There are some motherboards that might be put in inside desktop PCs after which just about by no means see the sunshine of day once more. These bare-basic boards might be touched solely by manufacturing facility staff after which sealed off inside their packing containers; not often seen even for cleansing. Then there’s the fanatic breed of motherboards, that are designed to be confirmed off at each alternative. They’ve flashy lights, vibrant accents, and naturally elaborate heatsinks. They should stand out in a really commoditised however intensely aggressive market.
MSI has achieved all of that and developed just a few new bells and whistles with its Z170A Xpower Gaming Titanium Version mannequin. That is the corporate’s new assertion piece, and it is very efficient. It is also packed to the gills with high-end options in just about each subsystem: audio, reminiscence, storage, growth, and overclocking. Let’s dive in.
Design, format and options
The Xpower Z170A appears phenomenal. If you happen to’re constructing inside a high-end PC cupboard with an enormous aspect window, that is the sort of board you’d wish to exhibit. The pale gray color is not really the board itself; MSI has managed to print a skinny layer on each side of the PCB which is very like the labels you see on on some SD playing cards and pen drives. It might get scuffed, particularly on the edges and corners, however you do not have to be any extra cautious than you’ll when assembling some other high-end elements.
The printing really makes the board look clean in some areas the place we’re used to seeing no less than circuit board traces. MSI has made up for that with graphical touches across the CPU socket and extra accents such because the metal-plated major PCIe slots.
We instantly seen that the RAM slots are fairly near the CPU socket. Large coolers and RAM with tall heatsinks will conflict, however then once more most individuals utilizing a board like it will achieve this with a liquid cooling block which is able to mitigate that drawback. MSI says the voltage regulating elements across the CPU socket are of the best high quality, bettering each stability at excessive settings and general energy effectivity.
The total-length PCIe slots are spaced out, and also you get a double-length SLI bridge within the field so you’ll be able to gang up a number of playing cards and nonetheless have good air circulation. 4 of the slots are full x16 size, however solely the primary one can really ship 16 lanes. The others work at x4, x8 and x4 respectively. The x16 and x8 slots have metallic shielding which ought to assist stabilise the heaviest of graphics playing cards.
In between the 4 full-length slots are three x1 slots for smaller playing cards, and two x4 M.2 slots for the more and more common compact SSD format. There are 4 SATA ports on the entrance edge and two SATA Categorical ports, every of which might be repurposed to feed two further SATA units. SATA lanes are shared between the SATAe and M.2 connectors so you’ll be able to’t fill all of them on the identical time.
The Xpower Z170A has a small daughterboard in a single nook, wedged up in opposition to the RAM slots and 24-pin energy connector. It is referred to as OC Dashboard and is supposed to assist overclockers with a lot of buttons they’ll use to regulate settings on the fly. The daughterboard is detachable, and a brief extension cable is offered within the field for ease of entry. When mounted straight, it is a bit wobbly because of an off-centre connector which is designed across the offered multimeter probe contacts.
All the best way on the opposite aspect, subsequent to the helpful energy and reset buttons, is a rotary swap referred to as Recreation Increase which may also be used for overclocking. You merely rotate it between the positions marked Zero-11 to step up by predefined limits. The handbook is not actually useful in describing how this works in tandem with different controls, and even what the increments are, so we’ll tread with warning.
Within the rear left nook, you may see an space bodily partitioned off with what appears like a crack operating via the PCB. That is the audio circuitry, which is bodily remoted in opposition to interference. The “crack” really lights up in purple when the board is operating, which appears completely attractive.
The rear port cluster is sort of dense. Ranging from the tip, there’s one legacy PS/2 port; two USB 2.Zero ports; an externally accessible CMOS clear button; one other vertically mounted USB 2.Zero port; two HDMI outputs; one DisplayPort output; 4 USB three.Zero ports; two USB three.1 ports; an Ethernet port; and the audio cluster together with an optical S/PDIF out. You get two extra USB three.Zero ports through a entrance panel header, and one more precise port on the entrance of the board to assist anybody who makes use of open check benches, akin to overclockers, or desires to completely connect akin to a Wi-Fi dongle.
Wired networking is dealt with by an Intel i219 controller. One designated USB 2.Zero port on the rear helps MSI’s Hotkey characteristic which helps you to program macros on any keyboard you plug in. The lone vertical USB 2.Zero port is the one it’s good to use for those who’re flashing the EFI firmware. Maybe the most important disappointment on the MSI Z170A Xpower is the dearth of Sort-C USB. Be aware additionally that MSI makes use of the terminology “USB three.1 Gen 1” to check with USB three.Zero speeds, which is technically appropriate however complicated. Lastly, loads of high-end desktop boards include built-in Wi-Fi or a number of Ethernet ports, however the Z170A Xpower shouldn’t be certainly one of them.
