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MSI Serves Up A Dozen Z170 Motherboards

Intel still hasn't gotten its Broadwell-based desktop CPUs to market, but the successor to these chips is already on its way. Motherboards based on the Z170 chipset for Skylake are starting to show up, and MSI just announced 12 more.

Probably the biggest change between contemporary motherboards utilizing the Z97 chipset and the upcoming motherboards based on the Z170 chipset is the switch to DDR4 memory. This change is actually caused by the new Skylake processors, which take advantage of a new DDR4 memory controller. Although DDR3 will continue to be used for several more years, this is the first step towards phasing out the aging memory standard.

MSI Z170 Motherboards
Board NameZ170A XPOWER GAMING TITANIUMZ170A GAMING M9 ACKZ170A GAMING M7Z170A GAMING M5Z170A-G45 GAMINGZ170A GAMING M3
Form FactorATXATXATXATXATXATX
DDR4 BoostYes + XMP LEDYes + XMP LEDYes + XMP LEDYes + XMP LEDYes + XMP LEDYes + XMP LED
M.2Twin Turbo M.2Twin Turbo M.2Twin Turbo M.2Twin Turbo M.2Twin Turbo M.2Turbo M.2
USB 3.1 Gen 22x Type-AType-A & Type-CType-A & Type-CType-A & Type-CType-A & Type-C2x Type-A
Multi-GPU2-way SLI/4-way CF2-way SLI/3-way CF2-way SLI/3-way CF2-way SLI/3-way CF2-way SLI/3-way CF2-way CF
Gaming LANIntel i219Killer™ E2400Killer™ E2400Killer™ E2400Killer™ E2400Killer™ E2400
LAN ProtectLAN ProtectKiller Shield + LAN ProtectLAN ProtectLAN ProtectLAN ProtectLAN Protect
Unique FeaturesOC Panel, Direct USB, CeaseFireAC 1535 + Killer Shield, Bottom plate, WatercoolingNoneNoneNoneNone
BIOS Flashback+YesYesYesNoNoNo
Gaming HotkeyHardwareHardwareHardwareSoftwareSoftwareSoftware
Game BoostHardwareHardwareHardwareSoftwareSoftwareSoftware
StreamingOBSXSplit Premium 1 YearXSplit Premium 1 YearXSplit Premium 1 YearOBSOBS
OC Engine V2YesYesYesYesNoNo
PCIe ArmorSteel ArmorSteel ArmorSteel ArmorSteel ArmorSteel ArmorVGA Armor
AudioAudio Boost 3Xtreme Audio DACAudio Boost 3Audio Boost 3Audio Boost 3Audio Boost 3
NahimicYesYesYesYesNoYes
Mouse MasterYesYesYesYesYesYes
EZ Debug LEDN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/A
Wi-FiNoNoNoNoNoNo

On these new motherboards, MSI promotes a technology it calls "DDR4 Boost." Essentially, the idea is to segment the portion of the PCB occupied by the RAM so as to diminish the effect of EMI influencing the DDR4 channels. MSI claimed that this allows for the purest signal to be transmitted between the memory and the CPU, increasing stability. Some motherboards will also be equipped with an XMP LED, which highlights an active Extreme Memory Profile for the best performance.

MSI Z170 Motherboards
Board NameZ170A GAMING PROZ170I GAMING PRO ACZ170A KRAIT GAMINGZ170 KRAIT GAMINGZ170A TOMAHAWKZ170M MORTAR
Form FactorATXITXATXATXATXmATX
DDR4 BoostYes + XMP LEDYesYes + XMP LEDYes + XMP LEDYes + XMP LEDYes + XMP LED
M.2Turbo M.2Turbo M.2Turbo M.2Turbo M.2Turbo M.2 (M.2 Wi-Fi optional)M.2 Wi-Fi optional
USB 3.1 Gen 22x Type-ANo2x Type-ANo2x Type-ANo
Multi-GPU2-way SLI/3-way CFNo2-way SLI/3-way CF2-way SLI/3-way CFCFCF
Gaming LANIntel i219Intel i219Intel i219Intel i219YesYes
LAN ProtectLAN ProtectLAN ProtectLAN Protect (w/o LED)LAN Protect (w/o LED)NoNo
Unique FeaturesNoneUSB Audio Power, DPC Latency TunerNoneNoneNoneNone
BIOS Flashback+N/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/A
Gaming HotkeyYesYesYesYesYesYes
Game BoostYesYesYesYesYesYes
StreamingOBSOBSOBSOBSOBSOBS
OC Engine V2N/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/A
PCIe ArmorSteel ArmorVGA ArmorSteel ArmorSteel ArmorVGA ArmorSteel Armor
AudioAudio Boost 3Audio Boost 3Audio Boost 3Audio Boost 3Audio BoostAudio Boost 3
NahimicN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/A
Mouse MasterYesYesYesYesYesYes
EZ Debug LEDYesYesYesYesYesYes
Wi-FiNoIntel AC Wi-FiNoNoNoNo

