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MSI Z87M Gaming Micro ATX Motherboard Review

Overview of the MSI Z87M Gaming

MSI Z87M Gaming1 MSI Z87M Gaming2

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The packaging is quite cool with the dragon logo and large crest. Overall the design is simple yet pulls the style with the dragon in both the main image and the crest but its still simple enough with only a few logos to signify key features and even a Fnatic logo to showoff their pro team who they sponsor.

The rear of the box shows key feature info along with compliance and other info, but this is just a box so lets see what comes inside.


MSI Z87M Gaming3

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Here we see all of the accessories we get with the MSI Z87 Gaming:
  • User Manuals
  • Installation Discs
  • SATA Cables
  • Quick Connect Front Panel Connectors
  • SLI Ribbon
  • IO Shield
  • MSI Gaming shield Case Badge Decal
  • MSI Gaming Door Hanger

This bundle will easily get the job done and get you up and running. The only thing I could think of needing would be a few more SATA cables as the board has 6 onboard SATA ports but only 4 SATA cables.

MSI Z87M Gaming4

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Here you can see that the board carries very similar styling to the other MSI Gaming Z87 boards and just in a smaller package. There is no mSATA here but that omission can be forgiven as there simply is no place for it this board just doesn’t have the PCB real estate. The board carries pretty much all of the features for the gaming series and will fit in a nice compact LANBOX style build, add to that even though its smaller MSI still was able to keep the connectors at boards edge means that wire management in a compact rig should be easier to manage as cables will not need to be strewn across the board to connect.


MSI Z87M Gaming7

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Here you will see that the board is designed for up to two installed graphics cards or other expansion cards and offers dual slot spacing so it will be a bit tight but overall a dual card micro ATX rig is a possible powerhouse of a small system so should you go with dual cards just make sure there is adequate ventilation.

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The memory section is capable of up to 64GB memory and speeds of up to 3000+ but of course with 16GB DIMMs we would not count on such high speeds. However, the capability is there especially with Haswell to really push some speed on lower density DIMMs.


MSI Z87M Gaming6

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The drive connections are plentiful as the Z87 chipset offers up to six drives at SATA 6G Speed capability. The full six are employed here at the lower right boards edge.
The rear IO is quite stuffed with many connectivity options:
  • PS2 combo keyboard/mouse port
  • 2x USB 2.0 Ports
  • Clear CMOS Button
  • Optical SPDIF connectors
  • 6x USB 3.0 ports
  • Gigabit LAN port (Killer E2205)
  • 2x eSATA Ports
  • Displayport connector
  • 2X HDMI Port
  • up to 8 Channel HD audio via Realtek ALC1150

The connectivity for a mini board is very good as it has a huge amount of high speed connectivity to ensure no matter the usage it is ready.


MSI Z87M Gaming10 MSI Z87M Gaming11 MSI Z87M Gaming9 MSI Z87M Gaming8

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The control buttons are simple and are for power/reset/OCGenie, however there is also a small DIP switch which enables the gamer OC mode for OCGenie which you can find right above the DIMM slots. These make it much easier in a bench top configuration to control your board.

Another nice inclusion is the gold plated audio ports which allow for better signal transmission and should lead to better and cleaner audio overall in the long run.

the Audio boost cover you see here provides some ESD protection while also being another pretty effect in the fact that it is backlit during operation so you can see the Audio boost text backlit from a SMD LED on the board, and this goes in conjunction with the line in the PCB which separates the audio section from the rest of the board components.


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Here you can see the VRM area which is fed by a 8 phase configuration but after much testing on these chips for any mATX gaming build this should be more than enough even if clocking the CPU up a bit.
The VRM is fed by a single 8 PIN ATX connector which should be more than enough to feed even the most aggressive hardcore gaming rig.

BIOS Overview

Click BIOS 4


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MSI has updated the Click BIOS again now to Click BIOS 4 which is quite the update as you can see above. there are definite improvements in the feel of the BIOS as it feels more fluid when using it but also there are soem new features as well.
One of the nice features would be the fan control which is actually really nice as you can set fan profiles and even ramping via a multi point graph within the UEFI.
Also another would be the Board Explorer which has a visual layout of the board and areas where things are plugged in or attached are highlighted where you can mouse over them and it will even tell you the device ID which is really cool just for the simple fact you don’t need to trace a SATA cable anymore to see which one goes from which drive to the board.

