In the land of the evolving BIOS, one everlasting memory of MSI will stick with me always – the propensity for MSI to include games in the BIOS.  Back on the initial launch of graphical interface BIOSes (UEFIs) on the P67 chipset, MSI’s initial design was to offer a series of options using colors, but also to include a section involving simple games like Breakout, Pairs, and some Snake derivative.  While a baffling situation for any reviewer to be in, it did point out the obvious nature of what a graphical BIOS should be – interactive, appealing and easy to use.  As a technical exercise, the games did their job, but the games were clearly not going to stay.

Since then, MSI have taken two steps forward is aesthetics, but two steps back in accessibility and design.  What we have had since X79 is literally a ‘winning’ design – technically the third place in an internal competition at MSI to design the next BIOS (those that came first and second were apparently not suitable for implementation).  This BIOS is great for information – at the front screen we get vital information that should be in any BIOS: the motherboard and BIOS version, the CPU and CPU speed, the memory count and speed, and the CPU temperature.   We also have access to some secondary important characteristics such as boot order, time and date.

The downside in the BIOS lies in the selection of options.  Choosing a menu on the side of the BIOS merely gives a textual list of all there is to offer.  It does not embrace the spirit of interaction, and when faced with a wall of text (such as the OC menu), it is not pleasing to decipher.  To use a baseball analogy, the MSI system is neither a hit nor a strike out/pop-fly – I see it more as a 4-ball walk: enough to get to first base and potential to develop, but could do better.

The options available in the BIOS seem to come from two different sides of the development team.  In the Settings Menu we get access to several sub-menus, each relating to their corresponding target – USB Configuration, Hardware Monitor, Power Management et al.  In the OC menu however, as shown above, we are presented with the aforementioned wall of text.  Each option is on a new line, and no separation between the CPU options, the OCP options, the LLC options, the memory options, and so on.  Not only this, some of the options could be construed as confusing at first glance (such as Digital Compensation Level, which may well be VDroop, LLC, or some other term) unless you are completely au fait with MSI terminology.  The BIOS does not offer any assistance in learning what each of these commands mean, or whether an extreme overclocker needs 0% or 100% for a particular command as different manufacturers have different interpretations.  I would instigate a redesign if I got hold of this BIOS code.

Being a motherboard, controlling the fans is important.  As mentioned before, our fans are controlled through the Fintek SuperIO chip – on the MSI Z77IA-E53 this gives our CPU and SYS fan headers two different types of option.  The CPU header is a ‘Smart’ target, which allows us to specify a simple gradient between two optimal temperatures.  The SYS fan header in comparison is limited in its speed range, leaving it with a fixed RPM.

Most of the options in this BIOS are no different than options in other vendors’ BIOSes – AHCI is enabled by default, as are the WiFi and Bluetooth modules.  The mSATA/mPCIe slot defaults to automatic and should detect any device attached correctly.  There are no automatic overclocking options except ‘OC Genie II mode’, clickable at the top.  In the Utilities menu we can activate a BIOS update via a USB stick, or offer a Live Update via the internet if a suitable network configuration is supported.

MSI Z77IA-E53 Overview, Visual Inspection, Board Features MSI Z77IA-E53 In The Box, Software
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  • Sabresiberian - Tuesday, January 1, 2013 - link

    Thanks for the great comparison review!

    It looks like there is a little mistake in the spec list for the Asus board, which shows it having a mini-PCIe connector. I would love it if it did, but I didn't see it on the board and it isn't mentioned in other spec lists.

    It is important to me because I would ideally need connection for both a graphics card and a sound card (which I believe I could do through a mini-PCIe to PCIe x1 adapter if needed). This makes the EVGA Stinger the choice for me here, though the Asus board is the one I would prefer to buy.

    I am truthfully a little disappointed in the EVGA board, which seems all too common with EVGA products in general these days. Great support is still there, but I'd rather they build bleeding edge components and not have to find out whether or not their support is as good as people say it is. The Stinger is a good board to be sure, and the Intel LAN alone puts it in the category of "will buy" for me, but I was hoping it would be something that would match or beat the Asus P877-I, and it just doesn't.
  • Foeketijn - Tuesday, January 1, 2013 - link

    When you take overclocking out of the equation, B75 has it all, for the price just a tiny bit north of the old H61 chipset. Support for IB features (1600Mhz DDR3, PCI-e 3.0), Native Sata III, USB 3.0.
    It wasn't intended for the DIY market but fits the bill perfectly in my opinion. Only the very very few who need to OC, +16Gb ram or multiple SSD's @ full 6 Gb/s need the Z77 chipset.

