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MSI X99S Gaming 7 Motherboard Review

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
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Location
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Included Software pt.2

Included Software pt.2



FastBoot


Click on image to enlarge

Fast Boot is utility that allows for an easy and automatic way to enter into the BIOS immediately after a restart.


MSI Gaming APP


Click on image to enlarge

The MSI Gaming APP is a small utility that allows for quick access to three different system performance profiles. Interestingly it also provides gamers with a powerful tool to automatically or manually fine tune your display's colours, levels, brightness, contrast, and gamma.


Killer Network Manager


Click on image to enlarge

The Killer Network Manager is the software control interface for the Killer E2205 network processing unit (NPU) that is installed along with the drivers. This utility provides users with a lot of control and monitoring capabilities over every application that is accessing the network. It displays CPU usage, NPU usage, ICMP and UDP average ping, and the network utilization of every system process and program. This tool also allows you give priority to certain applications, and throttle or block others to free network resources for other applications. It is your one-stop tool for monitoring and controlling all network traffic.


Xsplit Gamecaster


Click on image to enlarge

For those of you who like streaming your gameplay to others, MSI have included a 6-month premium license to the XSplit Gamecaster live streaming and recording service. Although it is potentially a great addition, we didn't partake in this particular activity.


There are a bunch of other fairly interesting utilities that we don't have the time to cover. For example, the Sound Blaster Cinema 2 app allows you to manage the audio configuration. There is the MSI Smart Utilities which allow you some control over the Intel Smart Response feature, and the MSI Super Charger that speeds up charging on specific USB ports.
 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,087
Location
Montreal
Test Setup & Methodology

Test Setups & Methodology


For this review, we are going to be testing the performance of the MSI X99S Gaming 7 in three configurations: default settings, automatic overclock settings, and manual overclock settings. The components and software are the same across all three, and aside from manually selecting the frequencies, timings, and voltages in the manual overclock configuration, every option in the BIOS was at its default setting.

Intel Core i7 LGA2011-v3 Haswell-E Test Setup​

For all of the benchmarks, appropriate lengths are taken to ensure an equal comparison through methodical setup, installation, and testing. The following outlines our testing methodology:

A) Windows is installed using a full format.

B) Chipset drivers and accessory hardware drivers (audio, network, GPU) are installed.

C)To ensure consistent results, a few tweaks are applied to Windows 7 and the NVIDIA control panel:
  • UAC – Disabled
  • Indexing – Disabled
  • Superfetch – Disabled
  • System Protection/Restore – Disabled
  • Problem & Error Reporting – Disabled
  • Remote Desktop/Assistance - Disabled
  • Windows Security Center Alerts – Disabled
  • Windows Defender – Disabled
  • Screensaver – Disabled
  • Power Plan – High Performance
  • V-Sync – Off

D) All available Windows updates are then installed.

E) All programs are installed and then updated, followed by a defragment.

F) Benchmarks are each run three to eight times, and unless otherwise stated, the results are then averaged.

Here is a full list of the applications that we utilized in our benchmarking suite:
  • 3DMark Vantage Professional Edition v1.1.0
  • 3DMark11 Professional Edition v1.0.132.0
  • 3DMark 2013 Professional Edition v1.2.362
  • AIDA64 Extreme Edition v3.00.2536 Beta
  • Cinebench R11.529 64-bit
  • SuperPi Mod v1.9 WP
  • MaxxMEM² - PreView v2.01
  • Sisoft Sandra 2014.SP3 20.28
  • Valve Particle Simulation Benchmark v1.0.0.0
  • wPRIME version v2.10
  • X3: Terran Conflict Demo v1.0

That is about all you need to know methodology wise, so let's get to the good stuff!
 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
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Messages
1,087
Location
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Feature Testing: SATA Express Results

Feature Testing: SATA Express Results


Back in April, in our ASUS 9-Series Preview article, we mentioned that there were basically zero SATA Express devices ready to hit the market any time soon. Regrettably, the same seems to hold true today. Nevertheless, it is still interesting to see what this new high-speed interface is capable of. Thankfully for us, ASUS gave us a pretty neat storage device in the form of the Hyper Express enclosure, which utilizes this new interface.




Click on image to enlarge

The unit is packed with two Kingston SSDNow mS200 120GB mSATA solid state drives. These are based on the LSI SandForce SF-2241 controller and are rated at an impressive 550MB/s read and 520MB/s write speeds. Now this is not a review of this device, since this is still a pre-production product and you will not be able to buy one pre-assembled with SSDs inside. We just want to show you a little bit of what SATA Express is capable of.

