Intel Z77 Chipset Launch Roundup
Back at the launch of Intel’s X79 platform MSI were one of the first to market with their board based on that technology so it is no surprise to see them at it again with the Z77A which arrives packaged in a box which lists some of the key features, including Military Class 3. More on that shortly.
Bundled with the board are basic selection of extras which include plenty of drive cables, SLI bridge, IO shield, software disc and product documentation.
MSI use an ATX PCB for the Z77A-GD55 and like all of their boards that we have seen recently it uses a black colour, mixing it with black and blue hardware. Military Class branding is found on the heatsink and this means that the components used by MSI have gone through rigorous testing and only the highest quality parts are implemented. This includes items such as Super Ferrite Core chokes and HI-C solid capacitors with Tantalum cores which provide ultra-low ESR and longer lifespan than traditional parts. MSI’s DRMOS power circuitry is included on this board offering thermal protection and improved power efficiency too. Back to component choice MSI also use solid capacitors and PWM design with hybrid digital power which improves on other products, supplying more power for enhanced stability and reliability.
MSI use an all PCIe slot configuration on this board and it is PCIe Gen3 capable which ensures that we can run two high spec graphics cards, full PCIe speed, on the board at one time (SLI and CF supported). The exact layout is 1x, 16x, 1x, 1x, 16x, 1x and 8x. Down at the right hand corner is our USB 3.0 front panel header and six SATA ports. All of these are Intel based and provide RAID support with the white being SATA 3 capable.
Further up the board is a standard 24-pin power socket and then at the top left corner we find a single eight-pin connector which assist in providing our boards high power delivery for overclocking. Beside the 24-pin connector is a set of voltage read points which allow us to check CPU, memory and Chipset voltages with a multi-meter. Next to these are our power/reset buttons and four memory slots, these are of course split into a dual channel configuration. MSI support DDR3 speeds well in excess of 2000MHz with compatibility for all socket 1155 CPUs… upcoming next generation chips are supported too.
Also in this area is the OC Genie button which applies an automatic overclock based on our components, boosting them to a safe but enhanced level at the touch of a button. Then beside that we have status LEDs.
Our back panel connectivity is thorough and includes PS/2, 4x USB 2.0, Optical, Coaxial and 3.5mm audio (Lossless), GB LAN and 2x USB 3.0 (Intel). A clear CMOS button is also present here as are HDMI, DVI and VGA outputs.
BIOS and Software
MSI call their GUI "Click BIOS 2" and all of the settings appear on one screen with various tabs. Click OC for example and we are taken into the performance options which also include the ability to save screenshots and use touchscreens for input. Also present is a tool to update the BIOS from USB which is always appreciated but the real noteworthy feature is that this BIOS is replicated in a Windows application (shown below). In addition to the Click BIOS Windows tool we also get Control Centre for monitoring and tweaking of the board.
Finally MSI offer a selection of trial software from Norton and Cyberlink which allows consumers to sample some useful tools for a limited time. The Z77A also supports Smart Response Technology (combines SSD with mechanical drive for enhanced performance), Rapid Start Technology (quicker boots), Smart Connect (updates to applications while powered down) and Lucid VirtuMVP (GPU enhancements).
On our test bench today is the Biostar Hi-Fi Z97WE which looks to deliver many of the features of the competition such as enhanced audio and M.2. support but at a more aggressive price point.
Last month Intel launched their Z97 chipset, essentially an evolution of Z87, which in many cases brought new features such as SATA Express and M.2 compatibility to the mainstream desktop market. There was of course no new CPU at that time with the existing socket 1150 processors working without issue in the new boards. Since then though Intel launched (along with some lower spec models) the Core i7-4790K, a model which sits at the top of their mainstream platform. Today we see how it compares to various other models when installed on Gigabytes Z97X Gaming 5 and paired with PowerColors new dual core 290X Devil 13.
Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming G1 WiFi-BK vs. MSI Z97 Gaming 5 vs Asus Maximus VII Hero It is probably fair to say that Intel don't stealth launch their products... sure they have NDAs but by the time those expire we know pretty much everything about a new product. Part of this is of their own...