Since Intel launched their Skylake platform the vast majority of focus has been on the Z170 chipset and motherboards based around it. The number of boards available is pretty crazy with some manufacturers having over 10 different configurations. Today though we get to play with something a little different. A board based on the B150 chipset but with gaming features. In theory it should be packed with value while retaining key features from the Z170. Welcome to our MSI B150M Mortar Review.
MSI B150M Mortar Review – Packaging and Bundle
The B150M Mortar arrives in a fairly compact box with military branding. We get a rundown of the key specs on the back and inside the bundled items. Those are product documentation, SATA cables, software disc and I/O shield.
MSI B150M Mortar Review – The B150M Mortar Motherboard
The B150M Mortar is a M-ATX form factor board and MSI go with a matt black PCB with white and silver highlights. Red LEDS glow from the back of the board, adding some extra style to the system and MSI enhance the build quality by adding humidity, temperature, ESD and EMI protection along with debug LEDs. As far as key specifications go, all socket 1151 processors are supported and our main PCIe 3.0 slot is 16x. MSI look to make their board stand out by isolating their audio circuitry on the board, adding dedicated audio capacitors (Chemi-Con) and further enhance the build with Military Class spec which includes solid capacitors (lower resistance, enhanced durability) and dark chokes (lower temperature, higher efficiency, capacity and stability).
In the above image we can see the PCIe slot configuration with the top slot having MSI Steel Armour cover to ensure maximum strength when adding/removing cards. The slot configuration is 16x, 1x, 1x, 4x…so while CrossFire is supported and there is plenty space between the two larger slots, our second card runs at 4x speed.
Down at the bottom right of the board are our drive connectors, 6x SATA 6GB/s ports and one SATA Express. A M.2 slot is also available however space around it is limited so it is useful for Wi-Fi card rather than M.2 SSD.
Moving up the right side we find the 24pin connector which combines with the 8pin connector to provide power to the board. There are four DDR4 slots on this board, split over two channels with maximum capacity of 64GB and speed of 2133Mhz. MSI also enhance their memory design by optimising traces and isolating the circuitry. LEDs also light when XMP is enabled.
Round at the back panel of the board we find PS/2, 2x USB 2.0, VGA, DVI, HDMI (4K), 4x USB 3.1, GBLAN, optical audio out and 3.5mm audio out (Realtek ALC892 7.1). A clear CMOS button can also be found in this area.
MSI B150M Mortar Review – Software and BIOS
MSI provide their full suite of software with the B150M Mortar, including command centre, RAMDisk (worth $35) and LAN Manager (gaming optimised bandwidth). These allow us to monitor and tweak various aspects of our board to our needs, including quick enhanced profiles. MSI also recommend Open Broadcaster Software for streaming with this board. The B150M also supports Intel Small Business Advantage which you can find out about here.
The B150M has a fully featured BIOS, pretty much identical to the higher end models in the MSI range. We can tweak all key aspects of our system, set fan profiles and update the BIOS from USB if needed.
MSI B150M Mortar Review – Performance
i7-6700K, Z170, 2x8GB DDR4-2666 (Corsair)
i7-4790K, Z97, 2x8GB DDR3-2666 (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)
And Samsung T1 SSD (USB Testing)
MSI B150M Mortar Review – Conclusion
So we guess one of the key questions about the B150M is, what don’t you get when compared to a Z170 board? Really there are not that many changes. DDR4 is limited to 2133Mhz. There is no RAID option on this board and we have limited PCIe lanes, so those who want to use two graphics cards will not get the same boost as a board with a second slot running at, for example, 8x.
So… if you are a single GPU user with no need for RAID then this could be a purchase that allows you to save a bit of cash. Memory speed isnt a huge issue as the lower MHZ will allow you to use better timings and the spare PCIe slots could be used for an add-in sound card at a later date if the onboard audio, which is decent, is not as good as you need.
As far as build quality goes, no complaints there. The board looks great and features aspects which we would not have expected given the lower cost target market, such as LED illumination and the various protection aspects which we noted earlier. Software support is good, very much the same as the higher end MSI boards and the same can be said of the BIOS. Quite simply, on those two fronts it is very hard to tell the B150 from the Z170.
That brings us to performance where the B150 offers competitive figures when looking at the Z170 results. The Z170 boards tend to edge ahead in most areas though not to any noticeable extent in real world use… other than two areas. Multi-GPU performance and memory bandwidth. Though the B150M still outperforms the AMD equivalent on memory and USB.
With the B150M Mortar selling for £55 or $70 it offers a value packed solution for those building a Skylake system on a budget. It should also grow with the user, for example allowing them to buy an i3 CPU now and move to an i7 without issue when budget permits.