We’ve covered an absolute ton of Intel Z97 based motherboards since the chipset launched back on June 11th, a couple of weeks ago, but in that time we’ve yet to see an offering from ASRock. Today, and over the coming weeks, we will be rectifying that by having a look at a lot more motherboards from ASRock’s Z97 series. Up first we have their Fatal1ty Z97X Killer motherboard which is part of their Fatal1ty gaming motherboard product series. Interestingly this motherboard will compete with MSI’s Gaming 7 and Gigabyte’s Gaming 7 in that hugely competitive sub-£140/$190 price point and it actually comes in a fair amount cheaper than the competition at just £125/$160. ASRock are equipping all their usual features with this motherboard such as their Purity Sound audio implementation, their Fatal1ty USB gaming port, their Super Alloy power components and a Killer E2200 gaming NIC. This motherboard has fairly similar specifications and features to other motherboards at this price point although this board does have the advantage of offering SATA Express and M.2 whereas a lot of the gaming motherboards at this price point offer only M.2. Full specifications of this motherboard can be seen directly below:
Packaging and Accessories
The packaging lets the Fatal1ty branding take centre stage while offering an overwhelming number of logos on the front that denote features, brands, software and so on.
On the back we can see these explained in more detail with the usual motherboard marketing page we’ve come to expect from all motherboard brands.
Included in terms of documentation is a a couple of user guides for the board and its software, an explanatory brochure for the ASRock Cloud feature, a driver DVD and case badge and a 3 month premium license to XSplit Broadcaster (note this is not the same as the XSplit Gamecaster Premium license a rival vendor includes with their products).
Other accessories included are four SATA cables, a colour coded rear I/O, 2-way SLI bridge, SATA power cable for the HDD saver feature and a screw for the M.2 SSD port.
The mini-ITX trend continues to gain ground in the desktop market as enthusiasts look to make cooler, sexier and more compact systems. To an extent the shift towards more compact form factors and designs is the desktop market’s response to the increasing pressure from popular mobile form factors like the tablet and the ultrabook. However, while that may be true to an extent, mini-ITX just makes sense for a number of a reasons. If you’re only going to use a single graphics card, a pair of memory modules and a handful of SATA devices then why bother with ATX or even micro-ATX. That is especially relevant these days when mini-ITX boards have absolutely everything you could need, and then a little more.
That’s exactly what we have on offer today as we’re taking a look at MSI’s Z87I Gaming AC motherboard. This is MSI’s first mini-ITX “Gaming Series” branded motherboard and it has all the hallmarks of a gaming-orientated motherboard – a Killer NiC, high quality audio components and a boat-load of connectivity options. However, it also has all the hallmarks of a solid enthusiast/overclocking motherboard as we’ve come to expect from most company’s “Gaming” product lines. Despite its size there’s full support for overclocking Haswell K series CPUs, a 6 phase VRM, support for up to 3000MHz+ RAM, MSI’s OC Genie 4 and a fully decked out UEFI BIOS with lot’s of overclocking and tweaking options.
The specifications, shown below, resemble a lot of other Z87 mini-ITX motherboards on the market. The reason for that similarity across the vendors is there’s only so much you can fit onto such a small PCB and given the Z87 chipset is already feature rich there’s little room to customise. However, MSI have done some things quite differently – namely the mini-PCIe bluetooth and 802.11 AC WiFi card which gives you a lot more flexibility to make a portable LAN gaming rig – you don’t need to be tied down to an Ethernet connection, though for most gamers Ethernet is still probably the preferred option.
I’m not going to bombard you with the entire set of MSI marketing, because that’s not really useful to anyone. However, I have picked out some of the key parts that I think will interest buyers the most. First is the Killer Networking chip, or Killer NIC. The basis for this is the Qualcomm Atheros E2205 Killer Gaming chip. In theory it should accelerate your gaming (UDP, or sometimes TCP) related traffic over other conventional forms of traffic (HTTP for example). Of course how effective the Killer NIC will be is going to be very dependent on the quality of your network infrastructure and broadband service.
Next up is MSI’s “Audio Boost” package which is essentially the Realtek ALC1150 codec with some extra add-ons such as gold plated audio jacks, EMI shielding of the codec, a headphone amplifier and higher quality audio capacitors. While all the extras make for nice marketing material the reality is that the quality of the audio is determined by the codec, however, the ALC1150 codec is solid so expect great audio. The headphone amplifier should also be useful to Gamers who use headsets.
MSI have also implemented their “Gaming Device Port” which is essentially USB 2.0 ports with up to 1000Hz polling rates, though most USB ports can do this anyway. There’s also extra gold plating for all the USB and PS/2 ports.
