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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.

Our Verdict

MSI's Z170A SLI Plus isn't a perfect product, but the value of its efficiency, features and capabilities exceeds its low price.

For

  • Good voltage stability for high overclocks • High-efficiency low-cost SLI • High-quality audio codec and network PHY

Against

  • Annoying reboot cycles when moderately overclocked through firmware

SLI And O/C Cheaply?

Every enthusiast motherboard priced under $140 muddies the water a little more for those who think a product must fit within a well-defined class. The conversation begins with Intel labeling its LGA 1151 socket as mainstream, and then producing enthusiast processors and chipsets for that so-called mainstream platform. While it's easy for us to ignore the mainstream label when reviewing motherboards that cost over $140, cheaper boards that are barely above mainstream pricing and include enthusiast features are a little harder to classify. Meet the Z170A SLI Plus.

Specifications

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Features

MSI calls this a Pro Series product, yet it appears to be designed exclusively for gamers. Perhaps the firm is going after the idea of professional gaming? The least-expensive SLI-enabled Z170 motherboard we've tested, MSI's Z170A SLI Plus is equipped with a pair of PS/2 ports, a VGA connector, and an HDMI output that can only reach 4k at a mere 24Hz. Then again, gamers would only use onboard video for diagnostics, and some might be using an old PS/2 mouse and clicky keyboard. At least MSI was generous enough to include a Type C USB 3.1 connector.

The generosity doesn't really stop there either, as the Z170A SLI Plus boosts its Gigabit Ethernet port with Intel's gamer-friendly i219V network PHY, and uses Realtek's high-end ALC1150 audio codec. MSI even advertises an electrically isolated pathway for its audio pathways, Chemi-Con audio capacitors, a full 7.1-channel analog output set, and a separate channel for the headphones.

MSI also leaves the PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 interface available, knowing that many gamers want to build their systems without drive cables. MSI doesn't spend any extra money making it switchable to SATA, however.

In fact, the only switching extravagance we find is the one needed to enable SLI. Four two-pathway switches are lined up between the two metal-covered PCIe x16 slots to allow x16-x0 to x8-x8 mode changes, which happen automatically whenever a card is detected in the second slot. The third x16-length slot is wired as x4 through the PCH, which makes it incompatible with SLI (though 3-way CrossFireX is still an option).

Three PCIe x1 slots are also open-ended to accept longer cards, though the lowest x1 slot is boxed in by the clock battery.

We didn't see many USB 3.0 ports on the I/O panel, but MSI makes more available to the front panel via two dual-port headers. The second header is adjacent to the upper SATA ports and faces forward to slip its cable connector under the end of a long graphics card.

A pair of CPU fan headers are found in front and behind the upper DIMM latches and controlled as a pair. MSI also includes a rear fan header forward of the I/O panel audio jacks, a front-panel fan header above the main power connector, and a bottom fan connector next to the bottom-rear-corner jack for front-panel audio cables. That audio header appears to be the most concerning placement from a builder's perspective, though most cases now have extra-long cables to reach that position.

  • 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