Typically, Intel keeps their chipset launches timed with new CPUs but todays (official) launch of the Z997 chipset does not come with shiny new silicon from Intel. There are rumors of launch days for a Haswell refresh but as of now, there isn’t anything official. Even without new CPUs we can still take a look at the latest in motherboards. To start things off, today I will be taking a look at MSI’s Z97 Gaming 5. With their new naming scheme we can tell right away that this is a gaming motherboard (of course) and the 5 is their entry level full ATX board with a 7 and a 9 that will round out the line. I’m excited to see what has changed and what remained the same!

Product Name: MSI Z97 Gaming 5

Review Sample Provided by: MSI

Written by: Wes

Pictures by: Wes




Supports 4th and 5th Generation Intel® Core™ Processors, and Intel® Pentium® and Celeron® Processors for Socket LGA1150


Intel® Z97 Express Chipset

Main Memory

Support four DDR3 3300 MHz DRAM, 32GB Max

Dual channel memory architecture

Supports Intel® Extreme Memory Profile (XMP)

Supports non-ECC, un-buffered memory


3 x PCIe 3.0 x16 slots, (support x16, x8/x8, x8/x4/x4 modes)

4 x PCIe 2.0 x1 slots

On-Board SATA

6x SATA 6Gb/s ports (SATA1~6)

1x M.2 port*

M.2 port supports M.2 SATA 6Gb/s module

M.2 port supports M.2 PCIe module up to 10Gb/s speed**

M.2 port supports 4.2cm/ 6cm/ 8cm length module

Supports RAID 0, RAID1, RAID 5 and RAID 10***

Supports Intel® Smart Response Technology, Intel® Rapid Start Technology and Intel® Smart Connect Technology


6 x USB 3.0 ports (4 ports on the back panel, 2 ports available through the internal USB 3.0 connectors)

8 x USB 2.0 ports (4 ports on the back panel, 4 ports available through the internal USB 2.0 connectors*)


Realtek® ALC1150 Codec  7.1-Channel High Definition Audio


Killer E2205 Gigabit LAN controller


Supports 3-Way AMD CrossFire™ Technology*

Supports 2-Way NVIDIA® SLI™ Technology

Internal I/O Connectors

1 x 24-pin ATX main power connector

1 x 8-pin ATX 12V power connector

6 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors

1 x M.2 port

2 x USB 2.0 connectors (supports additional 4 USB 2.0 ports)

1 x USB 3.0 connector (supports additional 2 USB 3.0 ports)

2 x 4-pin CPU fan connectors

3 x 4-pin system fan connectors

1 x TPM module connector

1 x Serial port connector

1 x Front panel audio connector

1 x Direct audio power connector

2 x System panel connectors

1 x Chassis Intrusion connector

1 x Clear CMOS jumper

1 x Audio power switch

1 x 2-Digit Debug Code LED

Back Panel I/O Ports

1 x PS/2 keyboard/ mouse combo port

1 x LAN (RJ45) port

4 x USB 2.0 ports

4 x USB 3.0 ports

1 x VGA connector

1 x DVI-D connector

6 x OFC audio jacks

1 x HDMI port, supporting a maximum resolution of 4096X2304@24Hz/ 2560X1600@60Hz/ 3840X2160@60Hz/1920X1200@60Hz>


• The motherboard BIOS provides "Plug & Play" BIOS which detects the peripheral devices and expansion cards of the board automatically.

• The motherboard provides a Desktop Management Interface(DMI) function which records your motherboard specifications.


12 in. x 9.6 in. (30.5 cm x 24.4 cm) ATX Form Factor


9 mounting holes


Packaging and Accessories

MSI may have changed the naming scheme, but the packaging for the Z97 Gaming 5 is basically the same as previous MSI gaming motherboards. The cover has a large silver dragon on the black and red box. Up along the top you have a few key board features (audio boost 2 and the Killer E2200) and the Intel tags to show what CPUs are supported.

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On the flip side we have a LOT more information. Here MIS has included information on their new audio boost 2 sound card, the Killer E2200 network card, and a little information on their USB Audio Power. Up in the top right corner you get a small specification listing and a line drawing of the back panel connections. The red section highlights a few other features, mostly software but they also mention the board’s multi-GPU support.

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Inside the board is up top and wrapped up in a static protective bag. Under everything you have all of your accessories and documentation. For documentation you get a user guide and MSI Intel overclocking guide. MSI also includes a software/driver disc, a door hanger, SATA cable tags, and a G Series case badge. The badge has changed this time with the logo being a little smaller and they included the MSI logo under it as well. For accessories you get a blacked out rear I/O plate (with foam on the back rather than the metal tab springs), black SLI bridge, two SATA cables (one with a right angled end), front panel connection helpers, and a weird adapter that lets you plug in an additional Molex connection into your motherboard to improve your audio performance when using USB sound cards.

