Conclusion: Does the 970 Gaming Conquer All?
When I first caught sight of the MSI 970 Gaming board, I was quite excited that someone was revitalizing the AM3+ ecosystem with a new and interesting board. Here was a board that looked great, had some really good features, and did not cost an arm and a leg. Once I discovered some of the corners that were cut to achieve the price that it sells for, I was less impressed. This does not mean that it is a bad product; I was just slightly less enthused about what it in fact offered.
The bottom of the board is a busy place. A second GPU installed would cover most of that. There is plenty of space between the first PEG slot and the second, but that makes things crowded on the bottom.
The biggest downside by far is the use of a 6+2 power phase arrangement. In my testing this board was able to push the processors I had as far as higher end products. This is a positive. The unfortunate thing is that it did so less efficiently than those higher end boards. It is an obvious tradeoff that MSI made to keep costs low on the board.
The audio is not as good as one would expect, but it is better than pretty much any other $89 US board out there. Perhaps some updated drivers here will improve the overall experience. In terms of hardware used, it should be a really outstanding product. I am just not entirely sure why it does not hit the power or clarity of other solutions out there. Listening to music or gaming using the integrated audio is a very good overall experience. Distortion is at a minimum, the audio is clean, it just does not seem to produce the power to drive headphones off the front panel as advertised.
The rear is all business. Nothing to see here…
Overall I have few actual complaints about the board. The Ethernet setup is very solid thanks to Qualcomm. The audio extras with the addition of the Sound Blaster Cinema 2 software are well worth the price of the board. Overclocking was easy using the Click BIOS 4, and the board was able to push the CPUs at my disposal as far as the higher end Asus Crosshair V FZ with just as much stability. The VRMs did not become red hot in that experience either, which is another plus.
We have to keep going back to the price that this board is offered at. $89 US is very inexpensive for a nicely rounded, good quality, fully featured motherboard for the AM3+ space. MSI piled on as many extras as possible within the constraints of build costs for the motherboard. It performed above and beyond expectations in terms of overclocking and processor support. The layout for the board is pretty optimal and allows for the use of two large video cards in SLI or CrossFire configurations.
The Sound Blaster Cinema 2 software allows users to apply different effects to their audio streams to increase quality and immersion. Happily, users can enable and disable these features at will. Personal preferences will of course dictate use.
I cannot reiterate enough that this is an excellent product for the price. It looks great, it has a good bundle, the features far outstrip its price, and it performs at levels that approach higher end enthusiast boards. MSI made some smart decisions with this board to achieve the $89 US price point, and I think that the board certainly is greater than the sum of its parts. If I were looking to build an inexpensive gaming computer I would certainly consider this board, a FX-6350 or FX-8350, and a R9 290X. I think this particular combination provides a great amount of performance and features for a relatively low price. If price is still a concern, then jumping down to a R9 285 is an excellent compromise (gotta at least try that TrueAudio with this board).
I have no fear or qualms in recommending this board. Like any technological product, not everything is perfect, but the two issues I had with this board can either be fixed by a firmware update (the memory issue) or by a driver/software update (the front panel audio issue). One I know for a fact has been fixed and that particular firmware will be out in a couple of weeks. The other, I am unsure. I will keep users posted by updating this when I find out more. With that bit of nastiness out of the way, this is a really good board for the price.