MSI Z170A GAMING M5 (LGA1151) Motherboard Review

Introduction

Since the release of Intel’s Z170 chipset, MSI has unveiled a fantastic, feature-rich motherboard range which caters to contrasting user demands. For example, the Z170A GAMING PRO CARBON is an excellent choice for consumers wanting a stylish black colour scheme and great reliability at an affordable price point. In contrast to this, the MSI Z170A XPOWER GAMING TITANIUM Edition‘s gorgeous aesthetic design makes it one of the most innovative LGA1151 motherboards on the market. Of course, the iconic dragon styling on many MSI products have become a popular choice among the core gaming demographic. This red and black theme compliments mainstream hardware and retails at very competitive prices across various performance tiers.

The MSI Z170A GAMING M5 is a mid-range motherboard sporting an attractive design and impressive specification. More specifically, the product is capable of housing two PCI-E M.2 storage devices and has support for USB 3.1 Gen2 connectivity. Not only that, the motherboard includes a one year premium XSplit license and Nahimic audio enhancements. As you might expect, many of MSI’s leading technologies are incorporated such as DDR4 Boost, Game Boost and much more. Given this particular model’s astonishing software suite and military class components, I expect to see it rival higher priced offerings rather well. Could this be the best value Z170 motherboard thus far for high-end users? Let’s find out!

Specifications

Packing and Accessories

MSI always does a phenomenal job when it comes to packaging design and the Z170 GAMING M5 is no different. The bold colours and stunning product snapshot contrasts extremely well. This is one of the most eye-catching motherboard boxes I’ve seen and showcases the motherboard’s beautiful appearance.

On the opposite side, there’s a brief synopsis of the motherboard’s key selling points such as support for 3-way crossfire, 2-way SLI and Audio Boost 3.0. This is presented in a slick manner and doesn’t alienate the end-user with technical jargon.

In terms of accessories, the motherboard comes with a user’s guide, driver’s disk, metal case badge, I/O shield, SLI bridge, registration details, basic installation guide and four SATA cables. Please note, the press sample I received was previously used by another media so there’s only 3 SATA cables displayed in the photograph. Rest assured, the retail version will include four and be packaged without the need for an elastic band.

ASUS Sabertooth Z170 S (LGA1151) Motherboard Review

Introduction

ASUS have compiled a comprehensive Z170 motherboard range which caters to different sections of the consumer market. For example, the GAMING PRO line-up offers superb functionality and impeccable stability at an affordable price point. ROG products evoke a more premium feel and includes a stunning software suite for power users. The Sabertooth brand revolves around a stringent testing procedure to ensure each motherboard exhibits unprecedented reliability. The extreme thermal testing and deployment of TUF components prioritizes long-term durability. As a result, it’s a great option for consumers who demand a very high-end motherboard and have no intentions of upgrading in the near future.

Typically, motherboards opt for a red and black colour scheme because it’s the most popular option among the core gaming audience. Some time ago, ASUS unleashed the limited edition Z97 Sabertooth Mark S which utilizes an innovative white PCB and military camouflage. It’s quite rare to see motherboard sporting a white theme and while there is some competition from the MSI Krait series, ASUS is the only manufacturer to offer a pure white PCB.

The Sabertooth Z170 S is the spiritual successor to the Z97 Sabertooth Mark S and features a very unusual design philosophy. When adopting such a wacky colour scheme, it’s bound to have a polarizing reception and I’m fascinated to hear feedback on ASUS’ aesthetic choices. Looking beyond the visual aspects, I’m expecting to see some very impressive numbers given the premium electronics and DIGI+ Power Control.

Specifications

Packing and Accessories

The motherboard’s box is characterized by a white finish and contains camouflage highlights. This provides a great insight into the product’s unconventional styling and creates a web of intrigue. On the front, information regarding the 5 year warranty is displayed in a clear manner.

Moving onto the opposite side, there’s a detailed description of the product’s thermal radar monitoring made possible by the TUF ICe processor. On another note, the packaging outlines the rear I/O connectivity and basic motherboard layout.

