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MSI Z77A-GD80 with Thunderbolt Motherboard Review

Author: Ken Addison
Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: MSI

Thunderbolt Performance Testing

To test the Thunderbolt implementation on this board, we used our trusty Pegasus R4 external RAID enclosure. Being one of the only Thunderbolt RAID devices gives the R4 the distinct advantage of being one of the few ways you can really stretch the 10 Gbit link.

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In order to find the peak of MSI and Intel’s implementation, we loaded 4x120gb Corsair Force 3 GT SSDs into our R4, in a RAID 0 configuration. While obviously most users won’t want to run their RAID in a non redundant format such as RAID 0, it provides the maximum throughput, which is vital to our testing.

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As we can see in our comparison testing to the P8Z77-V Premium, the results seem to fall in line with what we expect. It is obvious that both ASUS and MSI put a lot of effort into their respective Thunderbolt implementations, and they are getting the maximum throughput possible.

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Another test which I performed involved using the Pegasus R4 and the DisplayPort output from the GD80. Using the R4 as a Thunderbolt passthrough, we managed to hook the R4 directly up to the GD80, and then an active Mini DisplayPort to DVI converter up to our Dell 30” display.

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Using Lucid’s Virtu GPU virtualization, we used the NVIDIA GTX 560 Ti installed in the system through this Thunderbolt chain, and ran 3DMark 11. At the same time, we started a test using ATTO on the R4. When both tests were complete, we saw no deviation from our expected results, proving that using the DisplayPort connection and Thunderbolt at the same time is a perfectly fine idea. It was also pretty mind blowing that one port was transferring all of that data at once, even in a daisy chained situation. Demonstrations like this lead me to believe that Thunderbolt could have a successful future.

October 30, 2012 | 02:15 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Thunderbolt is of no use if you have two other displays. That is not quite par with the way ASUS, Gigabyte and others have implemented it.

MSI could have justified this with some other useful feature like 2x GbE RJ45 ports to offset the loss of the use of Thunderbolt as storage and network interface - since a lot of people could use 2 gigabits per second to their NAS or network, especially in small offices working on media-intensive tasks. As it is there's no reason to prefer this over the ASUS or Gigabyte dual-Thunderbolt alternatives now on the market.

Given that Thunderbolt seems intended on this board only as a display technology, one would wonder about their implementation in other ways.

ASUS shows USB3 speeds using their proprietary technology that exceed out-of-the-box Thunderbolt with low-end enclosures. Given that, it's the higher end enclosures and more serious users that probably need the 10Gb interface, and those will want two ports.

MSI board lifespan has historically not been up to ASUS, Gigabyte, intel or Apple quality. Cheaping out and buying MSI doesn't pay in my experience. It would be worth it only if MSI had some features like dual-gigabit LAN at a substantially lower price than the others, and they don't. Probably the only way MSI can appeal is to get a 10GbE interface on the board, if they insist on having only one RJ45 port. Thus triggering the Thunderbolt vs. 10GbE war that we all want - the way Firewire brought 1GbE prices way way down and then disappeared, Thunderbolt can do the same for 10GbE prices. We all ought to encourage that, and not buy substandard stuff like this.

October 31, 2012 | 01:06 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Why do you think it is only a display technology?  It runs just as fast in storage and data connectivity as the ASUS Premium board does...?

October 30, 2012 | 02:19 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

3xPCIex16 slots are nice and offset the video deficiency to some degree (each card comes with usually two more ports, so three monitors leaves the Thunderbolt free). However someone who spends that much on video is probably not going to buy from MSI unless they really need three x16 slots. PCIe SSDs, a major growing use of PCIe slots, may use x16 eventually but most available now top out at x4, a few at x8.
So the more typical two-card six-display setup of very high end gaming and room displays doesn't need that third card which doesn't need x16.

The board electronics for another GbE RJ45 or a 10GbE RJ45 would have been a better investment than that third slot, for almost all users. After all what's the use of a 10Gb interface if you talk to your net at 1 gigabit maximum? It ends up being only for those who shlep the physical drives around.

October 31, 2012 | 01:07 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

I think most high end Z77 boards have three PCIe slots though.

October 30, 2012 | 07:54 PM - Posted by Angry

Picky much?

Board looks pretty solid.
And minding the above post, ive got msi boards that have been well abused that are still chugging along. One of which Is an am2+ board has been on for almost 3yrs straight (Or more)...minus the power going out or swapping parts.

November 17, 2012 | 10:06 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

"Why do you think it is only a display technology? "

Given there's only one port, no chaining, it makes a lot more sense to use HDMI+VGA and leave that one Thunderbolt open for those $500+ storage devices where it actually beats the optimized USB3 drivers ASUS and others now have...

I will probably never buy another MSI board, to even consider it would require something like a 10 gigabit Ethernet port (are you listening, MSI?) or (something worth $400) two 10 gig, two 1 gig, and two Thunderbolt ports. Plus an ARM core making it useful as a router when it's "off". Likely we'd get the ARM core from AMD and 10 gigabit chipset from Intel (why not? Thunderbolt chips do 10 gig) and wait until say 2016 for something with both.

If MSI wants to ship that in 2015, though, I will look. ;-)

November 17, 2012 | 10:10 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

If PCPer wants to do a real service, it will clearly mark all dual-gigabit LAN board reviews as such in the title. And dual-Thunderbolt board reviews too.

Had I known this had only one of each, I would not even have looked at it. 10 gigabit devices are expensive and without fast chaining or LAN teaming (getting at the data at 2 gigabits from elsewhere) it makes little sense to attach them to one desktop except in specialized video and audio editing tasks and a few weird things involving huge local data.

Would rather see smaller boards without so many PCI slots that are useful as HTPC+NAS+10gigrouter.

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