MSI Z68MA-ED55 (Intel Z68) mATX Motherboard Review

MSI send us their mATX Z68 board and we take the time to find out if this small board can still pack a big punch.
| Jun 25, 2011 at 2:38 am CDT
Rating: 93%Manufacturer: MSI

Introduction and Package

Introduction
VIEW GALLERY - 37 IMAGES

Just after the launch of the Z68 chipset, we managed to look at a mATX board from ASRock in the form of the Pro3-M. Priced at $114.99 US, it's a good value board, but with a maximum overclock of less than 5GHz on our 2600k, our hopes for something that could offer a bit more power while sticking to the mATX platform would continue.

Step in the $159.99 US MSI Z68MA-ED5, a board that offers the good looks we saw on its bigger brother, the Z68A-GD80, but in a smaller form factor. So we find ourselves wondering; if we spend a bit more money, can we get a board that aims at performance a bit more than price like the ASRock option did?

Well, that's what we intend to find out today. Before we cover overclocking and performance of the board, though, let's first get stuck into the package to see what MSI is offering. Once that's done we'll start to look around this small mATX board and see just what kind of features are on offer, we'll take a quick dive into the BIOS to see what's going on there and then we'll overclock this sucker and see just what kind of performance we're able to squeeze out of this board.

The Package

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As far as the box goes, there's nothing too different going on. The front shows us some logos to the main features that the board incorporates, while turning over we get a run down on some of the specific features that MSI are offering us.

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Inside we've got the normal kind of stuff like paperwork, driver CD, SATA cables, Molex to SATA power convertor and I/O backplate. Some of the stand out extras, though, would be the M Connectors which make for the easy installation of your main system headers. Alongside that we've also got some little cables that allow us to check the voltage of certain parts of the motherboard. We'll show you where exactly this happens when we take a closer look at the board.

The Motherboard

The Motherboard

Looking at the board, the first thing you have to notice is of course the size; it's smaller as we mentioned earlier, because it's based on the mATX platform instead of the larger ATX platform that we see most motherboard companies offer. Design wise, though, it's very similar to the full size board with that darker color PCB along with the black and blue slot setup.

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As we start to move in closer to the board, the big thing you'll notice when you move to the mATX platform is the limited amount of slots that are present compared to the ATX option. With that said, MSI have done a good job here offering us two x1 PCI-E slots and two x16 PCI-E slots.

If you're only going to be using one card, you'll of course have full x16 speed, but like other Z68 boards, if you throw in a second for CrossFire your setup will move to x8 / x8.

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Across the bottom of the board we've got a load of headers including one firewire, four USB 2.0, our front panel headers on the right and an audio header on the left. The main stand out here, though, would be the easy buttons that MSI implement. This makes turning the machine on / off and resetting it extremely easy when not installed in a case. It's really nice to see that MSI have kept this on the board as quite often it's one of the first things to go when companies shrink down to the mATX format.

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Turning the corner, we've got a total of six SATA ports and all are controlled natively by the Z68 chipset. The four black are SATA II while the two white are SATA III. Apart from the SATA ports, there's really not much else here to be seen.

The Motherboard Continued

The Motherboard Continued

As we start to move away from the bottom of the motherboard and towards the top corner, this would have to be one of the busiest locations on the motherboard. Of course, we've got our four DDR3 DIMM slots that we're used to seeing. These support up to 32GB of RAM at speeds up to 2133MHz DDR via overclocking.

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Below our DIMM slots we've got our main 24-Pin ATX power connecter, a small buzzer speaker, our OC Genie button which lets us overclock at the push of a button and next to that we've got the little headers that allow us to check the voltage of certain areas on the board via the little connectors included in the bundle.

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Looking around the CPU area, you've got plenty of room as you'd expect. Heatsink wise, we've got the really nice heatsink / heatpipe setup that we saw on the full size board which also advertise the Military Class II and OC Genie II. The biggest surprise here would probably be the fact that MSI have opted for only a single 4-Pin CPU power connectors instead of the 8-Pin one we see on most boards these days. Hopefully it doesn't affect our overclock or performance of the board.

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Before we get into the BIOS, let's just quickly look at the I/O side of things. Starting from the left, we've got a PS/2 combo port; below and next to that we've got four USB 2.0 ports along with a single 1394 FireWire port controlled via the VIA VT6315N chip. Moving along, we've got HDMI and an optical connection, two USB 3.0 ports controlled via the NEC D720200 chip, Gigabit networking from the Realtek 811E chip, DVI, VGA and six audio jacks running via the Realtek ALC892 codec.

BIOS

BIOS

When it comes to the BIOS side of things, the Z68MA-ED55 uses the same UEFI CLiCKBiOS that we saw on its big bother. On a whole it's fairly simple, but with the ability for companies to really begin to mix it up when it comes to the BIOS side of things, it can take a little to get your head around.

