MSI Z87-G45 Gaming
Even the $155 version of MSI’s Gaming series includes an E2205 network controller from Killer Gaming. So, we weren’t surprised to see little else added on top of the Z87 chipset's integrated capabilities. We found, for example, four of the chipset’s six USB 3.0 ports on the I/O panel, supplementing the two accessible from a front-panel header. There’s no eSATA, and internal SATA is limited to six drives.
We did find Realtek’s upgraded ALC1150 eight-channel audio codec, tied to both coaxial and optical digital outputs, but no DTS Connect license to convert live multi-channel audio (such as game sound) into a 5.1 stream. The Z87-G45 Gaming does include Creative Sound Blaster Cinema software for those who would like to modify output, and an increased-capacity amplifier for those who prefer high-impedance headphones.
MSI’s efforts to maximize the platform's ability to accommodate gaming hardware includes a trio of PCIe x16 slots that switch from x16-x0-x0 to x8-x8-x0 and x8-x4-x4 as cards are added. Intel's integrated PCIe 3.0 controller helps address our concern about four-lane slots for multi-card arrays, though Nvidia deliberately disables three-way SLI support on all of the boards in today's round-up. In x4 mode, you're only able to turn on CrossFire.
The lack of third-party controller hardware means that the remaining four PCIe x1 slots are always on, saving MSI from the stinging commentary we reserve for platforms that trade on-board functionality for connectivity when you add an upgrade. That same scarcity of controllers also means that the mSATA slot steals one of the six forward-facing SATA ports if you populate it. We're alright with this. A nice big 256 GB mSATA-based SSD would definitely cut back on cable clutter.
Other features include an I/O panel CLR_CMOS button and a row of voltage detection points along the motherboard’s front edge. Many competing products carry the overclocking theme outside of a case with on-board power and reset buttons, but we recognize that those features aren't very useful once your system is buttoned up. The only capability we really longed for during our overclocking tests was a Port 80 diagnostics display. Only three of the five submissions in today's piece include that luxury.
A well-developed layout leaves us with no major concerns or complaints. MSI moves the front-panel audio cable forward from the bottom-rear corner by about an inch, which is particularly helpful to builders who might otherwise find their cables half an inch too short. I’ve always wondered why so many case manufactures make the same mistake....
Cutting back in one place to pay for added features in another can be a good strategy, but we find it difficult to justify the inclusion of only two SATA cables. That’s the minimum needed in almost every build, and we always prefer room to upgrade. Users can buy more cables or re-use old ones, of course, but they probably won't looks like MSI's. Windowed case users beware!