MSI Z270 Gaming M7 LGA 1151 Motherboard Review

MSI’s Z270 Gaming M7 is based on the somewhat uninteresting Z270 Express chipset but never fear, MSI’s latest generation of motherboards brings a few new features to the table, building on the stability, quality, and innovation the brand is known for. Great sound configuration, plenty of M.2 SSD support, and overclocking should draw you in.

Introduction

MSI is one of the most well-known and respected motherboard manufactures in today’s market. Established in 1986, MSI has a long history of design innovation and quality. MSI, like its competitors has a diverse product portfolio consisting of laptops, desktops, all in one PC’s, workstations, graphics cards, motherboards, and even computer peripherals. MSI has centered its efforts in recent years on the PC gaming industry. The company is an avid sponsor of eSports events and teams. MSI has a wide range of DIY PC motherboards and graphics cards in a wide range of price points which can appeal to a very wide audience fitting almost any budget.

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MSI’s Z270 Gaming M7 is based on Intel’s new Z270 Express chipset and as a result it supports all the features included with the chipset. This motherboard is currently for sale at both Amazon and Newegg for $229.99 after $20 MIR.

Like any other Z270 Express based motherboard, the Z270 Gaming M7 supports up to 64GB of DDR4 memory, PCI-Express 3.0, SATA Express, SATA 6Gb/s, USB 3.1, M.2, U.2, Gigabit Ethernet, SLI, Crossfire multi-GPU technologies and more. MSI isn’t one to be left out in the cold when it comes to current market trends. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last year or so the big thing this year is RGB lighting. RGB lighting has been around for a few years on motherboards but recently has been taken to a new level. More companies are supporting a wider range of colors, effects, and lighting in more places. New for this year is the ability to synchronize and match the lighting between the motherboard and other devices. Unfortunately, everyone seems to be doing their own thing so you’ll have to have the same brand of hardware for anything you want to sync to the motherboard. RGB headers are also provided to extend the lighting using industry standard RGB LED light strips. I’ve seen these at the local hardware stores in the lighting section, so these LED strips are out there if you want them.

The Z270 Gaming M7 is designed to be robust. It features MSI’s Military Class 5 implementation. with an 8+2+1 phase power solution for the CPU and iGPU. Two additional phases are provided for the RAM. The Z270 Gaming M7 features an all-digital controlled power solution. Solid electrolytic capacitors are used throughout the design MSI made major improvements to the motherboard fan control. Previously, not all the fan headers were fully controllable via DC or PWM methods. On the Z270 Gaming M7, all headers support both modes. The fan headers can detect and configure fans automatically. Full control is available in BIOS and in software within Windows. In all honestly this sounds like a "me too" feature as MSI is playing catch up to ASUS which has offered this level of control for years. However, MSI has improved on the technology by including a fan mode LED indicator. On the PCB, you will find an LED near each header that will appear red or green. The former indicates full control while the latter indicates that the fan is in a mode which will not allow for full control. This is one of those features I really like and never would have thought of myself. Unlike ASUS, 2 AMP fans are only supported on the water pump header. I believe ASUS supports 2 AMP fans on all fan headers at present.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

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The packaging for the Z270 Gaming M7 is standard fare. The box has new artwork for this generation. Ordinarily MSI has had some crazy artwork in the past with giant robots, race cars and the like. The packaging for this motherboard is very mature for MSI.

Board Layout

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The motherboard is quite aesthetically pleasing. While ASUS is the progenitor of the red and black motherboard, MSI embraced it across its entire product line with few exceptions at one point. Even MSI has now backed off of that and the Z270 Gaming M7 sports a black PCB and dark gray heat sinks and plastic cladding. I rather like the color scheme and the look of the steel armor and how it contrasts with the motherboards other colors. The heat sinks and plastic cladding have some very cool looking LED lighting in them which further enhances the appearance of the motherboard. On another note, the layout of the Z270 Gaming M7 is excellent. My one gripe is with the location with the CMOS battery. This is a minor issue at best considering how rare replacements of these batteries are. The Z270X Gaming M7 has six fan headers, one of which is a dedicated water pump header. The motherboard also features power on and reset buttons and the usual compliment of fan headers.

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Despite the huge cooling hardware around the CPU socket, the area around it is relatively clean. The titanium chokes and black electrolytic capacitors are found flanking the CPU socket. To the left of the CPU socket you’ll find one of the three M.2 slots. This is the only M.2 slot which can support 110mm M.2 drives.

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There are 4x 288-pin DIMM slots supporting up to 64GB of DDR4 DRAM at speeds up to DDR4 4000MHz through overclocking. Oddly, MSI uses dual locking tabs for module retention. We asked MSI about this and we were told that this is due to some customers disliking the single sided locking tabs. In cases where the design requires the single sided slots due to clearance issues they’ll continue to use them. The memory slots use MSI’s "Steel Armor" which serves a couple of purposes. Aside from looking cool and providing some EMI shielding, the steel armor prevents the motherboard from bending during memory installation.

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The chipset is cooled with a flat heat sink. It’s a passive implementation that’s flat enough to avoid creating clearance problems with expansion cards. Additionally, it is adorned with a dragon logo. The heat sink, like much of the motherboard in general has RGB lighting onboard. Naturally the motherboard’s SATA and U.2 ports are in front of the chipset. MSI didn’t bother making these SATA Express ports, likely due to a total lack of available devices on the market. As SATA Express ports are compatible with SATA 6Gb/s devices this is most likely done to cut down on costs slightly but that’s conjecture on my part. Just to the left of the chipset you’ll find the onboard power, reset and overclocking controls.

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The expansion slot area is outstanding. There are a lot of good ways to layout PCIe slots but this configuration is what I’d consider optimal for a motherboard that’s designed for dual GPU usage. Above the first PCIe slot has an M.2 slot. Underneath the primary PCIe slot you’ll find the CMOS battery and most interestingly an M.2 slot with what MSI calls its "M.2 shield." This is a tin cover with thermal pads designed to reduce SSD temperatures. I tested this and it does work much better than I would have imaged which I’ll cover a bit later. The M.2 slots within the expansion area are only capable of handling 80mm or smaller M.2 devices. The three PCIe x16 slots support configurations of 16x0, 16x8x0, and 8x4x4. The PCI-Express x16 slots use a flat blade type retention tab which is a better option than many of the other alternative locking mechanisms. These are much easier to reach with your fingers or when multiple cards are on installed.

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The I/O shield is the standard stamped tin plate. Its painted with the ports labeled. The I/O options are also largely standard fare. There is a single PS/2 keyboard and mouse port. 3x USB 2.0 ports, 3x USB 3.1 Gen 1 type-A ports, 1x USB 3.1 Gen 2 type-A port, 1x USB 3.1 Gen 2 type-C port, 1x clear CMOS button, 1x DisplayPort, 1x HDMI port, 1x RJ-45 LAN port, 1x optical S/PDIF out port, 5x mini-stereo jacks.