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MSI Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon ATX Motherboard Review

The Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon promises a little more durability, style, and stability compared to budget-oriented rivals. We take a closer look at its integrated features, overall performance and overclocking capabilities.

Early Verdict

The Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon could be ideal for builders who want to ship a great looking, RGB-lit system.

Pros

  • +

    Reinforced PCIe x16 slots

  • +

    RGB Lighting Effects

  • +

    Nahimic Audio

  • +

    Improved Efficiency

Cons

  • -

    Sub-enthusiast CPU overclocking

  • -

    Few additional onboard controllers

Introducing: Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon

As we wind down both 2016 and the slew of motherboards that came with it, our latest Z170 motherboards at least give us a chance to preview the direction in which various manufacturers are moving. Better still, recent firmware has made nearly all of this year’s Z170 motherboards compatible with next year’s LGA-1151 processors, and we’re still gathering data in preparation for that launch.

The first thing you’ll notice from manufacturer-supplied images is the Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon’s RGB LED highlights, followed by the carbon-fiber-pattern stickers and stainless steel slot support shell. Called Steel Armor PCI-E slots, extra solder points that hold these shells in place help prevent the slots from getting ripped off the circuit board while transporting your PC — although this doesn’t happen often.

Other highlights include a group of white trace-route tracings on top of a black PCB mask, and a lighted audio pathway highlight running along the Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon’s rear edge. The Audio Boost 3 logo hides an ALC1151 codec , which MSI protects with high-quality capacitors and an isolated power circuit.

I/O panel connections include a single-link DVI, HDMI, Type A and Type-C USB 3.1 10 Gb/s ports, two USB 3.0 ports that MSI labels as 3.1 Gen 1 (thanks Apple), four USB 2.0 ports with adjustable polling rate, a single Gigabit Ethernet port fed by Intel’s WGI219V PHY, digital optical and five analog audio jacks, and a lonely PS/2 port to use with your legacy mouse or keyboard.

Though the presence of only one M.2 slot is a little disappointing on a mid-priced Z170 board, the Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon does have a few classic upgrades, such as a secondary USB 3.1 controller, a second front-panel USB 3.0 header (facing forward, above the second graphics card), upgraded CPU voltage regulator chokes, a header for a Thunderbolt add-in card, and a set of PCIe lane switches to allow the top two graphics slots to switch from x16/x0 mode to x8/x8 whenever a card is installed in the second slot. The graphics slots are also placed on three-slot spacing to aid graphics ventilation and allow the installation of two extra-thick GPU coolers.

The third x16-length PCIe slot is limited to four PCH-served pathways and is not SLI compatible. Though it’s technically CrossFireX compliant, the combination of reduced bandwidth and potential interference with SATA-Express makes this a better place to put other cards.

The Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon’s minimal installation kit includes only two SATA cables, an SLI bridge, and a plastic-reinforced I/O shield. Documentation includes a sticker sheet of cable labels.

Specifications


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Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.