Testing & Methodology

We’ve expanded our testing suite considerably since the X79 chipset release, and will continue to use the same methods for most of the motherboards and CPU’s we test. In the interests of thoroughness and accurate results, we run each test at least three times, and some tests more than that. We average the total of all the tests from each benchmark then report the average here.

The OS we use is Windows 7 Pro 64bit with all patches and updates applied. We also use the latest drivers available for the motherboard and any devices attached to the computer. We do not disable background tasks or tweak the OS or system in any way. We turn off drive indexing and daily defragging. We also turn off Prefetch and Superfetch. This is not an attempt to produce bigger benchmark numbers. Drive indexing and defragging can interfere with testing and produce confusing numbers. If a test were to be run while a drive was being indexed or defragged, and then the same test was later run when these processes were off, the two results would be contradictory and erroneous. As we cannot control when defragging and indexing occur precisely enough to guarantee that they won’t interfere with testing, we opt to disable the features entirely.

Prefetch tries to predict what users will load the next time they boot the machine by caching the relevant files and storing them for later use. We want to learn how the program runs without any of the files being cached, and we disable it so that each test run we do not have to clear pre-fetch to get accurate numbers. Lastly we disable Superfetch. Superfetch loads often-used programs into the memory. It is one of the reasons that Windows occupies so much memory. Vista fills the memory in an attempt to predict what users will load. Having one test run with files cached, and another test run with the files un-cached would result in inaccurate numbers. Again, since we can’t control its timings so precisely, it we turn it off. Because these four features can potentially interfere with benchmarking, and and are out of our control, we disable them. We do not disable anything else.

One thing to note is that we are revamping our testing method in order to better represent motherboard performance and offering to you guys the consumer. Also we want to make it an easier read for you without miles of endless charts. Please feel free to provide feedback on what you think as many benchmarks will be shuffled or removed completely.

Test Rig

Test Rig
Case Open Test Bench
  • Intel Core i7 4770K (Haswell – LGA1150 – Z87)
  • Intel Core i7 3770K (Ivy Bridge – LGA1155 – Z77)
  • MSI Z87M Gaming
  • Intel DZ87KLT-75K Z87 Chipset Motherboard
  • ASUS Maximus V Formula Z77 Chipset Motherboard
Ram GSkill TridentX 2666MHz
CPU Cooler Swiftech 240mm rad custom loop
Hard Drives Western Digital Velociraptor 1TB 10000RPM 6Gb/s Hard Drive
SSD 1x Kingston HyperX 240GB SATA III 6Gb/s SSD
Optical ASUS DVD-Burner
GPU Intel iGPU or Nvidia GTX 680
PSU Thermaltake Toughpower XT 1475W Gold
Mouse Tt eSPORTS Black Gaming Mouse
Keyboard Tt eSPORTS Meka G1 Mechanical Gaming Keyboard

Test Suite

We will use the following applications to test the performance of the MSI Z87M Gaming Motherboard.

SuperPi Mod 1.5
Wprime 1.55
PCMark 7
3DMark 11
Cinebench R11.5
Truecrypt 7.1
Unigine Heaven 4.0
Metro 2033
Batman Arkham City
Sniper Elite V2

PCmark 7


First up is PCMark and, the Z87M Gaming seems a bit on the lower side when compared to the intel board for the computation side but once you throttle things up to 4.6GHz all of this fades away as the gaming board pulls way ahead of the Intel based model.

3DMark 11



here we focus on the Physics side of things in the 3DMark 11 test and as you can see the Gaming board easily walks away from the Intel board easily beating out the last gen platform and even at stock beating the 3770K which was clocked to 4.6



This tests single threaded performance and clock efficiency by processing digits of the number pi. Going from the previous gen Z77 to Z87 yields a nice efficiency jump clock for clock, and here we can see that as time has gone on the BIOS optimizations have paid off as efficiency has gotten better and here you can see that even similar configured and clocked the gaming mini board surpasses the original Intel board.



WPrime is similar to Superpi, but is multi core aware and you can set the core count. We used 8 threads to take advantage of the 4770K’s HyperThreading ability. Here you can see that the efficiency in multi core processing improves as you can see a pretty nice gain going from Z77 to Z87, and even more so when overclocked. We are quite excited to see what this platform can do as we get our hands on more boards to test real world performance.

On the MSI Gaming board you can expect to see some great performance once again as shown here it squeezes out some very nice numbers which shows some very good threaded efficiency but I do see some small loss at the overclocked speeds here which means that maybe some BIOS tuning may still be needed to tweak that into place.

