The MSI Z97M Gaming is a microATX motherboard that provides high-end features in a fairly small form-factor at a fairly low price. It supports two-way SLI or CrossFire for multi-graphics card setups, for instance, and a Killer E2205 gigabit Ethernet controller, which prioritises gaming traffic over your network to reduce lag and improve your online gaming experience.

The Z97M Gaming uses the Intel Z97 chipset, so it’s compatible with 4th- and 5th-generation Intel Core, Pentium and Celeron processors. It also makes good use of the Z97’s features, providing an M.2 slot into which you can press M.2 storage devices with a whopping throughput of up to 10GB/s, and six USB3 ports. However, two of those six USB3 ports are only available through the Z97M Gaming’s midboard header. There are six USB3 ports on the Z97M Gaming’s back panel, but two of these are powered by the extra Asmedia ASM1042 USB3 controller included on the board. There are also two eSATA ports on the back panel that are controlled by an extra Asmedia SATA controller.

Other back panel connection ports include two USB ports, a single PS/2 port, six analogue audio jacks, an optical S/PDIF digital audio port, and two graphics outputs: one HDMI and one DisplayPort.

EXPANSION

The Z97M Gaming has few expansion slots, but those it does have are the ones that matter, with two PCI-E x16 slots and two PCI-E x1 slots. However, the PCI-E x1 slots will be obscured if you use two dual-width graphics cards. It’s also worth noting that both x16 slots will run at x8 if you install two graphics cards.

The board will take plenty of memory, as its four RAM slots will take up to 32GBs, and support memory overclocked to 3,200MHz. The area around the RAM slots is clutter-free, so you should have no trouble adding memory at a later date when the board’s screwed into a case.

As the board is geared towards tinkerers and overclockers, there are large power, reset and OC Genie buttons. The first two are self-explanatory, while the OC Genie button automatically overclocks your PC with a single press, although you do have to press it when the PC’s powered off. These buttons are a god-send if you want to tinker with your case open or with the board on a test-bench prior to installation.

PERFORMANCE

The Z97M Gaming scored 113 overall in our old PC benchmarks when tested with an Intel Core i5-4670K processor, which is a good score and what we’d expect to see from better Z97 motherboards. The old benchmarks were normalised to an Intel Core i5-3570K, and the results show that our test setup scored a 13 point performance advantage over our reference i5-3570K-based test PC.

The board scored 101 overall in our new and much more challenging benchmarks, which involve converting Ultra HD video to Full HD while playing an Ultra HD video. This test is normalised to the Core i5-4670K, so we’d expect to see this score. However, the MSI Z97I Gaming Mini-ITX motherboard scored a slightly higher 105 in the same test.

The MSI Z97M Gaming has terrific overclocking options, and you can adjust the clock frequency of your memory, processor, chipset and on-die graphics processor among many other settings. When we overclocked the processor to 4.7GHz and our memory to 2,133MHz our test PC scored 142 in our old benchmarks and 154 in our new benchmarks.

The Z97M Gaming’s BIOS is typical of MSI boards, and is mostly text-based, except for an icon-driven landing page and a strip along the top of the screen that tells you the temperature of your processor and board, and the frequency of your processor and memory, among other things. Powerusers will appreciate the graphical simplicity of the Z97M Gaming’s BIOS, but the options could be much better presented, with proper sub-headings. Even so, overclockers will love the many options, and the inclusion of a Clear CMOS on the Z97M Gaming’s backpanel means that you’ll have no trouble reversing an unreliable overclock.

As with the MSI Z97I Gaming’s BIOS, the Z97M Gaming’s BIOS has a Board Explorer feature that shows you a photo of the motherboard. If you hover over certain components you’ll see an explanation of what that component does. This is handy if you’re new to PC building and are unsure what a USB3 or SATA3 port looks like, or where they can be found.

^ The board explorer lets you know what everything on your board does

We like the MSI Z97M Gaming. It provides users with all the overclocking options they need, good performance, legacy-free expansion slots, M.2 storage options, many USB3 ports and headers and the option of running two graphics cards in two-way SLI or CrossFire. The Z97M Gaming is also very well priced. The smaller Z97I Gaming M is a good alternative is you really must build the smallest PC possible. But the vast majority will prefer this board, in a larger PC case, with its better upgrade potential, and less cramped layout.

Hardware
Processor socketLGA1150
Form factormicroATX
Dimensions244x244
Processor support4th- and 5th-generation Intel Core, Pentium and Celeron processors
Processor external bus100MHz
ChipsetIntel Z97 Express
Supported memory typeDDR3
Maximum memory speed3,200Mhz
Memory slots4
Maximum memory32GB
Motherboard power connectors1x 24-pin ATX, 1x 8-pin 12V
PCI-E x16 slots2
PCI-E x4 slots0
PCI-E x1 slots2
PCI slots0
Motherboard fan headers2
SATA II ports0
SATA III ports6
RAID support0, 1, 5, 10
Wired network ports1x 10/100/1000Mbit/s
Motherboard sound (ports)Realtek ALC1150 (6x analogue, 1x optical S/PDIF)
USB ports2x USB, 6X USB3
USB headers2x USB, 1x USB3
Video outputs1x HDMI, 1x DisplayPort
Other ports1x PS/2, 2x eSATA
Cables included2x SATA
Motherboard clock adjustment
Motherboard voltage adjustment
Buying information
Price including VAT£110
WarrantyTwo-year RTB
Supplierwww.overclockers.co.uk
Detailsuk.msi.com
Part codeZ97M Gaming