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They feature absolutely new power scheme, layout and circuit board as well as a lot of software and hardware improvements. Moreover, instead the terrible Click BIOS II, contemporary MSI’s motherboards had received the brand new Click BIOS 4. We have a closer look at all of these features by reviewing mainstream Intel Z87-based motherboard by MSI.

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27 Oct 2013 - EVGA X79 Dark Review

<p><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span style="font-size: small;"><span style="font-family: Arimo, sans-serif; line-height: 21px; -webkit-text-stroke-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0); -webkit-text-stroke-width: 1px; background-color: rgb(246, 246, 246);">Investing into the high performance Intel arena can be expensive. Alongside that&nbsp;</span>$330<span style="font-family: Arimo, sans-serif; line-height: 21px; -webkit-text-stroke-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0); -webkit-text-stroke-width: 1px; background-color: rgb(246, 246, 246);">/</span>$580<span style="font-family: Arimo, sans-serif; line-height: 21px; -webkit-text-stroke-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0); -webkit-text-stroke-width: 1px; background-color: rgb(246, 246, 246);">/</span>$1050<span style="font-family: Arimo, sans-serif; line-height: 21px; -webkit-text-stroke-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0); -webkit-text-stroke-width: 1px; background-color: rgb(246, 246, 246);">&nbsp;CPU (or more for Xeons) there has to be a motherboard up to the task. X79 motherboards run from ~$200 to ~$400, with a couple of models above that, potentially doubling the price of the setup before a case/memory/storage or GPUs are considered. Today we are looking at the EVGA X79 Dark which sits near the top of this price range at&nbsp;</span>$400<span style="font-family: Arimo, sans-serif; line-height: 21px; -webkit-text-stroke-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0); -webkit-text-stroke-width: 1px; background-color: rgb(246, 246, 246);">.</span></span></span></p> <p><a href="http://www.anandtech.com/show/7426/evga-x79-dark-review" target="_blank"><span style="font-size: small;">Read more...</span></a></p>
<p style="box-sizing: border-box; margin: 13px 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-family: Arimo, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 21px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(68, 68, 68); -webkit-text-stroke-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0); -webkit-text-stroke-width: 1px; background-color: rgb(246, 246, 246);"><span style="font-size: small;"><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">Last generation saw a new type of product in motherboards: the cheap OC oriented SKU.&nbsp; At $200-250 we had a single option specifically designed for OC.&nbsp; This generation, we have several options around that price point, but the GIGABYTE Z87X-OC which we are reviewing today hits it on the nose, or even with a small discount to $186 from time to time.</span></span></p> <p style="box-sizing: border-box; margin: 13px 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-family: Arimo, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 21px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(68, 68, 68); -webkit-text-stroke-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0); -webkit-text-stroke-width: 1px; background-color: rgb(246, 246, 246);"><span style="font-size: small;"><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">The purpose of an overclock oriented motherboard is multi-pronged.&nbsp; One the one hand, at this price point, it provides an outlet for extreme overclockers using sub-zero temperatures to get many of the overclocking features they require.&nbsp; It will have several specific features for this crowd and perhaps even specific hardware &ndash; but the BIOS and software are all written with them in mind.&nbsp; The other prong is for Joe Public, who might want a nice overclocked system but still to have all the day-to-day features needed.&nbsp; Joe might not use on-board overclocking buttons or the added hardware, but with a backbone for a daily OC he/she wants something built to withstand.</span></span></p> <p style="box-sizing: border-box; margin: 13px 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-family: Arimo, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 21px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(68, 68, 68); -webkit-text-stroke-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0); -webkit-text-stroke-width: 1px; background-color: rgb(246, 246, 246);"><span style="font-size: small;"><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">The Z87X-OC is one of two overclocking oriented boards produced by GIGABYTE this generation &ndash; the other is the bigger brother, called the Z87X-OC Force.&nbsp; The OC Force is double the price but features four-way SLI (due to a PLX 8747 chip), twice as many power phases (which are not cheap), added SATA/USB controllers and a combination air/water power phase cooler.&nbsp; The Z87X-OC which we are reviewing today could be considered a cut down version of the OC Force, although the Z87X-OC has that price point purpose that proved so popular with Ivy Bridge and Z77 motherboards.&nbsp; It also features some interesting ideas such as the OC Brace and the OC Ignition switch, both unique to GIGABYTE, an extensive array of overclocking buttons (OC Touch) and an interesting placement for USB ports.</span></span></p> <p style="box-sizing: border-box; margin: 13px 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-family: Arimo, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 21px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(68, 68, 68); -webkit-text-stroke-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0); -webkit-text-stroke-width: 1px; background-color: rgb(246, 246, 246);"><span style="font-size: small;"><a href="http://www.anandtech.com/show/7409/gigabyte-z87xoc-review-overclocking-oriented-orange-at-200" target="_blank">Read more...</a></span></p>

