MSI Z77A-GD45 Gaming Motherboard Review

INTRODUCTION:
PC Gaming has gone through a lot of change since it began its growth in the late 20th century. From the single player games of the past, we now view PC Gaming as a competitive form of entertainment. A great medium for Electronic Sports, to be precise.

MSI Z77A-GD45 Gaming (10)

Now while PCs, and competitive gaming blends well with each other, problems still exists between the two. We’ve got latency over the network, input delays, mediocre audio solutions that can’t even precisely pinpoint the enemy, to name a few. Seriously though, you do not want to break the bank to alleviate those problems, and thus, the MSI Z77A-GD45 Gaming was born. A motherboard, from what MSI describes as the perfect board for gamers: Dedicated gaming ports, KILLER NIC for blazing fast network, premium audio software solution, and last but not the least, a gaming oriented-aggressively themed presentation. Is this the motherboard that will breathe fire to the competition? Or will it breathe fire upon itself? Lets check it out, after the break!

FEATURES/SPECIFICATIONS: LINK

  • Supports 3rd Gen & 2nd Gen Intel® Core™ / Pentium® / Celeron® processors for LGA 1155 socket
  • DDR3-3000 (OC) Memory
  • USB 3.0 + SATA 6Gb/s
  • Killer Ethernet: Kill Your Lag
  • Military Class III: Top Quality & Stability
  • OC Genie II: Overclock in 1 Second
  • Click BIOS II: World’s 1st UEFI and Software Graphical User Interface
  • PCI Express Gen 3: World’s 1st PCI Express Gen 3 Motherboard Brand
  • Multi-GPU Support: NVIDIA SLI & AMD CrossFire Support
  • Sound Blaster Cinema: Realistic Surround Sound Experience
  • Gaming Device Port: Optimized with Triple Gold-plating for High Frequency Gaming Devices
  • Total Fan Control: Optimize All Fan Speed As You Wish
  • Lucid Virtu MVP: Uncompromised Game Response Performance

PACKAGING/CONTENTS:
Carrying the Gaming Series badge, the Z77A-GD45 Gaming motherboard features a refresh to the MSI packaging we used to know, with a nice contrast between Red and Black. Up front, we’ve got a nice image of a dragon, the gaming series badge, and some good amount of branding. The box is also textured, ala premium. Nice!

MSI Z77A-GD45 Gaming (2)

The back is a bit busier as usual with graphical features carefully laid out. Looks quite good to me. Now onto the bundled accessories!

MSI Z77A-GD45 Gaming (1)

Inside the box, you’ll be greeted by a good amount of bundled accessories, which includes a Quick Installation Guide, a User Guide, Driver/Software DVD, 2x SATAIII cables, and a door knob message hanger. They’ve also included a high quality case badge, which is quite awesome! MSI really knows how to sate that gaming appetite of mine. – If only I could keep it, lol

MSI Z77A-GD45 Gaming (3)

MSI Z77A-GD45 Gaming (4)

MOTHERBOARD LAYOUT & CLOSER LOOK:
With a new series in the block, MSI also introduced a new color scheme, and overall board design. With Red and Black contrasting each other very well, the Z77A-GD45 Gaming motherboard really pleases to stands out in the crowd. Adding to that, with dragon themed heatsinks, gamers will surely find this motherboard a sight for sore eyes. - Just wished the PCB is matte Black. Ehem, MPOWER, ehem…

MSI Z77A-GD45 Gaming (5)

MSI Z77A-GD45 Gaming (6)

Now focusing on the upper area of the board, we can clearly see that the Z77A-GD45 Gaming has enough space around the socket area, that has been made possible by the diminutive Military Class III components. Nothing to complain here aside from the good looking dragon themed VRM heatsink at the top which could prove to be quite a hassle for system builds with a radiator, due to their high profile nature. Do note this if you’re planning to mix match the motherboard with a a radiator atop of your case.