The Z170 platform controller hub
With Intel’s new socket comes a brand new era of platform controllers, generally known as chipsets. The Z170 is the highest of the road, differentiated by its assist for overclocking Intel’s unlocked Ok-series CPUs and the power to host a number of graphics playing cards. The largest change is the transfer to DDR4 RAM, which is able to permit for larger capacities and speeds going ahead. Much less glamorous however equally necessary is the improve to PCIe three.Zero, and a rise within the variety of lanes and the methods during which they are often allotted.
That interprets to plenty of choices for storage and connectivity. As said earlier, there are a number of attainable methods you’ll be able to refill your PCIe slots, M.2 slots, SATA ports and SATAe ports. The MSI Z170A Xpower’s USB three.1 ports will not be native, however their controller is fed via the identical PCIe lanes. Producers may also combine Thunderbolt, Wi-Fi and different requirements as offshoots of the PCIe bus. There’s additionally an improve to the interconnect between the CPU and platform controller, so general customers can anticipate a contemporary platform throughout.
For many customers, Z170 boards might be overkill. The lower-end H170 might be greater than sufficient for many avid gamers and even fans. It is actually solely a small fraction of use circumstances that can profit from the Z170’s overabundance of options and suppleness – although they’re undoubtedly good to have.
EFI and Software program
MSI has gone with fairly garish dragon imagery on the bootup splash display and also you see the identical factor entrance and centre within the EFI. MSI calls it Click on BIOS 5, and you need to use your mouse to get across the graphical interface. There are controls for main features together with the Recreation Increase knob, boot order, handbook overclocking, and updating the firmware. You may alter fan pace thresholds by dragging and dropping factors on a illustration of a graph. Nonetheless, there are additionally a great deal of settings buried beneath submenus. You may go into very wonderful element in the case of voltage tweaking.
The general presentation and format might do with plenty of enchancment. If you happen to do not wish to dig via the whole lot, there’s an Straightforward Mode which lays issues out a little bit extra clearly however does not offer you as a lot fine-grained management over parameters.
MSI ships its flagship motherboard with a tonne of software program utilities. There is a Nahimic Audio management app, co-branded variations of CPU-Z and Intel’s Excessive Tuning Utility, and a yr’s subscription to Xsplit Gamecaster. In typical fashion, there are a number of of MSI’s personal little utilities: one for LAN site visitors prioritisation, one which reboots you into the BIOS with a single click on, one to replace the firmware, one to permit USB units to cost extra rapidly by negotiating for energy past the rated spec, one to create a RAMdisk, one for monitoring voltages and temperatures, and one more for overclocking.
We examined the MSI Z170A Xpower Gaming Titanium Version with the next elements:
- Intel Core i7-6700Ok CPU
- 2×8 GB Kingston HyperX DDR4-2666 RAM
- 120GB Kingston HyperX Fury SSD
- Cooler Grasp Hyper 212X cooler
- Corsair RM650 energy provide
- Asus PB279 4K monitor
Our comparisons have been made in opposition to a Haswell-generation rig with an Intel Core i7-4770Ok CPU, Asus Z97-Professional (Wi-Fi ac) motherboard and 2x4GB of Kingston DDR3-1600 RAM. All different elements have been the identical. We examined utilizing Home windows Eight.1 and all the most recent drivers from every element producer.
Being a model new platform, the efficiency figures apply to the motherboard, CPU and RAM working collectively. It is not attainable to isolate the results that anyone of those elements has on the ultimate end result. Nonetheless, we have been comfortable to see some important enhancements when in comparison with roughly equal Haswell-generation elements.
PCMark gave us three,202 within the Work runthrough and Four,825 in Inventive, versus three,155 and Four,458 respectively on Haswell . Cinebench returned 857 factors on Skylake and 751 on Haswell, whereas POVRay rendered its benchmark scene in 2 minutes, 17 seconds and a pair of minutes, 47 seconds on the newer and older platforms respectively.
SiSoft SANDRA additionally confirmed positive factors throughout the board. The Processor Arithmetic Combination rating went up from 113.91GOPS to 130.26GOPS; the Multimedia Combination rose from 323.6MPix/s to 417.67MPix/s; and Cryptography Bandwidth improved from 5.37GBps to 7.53GBps. The transfer to DDR4 RAM resulted in an enormous increase within the Combination Reminiscence Bandwidth rating: 18.76GBps on Haswell and 30.17GBps on Skylake.
