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MSI Z170A SLI Plus Motherboard Review

Designed to deliver full gaming performance at reduced cost, the Z170A SLI Plus arrives with MSI's hope for a value award. Today, we put the ATX motherboard to the test.

Test Results, Overclocking And Conclusion

Test System Configuration

To assure accurate comparisons, we repeat the benchmark configuration from our initial Z170 roundup in every Z170 motherboard review. The Fatal1ty Z170 Gaming K4's performance and overclocking capabilities are compared to previously-reviewed $115 to $160 Z170 motherboards.

Drivers

GraphicsGeForce 353.30
ChipsetIntel INF 10.0.27

Benchmark Suite

Synthetics
3DMark 11Version: 1.0.5.0, Benchmark Only
3DMark ProfessionalVersion: 1.2.250.0 (64-bit), Fire Strike Benchmark
PCMark 8Version: 1.0.0 x64, Full Test
SiSoftware SandraVersion 2014.02.20.10, CPU Test = CPU Arithmetic / Multimedia / Cryptography, Memory Bandwidth Benchmarks
Games
Battlefield 4Version 1.0.0.1, DirectX 11, 100-sec. Fraps "Tashgar"Test Set 1: Medium Quality Preset, No AA, 4X AF, SSAOTest Set 2: Ultra Quality Preset,  4X MSAA, 16X AF, HBAO
Grid 2Version 1.0.85.8679, Direct X 11, Built-in BenchmarkTest Set 1: High Quality, No AATest Set 2: Ultra Quality, 8x MSAA
Arma 3Version 1.08.113494, 30-Sec. Fraps "Infantry Showcase"Test Set 1: Standard Preset, No AA, Standard AFTest Set 2: Ultra Preset, 8x FSAA, Ultra AF
Far Cry 3V. 1.04, DirectX 11, 50-sec. Fraps "Amanaki Outpost"Test Set 1: High Quality, No AA, Standard ATC, SSAOTest Set 2: Ultra Quality, 4x MSAA, Enhanced ATC, HDAO
Applications
Adobe After Effects CCVersion 12.0.0.404: Create Video which includes 3 Streams, 210 Frames, Render Multiple Frames Simultaneosly
Adobe Photoshop CCVersion 14.0 x64: Filter 15.7MB TIF Image: Radial Blur, Shape Blur, Median, Polar Coordinates
Adobe Premeire Pro CCVersion 7.0.0 (342), 6.61 GB MXF Project to H.264 to H.264 Blu-ray, Output 1920x1080, Maximum Quality
iTunesVersion 11.0.4.4 x64: Audio CD (Terminator II SE), 53 minutes, default AAC format
Lame MP3Version 3.98.3: Audio CD "Terminator II SE", 53 min, convert WAV to MP3 audio format, Command: -b 160 --nores (160 kb/s)
Handbrake CLIVersion: 0.99: Video from Canon Eos 7D (1920x1080, 25 FPS) 1 Minutes 22 SecondsAudio: PCM-S16, 48000 Hz, 2-Channel, to Video: AVC1 Audio: AAC (High Profile)
TotalCodeStudio 2.5Version: 2.5.0.10677: MPEG-2 to H.264, MainConcept H.264/AVC Codec, 28 sec HDTV 1920x1080 (MPEG-2), Audio: MPEG-2 (44.1 kHz, 2 Channel, 16-Bit, 224 kb/s), Codec: H.264 Pro, Mode: PAL 50i (25 FPS), Profile: H.264 BD HDMV
ABBYY FineReaderVersion 10.0.102.95: Read PDF save to Doc, Source: Political Economy (J. Broadhurst 1842) 111 Pages
Adobe Acrobat 11Version 11.0.0.379: Print PDF from 115 Page PowerPoint, 128-bit RC4 Encryption
Autodesk 3ds Max 2013Version 15.0 x64: Space Flyby Mentalray, 248 Frames, 1440x1080
BlenderVersion: 2.68A, Cycles Engine, Syntax blender -b thg.blend -f 1, 1920x1080, 8x Anti-Aliasing, Render THG.blend frame 1
Visual Studio 2010Version 10.0, Compile Google Chrome, Scripted
WinZipVersion 18.0 Pro: THG-Workload (1.3 GB) to ZIP, command line switches "-a -ez -p -r"
WinRARVersion 5.0: THG-Workload (1.3 GB) to RAR, command line switches "winrar a -r -m3"
7-ZipVersion 9.30 alpha (64-bit): THG-Workload (1.3 GB) to .7z, command line switches "a -t7z -r -m0=LZMA2 -mx=5"

