The previous generation of Intel LGA1155 motherboards ran the range from the bargain basement all the way up to the enthusiast level. Of course because most of us only have a certain budget the ones in the middle of the sandwich usually prove to be the most popular, and so it was with the MSI P67 GD65. A very highly rated motherboard that we found to be only good, it proved such a big seller that for the Z77 range of MSI Motherboards the GD65 version has moved from the midrange to the range-topper.
Positioning it at the top of the MSI range naturally brings with it certain expectations. After all if it was considered so good that a GD85 was unnecessary then we hope it's all things to all people. Is that the case though?
Specifications wise the GD65 is a pretty standard Z77 affair, with the usual array of connectivity options and memory speeds available, alongside the PCI Express 3.0 slots.
We're pleased to note that it retains the excellent Genie Overclock, a previous winner of an OC3D Innovation award.
|CPU (Max Support)||i7|
|FSB / Hyper Transport Bus||100MHz|
|DDR3 Memory||DDR3 1066/1333/1600/1866*/2000*/2133*(OC), 2200*/2400*/2600*/2667*/2800* (OC, 22nm CPU required)|
|Max Memory (GB)||32|
|PCI-E Gen||Gen3 (16, 8, 4)|
|USB 3.0 ports (Rear)||2|
|USB 2.0 ports (Rear)||4|
|Audio ports (Rear)||6+Coaxial / Optical SPDIF|
|Serial ports (Rear)||N/A|
|Parallel ports (Rear)||N/A|
|1394 ports (Rear)||N/A|
|VGA Max Share Memory (MB)||1696|
The packaging of the GD65 leans heavily on the Military Class III branding that has accompanied MSI motherboards in one version of another for some time now. The rear of the box emphasises the various technologies included. This is a box designed to grab the eye on a shelf.
Within the box we have the usual selection of manuals and guides, as well as a selection of SATA cables. It's not the plethora of accessories we've seen from other boards, but then this is far more affordable too.
The board itself is well laid out, in the now usual MSI black and blue colour scheme. Everything is where you expect it to be and nothing looks like it's been thrown into whatever space was available.
Let's move on to looking at it a little closer.
Up Close cont
The area around the CPU socket is well laid out and easy to work with. Even with our monster twin-tower cooler installed it's easy to put the 8pin CPU power in, which is more than can be said for a lot of motherboards we test.
The PCI Express slots are equally well spaced, allowing for good airflow around even a twin GPU setup, although as is always the case the second PCI x1 slot isn't usable when a GPU is installed.
As well as the normal array of USB headers, we have a dual-BIOS switch. Often motherboards with two BIOS' rely on the system knowing one has been corrupted to switch to the other, whereas here a mere flick of the dip switch and you're up and running again.
At the top of the motherboard we have some monitoring points, as well as the power and reset switched. Just behind the RAM slots at the leading edge are some LEDs which, rather than just demonstrating the boards boot state, seem to flicker constantly during use. Not a large issue but one to be aware of if your case has a window and is at eye level. We also find the OC Genie button, more on which later.
Outputs are covered with a wealth of SATA headers. Round the back we have a dual-purpose PS2 connector, alongside the more usual USB and display outputs.
The MSI GD65 comes with their Click BIOS II. The first thing that impresses us is that it works with our gaming-class mouse straight out the box. Normally UEFIs have issues with high-DPI sensors.
Otherwise everything is clearly laid out and very easy to use indeed. It's one of the most user-friendly BIOS' out there.
You have plenty of slots to save various settings, including the ability to take the OC Genie settings as a base point and building from them. All in all it's exactly what we like to see from a BIOS, being both stable and easy to use.
Intel Core i7-3770K
8GB G.Skill Trident 2400 @ 10-12-12-31
Cougar CM1000 PSU
Corsair F80 SSD
Thermalright Silver Arrow
Windows 7 x64
We'll come to manual overclocking in a moment. The easiest way to overclock your system on the GD65 is to press the OC Genie button then turn it on. It nearly instantly determines a decent overclock and applies it. In our case it pushed our i7-3770K to 4.2GHz, and set our 2400MHz G.Skill to 2133MHz. Not earth shattering results, but any performance gain is nice, and being so easy it does mean that even the most cautious user will never have to run their setup at stock settings.
Of course we don't just stop there, and some judicious tweaking later we obtained a rock-solid 4.8GHz on our i7-3770K, which is what we'll be using for our testing.
Finally, although it wasn't stable enough to run all of our tests at, this is the first motherboard we've tested that would boot with our G.Skill Trident at 2600MHz.
