Motherboards

Enthusiast Excellence – MSI Z170A Gaming M5 Review

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The new Intel Skylake processors are out and without a doubt the latest architecture will be the basis of many gaming builds over the coming months. The new 14nm CPUs make a mark by embracing the overclockers and veterans of the PC realm. Skylake effectively overcomes the limitations of previous Intel chips allowing for the most talented processor masterminds to really push boundaries, and for gamers to reach beyond the constraints of Intel’s previous technological advancements. But when you have processors so capable of incredible things, you need to adequately invest in a motherboard which can embrace its power to the fullest extent.

The MSI Z170A Gaming M5 captivates the qualities of Z170 through the high quality standards we can expect from one of gaming’s leading component manufactures. Using Military class 5 components, steel-plated PCI-E slots, and titanium chokes; the MSI Z170A Gaming M5 is one of the best looking and most feature packed gaming boards available on the market.

To get a full look at the board including all of its box contents and layout, check the unboxing and overview video available in the article.


 

[Design]

The design of the Gaming M5 ticks every box. First and foremost, we as gamers all have an “inner-awesome” — we want something that is powerful and excels at performance, but we won’t settle for any old board that doesn’t look the part. The matte black PCB has always been a fan favorite and returns on this board. The overall design is, of course, red and black. It adopts the usual dragon styling of MSI, and the VRM cooler embraces a wonderful, wing-shaped design which looks stunning. You also get the dragon logo on the Z170 express chipset cooler.

All of the feature chips, such as the “Audio Boost 3” chip are black and red too. The steel plated PCI-E slots and general silver soldering across the board shimmer in the light and give the board an incredible contrast between the dark reds and bright silvers. The I/O shield continues the black and red theme too. Unboxing this board really hit the nerd porn strings, even more so when the debug LED shows temperatures (It’s the little things that count). This board looks the part and will do justice to any windowed case. In fact, it deserves a windowed case; I can only begin to imagine how gorgeous it would look inside a 750D or H440 case pimped out with LEDs.

Every detail of the Gaming M5 is done to perfection. Red ports make for a nice touch.

Next in the design category is the layout (which you can see a full run down of in the video linked in this article): I encountered absolutely no obstructions setting up this board. All fan headers, USB headers, and ports are in the perfect positions. The ATX board will quite happily seat both water coolers and air coolers, but make sure you have ample clearing room between any air coolers and your RAM slots. I’d strongly recommend investing in a water cooler for overclocking purposes and really unlocking the potential in this processor/motherboard combo.

Decent spacing between all connectors makes cable management incredibly easy. I never felt as though I’d have to hassle with an individual cable or put excessive effort into something to make the cabling work with the board. It makes life easier — it’s logical, and it avoids being problematic which happens so often with modern motherboards. The steel-plated slots protect it from any possible damage. Useful, considering how bloody heavy graphics cards are getting these days.

[Inside The Box]

Here are all the bits that come out the box. It includes: 4 SATA cables, cable labels, SLI bridge, I/O shield, MSI case badge, MSI door hanger, quick installation guide, user’s guide, and a drivers and utilities CD. (Click to enlarge)

[Technical Specifications]

The MSI Z170A Gaming M5 comes feature packed. Here is the full run-down: My personal favorites are the twin M.2 turbo ports, Steel Armor PCI-E, and the extensive array of USB ports, including 3.1 Type-A and Type-C. The board also includes isolated PCB around the “Audio Boost 3” chip and the isolated RAM slots — two nice subtle touches. We’ll talk about these features in more depth below.

Everything and anything you’d possibly need is there.

DDR4 Boost

You may have been wondering what the red lines around the DDR4 slots were. Well, that is MSI’s “DDR4 Boost”. The slots and memory circuitry are isolated from other components to ensure the memory signal stays strong. As a result of this, these slots can support 3600 (OC) Mhz speeds.

DDR4 Boost lookos to achieve pure and max speeds.

DDR4 Boost lookos to achieve pure and max speeds.

Steel Armor

Steel Armor deploys the use of extra solder points on the PCB for added strength. This doubles up by protecting PCI-Express signals against electromagnetic interference which will prevent stutters and theoretically allow for higher GPU overclocking. The armor may also help with heat dissipation. This is a feature I am certain many will appreciate.

Graphics cards are becoming a concern due to their profound weight and size. Some are even huge; there are plenty of triple fan cards out there today. My very own 970 doesn’t suffer from GPU sag, but many builds have this issue. It’s no longer practical to have such strain on plastic slots and MSI fixes the problem in a stylish manner. However, I would have liked the third port to also include the armor.

Steel Armor looks to provide piece of mind and look bad ass.

Steel Armor looks to provide piece of mind and looks bad ass.

Twin Turbo M.2

There has been an ever expanding interest in M.2 devices lately. Because of this, MSI has included two M.2 slots on the board — a welcomed sight. This provides more pliancy over Z97. In theory, these two slots equipped with two NVMe SSD’s could achieve 64 GB/s transfer rates. Considering some of the incredible capacities of recent solid state drives, these ports come as a great addition to the motherboard.

M.2 could provide 64 GB/s speeds.

M.2 could provide 64 GB/s speeds.

