MSI Z77A-GD65 Motherboard
By Gabriel Torres on April 25, 2012


Introduction

The MSI Z77A-GD65 (a.k.a. MS-7751 Ver 2.1) is a mid-range socket LGA1155 motherboard targeted to the forthcoming “Ivy Bridge” processors (third-generation Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 processors) and also supporting the current “Sandy Bridge” models (second-generation Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 processors). Let’s see what the MSI Z77A-GD65 will have to offer.

The Intel Z77 will be an upgraded version of the Z68 chipset with the same basic features (Intel Smart Response Technology and Virtu video switching technology), plus native support to four USB 3.0 ports. It will also include the addition of two new technologies: Smart Connect (allowing the computer to receive emails and refresh webpages while it is in sleep mode) and Rapid Start (faster boot times).

In addition, the MSI Z77A-GD65 supports the Virtu Universal MVP, which allows you to combine the performance of the integrated graphics processor available in the CPU with the performance of any video card installed. This is similar to what occurs with the Hybrid SLI and ATI Hybrid Graphics technologies, with the notable difference of not being limited to GPUs from a specific manufacturer.

MSI has launched five different motherboard models based on the Intel Z77 chipset. In the table below, we compare their main specifications.

Specification

Z77A-GD65

Z77A-GD55

Z77A-GD45

Z77MA-G45

Z77A-G43

Form Factor

ATX

ATX

ATX

microATX

ATX

Memory Sockets

4

4

4

4

4

PCI Express x16

3 (x16/x0/x0 or x8/x8/x0 or x8/x4/x4)

3 (x16/x0/x4 or x8/x8/x4)

3 (x16/x0/x4 or x8/x8/x4)

2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)

2 (x16/x4)

PCI Express x1

4

4

4

2

1

Standard PCI

0

0

0

0

3

CrossFireX

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

SLI

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

SATA-300

4

4

4

4

4

SATA-600

4

2

2

2

2

eSATA-300

0

0

0

0

0

eSATA-600

0

0

0

0

0

USB 2.0

10

10

10

12

10

USB 3.0

4

4

4

4

4

FireWire

1

0

0

0

0

Gigabit Ethernet

1

1

1

1

1

VGA

1

1

1

1

1

DVI

1

1

1

1

1

HDMI

1

1

1

1

1

DisplayPort

0

0

0

0

0

Audio

ALC898

ALC892

ALC892

ALC892

ALC892

Voltage Regulator

8+2+1+1

NA

NA

NA

NA

Price

USD 170

USD 170

NA

USD 125

USD 120

Figure 1 shows you the MSI Z77A-GD65 motherboard.

MSI Z77A-GD65 motherboard
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Figure 1: MSI Z77A-GD65 motherboard

Slots

The MSI Z77A-GD65 comes with three PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots and four PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots.

The three PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots are controlled by the CPU, with the first slot working at x16 when only one video card is installed, with the first two slots working at x8 when two video cards are installed, and with the first slot working at x8 and the other two slots working at x4 when three video cards are installed. Since these slots are controlled by the CPU, they will offer PCI Express 2.0 bandwidth (8 GB/s at x16) when a “Sandy Bridge” CPU is installed, but PCI Express 3.0 bandwidth (16 GB/s at x16) when an “Ivy Bridge” CPU is used.

It is important to understand that on most motherboards with three PCI Express x16 slots based on the Intel Z77 chipset, the third PCI Express x16 slot is 2.0 and controlled by the chipset; as explained, on the MSI Z77A-GD65 the third slot is controlled by the CPU and, therefore, 3.0 when an “Ivy Bridge” CPU is used. However, in order to make this possible, the speed of the second PCI Express x16 slot is reduced to x4 when three video cards are installed.

Currently, there is no visible performance gain in using PCI Express 3.0. Therefore, we believe it would make more sense to leave the third PCI Express x16 slot as 2.0 and controlled by the chipset, so the second PCI Express x16 slot would always work at x8 speed. However, in order to do that, the manufacturer would have to possibly cut the number of PCI Express x1 slots, as the chipset doesn’t have enough PCI Express x1 lanes.

If you want to install a dual-slot video card in the third PCI Express x16 slot, you will need a computer case with at least eight expansion slots. (Computer cases usually have seven.)

The PCI Express x16 slots support both SLI and CrossFireX technologies.

MSI Z77A-GD65 motherboard
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Figure 2: Slots

Memory Support

Intel socket LGA1155 CPUs have an embedded memory controller, meaning that it is the processor, not the chipset, which defines what memory technologies you can have and the maximum amount of memory that is possible. The motherboard, however, may have a limitation as to how much memory can be installed.

