MSI Z97A Gaming 6

 

Introduction

Micro-Star International Co., Ltd or MSI is a Taiwanese multinational information technology corporation founded in 1986, headquartered in New Taipei City, Taiwan. It designs, develops and provides computer hardware, related products and services, including laptops, motherboards, graphics cards, All-in-One PCs, servers, industrial computers, PC peripherals, car infotainment products, and so on.

Official product link:

http://www.msi.com/product/mb/Z97A-GAMING-6.html#hero-overview

Packaging and accessories

The Z97A Gaming 6 model comes packaged in a box with a black background and red accents.
On the front side of the box is printed the MSI Dragon, the symbol of the Gaming line, here we also find the manufacturer and product name and some features of the motherboard.

 

On the sides of the box we find printed both the name and logo of the manufacturer and the name of the product.

 

The back of the box presents in detail the product and enumerates the specifications & features of the motherboard.

 

Accessories

The product comes with the following accessories:
–    1x Manual
–    1x Quick set-up guide
–    1x Driver disc
–    1x MSI GAMING case badge
–    1x MSI-branded SLI bridge
–    1x MSI SATA cable label kit
–    1x Door hanger
–    1x I/O shield
–    1x Front-panel cabling kit (USB 2.0 and front panel connections)
–    2x SATA cables
–    1x Audio power adapter

 

Specifications

CPU SUPPORT: Supports 4th and 5th Generation Intel® Core™ Processors, and Intel® Pentium® and Celeron® Processors for Socket LGA1150
CHIPSET: Intel Z97
POWER DESIGN: 8 Phases
FORM FACTOR: ATX Form Factor (30.5 cm x 24.4 cm)
INTEGRATED GRAPHICS: Dependant on installed CPU
MEMORY: 4 x DIMM, Max. 32 GB DDR3 1066 to DDR3 3200+(OC)
BIOS: UEFI AMI 64MB
Expansion Slots:
–    3 x PCIe 3.0 x16 slots, (support x16, x8/x8, x8/x4/x4 modes)
–    4 x PCIe 2.0 x1 slots
HDD CONNECTVIITY:
–    6x SATA 6Gb/s ports (SATA1~6)
–    1x M.2 port
NETWORKING: 1x Killer E2205 Gigabit LAN controller
PORTS:
–    1 x PS/2 keyboard/ mouse combo port
–    1 x LAN (RJ45) port
–    2 x USB 2.0 ports
–    2 x USB 3.0 ports
–    1 x USB 3.1 (Type-C) port
–    1 x VGA connector
–    1 x DVI-D connector
–    6 x OFC audio jacks
–    1 x HDMI port
AUDIO: Realtek® ALC1150 Codec – 7.1-Channel High Definition Audio
FAN HEADERS: 2 x 4-pin CPU fan connectors / 3 x 4-pin system fan connectors
Features:
–    Audio Boost 2, powered by Creative Sound Blaster Cinema 2
–    USB Audio Power
–    USB 3.1
–    Killer™ E2200
–    SLI & CrossFire certified
–    Military Class 4
–    OC Genie 4
–    M.2 & SATA Express
–    Click BIOS 4
–    Gaming Device Port
–    Triple gold plated PS/2 and USB ports
–    Smart Fan Control
–    MSI GAMING APP
–    Command Center
–    Live Update 6
–    Guard-Pro

 

Visual inspection

The Z97A Gaming 6 model has the traditional design & black-red color scheme characteristic of the Gaming line. The predominant color is black and the gaming accents are red.

 

The motherboard’s ATX layout is efficient, this is highlighted by the fact that the motherboard has 5(five) 4-pin Molex PWM connectors, their position is the following:
Also the motherboard measures 30.5cm in height and 24.4cm in width.

 

The VRM heatsinks have an aggressive design using the same “gaming” black-red color scheme, on their side we find embossed the MSI Gaming dragon. In the top left corner of the motherboard we find the CPU 8-pin power connector.

 

On the right side, we find the 4 DIMM slots that support DDR3 RAM with speeds starting from 1066MHz up to 3200+(OC). The motherboard supports a maximum of 32GB.

 

Next to the DIMM slots we have a header for monitoring voltages in real-time using a multi-meter.

 

The Z97A Gaming 6 model features two internal USB 3.0 ports, the top port is oriented vertically while the lower port is right oriented for an easier connection.

 

The motherboard uses three PCIe 3.0 x16 (x16, x8/x8, x8/x4/x4) slots and three PCIe 2.0 x1 slots. Due to the support for a multi GPU configuration, Two Way SLI and Three Way CrossFire, the PCIe slots are placed in such a way that the graphics cards have enough room for cooling.

 

Located below the CPU socket, above the PCIe ports, we find the M.2 SATA.