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MSI Z77A-GD45 Gaming (11)

Bearing the GD45 monicker, this motherboard only packs 6 phases of power for the CPU. Nothing to worry about, since this amount of phases should power and overclock any unlocked Intel CPUs with no worries. Adding to that, gamers wouldn’t find the extra phases useful. REALLY. – You’re not going to buy this motherboard for extreme overclocking, right?

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In addition to the power phases, the Z77A-GD45 Gaming comes with an 8-pin CPU power port. It’s always recommended to supply the board with the same 8-pin power connector coming from your PSU, but a 4-pin power connector will do. Just make sure that you’re not going to use some el-cheapo PSUs.

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Still at the top, we can see that MSI didn’t skimped-on the board’s cooling capabilities by including 2 fan headers, one is which a 4-pin PWM header for precise RPM control. There are actually five of these fan headers scattered around the board which ensures every users a total control over their PC’s cooling capabilities.

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The MSI Z77A-GD45 Gaming is capable of supporting a maximum of 32GB RAM with all the 4 slots populated. Supported memory frequencies ranges from 1066MHz, to a whooping 3000MHz when overclocked. This side of the board also features the 24-pin PSU power connector, along with a fan header, and the voltage checkpoints which is a little bit too much for this gaming oriented motherboard.

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MSI Z77A-GD45 Gaming (17)

Now looking at the lower part of the motherboard, particularly the expansion slots area, the MSI Z77A-GD45 Gaming motherboard features 4 PCI-Ex1 slots, and 3 PCI-Ex16 slots; Two of those are PCI-E 3.0 compliant slots. Nice layout for dual graphics configuration. I like it.

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A closer look at the right-most corner of the board reveals the 6x SATA ports, 2 of them are SATAIII compliant ports, and the remaining 4 are SATAII ports. We’ve also got a header here for the USB3.0 ports, which may come in handy in case you have a case with USB3.0 support at the front.

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Awe yeah, even the PCH heatsink received an awesome dragon treatment. I like it. I really do!

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Header wise, the board is jam packed with them, as seen from the pictures below. These are namely the 3 x USB 2.0 headers, the Clear CMOS header, Serial Port header, TPM Module, Front Panel Audio, Front Panel, and the Chassis Intrusion header. Loads of expansion goodness, I suppose!

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Looking a bit closer at the edge of the board, we can actually see the Realtek® ALC892 audio chip which powers-up the Creative Sound Blaster Cinema application. This is good, but I’d rather see a real Creative audio chip here.    The blurred chip above it is the Fintek F71889AD chip , which is responsible for controlling and monitoring the fans.

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Probably the best feature of the board – hardware wise, is the integrated Killer™ E2200 Intelligent Networking Platform chip. The name is so long, it has to be awesome. And awesome it is, since it aims to please your online gaming needs by shaping up your traffic/connection, providing a smoother performance will gaming online. – We’ll check it out, later.

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Last but not the least, lets take a look at the back panel I/O ports of the Z77A-GD45 Gaming: We’ve got a PS/2 combo port here, 4x USB2.0 ports, 2x USB3.0 ports, Clear CMOS Button, Coaxial out, Optical out, 6-in-1 Audio jacks, HDMI, DVI, VGA ports, and a single Ethernet port. You see, there’s nothing much to explain here, aside from the PS/2, and USB2.0 Gaming Device Ports at the top which aims to produce better response rates from your inputs devices while gaming. The durability of these ports are also enhanced by the extra gold plating.

