MSI Z97 Gaming7 Overview

The Vox team was fortunate enough to get a batch of MSI Gaming7 Z97 motherboards to fit out a new gen of gaming machines for the CS:GO team. You probably have seen some of our systems on the Mwave.com.au store, the latest being our 2014 general gaming machine. Naturally as MSI are partnered with our team they do feature some cool MSI products so I wanted to share this one with you with a little info on the features. Being that this is a high end gaming motherboard the feature list is somewhat huge but I have tried to cut it down to some core features and divided it up into sections for you so you can skip to the juicy bits that you find relevant.

First up here is the board itself:


CPU Socket

Yep this is an Intel board and as such it has a LGA 1150 socket with a 100 MHz FSB designed for the gen4 and gen5 Intel core processors and also Pentium and Celeron processors. The list of processors supported is pretty damn huge but some quick examples are i7 4770, series i7 4790 series, i5 4400 and 4600 series, and i3 4100 and 4300 series processors. Please ensure you check the CPU chart listed below before making your purchases:

http://au.msi.com/support/mb/Z97_GAMING_7.html#support-cpu

Some notes: I really like the spacing around the CPU, the RAM slots aren’t jammed up against the CPU socket either which makes installation easy. This was even more noticeable installing a factory sealed watercooling kit which can be trickier to do than a stock Intel processor fan.

Memory Support

There are 4 ram sockets on the motherboard with a maximum supported memory size of 32 GB, the ram configuration is dual channel with up to DDR3 3300 (overclocked) and XMP memory support. It’s really important that you choose memory carefully, use your motherboard choice to also determine your memory choice for optimum performance, with the Gaming 7 board it supports normal ram and overclocked ram so use the following two charts to see the full range of supported memory:

Overclocked: http://au.msi.com/support/mb/Z97_GAMING_7.html#support-ocmem
Standard: http://au.msi.com/support/mb/Z97_GAMING_7.html#support-mem

SATA

With 8 SATA3 6gbps ports you have support for a massive array of hard drives, the cool thing about the Gaming7 is the ports are horizontally mounted on the board not vertically which makes installation easier. It also gets you out of that situation with more basic vertically mounted sata ports when you go to put your massive video card in and find it covers half the SATA ports. 

You basically have 6 sata ports you can use for a RAID configuration in either RAID 0,1,5,10 modes on the z97 express chipset and the 7-8 sata ports on the ASMEDIA chipset (use these for your optical drives).

But that’s not all, the Gaming7 also has a single m.2 port, this is a supercharged SATA port without getting too technical where with an optional M.2 adapter you can connect 2 devices to the blazingly fast 10gbps transfer speed matching SATA EXPRESS. Note that RAID is not supported on these ports and when you have the adapter installed ports 5-6 on the Intel z97 express chipset are no longer available.

Some notes: It’s great to see the inclusion of M.2 technology, it would be awesome to have 2 drives installed on the M.2 Ports for OS/APPS and 4x drives in a RAID5 for an optimal configuration. Key note being you have plenty of ports! That’s basically 12 GB of RAID5 goodness for storage if you have 4x4tb drives for storage with 2x SSD’s in a raid0/1 for light speed OS and apps.

Audio

The board itself has some really extensive audio features, a lot of time and development and most importantly care has been put into the audio setup on the Gaming 7. They have installed an EMI (electromagnetic interference) shield on the audio chip which protects the audio chip from background EMI from installed add-on cards, they have also separated the audio PCB from the main PCB using a cool red LED strip to provide additional EMI shielding on the circuitry. 

The chip also has dual headphone amps which give you the best audio quality possible for your top end headphones in the medium to low impedance range at 600 ohms. Bundle that in with very high quality capacitors designed for high quality audio filtering and gold plated audio connectors you will get high fidelity sound to reward you for your expensive high end headphone purchase! 

Included with the board you have also got an audio power jack, I was intrigued as to what this is all about but it’s designed to provide a stable 5v feed to all of your USB ports. I use SteelSeries Siberia headphones so the concept here is you can load up your USB ports but still get a stable 5v feed to your devices so you don’t lose quality if your devices power input is sagging. 

