MSI Z270 Gaming M5 ATX Kaby Lake Motherboard Review

Is MSI’s middle “Master” motherboard combines the firm’s extensive Z170 overclocking experience with Intel’s latest Z270 platform features. Is it worth the price of entry?

Specifications

Is a platform launch by any other name still as exciting? Intel’s Kaby Lake brings a higher level of performance to the desktop and promises longer battery life in notebooks, but most enthusiasts will point out that it’s not actually a new platform because there hasn’t been a hardware redesign. Intel calls this the Optimize phase of the newly-coined "Process-Architecture-Optimize" sequence.

We’re told that optimized transistor design has allowed Intel to push for a little more frequency on the desktop, and a little less voltage in notebooks, and we saw the effects on overclocking in our performance preview well ahead of Kaby Lake's official launch.

It appears that there isn’t much that's new in the Z270 chipset design either. In fact, the headline change — four additional PCIe 3.0 lanes — were rumored to have been hidden in the Z170 before the elder silicon launched. Although we’re still leaning on a four-lane DMI 3.0 PCH-to-CPU interconnect, the popularity of four-lane NVMe drives keeps manufacturers searching for ways to avoid sacrificing other device connections in favor of storage. Each PCIe lane consumes an HSIO resource, so the Z270 expands this to 30 connections.

The first sample in our Z270 review series, MSI’s Z270A Gaming M5, provides two M.2 interfaces and a metal reinforced four-port U.2 interface to support a total of three NVMe drives, leaving the Z270’s remaining 12 PCIe 3.0 lanes to serve three x1 connectors, a two-lane ASM2142 USB 3.1 controller, and a Killer E2500 PCIe-based network controller.

While that adds up to only 18 of the available 24 lanes, the maximum of 30 HSIO devices keeps those other six lanes from being used. That's because PCIe 3.0, SATA 6Gb/s, and USB 3.0 are all HSIO devices. We find six SATA 6Gb/s ports and six USB 3.0 ports consuming 12 HSIO resources. Adding the 18 dedicated PCIe pathways to those 12 non-PCIe ports, and we reach HSIO's 30-pathway limit. Skip the PCIe x4 slot, you’re done.

That’s not to say the Z270 Gaming M5’s PCIe x4 slot doesn’t exist, only that it uses the same resources as its U.2 controller. Users whose M.2 NVMe drive came with a PCIe adapter can far more easily use the bottom PCIe slot than the U.2 interface, and still reach the motherboard’s three NVMe drive limit by also using both M.2 slots. But users who were hoping to use the bottom slot and U.2 interface simultaneously will be a little frustrated.

The Z270 Gaming M5 has two USB 3.1 Gen 2 (aka, real USB 3.1) ports on the rear panel, in addition to two USB 3.0 (aka, USB 3.1 Gen 1) and three USB 2.0 ports. We’ve seen complaints from a few readers about the prevalence of USB 2.0 on I/O panels, but these are still perfect for things like keyboards, mice, and printers. Besides, we’d rather have them than not, since faster ports are counted against HSIO resources.

There's also a PS/2 port, which comes in handy for accessing firmware via ancient keyboards prior to USB initialization, five stereo audio jacks, a digital optical audio jack, an RJ45 jack for Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI and DisplayPort, and a CLR_CMOS button. One of the USB 3.1 ports has the modern Type-C connector. The upright USB 2.0 port serves a secondary function for MSI’s new BIOS Flashback+, which allows the firmware to be updated using only a flash drive and the computer’s power supply.

MSI is quite excited about its M.2 shield heat spreader, but we’re more excited about that row of four two-lane PCIe switches that convert the silver slots from x16-x0 to x8-x8 modes whenever a card is placed in the lower of those two slots. That, along with a firmware hook, makes the Gaming M5 SLI compatible. The Port 80 style diagnostics display is similarly pleasing because it allows experienced users to diagnose boot problems, which often happen when a device has been overclocked too far. Simpler than looking up POST codes, MSI’s EZ Debug LED includes four lights next to the DIMM slots to show BOOT, VGA, DRAM, and CPU initialization. Oh, and if you’re not impressed yet, the Gaming M5 also has an RGB lighted heat sink covering its Z270 PCH.