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BUNDLED SOFTWARES:
As far as softwares are concerned, MSI had the Z77A-GD45 Gaming motherboard bundled with necessary apps to get you started. We’ve got the Click BIOS II here if you want to tinker with your BIOS/UEFI settings on Windows, the MSI Control Center; a favorite of mine because of its rich UI, and settings that could be tinkered with, and the Creative Sound Blaster Cinema + Realtek HD Audio manager. With a Killer™ NIC onboard, MSI also included the KILLER Network Manager software to help you shape up, and monitor your network. There are far too many sections of these said softwares that we could discuss, but lets just check them out with the help of the screenshots below:

UEFI/BIOS:
The MSI Z77A-GD45 Gaming still utilizes the spanking sweet UEFI BIOS we all love from MSI. But with a new gaming series in line, they managed to theme it up with the motherboard as well. Check out the screenies below:

TEST SYSTEM/PROCEDURES:
To provide precise test results, the test systems will run on an updated copy of Windows 7 Ultimate x64 SP1. BIOS, Chipset, and Video Card drivers will be updated too, as much as possible. No other softwares should be running while benchmarks are on going. Below are the test system’s specifications:

CPU Intel Core i5 3570K
MOTHERBOARD MSI Z77A-GD45 Gaming
CPU COOLER Corsair H100i
MEMORY AVEXIR Core Series @2133MHz 16GB
GRAPHICS CARD PowerColor PCS+ HD7950 3GB
INT. STORAGE Kingston SSDNow V+200 128GB
PSU Cooler Master Silent PRO Gold 800W
DISPLAY LG FLATRON E2290 22″ LED
OS Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64 SP1 (Updated)
SOUND CARD CREATIVE Sound Blaster RECON3D
EXT. STORAGE 2TB Western Digital My Passport

We would like to thank GIGABYTE, Western Digital, and AVEXIR for providing our test equipment for this review.

OVERCLOCKING:
Priding itself as a gaming motherboard featuring the OC Genie II, we opted for a conventional overclocking approach. That said, we wont overclock our CPU with this motherboard to kingdom come, and instead, we’ll use the said feature to automatically overclock our CPU. With the help of the MSI Control Center, automated overclocking is no sweat. You just have to click the OC Genie II tab, click the enable button, and viola! Auto OC for the gamers who wants to experience the extra performance without breaking the bank!

MSI Z77A-GD45 Gaming OC Genie II

RESULTS: Achieving a mild auto OC of 4.2GHz, I am well impressed with what the OC Genie II could do. – Though it still could use some refinements on the voltage regulation side of things. It also doesn’t revert back to your last settings, when disabled. Hopefully, MSI could refine this feature in the near future, for the benefit of the most.

PERFORMANCE (CPU/SYSTEM):
AIDA64 is a streamlined Windows diagnostic and benchmarking software for home users. We’ll use the built-in CPU benchmark tools of the AIDA64 to determine the system’s CPU performance.

MSI Z77A-GD45 Gaming Benchmarks (1)

CINEBENCH R11.5 is a real-world cross-platform test suite that evaluates the computer’s performance capabilities. CINEBENCH is based on MAXON’s award-winning animation software CINEMA 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation.

MSI Z77A-GD45 Gaming Benchmarks (4)

wPrime is a multi-threaded benchmarking application designed to measure the raw computational power of a CPU. It can be configured to run on a custom number of threads to accommodate multi-core CPUs.

MSI Z77A-GD45 Gaming Benchmarks (3)

RESULTS: Right off the bat, the MSI Z77A-GD45 Gaming motherboard showed some pretty nice results, as far as CPU performance is concerned, specially with the added 400MHz boost from the OC GENIE.

PERFORMANCE (MEMORY):
AIDA64 is a streamlined Windows diagnostic and benchmarking software for home users. We’ll use the built-in memory benchmark tools of the AIDA64 to determine the memory’s performance.

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RESULTS: Memory performance on the otherhand, the MSI Z77A-GD45 Gaming proved to be a bit slower than our test system, specially if we’re to talk about the latency. Overclocked, the GD45 Gaming gained the upper-hand over our test system’s memory read, write, and copy results. Not too shabby.

PERFORMANCE (GAMING/3D):
Heaven Benchmark is a DirectX 11 GPU benchmark based on advanced UNIGINE™ engine. It reveals the enchanting magic of floating islands with a tiny village hidden in the cloudy skies. This benchmarking tool heavily relies on tessellation, and that’s what we’re after.