As you have probably know, most current SATA 6Gb/s devices struggle to get anywhere near the theoretical 750MB/s limit. Due to overhead you are realistically looking at real-life transfer rates of up to about 550 to 575MB/s. Eventually we will see SATA Express 16Gb/s implementations capable of supporting transfer rates of up to 2GB/s, but at the moment all 9-series chipsets seem to be limited to a 10GB/s interface that is limited to about 1GB/s of bandwidth.

With all of this in mind, let's take a peak at the results.


SATA 3 vs. SATA Express - Click on image to enlarge

As you can see above, a modern solid state drive is capable of about 535-550MB/s. Often this is not a controller limitation, but an interface one. If you were to combine one of these modern SATA controllers with a faster interface, the results would be way above SATA 3's limits. That is what SATA-Express is promising to do. Not only do you get up to 1GB/s of bandwidth but there is a built-in backward compatibility with current SATA devices.

With the Hyper Express enclosure, we were able to get very close to the 740MB/s mark. This is a limitation with the pre-production Hyper Express, but it at least gives a small glimpse at what we can expect from future SATA Express devices. There is no doubt that within 3-4 months there will be devices that are fully capable of utilizing this interface's 1GB/s of bandwidth.
 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,087
Location
Montreal
Feature Testing: Onboard Audio

Feature Testing: Onboard Audio



Since fewer and fewer consumers seem to be buying discrete sound cards, the quality of a motherboard's onboard audio is now more important than ever. We figured that it was worthwhile to take a closer look at just how good the analog signal quality is on this new MSI X99S Gaming 7 and compare it to the EVGA X99 Classified and ASUS X99 Deluxe motherboards that we have recently reviewed. The MSI's onboard audio is built around the familiar Realtek ALC1150 CODEC, but features two powerful Texas Instruments OP1652 op-amps, a unique Direct Audio Power feature, and a very prominent interference isolation line. The EVGA features a dedicated Creative Core3D CA0132 quad-core audio processor, while the ASUS also Realtek's latest ALC1150 CODEC, but paired with a different T.I op-amp and a few additional Nichicon filtering capacitors. We are going to do this using both quantitative and qualitative analysis, since sound quality isn't really something that can be adequately explained with only numbers. To do this we have turned to the RightMark Audio Analyzer, basically the standard application for this type of testing. Since all the three motherboards support very high quality 24-bit, 192kHz audio playback we selected that as the sample mode option. Basically, what this test does is pipe the audio signal from the front-channel output to the line-in input via a 3.5mm male to 3.5mm male mini-plug cable, and then RightMark Audio Analyzer (RMAA) does the audio analysis. Obviously we disabled all software enhancements since they interfere with the pure technical performance that we are trying to benchmark.



As always, we used a mix of Grado SR225i and Sony MDR-V6 headphones, Westone UM1 IEMs, and Logitech Z-5500 5.1 speakers for our extensive listening period, and we are happy to report that the sound quality was quite pleasant. The super powerful headphone amplifiers obviously had zero problems pushing our low impedance 32-ohm Grado's to very high volume levels, same with the 63-ohm rated Sony's. We can't definitively say that it was louder than the 300-ohm capable ASUS, but MSI's implementation is probably capable of powering anything short of electrostatic headphones. As usual, we aren't even going to try and declare a winner in overall sound quality since at this high level it's entirely subjective and the differences are minute. As we have mentioned in the past, we believe that your average user will be perfectly content with this motherboard's onboard sound quality, and will probably won't need a dedicated sound card unless they require more advanced gaming audio features or have other specific audio needs.
 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,087
Location
Montreal
Auto & Manual Overclocking Results

Auto & Manual Overclocking Results


It wouldn't be an HWC review if we didn't include some overclocking results, so we thoroughly tested out this motherboard's capabilities, especially its auto-overclocking functionality. Though it features a new chipset, the X99 Deluxe is still fundamentally an LGA2011 motherboard, and as a result there is nothing new to report on how to overclock on this motherboard, but if you want any insights check out the overclocking section in our review of the Core i7-5960X. Our personal pointers are to keep the vCore at around 1.35V or lower, the CPU Cache voltage at up to 1.30V, and the System Agent voltage at up to 1.25V. These last two are really only needed if you plan on seriously pushing the Uncore frequency or the DDR4 memory speed.


Auto Overclocking


MSI’s overclocking regime starts with OC Genie for an easy one-button overclock. Our thoughts on OC Genie have been relatively consistent over the last few generations – offering only one automatic overclock is easy to use but for those users who want a bit more without manual overclocking, it might be a little short sighted.


