PCB Design and Functionality
The MSI Z77A-GD65 and MSI Z77A-GD65 GAMING look completely different, but this is only a superficial impression. Upon closer inspection the mainboards turn out to have the same design with minor variations. So the Gaming model is actually based on its non-gaming cousin.
MSI Z77A-GD65 GAMING
Both mainboards feature premium Military Class III components (DrMOS II transistors, Solid CAP and Hi-c CAP capacitors, Super Ferrite Chokes). The hot parts of the CPU voltage regulator are covered with two additional heatsinks connected with a heat pipe. All the heatsinks, including the third one on the chipset, are attached to the PCB with screws. There is a row of CPU Phase LEDs in the top right corner of the PCB, which indicate the current number of active phases in the CPU voltage regulator. There are also three highlighted buttons there: Power, Reset and OC Genie (the latter allows to overclock the computer automatically). The nearby V-Check Points and the bundled V-Check cables let you easily monitor key system voltages with a voltmeter.
The Intel Z77 Express chipset supports four SATA 3 Gbit/s and two SATA 6 Gbit/s ports. Two more SATA 6 Gbit/s ports are added with an ASMedia ASM1061 controller. The two PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 slots can share 16 CPU-based PCIe lanes as x8/x8, allowing to build multi-GPU configurations in CrossFireX or SLI mode. If you’ve got an Ivy Bridge CPU, the third PCIe 3.0 x16 slot becomes available as well, so the speed formula becomes x8/x4/x4. The three PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 slots are all equipped with handy broad latches. Besides them, the mainboard offers four PCIe 2.0 x1 slots for expansion cards.
The combination of red and black is always a winning visual solution but there is just too much black here at the expense of practicality, we guess. We had the same problem with the Z77A-GD65 model which used more colors: even knowing that DDR3 modules should be installed into the black pair of slots (the farthest slots from the CPU), you could involuntarily plug them into the attractive-looking blue ones. The memory slots of the Z77A-GD65 GAMING are all black but you can find instructions about their usage written next to them right on the PCB. The same goes for the other connectors – they all look like each other and are all black. You can only differentiate USB 2.0 and IEEE 1394 headers by their labels whereas the SATA 6 Gbit/s ports based on the additional controller are no different in color from the chipset’s SATA ports, both 6 and 3 Gbit/s. The two chipset-based SATA 6 Gbit/s ports you should use in the first place are only indicated with a sticker (it’s not shown in the photo).
The mainboard’s layout drawing reveals a few more components. There is a POST indicator, two independent BIOS chips (you can select the chip to use with a switch), and five fan connectors, three of which are of the 4-pin variety (including the CPU fan connector).
Except for the color scheme, we have failed to find any difference between the Z77A-GD65 and Z77A-GD65 GAMING so far. Their back panels look identical as well, although it is there that the mainboards actually differ.
Here’s what we have there:
- PS/2 connector for keyboard or mouse;
- Four USB 2.0 ports, six more USB ports are available as three onboard pin-connectors;
- Clear CMOS button;
- Optical and coaxial S/PDIF, and six analogue audio-jacks provided by eight-channel Realtek ALC898 codec.
- D-Sub, DVI-D and HDMI Video outs;
- Two USB 3.0 ports (blue connectors) implemented via Intel Z77 Express chipset, another two ports are available as an onboard pin-connector;
- A local network port (network adapter is built on Gigabit Qualcomm Atheros Killer E2205 controller).
The key difference is that Intel’s Gigabit Ethernet controller is replaced with Qualcomm’s Atheros Killer E2205, so you can use the Killer Network Manager utility to define bandwidth priorities in favor of online gaming applications and thus ensure lower latencies. This feature is limited to Microsoft Windows 7 and 8 as yet. Besides the different network controller, the gaming mainboard has a Gaming Device Port which supports computer mice with a high poll rate (500 to 1000 Hz) whereas the PS/2 and USB connectors are gold-plated using thrice more gold than usual. The Realtek ALC898 controller has remained the same but the Sound Blaster Cinema technology provides additional sound effects.
Besides that, the additional controller VIA VT6315N supports FireWire but there’s no free space on the back panel, so you only get an onboard FireWire header. The eSATA interface is missing as well, and there are no back-panel brackets with eSATA or FireWire ports in the mainboard’s box.
All technical characteristics of this mainboards are summed up in the following table for your convenience: