MSI Z68A-GD65 B3 Motherboard Review
The board comes in a usual MSI cardboard box. Military Class components, B3 revision, OC Genie II and HDD performance boost analysis are prominently displayed. Though there never really was a problem with the Z68 (the P67 rev B2 had a SATA bug), the box still mentions B3. This is a part of Intel (& its partners) branding program just to make sure there remains no confusion regarding board versions (whether affected or not)
An extensive set of accessories, which includes SATA 3 & 6 Gbps cables, SATA power cable, USB 3.0 bracket (2 port), points for measuring voltage, 2 port SLI bridge, easy connectors for USB & front port, the back plate, obligatory disk and manuals are provided with the board. The manual, though well written does get a little confusing as it covers more than one product.
This full length ATX board has a black and blue theme which is very common for Sandybridge board from the 3 major manufacturers. The board features MSI Military Class II specification which means that they have employed super ferrite chokes (SFC), Hi-Caps and solid capacitors. These help improve power delivery and efficiency while extending component life cycles. MSI employs a 6 phase power setup for the processor and 2 phase setup for memory (6+2 design). Each phase can deliver up to 35 amperes.
The voltage regulation circuitry is covered by passive heat-sinks connected by a heat pipe.
There is enough clearance around the socket area for the largest of heat sinks.
The active phase switching LEDs are located to the right of the Lottes manufactured LGA 1155 socket.
Right in front of the 4 DDR3 memory slots are the power connector and V-check points. These points aid in measuring/ monitoring board voltages (CPU, VTT, PCH and memory). A blessing for purists who do not rely on EFI or software readings! Three system fan connectors are also found located right next to the V-check point and one to the left of the 24 pin power connector respectively. Unlike the P67-GD65 the OC Genie button is located here, rather than with the other onboard buttons. This makes it kind of hard to reach with the board installed in a case. It would have been better just to leave the button with the power & reset buttons (along the left edge of the board).
The board features 8 right angles SATA ports. The SATA 6 Gbps ports are at the periphery (white), while the SATA 3 Gbps ports are central (black). The extra 6 Gbps ports come from a Marvell 88SE9128 controller.
The Z68 chipset lies under a low profile heatsink which should not interfere with multi-slot GPUs.
The first PCI-e x16 connector lies in the line of SATA ports, it will be difficult to plug/ unplug devices to the affected ports when a large graphics card is installed. It would be wise to connect the SATA devices before installing a graphics card. Two PCI-e x1 slots separate the second PCI-e x16 slot (electrical x8) from the first. A lone x1 slot is located to the right of the x16 PCI-e slot. The two PCI slots are located towards the left edge of the board. With two dual slot GPUs installed, the board will still have 1 PCI and 2 PCI-e x1 slots available for use.
The power and reset buttons are located along the left edge of the board together with the USB (2.0 and 3.0, the latter powered by a NEC chip), and front audio ports headers.
The board sports dual EFI (the two yellow ICs to the right and above the USB header, not visible in the picture).
The IO area provides a wealth of connectivity options; Realtek LAN and Audio codec (892), both co-axial and optical SP/DIF, USB 2.0 (6) and USB 3.0 (2) ports as well as a legacy PS2 mouse/ keyboard connector complete the list. Video output for integrated graphics includes DVI, D-Sub and HDMI. A nifty reset button is also included at the back panel. Strangely no E-SATA connectivity has been provided.
The back of the board is devoid of any large solder points (or other structures) which would prevent after market cooler back plate installation. All the heat-sinks are held in place by screws which makes removal and reapplication of thermal compound really easy (we all know how good default TIM is!).
There are 5 fan connectors strategically located all over the board. The CPU fan connector is a 4pin variety while the rest are the usual 3pin variety.
Overall the board is well designed. MSI has relocated the front panel connectors that interfered with the second PCI-e x16 slot on the P67A-GD65. However the repositioned OC genie button is kind of a step in the wrong direction. It was fine where it was on the P67 equalent.