 

The audio system is isolated from the rest of the PCB, this is highlighted by a yellow line traced on the PCB when the system is turned on, the line is illuminated by a red LED. The capacitors used in the audio system are manufacturer by Nichicon.
Here we also find the power header and switch for the AUDIO BOOST function.

 

The MSI Z97A Gaming 6 model uses six SATA 6 Gb/s ports, which are controlled by the Intel Z97 chipset while two of them combine to form the 10Gbps SATA-Express connection.

 

The chipset heatsink features the MSI dragon below we find the manufacturer’s logo.

 

The Bios battery is located between the lower PCIe 3.0 slots.

 

On the lower part of the motherboard we find the POST display during the boot sequence it displays different messages/error codes and while the system is running it displays the Package temperature of the CPU.

 

On the back side we have the I/O panel, one feature of this model is the USB 3.1 Type-C connector controlled by the ASMedia ASM1142 chipset.
The I/O panel is as follows (from left to right):
–    PS/2 port
–    2x USB 2.0 ports
–    1x VGA
–    1x DVI
–    1x HDMI
–    1x USB 3.1 Type-C
–    2x USB 3.0 ports
–    1x Gigabit Ethernet connector (using Killer E2205 NIC)
–    6x Audio Jacks

 

Bios

The MSI Gaming line motherboards use a bios which offers numerous options, the UEFI interface offered by MSI is quite different from other manufacturers when we talk about the layout of the bios.
The main window of the Click Bios 4 displays the 6 main sections of the bios, these are placed on the sides of the window. On the upper side of the main window we find general information about the system such as the components & peripherals installed on the motherboard and various temperatures.

 

Software

The MSI Gaming line motherboards come with a rich software bundle, these pieces of software are meant to make things easier for the user.

Included in the software bundle we find a couple of applications with the purpose of allowing the user to customize the system settings and to increase performance. These applications can manage everything from controlling the fans connected to the motherboard up to overclocking and Bios update.

MSI Command Center

 

MSI | Intel Extreme Tuning Utility

MSI Eco Center

 

MSI Gaming App

MSI Live Update 4

MSI Smart Utilites

Other applications included in the bios have a different role, they take care of the sound system, the Lan and wireless networks and starting the system directly into the bios.

MSI Fast Boot

Killer Network Manager

Sound Blaster Cinema 2

Testing

The following system was used to test the motherboard:
–    CPU: Intel i7 5775C @ 4.2 GHz
–    RAM: 8GB Crucial Ballistix Tactical
–    GPU: MSI GeForce GTX 660 OC Gaming
–    HDD: Samsung SpinPoint F3 500GB
–    SSD: Samsung 840 EVO 120GB
–    PSU: Seasonic M12II-520 EVO Edition Bronze 520W
    CPU Cooler: SilverStone Tundra TD02 with NoiseBlocker eLoop B12-PS
–    Display: AOC i2769VM
–    Case: Phanteks Enthoo Luxe White
–    OS: Windows 7 64-bit Service Pack 1

 

The processor was used with the stock turbo frequency of 3.7 GHz and overclocked to 4.2 GHz with a core voltage of 1.289V.
The two RAM modules had been tested by increasing the memory speed from the default X.M.P speed of 1600 Mhz to a stable overclock of 2133MHz CAS 11 with a voltage of 1.5 V.

 

The Kingston DataTraveler microDuo 3C USB 3.1 64GB flash drive was used to test both the USB 3.0 ports and the USB 3.1 Type-C port.

Software used for testing the motherboard:
–    3D Mark – FireStrike, CloudGate, SkyDiver, IceStorm.
–    SiSoftware Sandra Business 2015
–    CineBench r11.5
–    SuperPi mod 1.5
–    wPrime v1.55
–    CrystalDiskMark 5.0.2
–    ATTO Disk Benchmark
–    Battlefield 3
–    Grand Theft Auto V
–    The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
–    Tomb Raider 2013
–    The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
–    GRID Autosport

The test results are as follows:

3D Mark

FireStrike

CloudGate

 

SkyDiver

 

IceStorm

 

SiSoftware Sandra Business 2015

CineBench r11.5

 

SuperPi mod 1.5

 

wPrime v1.55

 

CrystalDiskMark 5.0.2 Read

 

CrystalDiskMark 5.0.2 Write

 

Grand Theft Auto V

 

Tomb Raider 2013

 

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

 

Battlefield 3

 

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

 

Final thoughts

The Z97A Gaming 6 model is balanced offering a good ratio between build quality, performance, features and price. The layout of the motherboard is optimized for a multi GPU configuration, the PCIe ports leaving enough space between them in order for the graphics cards to have adequate cooling.
Among the features offered by this model the USB 3.1 Type-C port stands out by adding value to the motherboard being compatible with all devices that use this type of port.
From a performance point of view the motherboard maintains itself next to the motherboards of this segment.
The only drawback of the motherboard is the bios interface which is limiting its customization (e.g. change the order of the bios pages).

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