Click on image to enlarge

As you can see, with OC Genie you can expect a 200Mhz increase on the CPU and a memory frequency boost from DDR4-2133 to DDR4-2400, none of which is actually noteworthy. This is just a simple and very cautious preset, but while it is easy and quick to apply (you just need to press the onboard OC Genie button) the results are underwhelming. We would definitely like to see MSI offer a choice of overclocking presets, and even maybe an intelligent automatic overclocking feature like what ASUS offers.


Manual Overclocking



Click on image to enlarge

As on our other X99 motherboards, we achieved a 4.4Ghz @ 1.35V overclock on MSI's X99. It's not really a 'hard limit' but there is not a lot of headroom above that without a serious vCore increase and an unmanageable bump in heat output. Instead we focused on increasing the Uncore/Cache and the memory frequency. As you can see, that proved to be a bit of a failure on this motherboard. Despite the fact that we have a very capable 16GB G.Skill RipJaws 4 DDR4-3000 15-15-15-35 kit it refused to not only properly enable the XMP Profile, but it also wouldn't allow us to manually set the desired frequency. We hit a wall at DDR4-2666, so instead we just focused on tightening the timings to 13-13-13-28 and applied the 1T command rate as well to improve performance.

Following a little investigation it seems that we are not the only ones having these issues with these last few BIOS versions. Once the XMP profile is engaged the motherboard attempts to boot but fails, and keeps retrying until the auto recovery kicks in. Likewise, we did not have much luck on the Uncore/Cache front. Our chip has proven itself 4300MHz capable, but on this motherboard 3600Mhz was the limit.

Some or all of our overclocking problems probably stem from the fact that anything above a 102Mhz base clock would cause a boot failure. It seems like there is a CPU strap issue, and since there is no option for it in the bios we can't manually select the appropriate strap (100/125/167/250Mhz) ourselves to try and resolve the issue.

Overall, we were able to 'max' out our processor, but MSI have some definite work to do on the BIOS front in order to achieve overclocking parity with the other large motherboard manufacturers. Also, a little more diverse and capable automatic overclocking functionality would be more than welcome.
 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,087
Location
Montreal
System Benchmarks

System Benchmarks


In the System and Gaming Benchmarks sections, we reveal the results from a number of benchmarks run with the Core i7-5960X and ASUS X99 Deluxe at default clocks, with the TPU Extreme Tuning preset applied, and using own our manual overclock. This will illustrate how much performance can be achieved with this motherboard in stock and overclocked form. For a thorough comparison of the Core i7-5960X versus a number of different CPUs have a look at our Intel Haswell-E Core i7-5960X Review.


SuperPi Mod v1.9 WP


When running the SuperPI 32MB benchmark, we are calculating Pi to 32 million digits and timing the process. Obviously more CPU power helps in this intense calculation, but the memory sub-system also plays an important role, as does the operating system. We are running one instance of SuperPi Mod v1.9 WP. This is therefore a single-thread workload.



wPRIME 2.10


wPrime is a leading multithreaded benchmark for x86 processors that tests your processor performance by calculating square roots with a recursive call of Newton's method for estimating functions, with f(x)=x2-k, where k is the number we're sqrting, until Sgn(f(x)/f'(x)) does not equal that of the previous iteration, starting with an estimation of k/2. It then uses an iterative calling of the estimation method a set amount of times to increase the accuracy of the results. It then confirms that n(k)2=k to ensure the calculation was correct. It repeats this for all numbers from 1 to the requested maximum. This is a highly multi-threaded workload.



Cinebench R11.5


Cinebench R11.5 64-bit
Test1: CPU Image Render
Comparison: Generated Score


The latest benchmark from MAXON, Cinebench R11.5 makes use of all your system's processing power to render a photorealistic 3D scene using various different algorithms to stress all available processor cores. The test scene contains approximately 2,000 objects containing more than 300,000 total polygons and uses sharp and blurred reflections, area lights and shadows, procedural shaders, antialiasing, and much more. This particular benchmarking can measure systems with up to 64 processor threads. The result is given in points (pts). The higher the number, the faster your processor.



Sandra Processor Arithmetic and Processor Multi-Media Benchmarks

SiSoftware Sandra (the System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is an information & diagnostic utility. The software suite provides most of the information (including undocumented) users like to know about hardware, software, and other devices whether hardware or software. The name “Sandra” is a (girl) name of Greek origin that means "defender", "helper of mankind".