A mainstay of MSI gaming motherboards, the two main x16-length PCIe slots have stainless steel covers with extra solder points to help prevent slot damage when shipping a system with two heavy graphics cards installed. MSI also uses four-slot spacing to assist graphics cooling and/or support graphics cards with extra thick coolers. Additional stainless shields surround the DIMM and M.2 slots, and MSI even credits the DIMM shields for reducing EMI to further enhance overclocking capability.

Header placement is mostly acceptable, though the front-panel audio header is shoved pretty far into the bottom rear corner. USB 3.0 headers face forward (parallel) along the front edge and outward (perpendicular) along the bottom edge, which could give builders one more excuse not to put a graphics card in the Z270 Gaming M5’s bottom slot. Four of the six fan headers are conveniently placed around the CPU socket, and one of those four is rated at 2 amps to support high-capacity liquid-cooling pumps. The other two fan headers are located on the bottom edge next to the numeric POST code display.

Last but not least, the button to enable BIOS Flashback+ (on the previously-mentioned I/O panel USB port) is located above the forward most DIMM slot.

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26 comments
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  • A price is too high, that is how much fully equipped X99 ASrock mobo costs which in my book is better buy.
  • shrapnel_indie
    Quote:
    Since this review corresponds to Intel’s official launch, “Previous Averages” use the Core i7-6600K. We’ll eventually replace all of that data with 7700K results as our charts fill up.


    Huh? I didn't know the 6600k morphed into an i7 from an i5, how do we pull that off at home? :D
  • joex444
    X99 CPUs also start at a price higher than any Kaby Lake i5 or i7 and while MSI isn't exactly the best, I would still rate them better than ASRock.
  • elbert
    Would be a good price if it included a 16 or 32 GB Optane cache drive.
  • damric
    Encouraging to see that 212 base clock was stable. It's only a matter of time before we see some custom BIOSes that allow non-K overclocking on Kaby.
  • Crashman
    410076 said:
    Encouraging to see that 212 base clock was stable. It's only a matter of time before we see some custom BIOSes that allow non-K overclocking on Kaby.
    It will go higher still. I had to ADD a 20X CPU multiplier limit to cut the test a little shorter. Because let's face it, once you know a board will cover a 100% BCLK increase, anything more than that is superfluous.
  • itsmedatguy
    Is Kaby Lake just the overclocker's platform? I'm still running an i7-3770k that I'm super content with, but I also switched to a massive 42" 4K monitor and feel shafted that I can't stream 4K content even with a GTX 1080. Any news on Ryzen supporting 4K the same as Kaby? I don't need an upgrade for performance, seems like a waste of my $ to switch platforms just to stream Netflix at 4K...ahg. F******* DRM!!!
  • TJ Hooker
    @itsmedatguy I think you can get streaming/media boxes that support Netflix 4K, may be a better/cheaper alternative to upgrading your PC if you're happy with your current performance.
  • elbert
    Well I wasn't to far off as they are now offer free intel SSD with purchase.
    https://www.msi.com/Promotion/Z270-motherboard-ssd-bundle
  • BrownRecluse27
    yeah but not if you live in the u.s? that's strange no free ssd for me I guess
  • minmix
    I noticed there's an SGX option in the BIOS. Can this be enabled?
  • Crashman
    2395343 said:
    I noticed there's an SGX option in the BIOS. Can this be enabled?
    According to the setting, it's enabled by default.
  • ah
    4x4.8=19.2 and 6x3.9=23.4. Well, my 6800K clocked to 3.9 results in a voltage of 1.15. Clocked to 4.2 the voltage is 1.35.
  • JackNaylorPE
    Quote:
    Another setting — “CPU Ratio Offset When Running AVX” — appears to be a way to cheat in overclocking charts. Operating in the reverse of “Enhanced Turbo” ratios, it reduces the CPU multiplier whenever AVX-based stress tests such as Prime95 are used. Although this allows overclockers to claim ultra-high stable frequencies, we don't consider an overclock stable until it's able to support a complete CPU load.


