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MSI Z97 GAMING 9 AC (Intel Z97) Motherboard Review

MSI Z97 GAMING 9 AC (Intel Z97) Motherboard Review

We look at our second MSI Z97 motherboard today. Let's see how the new Z97 GAMING 9 AC performs under our tests as Shawn puts it under the spotlight.

@ShawnBakerTW
Shawn Baker
Published Thu, Jun 19 2014 4:02 PM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Apr 7 2020 12:32 PM CDT
Rating: 93%Manufacturer: MSI

Introduction and Package

Introduction of the MSI Z97 GAMING 9 AC

As we gear up for Computex, it's been a non-stop week of testing and writing. While there's no denying that the new Z97 platform from Intel is taking up a bunch of room on our to-do shelf, we managed to find some time to have fun with our new 4K monitor that we picked up just the week before. The fun and games have quickly come to an end, though, and we're back on the motherboard train again.

The particular board we're looking at today comes from MSI. Already, they've done a fantastic job of impressing us with the MSI Z97 MPOWER MAX AC. Offering great performance, a strong bundle, and a great set of features, it was a really good showing for the folks over at MSI. Today, we're hoping that the Z97 GAMING 9 AC from them does just as good of a job, if not better.

While the Z97 platform on a whole hasn't done much in terms of performance, it has brought with it some cool new motherboards with a ton of features. Let's find out just what this GAMING Series motherboard brings to the table today.

Package - What comes inside the box

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VIEW GALLERY - 43 IMAGES
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Starting off with the front of the box, you can see the typical GAMING Series color scheme going on with the black and red alongside the dragon. You can clearly see the model and brand here, and across the top, you can see some of the main features, including Xtreme Audio DAC, Audio Boost 2, and Killer E2200 networking. As we open up the box, you can see across the top that we've got information on the Audio Boost 2 and Extreme Audio DAC features that are present.

Audio Boost 2 offers EMI Shielding, High Quality Audio Capacitors, an Amplifier, Audio Isolation Line, Golden Audio Jacks, and Direct Audio Power to improve the quality of the audio. Xtreme Audio DAC brings with it High Fidelity USB Audio, D/A Convertor, A/D Convertor, Audio Amplifiers, Audio Capacitors, and Audio Relay in conjunction with Audio Boost 2 to give us the best onboard audio. This is all then combined with the Sound Blaster Cinema 2 software.

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Heading over to the other side, you can see our first look at the motherboard behind the GAMING Series logo. Around it, you can also see some more of the main features that are offered on the board. These include OC Genie 4, Multi-GPU support, Command Center, and Gaming APP software along with Military Class 4 components and Click BIOS 4. Finally, heading over to the back, you can see the four main features pushed on the motherboard are Speed, Sound, Stability, and Streaming. Across the bottom, you can see a number of logos that coincide with the main features, and the main specifications and a look at the I/O ports are shown.

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Moving into the bundle, you can see we've got a bunch of paperwork that sits alongside a sign for your doorknob, SATA Cable Labels, a G Series case badge, and two CDs. Moving to the cables, you can see we've got six SATA cables along with an SLI Bridge and an I/O cover. Here we can also see our cables that can be used in conjunction with the V-Check points and an EZ Connector, which makes the installation of your main case header a little bit easier.

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Finishing off our look at the bundle, you can see we've got a rear connector that offers support for eSATA. The last piece to the bundle puzzle is an Intel WiDi networking adapter that offers support for Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac along with Bluetooth 4.0. Along with this, you can see two pretty meaty antennas to help make sure you get a strong signal to your access point.

PRICING: You can find the MSI Z97 GAMING 9 AC for sale below. The prices listed are valid at the time of writing but can change at any time. Click the link to see the very latest pricing for the best deal.

United States: The MSI Z97 GAMING 9 AC retails for $321.00 at Amazon.

Motherboard Details

Close up with the MSI Z97 GAMING 9 AC

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Taking a look at the motherboard, you can see it's very black. It's pretty much a black on black design with red highlights on the heat sinks. You can see the bottom heat sink has the G Series logo and the MSI one. Overall, it's a pretty clean look and very standard for the G Series. Let's move in a bit closer, though, and see just what we're dealing with here today.

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Taking the time to move in closer, you can see it's fairly busy down here. For the expansion slot side of things, we've got a standard Z97 setup that sees three PCIe x1 slots and three PCIe x16 slots. These three slots run in the standard configuration of x16, x8/x8, or x8/x4/x4 depending on how many cards you're using. Also, you can see that we have our M.2 connector between the bottom two PCIe x16 slots. While here, we also get a look at the EMI Shielding around the audio components of the board, which we mentioned on the first page.