    The only thing is, that us mere mortals can't predict is, if a much cheaper chipset is used, did the OEM also cheapskate on the critical parts to? I would love to see some in-depth component analysis which I see for example, when a PSU is taken apart.
    Which components are used? how well is the soldering done, does it still work at a sauna lanparty, etc.
    I might be alone in this, but I would find that much more valuable information than all the performance benchmarks together (race to the bottom, be dammed!).
    Including the northbridge in the CPU made motherboard and CPU reviews so predictible (or borring).Since then, I'm only interested in stability, ease of installation (nicely covered) and practical use (fan controll, MEM compatibility ect).
    <offtopic> Oh I loved the XP-m 2500+ siverpainting 2001 era where you actually could get a noticeable improvement of performance and not necessarily have to sacrifice stability or risk bankruptcy</offtopic>
  • vanwazltoff - Tuesday, January 1, 2013 - link

    i picked up an asus p8z77-i deluxe/wd before christmas and made a beast gaming computer out of it with an i5-3750k OCed to 4.5ghz and a gtx670 =]
  • vanwazltoff - Tuesday, January 1, 2013 - link

  • Beaver M. - Tuesday, January 1, 2013 - link

    Loved the POST screen measurements and the DPC latency testing. Something you dont see every day. Actually Ive never seen it, and yet I always wanted to know those.

    However I am not really interested in the Z77s, since they have a horrible layout for my needs. Only the Asus one comes close to what I need, but I just dont buy Asus anymore because of several very bas experiences.

    So, I wish you would also test the B75 and H77s.
  • paksoy - Tuesday, January 1, 2013 - link

    I love the features of this Asus mobo, but i want to use it in a really small form factor case like the Antec ISK 110 VESA Case.

    I'm just worried that the height of the VRAM board would prevent it from using it with this case.
  • mi1stormilst - Tuesday, January 1, 2013 - link

    I still opted for the Gigabyte Z77N and love it...
  • Sivar - Wednesday, January 2, 2013 - link

    Does this refer to the ALC889 playing an audio file encoded at 192KHz?
    If so, does it really matter? Failing a test is never a good thing, but I know of no widely available 192KHz audio source, and such a source would have no benefit, nor would a 96KHz source.
  • cjs150 - Wednesday, January 2, 2013 - link

    I am a happy user of the AS Rock board in a silent HTPC. It works exceptionally well. However it is clear that some work still needs to be done on motherboard design.

    MSata on back is excellent - now can we have it as SATA 3 because the better MSata SSDs are all Sata 3.

    Placement of Sata connectors is often awkward on these boards. On edge and at right angles please.

    Similarly I would love it if someone either did the 24 pin ATX power connector at right angles or someone manufactured a right angled converter that did not require de soldering the motherboard connector. Cable management in Mini-OTX is very hard and that would really help.

    Finally, careful choice of RAM can eliminate issues Ian had about the closeness of the CPU socket preventing the use of many after market coolers. I use the Samsung green low profie memory, which is so low that any after market cooler can be used (and runs at 1.35v, is an unbelievably good overclocker and reasonably priced!)
  • romrunning - Wednesday, January 2, 2013 - link

    As has been mentioned previously, the H77 chipset is great for those who do not need overclocking. I've used the Intel DH77DF, and I heartily recommend it. Since the DH77DF has an eSATA port (not too common), I've even been able to keep an eSATA dock that I used before USB 3.0 was more readily available. If you install this board into a Fractal Design Node 304 case, you can use all of the SATA ports as well. I've used it with a Silverstone SG05 case, and the loudest part of my setup is the fan on the graphics card (Radeon 7850).

    One thing I've noticed, though, is the relatively low mic input from the front audio. Not sure if this is common to the Realtek ALC8xx chip series, but even after boosting the gain in Win7 to +30db, it still isn't quite as loud as an older AMD board I previously had (which didn't need a boost at all).

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