Intel’s Skylake has been with us for a little over a month now and reports are coming back extremely positive, with retailers struggling to maintain stock and very few reviews having anything negative to say. We are now at the stage where motherboard manufacturers have had the chance to tweak and update drivers to ensure the best possible performance and prices have stabilised thanks to increased stock levels hitting retailers.
Today in the test bench we have the simply stunning MSI XPOWER Z170A motherboard, but this isn’t any old XPOWER version, this is the Titanium Edition. The entire PCB has been created with a non-reflective silver finish, which is designed to make you think that the entire motherboard has been made from Titanium, ignoring the electrical impossibilities of course. This new design has been inspired by MSI’s use of new Titanium chokes which was introduced on Military Class 5 component range. These new chokes are capable of withstanding higher temperatures, which results in longer lifespan and potentially higher overclocking capabilities.
Along with the new chokes, this motherboard features a unique OC Dashboard. This little addition is a small rectangular PCB with additional buttons and switches with could help overclocking and troubleshooting. The best part of this is that you can fix this onto the front of your case with the extension cable provided. This is the most expensive MSI Z170 motherboard option to date, let’s find out if this motherboard isn’t just smoke and mirrors and can actually perform well.
Motherboard manufacturers need to maintain a competitive edge over the competition, so bundle in all sorts of special features and programs. MSI is at the forefront of useful features and includes the following with this motherboard:
- Command Center
- Live Update 6
- Fast Boot
- Super Charger
- Gaming App
- Eco Center
- Gaming Lan Manager
- Nahimic Audio
- XSplit GameCaster V2
- SteelSeries Engine 3
- MSI Branded CPU-Z
- Audio Boost 3
- Isolated Audio PCB
- EMI Shielding
- Dual Headphone Amplifiers
- High-Quality Audio Capacitors
- Gold Audio Connectors
- Game Boost
- Easy Overclocking
- 7 Gear Clock Change
- Gaming Network Manager
- Electric Wave Surge
- Gaming App
- System Mode Switching
- Gaming Hotkey
- Gaming Mouse Control
- Gaming LED Remote Control
- OC DASHBOARD
- Easy Button 3
- Direct OC
- Gaming Certified
- Click BIOS 5
- BIOS Flashback+
- Military Class 5
Packing and Accessories
The packaging is just as impressive as the motherboard inside. Overall silver colouring to match the motherboard and the usual MSI and Intel branding logos. The front is actually really plain with no mention of any specifications or special features.
When you flip the box over, you are hit by a wealth of information. The biggest features are pictured with the lesser features having large titles and a centre placement. The general features and I/O configuration are then towards the bottom in a much smaller print.
I love opening up an MSI motherboard box, there is always so much to read and use. The first accessories are the manuals, drivers and other paper-based reading material; there is also a premium Gaming Series case badge if you wish to use it.
Moving to the more interesting accessories, 6x SATA cables, a triple lane SLI bridge, IO shield and V-Check cables; an extremely comprehensive range with no useless items that will never see the light of day.
A Closer Look
Let’s just savour this for a moment. What a looker and personally I much prefer this over the X99 GODLIKE Gaming. MSI seems to know how to make some extremely unique looking motherboards that would look great in some space or mechanical themed systems.
A close up on the socket shows the texture of the new PCB. The DDR4 BOOST lanes are clearly outlined with a darker silver/ grey with a direct line to the CPU for maximised performance.
The GAME BOOST Dial makes another appearance here and stands out well thanks to the red button top.
The OC DASHBOARD is something I’ve been waiting to get my hands on for a while. This slimline, almost credit-card sized PCB is designed to help those using LN2 for overclocking and don’t want to freeze their fingers off trying to reach the buttons and switches. Personally I like the discharge button as I tend to not leave enough time between powering down and removing the motherboard for all of the power to leave the system.
The OC DASHBOARD can fit onto the motherboard directly, but the purpose of this is to remove the buttons out of harms way. This can be achieved by this extension cable.
It doesn’t offer much distance and the motherboard connector would be extremely difficult to bend for adequate cable tidying inside the case.
The PCI section of the board is well executed with 4x PCIe x16 lanes evenly spaced for 4-way crossfire, 2x M.2 ports nestled between them and an additional 6-pin power connector to help give a little more to the lanes if needed. As with other mid and high-end MSI motherboards, this features the PCIe shields which help add strength to the ports and also reduce any electronic interference.
The IO portion of the motherboard is rammed full of connectivity options, but we seem to be missing a USB Type-C and/ or Thunderbolt connector. Going from left to right we have: 1x PS/2 port, 2x USB 2.0 ports, 1x Clear CMOS button, 1x direct USB 2.0 port, 2x USB 3.0 ports, 1x DisplayPort, 2x HDMI ports, 1x Gigabit LAN, 2x USB 3.0 ports, 2x USB 3.1 ports, 1x S/PDIF out and HD audio jacks.