For the most part, if you're in the BIOS to do overclocking you want to be in the clearly labeled overclocking section. These are screens taken from the Z68A-GD80 we tested at launch, but know that its BIOS is near identical.

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As we mentioned above, the BIOS is pretty easy to use, but because it's quite different to what a lot of other companies offer in the form of layout, it can take a little to get your head around.

Test System Setup and Overclocking

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We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: Intel, ASRock, Kingston, Mittoni, Sapphire and Corsair.

Looking at our testbed, you're not going to see any surprises when it comes to what we're dealing with. As for the boards we've got in our graphs today, they include the full sized ATX board from MSI using the same chipset, the Z68A-GD80. Along with this we've also got our ASRock Z68 Extreme4 and ASRock X58 Extreme3 based on the X58 chipset and utilizing a i7 980X CPU.

On the overclocking side of things, we did fire up OC Genie II again via the onboard button and as you can see below, we got boosted to that 42x multiplier. It essentially helps push us up to 4.2GHz or 4190MHz to be exact, as the BCLK sits just below 100.

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Because we've already tested the MSI Z68A-GD80 with OC Genie II at 4.2GHz, we didn't worry about it today. Instead we headed back into the BIOS to see what kind of overclock we could achieve when messing around with the voltages and multiplier.

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We ended up pushing the multiplier up to 51x and with the BCLK sitting just below 100 we ended up with a final overclock of 5088MHz or 5.09GHz as listed in our graphs. While this overclock does fall short of what we achieved with its big brother, this is a stronger overclock than we got out of the ASRock board which is good.

Something worth noting is that we didn't push the voltage as high on this. While normally we would venture up to 1.5v on the vCore, the BIOS gave us a warning to not go past 1.4v. Of course, we went past 1.4v, but only up to 1.45v which is reported at 1.44v. From an everyday perspective this is probably a safer level to be at and hopefully the temps will tells us that.

Let's get started!

CPU Benchmarks

AIDA64

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.00.1035BETA

Developer Homepage: http://www.aida64.com

Product Homepage: http://www.AIDA64.com

Buy It Here

Replacing Everest in our labs is AIDA64. This new testing suite is from the core development team from Lavalys and continues that tradition. The guys have thrown in better support for multithreaded CPUs as well as full 64 bit support. We use this to test memory and HDDs for now, but may find ourselves opening this up to other areas of the motherboard.

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At stock the mATX board lines up just as we'd hope.When overclocked, though, you can see a strong performance boost under AIDA64.

CPU Benchmarks Continued

HyperPi 0.99

Version and / or Patch Used: 0.99

Developer Homepage: www.virgilioborges.com.br

Product Homepage: www.virgilioborges.com.br

Download It Here

HyperPi is a front end for SuperPi that allows for multiple concurrent instances of SuperPi to be run on each core recognized by the system. It is very dependent on CPU to memory to HDD speed. The faster these components, the faster it is able to figure out the number Pi to the selected length.

For our testing we use the 32M run. This means that each of the four physical and four logical cores for the i7 and the four physical cores of the i5 is trying to calculate the number Pi out to 32 million decimal places. Each "run" is a comparative to ensure accuracy and any stability or performance issues in the loop mentioned above will cause errors in calculation.

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At stock we again see the board line up with the other boards we've looked at. Overclocked, though, we again see a strong boost in performance which sees the board ahead of the Z68 Extreme4 from ASRock which managed to clock just a little bit slower.

AutoGK

Version and / or Patch Used: 2.55

Developer Homepage: http://www.autogk.me.uk/

Product Homepage: http://www.autogk.me.uk/

Download It Here

AutoGK stands for Auto Gordian Knot; it is a suite of transcoding tools that are compiled into an easy to install and use utility. It allows you to transcode non-protected DVDs and other media to Xvid or Divx format. For our testing purposes we use a non-DRM restricted movie that is roughly 2 hours in length. This is transcoded to a single Xvid AVI at 100% quality.

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At stock we're seeing the board performs in line with the ASRock Z68 Extreme4 which is a little better than the larger MSI Z68A-GD80. Overclocked. we continue to see that strong performance boost which sees a good chunk of time shaved off our AutoGK results.

Storage Benchmarks

AIDA64

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.00.1035BETA

Developer Homepage: http://www.aida64.com

Product Homepage: http://www.AIDA64.com

Buy It Here

Replacing Everest in our labs is AIDA64. This new testing suite is from the core development team from Lavalys and continues that tradition. The guys have thrown in better support for multithreaded CPUs as well as full 64 bit support. We use this to test memory and HDDs for now, but may find ourselves opening this up to other areas of the motherboard.