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Board Layout and Pictures

MSI stuck with the same red and black theme for the Gaming 5 but it is very clear that this is a much cleaner design both on the PCB as well as the cooling design. I have a feeling that this is going to be a little more popular than the previous generation of MSI gaming boards where the dragon theme was a little more in your face. The overall layout of the board isn’t any different than past boards, but lets break it down section by section.

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Starting up in the top left corner behind the rear I/O panel the Gaming 5 has a single 8 pin power connection. Surprisingly there isn’t anything else going on up in this corner other than the rear I/O and the cooling that will both be covered later on this page.

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Moving over to the top right corner, we have a lot more going on. MSI went with a standard CPU hold down. The area around the CPU is fairly clear of anything that will cause obstructions with low profile coolers or their brackets. In this photo we have three four pin PWM fan headers, two are up top for CPU fans and the third is a case fan. Just like Z87 we get four DDR3 DIMM slots that support up to a whopping 3300MHz. MSI blacked out all four of the DIMM slots to go with the black PCB. Over along the right edge we have the 24-pin power connection and just above it 9 voltage pads for overclockers to be able to keep a close eye on their voltages. Lastly, in the bottom left corner we have a peak at the M.2 connection that is just at the top of the PCI Express slots. M.2 is a small form factor implementation of the SATA Express interface and the replacement for mSATA. With this connection, you can add a small PCB that will give you a SATA Express connection or you can connect M.2 SSD’s. If you don’t know what SATA Express is, it is the latest in connection type that combines two SATA 3 ports along with a third smaller port to increase overall data transfer up to 10 Gb/s, exactly what we will need to break past the performance of our current day SSD’s.

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Down in the bottom right corner of the Gaming 5 we have a lot going on. Starting on the top right just below the 24-pin and case fan header mentioned on the previous picture, we have a right angle USB 3.0 header. Anyone who has built a computer with USB 3.0 that has tried to keep that plug from coming unplugged while trying to have good wire management will understand how much it will help having it be right angled. Below that, you have 6 SATA 3 connections that are also right angled. Along the bottom, we can add a fourth 4 pin PWM fan header to our list as well as two USB 2.0 headers for lower speed USB requirements. Next, you have the front panel connections then an LED readout for troubleshooting.

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The bottom left corner of the Gaming 5 is (aside from the PCI Express slots) taken up completely by the sound card. Over on the left side you can see all of the capacitors as well as the light up Audio Boost pad that was also on the Z87 boards. MSI did make a few changes though and they actually are calling it Audio Boost 2 even though the logo on the board doesn’t show that. They have isolated the audio PCB (like on the MPower last year and Asus’s motherboards before that) to give the clearest audio signal. Down along the bottom next to the front panel audio connection you also have a small audio power plug that is used with the Molex adapter that I mentioned in the packaging section. This adapter helps feed additional power into the audio card to provide more stable power and power to push the dual headphone amplifiers.

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Being a full ATX motherboard, MSI packed the Gaming 5 full of PCI Express slots. In total we get three full length x16 slots and four x1 PCI Express slots. The x16 slots run at x16 if running a single card, x8/x8 if running two cards, and x8/x4/x4 if you use all three.

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For the rear I/O panel I was surprised to see that the standard 6 panel audio connections are all blacked out other than a single red plug. They were able to go without the color codes because the rear I/O panel has small red markings that label each connection. The red plug helps you see the dedicated headphone out that takes advantage of their new Audio Boost 2 feature that amplifies your headphone power. The two red ports are USB 2.0 but are special being the dedicated gaming device ports. These ports (including the ps2 port) have triple gold plated connections to prevent any issues if this board is used in a tournament or gaming house where the mouse and keyboard get unplugged all of the time. The two left USB 3.0 ports are the ports that get extra power for your USB audio devices, they aren’t labeled on the outside here but it is marked on the I/O panel.

For video connections, you do get DVI, VGA, and HDMI, but with this being a gaming board I doubt they will get much use. Most people will want to run a dedicated video card. The last connection is that red network connection. MSI once again went with a killer network card for its QOS functionality. In the past I haven’t been a fan of the killer NICs due to weird quirks that they sometimes have, but the QOS software is always welcomed.

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On the back of the Gaming 5 we have a better look at the black PCB. We can see that they did the same thing that I loved so much with the Z87 MPower boards where they hid all of the required logos around on the back to keep the board clean on the visible side. This was a bit of a surprise because I thought for sure that people would be upset at MSI’s workaround. For USB connections you get four USB 3.0 ports over on the right side as well as four more USB 2.0 ports.

