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MSI Z170A Gaming M7 Review

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ObscureParadox
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MSI Z170A Gaming M7 Review

Post #1 by ObscureParadox » Wed Sep 30, 2015 12:46 am

MSI is a world leader in motherboard and graphics design and manufacturing. Based in Taiwan it has also expanded into the world of AIO desktops and motherboards.


CPU Support
Supports 6th Gen Intel® Core i3/i5/i7 processors, and Intel® Pentium® and Celeron® processors for Socket LGA1151
DDR4 Memory
4 x DDR4 memory slots, support up to 64GB

Supports DDR4 3600(OC)/ 3200(OC)/ 3000(OC)/ 2800(OC)/ 2600(OC)/ 2400/ 2133 MHz

Dual channel memory architecture

Supports non-ECC, un-buffered memory

Supports Intel® Extreme Memory Profile (XMP)
PCI-E Expansion
3 x PCIe 3.0 x16 slots (support x16, x8/x8, x8/x8/x4 or x8/ x8/x2 modes)

4 x PCIe 3.0 x1 slots
Onboard Graphics
2 x HDMI™ ports, support a maximum resolution of 4096×2160@24Hz, 2560×1600@60Hz

1 x DisplayPort, support a maximum resolution of 4096×2304@24Hz, 2560×1600@60Hz, 3840×2160@60Hz, 1920×1200@60Hz
Multi GPU
Supports 3-Way AMD® CrossFire™ Technology

Supports 2-Way NVIDIA® SLI™ Technology
Storage
Intel® Z170 Express Chipset

6 x SATA 6Gb/s ports* (4 ports reserved for SATAe)

2 x M.2 slot*

Supports PCIe 3.0 x4 and SATA 6Gb/s standards,4.2cm/ 6cm/ 8cm length M.2 SSD cards

Supports PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe Mini-SAS SSD with Turbo U.2 Host Card**



2 x SATAe port (PCIe 3.0 x2) ***

Supports Intel® Smart Response Technology for Intel Core™ processors



M.2, SATA and SATAe ports maximum support 1x M.2_PCIe + 6x SATAs or 1x M.2_SATA + 1x M.2_PCIe + 4x SATAs.

The Turbo U.2 Host Card is not included, please purchase separately.

SATAe port is backward compatible with SATA.



Supports RAID 0, RAID1, RAID 5 and RAID 10 for SATA storage devices

Supports RAID 0 and RAID1 for M.2 PCIe storage devices*



M.2 PCIe RAID volume can be created with UEFI BIOS
USB
ASMedia® ASM1142 Chipset

1 x USB 3.1 Gen2 (SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps) port on the back panel

1 x USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-C port on the back panel



Intel® Z170 Express Chipset

6 x USB 3.1 Gen1 (SuperSpeed USB) ports (2 ports on the back panel, 4 ports available through the internal USB connector)

7 x USB 2.0 (High-speed USB) ports (3 ports on the back panel, 4 ports available through the internal USB connectors)
Audio
• Realtek® ALC1150 Codec

– 7.1-Channel High Definition Audio

– Supports S/PDIF output
LAN
1 x Killer™ E2400 Gigabit LAN controller
Internal Connectors
– 1 x 24-pin ATX main power connector

– 1 x 8-pin ATX 12V power connector

– 6 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors

– 2 x SATAe connectors

– 2 x USB 2.0 connectors (supports additional 4 USB 2.0 ports)

– 2 x USB 3.1 Gen1 connectors (supports additional 4 USB 3.1 Gen1 ports)

– 2 x 4-pin CPU fan connectors

– 3 x 4-pin system fan connectors

– 1 x Front panel audio connector

– 2 x Front panel connectors

– 1 x TPM module connector

– 1 x Chassis Intrusion connector

– 1 x GAME BOOST button

– 1 x Power button

– 1 x Reset button

– 1 x BIOS FLASHBACK+ button

– 1 x HOTKEY switch

– 1 x Slow mode switch

– 1 x Clear CMOS jumper

– 1 x 2-Digit Debug Code LED
Back Panel I/O Ports
– 1 x PS/2 keyboard/ mouse port

– 3 x USB 3.0 ports

  * 1 x HOTKEY port

  * 1 x BIOS FLASHBACK+ port

– 1 x Clear CMOS button

– 2 x HDMI™ ports

– 1 x DisplayPort

– 1 x USB 3.1 Gen2 port

– 1 x USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-C port

– 2 x USB 3.1 Gen1 ports

– 1 x LAN (RJ45) port

– 1 x Optical S/PDIF OUT connector

– 5 x OFC audio jacks
BIOS
The motherboard BIOS provides “Plug & Play” BIOS which detects the peripheral devices and expansion cards of the board automatically.

