Test Configuration, Results, And Final Analysis
MSI Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon
Gigabyte GA-Z170X-Ultra Gaming
MSI Z270 Gaming M5
Some benchmarks require more than 8GB of DRAM to function optimally, but some motherboards have only two slots. G.Skill offered to cure our 4GB DIMM woes with a replacement 4x 8GB kit. A brief discussion got us a free set of its Trident Z F4-3866C18Q-32GTZ.
Remaining hardware is carried over from our fall 2016 Z170 update.
Test System Configuration
|CPU||Intel Core i7-7700K (Kaby Lake): 4.2-4.5 GHz, 8 MB L3 Cache, LGA 1151|
|Sound||Integrated HD Audio|
|Network||Integrated Gigabit Networking|
|Graphics Driver||GeForce 372.90|
Since this review corresponds to Intel’s official launch, “Previous Averages” use the Core i7-6700K. We’ll eventually replace all of that data with 7700K results as our charts fill up.
Mild Core i7-7700K advantages in PCMark’s Home and Creative bench lead us into more CPU-impacted tests such as Sandra Arithmetic. The Z270 Gaming M5 is a close match to Z170 boards in these measurements, as the only noteworthy difference is the exposure of four more HSIO pathways to allow the attachment of additional devices. Due to PCMark’s incompatibility with MSI’s Nahimic audio software, I disabled it for the entire synthetic suite and re-enabled it in games.
Game benchmarks again see the Z270 Gaming M5 providing closely-matched performance to Core i7-7700K-loaded Z170 platforms, but there’s a catch: Talos performance fell behind when Nahimic audio was enabled on the Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon, and the Z270 Gaming M5 fell even farther behind with Nahimic 2 enabled. The stripped tabs I added to the end of the Talos graph’s bars shows the performance level achieved with Nahimic and Nahimic 2 disabled.
The Z270 Gaming M5 produces similar performance to the Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon in all of our real-world based office and productivity applications. The standout Z170X-Ultra Gaming score in Handbrake remains undefined, as testing the board with Nahimic software disabled had no impact on this metric.
Power, Heat, And Efficiency
The Z270 Gaming M5 produced similar CPU temperatures at slightly lower full-load wattage compared to the Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon. Higher voltage regulator temperatures likely reflect reduced airflow due to the design of the Z270 Gaming M5’s heat sink cover not working optimally with the design of our CPU cooler.
The Z270 Gaming M5 also has a miniscule overall performance advantage compared to the Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon, adding to its better overall efficiency.
Both the Z270 Gaming M5 and Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon reach 48x 100 MHz, but a slight BCLK cheat of 0.24 MHz puts it insignificantly ahead at 4814 MHz.
The rubber really meets the road in DRAM overclocking. Encouragement from both reviewers and memory manufacturers has pushed motherboard designers to seek the highest possible data rates without additional over-voltage tricks, and it’s paid off for MSI in the Z270 Gaming M5 with a 3636 MHz four-DIMM data rate at an actual volt-meter verified 1.35V.
The Z270 Gaming M5 costs around $25 more than the Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon, and locating $25 worth of added value could be a little difficult. The Z270 provides four lanes of additional connectivity which MSI adds to a second M.2 connector. It’s hard to assign value to chipset-integrated features, but we’re told that the chipset is $5 costlier.
The Z270 Gaming M5 also adds a U.2 interface, but that interface gets disabled when a card is installed in its bottom PCIe slot. Other added-cost upgrades include the newer USB 3.1 controller with double the PCIe interface bandwidth, a numeric POST code display which really is useful for diagnosing blown parts or failed overclocks, and the Flashback+ feature that includes a special ASIC to update firmware without installing a compatible CPU, DRAM, or graphics device. Add the parts that were harder to assign monetary value to, along with some extra cables and RGB controller connectivity, and we’re probably getting pretty close to the $25 upgrade price.
Overclocking tips the scale in the Z270 Gaming M5’s favor, to the point that I can give it our basic stamp of approval without worrying about whether or not it's eventually beaten by an even better overclocking, similarly priced product.
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