MSI Z170A GAMING PRO CARBON (LGA1151) Motherboard Review

by - 4 years ago

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Introduction


MSI Z170A GAMING PRO CARBON (LGA1151) Motherboard ReviewMSI has rapidly established itself as one of the most reputable motherboard manufacturers and constantly strives to enhance the user experience through an intuitive BIOS interface and marvellous reliability. Additionally, the company offers a huge range of products to suit various colour schemes and often creates extremely-unique designs as demonstrated by the gorgeous, Z170A XPOWER GAMING TITANIUM motherboard. Some time ago, MSI released the Z170A GAMING PRO which adopted a fantastic red and black theme to please the core gaming demographic. Although, it’s difficult to stand out when using this colour scheme because manufacturers tend to fixate on a safe, popular design. That’s not to say there’s anything particular wrong with utilizing these colours, but I’d prefer to see more vendors breaking the mould through truly unusual aesthetic choices.

Since the Z170A GAMING PRO’s release, MSI has listened intently to user feedback and decided to construct a brand new model entitled, the Z170A GAMING PRO CARBON. At first glance, the only difference appears to be the new carbon fibre skin. However, this isn’t the case because MSI has made a raft of changes to enhance the motherboard’s connectivity. More specifically, the Z170A GAMING PRO CARBON features two USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports, one being type-A while the other is type-C. Furthermore, the redundant PCI slot has been dropped in favour of a fourth PCI-E x1 slot. Thankfully, the 180-degree angle SATA ports have been removed and replaced with a more suitable arrangement using right-angled connectors. Finally, the USB 3.1 Gen 1 layout features two on the rear and four via an internal header while USB 2.0 options now contain a total of 8 ports through a front four rear four setup.

With a recommended retail price of £119.99, the Z170A GAMING PRO CARBON is destined to compete alongside the ASUS Z170 PRO GAMING. As a result, it will be fascinating to see how the different products compare and I expect the Z170A GAMING PRO CARBON to remain very competitive in synthetic testing.

Specifications

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Packaging and Accessories

The motherboard comes is a visually appealing box which outlines the RGB functionality, and gaming focus. I particularly like the neon design from the background vehicle which corresponds with the sort of lighting embedded onto the motherboard’s PCB.

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The rear portion is packed full of information regarding the motherboard’s layout, impressive software package and premium-grade hardware. This is presented in a really clean, and concise manner with statistics to help quantify the importance of each unique feature.

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In terms of accessories, there’s a detailed user’s guide, product registration card, cable labels, CPU installation guide and driver disk. It’s great to see the inclusion of cable labels because they help with diagnostics if you have multiple drives in a RAID configuration and struggle to determine which is the boot device.

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Here we can see the bundled I/O shield, SLI bridge and SATA cables. The I/O shield’s red lettering and MSI dragon logo evokes a luxury feel and emphasizes the motherboard’s target audience.

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A Closer Look


MSI has done an exemplary job with the motherboard’s aesthetic design and I absolutely adore the carbon finish. It creates a more subtle, sophisticated look and compliments a wide range of components sporting different colours. Often, the overuse of colour on the heatsinks can appear slightly tacky and doesn’t match with certain people’s tastes who prefer an understated appearance. Granted, this is all subjective, but at least there are now two models with contrasting styles to suit very different consumers. Additionally, the heatsink’s plain black finish coalesces with the carbon areas in such a beautiful way. Even when more colour is applied via the silver accent, it doesn’t detract from the black theme. I also believe the PCI-E steel armor works wonders by adding a hint of colour.

On another note, MSI’s Mystic Light technology is capable of displaying 16.5 million colours and contains 16 wacky effects. It’s even possible to sync the integrated lighting system to your own music collection which is a really novel idea. Of course, if this seems overly distracting, you can simply turn off the LED path, or select a solid colour. The PCB’s illumination is fairly bright and each colour adds some flair to the overall design. Even though, some users might scoff at the concept of RGB lighting on a motherboard, it’s optional and provides a great deal of flexibility. While there are competing solutions on the market, the latest iteration of MSI’s Mystic Light is wonderful and allows for a really unique appearance.