This board is built on the new Intel Z87 chipset. It is a mainstream model: not two simple to suffer from lack of public interest to it, yet not too complex to scare potential users away by excessive onboard technologies and high price.

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<p><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span style="font-size: small;"><span style="font-family: Arimo, sans-serif; line-height: 21px; -webkit-text-stroke-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0); -webkit-text-stroke-width: 1px; background-color: rgb(246, 246, 246);">I am always excited when a mini-ITX motherboard bound for the mainstream market crosses my desk.&nbsp; In a small PCB, compared to full sized ATX, it can be difficult to have a feature filled product that stands up to scrutiny.&nbsp; Today we have the Z87I under the hammer, MSI&rsquo;s small solution to Z87 Haswell.</span></span></span></p> <div> <p style="box-sizing: border-box; margin: 13px 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-family: Arimo, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 21px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(68, 68, 68); -webkit-text-stroke-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0); -webkit-text-stroke-width: 1px; background-color: rgb(246, 246, 246);"><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span style="font-size: small;">After recently reviewing MSI&rsquo;s Z87 heavyweight, the&nbsp;MSI Z87 XPower, moving to something smaller means I want to see how much of that big product can be retained down the stack.&nbsp; The MSI Z87I comes in at $140, and there are some noticeable differences (apart from the size) compared to the bigger brothers.</span></span></p> <p style="box-sizing: border-box; margin: 13px 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-family: Arimo, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 21px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(68, 68, 68); -webkit-text-stroke-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0); -webkit-text-stroke-width: 1px; background-color: rgb(246, 246, 246);"><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span style="font-size: small;">Nonetheless, the MSI Z87 is geared up for Ethernet network connectivity, with two Realtek NICs.&nbsp; We do have WiFi onboard, although this is the 802.11n 2.4 GHz Centrino N-2230 solution we saw on the XPower &ndash; not the 5 GHz dual band option I would prefer in all WiFi enabled motherboards.&nbsp; This amount of extra network controllers is due to the&nbsp;Flex IO allocation&nbsp;&ndash; as the board only has four SATA 6 Gbps and six USB 3.0 from the chipset, this gives the other 8 Flex IO lanes all the PCIe 2.0 for these controllers.&nbsp; Video outputs come via a HDMI, DisplayPort and combination DVI-I, and the board also sports the Realtek ALC892 audio codec.</span></span></p> <p style="box-sizing: border-box; margin: 13px 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-family: Arimo, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 21px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(68, 68, 68); -webkit-text-stroke-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0); -webkit-text-stroke-width: 1px; background-color: rgb(246, 246, 246);"><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span style="font-size: small;">Being a mini-ITX motherboard, our auto overclock options are limited.&nbsp; On almost all mainstream MSI Z87 motherboards we get an OC Genie button giving a one press overclock &ndash; this functionality is relegated to BIOS and software with the Z87I, giving only one option to 4.0 GHz.&nbsp; The BIOS is better than the Z77 brethren, offering a better visual representation of fan speeds (which still need a better upgrade, but is a step in the right direction) and a hardware monitor to detect when hardware is not recognized in the motherboard.&nbsp; There is still room to improve the BIOS, especially in how the overclocking options are organized, although word from MSI is that this will be changed in due course.&nbsp; With the motherboard I reached a 4.6 GHz overclock manually, although the BIOS limited the CPU voltage to 1.3 volts.</span></span></p> <p style="box-sizing: border-box; margin: 13px 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-family: Arimo, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 21px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(68, 68, 68); -webkit-text-stroke-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0); -webkit-text-stroke-width: 1px; background-color: rgb(246, 246, 246);"><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span style="font-size: small;">Software is a little different, with Command Center offering voltages up to 2.1 volts (not a good idea) but features like the RAMDisk are a bonus.