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.

MSI Z170A GAMING PRO CARBON (LGA1151) Motherboard Review

Introduction


MSI 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

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.

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.

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.

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.

SuperMicro C7Z170-OCE (LGA1151) Motherboard Review

Introduction



SuperMicro is one of the most respected names in the server industry and synonymous with unparalleled reliability. Whether you’re after a rackmount, blade server system or workstation motherboard, there’s nothing on the market which manages to enthuse such a sense of rock solid stability. Recently, the company has taken their server roots and impeccable reputation into enthusiast consumer motherboards. This allows them to retain the server framework while offering more ostentatious motherboard designs. Additionally, SuperMicro’s highly refined production line results in a low RMA rate and each product evokes such a premium feel. While their previous attempts have been a little rough around the edges, it’s clear to see the rapid progress in terms of motherboard layout and visual exuberance. Typically, motherboard manufacturers opt for the gaming themed red and black colour scheme because it caters towards the core demographic and maximize sales.

However, they have adopted a very different approach and launched the SuperMicro C7Z170-OCE, which utilizes a very striking green colour scheme. Not only that, the motherboard incorporates an impressive array of overclocking buttons to make manual tweaks without entering the BIOS. There’s also a high-quality speaker, and LED post readout to help with system diagnostics. The C7Z170-OCE’s electrical circuitry is designed with extreme overclocking in mind and able to push any Skylake CPU to its absolute limit. Yes, that means BCLK overclocking is possible even on a locked multiplier CPU. Although, given the Z170 chipset, this wouldn’t be a sensible choice.

Another key selling point is the embedded PLX PEX8747 chip capable of supporting 3-way SLI in a x16/x8/x8 configuration. If you require a 2-way setup, then the motherboard can easily accommodate this via a x16/x0/x16. Other notable features include a Realtek ALC1150 audio solution with dedicated PCB isolation, USB 3.1 Type-C connectivity, ample supply of fan headers and much more! As you can see, the motherboard sports an incredible specification and I expect it to perform superbly across CPU intensive tasks. In the past, I’ve experienced a few issues with our DDR4-2666MHz bench memory kit on SuperMicro products, so it will be interesting to see if compatibility has improved on this latest model.

Specifications

Packaging and Accessories

The motherboard comes in SuperMicro’s iconic box design which looks fantastic and creates a sense of luxury.

On the rear, there’s a detailed description of SuperMicro’s philosophy to bring server quality to the gaming market. Furthermore, this section outlines the key specification in an easy-to-understand manner.

In terms of accessories, the motherboard is packaged with a driver disk, I/O shield, M.2 screws and a quick reference guide. Unlike the majority of other vendors, the SuperMicro guide is fairly brief and provides a technical rundown of the motherboard layout. While I find the included diagram quite useful, some users might prefer a more comprehensive set of instructions to help with troubleshooting. For example, the user’s guide directs you to URL to find the meaning of each BIOS debug code instead of printing them. This is important because when the system fails to post, you cannot access the online documentation. Although, I guess it’s easy enough to check on a phone or tablet for the meaning of each error code.

There’s also six SATA connectors in a red finish. Ideally, I’d like to see three of these with a right-angled end, and the red colour doesn’t really match the motherboard’s theme. Perhaps, swapping the red for green, or a jet black tone would enhance the overall level of synergy.

Gigabyte Z170X-UD5 TH (LGA 1151) Motherboard Review

Introduction


Intel’s latest Skylake architecture is built on the 14nm manufacturing process and designed to replace the previous generation, Haswell Refresh CPUs. However, the Core i7-6700K is currently a poor value proposition throughout Europe and costs upwards of £350. While the Z170 motherboards are an affordable proposition, some consumers are still waiting for CPU price cuts before considering making the switch. Furthermore, the i7-6700K is priced incredibly close to the X99-based Core i7 5820K which contains 6 cores and provides enhanced performance in multi-threaded workstation tasks.

Eventually, Skylake K-series CPUs should fall to reasonable pricing around the £250 mark and increase the sales of Z170 motherboards. The latest motherboard to arrive at eTeknix headquarters is the Gigabyte Z170X-UD5 TH which supports 3-way SLI, Turbo B-Clock Tuning IC, SATA Express, USB 3.1 Type-C and 40 Gb/s Thunderbolt 3 capable of powering dual 4K displays at 60Hz. Gigabyte’s engineering team has developed a feature-rich motherboard which utilizes the fastest connectivity options on the market. As a result, I expect it to perform remarkably well in every benchmark.

Packing and Accessories

The Z170X-UD5 TH is bundled in a visually appealing black and gold box which clearly displays the unit’s Thunderbolt 3 functionality.

On the rear, Gigabyte focused on the huge connectivity options and impressive speeds which come from Thunderbolt 3, and Intel’s USB 3.1 controller.

In terms of accessories, the motherboard comes with a user’s manual, installation guide, I/O shield, SLI bridge and driver disk.

Gigabyte also includes a G Connector to easily conect front panel headers, SATA cables and Rear I/O dust covers. These covers should prolong the rear connector’s lifespan as dust build-up can cause damage over time.