[Skylake Processor]

Although this is a motherboard review, it is necessary to discuss some of the potential Skylake processors have, and how this motherboard/CPU combo can achieve incredible things. The new architecture launched with options of both the i5 6600K and the i7 6700K (used in this review). Specification-wise we have the usual jazz:

– 4Ghz Base clock, 4.2Ghz Boost.
– Intel HD Graphics 530.
– Hyper-threading.
– DDR4 & DDR3L Support.

Before you read this section on overclocking, as a consumer it’s worth noting that these processors are very powerful. As such, any attempt at an overclock would require a water cooler; with such an expensive chip, any less would be a fallacy. At a later point during testing overclocks, the highest clock I saw was 4.6Ghz. I set it to 4.5Ghz out of personal preference stability-wise and longevity wise.

(Note – Tonnes of technical jargon inbound, easier OC option below!)

Overclocking can essentially be done in two different ways: The main choice is to manually adjust your settings in the bios. It is enclosed and your options include adjusting multipliers and increasing the Vcore. The alternative choice is software based: Pre-configured settings that push the limits of the board and processor. Overclocking is simple and pure, as long as you have decent cooling. That same system remains in Skylake, but the “K” which stands for “Unlocked” has a bit more meaning this time round. The CPU Base clock or BCLK has been freed. There is no more “BCLK strap” limitations on Skylake.

Essentially, this means you have a full degree of BCLK overclocking. PEG/DMI Ratios are a thing of the past and PEG/DMI has an isolated 100MHz clock. This means that when BCLK is overclocked, PEG/DMI (PCI-E) will not be effected. BCLK potential is back to the ways of old. The isolated 100MHz will make BCLK-based overclocking a lot easier too. These changes mean that the real elites of PC building — those who build to push tech boundaries — will have a much easier job now.

Noteably “Ring” — branded CPU Cache by Intel XTU — is an interface connecting to each circuit inside the CPU. Increasing the Ring Ratio for a higher Ring frequency brings better performance. MSI firmly suggested avoiding adjusting the Ring Ratio higher than CPU Ratio.

CPU Ring frequency = CPU BCLK * Ring Ratio
EX: 4.0GHz = 100 (BCLK) * 40 (Ring Ratio)

The second major change is how ring voltage is delivered — it’s no longer handed independently. The Ring is fed from CPU Core Voltage. If you want to boost voltage to the Ring, you must boost the actual Core Voltage.

 

[Gaming Features]

There is an absolute cluster of gaming features included on the MSI Z170A Gaming M5. After all, it is a “gaming” board. It features an expansive array of options, from the physical hardware of the board to the bios and software provided.

Firstly, we have gaming LAN with LAN protect, powered by Killer. The “Stream detect” firmware detects and accelerates game traffic ahead of your other network traffic. You are even provided with MSI Gaming LAN manager. You can allocate priorities for specific applications and customize bandwidth options for each application. It also features a 15KV anti-surge protection shield to protect your network from lightning and static electricity.

Gaming LAN allows for bandwidth prioritization.

Gaming LAN allows for bandwidth prioritization.

Next we have “Audio boost 3” powered by Nahimic. It provides 8-Channel HD audio at 7.1 surround sound. All audio jacks are golden plated to reduce distortion and Audio Boost 3 is isolated on the board alongside all audio circuitry to give clearer audio signals. The motherboard provided quality sound to both my QPAD QH-85 and Astro A40 headsets.

Another feature is “GAME BOOST.” This is available in the Click bios and is simply a simple one button way of overclocking your CPU. By pressing game boost, the motherboard automatically detects your specs and determines a reasonable overclock for your processor and rig. It allows you to boost your performance in a very simple manner and is very useful for those who want to gain more power without fuss.

The Click Bios 5 OC menus are simple.

The Click Bios 5 OC menus are simple.

Another incredible feature is the option to flash your bios without use of RAM or a CPU. This will drastically reduce the number of RMAs and reduce the amount of bricked boards. It will also be helpful for those encountering trouble overclocking for the first time.

Being able to flash your bios without RAM/CPU is wonderful.

Being able to flash your bios without RAM/CPU is wonderful.

And to top it all off, you even get a free one year Xsplit premium license with your purchase.

To conclude, the MSI Z170A Gaming M5 is one of the best motherboards you can purchase for the new Z170 chipset. It comes with a vast amount of benefits. It looks gorgeous, it’s filled with features for avid enthusiasts, gamers, and beginners alike; and it fits snugly at a very reasonable £149.99. This board is perfect for gamers looking to upgrade and make a wise investment with their motherboard. Not only is this mobo for gamers, but it’s a smart choice for any builder as it’s “future-proofed” with great additions such as Steel Armor, twin M.2 ports, and USB 3.1 – Type A & C. MSI have certainly set the bar high for high-end low-priced Z170 motherboards.

Video Unboxing and Overview

MSI Z170A Gaming M5

$/£179.99149.99
MSI Z170A Gaming M5
9

Score

9/10

    Pros

    • Extensive features
    • Future-proofed
    • Looks stunning
    • Great Bios
    • Well priced

    Cons

    • 3rd PCI-E lacks Steel Armor
    • Killer LAN may not improve gaming performance for some.

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