Intel still hasn't gotten its Broadwell-based desktop CPUs to market, but the successor to these chips is already on its way. Motherboards based on the Z170 chipset for Skylake are starting to show up, and MSI just announced 12 more.
Probably the biggest change between contemporary motherboards utilizing the Z97 chipset and the upcoming motherboards based on the Z170 chipset is the switch to DDR4 memory. This change is actually caused by the new Skylake processors, which take advantage of a new DDR4 memory controller. Although DDR3 will continue to be used for several more years, this is the first step towards phasing out the aging memory standard.
|MSI Z170 Motherboards|
|Board Name||Z170A XPOWER GAMING TITANIUM||Z170A GAMING M9 ACK||Z170A GAMING M7||Z170A GAMING M5||Z170A-G45 GAMING||Z170A GAMING M3|
|DDR4 Boost||Yes + XMP LED||Yes + XMP LED||Yes + XMP LED||Yes + XMP LED||Yes + XMP LED||Yes + XMP LED|
|M.2||Twin Turbo M.2||Twin Turbo M.2||Twin Turbo M.2||Twin Turbo M.2||Twin Turbo M.2||Turbo M.2|
|USB 3.1 Gen 2||2x Type-A||Type-A & Type-C||Type-A & Type-C||Type-A & Type-C||Type-A & Type-C||2x Type-A|
|Multi-GPU||2-way SLI/4-way CF||2-way SLI/3-way CF||2-way SLI/3-way CF||2-way SLI/3-way CF||2-way SLI/3-way CF||2-way CF|
|Gaming LAN||Intel i219||Killer™ E2400||Killer™ E2400||Killer™ E2400||Killer™ E2400||Killer™ E2400|
|LAN Protect||LAN Protect||Killer Shield + LAN Protect||LAN Protect||LAN Protect||LAN Protect||LAN Protect|
|Unique Features||OC Panel, Direct USB, CeaseFire||AC 1535 + Killer Shield, Bottom plate, Watercooling||None||None||None||None|
|Streaming||OBS||XSplit Premium 1 Year||XSplit Premium 1 Year||XSplit Premium 1 Year||OBS||OBS|
|OC Engine V2||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|PCIe Armor||Steel Armor||Steel Armor||Steel Armor||Steel Armor||Steel Armor||VGA Armor|
|Audio||Audio Boost 3||Xtreme Audio DAC||Audio Boost 3||Audio Boost 3||Audio Boost 3||Audio Boost 3|
|EZ Debug LED||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
On these new motherboards, MSI promotes a technology it calls "DDR4 Boost." Essentially, the idea is to segment the portion of the PCB occupied by the RAM so as to diminish the effect of EMI influencing the DDR4 channels. MSI claimed that this allows for the purest signal to be transmitted between the memory and the CPU, increasing stability. Some motherboards will also be equipped with an XMP LED, which highlights an active Extreme Memory Profile for the best performance.
|MSI Z170 Motherboards|
|Board Name||Z170A GAMING PRO||Z170I GAMING PRO AC||Z170A KRAIT GAMING||Z170 KRAIT GAMING||Z170A TOMAHAWK||Z170M MORTAR|
|DDR4 Boost||Yes + XMP LED||Yes||Yes + XMP LED||Yes + XMP LED||Yes + XMP LED||Yes + XMP LED|
|M.2||Turbo M.2||Turbo M.2||Turbo M.2||Turbo M.2||Turbo M.2 (M.2 Wi-Fi optional)||M.2 Wi-Fi optional|
|USB 3.1 Gen 2||2x Type-A||No||2x Type-A||No||2x Type-A||No|
|Multi-GPU||2-way SLI/3-way CF||No||2-way SLI/3-way CF||2-way SLI/3-way CF||CF||CF|
|Gaming LAN||Intel i219||Intel i219||Intel i219||Intel i219||Yes||Yes|
|LAN Protect||LAN Protect||LAN Protect||LAN Protect (w/o LED)||LAN Protect (w/o LED)||No||No|
|Unique Features||None||USB Audio Power, DPC Latency Tuner||None||None||None||None|
|OC Engine V2||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|PCIe Armor||Steel Armor||VGA Armor||Steel Armor||Steel Armor||VGA Armor||Steel Armor|
|Audio||Audio Boost 3||Audio Boost 3||Audio Boost 3||Audio Boost 3||Audio Boost||Audio Boost 3|
|EZ Debug LED||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Wi-Fi||No||Intel AC Wi-Fi||No||No||No||No|
Another feature implemented across all motherboards relates to the PCI-E ports. In recent years, graphics cards have been getting heavier and heavier, and it has reached a point that some are concerned about the hefty cards damaging their PCI-E slots. Not able to reduce the weight of all graphics cards that will be used on its motherboards, MSI has opted to use steel to connect the plastic PCI-E slot to the motherboard in order to reinforce the slots. MSI claimed that these interconnects are four times stronger than conventional ones.
MSI has stepped up its embedded audio solutions compared to previous motherboards, too. The Audio Boost 3 technology present on several of the motherboards that were announced utilize the Nahimic Audio Enhancer, dual OPA1652 AMPs, and EMI shielding.
Nahimic originally developed the Audio Enhancer technology for use in military combat flight simulators for the French military. The goal was to give the flight simulators the most realistic audio effects to increase the training experience. It was never meant to be used for gaming purposes, but because many games are based on war, MSI is pushing this technology into its gaming motherboards. When configured properly, it should make the sounds of guns firing and similar sounds appear more realistic.
For network connectivity, most of MSI's Z170 boards utilize either the Killer Ethernet E2400 chipset or Intel's i219. The boards with the Killer chipset will also take advantage of the intelligent ASD 2.0 technology, which will supply games with greater amounts of bandwidth while throttling your other applications. The result is that you should experience less lag over the network. All of the boards, save two, will also sport MSI's LAN Protect, which provides anti-surge protection up to 15 KV.
Naturally, as they're designed for gaming, many features are carried over from the previous generation of motherboards, too. All of the new boards (except the ITX model) support multi-GPU configurations. Another essential feature that carries over from late Z97 motherboards is the presence of USB 3.1 ports.
With nine out of 12 boards brandishing two USB 3.1 ports, it can be seen as a statement that the latest USB standard is becoming ever more abundant in the market. On the other hand, the lack of this feature on three of MSI's new boards also shows that support for USB 3.1 still isn't necessarily a must-have feature yet.
The new motherboards are expected to be released later this year, around the time Intel releases its new Skylake CPUs to the market. Check out our review of the new Skylake processors for more.