The sound section of this board is relatively plain considering the cost, I’m surprised MSI didn’t design a small cover to make this area more pleasing.
Moving to the bottom of the board, we see the usual set of headers including the newly introduced GAME BOOST Dial.
Heading up the other side of the board, we are presented by 8x SATA 6Gb/s ports, 2x SATA Express ports and a USB 3.0 header.
Opposite the IO ports are the 4x DDR4 DIMMS, direct USB port, 24-pin power connector, V-Check socket/ header and the OC DASHBOARD header.
Looking down on top of the board and we see the usual 8-pin CPU power connector, but also an additional 4-pin to provide more power for high overclocking; this motherboard is for the serious overclockers out there.
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.
- 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
- 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
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 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.
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 is 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.
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.
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 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 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 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.
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.
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 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.
BIOS and Overclocking
The Click BIOS looks almost exactly the same as other MSI BIOS in previous months with the only noticeable addition being the GAME BOOST button/dial in the top left.
Scrolling through the different EZ Mode tabs, you can cycle between CPU, Memory, Storage and Fans.
The Fan control is extremely basic here, but you have a more advanced version further on in the BIOS.
The Help tab doesn’t really offer anything apart from what the GAME BOOST dial can achieve when used. Be warned, if your CPU can’t handle Set 6 – 11, it won’t boot and could cause problems.
Here we have the more in-depth fan controller than earlier and a much better option to use if you do not have an external fan controller.
In this view, the GAME BOOST dial has been tweaked through the BIOS and changed to SW (Software) mode. This is a less intrusive way of doing this and doesn’t require you to open your case every time you want to play.
Moving on to the more advanced BIOS, the top banner is exactly the same which is nice to see a consistent theme tieing it all together.
The settings on this motherboard are superior to almost every other motherboard I’ve tested apart from the GODLIKE Gaming which is the bigger badder brother.
The same quantity of settings follows through to the overclocking tab, but I feel that all of the settings under a single tab can get confusing. Maybe splitting it up like the setting tabs would be a good idea here.
If you have a habit of overclocking for whatever reason, you can save your profiles here to instantly restore whenever you want. This could be particularly good to weed out poor RAM and CPU’s if you are a system builder.
The board explorer is extremely similar to that of the rest of the MSI range except this has the XPOWER Titanium board as the skin.
If you hover over any of the components it will tell you what is installed. If you hover over the IO ports, you get an overlay with a close up of the ports with what’s installed.
As you would expect, overclocking was an absolute breeze, but it seems out chip has lost a bit of its puff and now requires around 1.5v to achieve 4.8GHz.
The best app that MSI offer is Command Center. It is an extremely simple application to use and works very well.
ECO Center is one of the less desirable apps, especially on a high-end motherboard like this. However, used right it can be very useful by cutting the power to selected devices to save energy. This can be handy if your system is in another room or hard to access, or you’re just lazy.
Fast Boot is useful to speed up the booting process by altering certain clocks speeds in the BIOS to provide extra performance to the storage drives. The Go2BIOS button can be extremely handy if your keyboard doesn’t get recognised until your operating system has been loaded.
Gaming LAN Manager is MSI’s alternative to Killer Networking App because Intel doesn’t offer a utility similar. Throughout the pages, you can prioritize which programs have access to the internet at any one time. This is ideal if you require constant bandwidth to a certain application like a game.
This page gives you an overview of the LAN options available on the motherboard itself and other key information.
This page is for the more advanced user. It allows you to control the amount of information coming to your computer and also block off certain IP addresses.
A pretty self-explanatory page, this allows you to enter in your internet speed information to better prioritize your connections.
This page lets you review your connection to see how fast they have been and how much of your connection they have required.
Apart from Command Center, Live Update 6 is likely one of the best apps MSI offer. This allows you to download every missing driver, BIOS and utilities. You can choose what you download and install so you can avoid programs such as Google Toolbar and Norton Security if you have your own options.
MSI offer M-Cloud to users who require more storage outside of their computers but don’t want to buy additional storage devices.
RAMDISK is something special. It allows you to take a portion of your RAM and dedicate it as a cache for your storage devices. Something we know about Dram is that it is extremely fast compared to NAND and can help greatly increase the performance if you have enough to spare.
Super Charging applications are pretty common these days, but one some motherboards you don’t have the option turn it on or off meaning you could fry an unsuspecting USB device.
The MSI Gaming App is essentially an extremely stripped down version of the command center. It allows you to adjust the onboard LED’s, quickly choose between 3 clock speed profiles and all of the usual array of features that the gaming app has given in the past.
With all of the Gaming range of motherboards, MSI includes as standard the Intel Extreme Tuning Utility. You can download this additionally via the Intel website, but MSI have included this specifically on the driver downloads.
Another added feature is the Nahimic settings. The Nahimic audio software boosts the audio performance by supplying a high-definition sound technology which leads to clearer audio performance whether that be during music, video or gaming.