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One of the biggest changes to the aesthetics of the Z97 Gaming 5 from previous MSI gaming motherboards is the new cooling design. The previous design was really interesting with each heatsink shaped as a dragon from the side point of view. MSI did keep the dragon on the side of each of the heatsinks, but this time around they downplayed the dragons with a more general heatsink design. The new design is black with that looks like red claws coming out every half inch. The design itself doesn’t have a lot of fins but with most of the power voltage regulation being handled on the CPU this should be more than enough to keep things cool. Down in the bottom right corner of the board the chipset is kept cool with a low profile black heatsink with the MSI Gaming logo on top. It is a simple design, but gets the job done and is in line with all but the highest end overclocking motherboards.

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UEFI and Software

Over the past few years MSI has really been working hard on their software and UEFI BIOS. Last year I was really impressed with both but there were a few weird quirks with the BIOS. Going into the software and UEFI testing I was excited to see what they have done to improve things even farther. Starting with the software the overall design is the same but with a few small changes including the constantly updating CPU temperature in the top right corner of every page. You get the same features that I loved previously like the built in RAMDisk support, OC Genie, and all of the overclocking options. All in all there isn’t much more that I can see MSI adding to this software short of maybe the USB 3.0 boost that I love from Asus.

Booting into the UEFI we once again have the ability to navigate using your keyboard or mouse. The UEFI design looks just like last year’s UEFI and truth be told I didn’t see to many major changes. This wasn’t a big deal because the design is fairly easy to navigate. My only complaint is the weird quirk with navigating with the scroll wheel. When scrolling if you move your mouse and it hovers over an option, it will reset the location of the “curser”. You can see an example of this at near the 1:40 in the video below. MSI did fix the issue I had before where backing up would take you all the way back to the beginning so I can’t complain too much. You do get a UEFI with nearly every option you can think of and things like the board explorer are a nice addition as well.


Test Rig and Procedures

Intel LGA1150 Test System


Intel i7-4770K CPU

Live Pricing


Noctua NH-U12S for cooling

Noctua NT-H1 Thermal Paste

Live Pricing

Live Pricing


Kingston DDR3 HyperX Genesis Blue 1600Mhz Ram

Live Pricing


Kingston HyperX 3K 240Gb SSD (OS)
Corsair Force GT 60GB (USB 3.0 and SATA 3 testing)

Live Pricing

Live Pricing

Video Card

Nvidia GTX 780

Live Pricing

Power Supply

Cooler Master V1000

Live Pricing


Microcool Banchetto 101 Test bench

Live Pricing


Windows 7 Pro 64-bit

Live Pricing

Motherboard Testing

Passmark Performance Test 8.0

We now just use the overall CPU mark score that takes into account all of the CPU oriented results

PCMark 7

We run the basic PCMark test suite and use the overall score to get a general idea of system performance.


We run the 2013 Fire Strike test on the performance setting

In Game Tests

Bioshock Infinite

Using the Adrenaline Action Benchmark Tool, we run Bioshock Infinite on the “Xtreme” quality setting.

Tomb Raider

 Using the Adrenaline Action Benchmark Tool, we run Tomb Raider on the “Xtreme” quality setting.

Hitman: Absolution

Using the Adrenaline Action Benchmark Tool, we run Hitman: Absolution on the “Xtreme” quality setting.

Sleeping Dogs

 Using the Adrenaline Action Benchmark Tool, we run Sleeping Dogs on the “Xtreme” quality setting.

Subsystem Testing

RightMark Audio Analyzer

We use this to test the on board audio on all motherboard that come in, this gives us an idea of their audio performance beyond subjective testing. When testing we always have our audio set to 24 bit.

Crystal Disk Mark

We use this benchmark for USB 3.0 and SATA speed tests. Testing is done with Crystal Disc Mark with a Corsair Force GT 60 Gb. USB 3.0 testing is hooked up through a Thermaltake BlackX with USB 3.0 support


Passmark Advanced network test



Full disclosure, performance testing motherboards these days really just confirms that the motherboard does what it should do than show performance differences between motherboards. The reason for this is because nearly everything that could make a difference in these performance numbers is handled by the CPU or by the chipset, both things that all of the motherboards we will test share. Because of that I have lowered the number of overall performance tests once again and focused on more subsystem tests for things that can change from motherboard to motherboard (although we had an issue with audio testing this round that prevented me from being able to include them this time around). As I test more Z97 boards you will be able to compare the numbers but I expect them to be very close. What we can see below though is that a rig using a GTX 780, i7-4770K, and the MSI Z97 Gaming 5 throws down great performance numbers!


