Introducing: Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon
As we wind down both 2016 and the slew of motherboards that came with it, our latest Z170 motherboards at least give us a chance to preview the direction in which various manufacturers are moving. Better still, recent firmware has made nearly all of this year’s Z170 motherboards compatible with next year’s LGA-1151 processors, and we’re still gathering data in preparation for that launch.
The first thing you’ll notice from manufacturer-supplied images is the Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon’s RGB LED highlights, followed by the carbon-fiber-pattern stickers and stainless steel slot support shell. Called Steel Armor PCI-E slots, extra solder points that hold these shells in place help prevent the slots from getting ripped off the circuit board while transporting your PC — although this doesn’t happen often.
Other highlights include a group of white trace-route tracings on top of a black PCB mask, and a lighted audio pathway highlight running along the Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon’s rear edge. The Audio Boost 3 logo hides an ALC1151 codec , which MSI protects with high-quality capacitors and an isolated power circuit.
I/O panel connections include a single-link DVI, HDMI, Type A and Type-C USB 3.1 10 Gb/s ports, two USB 3.0 ports that MSI labels as 3.1 Gen 1 (thanks Apple), four USB 2.0 ports with adjustable polling rate, a single Gigabit Ethernet port fed by Intel’s WGI219V PHY, digital optical and five analog audio jacks, and a lonely PS/2 port to use with your legacy mouse or keyboard.
Though the presence of only one M.2 slot is a little disappointing on a mid-priced Z170 board, the Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon does have a few classic upgrades, such as a secondary USB 3.1 controller, a second front-panel USB 3.0 header (facing forward, above the second graphics card), upgraded CPU voltage regulator chokes, a header for a Thunderbolt add-in card, and a set of PCIe lane switches to allow the top two graphics slots to switch from x16/x0 mode to x8/x8 whenever a card is installed in the second slot. The graphics slots are also placed on three-slot spacing to aid graphics ventilation and allow the installation of two extra-thick GPU coolers.
The third x16-length PCIe slot is limited to four PCH-served pathways and is not SLI compatible. Though it’s technically CrossFireX compliant, the combination of reduced bandwidth and potential interference with SATA-Express makes this a better place to put other cards.
The Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon’s minimal installation kit includes only two SATA cables, an SLI bridge, and a plastic-reinforced I/O shield. Documentation includes a sticker sheet of cable labels.
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