The motherboard provides a Desktop Management Interface(DMI) function which records your motherboard specifications.
Dimensions
12 in. x 9.6 in. (30.5 cm x 24.4 cm)

ATX Form Factor
Mounting
9 mounting holes




The name MSI has in recent years been one at the forefront of overclocking competitions and high end overclocking components, so when MSI gave me the opportunity to try out their new high end gaming motherboard, I was of course very exited to give the motherboard a proper run for it's money and see what it was made of.

The Packaging :

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Looking at the front of the box we already get a quick glimpse of the motherboard as well as a good idea of the colour scheme that MSI were going for with red and black all over.

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On the back we get the usual overview of the main features of the motherboard that MSI are trying to promote including their Gaming Lan, Audio Boost 3 tech and Dual M2 slots which in raid would be rediculously fast!!!!!!!

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Standard stuff here as we open to see the motherboard in a protective anti static bag as you would expect.

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Underneath the motherboard we open up the box to find a whole bunch of goodies that MSI have packaged within the system. This include the regular things such as IO plate, driver CD and Manual but also includes plenty of SATA cables, SLI cable and stickers for your case to show off that MSI merch.

The Motherboard :

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Here it is and what a beauty it is too. It has been a while since I've been genuinly excited about getting a product on my test bench and giving it a good go like this one. In ever single corner of the board there is something interesting a new for me to delve into, so lets do that now!

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Here we can see 6 x SATA 6Gb/s ports with two SATAe ports which I believe require the adjacent 2 SATA 6 ports to work as a SATAe port. This means if you want to use 2 SATAe drives then you will be left with just 2 x SATA 6Gb/s ports. Although that may not sound like a lot there is a solution which we will get to later on.

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Thankfully for us that test motherboards outside of cases there is built in power buttons and reset switches. To the right of them is the "big red button", this looks straight out of dexters lab but it is simply the motherboards built in OC tool for those who want overclocking. It's a turnable switch that goes from 0-11. Thoughts of "this motherboard goes all the way to 11" advertising popped to mind and it made me giggle a little, this is a nice touch in my opinion. We also see the slow switch here which lowers the core and cache speed right down to I believe 1.2GHz on this board. This is a key feature for extreme overclockers who want to max out their system. Finally there is a bios flashback button which allows the user to flash the bios without having the system booted, great if you accidentally corrupt your bios which can be easily done sometimes under LN2.

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Standard case expansion slots to be seen here, your USB ports, audio connector, fan header etc. There is also a small but very useful LED bios post debugger which helps you to pinpoint exactly why your system isn't posting when overclocking or just setting up your system in general. I discovered that once posted the display actually shows the CPU temperature which is very useful if you don't want to install CPU monitoring software whilst also checking your CPU temps when stress testing. Again a nice little touch which makes the poster useful for more than just booting your system.

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A quick glimpse of the power delivery system on the motherboard here, the M7 is packing a 13 phase power delivery system to supply the CPU with all the juice in the world it would ever need when pushing it to the limit. This is an incredibly important feature on Z170 motherboards this time round when it comes to overclockability. Why is it so important you may ask? Well put simply the voltage control is all back on the motherboard again. On the Haswell platform it was on the CPU which added extra heat to the CPU package which was a bit of an issue. It had many benefits but Intel saw fit for it to be moved back to the motherboard and I for one am glad for this as Skylake is pretty hot at the best of times.

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All these phases have their power supplied by a single 8 Pin connector which should be plenty enough power for even the toughest of situation such as a 6GHz+ Cinebench run.

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As you can see this motherboard comes with 4 x DDR4 Ram slots with compatibility up to 3600MHz (OC). The red traces for the DDR4 boost tech that MSI are promoting actually add a much more premium feel to the motherboard, it somehow just makes it look faster if that is at all possible? The DDR4 Boost tech itself is a simple concept where they have effectively improved the quality of the memory signal between the CPU and the memory by creating a fully isolated circuit for the data to travel on which allows for greater memory overclocks on the system. Again, useful when it comes to the extreme overclockers wanting to push their systems to the limit and get the best scores possible.

