MSI is a company that cares about customer comfort when it comes to high-end components. Be it a laptop, a GPU, a motherboard, a perihperal device or software – in gaming industry the Taiwanese company offers quality meant mostly for gaming fans and virtual reality maniacs. Today we meet again with a product by MSI and you can see if we were fascinated by it in the lines below.
With each day desktop computers grow more and more important for our daily life. Without any doubt the technological advance in this respect is really fast. A good part of hardware components in the same way as monitors come with decreased dimensions so as to be lighter and more compact. It is today that we shall make our first review of a motherboard that satisfies all the needs of gamers and overclocking fans.
Even though desktop configurations are usually put together in large boxes for better airflow, potential addition of water cooling, and SLI/Crossfire configurations, a box with its highest/widest part being 30 cm can accomodate a high-end GPU as well as water cooling for a processor whose multiplier is unclocked. To make all this possible, you need a motherboard that supports all these options. The present review deals with a motherboard that features almost everything described above at a price which is more than good.
If you are interested in the purchase of this motherboard, you can check the following link: http://amzn.to/1rJazK7
What’s in the box?
As expected, the box is not big at all. Despite this the Z170I Gaming Pro AC offers many options some of which are quite practical and we shall observe them in the lines to follow. Once the box is opened you can see stickers with which you can label your cables – interesting and useful, indeed. Another useful feature is the user manual which provides a detailed explanation as to how to install your motherboard and all the additional needed things for the proper set up of your machine. Of course, there is a User Guide that will help you learn the capabilities of this device and its software. Additionally, you are presented with two SATA cables, Wi-Fi antennas (with explanations how to properly install them), a backplate, two instalation DVDs, and a leaflet in which MSI welcomes you and invites you to register your product.
Design and construction
For now, the Z170I Gaming Pro AC is the only high-end mini-ITX overclockable motherboard by MSI, supporting Intel’s latest 6th generation processors (Skylake). It offers options for overclocking if the processor comes with its multiplier unlocked, and supports DDR4 RAM with a frequency of 42000 MHz. Below you can find a discussion on the software and technologies you can control your desktop configurations with. We now continue with the available ports, arrangement of cables and hardware installation (GPU, SSD, Hard drive and others).
You can immediately notice the Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8260 module placed in the M.2 slot. In addition to it we get Gaming LAN ensuring maximum speed so that you may be one step ahead of your gaming opponents which is also facilitated by the 802.11 AC and Bluetooth 4.2 support. To be able to use this, hoewever, your router has to support Dual Band.
You may be wondering where you can instal the SSD, since this slot is occupied by the Wireless module. Well, we have a good and a bad news for you – the good news is that the motherboard offers an M.2 slot for SSD, and the bad – its length is limited to 42/60 mm. We used a 2242 M.2 in our case.
We now go back to the front part. Apart from the Wi-Fi module, there is a great audio part – Audio Boost 3. To acheive high quality surpassing other motherboards, MSI have powered Boost 3 with an EMI-shielded high quality HD audio processor. The entire audio section has been physically separated from the rest of the motherboard to reduce electronic interference into sound quality to minimum, and uses Realtek ALC1150 audio codec. All this contributes to better sound in games, movies or music. Together with the 7 in 1 sound system, the Z170I Gaming Pro AC features gilded audio jacks and a USB Audio Power Pro port which has constant 5 V power supply so that you may fully exploit the potential of your professional USB headset.
On the right to the CPU socket you find the two DIMM (RAM) slots. As we said earlier, they support DDR4 memory that can operate up to 4200 MHz. With DDR4 Boost MSI has ensured stable RAM memory and performance. The mother board official’s support is up to 32 GB, but we expect it to be able to accept larger memory after the 32 GB DDR4 modules become popular. All 1151 socket CPUs support 64 GB RAM. In our configuration we used Intel Core i7-6700K and 16 GB of RAM working at the base frequency for DDR4 – 2133 MHz.
We were really impressed by a small detail. Perhaps not all of you think about the placement of SATA ports, but those of you who like simplistic design will definitely appreciate the new MSI motherboard. In contrast to it, the motherboard that supports 4th and 5th generation Intel CPUs, Z97I Gaming AC, does not have good SATA ports placement. They are located at the upper part and the cables are everywhere – you cann hardly hide them or arrange them. Well, this is not the case with the new Z170I Gaming Pro AC. These ports are placed next to the DIMM slots which contributes to comfort and better cable management for those of you who have attention to detail. Two of the SATA ports (on the left to the DIMM slots or above them in the pictures below) are also SATA Express compatible, so that you may get faster speed.
