MSI’s 970 Gaming AM3+ Motherboard: A Review

Quality motherboards from MSI’s Gaming series…

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Today we’re looking at MSI’s 970 Gaming motherboard for AMD’s FX series of CPUs. This is a socket AM3+ motherboard with AMD’s 970 chipset and SB950 southbridge. As such this means that its limited to only 16 PCI-E 2.0 lanes but comes with USB 3.0 and SATA III 6 Gb/s support. On the 970 gaming there are two PCI-E x16 slots and the upper slot offers all sixteen lanes while the lower slot is limited to 8 lanes. When both slots are in use they are limited to 8 lanes each. There is also a pair of PCI-E x1 slots and a pair of standard PCI slots which are a bit of a rarity these days.

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As motherboards go the 970 Gaming strikes a good balance between features and price. The two most important features of this motherboard are its Audio Boost 2 system and its Killer E2205 ethernet controller. Outside of those two headliners this motherboard also has MSI Military class 4 components, a stack of gold plated PS2 and USB ports for input devices and MSI’s OC Genie 4. MSI’s opted for a pretty standard dual PCI-E slot layout on the 970 Gaming. This is a good layout that leaves a full slot of space between graphics cards assuming that both cards are dual slot units.

For the sake of transparency I did not get this motherboard directly from MSI. Rather AMD sent it to me so that I could work on a separate article.

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First up lets talk about Audio Boost 2. Over the last year we’ve seen a major change in how channel OEMs are approaching motherboard audio. We’ve gone from almost never hearing about audio at all to seeing it listed as a major feature on most motherboards. Whatever the impetuous for this change may be the product of this new-found focus on audio has been nothing, if not a step forward for audiophiles and gamers alike.

Like similar systems from other motherboard makers, MSI’s Audio Boost 2 works by implementing five major changes compared to older audio systems. The section of the motherboard containing the audio circuits is isolated from the rest of the motherboard with a translucent line about a millimeter thick. There a now ‘high quality’ amplifiers and capacitors as well as gold plated audio jacks. To top it all off MSI has encased the amplifiers and the actual audio chip, likely a Realtek unit, in a small metal case to shield those components from interference.

While details about how exactly how those components work together to improve audio quality are scarce the impact of the amplifiers and the lack of any pops or hissing is easy to hear with even mediocre speakers. To be clear Audio Boost 2 isn’t a game changing feature, but it is a must have for motherboards in this price bracket.

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Next up we have Killer’s E2205 network interface controller which endows this motherboard with a single Gigabit ethernet port. Killer claims that its chips do a number of things that standard ethernet controllers don’t to minimise network latency. Whether or not those claims are true Killer’s software suite is a useful Quality of Service tool to ensure that traffic over the controller identified as coming from ‘gaming’ applications gets priority over everything else. In this regard the E2205 is a welcome addition in that can help ensure that network lag is as low as possible.

One notable feature of this motherboard that we didn’t see in the marketing materials is that the 970 Gaming has a matte finish PCB rather than a gloss or semi-gloss finish like PC enthusiasts are accustomed to seeing.

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Perhaps the most striking aspect of this motherboard is the color scheme that MSI opted to use. A base black color accented by bright red highlights and white text. MSI even managed to sneak in some tasteful chrome prices on the logos. The 970 Gaming is a handsome looking motherboard especially for someone whose looking to capitalize on AMD’s red team theme.

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MSI is pushing its Gaming series branding with this motherboard. We looked at another Gaming series motherboard from MSI back when AMD launched its A10-7700K chip earlier this year. So far I like the direction that MSI’s heading with these series. They’ve got an awesome color scheme and the dragon bits are well executed and pretty neat looking.

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Taking a closer look at the back panel I/O options on the 970 Gaming we can see eight USB 2.0 ports, a PS/2 port, an optical audio port, ethernet port, and six eighth inch audio jacks with the stereo out jack highlighted in red. As I mentioned earlier both the PS/2 and USB ports on the first stack have gold-plated connectors and the audio jacks are gold-plated as well.

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On the inside of the board we’ve got six SATA III ports, four fan headers, an audio header, one USB 3.0 header, and a pair of USB 2.0 headers. Two things that are conspicuously missing from this motherboard are an error code reader and physical power and reset buttons.

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The DIMM positioning on this motherboard is good. There’s about three centimeters between the edge of the CPU and the first DIMM which should be plenty of space for nearly any cooler.

MSI 970 (8 of 12)And finally we have the power supply circuitry on this motherboard; I count 8 phases.

MSI’s 970 Gaming is a well made motherboard that has a lot to offer. It’s got a great color scheme, good features, an entry-level $99 price point. If we were to make revision to this motherboard the only thing we’d ask for is an error code reader and physical power+reset buttons. If MSI’s 970 Gaming is the future of entry-level motherboards then count us in.S|A

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Thomas Ryan is a freelance technology writer and photographer from Seattle, living in Austin. You can also find his work on SemiAccurate and PCWorld. He has a BA in Geography from the University of Washington with a minor in Urban Design and Planning and specializes in geospatial data science. If you have a hardware performance question or an interesting data set Thomas has you covered.