MSI Z270 Gaming M7 Motherboard Review
We recently reviewed the MSI Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon, which while not seriously deficient in any one area, didn't really impress us as much of some of the other Z270 motherboards that we have reviewed thus far. Specifically, it had somewhat limited automatic overclocking features, its PCI-E slot configuration was less than optimal, it had SATA ports in two different locations for no discernible reason, and its audio output results didn't quite match the competition. As a result, we ultimately couldn't give it our unqualified recommendation, despite its reasonable $175 USD / $230 CAD price tag.
Today, we are reviewing another MSI motherboard - the Z270 Gaming M7 - and this model sheds itself of any mainstream pretenses and aims for the top-end of the market. In fact, with a price point of about $245 USD / $320 CAD, the Gaming M7 is the most high-end Z270 motherboard that MSI offers. What does this model bring to the table that its cheaper sibling did not? Not as much as you might expect, at least with regard to conventional specs. Both have three PCI-E x16 and three PCI-E x1 slots, both have six SATA 6Gb/s ports, both have one USB 3.1 Type-A and USB 3.1 Type-C port, both have only one LAN port, and both have two video outputs. So as you can see, a lot of the fundamentals that most shoppers quickly look at when evaluating a motherboard are the same between both models. Thankfully, there are important differences that make the Gaming M7 a radically different beast.
For starters, this motherboard has three M.2 slots instead of the more common two, and it also has a U.2 port, so it supports a total of four high-speed storage devices. This might seem like overkill now, but once Intel's Optane caching drives hit the market that may change. We praised the Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon for its unique angled USB 3.0 header, and not only does the Gaming M7 have one of those and another regular USB 3. 0 header, but it also has a rare USB 3.1 Type-C header. This means that this motherboard will be able to provide high-speed USB connectivity to the front panel of any future case you buy.
Dubbed Audio Boost 4 PRO, this motherboard's onboard audio design is very unusual in that it features two Realtek ALC1220 codecs. We have never seen this implementation before, and the idea is that you can use headphones and speakers at the same time. Why you would want to do this is less clear to us at this time, but we may figure out as the review unfolds. Much to our surprise, the Gaming M7 has a rather simplistic RGB LED lighting feature. While still called "Mystic Light", this motherboard can only display seven colours and it has just 5 effects. Not only that, but you can't control the various lighting sections independently, they are all linked together. This is a bold choice from MSI for such a pricey motherboard, and regrettably it has one important oversight that we will explain later on.
Now what really makes the Z270 Gaming M7 stands above from the crowd are the little touches. This motherboard has small diagnostic LEDs literally all over the place, making troubleshooting a piece of cake. It also has a debug LED display, further aiding to diagnose any issues. It is the first Z270 motherboard that we have reviewed that comes with voltage read points, which is a great addition for overclockers, and there's also a ton of added special features for hardcore sub-zero overclocking. For those with more down-to-earth ambitions, this model also features a physical Game Boost Knob allowing users a quick and easy way of literally manually overclocking without ever having to enter the UEFI or using any piece of software. It's a pretty great idea, especially since it has seven performance profiles, and some of them are pretty aggressive.
So at first glance, we like what we see with the MSI Z270 Gaming M7. It is clearly not just a clone of every other Z270 motherboard out there. There are some distinctive features that we are anxious to test, and some interesting design and engineering choices that we look forward to taking a closer look at.
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