MSI Arms Z77A-G45 with Thunderbolt
The catchphrase "Thunderbolt for Everyone" accompanies marketing material of MSI's newest motherboard, the Z77A-G45 Thunderbolt, with which the company is eying an attractive sub-$200 price-point.
Intel's 10 Gb/s Thunderbolt interconnect eluded PC users for an year, being Apple-exclusive, before the first PC motherboards began to feature it. Even then, the interconnect was made available only to motherboards worth $250 and above. MSI appears to have sensed an opportunity, combining one of its cheaper Z77A series motherboards with a 2-channel "Cactus Ridge" Thunderbolt controller. With some clever cost-balancing, the company managed to strike an attractive sub-$200 (USD) price-point, making Thunderbolt available to a larger segment of enthusiasts. Enter the MSI Z77A-G45 Thunderbolt.
Built in the conventional ATX form-factor, the motherboard is based on the Intel Z77 Express chipset, and takes in socket LGA1155 Core "Sandy Bridge" and "Ivy Bridge" processors. It features an Intel "Cactus Ridge" L3510L 2-channel Thunderbolt host controller, with one port. The port is also routed to the Flexible Display Interface (FDI), with which output from the processor's integrated graphics (or discrete graphics with Lucid Virtu magic) can be transmitted to DisplayPort-enabled monitors, letting you keep them as part of your Thunderbolt daisy-chain. Other display outputs include D-Sub (VGA) and HDMI.
The LGA1155 socket on the Z77A-G45 Thunderbolt is powered by a 6-phase VRM. It is wired to four DDR3 DIMM slots, supporting up to 32 GB of dual-channel DDR3-2400 MHz memory; and three PCI-Express 3.0 x16 slots (x16/x0/x0, x8/x8/x0, x8/x4/x4, depending on how they're populated). Four PCI-Express 2.0 x1 slots make for the rest of the expansion. Multi-GPU technologies include AMD CrossFireX, NVIDIA SLI, and Lucid VirtuMVP.
Apart from the Thunderbolt controller, MSI didn't splurge too much on connectivity beyond the feature-set of the Z77 Express PCH. It includes two SATA 6 Gb/s and four SATA 3 Gb/s ports, four USB 3.0 ports (two rear ports, two ports via header), 8-channel HD audio with optical and coaxial SPDIF outputs, gigabit Ethernet, about 10 USB 2.0/1.1 ports, and a keyboard/mouse combo PS/2 port. The board comes with a limited (yet useful) set of overclocker-friendly features, including consolidated voltage measurement points.
Oh, and before we forget, the price: US $179.99.