Included in the package is a user’s guide, M.2 screws, driver’s disk, case badge, certificate of reliability, stickers and a gorgeous white I/O shield. As someone who loves the technical details of motherboards, it’s fantastic to read the reliability assessment document. Here, you can browse information regarding a huge array of tests such as moisture resistance, thermal shock, solder bath, salt spray and more!

There’s also four SATA cables, a Q Connector, CPU installation tool, back I/O dust cover and SLI bridge. The Q Connector is a really handy tool which eliminates the frustration factor when attaching front panel headers. Furthermore, the CPU installation tool is designed to minimize the contact time and pressure between your fingers and the CPU. While it’s not necessary for veteran builders, it could prevent beginners from causing damage during the build process.

Gigabyte Z170-Gaming K3 (LGA1151) Motherboard Review

Introduction


Intel’s current iteration of enthusiast processors offering impressive overclocking headroom incurs a fairly hefty premium compared to the previous generation especially if you’re opting for the i7-6700K. Unfortunately, the retail version of this CPU sporting a 3 year warranty still teeters around the £300 mark, and falls into a similar budget to the 6-core 5820K. The real savings when selecting the Z170 chipset revolve around cheaper motherboards which usually cater towards the gaming demographic with LED illumination, unusual colour schemes and a comprehensive software suite. It’s astonishing to see the kind of performance and bundled list of features on products under £100. At this price, there’s fierce competition and some manufacturers have struggled to outline the value of H170/B150 alternatives due to the narrow difference to affordable Z170 options.

The latest motherboard from Gigabyte targets the mainstream audience utilizing a single discrete graphics card, and overclocked Skylake processor. While it does technically support Crossfire, the lack of x8/x8 functionality might be a deal breaker for users wanting the absolute maximum bandwidth. There’s also no support for SLI setups either which may be a contentious issue. To be honest, I don’t see this as a huge problem because the motherboard retails for approximately £95 and dual card configurations are fairly niche in today’s market. Despite the very low price, Gigabyte has still implemented 32Gb/s M.2 storage, a great audio solution and USB 3.1. From the outset, it seems Gigabyte managed to achieve this excellent specification on a budget by removing SLI support. I’m interested to see the stock performance numbers though compared to high-end solutions and determine the motherboard’s credentials. Could this be the best value gaming Z170 motherboard ever released? Let’s find out!

Specifications

Packing and Accessories

The Z170-Gaming K3 is packaged in a visually appealing box showcasing the attractive dual tone PCB design. This draws you into the product and evokes a sense of excitement prior to the unboxing process.

On the rear, there’s a huge description regarding the motherboard’s high-speed connectivity, premium audio hardware and networking with traffic prioritization for gaming purposes. This is presented in an easy to understand manner, and the clear pictures do a great job of relaying technical information without bamboozling the end-user.

In terms of accessories, the motherboard comes with an I/O shield, user’s guide, G Connector, case badge and SATA cables opting for a very stylish metallic look. This is the first time I’ve seen a color of this ilk but I have to admit it’s a nice touch and looks fantastic. The G Connector is really useful when connecting those fiddly front panel connectors and improves the user-experience when building a new system. Other additions include a rather fetching door hanger, drivers disk, and World of Warships content code.

Gigabyte GeForce GTX 980Ti Xtreme Gaming Graphics Card Review

Introduction


NVIDIA’s cogent strategy to launch the Titan X at $999 and subsequently release the GTX 980Ti with similar performance at a significantly reduced price was a master stroke. This made the 980Ti compelling value and a great choice for high-end consumers wanting the best possible experience at demanding resolutions. Admittedly, there isn’t a GPU on the market capable of driving a 4K panel at maximum details but you can attain 60 frames-per-second with reduced settings. Evidently, the 980Ti has proved to be a popular choice especially when you take into consideration that factory overclocked models can easily pull away from NVIDIA’s flagship graphics card. While there is some competition from the Fury X, it’s not enough to dethrone custom-cooled 980Ti models.

Some users might argue that the upcoming Pascal architecture built on the 16nm manufacturing process and utilizing HBM2 ultra fast memory is reason enough to hold off buying a top-tier Maxwell solution. However, the current estimate suggests Pascal won’t launch until Q2 this year, and there’s no indication regarding pricing. As always, any new product has a price premium and I expect enthusiast Pascal cards to retail at a high price point. This means purchasing a Maxwell-based GPU right now isn’t a terrible option unless you require additional power to enjoy 4K gaming and have deep pockets. One of the best custom-designed GTX 980Ti cards on the market is the Gigabyte G1 Gaming. This particular GPU rapidly gained a reputation for its overclocking ability and superb Windforce triple fan cooling hardware.