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On the back we are greeted with a plethora of I/O ports which are bound to be plenty enough for most peoples needs. Plenty of USB 3, 2 x HDMI, 1 x Display port, PS/2 mouse or keyboard, Ethernet port and also of course the 7.1 Channel Audio ports. I'm sure most overclockers would be extremely happy to see the inclusion of a PS/2 port, even if most everyday users wouldn't go near a PS/2 keyboard or mouse anymore. The reason for this is that the port is less demanding than USB and generally stays stable longer than USB does when overclocking, no that this is a real issue in the age of multiplier overclocking that we're in today. There is also a clear CMOS button on the back also which you will absolutely need more than once in your life if you plan on overclocking your system I can assure you that!

The fact that the entire rear of the motherboard continues the red and black theme is a huge plus for me. At the end of the day who wants a cool black motherboard with big glaring blue USB 3.0 ports and all sorts of different colour audio ports. I for one don't and I'm glad to see that MSI have recognized this and adjusted their product thusly.

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All of these I/O ports are covered by a stylish little aluminium cover which helps to hide the rather ugly looking silver shields that the I/O ports come in which can destroy the colour scheme of your rig.

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Another style point for MSI here as the metallic PCI-E slots are a welcome feature which again add to the premium feel of the motherboard. This also actually has a functional purpose too as it is reinforcing the PCI-E slot. This is meant to ehance longevity of the port when using heavier graphics cards such as the Radeon R9 295X2.

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The Audio Boost 3 and Gaming LAN features of the motherboard are both shown here with their own isolated traces that light up the system with RED LEDs, this would look great in a windowed case and certainly signifies the importance of these two technologies in the motherboard.

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Now previously I mentioned that there might be a small shortage of SATA ports if one wishes to use both of the SATAe slots on the internal I/O. Now this is the solution, 2 x M2 slots one above the first PCI-E slot and one above the final PCI-E slot. Now granted both SATAe and M2 slots are generally used for storage solution today but at least you have the option of 2 lightning fast M2 slots in your system also. Personally the though of RAID 0 M2 SSDs is one that really intregies me and is something I will probably explore at some point in the future.





The system setup :

CPU : Intel Core i7 6700K
Motherboard : MSI Z170A Gaming M7
Ram : Kingston HyperX predator 2x4GB 3000C15
PSU : LEPA G1600
GPU : Sapphire Radeon 5450
OS : Windows 7 64Bit

Preparation and overclocking pictures :

As my main focus in computers currently is competitive overclocking, I was very keen to get the motherboard prepared for an LN2 session and ragged to its very limits.
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The rear had to be covered in liquid electrical tape to prevent any moisture from shorting out any contacts and causing system instability or even damage to the system itself. This is absolutely essential as you'll see later on the system can get pretty icy which isn't good for anyone.

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Vasenline was spread around the socket area and power phases again to prevent any moisture from interfering with my overclocking escapades. Liquid Nitrogen pot secured and I was nearly ready to go!

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Quick install and check of the thermometer to make sure everything is working as it was meant to. 27c CPU temp in BIOS and a pot temperature of 25c confirmed that my mount was good as anything below a 4 or 5c delta between CPU and pot is generally acceptable for me.

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Thermos flasks filled and was rearing to go, items playlist set and the games began!

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BRRR!! Looks chilly in there!

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With only a quick pour of LN2 into the flask things were already starting to get colder. -4.5c is almost any 24/7 system will get to and of course is impossible on air and watercooling. (unless of course you live in parts of the world where it gets down to -20c in winter, in which case may I suggest you move to somewhere warmer!!!!)

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Getting there slowly!

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First snag and cold bug at -102c. This means that the system was crashing when it got any colder than this temperature and would cease to work anymore. As I had heard of people running with full pots of LN2 at close to -190c temperatures on this platform it was time to explore where I could improve my low cold bug. So it was back to the BIOS and a play with voltages.

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A very small bump to PLL volts and I was seeing immediate results, over 30c colder than what I could previously achieve and I was getting somewhere!!

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This is why we insulate, as you can see there is plenty of ice on my LN2 pot and even the socket area surrounding the CPU. Without the insulation the system would fail to even post as there would be many shorts in the system. Thankfully with all the vaseline and liquid electrical tape on the motherboard it was working flawlessly with zero issues.

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Result! More bumps to the PLL voltages and I was running with a full pot of LN2 at the coldest possible temperatures using liquid nitrogen cooling. Time now then to start finding the limits of the system and getting some big benchmark numbers!

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Even the high speed cooler master fans were starting to freeze over a little..... Woops?

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Full pot benching at it's finest, easiest way to bench under LN2 as it requires less concentration on your temperatures and allows you to focus more on the benchmark at hand.

