Intel Z97 Express: Five Enthusiast Motherboards, $120 To $160

MSI Z97 Gaming 5

MSI certainly grabs attention with its matte black PCB and red accents. But the hardware focuses primarily on the Z97 platform’s integrated features. Four I/O panel USB 2.0 ports bolster connectivity on a board that offers a total of six USB 3.0 ports (four of which are also found around back).

The single GbE connection gets a slight boost from its PCIe-based Killer controller, but other PCIe connections are dedicated to slots and the M.2 interface. The chipset has only eight PCIe lanes, so the Z97 Gaming 5 presents four x1 slots in addition to the network controller and two-lane M.2 interface. The M.2 port also steals two SATA ports when a card is installed there.

Notice that the Z97 Gaming 5 has no SATA Express cable provision? That’s because MSI agrees with my boss that the M.2 interface is mostly useful in notebooks that lack space for RAID arrays, and that RAID arrays are most practical in desktops. That certainly gets around the chipset lane limitations experienced in several competing products, but it makes me question where the single-remaining lane might have otherwise been used. MSI could have just as easily omitted the x1 slot beneath the top graphics slot to get the second lane needed for that interface.

And yet it still sounds like MSI is getting around the PCIe limits of some competitors in its x16 slots. That's because the bottom slot steals four lanes from the middle slot. Nvidia insists its cards need at least x8 for SLI, so using the bottom slot could prevent the top and middle slots from supporting SLI. MSI could have instead made the bottom slot x1/x4 switchable to support slower cards without that issue, but its documentation says it didn’t. Those limitations effectively make it a non-SLI graphics slot, whether those cards are used for CrossFire, an OpenCL-oriented accelerator, or just a massive wall of displays.

The Z97 Gaming 5 features a row of voltage detection points along the front edge and a two-digit POST code display at the bottom edge, both to make overclockers happy. The firm also adds a three-pin audio power input header for output current enhancement, along with a switch to select internal or external power sources (but that sounds just a little gimmicky to us).

The Z97X Gaming 5 includes a flexible SLI bridge and a four-to-three-pin audio power input adapter. But it also only includes two SATA cables. I typically use three cables in a basic build.

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  • onover
    The table detailing the motherboard features on page 1 ... Is it just me, or is the text a bit small?
    5
  • makishima
    Quote:
    The table detailing the motherboard features on page 1 ... Is it just me, or is the text a bit small?

    I find it small
    3
  • Someone Somewhere
    I'd like to see a review on the significance of the 'killer' NICs... I highly doubt they have any difference besides branding.
    3
  • SteelCity1981
    so intel it seems doesn't have much faith in their own thunderbolt considering there is no thunderbolt ports on this new chipset!
    0
  • H4X3R
    The Asrock one is better. Not everyone will be using XSplit, and as tradesman1 (a moderator on this site) said "I myself won't touch MSI mobos due to the poor QC".
    0
  • Crashman
    Anonymous said:
    so intel it seems doesn't have much faith in their own thunderbolt considering there is no thunderbolt ports on this new chipset!
    READ PAGE ONE to find out why this chipset has the same features as the previous chipset.
    0
  • H4X3R
    Good review :) I am looking forward to the best price:features motherboard review though (extreme6). I have a quick question crashman: Do asrock still use Capxxon caps (or just crappy caps in general). I would like to know the company of the caps if possible, once again, thank you :)
    0
  • Crashman
    Anonymous said:
    Good review :) I am looking forward to the best price:features motherboard review though (extreme6). I have a quick question crashman: Do asrock still use Capxxon caps (or just crappy caps in general). I would like to know the company of the caps if possible, once again, thank you :)
    I wish I knew. It appears that they get their caps custom-wrapped to get the gold color, and that the custom wrapping only has specifications (no branding).
    0
  • tarkhein
    Quote:
    I'd like to see a review on the significance of the 'killer' NICs... I highly doubt they have any difference besides branding.


    Not exactly the most comprehensive review, but here is Asus' take on NICs: http://rog.asus.com/312772014/labels/guides/tried-and-tested-why-intel-ethernet-is-still-better-for-gaming/
    0
  • Someone Somewhere
    Of course, they're testing throughput, and latency is what is generally considered to matter.
    0
  • tarkhein
    Quote:
    Of course, they're testing throughput, and latency is what is generally considered to matter.

    Latency is down the bottom of the page if you didn't realise.
    0
  • Someone Somewhere
    Hmm, I missed that.

    It looks like they're testing at 10Mb/s though, which sort of invalidates all the latency results.
    0
  • ubercake
    Z97-Z in the last paragraph on page 5 (should be Z97-A).
    0
  • airborn824
    I am upgrading my 965BE this week to a 4770k. Looking at the MSI Gaming 3 what does evryone think? i am keeping my SSD HDD and Saphire HD6950 for now. Any suggestions for a Z97 board under $180
    -1
  • Amdlova
    dooooooo the itx test :) everyone want small cages now. asrocks have better value better power and better desing!
    1
  • sincreator
    Usually when games are tested on motherboards the results are virtually identical. Strange that the MSI board came up as far ahead as it did in this case. Any ideas on why this happened Crash?
    0
  • H4X3R
    I wish I knew. It appears that they get their caps custom-wrapped to get the gold color, and that the custom wrapping only has specifications (no branding).


    Well, then i guess i'll have to hunt that info down because i do not like investing in mobos with cheap components, no matter how many features it has.
    -1
  • Onus
    I had to replace a cap on a cheap ASRock mobo that I knocked off myself with too-aggressive cable management. What appeared to be an exact replacement was a Nichycon, which is a good Japanese brand.
    As to MSI, I wouldn't touch their cheap boards, but their Z77A-GD65 Gaming board really surprised me over how nice it is, and how cool the VRMs stay under load. If my primary were full ATX, I'd be using it there.
    1
  • geok1ng
    After reading about the total mess that is adding SATA Xpress and M2 to a chipset starving for PCIe lanes, my upgraditis will wait for Haswell-E and X99. X97 feels like a notebook chipset.
    0
  • palitusa
    Great Review! MSI should be better than Asrock but then again Asrock price is pretty damn good!
    0