MSI Z77A-G45 Thunderbolt Motherboard Review
Features, Layout, and Bundled Accessories
Courtesy of MSI
- Winki 3
- Thunderbolt™ Technology : The world's fastest I/O standard
- Military Class III components: Top quality & stability
- OC Genie II: Auto OC to boost performance in 1 sec
- ClickBIOS II: Easy-to-use UEFI BIOS interface
- THX TruStudio PRO: deliver the fullest audio experience
- Support USB 3.0 & SATA 6Gb/s
- VIRTU MVP
- HDMI v1.4
- APS (Active Phase Switching)
- USB Safeguard
- Live Update 5
- AMD CrossFireX
- NVIDIA SLI
- Instant OC
With a no-frills appearance, the MSI Z77A-G45 Thunderbolt motherboard sports a black and blue theme throughout with a flat black coat on the motherboard surface for good measure. There is more than enough room for all the included components with SATA ports, USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports, and more than enough fan headers for any case. MSI also included an effective passive cooling solution for the CPU power circuitry and Southbridge chipset.
MSI kept the back of the motherboard clear of circuitry, avoiding the possibility of knocking of those sensitive chips off the board. The back of the board is also colored flat black.
MSI included the following ports in the Z77A-G45 Thunderbolt rear panel: a PS/2 keyboard/mouse port, 4 USB 2.0 ports, 4 USB 3.0 ports controlled by the Intel Z77 chipset, a CMOS reset button, a Realtek GigE NIC port, an HDMI video port, a Thunderbolt port, a VGA video port, an optical audio output port, an RCA audio output port, and 6 analogue audio ports. According to our MSI Z77A-GD80 review containing Thunderbolt port-related testing, the Thunderbolt port in the rear panel can be dual tasked for both drive usage and video output usage without degradation. Take note that the MSI Z77A-GD80 motherboard is designed using the same Thunderbolt implementation as that used on the Z77A-G45 Thunderbolt.
MSI included a total of three PCI-Express 3.0 x16 slots and four PCI-Express x1 slots. PCI-Express slot 1 remains accessible no matter how many of the PCI-Express 3.0 x16 slots are filled. However, accessing the CMOS battery becomes challenging with a video card occupying the primary PCI-Express x16 slot. The board supports full x16 bandwidth with a single, x8 bandwidth in a two card configuration, and x8/x4/x4 bandwidth in a three card configuration.
The CMOS battery and BIOS reset jumper are located in between the primary and secondary PCI-Express x16 slots.
The front panel audio, serial port, SYSFAN4, and TPM module (JTMP1) headers are located in the upper left corner of the board, along the upper outer edge of PCI-Express x16 slot 3.
The voice control module (JDLED2) and front panel headers are located along the lower outer edge of PCI-Express x16 slot 3.
The onboard USB 2.0, chassis intrusion (JC1), and board debug (JSPI1) headers are located in the lower left corner of the board. The board debug header is used by MSI for board verification and testing purposes.
The Intel Z77 chipset is covered by a large aluminum, low profile heat sink just below the primary and secondary PCI-Express x16 slots.
MSI included a total of six on-board SATA ports and one USB 3.0 header, just under the chipset cooler. All SATA ports are controlled by the Intel Z77 chipset controller. The black colored ports are SATA 2 3GB/s ports, while the white colored ports are SATA 3 6GB/s ports.
The four on-board DDR3 memory slots are located in the board's lower right corner, The primary memory slots are the black colored slots with dual channel memory mode enabled when modules are seated both slots. The board supports up to 32GB of memory running at up to 2800MHz. Note that memory speeds above 1600MHz are considered overclocked speeds and are outside of the official Intel stock memory speed specifications. The 24-pin ATX power connector and a system fan header are located to the lower left the memory slots.
In the lower right corner of the board an additional system fan header and the MultiConnect panel (JTURBO1) header. The MultiConnect panel header can be used to connect to an MSI front panel device for controlling OC Genie related overclocking. The CPU power phase LEDs are located along the outer right edge of the DIMM slots.
MSI left more than adequate room surrounding the LGA1155 socket for use of most CPU cooling devices. Along the sockets top and right sides is a heat pipe cooling assembly covering the board's CPU power circuitry. Two additional fan headers are located to the left and lower left of the CPU socket.
The onboard ATX12V 8-pin power connector is located to the upper right of the CPU socket heat pipe cooler.
MSI kept the bundled accessories to a minimum with only the bare essentials included.
The bundled user manuals and installation DVD's provide more than enough information to get the board up and running, including a separate manual for the using the integrated Thunderbolt device port.
The rear panel shield is a base black color with all device ports clearly marked for easy identification.
MSI includes a total of two SATA cables, rated for up to 6GB/s operation. The included cables are locking cables with a mix of straight and 90 degree connectors included.
For use with the on-board front panel headers, MSI included their M-Connector plugs. You simply plug the front panel plugs into the M-Connector and plug the M-Connector into the appropriate board header. It makes installation the front panel plugs much easier.