    Fantastic idea. Basically it just follows along the line of all on Intel's power saving technologies and I'm amazed it took so long for it too be implemented. You set up your OC and it's stable at 5.0 GHz .... however, when AVX is present... voltage jumps 0.13 volts and this brings you to a place that you don't want to go. As a result:

    a) You can enjoy your 5.0 Ghz OC w/o worrying about any potential degradation that might occur when / if you run an application that uses AVX.

    b) When you want to run a application that uses AVX, no rebooting to load a lower BIOS profile w/ lower CPU Multiplier and voltage... it all gets done automatically.

    Hope the rest of the industry follows suit... finally an innovation that is not "all about bling".
  • Crashman
    35894 said:
    Quote:
    Another setting — “CPU Ratio Offset When Running AVX” — appears to be a way to cheat in overclocking charts. Operating in the reverse of “Enhanced Turbo” ratios, it reduces the CPU multiplier whenever AVX-based stress tests such as Prime95 are used. Although this allows overclockers to claim ultra-high stable frequencies, we don't consider an overclock stable until it's able to support a complete CPU load.
    Fantastic idea. Basically it just follows along the line of all on Intel's power saving technologies and I'm amazed it took so long for it too be implemented. You set up your OC and it's stable at 5.0 GHz .... however, when AVX is present... voltage jumps 0.13 volts and this brings you to a place that you don't want to go. As a result: a) You can enjoy your 5.0 Ghz OC w/o worrying about any potential degradation that might occur when / if you run an application that uses AVX. b) When you want to run a application that uses AVX, no rebooting to load a lower BIOS profile w/ lower CPU Multiplier and voltage... it all gets done automatically. Hope the rest of the industry follows suit... finally an innovation that is not "all about bling".
    As great as all that sounds, we have people out there boasting that they're 100% stable at 5.0 GHz using air cooling, when really they're stable at 4.80 GHz.
  • JackNaylorPE
    I don't see the logic .

    Could also claim their SUVs can't do 90 mph or get 18 mpg when in 4WD Low mode with locked rotors. Do we disregard the fact that it **can** get 18 mpg per gallon on the highway when in 2 WD cause, when it's in 4WD low, mpg slips to 15 of that it can't make turns w/o the tires chirping ? Is there no value in having a vehicle that can work **optimally** in a variety of applications and conditions ? I don't use 4WD very often but having the ability to have the vehicle adjust to conditions as when I walked out this morning to a 700 foot driveway w/ 13" of snow on it or when I'm stuck in the mud at a construction site ... it sure is a danged fine thing to be able be able to operate in different modes from the comfort of my drivers seat.

    Do you require that cache multiplier be set to match CPU multiplier ? We don't seem to have an issue, at least I have never seen it voiced when folks test for stability with P95 26.6 because they don't want to damage the CPU w/ AVX. Why is it that testing for overclocking w/ locked voltage and disabling Speed Step and C states is OK, is this the way we want to recommend folks use their puters in every day life. What is the point of using P95 or AIDA 64 when a) It presents an unrealistic load, one that will never ever be seen again during the life of the PC and b) that P95 stable OC often fails in a multitasking benchmark such as RoG Real Bench ?

    For me it's not about bragging rights and setting up all your BIOS solely to win OC competitions.... it's about having a tool that best fits the job it's called upon to perform, when it's asked to perform it. If the PC is stable when it's used for the purposes it was built for then, it's stable. That **is** why we have a PC in the 21st place. And yes, doesn't having it perform optimally in each of it's intended purpose sound a lot greater than being able to use it in any "mine's bigger then yours" argument ?

