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The Ultimate MSI Z270 Gaming M7 Motherboard Build Guide

By: Steven Bassiri | Guides | Posted: Mar 8, 2017 12:47 am

Build Tips For the Beast

 

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Over the course of a year, I deal with thousands of varying configurations of hardware, most of the time I have to troubleshoot incompatibilities on my own. With that type of experience I do my best to reduce headaches, and the first step is to organize the order in which hardware is installed.

 

The first thing I always do is install the CPU into the motherboard while the motherboard sits on the motherboard box. I handle the CPU with two fingers on the top and bottom edges of the CPU because the LGA1151 socket has little gaps at the top and bottom to facilitate your finger's grip on the CPU. Once the CPU has touched the pins, I just release my fingers. Then I will leave the socket cover on while I re-secure the socket mechanism. The socket cover will pop off once you clasp down the socket lever. Put the socket cover back in the motherboard's box; you might need it one day.

 

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The next step is to install the memory, but sometimes, if the CPU cooler's mechanism is big, it's best to install that first. In our case, I just went for the memory first. Make sure you install the CPU cooler's hold down mechanism before installing the motherboard in the case.

 

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I made a little step-by-step image for those who might be confused with how to take advantage of MSI's M.2 Shield. Let me start by saying this article is meant to teach you how to take advantage of the feature and doesn't test it out. That being said, the M.2 Shield is most useful on M.2 drives that are single sided, such as the Samsung 950 Pro.

 

Step #1 is to remove the screw that holds down the shield and pull it up.

 

Step #2 is to re-position the standoff to match the length of your M.2 drive; you just need a Phillips head screwdriver.

 

Step #3 is to install the M.2 drive, I opted to remove the M.2 drive's sticker, but you don't have too. I also removed the blue film that protects the thermal pad. Step #4 is to screw down the M.2 Shield. All done! In most cases, the M.2 shield looks a lot better than the sticker the M.2 drive came with.

 

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I prefer installing the AIO's radiator first, to ensure the hose will reach and to avoid damaging the motherboard if my grip on the radiator is lost. Before you install the fans, make sure you know how you want air to flow in your system. The typical airflow method is for air to come into the case from the front and bottom and exit out the top and rear. I also removed the two included case fans and will use them for exhaust, while the two high-pressure fans from the AIO kit will be used as intake fans.

 

You should also install the PSU at this time. I held off on installing the top exhaust fan until the motherboard is installed because there is almost no clearance between the top of the motherboard and the bottom of the top exhaust fan. Keep in mind, you also need to plug in the CPU power connector, and that can be a tight fit with the top exhaust fan already installed. You always want to plug in the tighten connectors first, such as the 8-pin CPU power connector. Don't forget the thermal paste. In many cases your AIO or heat sink will come with a layer of thermal paste, if it does, you do not need to apply your own.

 

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MSI's M-Connector makes installing the case headers very easy, as reading motherboard silkscreen markings can be confusing. You just plug in the case headers (like for the power button) into the M-Connector, and then you plug the M-Connector into the front panel connector jumpers on the motherboard. I used MSI's RGB LED Y-splitter/extension cable, pay attention to the polarity. The arrow on the extension cable is for the +12v pin, which is the left-most pin on the motherboard.

 

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The right-angled USB 3.0 header has re-drivers to improve signal quality, and it allows for much less of the cable to peek out compared to your traditional straight USB 3.0 headers. It's time to install your fans and plug them in, if possible it's best to use the CPU_FAN1 and PUMP_FAN1 headers since they auto detect between PWM/DC mode, but all headers have the ability to support either type of fan (just not automatically). The two headers that support auto-sensing mentioned earlier also have adjacent RGB LEDs that will illuminate green if a DC mode fan is installed or red if a PWM mode fan is installed. I will cover fan control more in depth later in the guide.

 

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Intel's Z270 PCH has over 20 High-Speed IO ports, many of which can either operate at PCI-E or SATA. The flexible nature of these ports allows MSI to provide the motherboard with six SATA6Gb/s ports, a U.2 port, and three M.2 ports, and it's what allows RAID of M.2 and U.2 ports. However, it also means that not all ports will work at the same time. MSI has done an excellent job of not only providing a chart of port exclusivity but also diagrams in the manual or different possible configurations. It's important you follow the chart and diagram when you install your SATA devices.

 

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Once everything is plugged in you can power her up, and watch the debug LEDs located above the 24-pin power connector or the POST code display at the top right corner. The manual describes what each POST code means in case you get stuck at one of them. Don't forget your GPU's power plugs or the CPU's 8-pin power connector! I installed the RGB LED strip at the top of the case shining down on the hardware.

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