The latest addition to Gigabyte’s graphics range is the GTX 980Ti Xtreme Gaming sporting a 1216MHz core clock, 1317MHz boost, and memory running at 7200MHz. One major improvement is the use of illuminated RGB rings behind the fans which creates a very unusual, and stylish appearance. Gigabyte’s GPU Gauntlet is a binning process which selects the best performing chips with impressive overclocking headroom. Once discovered, the top chips are incorporated into the Xtreme Gaming series, and G1 Gaming. By default, the Xtreme Gaming is bundled with a hefty overclock and should offer sensational performance. Although I expect to see some further gains due to the excellent cooling and stringent binning procedure. Could this be the best 980Ti on the market thus far?

Specifications:

Packing and Accessories

The product comes in a visually appealing box which outlines the extreme performance and gaming focus. I really like the sharp, dynamic logo with bright colours which draws you into the packaging.

On the rear side, there’s a brief description of the Windforce X3 cooling system, RGB illumination, GPU Gauntlet, and premium components. The clear pictures provide a great insight into the GPU’s main attributes and it’s presented in such a slick way.

In terms of accessories, the graphics card includes a driver disk, quick start guide, case badge, sweat band and PCI-E power adapter. It’s quite unusual to see a sweat band, but I’m sure it could come in handy during a trip to the gym or intense eSports contest.

Sapphire Nitro OC R9 Fury Graphics Card Review

Introduction


The initial unveiling of AMD’s Fury X was eagerly anticipated due to the advent of high bandwidth memory, and potential to revolutionize the size to performance ratio of modern graphics cards. This new form of stackable video RAM provided a glimpse into the future and departure from the current GDDR5 standard. Although, this isn’t going to happen overnight as production costs and sourcing HBM on a mass scale has to be taken into consideration. On another note, JEDEC recently announced GDD5X with memory speeds up to 14 Gbps which helps to enhance non-HBM GPUs while catering to the lower-mid range market. The Fury X and Fury utilizes the first iteration of high bandwidth memory which features a maximum capacity of 4GB.

There’s some discussion regarding the effect of this limitation at high resolutions but I personally haven’t seen it cause a noticeable bottleneck. If anything, the Fury range is capable of outperforming the 980 Ti during 4K benchmarks while it tends to linger behind at lower resolutions. AMD’s flagship opts for a closed-loop liquid cooler to reduce temperatures and minimize operating noise. In theory, you can argue this level of cooling prowess was required to tame the GPU’s core. However, there are some air-cooled variants which allow us to directly compare between each form of heat dissipation.

Clearly, the Fury X’s water cooling apparatus adds a premium and isn’t suitable for certain chassis configurations. To be fair, most modern case layouts can accommodate a CLC graphics card without any problems, but there’s also concerns regarding reliability and the possibility of leaks. That’s why air-cooled alternatives which drop the X branding offer great performance at a more enticing price point. For example, the Sapphire Nitro OC R9 Fury is around £60 cheaper than the XFX R9 Fury X. This particular card has a factory overclocked core of 1050MHz, and astounding cooling solution. The question is, how does it compare to the Fury X and GTX 980 Ti? Let’s find out!

Specifications:

Packing and Accessories

The Sapphire Nitro OC R9 Fury comes in a visually appealing box which outlines the Tri-X cooling system, factory overclocked core, and extremely fast memory. I’m really fond of the striking robot front cover and small cut out which provides a sneak peek at the GPU’s colour scheme.

On the opposite side, there’s a detailed description of the R9 Fury range and award-winning Tri-X cooling. Furthermore, the packaging outlines information regarding LiquidVR, FreeSync, and other essential AMD features. This is displayed in an easy-to-read manner and helps inform the buyer about the graphics card’s functionality.

In terms of accessories, Sapphire includes a user’s guide, driver disk, Select Club registration code, and relatively thick HDMI cable.