Introduction & Closer Look
In what is probably going to be our last Z97 and Haswell motherboard review, it’s fitting that we end with the brand which essentially kicked off our Z97 motherboard reviews; Micro Star International or more widely known as simply, MSI. Having gone through our pretty extensive database for our age, Z97 motherboards have been widely featured from practically all of the major brands and we have seen many fantastic boards; some budget, some gaming orientated and some overclocking powerhouses, but what’s on the agenda today?
Today we have one of the latest MSI Gaming motherboards which features the new USB 3.1 Type-C port which effectively doubles the bandwidth of USB 3.0 from 5GB/s to 10GB/s; although not a mainstream fitting yet, it soon will emerge and costs might not be set in stone, all we know is the new motherboards are prepared. Today’s motherboard is of course the budget to mid-range MSI Z97A Gaming 6 motherboard with some pretty fantastic features; these include an M.2 slot and SATA Express ports, as well as Audio Boost 2 and of course that new USB 3.1 Type-C port.
Opening up todays review with an overall look at the board, the MSI Z97A Gaming 6 features 3 x PCI-e x16 slots which allow users to use up to 2 way SLI (NVIDIA) and 3 way Crossfire (AMD); multiple graphics cards for those not entirely sure! In addition to this, is 4 x PCI-e x 1 slots for devices such as network cards, dedicated RAID controllers and of course sound cards; not that you would need a network card as this bad boy features the Killer NIC Ethernet like most MSI Gaming boards!
The general theme is red and black (MSI Gaming colours) and dons the same red and black claw heat sinks found on practically every MSI Gaming motherboard on the Intel Z97 platform; if it’s not broken, no need to fix it right?
In terms of power phase, MSI have implemented a 6+2 DIGI VRM design featuring Solid Ferrite chokes and those MSI Gaming heat sinks; nothing new here and the digital phase design should deliver a nice and stable power throughout the motherboard.
On the opposite end of the board (right hand side if you hold it straight), the Z97A Gaming 6 features 6 x SATA 6GB/s ports which can be configured to run in RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10; some might want speed, some super redundancy, but this board caters for both! To the right of the SATA configuration, we have 2 x USB 3.0 headers as some cases currently provide 2 sets of front I/O connectors; one is angled and the other straight.
In addition to the SATA3 ports, MSI have also included an M.2 port which supports both SATA 6GB/s modules and M.2 PCIe 10GB/s modules; M.2 SSDs of 4.2/6 and 8cm are all supported with the Gaming 6.
Audio is a huge factor in everyday life, whether that be gaming, listening to music or even watching films; everyone’s needs need catering to. MSI have included the Audio Boost 2 chip which is powered by the Z97 standard Realtek ALC 1150 sound chip; the software is very easy to use and given the location of all the audio components, this should cut out interference from other sections of the board.
Last but certainly not least, we have the rear I/O of the motherboard, which on first look, can feel a little “underwhelming”. With 2 x USB 2.0 gaming ports in red and 2 x USB 3.0 ports (in blue), the Gaming 6 doesn’t offer in the much of connectivity for those USB powered devices; let’s not forget the included and brand new USB 3.1 Type C connector! Also included is a VGA port, DVI port and a HDMI port for the on-board graphics featured on most Z97 compatible CPU’s (not Xeons); this is complimented by 1 x RJ45 Ethernet port, 6 x OFC 3.5mm audio jacks and an S/PDIF optical port.