Date: Thursday , June 28, 2018
Micro Star International or MSI as it’s more commonly known was founded in the latter half of 1986. The company is based in Taiwan and has a presence in over 120 countries worldwide. An interesting fact that people are generally not aware of is that MSI’s first product was an overclockable 286 motherboard. This goes to show how overclocking and performance have been a part of MSI’s focus from the beginning. Fast-forward 31 years after its founding, MSI continues this proud tradition of performance and innovation. The company now has a purely gaming focused product line. It also sponsors eSports tournaments and teams as well as hosting its own events.
MSI has a diverse product portfolio. The MSI product line includes laptops, desktops, monitors, motherboards, graphics cards, VR equipment, and computer peripherals. While MSI’s focus is clearly on PC gaming, it does have some professional and workstation-oriented products as well. MSI also has its Dragon collection products. This includes a couple of backpack options and an MSI Dragon plushie and "lego."
The MSI X470 Gaming M7 AC is based AMD’s X470 chipset for socket AM4 processors. This includes the Ryzen 1000 and 2000 series processors. The MSI X470 Gaming M7 AC supports all the latest features and standards such as M.2, NVMe, PCI-Express 3.0, USB 3.1 Gen 1&2, SATA 6Gb/s and more. Usual steel reinforcement found on most enthusiast motherboards can be found on the X470 Gaming M7 AC. There is plenty of RGB lighting for people who are into that as well. Naturally, with the gaming focus, this motherboard supports the most popular multi-GPU options as well.
The X470 Gaming M7 AC offers some other gaming-centric features such as MSI’s gaming hotkey and gaming device port. The gaming hotkey software allows you to use macros with any keyboard. MSI also has it’s "Game Boost" feature which is a fancy marketing term for its automated overclocking. This involves the use of either the overclocking knob or the MSI Gaming App to utilize this feature. As stated earlier, the motherboard is designed for multi-GPU gaming. The X470 Gaming M7 AC supports 2-Way and Quad-SLI, Quad-Crossfire and up to 3-Way Crossfire technologies.
The motherboard was built for overclocking as it uses high quality components. This includes high quality power phases and capacitors. Dual 8-pin power connectors are used instead of the traditional 8+4 arrangement for greater power delivery. MSI’s OC Engine 2 is fancy marketing speak for an external clock generator. This allows the base frequency for the CPU to be adjusted beyond the manufacturer’s original specifications. Not only that, it allows the frequency to be adjusted in smaller increments as well as within a greater operating range. MSI also advertises premium power phases, and a full digital power design. Load-line calibration is also a feature offered on this motherboard. The X470 Gaming M7 AC has onboard power, reset, clear CMOS, and a BIOS flashback button. These features can make overclocking a much easier process when things go wrong or your doing benchmark testing.
Main Specifications Overview:
Detailed Specifications Overview:
The packaging for the X470 Gaming M7 AC is very basic, but nothing unusual. It has reasonably tasteful artwork on the box. The motherboard is packed in a cardboard insert that protects it. It also comes in an anti-static bag. Our sample arrived intact, with all accessories accounted for. Inside the box you’ll find the following accessories: User guide, driver disc, registration card, SATA cable labels, SLI bridge, two wireless antennas, I/O shield, RGB extension header, Corsair RGB cable, SATA cables, and M.2 screws.
The layout is excellent. There aren’t any significant or even minor problem areas to worry about. The motherboard’s construction is excellent and thus, feels extremely high quality. RGB LEDs are plentiful, but not overwhelming. There are 6x fan headers on the motherboard, each of which supports DC and PWM control modes. One interesting feature on the X470 Gaming M7 AC are the fan mode LED indicators which tell you whether that fan can be controlled fully or not. For lovers of RGB lighting, there are two standard RGB headers and one specifically for Corsair RGB lighting equipped devices. Motherboard ports and connectors are laid out in a well thought out manner. Ports are clearly labeled for easy reference.
