In recent motherboard generations, the ‘in style’ thing to do is to separate the SKU line of a company into several compartments – channel/mainstream, overclocking, budget, smaller-than-ATX, X feature enabled (such as Thunderbolt), and gaming. The latest addition to the gaming scene is MSI, who have recently released their Z77 Gaming range, despite being a stones throw away from Haswell launch.
So when a reviewer comes across a product designated ‘gaming’, we are clearly wanting to see and feel why it is a gaming product. This would mean specific features aimed at the gaming crowd, to help reduce lag, boost frame rates, and increase the experience of the whole package. We already have contenders in this space aside from MSI – ASUS has their Republic Of Gamers range which we have rated very highly, Gigabyte has the G1 range, and ASRock wheels out Fatal1ty. Off the back of CeBIT 2013, MSI have launched four gaming boards in the Z77 range: the Z77A-GD65 Gaming, the Z77A-G45 Gaming, the Z77A-G43 Gaming and the B75A-G43 Gaming.
These motherboards come off the back of a successful gaming laptop range for MSI. In the wake of the global depression, every motherboard manufacturer needed to diversify its portfolio in order to cover itself, and MSI did this in the notebook arena. The gaming notebooks feature a red and black color scheme, which seems to be the going rate for gaming product lines:
From left to right – ASRock Fatal1ty Z77 Professional, MSI Z77A-GD65 Gaming, ASUS Maximus V Formula
The only company that bucks this trend is Gigabyte, aiming for a gaming green instead, or orange for the overclocking range. MSI aim for yellow with their overclocking range – the MPower and Lightning GPUs being the prime examples (the XPower is still relatively undefined in the blue end of the spectrum). However MSI is tying their ranges together, at least in color scheme – the Gaming range will have GPUs featuring a red Twin Frozr 4 cooler, and there have been a lot of images online featuring these two with red-LED Avexir memory.
While MSI have had great success of their GPU lines (the Lightning range constantly breaks overclocking world records and is more often than not the fastest pre-overclocked version of each card), the motherboard range needs a boost. MSI is aimed primarily low to mid-range, as seen by the lack of a Z77 PLX 8747 enabled motherboard in the lineup for three-way and above – even the GD80 and MPower are non-PLX. Thus if they want to release a gaming motherboard, gamers will want the best available, especially if they have that extreme setup. The Z77A-GD65 Gaming, despite being the top of the range so far, is the one we are reviewing today. It hits the line down the middle, going for that single and dual GPU gamer, but given how close we are to Haswell, was it worth the effort?
MSI Z77A-GD65 Gaming Overview
Speaking to MSI Europe, the reason for releasing a Z77 Gaming product line was due to the Haswell delay. They have had plans for a Z87 Gaming range since they got the specifications through for Haswell, but the additional 4-6 month delay means that the gaming range was brought forward. The only issue was that the gaming range on Z87 will have a different naming; the Z77 gaming range is a naming hybrid for now.
In actual fact, we are dealing with almost the exact same layout. Same number of SATA ports, same VRM configuration, same location for OC buttons, USB ports, voltage check points, fan headers, the lot. The difference it seems is in the ‘gaming details’.
Over the base GD65 model we get a Qualcomm Atheros Killer NIC E2205-B gigabit Ethernet controller, a regular feature on the MSI Gaming notebook range. This NIC is designed to offload network features, such at packet priority, onto the NIC itself rather than the CPU, as well as bypassing the Windows network stack for high priority applications. Most motherboards now offer some form of network management tool, however these usually require CPU intervention in order to keep everything in the right order. While I cannot say that a Killer NIC is vital in improving FPS or response times, it could help reduce the ‘user’ end side of the lag in gaming. Though if you are suffering from lag due to your own computer, turn off downloads, Facebook and updates during competitions.
Similar to ASRock’s Fatal1ty range, the MSI Gaming also has a ‘Gaming Device Port’, which should allow for higher polling rate mice (500-1000 Hz) to be used. Whether a higher polling mouse rate is useful is still debatable depending on the frame rate – if you are polling up to 16-32x more than the FPS of the game, the PC has to decide on the average acceleration and location vs. the latest acceleration/location and inject it into the gaming stream appropriately.