Here we can see the motherboard’s layout, which adopts the standard ATX form factor. At first, the LED trail looks a little bit confusing as the connectors are positioned closer away from the PCB’s edge than normal. However, this doesn’t impact on cable management, or the ability to house a number of essential components. Before going into more detail, it’s important to analyse the fan header placement. MSI has positioned the primary CPU fan header in an optimal position which makes it relatively simple to attach water cooling hardware or heatsinks with a short cable. Personally, I’d prefer to see the second CPU header closer towards the first, but it’s shouldn’t cause any problems. For example, the majority of cases have a rubber grommet or cable management hole to cleanly connect to the second CPU fan header.

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The Z170A GAMING PRO CARBON utilizes a premium 8-phase VRM with 10k-rated capacitors to offer fantastic stability under extreme load. Furthermore, the hefty heatsinks provide effective heat dissertation and ensures the power phases remain cool. This is surprising given the £119.99 price tag, and I would have expected to see smaller heatsinks to maintain the very competitive cost to performance ratio.

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As expected, the motherboard supports up to 64GB of DDR4 memory with overclock possibilities in excess of 3600MHz. MSI’s DDR4 Boost technology can dramatically improve the potential of memory kits due to the direct connection between the CPU and DIMM slots. Furthermore, the memory circuit is completely isolated to eliminate interference there’s an optimized routing procedure to maintain an optimal signal. In addition to enhanced frequency options, DDR4 Boost can help with stability especially when opting for a manual overclocking profile. It even helps with factory overclocked XMP kits which opt for a very fast frequency. For example, I’ve seen examples of DDR4 kits with a 3400MHz frequency failing to boot using their XMP profile on certain configurations.

This section of the motherboard houses the 24-pin connector, front USB 3.0 header, and M.2 connector featuring a maximum bandwidth of 32Gb/s.

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The audio segment revolves around the Realtek ALC1150 chipset and contains an isolated PCB design to reduce EMI. Furthermore, MSI have deployed extremely high-grade Nippon Chemi-Con audio capacitors and a dual headphone amplifier capable of driving 600 ohms.  In contrast to this, the ASUS Z170 PRO GAMING utilizes a single amplifier reaching a total of 300 ohms. Other integral features include gold-plated audio jacks to reduce the probability of distortion and signal loss. As you can see, the Audio Boost 3 technology is protected by an EMI shield and incorporates the Nahimic Audio Enhancer. MSI even went to the trouble of creating an EMI shield for the LAN. In theory, this should provide a more reliable network experience.

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From this image, we can see the PCB’s thickness, and SATA layout. There’s a total of 6 SATA connectors, and one PCI Express. I’ve never really liked SATA connectors towards the bottom section as the cabling can be hidden on the right-hand side by a graphics card. However, this shouldn’t cause a problem unless you’re exceeding 4 SATA devices.

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On the rear I/O, there’s a PS/2 port, four USB 2.0, DVI-D, USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-A, USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-C, HDMI, RJ45, two USB 3.1 Gen1 Type-A, S/PDIF and 5-channel audio.

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Testing & Methodology


Before we delve into any testing we would like to take this opportunity to review our test system. All tests are conducted three times and the average taken to use in our charts.

Hardware

  • Motherboard varies by review
  • CPU: Intel Core i7 6700k
  • GPU: NVIDIA GTX 980Ti
  • RAM: Crucial Elite 16GB (2x8GB) 2666MHz
  • Cooling: Thermaltake Water 3.0 AIO with Gelid GC-Extreme
  • Case: Lian Li T80 Test Bench
  • Storage Drives: Main storage: Crucial MX200 250GB, Test Devices: SanDisk Extreme Pro 240GB SSD, Plextor 256GB M6e M.2 SSD and Patriot SuperSonic Magnum 256GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive
  • PSU: be quiet! Dark Power Pro 11 850W
  • Operating System: Windows 8.1 64-bit
  • Networking: ASUS RT-AC68U router

Software

  • SiSoft Sandra Engineer – available here
  • WPrime – available here
  • Cinebench – available here
  • 3DMark – available here
  • Bioshock Infinite – available here
  • Tomb Raider – available here
  • AIDA 64 Engineer – available here
  • Latencymon – available here
  • Rightmark Audio Analyser – available here
  • LAN Speed Test Lite – available here
  • Passmark – available here

Memory

For our memory tests, we use the built-in memory benchmarks in AIDA64 Engineer and SiSoft Sandra. For more details on each of the benchmarks please see here and here respectively.