CPU & GPU Performance
Taking the benchmarks head on and straight into Cinebench. While at stock the performance is slightly behind the Z170X-Gaming 7, it is well within the tolerance for the CPU at being well under 1% less.
Here we see the XPOWER Titanium take the lead, just. When overclocked, the performance is extremely good.
The XPOWER Titanium taking a slightly larger lead here, but again it is well within the tolerances of the CPU.
Moving onto the graphics testing and we can see the XPOWER Titanium in second place. However, much like the CPU testing, the tolerances of the graphics card are present here with such little difference between the top two.
Here we see a larger gap appear, but this could be down to a larger number of reasons such as better optimised drivers or slightly altered game updates. Still, the actual real world difference between top and bottom is so small that you couldn’t tell the difference.
Again it is at the bottom of the pack here, but there is so little difference that you couldn’t tell the difference in the real world.
Memory benchmarks don’t really shine a good light on this board, especially in Aida64. The stock performance is the poorest and it only got worse with an overclock.
Results lacking again through SiSoft Sandra.
Combined Latency Test
Despite the poorer bandwidth performance, the memory latency is a redeeming feature with one of the lowest latencies we’ve seen from a Z170 motherboard.
We are now hitting the limitations of the storage hardware rather than the motherboard ports. This means that the performance is going to be extremely similar across most motherboards with little variations here and there, but nothing to drastically impact performance.
In the linear write tests, the XPOWER Titanium offers some of the highest recorded speeds we’ve seen so far.
LAN Speed Test Lite
Turning our attention to the networking portion of the motherboard and it doesn’t fail to disappoint. Okay, it isn’t the fastest option there, but we are now one or more limitations which could be the router, cable or motherboard port itself.
Passmark Performance Test 8 – Ethernet
Again, it isn’t the fastest option we have, but the same issues of hardware could be a contributing factor. The UDP results are a little low for the I219V, but nothing to be concerned about.
Passmark Performance Test 8 – CPU Work Load
The Intel I219V codec gave a consistent performance boost over the previous I218V, but the power consumption has now increased also.
Getting a reliable audio feed from this motherboard was an absolute nightmare due to my installation of Nahimic corrupting. Once that was fixed after many hours of screaming at the screen, the results came back extremely promising and around the same area that the previous MSI motherboards have scored.
16 Bit, 44KHz (DVD Quality)
16 Bit, 96KHz (Studio Quality)
24 Bit, 96KHz (Studio Quality)
DPC Audio Latency Analyser
The Realtek ALC1150 Codec providing great competition for the other options adopted by ASUS and Gigabyte. It has been well executed on this motherboard to undercut the ASRock Extreme 7+ by 5µ seconds.
The Z170 range has quite a wide band of power consumptions with the XPOWER Titanium drawing more from the wall thanks to the additional power inputs on the motherboard itself. Once overclocked, the power consumption increases drastically.
The MSI Z170A XPOWER Gaming Titanium Edition is widely available, so finding a retailer near you shouldn’t be an issue. In the UK, OverclockersUK is currently advertising at £229.99 and Newegg.com currently has this listed for $299.99 for US residents.
What a board! The performance isn’t what we expect, but this isn’t aimed at the general user, this is designed to be used and abused by those who really know how to utilise all of the features and a large enough power supply to really push the power and overclocking limits.
It is without a doubt that this board will turn heads thanks to the unique silver PCB. It takes some serious gonads to release such a unique motherboard, but MSI seem to be at the forefront of unique considering the X99 GODLIKE was a metal-clad monster. I have my reservations on the heat sinks, though, I feel that these will get scratched really easy if you slip with the CPU heat sink or similar.
Something I’ve noticed with the Z170 range is that each new motherboard has power saving features enabled as standard, this means that the CPU will only hit the 42 multiplier on a single core and thus the overall performance is less. Once that was corrected, the performance provided some of the best scores seen out of the motherboards we’ve tested. Overclocking was as easy as ever with the MSI BIOS simplifying the entire process, although I think that the Overclocking section could be split up into CPU, Memory and Voltages as one large list can be daunting to look at.
I struggled to see what the benefit of the OC Dashboard offered to the rest of the motherboard, but then I remembered that this motherboard isn’t necessarily aimed at the traditional consumer. The OC Dashboard is designed specifically for LN2 overclocking where the key physical features aren’t within a dangerous range for possible spillage. The discharge button is extremely helpful, especially if you have zero patience and want to rip the computer apart without really paying attention to how long you have to wait after unplugging the system.
- Unique colour
- OC Dashboard is a nice high-end overclocking feature
- Excellent performance
- No WiFi for such a premium motherboard
- Some features aren’t needed for general consumer
- Unique color scheme is refreshing, but could put some off
“The most unique Z170 motherboard has landed in the XPOWER GAMING TITANIUM, but be warned it isn’t for the faint-hearted and requires some knowledge to really reap the benefits.“
Thank you MSI for providing us with this sample.