MSI’s Military Class 4 component package is also present which includes the usual suspects – SFCs, Dark Caps, Super Ferrite Chokes and so on.
As I’ve mentioned already this motherboard has an integrated 802.11 AC WiFi card and a Bluetooth module. However, there’s another nifty featured worth mentioning which is that the module has full support for Intel’s WiDi (Wireless Display) technology. You will need a WiDi ready display to use it but it’s something nice to have and gives you even more portability.
MSI released its Gaming series of motherboards just a few months ago for Z77 and now it has provided a refresh for the Z87 motherboard series that supports LGA 1150 and Haswell. As you can see at their pre-Computex event MSI were displaying the Z87-G45 Gaming motherboard and the Z87-GD65 Gaming motherboard
The MSI Z87-G45 gaming motherboard features the Killer E2200 game network card as well as MSI’s Audio Boost and Sound Blaster Cinema technology. Furthermore the motherboard uses a gaming device port, that is USB ports which support 1-8ms response times and 500-1000Hz refresh rates. The PS/2 and Gaming USB ports are also gold plated. MSI have also developed “VGA Boost” which essentially overclocks MSI Gaming graphics cards when placed in MSI Gaming motherboards. MSI Super RAID is included which allows you to enable Intel Rapid Start, Smart Response and Smart Connect. Up to DDR3 3000MHz memory is supported if your processor can handle it and other trademark MSI features like Military Class 4 components, OC Genie 4 and Click BIOS 4 are also supported.
MSI also displayed its flagship Z87-GD65 Gaming motherboard alongside the G45. The only real difference with the GD65 are the inclusion of MSI’s OC essentials such as the Clear CMOS Button, Multi-BIOS II, Go2BIOS button, V-Check points, debug LEDs and Easy button 3. MSI’s GD65 also includes a couple more SATA III ports compared to the G45-Z87.
So far at a pre-Computex event Gigabyte have shown us their G1.Sniper FM2/A85X and B85/LGA1150 motherboards. Now they are showing us the more “enthusiast” orientated motherboards that we would more typically associate with the Computex event. These are the G1.Sniper 5 and G1.Sniper M5 motherboards both of which reviewed, here and here respectively. As a result I won’t go into too much detail about each motherboard as you can read our reviews on them written by Andy.
The G1.Sniper 5 is one of Gigabyte’s top Z87 motherboards that is designed with Haswell CPU overclocking and multi-GPU configurations in mind. You get support for overclocking with Gigabyte Ultra Durable 5 components and their is support four 4 way graphics. In addition their is an improved Gigabyte audio package, with a Creative Sound Core3D quad-core audio processor, which you can read about here and Gigabyte have implemented an improved USB charging capability to this motherboard that allows for faster device charging. Gigabyte have added a Bluetooth 4.0 and Wi-Fi module as well as dual LAN (one is Killer E2201) with high ESD protection.
The G1.Sniper M5 on the other hand is a more compact version of the G1.Sniper 5. It features all the same good stuff as the Gigabyte G1 Sniper 5 except comes in a more compact micro-ATX form factor. As a result you’ll only really be able to run two GPUs on this motherboard but it still has all the high quality components, dual BIOS, improved sound, the gold plated CPU socket and improved USB charging.
MSI has today announced the latest and quite exciting addition to its range of motherboards. The new gaming series of motherboards from MSI covers Intel’s LGA 1155 socket with three motherboards for Z77 and one for B75. This new series of motherboards from MSI will be available well into 2014 despite the release of Haswell being just around the corner, touted for June.
The motherboards have been designed with only one thing in mind, and as the name would suggest that is gaming. MSI have optimised input connections for reduced latency, introduced Sound Blaster audio for better sound in-game and added Killer E2200 networking for reduced gaming lag.
The new gaming series is available in four different motherboards. The best motherboard will be the Z77A-GD65 Gaming which has triple GPU support, followed by the Z77A-G45, then the Z77A-G43 and then the B75-G43. All these motherboards come with MSI Military Class III components and the OC Genie II although it should be noted that the B75 chipset doesn’t allow for overclocking.
So all in all these look like some pretty nice motherboards. The design is played very safe with a mainly black colour scheme that has hints of red while the red dragon on the motherboard heatsink is reasonably understated given some designs we have seen in the past.
What surprises me though is that there is a B75 addition. This seems almost pointless seeing as the B75 chipset doesn’t support CPU overclocking, is aimed at small to medium sized businesses and comes with the Intel Small Business Advantage software and firmware package. Maybe MSI should have opted for a mATX variant instead of a B75 variant.
If you want more specifications, details and images then please check the motherboard series product pages here.
What do you think of these new motherboards from MSI? Is the new design nice? Is the B75 model a good idea?