Cinebench R11.5

“CINEBENCH is a real-world test suite that assesses your computer’s performance capabilities. MAXON 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. MAXON software has been used in blockbuster movies such as Spider-Man, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia and many more. MAXON CINEBENCH runs several tests on your computer to measure the performance of the main processor and the graphics card under real world circumstances. The benchmark application makes use of up to 16 CPUs or CPU cores and is available for Windows (32-bit and 64-Bit) and Macintosh (PPC and Intel-based). The resulting values among different operating systems are 100% comparable and therefore very useful with regard to purchasing decision-making. It can also be used as a marketing tool for hardware vendors or simply to compare hardware among colleagues or friends.”

Here you can see where the high-end rendering work can be done. There are some definite improvements on the x86 processing, but when looking at the OpenGL rendering, you see almost a 30% increase, which is very good and speaks highly for what the HD4600 is capable of. This result reflects similar on the MSI board although the CPU bound score shows definite improvements on the MSI board at similar clocks versus the Intel platform.



Transcoding has become more popular now and the latest Sandy Bridge processor added support for AVX instruction for faster video transcoding. With that you can see that going from Ivy Bridge to Haswell can net you some very good gains, especially a 2FPS gain on 2 Pass. This tells us that overall optimizations to the new platform are present and working very well. This same rings true but with some small efficiency improvements with the MSI board as it has a bit more performance tuning built into it.

Truecrypt 7.1


TrueCrypt is a real world application that gives a good indication of the true performance of our latest processor. Here the new Core i7 4770K puts some definite room between itself and the outgoing 3770K with over a 22% performance increase, which means in the same time you can get a lot more work done. Here with the MSI board you see a small performance improvement at stock but also at overclock as well.

Unigine Heaven 4.0

Unigine Heaven is a benchmark program based on Unigine Corp’s latest engine, Unigine. The engine features DirectX 11, Hardware tessellation, DirectCompute, and Shader Model 5.0. All of these new technologies combined with the ability to run each card through the same exact test means this benchmark should be in our arsenal for a long time.



Unigine Heaven on a discrete GTX 680 gains about a single FPS, probably just due to the expanded performance with the overclock. For the most part, however, recent platforms are so efficient that there simply is no bottleneck for current gen card models.

Metro 2033

metro 2033

Metro 2033 shows lower max FPS on the MSI platform but higher average which tells me that while its not getting as much peaky FPS results we are seeing a consistently higher FPS result which is good for a smoother gameplay experience.

Batman Arkham City

batman AC

The results for Batman Arkham City are very good exceeding 10FPS improvements on the average which means serious tuning here by the MSI team for gaming performance.

Sniper Elite V2

sniper elite V2

Once again we see a drop in max FPS but a gain in average which means that consistently the MSI Board is pulling higher FPS numbers which is good.

Our Final Thoughts

MSI has built some great gaming boards in the “Gaming” series of Z87 boards and this mini marvel is no exception as it pulls some great numbers across the board and shows excellent efficiency and gaming prowess built into the boards very DNA.

The board overclocks well hitting our 4.6GHz target with ease and also having the ability for novice users to get a very nice boost wit the press of the OC Genie button is a huge advantage here.

The ability to run Multi GPU or even a HBA should you run a crazy storage or network setup all lends to great expandability in a small package.

The Audio solution is built to deliver excellent gaming great audio and to that effect it really does as the sound I head during gaming testing was definitely better than some Realtek audio solutions I had heard in previous board generations but I would say that these onboard solutions still do not have the same capability as a discreet card but nonetheless they do definitely improve on something which was mediocre previously.

MSI Really allows you to have your cake and eat it too with the Z87M gaming board as it has great performance, a reasonable price point and a solidly built board overall making this a great package for anyone looking to build a smaller form factor gaming build.


The Pro’s: Cons
  • Killer E2205
  • High end Audio Boost Solution
  • Strong VRM with Military Class Components
  • Unique Dragon Styling
  • Sound Blaster Cinema Compatibility
  • Gaming Device Ports
  • New clean UEFI with some cool options
  • Black caps look sweet
  • Small build capable
  • Wish it offered WiFi
  • More SATA cables included would be nice

Review Overview

Performance - 9
Value - 9
Quality - 9.5
Features - 9
Innovation - 8.5


The MSI Z87M Gaming expands upon MSI's Gamer builds making full featured small form factor gaming a reality for hardcore enthusiasts.

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One comment

  1. Great article. Thanks. I wish this little board had a mSATA.

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