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Valley Benchmark is a GPU stress-testing tool from the developers of the very popular and highly acclaimed Heaven Benchmark. This non-synthetic benchmark powered by the state-of-the art UNIGINE Engine showcases a comprehensive set of cutting-edge graphics technologies with a dynamic environment and fully interactive modes available to the end user.

MSI Z77A-GD45 Gaming Benchmarks (9)

Battlefield 3  is a first-person shooter video game developed by EA Digital Illusions CE and published by Electronic Arts. The game is one of the most anticipated games of 2011, and is a great game to check out any GPU’s gaming performance.

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Far Cry 3 is an open world first-person shooter video game developed by Ubisoft Montreal in conjunction with Ubisoft Massive, Ubisoft Red Storm, Ubisoft Reflections,[2] and Ubisoft Shanghai and published by Ubisoft for Microsoft Windows.

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Resident Evil 6, is a survival horror video game developed and published by CAPCOM. It’s one of my favorite PC games, mainly because I’m a fan of the series. It also has a built-in benchmarking tool to measure your PC’s performance. It’s only DirectX 9.0 compatible at the moment, though.

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Tomb Raider (2013) is the fifth game, and the reboot of the Tomb Raider series. It is developed by Crystal Dynamics, and published by Square-Enix. We disabled Tress FX for this benchmark.

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RESULTS: Gaming/3D performance wise, the MSI Z77A-GD45 Gaming motherboard showed a good stock performance result across the benchmarks, keeping up with our test system on most games, and some 3D benchmarks. The overclocked performance on the other hand, is a bit of a hit and miss, since gaming performance depends on the GPU the most. To be honest I expected a bit more from this board, but results are not bad.

PERFORMANCE (NETWORKING):
To test the synthetic networking performance of the hardware, we opted to use the already popular, online based speedtest.net, and pingtest.net benchmarking websites from Ookla. Results were taken around the same time of the day, with the same servers, and without any other software interfering, aside from the browser itself.

MSI Z77A-GD45 Gaming Benchmarks (18)

MSI Z77A-GD45 Gaming Benchmarks (19)

RESULTS: With a marginal performance leap from the emasly Intel NIC of our main test system, I can honestly say that I’m impressed with the KILLER NIC aboard the Z77A-GD45 Gaming. Furthermore, the NIC’s performance with online games has been also tested out, with the help of Valve’s popular MOBA game, DOTA 2. Similar to the synthetic tests, the game has been played on the same time of the day. We added some workload tests too, featuring a browser with facebook, and twitter on the background. Average Ping is around 62-68ms with the KILLER NIC around, which is quite nice compared to my Intel NIC’s measly 68-258ms.

PERFORMANCE (AUDIO):
RightMark Audio Analyzer (RMAA) is a suite designed for testing quality of analog and digital paths of any audio devices. The results are obtained by playing and recording test signals passed through the tested audio path by means of frequency analysis algorithms. A more common mark is also provided for those unfamiliar with measured technical parameters. - http://audio.rightmark.org

RightMark Audio Analyzer test report

Testing device Speakers (2- Realtek High Definition Audio)
Sampling mode 16-bit, 48 kHz
Interface Win Sound
Testing chain External loopback (line-out – line-in)
RMAA Version 6.2.5
20 Hz – 20 kHz filter ON
Normalize amplitude ON
Level change -0.9 dB / -0.8 dB
Mono mode OFF
Calibration singal, Hz 1000
Polarity correct/correct

 

Summary

Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB +0.07, -0.13 Very good
Noise level, dB (A) -81.2 Good
Dynamic range, dB (A) 81.1 Good
THD, % 0.131 Average
THD + Noise, dB (A) -52.7 Poor
IMD + Noise, % 0.257 Average
Stereo crosstalk, dB -80.5 Very good
IMD at 10 kHz, % 0.327 Average
General performance Good

RESULTS: We all knew from the start that what we’re dealing with is the Realtek ALC892 Audio Chip, combined with the Sound Blaster Cinema software solution from Creative. Thus, I didn’t really expect some hair raising performance from it. But, I am wrong. – A bit. Side by side with my Creative Sound Blaster Recon3D, there might be a huge difference in sound quality, but the surround is definitely there, the bass is there, the quality is there. Everything what your measly onboard audio wishes itself to provide with clarity, is there.

