The Gaming series from MSI burst on to the scene only recently, with the Z77 Gaming being one of our favourite motherboards of the last generation. It looked the part, was stuffed with technology and very competitively priced.
Therefore it's not a great surprise that such a popular motherboard has been updated to the latest Intel Z87 chipset whilst retaining all the main components that made the original such a success.
By now you've hopefully read our other reviews today and so know what the main points of the Z87 chipset are, so let's crack on and see what the MSI GD65 Gaming can provide.
The first big change is the move to the newest of the Realtek audio chips, the ALC1150 which combines with a OPA1652 amplifier and the Creative Soundblaster technologies to provide some of the best onboard sound yet seen. The PCI Express 3.0 slots run in 8x/8x when using two cards, or 8x/4x/4x in triple configuration, otherwise they're the default x16. With the Killer E2200 LAN you're guaranteed to have low pings and clever traffic shaping as well as increased overall bandwidth.
The new Military Class 4 utilises 'Dark CAPs' which have a 260°C temperature guarantee. Of course solder melts at around 200°C so your capacitor will fall out before it breaks, which is either reassuring or scary depending upon your point of view. Finally the excellent OC Genie has also been upgraded to version 4 which allows you to choose whether you want a mild overclock or a full on Gaming mode.
Initially the GD65 looks just like the Z77 version, but there are notable tweaks and revisions everywhere you look. We have a mSATA port just above the PCIe1 which can combine with the storage using the MSI SuperRAID. The buttons have disappeared from the top right hand corner which now has an increase in fan headers.
Down the bottom we have the gorgeous Dragon Gaming heatsink as well as the usual headers. It's nice to see that MSI have moved the battery from the default placing just beneath the first PCIe slot down to below the second one where it's far easier to get at if needed.
The buttons are now on the trailing edge of the GD65 Gaming with the OC Genie switch right next to it, and a Go2BIOS button for those times when you've pushed things too far. It just makes sense to have your 7segment display, BIOS switch and power controls all in the one place.
Something we've often talked about with Dual-BIOS systems is the ability for the user to switch between them rather than relying upon some nebulous internal switch deciding which to use, so it's nice to see the MSI Z87 GD65 Gaming adopting such a manual switch.
This level of detail extends to the heatsinks which are 30% larger than those on the Z77 Gaming boards, and beautifully sculpted into the shape of the dragon that is the MSI Gaming logo.
Finally we have a whopping 8 SATA 6Gbps ports, no 3Gbps ones here thankfully, although this does mean that USB ports on the rear are somewhat lacking with only two USB 2.0 and four USB 3.0's.
MSI Z87 GD65 Gaming
Intel Core i7-4770K
Club3D HD7970 Royal Ace
Corsair Vengeance Pro 2400MHz
Corsair Neutron GTX
Windows 7 x64
During our testing we used the new Corsair Vengeance Pro 2400MHz 16GB kits.
Firstly rather than our CPU running at 3.5GHz and then turbo'ing to between 3.6GHz and 3.9GHz depending upon the amount of cores being used, the MSI set it to 3.9GHz and that's where it stayed. So the OC Genie button gave us 4GHz on the i7-4770K and 2400MHz on our Corsair Vengeance Extreme kit. Good, but we know we can do better.
The voltages seem to being read wrongly in CPUz, so it's worth noting that our manual overclocks were both at 1.25v rather than the values shown below. To say the GD65 Gaming is a ready overclocker is to understate things. We can easily attain 5GHz, and we're only limited by the heat, which is too much for our H100i to cope with. Dropping the speed down to 4.8GHz just about keeps the thermals at a point we're not exactly comfortable with but don't mind.
With the slightly faster, or at least more consistently fast, stock speed of the CPU and the much bigger overclock it's not a shock to see how well the MSI performs. The memory, which is at the same 2400MHz CAS9 timings as on the Gigabyte, is a real highlight. We think the 30212MB/s copy result is a new record.
In the nicest possible way, bloody hell. The MSI Z87 GD65 Gaming really stretches the i7-4770K at both stock and overclocked settings. It's an endless parade of new OC3D records. If anything the stock results are the most impressive.
We think this might be a running theme, but again the GD65 leaves us agape. Stock results in both PC Mark Vantage and PC Mark 7 are particularly impressive which is good if you're the 'plug and go' type. The overclock is brilliant too, but we knew that already.
PC Mark Vantage
PC Mark 7
The MSI Z87 GD65 Gaming is causing us to become symphonic, as ever result is a variation upon a theme. The overclocked result is the fastest so far, but then the overclock itself is the highest and so it's nice but unsurprising. The stock results though really demonstrate the sleek nature of the motherboard, happily whopping the other results so far.
X264 Benchmark v5
Another result that emphasises how well-rounded the GD65 is. No matter what you throw at it, it just keeps coming up trumps.