The integrated memory controller from socket LGA1155 processors supports DDR3 memories up to 1,333 MHz (“Sandy Bridge” CPUs) or up to 1,600 MHz (“Ivy Bridge” CPUs). According to MSI, the Z77A-GD65 supports memories up to 2,667 MHz.

The MSI Z77A-GD65 has four memory sockets. Since DDR3 memory modules can be found in capacities up to 8 GB, you can have up to 32 GB with this motherboard if you use four 8 GB modules.

In order to enable the dual-channel mode, you must install two or four memory modules. On the MSI Z77A-GD65, the first and third memory sockets are black, while the second and fourth are blue. When installing two memory modules, use the black sockets.

MSI Z77A-GD65 motherboard
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Figure 3: Memory sockets; install two or four modules for the best performance

On-Board Peripherals

The Intel Z77 chipset is a single-chip solution, which is also known as a PCH (Platform Controller Hub). This chip supports two SATA-600 ports and four SATA-300 ports, supporting RAID (0, 1, 10, and 5). This motherboard has two additional SATA-600 ports, controlled by an ASMedia ASM1061 chip (no RAID support). These ports are located at the motherboard’s edge and rotated 90°, so video cards won’t block them. See Figure 4. While MSI used two different colors to differentiate the SATA-300 from the SATA-600 ports (black for SATA-300 and white for SATA-600), we think they should have used a third color to identify the SATA-600 ports controlled by the additional chip. There are no eSATA ports.

MSI Z77A-GD65 motherboard
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Figure 4: The two SATA-600 ports controlled by the additional chip, the four SATA-300 ports, and the two SATA-600 ports controlled by the chipset

The Intel Z77 chipset supports 14 USB 2.0 ports and four USB 3.0 ports. The MSI Z77A-GD65 offers 10 USB 2.0 ports, four available on the motherboard rear panel and six available through three headers located on the motherboard; and four USB 3.0 ports, two located on the motherboard rear panel and two available through a header located on the motherboard.

The MSI Z77A-GD65 has one FireWire port, available through a header, controlled by a VIA VT6315N chip.

This motherboard supports 7.1+2 audio format, i.e., eight channels plus two independent channels for audio streaming. On this motherboard, the audio is generated by the chipset using the new Realtek ALC898 codec, which is an outstanding solution, providing an impressive 110 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog outputs, 104 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog inputs, and up to 192 kHz sampling rate for both inputs and outputs, with 24-bit resolution. This means you are able to capture and edit analog audio (e.g., converting LPs to CDs or MP3, converting VHS to DVDs or any other digital format, etc.) with this motherboard without adding any background noise.

The motherboard has on-board optical and coaxial SPDIF outputs. The analog audio outputs are independent, so you won’t need to use the “mic in” or the “line in” jacks when installing an analog 7.1 speaker set.

The portrayed motherboard has one Gigabit Ethernet port, controlled by the chipset using an Intel WG82579V chip to make the interface with the physical layer.

In Figure 5, you can see the motherboard rear panel with a shared PS/2 connector for keyboard and mouse, four USB 2.0 ports, clear CMOS button, coaxial and optical SPDIF outputs, HDMI output, Gigabit Ethernet port, two USB 3.0 ports, VGA output, DVI-D output, and the analog audio jacks.

MSI Z77A-GD65 motherboard
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Figure 5: Motherboard rear panel

Other Features

This motherboard has two BIOS chips, so if the main BIOS chip is corrupted by a virus or a bad BIOS upgrade, you can still recover the motherboard.

This motherboard also has a POST diagnostics display, where you can see, through a two-digit code, which component is preventing the computer from turning on.

MSI Z77A-GD65 motherboard
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Figure 6: The POST diagnostics display and the two BIOS chips

The MSI Z77A-GD65 supports the installation of a TPM (Trusted Platform Module), a module that encrypts data in order to increase the computer’s security level.

In Figure 7, you can see all of the accessories that come with the MSI Z77A-GD65.

MSI Z77A-GD65 motherboard
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Figure 7: Accessories

Voltage Regulator

The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the MSI Z77A-GD65 has eight phases for the CPU main voltage (Vcc a.k.a. Vcore), two for the CPU VSA voltage (memory controller), one for the CPU VTT voltage (PCI Express and DMI interfaces), and one for the CPU integrated video controller (VAXG). Therefore, it uses an “8+2+1+1” configuration.

MSI Z77A-GD65
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Figure 8: Voltage regulator circuit

The voltage regulator is controlled by a uP1618A integrated circuit, using a digital design.