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It may be boiling away, but it's still -196c in there so please don't put your fingers in, you will regret it!!

Benchmark results :

I was about 20 minutes into benching when I found a solid 5.5GHz stability point where it would run any benchmark at only 1.55v on the CPU core. I was extremely excited at this point as was expecting great things from the CPU as I was willing to pump up to 1.85v through the CPU to max it out.

But snag...... The CPU was a dud, no matter what I did, it just refused to move past the 5.5GHz with any amount of voltages. In hindsight and with information gained later I found that I might have been using far too little PLL volts which could have hindered my overclocking results. Like they say you live and learn and I would return to this CPU another time.......... Or maybe not..... I killed the CPU the next day by trying to delid the IHS and replacing the thermal paste on the CPU die. By using the razor method I accidentally cut a trace on the CPU PCB and killed it there and then. So that's one more CPU in my collection going to the silicon heaven in the sky. R.I.P. Crappy Skylake CPU.


Below are some of my results from the benchmarking session.

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As you can see the CPU seemed to perform much better with only 2 cores active, so I started pursuing some scores that I could get with only 1 core running. But again, another snag, condensation issues were happening, but where were they coming from as I was sure I had everywhere covered?

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Ahh, someone forgot to cover up the first ram slot.......

Bench session over but lots learned and had plenty of fun in the process benching the new system.

Conclusion :

Well then, where to begin. I don't think enough can be said about how truly stunning this motherboard is! It has been a long time since I saw a product in the enthusiast market that has really made me sit up and pay attention and we've had near enough the same sort of products with small tweaks for a long time now, but this blows any other board I've had out the water in terms of pure aesthetics so it actually saddens me slightly to cover it in vaseline and liquid electrical tape which tarnishes it's looks. The red and black colour scheme is timeless and complements MSI's own gaming range of graphics card very well and would go well in any gaming system. It's just the little things really like the metallic PCI-E slots or the red traces running from the ram that make it special. It would be a crime to put a motherboard like that in a windowless case as it is meant to be seen! The glowing red LEDs from the sound and LAN controllers make sure of that and really brighten up your system.

But lets not forget that this board isn't just a god looking board, it also absolutely has the performance to back it up too. Overclocking the 6700K on it was an absolute breeze once the PLL voltages had been set to allow a zero cold bug environment. It took me only 20 minutes to find the limit of the CPU on LN2 which is a pretty pleasant experience to have when you are literally pouring money away from using up LN2 on lower clocks to being with. The only regret I have is that I didn't have a decent CPU to really push the board into the 6GHz stable region where motherboard quality will truly be tested. No matter though as it was very clear to see that this motherboard will surely be able to take any CPU to its limit as has been proven by other overclockers who have reached speeds of nearly 7GHz on this motherboard.

To conclude I would say that this is easily one of the best boards that you can buy for skylake on the market today. It has everything that you could possibly need, fantastic looks, great overclocking capability and more expansion ports and connections than you can shake a stick at. It is sure to tick all the boxes for any system you are building.

I would like to thank MSI once again for sending me this motherboard and allowing me to push the new skylake platform to its limits, hopefully next time I can get a CPU that will truly test this beast of a motherboard.


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RawZ
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Re: MSI Z170A Gaming M7 Review

Post #2 by RawZ » Wed Sep 30, 2015 1:16 pm

Great read Lewis. Fantastic effort. Get a better CPU asap! Haha :) Thanks man.
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Re: MSI Z170A Gaming M7 Review

Post #3 by kimandsally » Wed Sep 30, 2015 1:22 pm

Excellent read there Lewis to be honest I have been waiting for reviews that I can trust before buying my motherboard. This is good news for MSI.

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Re: MSI Z170A Gaming M7 Review

Post #4 by TheMadDutchDude » Wed Sep 30, 2015 5:26 pm

Nice one, Lewis. :D

Hopefully you can get your CPU sorted soon.
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Re: MSI Z170A Gaming M7 Review

Post #5 by topdog » Wed Sep 30, 2015 6:56 pm

Nice write up Lewis, looks like a very solid board
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Re: MSI Z170A Gaming M7 Review

Post #6 by TheMadDutchDude » Thu Oct 01, 2015 3:39 am

It absolutely is, and dare I say it ... I prefer it over the Maximus VIII Hero (same price point). :D

I hope mine gets back to me soon. :(
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Re: MSI Z170A Gaming M7 Review

Post #7 by Gavbon » Mon Oct 05, 2015 12:21 pm

Great read Lewis :D


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