On the left side we find the available ports – Gaming Device Port (PS/2), Display Port, the already mentoned Gaming LAN, Wi-Fi (2 antenas part of the package), Audio 7in1 (together with S/PDIF), fourUSB 3.1 ports, two USB 2.0, as well as a USB Audio port. It missed a button on purpose, because of its peculiarity.
This button is placed below the antennas providing fast speed for better your gaming performace. Its name is Clear CMOS and, as you may guess, it clears something. But what? As the motherboard provides a large number of settings in BIOS, there is always a small chance (not so small if you are a newbie) to mess things up. It is namely then that this button comes in handy – it resores default settings. Indeed, it is helpful to those who enjoy experiments or are new to overclocking.
|CPU support||Pentium, Core i3, Core i5, Core i7|
|RAM||4200(OC)/4000(OC)/3866(OC)/3600(OC)/3200(OC)/ 3000(OC)/ 2800(OC)/ 2600(OC)/ 2400/ 2133 MHz, 2 slots, up to 32GB|
|Sound||Realtek ALC1150 Codec, 7.1-Channel High Definition Audio, 5 ports, and S/PDIF output support|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Dual Mode Bluetooth® 2.1, 2.1+EDR, 3.0, 4.0 BLE, 4.2|
|Dimmensions||17 x 17 cm|
MSI Z170I GAMING Pro AC has a lot of options in BIOS. You can work in a simplified mode where you see info about your system, its cooling and the rpm of your fans.
If its not your first time in BIOS, the Advanced options will provide everything you need fo the overclocking of the CPU and RAM memory. In the OC mode you can explore the Normal or Expert options. Of course, if you chose Expert, you will be able to manipulate everything – this is recommended to those of you who want to drain the full potential of the motherboard and know how to set frequencies, voltage, and RAM timings.
For the “maniacs” among you, we recommend taking small steps, because overclocking sometimes requires increase of the voltage. The worst that can happen is to burn your processor.
MSI’s support has always been great. This applies to both warranty and the user software. The Z170I Gaming Pro AC is no exception to this rule, and the website of the Taiwanese company offers great software apps that can improve the overall performance of your machinge. We shall now acquaint you with most packages that are freely available here: http://www.msi.com/product/motherboard/support/Z170I-GAMING-PRO-AC.html#down-utility
Everybody knows this program. It’s a software showing you the CPU you have, complete info about its specs, some details about the motherboard and GPU, as well as benchmarks determining its power. This software becomes even more beautiful when MSI’s logo stands behind all these specs.
Intel Extreme Tuning Utility
We recommend this program to those of you who are more experienced in overclocking. Anyways, the software sends info about your entire system and BIOS version. Naturally, its main purpose is to allow you to manually increase CPU frequency. After performing the set up, it is advisable to run benchmarks to check the stability of the CPU and RAM, included in the Tuning Utility. If everything works out fine, you can create different profiles and save your settings, in case you don’t want your processor to be using higher voltage all the time. The image below represents Silent Mode.
MSI Gaming app
This is one of the most comfortable and simplistic software apps out there. The program automatically overclocks your machine with a single press of the “OC Mode” button. If you are on a break and the machine is idle, it’s best to use Silent Mode. Another great feature of the app is Gaming Hotkey – you adjust your “secondary (macro) buttons” of the keyboard, so that you may do what’s required even while playing games. Other included options are Eye Rest (contrast control by pressing one of the three options), LED lighting control (turn off/on and the way they operate – blinking, slow turn off/on, and a combined mode) and Mouse Master (another gaming-related software). We must note that it is not advisable (at all!) to press the CMOS Reset button while in the OC mode!
Command Center offers a good number of options for control of fans, increase of hardware voltage and overclocking of memories, as well as manual setup of timings. You can also monitor the overall system temperature. Perhaps it is mandatory for you to have this program, as it allow you to monitor the most important data about your system. The Information button provides info about the motherboard, CPU, memory, and the HW Monitor shows voltage and temperature data of the CPU and system, the fans’ rpm, and the used RAM memory.
Gaming LAN Manager
Yet another necessary software. It allows you to prioritize different programs you have installed on your computer. You can also test your Internet speed and how fast the Z170I Gaming PRO AC module is. There are a few other programs offered by MSI, but these are the ones you are most likely to need to fully monitor your system.