Comparison Motherboards

MSI's Z170A SLI Plus competes most directly with ASRock's Z170 Extreme4, since both are low-cost overclocking boards. MSI's product is currently a little cheaper. Both of these are bracketed by the ultra-low-cost Z170-HD3 and the mid-priced Z170-Claymore.

Synthetic Benchmarks

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Synthetic benchmarks highlight small performance differences that aren't typically visible in real-world applications, but there's not much to see until we reach Sandra Memory Bandwidth; there, one of MSI's competitors stands out as being slightly behind the pack.

3D Games

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Another of MSI's competitors falls slightly behind at a couple specific game settings, and again we see the Z170A SLI Plus performing as-expected.

Timed Applications

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There aren't any noteworthy exceptions in timed workloads either. That leaves features and overclocking as the drivers of our value analysis.

Power, Heat And Efficiency

Employing the full benefits of Intel's power-savings technologies requires us to enable various settings in firmware, particularly when we're reviewing boards that are designed for overclocking. Fortunately, we did that for all samples before running the performance analysis. That means the power savings in MSI's Z170A SLI Plus should lead to true efficiency.

With a 0.1 percent above-average performance ranking and 10 percent below-average power consumption, the Z170A SLI Plus comes out 11.7 percent above-average in efficiency. We should note that the efficiency rankings seen here use the average of all fourteen Z170 motherboards we've reviewed, not just the four closest competitors shown in the charts.

Overclocking

MSI Z170A SLI Plus Frequency And Voltage Settings
BIOSP1.30 (02/22/2016)
Base Clock98-341 MHz (10 kHz)
CPU Multiplier8x-83x (1x)
DRAM Data Rates800-4133 (100/133.3 MHz)
CPU Vcore0.60-1.55V (5mV)
System Agent0.60-2.00V (10 mV)
CPU I/O0.60-2.00V (10 mV)
PCH Voltage0.60-2.00V (10 mV)
DRAM Voltage0.60-2.20V (10 mV)
CAS Latency4-31 Cycles
tRCD4-31 Cycles
tRP4-31 Cycles
tRAS28-63 Cycles

The Z170A SLI Plus is tied for first place in sub-$140 Z170 motherboard overclocking, matching the similarly-priced Z170 Extreme4. ECS's pricier Z170-Claymore isn't really optimized for overclocking, and the far-cheaper Z170-HD3 doesn't have the voltage stability needed to add that extra 1 MHz BCLK at a 45x multiplier.

One thing that isn't represented in the numbers is overclocking experience. The Z170A SLI Plus reboots several times upon every overclocked boot, and this reboot cycle can take over a minute before a boot is finally successful. Because of this, we'd probably choose a lower multipliers and let software (such as MSI Command Center) increase the base clock if we wanted our system to boot up quickly.

Some motherboard manufacturers use slow tertiary timings to allow memory overclocking, which spoils the reasons for memory overclocking. Fortunately, both the Z170A SLI Plus being tested today and the Z170 Extreme4 it's being compared to produce good bandwidth numbers at non-reference settings.

As of this writing, the Z170A SLI Plus is available for $130, while the Z170 Extreme4 can be found for $135. That $5 difference gets buyers of the competing board an extra firmware ROM that's both manually selectable and socket mounted for easy replacement, plus a two-digit system status display that eases the diagnostic of overclocking failures (among other things). Those prices also include a temporary discount on the competing board, but do not include that competitor's $10 mail-in-rebate. If we were to buy this on another other day they'd probably be a little farther apart in price, giving both products similar features-per-dollar. Both are worth your further consideration, and both get the same stamp of approval.