We ran via some real-world eventualities as nicely. First, we used 7-ZIP to compress three.24GB of varied recordsdata. Whereas the Haswell rig took 1 minute, 13 seconds, the Skylake rig took solely 57 seconds to complete the identical work. We transcoded a 2.91GB QuickTime video file to H.264 utilizing Handbrake, which took 48 seconds on Haswell vs. 39 seconds on Skylake.Wav to mp3 conversion in MediaCoder did not present as a lot enchancment. Our three pattern recordsdata have been encoded in 59.7 seconds on Haswell and 56.9 seconds on Skylake.
It needs to be apparent that this motherboard is whole overkill for anybody who is not planning to overclock. Along with the plain adjustment controls on the board itself and its OC Dashboard companion, it is clear what the designers had in thoughts. To start with, you may discover that along with the usual 24-pin ATX energy connector and Eight-pin supplementary enter, there are further 6-pin and Four-pin connectors close to the rear port cluster. These two are non-compulsory, and are supposed to assist the board run secure when beneath large stress. A set of DIP switches on the left edge allow you to selectively disable PCIe slots.The diagnostic numeric LEDs begin displaying CPU temperature after the boot sequence is full.
We used the Intel Excessive Tuning Utility and have been in a position to obtain a secure overclock to Four.5GHz with only a few clicks. CPU temperature peaked at 67°C whereas operating the utility’s inside stress check. With satisfactory cooling and data of multiplier and voltage tweaking, anybody might exceed this stage.
One odd factor concerning the MSI Z170A Xpower is the sheer variety of redundant overclocking mechanisms it presents. You have got handbook choices although the EFI or the a number of bundled apps; the Recreation Increase knob; Recreation Increase via software program; and naturally the OC Dashboard.
We tried out the knob and must say that it really works just about as marketed. You should shut down your PC earlier than utilizing it. Our Core i7-6700Ok was simply pushed to Four.5GHz at place Four on the knob, and our rig ran stably sufficient to finish a Cinebench run. Our CPU rating went up from 857 to 989, which is sort of spectacular. At place 6, CPU-Z nonetheless reported Four.5GHz, which appeared odd. The rig booted up at place 10 and CPU-Z confirmed Four.9GHz, however it crashed to a blue display of loss of life with the error message CLOCK_WATCHDOG_TIMEOUT once we tried operating Cinebench. We could not even boot up at place 11 – a extra sturdy energy provide and CPU cooler can be wanted to drag this off.
The Recreation Increase characteristic is intelligent, however it is sensible to us solely as a jumping-off level from which to discover the handbook choices. It does really feel actually cool to overclock by actually cranking a knob, however we’re undecided who would purchase a board this costly with this a lot fine-grained management solely to decide on preset choices. We’d like to see it on lower-end boards although, giving extra informal customers a protected and simple method to overclock.
MSI has achieved an outstanding job with the Z170A Xpower Gaming Titanium Version motherboard. It is ridiculously costly, however that is how bragging rights work. In order for you a shocking, distinctive motherboard to indicate off inside your new top-of-the-line Skylake machine, that is the one to get. It is fairly possible that we’ll see comparable printing on different motherboards sooner or later – if it goes mainstream, every kind of latest modding potentialities will open up. For now although, you need to pay high greenback.
Aside from appears, this motherboard additionally has a fairly phenomenal characteristic set. You will not be left wanting for storage system flexibility, however the lack of USB Sort-C actually hurts. At the least one port needs to be customary on flagship motherboards at this level, even when it is not operating on the full 10Gbps pace that USB three.1 permits. A second Ethernet port and Wi-Fi would even have been good.
Do not spend a lot on this motherboard for those who aren’t planning to overclock manually. The truth is, you must also take into account the fanatic Haswell-E platform or its upcoming successor, Broadwell-E for those who’re purchasing round on this value vary. The Z170A Xpower is absolutely extra of a showpiece that MSI can impress followers with at OC occasions; virtually any gamer and fanatic would be capable to do exactly as nicely with a much less outrageous mannequin – even those that have the cash to burn.
- Seems to be completely gorgeous
- Straightforward overclocking in addition to complete tweaks
- A great deal of storage and growth choices
- No USB Sort-C ports
- Barely cumbersome EFI BIOS
Rankings (Out of 5)
- Efficiency: Four.5
- Worth for Cash: Four
- General: Four.5