PERFORMANCE (STORAGE):
Crystal Disk Mark measures the sequential reads/writes speed of your storage devices. It also measures random 512KB, 4KB, 4KB (Queue Depth=32) reads/writes speed.

MSI Z77A-GD45 Gaming Benchmarks (5)

MSI Z77A-GD45 Gaming Benchmarks (6)

RESULTS: Our V+200 SSD seems to favor the MSI Z77A-GD45 Gaming in our tests. Looking at the read performance, both motherboards battled each other bytes by bytes, but when it comes to the write performance side of things, the Z77A-GD45 Gaming motherboard took the overall performance crown. – Excluding the sequential write performance of course.

PERFORMANCE (WORKLOAD):
I do image conversion on a daily basis, and that said, we will check out how fast this machine could convert 68 JPEG files with a 3072×2304 resolution into a 1920×1440 JPEG file, with the help of Photoshop. I will time this with my phone’s stopwatch.

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For the video conversion, we use a 101MB 1080p MPEG video and convert it to standard MP4 format using Handbrake: An open-source, multiplatform, multithreaded video transcoder. GPU acceleration is disabled and conversion is purely done by the CPU.

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RESULTS: At the workload tests, we can see that the MSI Z77A-GD45 Gaming proved itself to be a worthy motherboard for multimedia workload tasks.

POWER CONSUMPTION:
We check to see how motherboard makers tune their default BIOS settings and see how it impacts power consumption. The system is left to idle for 30 minutes before readings are taken, and load data is taken 30 minutes while AIDA64 Stress Test is running. Power readings are taken for the entire system from the socket.

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RESULTS: With a 6 Phase VRM design, the MSI Z77A-GD45 Gaming is no doubt, a marginally better motherboard when it comes to power efficiency. Moreover, with an additional 400MHz backpack on its back, it still consumes lesser juice than our test system at load. What’s not to like?

VALUE/CONCLUSION:
So, how does the MSI Z77A-GD45 Gaming motherboard fared in all of our tests? First off, lets talk about the looks. With a dragon themed heatsink, you know that this board just aims to please everyone, specially gamers who wants to show off their systems to others. In a  LAN party, this board will surely stand out. Overall, the presentation of the board is a job well executed. MSI really knows how to launch a new series of motherboards.

Now talk about the performance, this motherboard already provided you the necessary tools that you need to start on PC Gaming. With its great networking performance, coupled up with a class leading audio performance, it’s given. This board really has the performance you need to jump start at PC Gaming. Adding to that, it is loaded with features that gamers would surely love.

While there is so much to like about this board, imperfections are still inevitable. Like for example, we had difficulties installing one of the fans of our 240mil radiator, with regards to the high profile dragon themed heatsink at the top. It’s not a huge deal, however you need to watch out for it. The PCB isn’t all Black too, which could be a deal breaker for some. Seriously though, the board has more megahertz, than aesthetic megahurts, just so you know.

Value wise, we have yet to receive any words from MSI about the retail price of this board. We are guesstimating that it should be around the lines of the MSI Z77A-GD45, or at about 130 Dollars. An absolute gaming motherboard in that price bracket to be precise, and a true bearer of our Silver Award. Game on!

PROS:

  • Aggressive presentation
  • Great overall performance
  • KILLER features
  • Power efficiency

CONS:

  • Since when did  Brown became Black?
  • Minor heatsink clearance issues

 SILVER

PRODUCT PAGE: LINK

Leo Bien Durana

Leo Bien Durana, commonly known as a tech loving Homo sapien, family of Hominidae, is Tech Porn's Chief Editor, and Dragon Slayer. He loves to sip coffee, and stares at pairs of round melons most of the time.

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