Storage

To test the storage performance in our motherboard reviews we use AIDA’s Disk Benchmark utility built into their AIDA64 Engineer Edition software package and run linear read and write tests. We run each of the benchmark tests on a SATA III, USB 3.0 and M.2 device. For SATA III testing we use a SanDisk Extreme Pro 240GB, for USB 3.0 testing we use the Supersonic Magnum 256 GB USB 3.0 flash drive and for M.2 testing we use Plextor’s 256GB M.2 M6e SSD. The drives are always formatted before use.

Networking

For our networking tests we connect the test system up to our Intel Gigabit-enabled ASUS Rampage IV Extreme X79 motherboard test system through the ASUS RT-AC68U router and run our tests. We opted for this over a direct point-to-point connection because we wanted to simulate real-world performance. For our WiFi tests we do the same except we connect the test system to the ASUS RT-AC68U router via WiFi at a distance of 2 metres from the router. The testing software we use for these are LAN Speed Test Lite and Passmark, available here and here respectively.

Lan Speed Test

LAN Speed Test was designed from the ground up to be a simple but powerful tool for measuring file transfer, hard drive, USB Drive, and Local Area Network (LAN) speeds (wired & wireless).  It does this by building a file in memory, then transfers it both ways (without effects of windows file caching) while keeping track of the time. Download the free Lan Speed Test Lite utility from here.

PassMark

The PassMark Advanced Network Test (which is part of PerformanceTest) is designed to test the data transfer rate between two computers both of which must be running PerformanceTest. One of the computers must act as the server and will sit waiting for a connection. The other computer acts as a client. It connects to the server machine and sends data to it for the duration of the test. You can download a trial version of PerformanceTest from here.

Power Usage

To measure power consumption we, use a “killawatt” meter and measure the total system power draw at the wall. We run three different use-case scenarios for 5 minutes and take the average reading.

RightMark Audio Analyser (RMAA)

RMAA suite is designed for testing quality of analog and digital paths of any audio device. The results are obtained by playing and recording test signals passed through the tested audio path by means of frequency analysis algorithms. A more common mark is also provided for those unfamiliar with measured technical parameters. Available here. We run the RMAA test using a 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable connecting the line out to the line in to test the quality of the motherboard audio codec not any external audio devices. We run the complete playback and recording test at default settings and then get RMAA to interpret the results giving the below outputs. We sync the playback and recording audio devices to the same setting as the test for accurate results.

DPC

DPC is a Windows tool that analyses the capabilities of a computer system to handle real-time data streams properly. It may help to find the cause for interruptions in real-time audio and video streams, also known as drop-outs. This software is available for download free here.

wPrime

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. wPrime is a free utility that is available for download here.

Cinebench R15

Cinebench is a widely respected benchmark for testing the performance of x86 CPUs. The program allows you to test single and multi-threaded performance as well as GPU performance by rendering with Open GL. Download here.

3D Mark

The new 3DMark includes everything you need to benchmark your hardware. With three all new tests you can bench everything from smartphones and tablets, to notebooks and home PCs, to the latest high-end, multi-GPU gaming desktops. Download here.

Tomb Raider

In Tomb Raider, the player is confronted with a much younger Lara Croft who is shipwrecked and finds herself stranded on a mysterious island rife with danger, both natural and human. Tomb Raider is a demanding game offering up ultra quality textures, full DirectX 11 support, SSAA, FXAA, MSAA and AMD TressFX technology.