Before the tests we shall acquaint you with the machine that incorporated the MSI Z170I Pro AC. Some of its components were already mentioned, but here is the full specs sheet of this desktop configuration. The tests were conducted in two modes – Silent and OC, so that we may differentiate the overclocking MSI offers. The entire configurations is one of the prototype G:RIGS series – Little Beast.
|CPU||Intel Core i7-6700K (check price)|
|CPU cooler||be quiet! SHADOW ROCK LP (check price)|
|GPU||MSI GeForce GTX 980 GAMING 4G (check price)|
|Motherboard||MSI Z170I GAMING Pro AC (check price)|
|RAM||2x8GB DDR4 Hyper X Fury – 2133MHz (check price)|
|HDD/SSD||Samsung 850 EVO 250GB (check price)|
|Power||Be Quiet! SYSTEM POWER 7 700W (check price)|
|Box||Thermaltake Core V1 (check price)|
|Monitor||Dell P2414H (check price)|
The tests on the left represent the Silent mode, and the ones on the right – the OC mode. We did this to examine the system performance after an automatical overclock by MSI Gaming App. Benchmarks concern Internet speed (browsing and games), RAM, gaming, video playback performance, SATA speed, SSD speed and CPU load.
We start with a test of the entire system – typing, video calls, Web browsing, gaming and photo editing.
As you may see, the speed results are great. Despite the overall high results, you can easily spot the highest achievment in the second image which is due to higher frequency.
This is a test of the SSD read/write speed alone.
We got interesting results – we did not expected such a decrease in read/write speed after the change of modes.
Gaming LAN Manager
Thanks to one MSI’s free apps we managed to test the Wi-Fi module. We must note that it is a subjective test, because users’ routers and Internet suppliers are different.
To check the speed of USB 3.1 data transfer, we used two files that were stored in an external SSD – 840 Pro, and the program used is DiskBench.
The difference in speed betweent the two modes is negligible. Despite this, a larger than 7 GB file was transferred at a very high speed – indeed, brilliant data transfer via one of the four USB 3.1 ports.
You can test every component of your system with this app, but we used it for RAM testing alone.
We used several well-known programs for CPU testing alone. The main idea behind this to check the effect of different software on the increase of frequency, which in our case was 400 MHz.
This app renders photorealistic 3D scene, thanks to the 8 logical cores.
Even though we expected a lower result in Silent mode, we didn’t anticipate a difference of almost one point in OC mode. Great performance thanks to only 400 MHz.
This is the next version of the previous app.
After we saw that the registered difference is not at all small in Cinebench 11, we expected the same here. Well, we were right to do so – there is a big differnce again.
This app renders an image of our personal choice. The settings used in the two modes are the same.
The difference here is not as big as it was in the previous two tests. We got a successfully rendered image with a difference of 2 seconds – 29 and 27 seconds.
We are approaching the end of our motherboard tests. Here we can see what one can expect from the system in situations when there are more demanding graphics requirements. Below we have included below online games testing the performance of the computer and Wi-Fi module in games that depend on servers.
Unreal Heaven 3
The benchmark was launched at the base settings we use in our laptop reviews. The only thing we changed was the resolution – we switched to FHD as this is the maximum supported by our testing monitor.
Great results – a difference of 5 frames in OC mode.
Perhaps the heaviest benchmark to be found in the 3DM software package.
It was easy to increase the percentage comparing our system to others – a difference of 4%.
The best part always comes in the end. We launched three games, 2 of which online, so as to check the overall performance of this configuration in OC mode, as well as that of the module in two different servers. The only game we launched in both modes (Silent and OC) is GTA V.
|GTA 5 (FHD, Low)||GTA 5 (FHD, Medium)||GTA 5 (FHD, Max)|
|182 fps, 186 fps (Silent, OC)||97 fps, 101 fps (Silent, OC)||40 fps, 41 fps (Silent, OC)|
Star Wars: Battlefront
Made famous by the movie “The Force Awakens” EA game is a great choice for the Wi-Fi module test, as the game is relatively new and it still needs some perfection.
In the lower right corner you can find some data on the performance. The game settings were…
One of the best MOBA games with great graphics which is also demanding for the system. Our choice is motivated by its property which allows you to monitor the frames, Ping and milliseconds. With maximum settings the game maintained constant 150 frames.
We can now conclude this review with a lot of compliments. As far as hardware and software are concerned, MSI offers an incredible model with great software support. The motherboard provides all you need to fully exploit your hardware components and completely enjoy the world of virtual reality. You are ahead of your online opponents with the provided great audio quality, Wi-Fi module and the customizable keyboard and mouse.
The only small drawback we can mention is the only PCI-E GPU port. This, however, is understandable as we are reviewing a mini-ITX motherboard – it is meant for smaller boxes which do not have enough room for an SLI/Crossfire configuration.
If you are interested in the purchase of this motherboard, you can check the following link: http://amzn.to/1rJazK7
- Great overclocking opportunities
- Great software support
- Very good audio quality thanks to the phisical separation of the audio section
- Excellent Wi-Fi module
- The M.2 slot is limited to 60 mm (2242/2260)