&nbsp; Live Update 5 works well at updating the system software and drivers, although in our testing it had trouble updating itself, causing me to recommend users get the latest version from the website.</span></span></p> <p style="box-sizing: border-box; margin: 13px 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-family: Arimo, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 21px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(68, 68, 68); -webkit-text-stroke-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0); -webkit-text-stroke-width: 1px; background-color: rgb(246, 246, 246);"><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span style="font-size: small;">In terms of results, the Z87I performance is a little strange - despite having MultiCore Turbo enabled by default it does perform worse than expected on a number of computational benchmarks.&nbsp; The one flaw that stood out of the testing was my 2D explicit grid solver test, where the MSI strangely scores 15% less than the rest of our Z87 testing.&nbsp; Discrete GPU and USB testing are on par with other Z87 motherboards without boosting features, and POST times under Windows 7 with a discrete GPU were great, scoring under 9.2 seconds.</span></span></p> <p style="box-sizing: border-box; margin: 13px 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-family: Arimo, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 21px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(68, 68, 68); -webkit-text-stroke-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0); -webkit-text-stroke-width: 1px; background-color: rgb(246, 246, 246);"><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span style="font-size: small;">The MSI Z87I offers a nice motherboard for users needing multi-LAN functionality, and Live Update 5 will keep it up to date.&nbsp; The decision to go with the N-2230 is one that baffles me to no end, and I hope that MSI offer a dual band SKU by default, or even an 802.11ac SKU.</span></span></p> <p style="box-sizing: border-box; margin: 13px 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-family: Arimo, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 21px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(68, 68, 68); -webkit-text-stroke-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0); -webkit-text-stroke-width: 1px; background-color: rgb(246, 246, 246);"><span style="font-size: small;"><a href="http://www.anandtech.com/show/7244/msi-z87i-review-miniitx-haswell-for-140" target="_blank">Read more...</a></span></p> </div>
<p style="box-sizing: border-box; margin: 13px 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-family: Arimo, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 21px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(68, 68, 68); -webkit-text-stroke-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0); -webkit-text-stroke-width: 1px; background-color: rgb(246, 246, 246);"><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span style="font-size: small;">Connectivity is always at a premium with smaller form factor boards.&nbsp; The ability to fit everything into a smaller space might mean spending an extra $0.50 on the motherboard to get smaller NICs and other ICs to fit even more features on board.&nbsp; This gets compounded on the AMD side by virtue of the larger socket area used by AMD CPUs, requiring a good percentage of the PCB space.&nbsp; As a result, many of the different boards in this area are split on the most minor of features &ndash; if you want one with WiFi, then get WiFi.&nbsp; Conversely if you need SATA ports, find one with SATA ports.&nbsp; But due to the size, and the platform, the main differentiators are going to be in the minor hardware choices, and software.</span></span></p> <p style="box-sizing: border-box; margin: 13px 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-family: Arimo, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 21px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(68, 68, 68); -webkit-text-stroke-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0); -webkit-text-stroke-width: 1px; background-color: rgb(246, 246, 246);"><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span style="font-size: small;">GIGABYTE motherboards never leave the factory without the Ultra Durable seal of approval, and the F2A85XN-WiFi gets the 4<span style="box-sizing: border-box; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-family: inherit; font-style: inherit; font-variant: inherit; line-height: 0; vertical-align: baseline; position: relative; top: -0.5em;">th</span>&nbsp;edition PLUS, one under the F2A85X-UP4&nbsp;we reviewed previously, which means using 40A IR3550s power phases, rated to run at lower temperatures due to high efficiency ratings. This goes alongside two 4-pin fan headers, four SATA 6 Gbps ports, a Realtek NIC, Realtek ALC892 audio, and dual HDMI ports on the rear IO.&nbsp; Dual HDMI is starting to become more of a feature on motherboards, even when manufacturers have a choice between DVI-D, HDMI and DisplayPort.