MSI has the smallest range of the four manufacturers with just six Z77 motherboard models, including a micro ATX model.
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Note that MSI is the only manufacturer to give full confidence to Intel when it comes to its USB 3.0 ports. MSI doesn't really seem to be pushing the boat out when it comes to chips either, though the top model in the range, the GD80, does have a Thunderbolt controller. The GD80 isn’t yet available however. Note the MSI site also references two original models which aren’t included in our list, the Z77A-S01 and the Z77MA-S01. These models seem to be clones of the A-G45 and MA-G45, but without the video outs. It isn’t clear how widely these models will be available yet.
The components on the MSI PCB have plenty of room to breath.
The high end therefore currently consists of the Z77A-GD65 that we are testing today. For the power supply circuit MSI, who have been very frugal with power supply phases up until now, is offering a 10+2 phase circuit (the Z68A-GD65 had just 6+2).
The motherboard includes three PCI Express x16 physical slots. Like the Gigabyte UD5H, MSI connects these three slots straight to the processor (via ASM1480 switches). They then run either in 16/0/0, 8/8/0 or 8/4/4 modes. The last mode is only available with an Ivy Bridge processor, something that is clearly indicated in the manual and rather badly on the board sticker. MSI has also added four PCI Express x1 connectors (connected to the chipset). There’s no standard PCI slot, which is a strange choice as users of old PCI peripherals will turn to other models. It does mean that MSI economises a PCI Express lane that can then be used for something else.
The sticker isn’t very precise. The port will not function without an Ivy Bridge!
Among the additional controllers, MSI has gone for the now very popular Intel 82579V for the Gigabit Ethernet network. For storage MSI is using a Serial ATA 6 Gb/s Asmedia 1061 controller which pilots two additional ports, with a Firewire VIA VT6315N controller connected by PCI Express making up the quota. Reasonable choices.
The back panel has exactly the same configuration as the Z68A-GD65. A PS/2 port accompanies four USB 2.0 ports, with the two USB 3.0 ports in blue. Unlike its competitors MSI has chosen not to implement a DisplayPort video out. We do however have two S/PDIF outs, one optical and one coaxial. To complete our inventory, there are six assignable jacks connected to a Realtek ALC 898 controller.
There’s still a ClearCMOS button, but it's small and set back. You definitely won’t press it by mistake in any case!
Though the MSI board may seem light when it comes to additional chips – it’s true that the components on its PCB have plenty of room to breathe – there are still plenty of additional functionalities. There are power and reset switches and a big OC Genie switch which launches an automatic overclocking search, which as we will see, definitely brings something to the table. There are also some voltage points at the top of the board, which can be easily accessed with a multimeter.
At the bottom of the board, a switch allows you to choose between your boot BIOS and a backup. MSI thus automatically activates a copy operation in its BIOS and, after several successful boots on a new BIOS, flashes the backup BIOS with the new version. You can turn this feature off. Note that there’s double digit hexadecimal display. The codes are given in the manual in the form of a relatively concise list on a single page.
The internal connectivity includes six USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports. There’s also a Firewire connector and a TPM connector. There are five fan ports (3x4b, 2x 3b).
In the bundle MSI includes three manuals to cover the board, software and installation. An explanation for overclocking Ivy Bridge processors is also supplied. This looks particularly well put together and explains the differences between Intel K and non-K processors as well as voltages and gives you a table with some advice on which voltages to use. An excellent initiative for newbies, and others!
Look at the certificate!
The rest of the bundle is pretty standard with four SATA cables, an SLI bridge and adaptors to facilitate the mounting of front panel connectors in the casing. MSI doesn’t supply any USB 3.0 brackets.