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While USB 2.0 performance lines up with our other boards as we'd expect, we can see that our SSD performance is just a little behind the other boards. It's not by much, but you can see it's just a little slower.

Memory Benchmarks

Sisoft Sandra

Version and / or Patch Used: 2011

Developer Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.net

Product Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.net

Buy It Here

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SiSoft Sandra doesn't hold any real surprises with performance across the board lining up just as you'd expect.

AIDA64

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.00.1035BETA

Developer Homepage: http://www.aida64.com

Product Homepage: http://www.AIDA64.com

Buy It Here

Replacing Everest in our labs is AIDA64. This new testing suite is from the core development team from Lavalys and continues that tradition. The guys have thrown in better support for multithreaded CPUs as well as full 64 bit support. We use this to test memory and HDDs for now, but may find ourselves opening this up to other areas of the motherboard.

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AIDA64 does a better job of separating memory performance; you can see at stock it lines up with the other boards, while overclocked brings a strong performance boost. The best gain can be seen in that write performance which sky rockets.

Gaming Benchmarks

3DMark 11

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0

Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com

Product Homepage: http://www.3dmark.com/3dmark11/

Buy It Here

3DMark 11 is the latest version of the world's most popular benchmark. Designed to measure your PC's gaming performance 3DMark 11 makes extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading. Trusted by gamers worldwide to give accurate and unbiased results, 3DMark 11 is the best way to consistently and reliably test DirectX 11 under game-like loads.

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Aliens vs. Predator

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

Developer Homepage: http://www.rebellion.co.uk/

Product Homepage: http://www.sega.com/games/aliens-vs-predator/

Aliens vs. Predator is a science fiction first-person shooter video game, developed by Rebellion Developments, the team behind the 1999 original PC game, and published by Sega for Microsoft Windows, the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360. The game is based on the Alien vs. Predator franchise, a combination of the characters and creatures of the Alien franchise and the Predator franchise. There are three campaigns in the game, one for each race/faction (the Predators, the Aliens and the Colonial Marines), that, while separate in terms of individual plot and gameplay, form one overarching storyline.

Following the storyline of the campaign modes comes the multiplayer aspect of the game. In this Multiplayer section of the game, players face off in various different gametypes in various different ways.

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Looking at 3D performance we can see the board lines up just as we'd expect with no real surprises being seen.

Temperature and Power

Core Temperature

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While it might be a smaller board, we can see it does an excellent job handling the heat with both load and idle numbers looking good at stock and overclocked. It's clear that the decision to drop maximum voltage as mentioned in page five to follow MSI's suggestion of not going above 1.4v does wonders for temps, as you can see a huge difference in overclocked load temperatures when comparing to the Z68A-GD80.

Power Draw Tests

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Power draw on the Z68MA-ED55 is strong and at idle it sits lower than other boards here, even when overclocked. At load we see that it lines up with our other boards, though, giving us no real shock.

Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts

As we mentioned in the beginning, the first mATX board we looked at was the ASRock Pro3-M and it was a great board, but priced at only $114.99 US it wasn't the most exciting thing to look at and its maximum overclock was limited with us not being able to achieve over 5GHz on our processor.

While more expensive at $159.99 US, the MSI Z68MA-ED55 manages to perform better thanks to a higher maximum overclock, but just has the feel of a gamers board with the dark PCB and the blue / black color scheme that's going on. It caters to a different audience, and that audience is really going to like what MSI has on offer.

While I found myself initially a little worried due to only a 4-Pin CPU power connector being present, it was clear once we got up and running that it didn't affect performance at all. At stock the board performed just as you'd expect, lining up with more expensive models and at over 5GHz we saw some strong performance coming out of the board.

Even if you're looking at a case that can handle a full size board, the option to go with something like this mATX board we have here can be a good one as it still offers great performance. If you find yourself being happy with onboard audio and networking, the lack of expansions slots offered by the platform will probably not be an issue either.

With a good look, strong price tag and great overall performance, the MSI Z68MA-ED55 is a great motherboard for people who aren't just looking for a strong performing mATX board, but just a strong performing board period.

If you find yourself being a little wary of getting into the BIOS and overclocking yourself, OC Genie II is present and at a touch of a button you should find yourself at 4.2GHz with a 2600k.

MSI does a good job of ticking all the boxes which make for a good all round motherboard. Paired with a K series CPU, you should find yourself with some strong performance on a little motherboard.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR -

Shawn takes care of all of our video card reviews. From 2009, Shawn is also taking care of our memory reviews, and from May 2011, Shawn also takes care of our CPU, chipset and motherboard reviews. As of December 2011, Shawn is based out of Taipei, Taiwan.

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