Bioshock

BioShock Infinite is the third and last game in the BioShock series. It is a first-person shooter video game developed by Irrational Games and published by 2K Games. BioShock Infinite supports dynamic shadows, post-processing, light shafts, ambient occlusion, object level of detail, Diffusion Depth of Detail, FOV adjustment controls and other advanced DirectX 11 features.

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BIOS and Overclocking


MSI’s Click BIOS 5 is beautifully presented to help novices navigate between tabs without any hassle and displays key system statistics on the front page. The BIOS is divided into two modes, a basic skin to alter common settings including XMP, and an advanced mode designed for extreme overclocking.

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Even with the basic mode, it’s possible to monitor fan RPM values, create a custom curve and allow the BIOS to optimize your cooling apparatus.

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Here we can see the advanced interface which separates various options into thematic categories. As a result, finding a specific setting only takes a matter of seconds and you adjust to the BIOS layout within a short period.

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The settings menu outlines the BIOS version, connected SATA devices, RAM capacity and other essential information.

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It’s also possible to tweak the boot order and choose between LEGACY, UEFI, or a combination of both.

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Considering the amount of advanced functionality, it’s vital to set an administrator password if you share a system with other family members. Also, notice the really helpful tool tips on the right-hand side which explain what effect each setting will have.

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Here, you can save changes, restore the default configuration and override the default boot order.

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Despite already being in the advanced mode, MSI simplifies the overclocking process by hiding some of the more complicated variables. For the majority of users, I’d recommend keeping the OC Explore Mode on normal, because the Expert option is designed for professional overclockers.

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Once the Expert setting is enabled, you can alter the CPU multiplier per core, and change the Base Clock Apply Mode. While some users might enjoy overclocking per core, it’s has a fairly niche usage. However, it’s great to see this level of flexibility for the more advanced users.

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The overclocking section also contains a huge array of voltage settings, including SA, IO, ST PLL and PCH. In most scenarios, I’d stick with incremental changes on the core voltage, and perhaps some slight alterations with the system agent to maximize stability. The BIOS is an overclocker’s dream and designed to provide every possible setting to find the maximize potential of your CPU. If you want to overclock the memory, it’s important to set a manual voltage here instead of relying on the default XMP readings.

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For those who want maximum control, it’s possible to disable or change the CPU’s characteristics. This ranges from the amount of active cores to altering power saving technologies. Once again, I wouldn’t even consider touching this, unless you have some very specific requirements. For example, perhaps disabling two cores to monitor the difference in temperatures at a huge frequency boost might be of some interest.

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Further down this menu, we can see the memory overclocking settings, and option to modify the BCLK. The Memory Try It function is rather unique and offers enhanced stability if you know your memory’s vendor, such as Micron.

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There’s another fine selection of variables to tweak memory timings, and manually insert your own optimized numbers.

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The BIOS also has six overclocking profiles to store your custom settings, and it’s remarkably easy to switch between each configuration.

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The M-Flash software is used to update the BIOS from a USB stick. This is relatively straight-forward and only takes a matter of seconds. Once the BIOS update is complete, your system will reboot back into the newly refreshed BIOS.

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You can use the Hardware Monitor to analyse fan speed values, temperatures, and system voltages. The graph provides a fantastic visual indication of the current fan curve, and outlines the RPM percentage at different thermal thresholds.

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One of the my favourite inclusions is the Board Explorer which informs the user when certain slots are populated and even provides a description of its running speed.

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In a similar fashion, this feature can be used to quickly glance at the rear I/O and see where devices have been connected.

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Overclocking 

The overclocking procedure on Intel’s LGA1151 platform involves a few minor tweaks and small time investment to determine the maximum potential of your CPU. Originally, our i7-6700K sample was capable of attaining 4.8GHz with a voltage reading of around 1.45V. However, over time, the CPU’s stability requires an increased core voltage of 1.504V to complete a system stability test. Despite this, the CPU’s operating temperatures remain within thermal limitations and I found it extremely easy to dial in the overclocked settings via MSI’s comprehensive BIOS. Of course, your results may vary due to the silicon lottery, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to attain 4.5GHz-4.7GHz with the appropriate cooling hardware.