Out of the box it's a board of two halves. The stock performance is mediocre, yet the overclocked performance is fantastic. The Photoworxx test proving a particular highlight.
In the Memory tests it's comprehensively the highest scorer in both stock and overclocked scenarios.
The pattern we saw in AIDA64 is repeated in Sandra, with the stock results being only middling at best, but the overclock is really taken full advantage of by the GD65, giving hugely impressive scores across the board.
At the risk of repeating ourselves things continue in CineBench. The stock results are better this time and right up there with the best we've seen. With our 4.8GHz overclock the GD65 is neck and neck with the Sniper 3. Impressive.
The Persistence of Vision Raytracer sticks rigidly to our results so far. The GD65 is seriously consistent.
PC Mark Vantage
In Vantage the stock results drop off a bit from what we saw in our rendering tests. Across the range of tests the GD65 just hasn't quite got the same levels of performance that we have obtained on other setups. Of course the overclock score retains its position at the top of the tree, and it's a two horse race between this and the Sniper 3.
PC Mark 7
We see more evidence of this slightly schizophrenic performance in PC Mark 7. The stock results are fairly disappointing and yet the overclocked result is the highest we've yet seen.
In both versions of Futuremark's 3D Mark the MSI Z77A GD65 is right on the money. No nasty surprises here.
3D Mark Vantage
3D Mark 11
If things were inseparable in 3D Mark then Unigine definitely gives the nod to the GD65. It's worth remembering that the D3H and below were tested using a HD7970 rather than the HD7950 we used on the Sniper 3 and today's review.
Finally we return to our fairly usual split of results in wPrime95, with the stock performance somewhat poor and the overclocked result being up there with the very best.
When we reviewed the P67 GD65 we found it to be good. It wasn't, to us, quite as stunning as some people seemed to be claiming, but it was alright. The Z77A-GD65 definitely is as great as the original we claimed to be.
No matter which area you focus on, it comes up trumps.
The documentation is well written and clear. The packaging is solid and eye-catching. The motherboard itself is attractive with no clashing colours or curious design decisions. In fact in terms of just working there are few better. It seems like damning with faint praise to say that the layout of the motherboard is excellent, but not having to stretch your fan cables to reach an oddly-placed header, or cutting your knuckles getting the CPU power in, are things which too many motherboards fail to get right.
Performance is a little bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand the stock performance is only average. It's nothing to write home about at all, and sometimes was bordering on being poor. However, you have to remember that with the GD65 and it's incredibly easy-to-use and convenient automatic overclocking available from the OC Genie, there is no reason whatsoever to ever run the GD65 at stock. Even if you've never dared venture into a BIOS at all you can still push your CPU beyond its stock settings, safe in the knowledge that, as long as you're not running a 40mm CPU cooler, everything will work as smoothly as it would at defaults. So this merely average stock performance isn't really a hindrance because you've zero reason to ever experience it.
Should you delve into the manual overclocking though the performance is nothing short of stunning. It was neck and neck with the infinitely pricier Gigabyte Sniper 3, and occasionally beat it. The Memory performance is a particular highlight. The overclocking will be simple too thanks to one of the most user-friendly and stable BIOS' currently available.
The downsides are both few and minor. The CPU Phase LED indicators flicker quite a lot, as they would when the motherboard is shifting through power phases. However if you have your case to the side of you and the top of the motherboard is on your eye-line then this could become tiresome. if you haven't got a window or your case on a desk then you wont even notice. A few times when booting the USB ports 'forgot' our keyboard, so we ended up at Windows because it wasn't recognising the pressing of the DEL key to enter the BIOS. Finally we think that considering how easily we went far beyond its settings, the OC Genie could be a bit more aggressive in its overclock. We understand why MSI are cautious though. Just because we know we have more cooling than we need doesn't mean everyone will, so it's better to be safe than sorry, even if it did run our RAM slower than the XMP profile indicates it's capable of.
But truth be told those are incredibly minor. The keyboard thing can potentially be fixed with a BIOS update, and the OC Genie is a feature you'll either be delighted at the free performance, or ignore and manually overclock.
The price of the GD65, currently around £140, makes this an absolute steal. When it's half the price of the Sniper 3 but delivering equal performance you can't help but nod appreciatively at what MSI have managed to pull off. It reminds us a lot of the ASUS Sabertooth range, in that the whole package performs as well as top end motherboards but comes in at a budget price. MSI have delivered a corker and the Z77A-GD65 is easily worthy of our OC3D Gold Award.
Thanks to MSI for supplying the Z77A-GD65 for review. Discuss in our forums.