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MSI Z87M Gaming mATX Motherboard Review

With strong performance, good overclocking results, wise expansion choices, and a gorgeous appearance, the MSI Z87M Gaming is an excellent motherboard which can provide a strong base for a micro-ATX gaming system.

Despite being compressed into a micro-ATX form factor, MSI’s Z87M Gaming motherboard had no issues taking our 4770K to its 4.5GHz limit. We simply adjusted a handful of voltage and multiplier settings in the thorough BIOS and booted up at 4.5GHz.

Performance was as good as we would expect from a functioning Z87 motherboard. No major performance issues were highlighted throughout our testing. The built-in Metro: Last Light benchmark did throw up some abnormal results for MSI’s board, in comparison to ASRock’s Z87 Killer, although the benchmark itself could be to blame for errors and inaccuracies.

USB 3.0 performance of the MSI motherboard was more limited than that of some competing vendors. Unlike ASRock and Asus, MSI’s motherboard software suite does not include a tool which activates the speed-boosting UASP protocol. Due to this fact, USB 3.0 speeds for MSI’s offering were around 18-27% behind a typical motherboard from Asus or ASRock. This is not a major issue as a small proportion of this board’s target audience will be using a fast SSD storage drive. The issue is still disappointing, nevertheless.

Feature-wise, MSI packs the Z87M Gaming with a host of gaming tools. Performance of the beefed-up onboard audio solution is very good and the dedicated gaming device port also serves a purpose. Killer’s E2205 NIC has the ability to direct network traffic, ensuring that gaming is given priority.

Given the complexity of choosing the appropriate layout for a micro-ATX motherboard, MSI does an excellent job in making the Z87M Gaming fit for its target audience. CrossFire and SLI support for a pair of dual-slot cards is prioritised, with all of the crucial headers and ports staying out of interference’s way. The onboard buttons are situated away from the vicinity of large graphics card coolers and single-latch DIMMs ensure that memory can be installed with ease.

MSI could have been more generous with fan header positioning; the current distribution makes cable management a more difficult procedure. Such is the level of the Z87M Gaming motherboard’s beauty, even a few stray cables are unlikely to deter from what is a truly stunning design.

The Z87M Gaming’s UEFI BIOS is a hit-or-miss system. In terms of stability and the number of adjustable parameters available to users, the interface is great. The functionality of MSI’s OC Genie 4 is strength for novice users, while more experienced overclockers may welcome the presets for fast memory configurations.

Layout is where the interface isn’t as strong. MSI positions readouts beneath input parameters which makes the interface tricky to work with at first. The cleaner and easier-to-grasp approach would have been to detach the user-adjustable input parameters from the readouts, perhaps by way of a separate column.

Available from early December and currently up for pre-order at OverclockersUK for £119.99, MSI’s Z87M Gaming motherboard offers a great deal of ‘bang’ for a micro-ATX gamer’s buck. Alternatives such as the Gigabyte G1.Sniper M5 and Asus Maximus VI Gene offer stiff competition, but they also typically sell for a higher price.

If you’re a micro-ATX gamer looking for an attractive, feature-heavy motherboard that doesn’t break the bank, MSI’s Z87M Gaming is an excellent choice.

Pros:

  • Dazzling appearance.
  • Competitively priced.
  • Good overclocking potential.
  • Killer E2205 NIC with network control.
  • Very good onboard audio solution.
  • Supports SLI and CrossFire configurations.
  • Intelligent layout.

Cons:

  • Fan header distribution makes cable management tricky.
  • BIOS layout can cause confusion.

KitGuru says: An excellent micro-ATX gaming motherboard that packs a host of features into a gorgeous design.

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Rating: 9.0.

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