Most high-end motherboards are usually purchased by PC enthusiasts who want the ultimate in gaming. These motherboards are usually supported by either very high-end CPUs, or processors that are seriously overclocked. Multiple graphics cards are a given.
As such, companies like ASUS with their Republic of Gamers (ROG) series, ECS with the Black Edition series and even Gigabyte with their Sniper series of motherboards are focused with PC gamers in mind.
Sometimes, though, you don’t really need to have $500 motherboards. Sometimes, all you need is a stable platform that has the kind of extra features you’d want for gaming. And so today I’ll be looking at MSI’s entry into the “PC gaming” scene with their Z77A-GD65 Gaming motherboard.
The idea behind the Z77A-GD65 Gaming is to keep things simple and affordable, yet have those little extra bells and whistles that a PC gamer will appreciate. So it’s no surprise that the $180 Z77A-GD65 Gaming is modeled after one of MSI’s best-selling motherboards, the $160 Z77A-GD65.
The original Z77A-GD65 comes with MSI’s popular ‘Military Class III’ components, so you get some seriously durable capacitors and ferrite chokes that can easily help transfer power wherever needed, running 24/7 along with an overclocked processor.
Then there’s the OC Genie II which helps overclock your CPU by a decent margin at the touch of a button; you don’t have to tweak anything by yourself, MSI’s taken care of everything.
Other features like dual BIOS, V-Check points, debug LEDS accompanied by onboard start, reset, overclock and Clear CMOS buttons give easy access to overclocking your entire system. On top of all this, the Z77A-GD65 Gaming adds some nice set of features.
First off, you have the Killer E2200 network card, famous for optimizing network traffic and minimizing the slowing affects background programs have on your online games. Basically pings remain as low as possible because the Killer network card bypasses Windows protocols and gives packet requests from your games the highest priority.
Secondly, you also get access to Sound Blaster Cinema software, which allows you to tune your audio such that certain vocal and mid-range tones are more obvious, helping you in online games. The Realtek ALC898 chip is the same on the original Z77A-GD65, so what you’re getting here is the extra software support.
Another feature MSI has on how with the Z77A-GD65 Gaming is the device port. Essentially this refers to the collection of the PS/2 port and the two USB ports below it which are optimized for a high polling rate of up to 1000Hz, bringing mice response time down to just 1 millisecond. Honestly, I didn’t notice any difference when using it with my Steel Series XAI mouse; then again I’m not a pro CS player for whom every millisecond counts. The USB ports also have thrice the amount of gold plating to ensure no oxidization occurs, in addition to having 10 times more durability when plugging in (or removing) devices.
Design & Packaging
Looking at the layout, we can see that MSI has done a lot of work on the aesthetic appeal of the Z77A-GD65 Gaming. Black and red is the basic color theme of the motherboard, as is the dragon insignia. You’ll see the dragon logo as part of all the heatsinks. The main one on the Z77 chipset is easy to design, but I was impressed to see the dragon head design on the two heatsinks surrounding the CPU area as well.
A technical improvement on the Gaming version over the original Z77A-GD65 is the ability to support up to DDR3-3000MHz of memory, up from DDR3-2667MHz. Accessories provided with the board include 4x SATA cables, and SLI bridge, V-Check point cables, a backplate, drivers disk and guides, an MSI Gaming Series sticker logo and a door handle.
Setup & BIOS
For overclocking the CPU I bumped up the Core voltage to 1.45v on our i7-3770K processor, bringing up the speeds to 4.6GHz. The UEFI BIOS remains the same as in other recent MSI motherboards, except now it has a red look instead of the standard blue, and dragon logos all over.
Killer LAN E2200 Tests
One of the major features being touted by MSI is obviously the onboard Killer LAN E2205 chipset. To test it out I downloaded the latest drivers from MSI. By default it’s a fairly easy UI, with everything being taken care of automatically. However, I thought I’d just go in an tinker around with the applications management a little bit.
As you can see every individual program that connects to the internet is automatically picked up by the Killer software, and you can then individually set the bandwidth priority for each program, going so far as to manually set the download and upload bandwidth allocated to each and every program.
By default any game gets the highest priority, while background applications and torrent applications get lowest priority.
On the top is the Killer LAN equipped results for Team Fortress 2 on an 8MB du home broadband connection, while on the bottom is an ASUS Crosshair V Formula equipped with Intel Gigabit LAN. Both computers are on the same network. The difference is very evident on servers closer to home (from Saudi) but moving farther away to European and East Asian servers the pings sort of flatten out.
Not changing the bandwidth allocation of uTorrent I decided to download a large video file in the background and ran TF2 again. Connecting to SaudiNet [TF2 Dodgeball] sever, instead of the 70 to 72ms ping I was getting originally, I was now getting somewhere between 74 to 78ms ping. Not once did it go above 80ms, whereas the Intel Gigabit LAN equipped machine’s ping now rose from mid-80ms ping to consistently over 90ms ping.
So the Killer E2200 definitely works, but at the end of the day I’m inclined to say that your mileage will vary heavily depending on your ISP as well as the router you use.
The MSI Z77A-GD65 Gaming is definitely a solid performer, regardless of whether you overclock or not. And while the Sound Blaster Cinema is a nice application, the real stand out feature of this motherboard is Killer E2200 LAN card which definitely gives you an edge in online games. And for an arguably better looking design and higher rated memory acceptance, the MSI Z77A-GD65 Gaming is a much better buy over the original Z77A-GD65 for about $30 (AED 120) more.
On its own, there are hardly any motherboards in the market with the Killer LAN E2200 cards equipped, so the extremely reasonably priced Z77A-GD65 Gaming motherboard from MSI is an incredible package.