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Five Z87 Motherboards Under $220, Reviewed

MSI Z87-GD65 Gaming

Arriving at its anticipated $190 price point, MSI’s Z87-GD65 Gaming relies primarily on Intel’s feature set to create value with gaming enthusiasts. For example, four I/O-panel-based USB 3.0 ports complement a dual-port front-panel header to consume all six of the chipset's ports, without the need for added hubs or controllers.

The Z87-GD65’s I/O panel features a digital coaxial S/PDIF output—a rare find on modern motherboards—in addition to optical and HDMI audio. And speaking of HDMI, the board also adds DVI and VGA graphics outputs to this oft-used connection.

While the easy-access CLR_CMOS button is only found on the Z87-GD65’s I/O panel, on-board power and reset buttons are available on top, next to its two-digit POST code display, within easy reach for bench top testing. MSI also includes its OC Genie automatic overclocking button, a GO2BIOS button for easier firmware access, and a BIOS selector switch.

Lacking eSATA, MSI makes use of its single added SATA 6Gb/s controller by expanding internal connections to eight ports. Next to those, its USB 3.0 front-panel header also faces forward for enhanced card clearance.

Keeping with the gaming-enthusiast theme, the Z87-GD65 Gaming’s third x16-length slot borrows PCIe 3.0 lanes from the middle slot. As with its ECS and ASRock competitors, the Z87-GD65’s CPU PCIe lane configurations drop from 16-0-0 to 8-8-0 and 8-4-4 depending on the slots you populate. Four lanes might not sound impressive, but PCIe 3.0 transfers make up for the bandwidth deficit on most recent graphics cards.

Installing a slower card in the bottom slot still causes it to steal lanes from the top and middle slots, but MSI attempts to make up for that by putting a total of four PCIe 2.0 x1 slots above it. One of those slots will likely get covered up by a graphics card, but the three remaining slots are more than adequate for most builds.

The Z87-GD65 also has an mSATA slot to host tiny SSDs, connected to the Z87 Express chipset’s SATA 6Gb/s controller. Using it requires the builder to leave one of the forward-facing ports empty.

Next to the Z87-GD65’s main power connector, a row of voltage rail testing points makes it easy for fussy overclockers to find the true voltage that corresponds to their set voltage. MSI even adds a set of output wires to its installation kit to expand this feature’s appeal.

This motherboard's one layout issue is a front-panel audio connector that, by being in the bottom-rear corner, is too far away from the slightly short cables of some cases. Moreover, MSI’s audio header placement follows a 1997 tradition that’s often hard to break.

The Z87-GD65 Gaming includes four SATA cables, a set of voltage monitor leads, a flexible SLI bridge, a pair of cable-bundling header extenders, a “go away” door tag, and a very large and shiny case badge.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.