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Looking across the bottom, you can see half of it is cut off via the EMI shielding offered. On the right side, though, you can see our normal array of USB 2.0 and fan headers along with our main front panel connector. In the right corner, you can also see an LED Debug reader that lets us know of any errors during the boot process.

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Turning the corner, you can see we've got a total of eight SATAT III ports being offered. Six of these run off of the Intel Z97 chipset, while the other two run off of the ASMedia ASM1061 chipset. To the right, you can see we've also got a single USB 3.0 header here.

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Moving to the top end of the board, you can see our normal four DIMM slots that support 32GB of memory from 1066MHz DDR to 3300MHz DDR via overclocking. Below that, we have our main 24-Pin ATX power connector with another USB 3.0 header to the left. On the right, you can see our V-Check points along with three buttons, including Power, Reset, and OC Genie.

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Heading around to the CPU area, you can see our standard 8-Pin CPU connector in the back corner. As for the CPU area, you can see it falls in line with most motherboards these days, and it looks very clean. The overall heat sink design is simple but feels great. It's hopefully more than enough cooling to get some decent overclocking done.

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Finishing up our look at the motherboard, we leave with the I/O side of things. Starting from the left, we have a combo PS/2 port above two USB 2.0 ports. Next to that, we have room for our Intel WiDi card followed by a clear CMOS button. Continuing on, we've got six of the total eight USB 3.0 ports that run off of the ASMedia ASM1074 and ASM1042 controller.

Gigabit networking is provided by the Killer E2205 controller, and video out options include DisplayPort and HDMI. Finally, we finish up with the audio side of things, which includes six auxiliary ports along with an optical port all running off of the Realtek ALC1150 Codec.

BIOS Images and Information

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Getting into the BIOS, you can see that the Click BIOS4 has a red and black color scheme to match the GAMING Series color. While not the biggest fan of ClickBIOS to start with, it really has come a long way since its launch. These days, it's great to use, and you can see a wealth of information constantly.

As always, though, if you're going to be heading into the BIOS, the chances are you'll want to be in the OC section. Looking above, you can see that all of the standard options are on offer here. If you're in here, you should know what you're doing and have no issue getting around. If the BIOS is a little too scary for you, though, you can choose to use OC Genie to take care of the overclocking for you.

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Jumping through the BIOS is a pretty standard affair, with all of the normal options here. The PC Health and Board Explorer areas are pretty cool, but they're nothing we haven't seen before out of MSI.

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, ASUS, MSI, Western Digital, MemoRight, and Corsair.

As we keep testing more and more Z97 motherboards, the number of setups in our graphs is growing. Sitting alongside our MSI Z97 GAMING 9 AC, which will be running at both stock and overclocked speeds, we have the recently looked at MSI Z97 MPOWER MAX AC that, as we mentioned in the introduction, did an excellent job of impressing us.

As for the other Z97 boards in our graphs today, we have the ASUS SABERTOOTH Z97 MARK 1, ASRock Z97 Extreme4, and GIGABYTE Z97X-UD5H to round off that side of things. Along with them, we've also got the ASRock Z87 Killer to nicely round things off.

As always, before we get into the performance side of things, we need to cover overclocking. Heading into the BIOS, we thought we'd take the plunge and go for the 50x multiplier. While everything was looking pretty good, as we got through our encode process, we found ourselves greeted with a BSOD.

[img]01[/img]

Heading back into the BIOS and messing around with the voltages, multiplier, and BCLK, you can see that our final overclock came in at 4.9Ghz. This is a strong overclock and falls in line with what we see out of a lot of motherboards with this particular CPU. Let's leave it at that and see just what kind of numbers we get out of the MSI Z97 GAMING 9 AC.

CPU & System Benchmarks

CPU Test - HyperPi 0.99

Version and / or Patch Used: 0.99

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CPU Test - AIDA64

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.00.1035BETA

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Staring off with our CPU tests, you can see out-of-the-box performance is pretty standard, with the MSI Z97 GAMING 9 AC pretty much lining up with the other Z97 offerings here. Overclocking, you can see, brings a nice boost to performance under both benchmarks.

System Test - PCMark 8

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.04

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System Test - MediaEspresso

Version and / or Patch Used: 6.5

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Looking at PCMark 8 performance, you can see that the run sits a little lower like the GIGABYTE offering here. As for the work run, that also sits slightly down, but not as much as the Home test. MediaEspresso, however, sees all of our Z97 setups perform quite closely to each other; the MSI Z97 GAMING 9 AC does manage to slightly chalk out a win here. As always, you see overclocking helps shave a few minutes off of our encode time and manages to also give us an excellent boost under PCMark 8.

