MSI Z170A Gaming M7 Review – CPU and Memory
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MSI Z170A Gaming M7 Review – Packaging and Bundle
MSI Z170A Gaming M7 Review – The Board
Down at the bottom left corner of the board we find a PCIe slot layout which runs from 1x through 16x, 1x, 1x, 8x, 1x finishing with a full length 4x connector. To the left of those slots we find our audio components, seperated from the rest of the PCB by LED lighting. This is MSIs Audio Boost 3 tech which includes dual OPA1652 AMPS, Nippon audio capacitors, gold connectors and support for Nahimic Audio Enhancer providing advanced virtual surround sound, improved mic processing and more.
Flipping the board round we find that there are two front panel USB 3.0 connectors, six SATA 3.0 ports and two SATA Express ports. Onboard buttons are present for key features (which include BIOS flashback without CPU, or OC profiles via that big red button) and in both images above it is possible to see the dual M.2 slots which sit beside the silver PCIe connectors.
As we noted earlier, this is a board which supports DDR4 in dual channel configurations with speeds over 3000 MHz. Power is supplied by the standard 24pin + 8pin configuration and turning the board round to the connectors we find… PS/2 (MSI gaming port), 3x USB (with BIOS reset button between), DisplayPort, dual HDMI, two more USB, 2x USB 3.1 (type a and type c), optical audio and 5x 3.5mm audio. Our network port is a Killer NIC E2400 based solution with surge protection and LED lighting which glows red.
Finally, all the normal build quality aspects we expect from MSI under their Military Class branding are present here, including the likes of titanium chokes for enhanced durability, stability and reliability.
MSI Z170A Gaming M7 Review – Software and BIOS
On the software front MSI provide a massive amount of options. We get their Command Centre which lets us monitor and tweak the board. Their Gaming App gives quick access to various performance profiles (along with in game stat overlay) and we can tweak our keyboard and mouse functionality, e.g. adding in hotkeys for various tasks. The Nahimic panel gives us the advanced audio features we mentioned earlier and Killer Network Manager allows us to tailor our LAN port performance to our needs. Also included is a licence for XSplit, a skinned version of CPUz and RAMDisk software.
Moving to the BIOS, MSI use their Click BIOS 5 on this board. A next gen UEFI based solution it offers a stylish GUI with mouse and keyboard support. All of the key performance aspects we would expect can be easily located and tweaked, including pre-set overclocking profiles and advanced fan control. Added to that are key features such as M-Flash which allow us to update the BIOS quickly and easily from USB.
MSI Z170A Gaming M7 Review – Performance
i7-6700K, Z170, 2x8GB DDR4-2666 (Corsair)
i7-4790K, Z97, 2x8GB DDR3-2666 (Corsair)
i7-5960X, X99, 4x8GB DDR4-2800 (Corsair)
FX-9590, 990FX, 4x8Gb DDR3-2133 (Corsair)
GTX 980 Ti OC
Corsair H100 Series Cooler
Corsair AX1500i PSU
Samsung 850 Pro SSD (SATA Testing)
Plextor M6e (M.2 Testing)
OCZ Revodrive 350 (PCIe Testing)
And Samsung T1 SSD (USB Testing)
Persuasive Speech On Gun Control Overclocking
MSI Z170A Gaming M7 Review – Conclusion
Lets start with a few words on our other components… first up Corsairs Vengeance LPX. Overall there were no surprises from the Corsair modules. We’ve been using their quad channel kit on X99 for some time now without issue and our experience was the same here. Plug them in, select the 2666Mhz profile in the BIOS (which activates a MSI LED on the board) and we are good to go. Performance was exactly where we would expect it to be for this specification of module and as far as overclocking goes, we hit 3000 MHz at 1.35v with stock timings which was pretty great. For more info on Vengeance LPX you can read our original review here.
Moving on to the new i7-6700k CPU we have a processor which does exactly what it sets out to do for Intel. It gets their mainstream processors onto a 14nm process and brings features in line with the higher end models (e.g. support for DDR4). Consumers also get the benefit of enhanced integrated GPU performance which allows gaming in key titles such as DOTA2 at 1080 resolution and high detail and overclocking has been improved. Gone are the straps of the Haswell generation, with Skylake we are back to per MHz increases which gives us much finer control over our overclocking and on liquid cooling we were able to hit 5.1GHz with full stability during our limited initial tests. Having said all that, for those just looking to drop a CPU into a system and use it at stock, there is little change in CPU based experience over the likes of the i7-4970k.
And so to the Z170A Gaming M7… with this board we get pretty much everything the average enthusiast needs. High end components, all the key features (full support for all new CPUs, high spec memory, SLI, etc) and added to that MSI have provided advanced LAN, Audio and software solutions. There are some nice touches too, such as dual USB 3.1 ports, ideal for those looking to attach high speed external storage, and there are plenty of internal drive options too. Those storage options include the presence of SATA Express ports that 99.9% of people will never use…but the presence of 6x SATA, 2x M.2 and support for the optional U.2 adapter (and support of NVME) means pretty much everyone gets what they need.
MSI add value to the product through the inclusion of the XSplit licence and a decent warranty. Further value is added through their easy overclocking options which allow us to use profiles in both the BIOS and Windows with just the press of a button, or click of a mouse. Manual overclocking on this board was also very simple and as noted above, in our limited time with these components so far we were able to hit over 3000 MHz with stock timings on the 2666 MHz memory and 5.1GHz on the CPU. All very promising.