MSI Z97 Gaming 5

Overall Score 8714

Graphics Score 9784

Physics Score 11082

PCMark 8

MSI Z97 Gaming 5



MSI Z97 Gaming 5


Bioshock Infinite

MSI Z97 Gaming 5


Tomb Raider

MSI Z97 Gaming 5


Hitman: Absolution

MSI Z97 Gaming 5


Sleeping Dogs

MSI Z97 Gaming 5




Sadly I ran into an issue with our standard audio tests when doing them on all of our Z97 motherboards this time around. The issue was with the cable we use to test the audio performance, all of our testing cables were having crosstalk between the channels. Because of that I couldn’t include the performance numbers in this review. I did still want to touch on some of the audio features that MSI included in the Gaming 5. First off I loved that they continued to include their Audio Boost, this time with Audio Boost 2. MSI made sure to build in headphone amplifiers into both the front panel audio connection as well as the rear audio connection. This combined with the Nichicon capacitors made for good sound both in game and when listening to music in my testing. The option to give stable USB power to provide USB sound cards higher quality didn’t seem to make any difference in my testing but it can’t hurt as well. I wouldn’t call the onboard audio on the Gaming 5 perfect, but for a mid-range gaming motherboard you are getting more than what you would find on your typical mainstream board. Not to mention how many mainstream boards have their onboard audio isolated from the rest of the PCB.

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USB 3.0 and SATA 3

One of the most used subsystems would be the SATA controller. I put both the SATA 3 controller and the USB 3.0 controller to the test using the same SSD to see the performance difference between the two. While the USB 3.0 numbers are actually very impressive, its obvious that it is still a bottleneck compared to the performance that SATA 3 and here soon SATA Express are capable of. Some manufactures have worked on tuning USB 3.0 performance for higher transfer speeds but MSI went with the stock Intel chipset performance that is  still more than capable.


Read Speed

MSI Z97 Gaming 5



Read Speed

MSI Z97 Gaming 5




As much as I have talked about how much I don’t like Killer network cards from my past experiences. When it came down to testing I was impressed with the numbers that the e2200 put down. On top of its good speeds you will also get the Killer NIC QOS software that allows you to give priority to gaming traffic. If properly configured you can actually play in a game and download at the same time without causing in game latency issues. I will still be a little suspicious of the build quality considering I have had a few of their onboard NIC’s fail as well as an add-in card. But the numbers here speak for themselves for what you should expect as long as it works.


Average Network Speed

MSI Z97 Gaming 5

820 Mbps



With votage regulation being handled by the CPU now as well on top of everything else overclocking is more and more dependent on the CPU itself more than the motherboard. Where motherboards do make a difference is in their BIOS where they control how much adjustability you have as well as with overclocking specific features on the board itself to allow for adjustments on the fly and/or voltage check pads. MSI did include voltage check pads on the PCB itself but with this being a gaming focused board they kept things simple where an overclocking focused board would have more features. The one overclocking test we do perform is to see how much the built in auto overclocking functionality will overclock for you, MSI’s OC Genie takes our 4770K from 3.5 to 4.0 GHz. This isn’t a huge bump but it should still be enough to be noticeable in everyday usage.


Highest Auto Overclock

MSI Z97 Gaming 5




Overall and Final Verdict

I have been a fan of MSI motherboards for the past few years. It’s been really interesting to see them improve step by step. They started off improving their overall board quality and the number of features they built in. From their they started working with their UEFI. Then (last year) they made big improvements in their software design by bundling everything together into one easy to use program. They also focused on creating a gaming product line. With this launch they have taken everything they have worked on in the past and started to refine it all. The gaming board design is cleaner and has less of a dragon focus. They have refined their onboard audio design even more to a point where only the biggest audiophiles will worry about an add-in sound card. On top of all of that their software is still top notch and not bloated.

Really I only had a few complaints. For starters I am still a little gun shy about the inclusion of the Killer NIC, but the performance numbers it did put up were amazing so I am a little less upset than I would normally be. It’s a small thing but I would have liked to see more than two SATA cables bundled with the board. I also did had a bug with the command center software when trying to view the memory information that caused a crash (as seen in our video). None of those issues are enough to prevent me from recommending the board. MSI continues to step up their game and the Z97 Gaming 5 is a great example of that.  


Author Bio
Author: garfi3ldWebsite: http://lanoc.org
You might call him obsessed or just a hardcore geek. Wes's obsession with gaming hardware and gadgets isn't anything new, he could be found taking things apart even as a child. When not poking around in PC's he can be found playing League of Legends, Awesomenauts, or Civilization 5 or watching a wide variety of TV shows and Movies. A car guy at heart, the same things that draw him into tweaking cars apply when building good looking fast computers. If you are interested in writing for Wes here at LanOC you can reach out to him directly using our contact form.

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garfi3ld replied the topic: #34710 11 May 2014 17:22
Reviews have been leaking out all over the place for the past week. Today is the "official" Z97 launch day. Check out MSI's latest gaming motherboard

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