USB 2.0, USB 3.0 & SSD Benchmarks

USB Test - AIDA64

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.70.1400

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Looking above, you can see that our USB 2.0 performance lines up with our other setups. As for USB 3.0 performance, you can see that it's a little down. This doesn't come as a huge surprise since we're running off of the ASMedia controller here instead of the Intel one because it doesn't have any ports on the rear I/O panel.

SSD Test - AIDA64

Version and / or Patch Used: v4.30.2900

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SSD Test - PCMark 8

Version and / or Patch Used: 2.0.191

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SSD Test - HD Tune Pro

Version and / or Patch Used: 5.50

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While PCMark 8 sees the MSI Z97 GAMING 9 AC line up with the other setups when it comes to SSD testing, AIDA64 sees the MSI offering sitting back slightly, and the same can be seen under HD Tune Pro. As always, we did run the HD Tune Pro benchmark a couple of times, and outside of a little fluctuation, the numbers continued to be similar.

Memory & Gaming Benchmarks

Memory Test - AIDA64

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.00.1035BETA

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Taking a look at memory performance, you can see the numbers at stock line up with the ASRock and MSI offerings. Overclocking, as you would expect, does little to performance, and nothing but a little bit of fluctuation is seen.

Gaming Test - 3DMark 8

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0

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Gaming Test – Sleeping Dogs

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

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Looking at 3DMark performance, you can see stock and overclock doesn't show too much difference between all of the setups, with just a slight boost being seen in the standard preset. Looking at Sleeping Dogs, though, you can see that out-of-the-box performance is strong, and overclocking brings with it even more FPS.

Temperature & Power Testing

Power Consumption Test

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Looking above, you can see that our power numbers sit at the lower-end of the scale, next to the ASRock offering out of the box. Overclocking increases power draw slightly as you'd expect, but the numbers continue to look very strong.

Core Temperature Test

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Out of the box at stock, you can see that the MSI Z97 GAMING 9 AC sits at the lower-end of the bracket with our GIGABYTE and MSI offerings. Overclocking doesn't change the idle temperature too much, but you can see that our load number does jump up.

Pricing, Availability and Final Thoughts

While the MSI Z97 XPOWER AC we looked at the other day sits at the top of the pyramid when it comes to price, the MSI Z97 GAMING 9 AC looks more comforting sitting around $100 less and coming in around the $300 mark. By no means, though, is $300 a cheap price for a motherboard. Just like the XPOWER, though, we feel the price is well and truly acceptable considering what we're dealing with here.

Looking at the package, MSI has put together a really nice bundle. The inclusion of the ac and Bluetooth 4.0 card is fantastic. This is a great extra that people can really make use of. On the topic of networking, the inclusion of Killer networking is also an added bonus. I've been using it for years and feel it's one of the best onboard networking controllers.

The audio side of things is strong as well. Onboard audio continues to improve in leaps and bounds, and here is no different; a really nice onboard audio solution is offered by MSI. In terms of features, the board is really strong, and it's all put together in a nice black and red theme that goes with the GAMING Series perfectly.

As for the overall performance of the board, out-of-the-box numbers are pretty much as you'd expect. SSD performance was a little down under HD Tune Pro, but we saw it sit a lot better under the PCMark 8 and AIDA64 tests. Overclocking wasn't too bad at 4.9GHz. While it looked like we might've had some luck at almost 5GHz, it just wasn't meant to be.

The MSI Z97 GAMING 9 AC is a nice addition to the GAMING Series, which has quickly become one of our favorites. Combined with one of MSI's awesome GAMING Series video cards, you have a killer combination.

MSI does a great job of ticking all of the boxes. We've got a good looking motherboard that offers a great set of features and strong performance all packed together with a nice bundle sitting at a decent price tag. If you're looking to spend around the $300 mark, the MSI Z97 GAMING 9 AC is a great option.

PRICING: You can find the MSI Z97 GAMING 9 AC for sale below. The prices listed are valid at the time of writing but can change at any time. Click the link to see the very latest pricing for the best deal.

United States: The MSI Z97 GAMING 9 AC retails for $321.00 at Amazon.

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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.

We openly invite the companies who provide us with review samples / who are mentioned or discussed to express their opinion. If any company representative wishes to respond, we will publish the response here. Please contact us if you wish to respond.

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