Measuring in at 9.6″ x 9.6″, MSI’s Z87M Gaming conforms to the typical mATX form factor. As is standard for MSI’s Gaming series products, the Z87M Gaming uses a highly attractive red and black colour scheme. Factor in the matte black (not tinted brown) PCB and it is clear that the Z87M Gaming is, by far, one of the most attractive Z87 motherboards on the market.
Up to 32GB of DDR3 memory can be installed in the all-black, single-latch DIMM slots. MSI claims support for 3000MHz memory speeds, although the real-world maximum frequency will also be related to the strength of a CPU’s IMC.
Located in the board’s top-right corner, onboard buttons are provided in the form of power, reset, and OC Genie. MSI’s choice of positioning is good – far better than the lower-board location which is typically covered by graphics cards.
An outwards-facing USB 3.0 header and two digit display sit either side of the 24-pin power connector. The USB 3.0 header’s outwards-facing orientation will increase the complexity of cable management, but it also helps to improve compatibility with space-constrained mATX cases.
Eight power delivery phases feed an LGA 1150 CPU. Two attractive heatsinks, both of which are connected by heatpipe, cool the MOSFETs. The Z87M Gaming doesn’t use MSI’s full complement of Military Class 4 power delivery components; the company deems Super Ferrite Chokes (SFC) and aluminium-core ‘Dark’ capacitors sufficient.
MSI sits the 8-pin CPU power connector in an easy to access location, adjacent to the upper VRM heatsink. A pair of 4-pin CPU fan headers hovers above the DIMM slots.
The OC Switch located above the first DIMM bank is used to toggle the operational mode of the OC Genie 4 button.
Equipped with a pair of full-length PCI-E x16 slots, MSI certifies the Z87M Gaming motherboard for CrossFire and SLI capability. PCI-E 3.0 lane distribution to the full-length PCI-E slots is x16/x0 or x8/x8.
One potential issue arises from the compressed layout. A graphics card located in the top PCI-E x16 slot has the potential to foul oversized CPU coolers. This issue is practically unavoidable on a multi-VGA-capable mATX motherboard though, and should be considered when choosing a CPU cooler.
A pair of PCI-E x1 connectors completes the expansion card package. Neither will be accessible when a pair of graphics cards is used, but this is a forced compromise for a micro-ATX motherboard.
MSI places the front panel audio header further to bottom-edge’s right side than it is typically found. This move may help to avoid issues for cases which use short cables. The rest of the front panel headers are found in their typical locations.
When a long, dual-slot graphics card is installed in the bottom PCI-E x16-length slot, use of MSI’s convenient M-connector will be terminated as its additional height will foul a typical VGA cooler.
All six of the SATA 6Gb/s ports operate from the Z87 chipset. MSI orientates them in the ninety-degree direction to aid cable management and prevent blocking issues from a graphics card.
With enhanced sound configurations becoming a trend with the introduction of Z87 motherboards, MSI equips the Z87M Gaming with its own solution called Audio Boost.
Audio Boost consists of a Realtek ALC1150 audio codec which sends the raw signal through a Texas Instruments OPA1652 operational amplifier and a series of audio capacitors before outputting it to the audio jacks. The process takes place on an isolated circuit which helps to reduce signal interference.
Sound Blaster Cinema is also supported by the Z87M Gaming.
A healthy set of rear IO ports includes the always-convenient back panel clear CMOS button. Two HDMI outputs in addition to DisplayPort allow the Z87M Gaming motherboard’s users to power three monitors from the onboard graphics.
ASMedia’s ASM1061 chipset provides both of the eSATA 6Gb/s connections, while MSI calls upon Renesas’ D720202 controller to provide two of the back panel’s six USB 3.0 ports. Gigabit Ethernet is provided by the gaming-optimised Killer E2205 NIC.
Motherboard rear 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 eSATA ports
- 6 x OFC audio jacks
- 2 x HDMI port
- 1 x DisplayPort
MSI’s Z87M Gaming employs the company’s eye-catching dragon heatsinks which are unique to the Gaming series. While the heatsinks themselves provide the function of cooling components, the unique and innovative designs appeal to users who value the appearance of their system.
A soft blue (close to a bright white) LED beneath the chipset heatsink emits light through the MSI logo for an eye-catching glow effect.
Circled in the above image are the locations of the Z87M Gaming’s four 4-pin fan headers. Distribution of the headers is questionable; there is no header near the VRM heatsink to serve a rear fan nor is there a connector near the SATA ports to provide for a case’s front panel cooling units.
We like the fact that MSI uses a pair of 4-pin headers controlled by the CPU speed channel. And the positioning of headers along the bottom edge is good for users with side panel fans. But two key locations – near the rear IO and close to the SATA ports – have been left devoid of any headers. Cable management just got a little more difficult.