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MSI 970 Gaming Motherboard Review: AM3+ Gets Something New for a Change!

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Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: MSI

MSI Redefines AM3+ Value

It is no secret that AMD’s AM3+ motherboard ecosystem has languished for the past year or so, with very few examples of new products hitting the scene.  This is understandable since AMD has not updated the chipset options for AM3+, and only recently did they release updated processors in the form of the FX-8370 and FX-8370e.  It has been two years since the release of the original FX-8350 and another year since the high TDP FX-9000 series of parts.  For better or for worse, AMD is pushing their APUs far harder to consumers than the aging AM3+ platform.

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MSI has refined their "Gaming" series of products with a distinctive look that catches the eye.

This does not mean that the AM3+ ecosystem is non-viable to both AMD and consumers.  While Intel has stayed ahead of AMD in terms of IPC, TDP, and process technology the overall competitiveness of the latest AM3+ parts are still quite good when considering price.  Yes, these CPUs will run hotter and pull more power than the Intel parts they are directly competing against, but when we look at the prices of comparable motherboards and the CPUs themselves, AMD still holds a price/performance advantage.  The AM3+ processors that feature six and eight cores (3 and 4 modules) are solid performers in a wide variety of applications.  The top end eight core products compete well against the latest Intel parts in many gaming scenarios, as well as productivity applications which leverage multiple threads.

When the Vishera based FX processors were initially introduced we saw an influx of new AM3+ designs that would support these new processors, as well as the planned 220 watt TDP variants that would emerge later.  From that point on we have only seen a smattering of new products based on AM3+.  From all the available roadmaps from AMD that we have seen, we do not expect there to be new products based on Steamroller or Excavator architectures on the AM3+ platform.  AMD is relying on their HSA enabled APUs to retain marketshare and hopefully drive new software technologies that will leverage these products.  The Future really is Fusion…

MSI is bucking this trend.  The company still sees value in the AM3+ market, and they are introducing a new product that looks to more adequately fit the financial realities of that marketplace.  We already have high end boards from MSI, ASRock, Asus, and Gigabyte that are feature packed and go for a relatively low price for enthusiast motherboards.  On the other end of the spectrum we have barebone motherboards based on even older chipsets (SB710/750 based).  In between we often see AMD 970 based boards that offer a tolerable mix of features attached to a low price.

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The bundle is fair, but not exciting.  It offers the basics to get a user up and running quickly.

The MSI 970 Gaming motherboard is a different beast as compared to the rest of the market.  It is a Gaming branded board which offers a host of features that can be considered high end, but at the same time being offered for a price less than $100 US.  MSI looks to explore this sweet spot with a motherboard that far outpunches its weight class.  This board is a classic balance of price vs. features, but it addresses this balance in a rather unique way.  Part of it might be marketing, but a good chunk of it is smart and solid engineering.

Click to read the entire MSI 970 Gaming Review!

 

The MSI 970 Gaming

This motherboard is based on the quite mature AMD 970 chipset.  The 970 is supposed to have a single x16 PCI-E 2.0 connection plus a single x4 as well as two addition x1 lanes.  This does not include the 4 lanes that attach to the southbridge.  So the chip has 22 PCI-E 2.0 lanes available for use.  MSI has skirted around the rules for this chip by using a 3rd party solution to split the single x16 PEG into 2 x8.  When one graphics card is used, then the first PEG slot is a full x16 implementation.  It is a flexible scheme that seems to work well.  The board supports both CrossFire and SLI implementations, but it is only “certified” for CrossFire.

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The board looks mean and lean with a nice blend of functionality and aesthetics.  Overall component spacing is good, but if a second dual slot video card is installed it can cause routing issues with audio and USB connections.

The SB950 southbridge powers the I/O of this board.  This chip supports a max of six SATA-6G ports as well as 14 USB 2.0 ports.  This is again a relatively old southbridge that does not support USB 3.0.  MSI uses the VIA VL806 USB 3.0 chip which supplies four USB 3.0 ports for use.  The rear panel has two of these ports while the internal USB 3.0 plug handles that duty for cases with front panel 3.0 support.  The southbridge also supports RAID 0,1,5, and 10 functionality.  The SB950 has aged relatively well thanks mainly to the inability of the SATA people to push I/O speeds in an economical way.  SATA Express may be the next generation I/O, but we have seen no actual storage devices for sale that utilize that connection.  M.2 has fared a little better, but it is still a relatively niche market that has not gained as much traction as manufacturers have hoped.  While the SB950 is not cutting edge, it is not holding the platform back due to a wide availability of good USB 3.0 controllers.