Network

Nope im not going to say this has a standard realtek gigabit or Intel pro1000 gigabit network interface as it just doesn’t. What it does have is a designed for gaming killer network interface, yes its gigabit speed but the key component here is it has built in QOS (quality of service) so what it does it prioritises data to ensure you game lag free by placing a lower priority on non-game data. It sounds like a simple concept and in some ways it is, but it’s something we normally do with a router so it’s pretty cool to be able to do it at a PC level and something I might dig deeper into in the future. Stay tuned!

Overclocking

Okay it’s a gaming series board, not an overclocking board….or is it? It’s basically both as it comes with rich overclocking features, at a bios and software level where you can overclock your hardware either rampantly or safely. With an easy to use UEFI bios overclocking is a breeze but you can also use the provided MSI Command centre to overclock your PC on the fly for performance boosts when and how you want it. 

Ok some quick OC features:

• Multiple BIOS chips (keep more than one config read on the fly)

• CMOS reset on the rear panel (quick fix when you get a bit over eager on your clock speeds)

• DEBUG LED’s (error codes visible on the board to troubleshoot where you have gone wrong)

• V-Check Ports (ports for more accurate monitoring of voltages than software monitors)

• On-board buttons for power reset and OC genie (ease of use for desktop unbuilt pc testing)

The actual overclocking side is insanely complex, but I think the above gives a good brief on the OC features but what we are planning in the future it’s some OC tutorials basically orientated around safe overclocking using the Gaming7 so anyone can have a go without the fear of frying components.

Software

Okay well the board comes with Sound Blaster Cinema2 software which is a suite of tools which allow you to tweak your audio output to suit your needs, naturally it comes with pre-sets for ease of use and the best quality sound output. 

Added to that you have the MSI Gaming app, which allows you to choose from 3 modes for your processor and graphics card. You have a gaming mode which tweaks the system for graphics performance, OC mode which tweaks the PC for pure power, or silent mode which tunes the pc down for general use so you don’t have your fans blasting away as if you’re sitting on a runway at an airport.

MSI Live Update, this is a pretty handy app and something I really do recommend people install with their new MSI Gaming series boards as it monitors your hardware for software updates and lets you know when they are available. Keeping your drivers and bios up to date is the best way to keep a stable performing system so load it up.

MSI Command centre, this is basically your PC controller application, it has your controls for OC Genie, manual overclocking, fan control and even a ram disk application. Ram disks are a lot of fun as they are basically configurable drives that use your systems RAM for storage…..but run up to 20x faster than a SSD so anything you put on there will go like a ROCKET. A cool example for use is using that as a “scratch disk” for adobe Photoshop when working on complex projects as the speed is insane and its completely temporary storage space (goes when you reboot your pc).

Ports

Back to basics finally but the Gaming7 has

• 2 front USB3 ports

• 4 front USB2 ports

• 8 rear USB3 ports

• 2 rear USB2 ports

• Triple gold plated gaming port (high polling rate)

• Optical and standard headphone ports

• 2x HDMI and 1x Display Port

Graphics support

The Gaming7 has support for integrated graphics depending on your CPU of course, but we don’t care much about that as what kind of person buys a Gaming7 and uses integrated graphics! But what the board does have is 3x PCIE x16 slots for Nvidia SLI or AMD Crossfire. 

Some notes: The cool thing about the design too is that the slots are well spaced, your MSI graphics cards aren’t jammed up against each other which means improved airflow and better reliability.


Additional features

• Xsplit gamecaster support and 6 month subscription

• SteamOS support out of the box

• HI-C Capacitors which deliver 93% efficiency in a smaller size to allow more room for CPU coolers.

• Military class dark cap capacitors

• USB Redrivers, to deliver stronger USB signals over longer USB cables

• Super charger to charge devices faster via USB ports

• Stylish design with the MSI Gaming Series badge on the heat sink and a red and black colour theme

• Case badge, sata cable labels and a do not disturb im gaming hanger for your door

• Padded and shielded rear connector surround

Okay well that’s a hell of a lot of info, not a review of course just some info on our new gaming boards but I hope you found some interesting details.


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