Another feature implemented across all motherboards relates to the PCI-E ports. In recent years, graphics cards have been getting heavier and heavier, and it has reached a point that some are concerned about the hefty cards damaging their PCI-E slots. Not able to reduce the weight of all graphics cards that will be used on its motherboards, MSI has opted to use steel to connect the plastic PCI-E slot to the motherboard in order to reinforce the slots. MSI claimed that these interconnects are four times stronger than conventional ones.

MSI has stepped up its embedded audio solutions compared to previous motherboards, too. The Audio Boost 3 technology present on several of the motherboards that were announced utilize the Nahimic Audio Enhancer, dual OPA1652 AMPs, and EMI shielding.

Nahimic originally developed the Audio Enhancer technology for use in military combat flight simulators for the French military. The goal was to give the flight simulators the most realistic audio effects to increase the training experience. It was never meant to be used for gaming purposes, but because many games are based on war, MSI is pushing this technology into its gaming motherboards. When configured properly, it should make the sounds of guns firing and similar sounds appear more realistic.

For network connectivity, most of MSI's Z170 boards utilize either the Killer Ethernet E2400 chipset or Intel's i219. The boards with the Killer chipset will also take advantage of the intelligent ASD 2.0 technology, which will supply games with greater amounts of bandwidth while throttling your other applications. The result is that you should experience less lag over the network. All of the boards, save two, will also sport MSI's LAN Protect, which provides anti-surge protection up to 15 KV.

Naturally, as they're designed for gaming, many features are carried over from the previous generation of motherboards, too. All of the new boards (except the ITX model) support multi-GPU configurations. Another essential feature that carries over from late Z97 motherboards is the presence of USB 3.1 ports.

With nine out of 12 boards brandishing two USB 3.1 ports, it can be seen as a statement that the latest USB standard is becoming ever more abundant in the market. On the other hand, the lack of this feature on three of MSI's new boards also shows that support for USB 3.1 still isn't necessarily a must-have feature yet.

The new motherboards are expected to be released later this year, around the time Intel releases its new Skylake CPUs to the market. Check out our review of the new Skylake processors for more.

Follow Michael Justin Allen Sexton @LordLao74. Follow us @tomshardware, on Facebook and on Google+.

  • Luminair
    Asus has an alert on BBB for sending people broken products: http://www.bbb.org/greater-san-francisco/business-reviews/computers-wholesale-and-manufacturers/asus-computer-international-in-fremont-ca-16870
    Reply
  • DookieDraws
    I have to say, I love the looks of this MSI motherboard. They have made some very attractive motherboards the last few years. I love the red & black color scheme. Hmmmmmm, I wonder why? :)
    Reply
  • thundervore
    OMG that 15KV have a red LED inside of it!!!!

    I must have it! Im throwing money at the screen but nothing is happening!

    /sarcasm
    Reply
  • Blueberries
    Yawn. I'll wait for the MPower class.
    Reply
  • stibay
    Just heard that expected release date for the Z170I GAMING PRO AC isn't untill the end of September :(
    Reply
  • brasidas200
    I was going to buy one of the higher end MSI boards until I couldn't find the U.2 adaptor they claim is "purchased seperately" but not in stock anywhere in North America. Seems they have quite a protective fan boy community about it also.

    https://forum-en.msi.com/index.php?topic=259922.0
    Reply