Something that has snuck out with some of the latest boards and BIOS updates is that the FX processors from AMD now support up to 2133 MHz DDR-3 speeds.  Initially the Vishera based parts were specified for DDR-3 1866 use.  This is a small boost in performance, primarily because the latest FX processors all have copious amounts of L2 and L3 cache.  The FX-8000 and 9000 series all sport 8 MB of L2 and 8 MB of L3.  The small bump in main memory speeds will help in some situations, but the FX chips are not exactly starved of bandwidth at 1866 speeds.

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Here we see the 6+2 power phase array.  This is something that MSI is not entirely keen on promiting for this board.  It does not seem to hold it back, but it does have some negatives attached to it.

MSI focused on pushing as many high end features onto this board as possible without exploding the price.  The design follows the latest Gaming platforms with a board that features all black components with red accents.  This is a very masculine look without being garish.  It just looks solid and mean.  They have implemented what they consider a high end audio solution in addition to bundling audio software that *should* improve a users experience.  Finally they implemented the Killer Ethernet solution from Qualcomm.

The Audio Boost 2 implementation relies on a high SNR codec based on the Realtek ALC1150.  This chip features a front DAC output of 115 dB SNR, while the rest of the outputs are at a much lower 96 dB SNR.  The PCB area for the sound is as isolated as possible from the rest of the board.  This should improve audio as there will be less interference as well as a drop in things such as electrical ringing by sharing the same power and ground planes as the rest of the board.  Power and ground can be filtered going to this isolated PCB area, but I am unsure if MSI implemented it as such due to cost concerns.  The actual CODEC chip itself is protected by a snazzy looking EMI cover that is illuminated from behind.  The combination of this illumination as well as the “red line” delineating where the sound portion is isolated from the rest of the PCB makes this a nice looking motherboard when displayed in a windowed case.

Video News


November 13, 2014 | 05:55 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

This board is undeniably great for the price, but I wonder if they could have cut out the aesthetics and some of the less useful features in order to get a good 8 phase setup without increasing the price. That would be a perfect board. Seems like manufacturers just focus on features to be marketed instead of simple good quality. Still, at least it isn't 4 phase, and handling the 9590 long term is certainly an accomplishment for such a cheap board. That long term testing is important for seeing if a board can truly handle a power-hungry CPU, so thanks for that.

Any plans to start doing video segments as part of the reviews like Ryan and Allyn do? You seem to have a lot of insightful comments during the podcast.

November 13, 2014 | 06:00 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

In this particular case, I think the aesthetics are pretty inexpensive... so not a lot of money to cut there.  They still need heatsinks, and adding color accents to those is not really hard.

I will eventually start doing some videos here.  I need to gather more equipment and figure out a good way to accomplish it.  Thanks for your comments!

November 13, 2014 | 08:37 PM - Posted by John Wallace (not verified)

Thank you for Testing FX-9590 with your test, set up. Which with your set up, at least found out the my FX-9370 CPU will work with that motherboard.

November 14, 2014 | 04:28 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I would like for them to bring back the high-spec AM3+ microATX boards from a couple years ago.

For instance the Asus M5A88-M motherboard I'm currently using in one of my PCs. Compare this board to any other mATX AM3+ board currently available for purchase today and it's completely obvious that the M5A88-M trumps those other mATX boards in every conceivable way. It has two USB 3.0 ports and 6 (SIX!) SATA 6.0Gb/s ports back when Intel only had two SATA 6.0 Gb/s for their mATX boards. Why did AMD suddenly stop adding the SB850 southbridge to their smaller motherboards and instead went back to a far inferior southbridge is a total mystery to me.

November 14, 2014 | 10:45 AM - Posted by Chris B (not verified)

I would love to see a Streaming Engine Board for the AMD line of CPU's would definitely be interested in it. Could listen to streaming music, put voice comms on wifi to not interfere with the game, Stream. The possibilities are endless.

November 14, 2014 | 12:27 PM - Posted by madhatter256 (not verified)

Is the USB 3.0 on this motherboard capable of handling both the two ports in the back and two ports in the front via front panel? Or is it where the ports become shared speed between all four or either the front or the back depending on which is connected?

November 17, 2014 | 11:30 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

It seems like the way the VIA chip is configured, it will likely share bandwidth and throttle the ports if more than 2 are in heavy use.  I don't have confirmation of this, so the reality of the situation may not reflect what I am reading.  Having said that, I am curious what kind of usage scenario would be common that all 4 USB 3.0 ports would be going full bore?

December 8, 2014 | 10:53 PM - Posted by nbrege (not verified)

Where do you find this board for $89US?

December 9, 2014 | 10:16 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

When I was writing this, the MSRP was $99 but I was able to find it at multiple places for $89.  It seems that prices on the board have gone back up and there are fewer specials.

December 23, 2014 | 02:00 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Can you give more information on how to get headphones to work with the front audio jack? I cannot seem to get it working even though it detects. Thanks!