Thankfully, if only to give us something new to say without endlessly reaching for the thesaurus, CatZilla shows that most 3D tests are generally limited by the GPU rather than the CPU.
Despite the demands of rendering the GD65 continues to impress, with a .5 point improvement at both stock and overclock. That's pretty stunning considering it's still a very affordable motherboard.
Finishing up with our 3D/Gaming tests, and you can see that the HD7970 is actually our limiting factor because the results are the same whether we're at stock or 4.8GHz. Although it's nice that the stock result is still the best of the bunch so far.
Different benchmark, same result. You'll be happy with anything you plug the HD7970 into here.
Resident Evil 6
Nothing to see here, move along.
3D Mark Vantage
Again we're seeing that the GPU is far more important in the score than the CPU or motherboard. To compare, our 4.6GHz LGA2011 i7-3960X on a Rampage IV Extreme, by any measure a vastly more expensive setup, was only worth 2000 points extra in 3D Mark Vantage when compared to the i7-4770K.
3D Mark 11
Yep, GPU is everything here.
Look how tight those scores become as the detail level gets cranked up. We find it amazing that we've reached the point where GPUs are almost lagging behind CPUs in terms of what is the cap on performance. By the time you get to Fire Strike Extreme, which is harsh but around the level of the latest titles, it doesn't matter if you have stock or a whopping overclock, it's the HD7970 that's holding us back.
The i7-4770K certainly is a toasty thing. When a H100i with some high quality fans running hard still struggles to tame the temperatures then you know that a dedicated water loop with a giant radiator is mandatory for high overclocks.
With the slightly faster stock speed and the much higher overclock, it's not a surprise to see the MSI draw more power than the D3HP, although it's still lower than the 3rd Generation setup.
Now and again a motherboard appears that is so obviously brilliant, and so affordable, that we wonder if anything will be able to top it. For a while that crown was held by the ASUS Sabertooth, both in X58 and then P67 variants. Then MSI stole the crown with the Z77 MPower. Looking at the Z87 GD65 Gaming we think it's going to take something extraordinary to top it, such is the perfect storm of price, performance, features and looks.
Let's start with the aesthetic. It's a gorgeous looking thing. The all black PCB and slots, with red aluminium for the heatsinks really looks stunning. The black and red combination has been part of Hot Rodding for years which shows how popular it was long before computers were around. Since the initial explosion of enthusiast based motherbooards used it as their colour scheme of choice it's such a classic combination that even if you're sick of it you can't deny it looks the business. It's not just about the colours either, as the design of the heatsinks is a serious touch of detail in an area that is usually only this heavily customised on motherboards costing twice as much.
It's not all show no go though. The board is crammed with technologies too. 8 SATA 6Gbps ports lead us off. We commented when SATA 6Gbps first appeared why anybody stuck with the plain SATA 3Gbps ports because it's backwards compatible, so it's nice to see the latest generation MSI offering has seen the SATA II ports go the way of the floppy/IDE connectors. Sound has moved on to the aptly-named RealTek ALC1150 chip and when combined with the Creative Soundblaster Cinema you'll have to be a very demanding audiophile to justify a soundcard these days.
The switch to Military Class 4 has given us an extremely ready overclocker too. You're always thermally limited when overclocking and the i7-4770K is one of the most demanding around. Considering the amount of cooling we're using we think that although the GD65 is capable of bringing 5GHz from our i7-4770K you'd need a proper water loop to make the most of it.
Performance is outstanding. The stock results were a particular highlight. We know a lot of people still just like to put their CPU in and go, without overclocking it first. Despite how easy it is these days we know that the fear factor still exists. So you'll be glad to know that the MSI Z87 GD65 Gaming really rocks hard even at stock settings. Naturally the overclocking is blistering too, with some OC3D records broken.
If you didn't know, or hadn't looked at the top of this review, then you'd expect a motherboard with such high-end performance and brilliant features would be akin to the £300 beasts of yore, so to find it at a frankly astonishing £157 is the final cherry on what is already the tastiest cake around. We can't find fault with it. Yes if we were really nit-picky we'd like to see a couple of extra USB ports on the back, largely because with phones and iPods etc we've got more USB devices than we have storage ones. But that would be akin to complaining after the finest meal you've ever eaten that you weren't overly fond of the mints that came with your coffee. Sure it's a niggle, but the rest of it is so brilliant we don't care.
MSI have laid the gauntlet down to all the other manufacturers. Gorgeous to look at, blistering performance and all at a very affordable price, the MSI Z87 GD65 Gaming is not only the new benchmark for Z87 motherboards, but probably for all motherboards.
Thanks to MSI for supplying the Z87 GD65 Gaming for review. Discuss your thoughts in the OC3D forums.