The software version used for these tests is SiSoftware Sandra 2013 SP4. In the 2012 version of Sandra, SiSoft has updated the .Net benchmarks and the GPGPU benchmarks have been upgraded to General Processing (GP) benchmarks, able to fully test the new APU (CPU+GPU) processors. The two benchmarks that we used are the Processor Multi-Media and Processor Arithmetic benchmarks. These three benchmarks were chosen as they provide a good indication of three varying types of system performance. The multi-media test shows how the processor handles multi-media instructions and data and the arithmetic test shows how the processor handles arithmetic and floating point instructions. These two tests illustrate two important areas of a computer’s speed and provide a wide scope of results.






MaxxMem Benchmark

Created by MaxxPI², the MaxxMem benchmark tests your computer’s raw memory performance, combining copy, read, write and latency tests into one global score. This memory benchmark is a classic way to measure bandwidth of a memory subsystem.

MaxxMem uses continuous memoryblocks, sized in power of 2 from 16MB up to 512MB, starting either writing to or reading from it. To enable high-precision memory performance measurement, they both internally work with multiple passes and averages calculations per run.

Further, the main goal was to minimize (CPU) cache pollution on memory reads and to eliminate it (almost completely) on memory writes. Additionally, MaxxMem operates with an aggressive data prefetching algorithm. This all will deliver an excellent judge of bandwidth while reading and writing.


 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,087
Location
Montreal
Gaming Benchmarks

Gaming Benchmarks




Futuremark 3DMark (2013)


3DMark v1.1.0
Graphic Settings: Fire Strike Preset
Rendered Resolution: 1920x1680
Test: Specific Physics Score and Full Run 3DMarks
Comparison: Generated Score


3DMark is the brand new cross-platform benchmark from the gurus over at Futuremark. Designed to test a full range of hardware from smartphones to high-end PCs, it includes three tests for DirectX 9, DirectX 10 and DirectX 11 hardware, and allows users to compare 3DMark scores with other Windows, Android and iOS devices. Most important to us is the new Fire Strike preset, a DirectX 11 showcase that tests tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading. Like every new 3DMark version, this test is extremely GPU-bound, but it does contain a heavy physics test that can show off the potential of modern multi-core processors.




Futuremark 3DMark 11


3DMark 11 v1.0.5
Graphic Settings: Performance Preset
Resolution: 1280x720
Test: Specific Physics Score and Full Run 3DMarks
Comparison: Generated Score


3DMark 11 is Futuremark's very latest benchmark, designed to tests all of the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading. At the moment, it is lot more GPU-bound than past versions are now, but it does contain a terrific physics test which really taxes modern multi-core processors.




Futuremark 3DMark Vantage


3DMark Vantage v1.1.2
Graphic Settings: Performance Preset
Resolution: 1280x1024

Test: Specific CPU Score and Full Run 3DMarks
Comparison: Generated Score

3DMark Vantage is the follow-up to the highly successful 3DMark06. It uses DirectX 10 exclusively so if you are running Windows XP, you can forget about this benchmark. Along with being a very capable graphics card testing application, it also has very heavily multi-threaded CPU tests, such Physics Simulation and Artificial Intelligence (AI), which makes it a good all-around gaming benchmark.




Valve Particle Simulation Benchmark


Valve Particle Simulation Benchmark
Resolution: 1680x1050
Anti-Aliasing: 4X
Anisotropic Filtering: 8X
Graphic Settings: High
Comparison: Particle Performance Metric

Originally intended to demonstrate new processing effects added to Half Life 2: Episode 2 and future projects, the particle benchmark condenses what can be found throughout HL2:EP2 and combines it all into one small but deadly package. This test does not symbolize the performance scale for just Episode Two exclusively, but also for many other games and applications that utilize multi-core processing and particle effects. As you will see the benchmark does not score in FPS but rather in its own "Particle Performance Metric", which is useful for direct CPU comparisons.




X3: Terran Conflict


X3: Terran Conflict 1.2.0.0
Resolution: 1680x1050
Texture & Shader Quality: High
Antialiasing 4X
Anisotropic Mode: 8X
Glow Enabled

Game Benchmark
Comparison: FPS (Frames per Second)

X3: Terran Conflict (X3TC) is the culmination of the X-series of space trading and combat simulator computer games from German developer Egosoft. With its vast space worlds, intricately detailed ships, and excellent multi-threaded game engine, it remains a great test of modern CPU performance.