December 29, 2014 | 08:22 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

i don't see front panel connections is there any on this board

December 29, 2014 | 08:22 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

i don't see front panel connections is there any on this board

December 31, 2014 | 12:12 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Just picked this board up with a fx-4300 processor (NVidia 650)for my son and it is working great, $100 for the MSI 970 gaming board and the fx-4300 chip. I just got him titan fall and he has leveled up to 40 within 4 days of playing and is kicking my but against my MSI Z87i setup with a i5 4670k (NVidia 970).

January 4, 2015 | 08:58 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

What is a good videokaart for this bord.

For 200 euro ore less

January 4, 2015 | 10:36 PM - Posted by Sander (not verified)

I use this board with an AMD FX 9590 and MSI Radeon R9 290x card, highly recommend watercooling. This chipset will catch fire it seems :p 85 degrees C.

All in all the board is a solid choice so far, if you can keep it cool.

April 21, 2015 | 02:10 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

im thinkin of getting this board too

is it stable running an 8350 and R9-290X without forcing constant voltage and forcing higher clock speed for the gpu ?

thanks,
mike

February 19, 2015 | 07:54 AM - Posted by jay3434 (not verified)

what cooler did you and would Cooler Master V8 be good for it

February 9, 2016 | 01:37 AM - Posted by DavidMustang (not verified)

I just got the MSI 970 gaming with FX-8300. On the FX chip box they state you will get better OC with air cooled vs water cooling. I'm using Cryorig Hi with push pull fan added to the H7. I'm doing a slight OC running 4.16GHZ all the time. I'm running at 43C. Also picked the board up for $99 with $10 mail in rebate. I should be getting lower temps here pretty soon. Because I'm going to be replacing the six fans in my tower. To higher output fans.

February 28, 2015 | 05:59 AM - Posted by Rich (not verified)

I picked up this mobo and the only issue I had with it is that for some reason my cpu voltage somehow got reduced in bios from the offset I had set for it. I OC'd my amd 8310 to 4Ghz and had it stable at 1.336v(used the voltage offset in bios), then last weekend I power on my rig and it won't even post. I trouble shot everything and thought the cpu failed, then I cleared the cmos data and when I booted it up I noticed in bios the auto voltage setting was only providing my cpu with 0.970v, LESS THAN A VOLT! I couldn't even boot windows and I'm surprised it had enough voltage to post. I had to use the voltage offset to get it to 1.228v to stabilize it. Other than that no problems, you can help keep board temps down by using a top down cpu cooler, I have the big typ revo. That coupled with my side vent fans give me great cooling for the board.

March 2, 2015 | 08:02 AM - Posted by mclmatty (not verified)

Do you know if this unstable voltage issue is common or a one off thing? because I am buying this board and if this is a common problem then I may look at getting a different one.

What power supply are you using? Could it be that?

April 2, 2015 | 05:59 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

i want to use a fx-8320cpu in it and use the stock cooler but i am scared for vrm failures or anything that could shut it down. i am not planning on overclocking yet but i dont know if its going to be too hot in there with just a stock cooler. can anyone explain me possible problems?

August 7, 2015 | 09:21 AM - Posted by dutchblizzard (not verified)

How dit you get the r9 280(x) working
I asked it because i getting and error of 1 long and 2 short beeps

September 28, 2015 | 11:53 AM - Posted by Trident (not verified)

I just bought the 970, with fx 9590, on pcpartpicker it says it is incompatible, because of voltage... Help!

December 8, 2015 | 02:29 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

yeah ive just got a fx9590 seeing alot places as its a 140 max vault bord wont work in bord tryingsee if theres a bios update like ive read for some boards wot did you do

January 19, 2016 | 11:45 PM - Posted by wcg (not verified)

This is a great board, I picked one up for $109 CDN which is about $70US these days. It's only rated for 200W TDP processors which excludes the 9XXX series. I'm running at 8320 at 4.2 GHz and it's rock solid stable. Given the features and aesthetics, it's one of my favourite boards (even over the two ASUS ROG boards I have.)

April 10, 2016 | 08:59 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I have a MSI 970 gaming board FX6300 processor enermax 620 650w peak power supply. 2 x4 gb kingston hyper x genesis memory khx1600c9d3k2/8gx, asus r9 380 4gb graphics card. crucial BX200 SSD 240. dvd drive.

I try to install windows 10 from disc I get to the restart after utilities and files and updates it counts down restarts then says device drivers loaded and hangs .

All parts are new bar the kingston memory which worked fine in my asus old mother board.

I have tried to load windows 8.1 dvd original and see below

I have tried loading an 8.1 image from the usb drive which was down loaded from microsoft

I have flashed and updated the bios to the current version but still no joy completing boot. everything is seen in the bios setup.

any body have any suggestions.

it fires up gets to the install goes through it not always though.

February 8, 2017 | 09:49 PM - Posted by leigh (not verified)

how much wattage do this M-board uses

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