MSI Z97S SLI Plus LGA 1150 Motherboard Review

MSI once again brings us a solid, stable, and reliable motherboard with some great overclocking and positions it in the multi-GPU category. Usually when we see marketing moves like this we think of $200, $300, or even $400 motherboards. This MSI platform rings in at the $138 mark, which spikes this motherboard in the value category as well.

Introduction

MSI is one of the biggest names in the DIY computing industry. MSI was founded in 1985 building motherboards and graphics cards. Eventually MSI expanded to include servers, workstations, industrial computing products, household appliances, car infotainment products, barebones systems and communications devices. Despite all the diversification which is commonplace in this industry, MSI has remained focused on motherboard design and innovation.

In enthusiast circles MSI is known for making high quality, innovative designs which typically cost just a bit less than GIGABYTE or ASUS offerings. Even with a smaller price MSI offers similar functionality in the same basic price points which keeps it a favorite and a go-to brand for many. Even without the price drop, feature and quality-wise the MSI offerings are usually on par with counterparts from ASUS and GIGABYTE.

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The MSI Z97S SLI Plus is based on Intel’s Z97 Express chipset and designed for Haswell and Devil’s Canyon CPUs. I wouldn’t call this board stripped down necessarily but the feature set is fairly lean. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as a certain subset of the enthusiast crowd prefers hardware without extraneous features, especially ones they don’t want to pay for. Lean features doesn’t mean cut rate design. The Z97S SLI Plus features an Intel gigabit Ethernet solution, support for SLI and CrossFire, circuit protection for USB ports and the CPU. The Z97S SLI Plus also has Super Ferrite Chokes, Hi-C capacitors, ESD protection, EMI shielding, humidity and high temperature protection, SATA Express and M.2 support. M.2 is even bootable.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

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The box is pretty much like most motherboard boxes made in the last two decades or more. Our sample arrived intact with the following accessories: user guide, quick installation guide, driver disc, SATA cables, SLI bridge and an I/O shield.

Board Layout

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The motherboard itself uses a blue and black color scheme The PCB is well thought out for the most part. I do have one complaint which concerns the location of the front panel connections. The power, reset, HDD LED, etc. switches are located in a less than ideal place being too far back in my opinion. While this shouldn’t be too much of an issue as the leads for these tend to be generously long it may be a problem with certain chassis. If your chassis wiring leads are on the short side you might have to skip this motherboard entirely or extend those connectors creatively. We see this choice on MSI’s part to lack forethought or design freedom.

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The CPU socket area is quite clear. A 6+2 phase power design with super ferrite chokes can be seen. The MOSFET cooling hardware isn’t well secured and rocks back and forth quite a lot. Still there shouldn’t be any problems with larger CPU coolers aside from the usual memory slot clearance problems inherent to all CPUs with an integrated memory controller.

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There are four 240-pin DDR3 DIMM slots supporting up to 32GB of DRAM. Speeds up to DDR3 3100MHz are supported via overclocking. These slots use a conventional locking tab system for module retention and are color coded blue and black to denote proper dual channel memory mode operation.

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The chipset itself has a flat heatsink which is a passive design. It’s low profile ensures plenty of clearance for expansion cards. There are six SATA 6Gb/s ports in front of the chipset and some vertical SATA ports are placed just to the left with a SATA Express port.

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The expansion slot area is well designed with no major issues. I’m still always puzzled by the desire that manufacturers have to incorporate a PCI-Express to PCI bridge chip to support legacy PCI slots since the chipset doesn’t do so natively. While I can see the potential need for one legacy port on these motherboards two seems excessive. Still these are easily ignored if you don’t need these, but you do end up paying for these when you get down to it. The PCI-Express lane configuration allows for 16x0x0, 8x8, or 8x4x4 graphics card configurations. Two PCI-Express 2.0 x1 slots are also provided.

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The I/O panel is basic. There aren’t any special buttons or switches here. Still a wide range of connectivity options are presented including 6x USB 3.0 ports, 2x USB 2.0 ports, 1x PS/2 keyboard / mouse combination port, 1x Gigabit Ethernet port, 1x HDMI port, 1x DVI-D port, 1x DSUB and six mini-stereo jacks for analog audio output.