 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,087
Location
Montreal
Voltage Regulation / Power Consumption

Voltage Regulation / Power Consumption



Our voltage regulation testing will focus on the various voltages and the differences encountered between what is selected in the BIOS and what is measured by a digital multi-meter (DMM). Thanks to the onboard voltage read point we didn't have to go poking & prodding everywhere, since all the voltage read points are located in one spot...though it isn't a particularly convenient spot to be honest. Users can either take their measurements straight from the voltage read pads, which are labeled and thus much more user-friendly that the approach that we saw on the EVGA X99 Classified.

Now that we have established where the read points are, let’s have a look at the results. These measurements were taken at stock system speeds and with C1E, C-STATE, Enhanced SpeedStep, and Turbo Boost enabled in the BIOS. Here are our findings:


Although the CPU Cache and System Agent voltages are still missing-in-action, this motherboard's voltage read points are still way more relevant than the ones that EVGA chose to emphasize. Having said that, the results that we did get do look pretty much perfect. Overall, this motherboard has exceptionally good voltage regulation output. What you set in the bios is pretty much exactly what the board outputs. Also, there is no voltage droop to speak of on the vCore line, so there's no reason to play around with the Load-Line Calibration (LLC).


Power Consumption


For this section, every energy saving feature was enabled in the BIOS and the Windows power plan was changed from High Performance to Balanced. For our idle test, we let the system idle for 15 minutes and measured the peak wattage through our UPM EM100 power meter. For our CPU load test, we ran HyperPi 0.99b on all available threads until completion, measuring the peak wattage via the UPM EM100 power meter. For our overall system load test, we ran HyperPi 0.99b on all available threads while simultaneously loading the GPU with 3DMark (2013).



Generally speaking, this MSI motherboard had power consumption numbers that were pretty much identical to that of the ASUS X99 Deluxe, which is not surprising since they feature a very similar feature set and comparable amount of onboard controllers. The EVGA X99 Classified achieved much lower load figures than both of these motherboards, but again it is kind of 'stripper' model with effectively no secondary controllers and more CPU power phases to efficiently spread the load across.
 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,087
Location
Montreal
Conclusion

Conclusion


What makes the X99S Gaming 7 unique - at least when compared to the other X99 motherboards that we have reviewed - and other than cool lighting effects, is that it is rather attractively priced. With a street price that is hovering around $315CDN at the moment, we can't exactly call this inexpensive but it does deliver a whole lot for the money when compared against much of the competition. That is a solid $150 cheaper than the ASUS X99 Deluxe, and hardware wise all that you're really giving up is one PCI-E x16 slot, one M.2 connector, one SATA Express port, and onboard Wi-Fi/Bluetooth capabilities. Our only hardware criticisms are that MSI haven't included a 3-way SLI bridge, and that there should ideally be a gap between the two primary PCI-E x16 slots so that the cards don't needlessly heat each other up.

When it comes to performance, at default settings this model was perfectly on par with the CPU and memory numbers that we have seen from the likes of ASUS and EVGA. Likewise, it's high grade storage interfaces were inline with the competition as well. MSI's Audio Boost 2 onboard audio proved to be everything we could hope for, excelling in the areas of noise level, dynamic range, and stereo crosstalk. The truly powerful 600-ohm headphone amplification guarantees that you will be able to power just about any headphones on the market, especially when you consider that most fall around the 32-ohm range. We also appreciated the amount of thought that's been given to ensuring clean power delivery to the two 'USB Audio Power' ports, perfect for powering increasingly popular USB DACs.


As we revealed in the Overclocking Results section, although the OC Genie automatic overclocking feature is easy and quick, it's result left us underwhelmed due to its meager 200Mhz speed bump. Regarding manual overclocks, although we had already hit a frequency/voltage/heat wall at about 4.4Ghz and 1.30V, the X99S Gaming 7 didn't prove quite as adept when we tried to push the Uncore and memory frequency. Despite the fact that we have a very capable 16GB G.Skill RipJaws 4 DDR4-3000 memory kit we hit a wall at DDR4-2666, since this motherboard was unable to apply the XMP Profile, and did not respond to our manual attempts to reach DDR4-3000.

Likewise, we did not have much luck on the Uncore/Cache front. Although our Core i7-5960X can easily run at 4300MHz, we hit an insurmountable 3600MHz limit on this motherboard. We are holding out hope that MSI will fix these problems in upcoming BIOS versions.

Overall though, we enjoyed this motherboard. It looks good, it's easy to work on, it performs well and it has strong expansion and storage capabilities. The $315CAD price tag is quite appealing too, at least compared to the $470 ASUS X99 Deluxe and the $440 EVGA X99 Classified that we have reviewed thus far. There are no deal-breaking compromises on this model, so it is not a hard product to recommend...as long as you can live with the current overclocking limitations.
 
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