&nbsp; Again, the choice of motherboard in this area often comes down to the minor hardware choices specific to the setup required, and how well they are executed by the manufacturer, and in that context we get the WiFi on AMD.&nbsp; The module is dual-band enabled (useful for inter-city areas) with 802.11 b/g/n.&nbsp; At this price point it will be a while before we see 802.11ac for sure, but the current WiFi solution onboard is ready for AWD (AMD Wireless Display)<span style="box-sizing: border-box; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-family: inherit; font-style: inherit; font-variant: inherit; vertical-align: baseline; -webkit-text-stroke-color: transparent;">, an alternative to WiDi.</span></span></span></p> <p style="box-sizing: border-box; margin: 13px 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-family: Arimo, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 21px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(68, 68, 68); -webkit-text-stroke-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0); -webkit-text-stroke-width: 1px; background-color: rgb(246, 246, 246);"><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span style="font-size: small;">Performance wise, as long as the user is happy with an FM2 CPU, then the GIGABYTE F2A85XN-WiFi plays ball in all of our testing scenarios &ndash; even when paired with a high end GPU in our gaming tests.&nbsp; Typically when a user sprouts for this platform they are either wanting a mini gaming machine (perhaps AMD Dual Graphics) or something small and usable &ndash; in this scenario there are some nice placements on board for hardware (24-pin ATX and SATA are on the edge) but a couple that are confusing (4-pin CPU connector, front panel connections).&nbsp; Our overclock results were pretty good, with the motherboard keeping our CPU stable all the way up until 4.9 GHz &ndash; the majority of the trek to that speed was spent at stock volts.</span></span></p> <p style="box-sizing: border-box; margin: 13px 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-family: Arimo, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 21px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(68, 68, 68); -webkit-text-stroke-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0); -webkit-text-stroke-width: 1px; background-color: rgb(246, 246, 246);"><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);"><span style="font-size: small;">The main competition for the GIGABYTE motherboard is going to be from the ASRock FM2A85X-ITX.&nbsp; While the ASRock offers seven SATA ports and the XFast software range, with the GIGABYTE we get dual band WiFi, dual HDMI and Ultra Durable on the power delivery, for an additional $10.&nbsp; This is the front GIGABYTE is competing against, and the WiFi edition is a good option for general usage if you do not need major storage.</span></span></p> <p style="box-sizing: border-box; margin: 13px 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-family: Arimo, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 21px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(68, 68, 68); -webkit-text-stroke-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0); -webkit-text-stroke-width: 1px; background-color: rgb(246, 246, 246);"><a href="http://www.anandtech.com/show/7229/gigabyte-f2a85xnwifi-review-fm2-and-richland-in-miniitx" target="_blank"><span style="font-size: small;">Read more...</span></a></p>

This is an entry-level mainboard, but not the most junior model in the family. It uses the features and functionality of the Intel Z87 chipset almost to the fullest, but has no numerous additional onboard controllers, thus staying reasonably priced. The new Gigabyte UEFI BIOS makes a terrific impression making this board stable and reliable in nominal mode and easy to work with during CPU overclocking.


This mainboard is fairly simple, but this is why it actually turned out relatively inexpensive. At the same time it features everything necessary for proper usage, which is its primary selling feature. As for the processors and chipsets comprising the new LGA1150 platform, the situation here is much more complicated.


The major but not the only distinguishing features of new Micro-Star gaming mainboards compared with the regular models is the replacement of the generic network controllers with Qualcomm Atheros Killer E2200, which allows assigning priorities with focus on gaming traffic, thus reducing the delays during online gaming.


The technical specifications of both these mainboard models based on Intel Z77 Express are almost identical, the prices are also very similar, so they seem like great candidates for side by side comparison. However, they turned out quite different from one another even when running in their nominal mode, not to mention the overclocked mode.


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