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Software Overview


MSI’s software suite includes a fantastic selection of useful utilities to help monitor system temperatures, and optimize your hardware. The Command Center allows you to adjust the CPU’s core multiplier, system voltage, and BCLK. It’s also possible to tweak the CPU in a similar fashion to the BIOS and adjust each core’s multiplier. The program has the option to monitor fan speeds and automatically tune the system based on thermal loads.

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Here we can see the DRAM tab which contains settings for memory voltage, IGP frequency and GT voltage.

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MSI’s RAMDisk is incredibly useful to utilize spare memory and create an ultra-fast RAMDisk. This makes applications run very quickly, and ensures no aspect of your system is going to waste.

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The Gaming App features three modes and adjusts the CPU’s frequency based on your selection. For example, the Gaming Mode sets the CPU to its maximum turbo frequency while the Silent Mode prioritizes low noise over a higher CPU clock. In this compact interface, there’s a number of applications to help customise the user experience.

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The Gaming HotKey is employed to map specific commands to your keyboard at a hardware level. This means you can boot directly into the BIOS, apply a new overclock or power the system with just one key press.

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Another intriguing utility is the Mouse Master which contains a number of settings to change the DPI range, and create custom macros.

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The Eye Rest software modifies your monitor’s brightness settings to reduce eye fatigue or make the content more vivid during various forms of entertainment.

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Here we can see the LED customization menu featuring a huge array of colour options, transitional effects and the ability to synchronize music to the motherboard’s colour LED path.

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The Gaming LAN Manager is deployed to perform a network test and monitor traffic utilization in various programs.

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For example, we can see the upload/download rate of essential applications and determine their bandwidth.

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MSI’s Fast Boot is handy to launch Windows and ignore the traditional post initiation sequences. On another note, the Go2BIOS button reboots the PC and allows you to access the BIOS without having to frantically press the keyboard.

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MSI’s Live Update 6 tool is brilliant and outlines the required driver updates without having to search on the motherboard’s website. This makes it incredibly easy to update to the latest version and ensure your system has the correct software installed.

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The Nahimic suite is designed to enhance your audio equipment through various presets and customizable meters. As a result, you can change the audio mix to emphasize sudden gunshots during games, or adopt a more balanced tone for music playback.

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Another comprehensive tool to set a major overclock is the Intel Extreme Tuning Utility. This contains options to manage your CPU’s core multiplier, voltage offset and choose between static or adaptive core voltage overclocking.

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There’s also a section displaying various system statistics including the CPU ID, GPU, operating system and more!

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CPU & GPU Performance


Cinebench

At stock settings, the motherboard managed the best single benchmark score thus far and just edged the Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming 7.

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Once overclocked, there was a marked increase in performance and upheld its positioned during single core testing. While it fell slightly behind in multi-core compute, the difference remained extremely small.

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WPrime

In WPrime, the results paint a similar picture, and I was very impressed with the Z170 GAMING PRO CARBON’s performance.

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The overclock results are evenly matched and there’s not a lot to distinguish between the top scores. Although, it’s clear that the motherboard is a very good performer in CPU workloads.

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SiSoft Sandra

At first glance, the motherboard appears to struggle in this particular test, but the charts can be deceiving. This is because there’s only a difference of 1 point between second place and six place. Therefore, the gap is minimal and continues the trend of good CPU performance across various tasks.

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After the overclock was applied, the Z170A GAMING PRO CARBON marches ahead and remains within one point of the top spot. The gap between its positioning and the similarly priced ASUS Z170 PRO GAMING.

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3DMark

3DMark performance is typically GPU bound and improvements revolve around driver updates from NVIDIA. However, it’s a handy stress test to see the motherboard’s capabilities during gaming scenarios. As you can see, the Z170A GAMING PRO CARBON did extremely well and almost attained first position.

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Tomb Raider

In Tomb Raider, the motherboard was tantalizingly close to reaching 101 frames-per-second at 1440P and demonstrated excellent numbers during 1920×1080 testing.