Each main phase is controlled by a Renesas R2J20655 integrated circuit, which combines the three required transistors (“high side,” “low side,” and “driver”) in a single chip. It also allows the switching clock to be at 1 MHz, which allows efficiency to be over 90 percent. (Usually, voltage regulator circuits switch at 250 kHz.) Integrated circuits with these characteristics are called “DrMOS.”

This motherboard uses military-class components. Electronic components are available in two series, civilian and military. Military components are more expensive but have tighter tolerance and can withstand a wider range of temperatures. All electrolytic capacitors used in the main voltage regulator circuit are SMD (surface mount device), also known as highly-conductive polymerized or simply Hi-c, but the other voltage regulators (memory, chipset, etc.) use solid capacitors. All coils on this motherboard are solid ferrite-core models, also known as SFC, Super Ferrite Choke, which, according to MSI, can provide up to 20% improvement in efficiency.

The motherboard has a series of eight LEDs on its edge near the memory sockets for you to monitor the phases of the CPU Vcc voltage (a.k.a. “core voltage”). This motherboard has a feature called APS (Active Phase Switching) that enables and disables power phases according to the power consumption.

MSI Z77A-GD65 motherboard
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Figure 9: Phase-monitoring LEDs

If you want to learn more about the voltage regulator circuit, please read our tutorial on the subject.

Overclocking Options

The MSI Z77A-GD65 has a few overclocking options. Below, we list the most important ones (10.3 BIOS):

MSI Z77A-GD65 motherboard
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Figure 10: CPU overclocking options

MSI Z77A-GD65 motherboard
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Figure 11: Voltage options

The portrayed motherboard comes with MSI’s “OC Genie” button, which allows the user to overclock the system by simply pressing this button.

MSI Z77A-GD65 motherboard
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Figure 12: The “OC Genie” button

The MSI Z77A-GD65 has a series of voltage monitoring points where you can, using a voltmeter, measure the voltages for the CPU (“VCCP,” “CPU_VTT,” and “CPU_GFX”), memory (“VCC_DDR”), and chipset (“PCH_1P05”).

MSI Z77A-GD65 motherboard
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Figure 13: Voltage measurement points

Main Specifications

The main specifications for the MSI Z77A-GD65 include:

* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.

Conclusions

The MSI Z77A-GD65 is a mid-range motherboard and, as such, it is targeted to users who want a motherboard with more features than a mainstream product can provide. The extra features available on this motherboard include three PCI Express x16 slots, two additional SATA-600 ports, one FireWire port, on-board coaxial and optical SPDIF outputs, a top-notch voltage regulator circuit, a high-end audio codec that will allow you to work professionally with audio editing, two BIOS chips, and a POST diagnostics display.

It is important to understand that on most motherboards with three PCI Express x16 slots based on the Intel Z77 chipset, the third PCI Express x16 slot is 2.0 and controlled by the chipset; as explained, on the MSI Z77A-GD65 the third slot is controlled by the CPU and, therefore, 3.0 when an “Ivy Bridge” CPU is used. However, in order to make this possible, the speed of the second PCI Express x16 slot is reduced to x4 when three video cards are installed.

Currently, there is no visible performance gain in using PCI Express 3.0. Therefore, we believe it would make more sense to leave the third PCI Express x16 slot as 2.0 and controlled by the chipset, so the second PCI Express x16 slot would always work at x8 speed. However, in order to do that, the manufacturer would have to possibly cut the number of PCI Express x1 slots, as the chipset doesn’t have enough PCI Express x1 lanes.

The portrayed motherboard is a direct competitor to the Gigabyte Z77X-UD3H, with very similar specifications. The MSI model has, as advantages, a better voltage regulator circuit, two additional SATA-600 ports (Gigabyte decided to provide two eSATA-600 ports instead of two additional SATA-600 ports), one FireWire port, and CPU base clock adjustment in 0.01 MHz (10 kHz) increments. On the other hand, the Gigabyte model has one mSATA slot, which can be handy if you plan to install an SSD based on this form factor, and eight USB 3.0 ports, even though they are not “real” USB 3.0 ports – the motherboard uses two hub chips to expand the four “real” USB 3.0 ports into eight. Both use high-end audio codecs, though from different vendors. Therefore, picking one or the other will depend on your personal preference for these small differences.

Of course, if you won’t need the additional features brought by this motherboard, you can pick a more affordable model and save some money.

Originally at http://www.hardwaresecrets.com/article/MSI-Z77A-GD65-Motherboard/1535


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