The CPU area is free of any major obstructions. The heatsinks are what I’d classify as medium sized. The heatsinks are high quality with decent finish work. These are black in color and are all screwed into place and don’t move around. The contact with the thermal pad is good leaving no gaps or areas without appropriate contact. However, there are no embedded heatpipes in these MOSFET coolers. You shouldn’t have any problems mounting larger CPU cooling solutions to the X470 Gaming M7 AC.
There are four 288-pin DIMM slots, supporting a total of 64GB of DDR4 RAM. MSI’s steel armor reinforces the DIMM slots and prevents PCB bending and shearing during RAM installation. The X470 Gaming M7 AC uses double sided locking tabs for memory module retention. I’ve asked MSI in the past why they’ve gone back to this style memory slot over the newer single locking tab design. MSI responded by saying that many of its customers prefer this style of slot, which I don’t understand. However, this is a minor issue that means very little in the grand scheme of things. There is no color coding on these slots to denote proper dual channel memory mode operation. (Editor's Note: MSI has moved back to these 2-tab locks on the memory slots due to support calls and issues with these. Not that these do not work perfectly, but the fact that some folks are confused by these. MSI has been close to, if not already by now, the biggest seller on motherboards in North America. With that comes a lot of "non-enthusiast" customers that are not familiar with the the single-side locking mechanisms.)
The chipset is cooled by a flat, passive heatsink. What makes this interesting is that it incorporates MSI’s M.2 Twin FROZR heat shield. This is tightly hinged off the heatsink and has no lateral movement. It simply moves to open or close. The hinges are high quality and the cover is tight enough to remain in the open position without flapping around. On the back of the FROZR shield are two thermal pads for your SSDs. The heatsink itself is solid black in color and has an almost matte finish to it. Like the other heatsinks on the motherboard, it’s screwed into place instead of using plastic push pins and springs for tension. My only issue with this cover is that the screws aren’t captive.
Next to the chipset and cooling solution, you will also find onboard power and reset controls. MSI’s is still using the same overclocking control knob it has used on past motherboards. Most of these have a more garish red and black color scheme, but this one is all black. The plastic feels incredibly cheap and incrementing adjustments feel gritty yet somehow mushy at the same time. However, MSI is not without a sense of humor as a knob goes up to 11. The POST code or debug LED display is present in the same general area as well.
The expansion slot area is thoughtfully configured. There are two PCI-Express x16 Gen 3.0 slots supporting a x16/x0 or x8/x8 lane configuration. The primary and secondary slots use stainless steel reinforcement for added strength to prevent PCB warping and sheering effects. There is a third PCIe x16 slot, but this one is Gen 2 only and only has 4x PCIe lanes electrically. There are also 3x PCIe x1 Gen 2.0 slots.
Additionally, there are two M.2 slots. The first of which has 4x PCIe Gen 3.0 lanes allocated to it and supports 110mm long devices. Either SATA or PCIe compliant devices can be used in this slot. The secondary M.2 slot is limited to 2x Gen 2.0 PCIe lanes and supports only 80mm PCIe devices. SATA devices and longer drives can’t be used. There are two mounting pegs for each slot offered. This is necessary given how the FROZR cover works and it allows the use of shorter M.2 devices.
The back panel is relatively simple. Unfortunately, it lacks the built-in I/O shield we’ve come to like on the higher end motherboards offered by GIGABYTE and ASUS. So far, I haven’t seen any MSI motherboards with this feature, but MSI does have some models with those. There are 4x USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports, 2x USB 2.0 ports, 2x USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports (1x Type-A, 1x Type-C), 1x PS/2 keyboard or mouse port, 1x RJ-45 port, 1x optical output, 5x mini-stereo jacks, 2x WiFi antenna ports, a clear CMOS button, and one BIOS recovery button. The mini-stereo jacks are gold plated with black plastic surrounds.