    My 4770k **is** stable at 1.47 w/ 1.38v ... but when AVX is present, it breaks 1.5v which is a place I don't want it to be.... for those twice a year instances where I am actually using AVX, I'd gladly flip that switch. If I want to eek out the best performance out of the PC for it's intended purposes, I am forced to reboot, go into BIOS, switch profiles so that I keep the voltage under a voltage I consider safe for a machine I make a living on... this does it for me automatically.
  • Crashman
    35894 said:
    I don't see the logic.
    Well then, let me explain the logic in terms you can understand: IT'S A FREAKING LIE to call it 100% stable at a certain frequency when it's only stable under the heaviest loads while running at a LOWER frequency. IT WOULD BE HONEST to explain everything in a longer statement like "It's stable at 5 GHz, except when it's running AVX, then it's stable at 4.8 GHz" but that's not what's happening with these "Hah hah you can't hit 5GHz on air like I do" statements I'm seeing.

    There, am I being clear now?

    The complaint isn't that the technology exists, the complaint is that people are using it to lie about their overclocking accomplishments.

    It's the same kind of lie I'm seeing with "5.0 GHz on AIR W/AVX", when I look and see they're running at 1.45V, knowing that their CPU is thermal throttling after 15 seconds or so. If they didn't delid the processor, there's no way they're not thermal throttling at that voltage.

    What these lies do is raise the expectations of readers, before they see the review, and then have an ill feeling about the hardware because it didn't "do as well" as the other guy's hardware. These things have to be compared fairly: No Cheating.
  • damric
    Competetive overclockers don't care much about 100% stability. Can it pass the benchmark and survive a screenshot? Thanks give me the hwbot points.
  • Crashman
    410076 said:
    Competetive overclockers don't care much about 100% stability. Can it pass the benchmark and survive a screenshot? Thanks give me the hwbot points.
    I realize it's only a review problem, but I addressed it in a review :D
  • RegiLuk
    Also feel like the price is a bit too high, Im looking at the Asrock Z270 Extreme for my next build.
  • Tylerflores
    I have the this same mobo with the i7 7700k 16 gb 3200mhz of corsair vengeance ram with asus strix 1070. im getting a vrsm led that the memory isn't being recognized, stock clock speeds. I get no screen so I cant get into the bios. Also my q code is 00 and wont move from there. Any help would be great thanks.
  • Crashman
    2390025 said:
    I have the this same mobo with the i7 7700k 16 gb 3200mhz of corsair vengeance ram with asus strix 1070. im getting a vrsm led that the memory isn't being recognized, stock clock speeds. I get no screen so I cant get into the bios. Also my q code is 00 and wont move from there. Any help would be great thanks.
    There are several things that could be wrong, you may want to open your own support thread in the forums or contact the manufacturer directly.
  • Tylerflores
    i have a few ideas in mind to check to see if the memory is the issue, ill get back tonight about what i find. Thanks

    8708 said:
    2390025 said:
    I have the this same mobo with the i7 7700k 16 gb 3200mhz of corsair vengeance ram with asus strix 1070. im getting a vrsm led that the memory isn't being recognized, stock clock speeds. I get no screen so I cant get into the bios. Also my q code is 00 and wont move from there. Any help would be great thanks.
    There are several things that could be wrong, you may want to open your own support thread in the forums or contact the manufacturer directly.
  • supertmantimbo
    Tomsshardware , Please Let's get into Non K Overclocking for the new Z270 Motherboards. We 've got great cooling now Ya know we want to Overclock the pants off of Kabylake , Skylake too !!!!!!! No Found Bios to Overclock the ASRock Fatal1ty Z270 Gaming K4 as of yet. Sucks please help ***