The Z87M Gaming has all of it’s cable headers and on board buttons around the outer edge of the board – all within 15mm of the outside edge. This is important because if you are trying to keep your cabling neat, it means that you can probably route your front panel IO and audio cables neatly to the board headers without having to go across the board – likewise for the fan headers. The battery is located between the PCIe slots – with a clear CMOS button on the rear IO panel, the only reason that you would need to get to it is to change the battery.
In a growing trend on gaming and enthusiast motherboards, we see the audio section of the board isolated by an LED lit channel.
When running SLI or Crossfire, the graphics cards are sandwiched close together which means that they will run hotter and louder than on a full sized board where there is usually a slot gap between the PCIe 16/8x slots. The other issue that this spacing presents is the difficulty in accessing the PCIe clip to release the cards. This is not a criticism of the MSI Z87M Gaming but just something to be aware of if you intend to use dual graphics cards on a micro-ATX board. The upside is that all of the IO connections along the bottom edge of the motherboard are accessible when using 2 dual slot graphics cards. Match this board with pair of upper or middle range graphics cards and a case with good ventilation for a powerful but compact LAN rig.
Rear IO Panel
MSI has taken the step of including 1 Display Port and 2 HDMI ports on the Rear IO panel and omitted a DVI port. The reality for anyone who buys this board is that it will have a dedicated Graphics Card (or two) so these may not be used. On board video is great for troubleshooting or for those unfortunate times when your Graphics card is RMA and you still want to browse the net, check email and maybe do some work that doesn’t need a discrete GPU.
The PS/2 connection might be useful for some hardcore gamers but I don’t have any surviving PS/2 peripherals so I was unable to test it. In case you have a lot of peripherals, MSI saw fit to also provide 2xUSB 2.0 and 6xUSB 3.0 ports as well as 2 eSATA ports. The Audio connectors are standard for most boards, even if the audio solution has been upgraded at a chipset and software level.
Finally, the “clear CMOS” button is a dead give-away that this board is for gamers who also like to push an overclock.