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.
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.
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