MORE: Best MotherboardsMORE: 
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Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware, covering Cases, Cooling, Memory and Motherboards. Follow him on Twitter.

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  • logainofhades
    I was considering this board, for my own upgrade, but fell into a good deal on a placeholder H170 board. May consider this board, at a later date, should I get around to upgrading my board.
    Reply
  • Uri___Pisarev
    Is it just me or this MOBO has too many useless connectors, m/2 or whatever they call it for old style mouse, VGA and even that audio jack thing (aside from headphones and mic).


    Industry really needs to scrap these old items and free up space for new and additional items, more m.2, more USB 3.0 and C.
    Reply
  • Onus
    With a 0.1 percent above-average performance ranking and 10 percent below-average person consumption...
    So, it won't go through a large family as quickly, but once it has picked the next member to devour, it chases that one down slightly more quickly?

    On those OC reboots, does it keep cycling like that every time, if there's an OC set in BIOS, or just the first time that OC is to be used and thereafter it's "normal?"

    I think in general MSI has surprised me. They're really trying to put those miserable 970A-G4x boards behind them.
    Reply
  • 0InVader0
    - Intel's gamer-friendly i219V network

    AVOID THIS LIKE THE PLAGUE!!! I refunded my motherboard, because this ethernet adapter didn't work properly. I couldn't even get an IP address or when I did, I had up to 50% packet loss. I've seen plenty other people on the internet having this issue as well and so far it has no fix or workaround

    I tried everything: disabling WoL and power management options, flashing/resetting bios, fresh windows install (both 7 and 10), various driver versions... I even changed the bootloader. Tried Linux as well, no luck there.

    Killen GLAN might be equally bad, but at least it has fixable problems. (no drivers for win10 though)
    Reply
  • logainofhades
    17806093 said:
    Is it just me or this MOBO has too many useless connectors, m/2 or whatever they call it for old style mouse, VGA and even that audio jack thing (aside from headphones and mic).


    Industry really needs to scrap these old items and free up space for new and additional items, more m.2, more USB 3.0 and C.

    Some gamers still prefer older mechanical keyboards, and PS2 mice. None of the driver issues, that USB can have either. VGA is still ok, and not sure what you are talking about, with regards to audio.
    Reply
  • joz
    They missed an opportunity: Blackout the rear connectors as well as darkred/black the pci-e connectors.
    Reply
  • Eximo
    Power, Heat, Efficiency

    "10 percent below-average person consumption"

    Now I am scared of this sacrificial friendly motherboard.
    Reply
  • sincreator
    Couldn't the slow reboot while overclocking issue get resolved by a simple Bios update? I would think it would be addressed pretty quickly, and really not end up being a con anymore. After which, this board would be a total win for a budget friendly build.
    Reply
  • RedJaron
    I think two PS2 connectors is excessive. One for a keyboard of course, but who is still using a PS2 mouse? Two additional USB ports for peripherals would be more useful.

    And while the Skylake iGPU can handle three output displays, Z boards are aimed at enthusiasts and power users. How many of them are using displays that are still VGA only? Three ports in a mix of HDMI and DisplayPort would better match that market, I think, maybe even a DVI. Keep the VGA on the H and B boards that are going to consumers with older displays.
    Reply
  • tical2399
    I think two PS2 connectors is excessive. One for a keyboard of course, but who is still using a PS2 mouse? Two additional USB ports for peripherals would be more useful.

    And while the Skylake iGPU can handle three output displays, Z boards are aimed at enthusiasts and power users. How many of them are using displays that are still VGA only? Three ports in a mix of HDMI and DisplayPort would better match that market, I think, maybe even a DVI. Keep the VGA on the H and B boards that are going to consumers with older displays.

    Who is still using a ps2 keyboard?????
    Reply