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Bioshock Infinite

The data in Bioshock Infinite isn’t very consistent and down to some irregularities between various driver updates. Regardless, the Z170A GAMING PRO CARBON still maintained a superb figure of 110.300 FPS while running the 1440P benchmark.

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Memory Performance


AIDA64 Engineer

In terms of memory performance, the motherboard reported good statistics and remained fairly competitive. While it’s not the best result we’ve seen, the difference is negligible and only visible through synthetic tests.

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The hefty overclock helps matters and brings the performance exceedingly close to two highly regarded SuperMicro motherboards.

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SiSoft Sandra

Here we can see very similar pattern to what transpired in AIDA64. The memory bandwidth is consistent and offers impressive performance numbers across Float, Aggregate and Integer benchmarks.

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The overclock has a significant impact and moves the motherboard into a very respectable second position. Furthermore, the Inter performance is fantastic and within touching distance of breaking the 33GB/s mark.

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Combined Latency Test

When it comes to memory latency, the motherboard reports fairly average figures in AIDA64, but it doesn’t pose a problem and remains within an expected margin of error.

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Once overclocked, the situation improves and results in incredibly low latency scores.

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Storage Performance


Linear Read

The Z170A GAMING PRO CARBON features immaculate linear read numbers during M.2 testing. Furthermore, the SATA device almost attained a read rate of 520MB/s.

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Linear Write

The motherboard’s linear write data isn’t as impressive, but the numbers are pretty decent and emphasizes the level of performance on offer.

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Networking Performance


LAN Speed Test Lite

As you might expect, the Intel I219V network interface is capable of upholding a very consistent connection in both read and write situations.

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Passmark Performance Test 8 – Ethernet

Similarly, TCP and UDP speeds are some of the best we’ve recorded and exemplifies the motherboard’s marvellous networking abilities.

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Passmark Performance Test 8 – CPU Work Load

There’s also very little CPU utilization involved during heavy network loads especially when you compare it to motherboards sporting a Killer NIC.

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Audio Performance


The Z170A GAMING PRO CARBON is capable of impeccable audio reproduction across a wide range of bit rates. Furthermore, there’s a very rich dynamic range and the dual amp solution really accentuates the audio quality of premium headphones. These results are certainly some of the best I’ve encountered although there is some minor room for improvement in THD + Noise.

16 Bit, 44KHz (DVD Quality)

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16 Bit, 96KHz (Studio Quality)

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24 Bit, 96KHz (Studio Quality)

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DPC Audio Latency Analyser

The audio chipset’s latency maintained a remarkably low maximum figure which showcases the effect of MSI’s isolated PCB design and EMI shielding.

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Power Consumption


At stock values, the motherboard reported a total system wattage of 338 under extreme load. This is excellent when you consider the CPU’s boost frequency of 4.2GHz, and elite-tier graphics card solution.

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Even when the 4.8GHz overclock was applied, the wattage only increased by a small margin and managed to remain under 400 watts during stress testing.

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Final Thoughts


Pricing 

The MSI Z170A GAMING PRO CARBON is currently available from reputable online retailer Box, for £119.99. It’s nearest competitor is the ASUS Z170 PRO GAMING which has a market price of £124.95. As you can see, MSI has launched the motherboard at a very enticing price point and offers various improvements over their nearest rival including a 600 ohm dual amplifier, RGB illumination and more! Both solutions provide great value, but this is certainly going to become a popular choice for users wanting a more neutral colour scheme.

Overview

Since the release of Intel’s latest enthusiast platform, there has been a plethora of motherboards featuring unusual aesthetic choices compared to the previous generation. Unfortunately, the i7-6700K is still an expensive proposition and continues to hover around the £300 mark. Despite this, motherboards like the Z170A PRO GAMING CARBON exemplifies the kind of performance possible on a sensible budget. At £119.99, the motherboard evokes such a luxurious feel and I fell in love with the carbon-fibre design. This theme works so well alongside jet black memory or white components. As a result, there’s so many options at your disposal especially when you consider the Mystic Light technology transforms the overall look within a few clicks. It’s quite evident that the motherboard’s styling makes it stand out from the crowd and I have to commend MSI for adopting a simple design which works superbly.

