MSI Z97 Gaming 7
First up we have a board from MSI, their near top-of-the-line product designed for gamers, the Z97 Gaming 7. Like the other Z97 based motherboards we’ll be featuring here, all of the chipset’s features are available on the MSI Z97 Gaming 7, but MSI works a bit of their own magic as well. The MSI Z97 Gaming 7 features a mouse-friendly BIOS / UEFI that’s quick and easy to navigate and offers an extensive array of overclocking and performance-related options. The board is also in MSI’s “Military Class 4” family and features super ferrite chokes, highly conductive polymer capacitors and / or solid capacitors throughout, which should offer increased stability and longevity, as well as lower total power consumption. The Z97 Gaming 7 also has an all digital PWM for more efficient power delivery.
The MSI Z97 Gaming 7 supports “1 second overclocking” thanks to its OC Genie 4 feature and button, but the UEFI sports all of the overclocker-friendly features we’ve come to expect from MSI for manual tweaking as well. The fan controls in particular are far more robust than previous-generation boards. MSI also includes their own Control Center software which gives users the ability the monitor and control system parameters from within Windows, with no need to reboot when making changes, and the board's got voltage check points too should you want to manually keep track of voltages with your multi-meter.
Other features of the Z97 Gaming 7 include high-power USB3.0 ports for quick-charging and stable USB audio over long USB cables (MSI calls the feature USB Redrivers), double-ESD protection, CrossFire / SLI support, integrated voltage check-points, and “gaming device ports”, which are gold-plated PS/2 and USB ports designed for gaming peripherals.
In addition to the aforementioned items, we should point out that the Z97 Gaming 7 sports Sound Blaster Cinema audio with something MSI calls Audio Boost 2 technology. Audio Boost incorporates gold-plated audio jacks, EMI shielding, and high-quality audio filtering caps designs to enhance the quality of the audio output on the board. The Z97 Gaming 7 is also outfitted with a Killer E2200 PCIe network controller from Qualcomm, for the lowest possible network latency.
We found the layout of the Z97 Gaming 7 to be quite good and also really like the dark red and black features on the board, including the aggressive “dragon’s claw” heatsinks. Your tastes may vary, but we think this is one heck of a good looking motherboard.
The MSI Z97 Gaming 7 board comes with a handful of users manuals and a quick installation guide, some stickers for labeling ports and cables (which are a great addition in our opinion), a Do-Not-Disturb type door hanger, a driver and utility CD, an IO shield, a whole bunch of SATA cables, a large MSI Gaming case badge, an SLI bridge, extensions for the voltage checkpoints available on the board, and connections to ease the installation of the cables from the front panel on your case.