It’s not all style over substance though because the motherboard utilizes premium capacitors, chokes and other essential electronics. This in combination with the wonderful BIOS allows the end-user to reach significant frequency boosts on their Skylake CPU. On another note, the motherboard’s layout is designed to support high-end cooling apparatus and everything is positioned in a logical manner. As a result, it’s possible to conduct very clean cable management and work around the CPU socket without any restrictions. Although, the large heatsinks might inhibit in the install process slightly with a large air cooler. However, once it’s fitted, this shouldn’t cause any additional problems. The counter argument revolves around the idea that there’s enhanced heat dissipation through the hefty heatsinks, and it’s impressive to see these on a motherboard just over £100.

The motherboard lends itself to high-speed transfers rather nicely through a wide array of USB 3.1 ports, and 32Gb/s M.2 connector. Whether you’re using a Type-A or Type-C connector, it’s so simple to reach those enhanced bandwidths without purchasing an additional expansion card. Furthermore, MSI rectified the 180-degree SATA ports and adopted a right-angled finish. Now, the connectivity placement makes more sense, and it’s easier to connect all of your devices.

MSI’s Click BIOS 5 caters to novices aiming to overclock a CPU in the shortest time possible and providing every possible setting to help professional overclockers set fantastic benchmark scores. The EZ mode really is a complete joy to use and contains essential tweaks such as enabling your memory’s XMP profile. This means beginners don’t feel overwhelmed by the BIOS and slowly gain confidence while navigating through each section. If you’re an overclocking master, then there’s more than enough to attain frequencies beyond 5.0GHz on water, but this obviously depends on the silicon lottery. I wouldn’t say it’s the best option for LN2 though because I’d prefer to see an LED post readout, and dip switches to disable DIMMs/PCI-E slots. This really isn’t the motherboard’s target market so it’s not something to be overly concerned about. Saying that, I do believe an LED readout would help matters to determine which component is causing system instability.

In terms of performance, the Z170A PRO GAMING CARBON excelled itself across CPU, memory, network and audio tests. While there were a few mid-range results, these generally occurred when the difference remained within a margin of error. As such, re-running the benchmark a few times could yield a slightly different order. Overall, the motherboard either reported the best score we’ve seen or maintained a top three spot. This speaks volumes of the product’s value when you consider it’s trading blows with alternatives retailing at a higher price. If you want a top performing, low-cost solution, then the Z170A PRO GAMING CARBON is going to be difficult to beat!

Pros

  • Amazing RGB illumination
  • Comprehensive software package
  • DDR4 Boost enhances stability with high bandwidth DIMMs
  • Fantastic performance in every benchmark
  • Great selection of USB 3.1 ports
  • Impeccable value-for-money
  • Intuitive BIOS packed full of features
  • PCI-E x16 steel armour eliminates GPU droop
  • Perfect for extreme overclocking barring LN2
  • Premium electronics
  • Stunning aesthetic design
  • Superb audio hardware

Cons

  • No LED Post for diagnostics

“The MSI Z170A PRO GAMING CARBON builds on the incredible framework of its red and black brother while offering astonishing value-for-money. The company has crafted one of the best Z170 packages on the market in terms of performance, reliability, overclocking functionality and aesthetic design. For these reasons, it fully deserves our Editor’s Choice award.”

Editors-Choice

MSI Z170A GAMING PRO CARBON (LGA1151) Motherboard Review

Thank you MSI for providing us with this sample.

Article Index

  1. Introduction
  2. A Closer Look & Layout Analysis
  3. The Test System and Test Software
  4. BIOS and Overclocking
  5. Software Overview
  6. CPU Performance
  7. Memory Performance
  8. Storage Performance
  9. Networking Performance
  10. Audio Performance
  11. Power Consumption
  12. Final Thoughts
  13. View All

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