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MSI Z170A GAMING M7 Motherboard Review

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MSI Z170A GAMING M7 Motherboard Review

By David Ramsey

Manufacturer: Micro Star International
Product Name: Z170A GAMING M7 Desktop Motherboard
UPC: 824142025536 EAN: 4719072353988
Price As Tested: $204.99 (Newegg | Amazon)

Full Disclosure: MSl provided the product sample used in this article.

The advent of Intel’s Skylake 6th-generation Core processors and their supporting Z170 chipset marks the biggest change in Intel’s consumer line since the original X68. While the Skylake CPU holds few surprises other than its support for DDR4 memory, the Z170 chipset finally brings to the mainstream market what it’s so desperately needed: more PCI-E lanes, and of the 3.0 variety at that! Of course MSI adds their own unique touches to this system and today Benchmark Reviews checks out the MSI Z170A Gaming M7 LGA1151 motherboard.

msi_z170a_gaming_m7_box_board

While there’s little to distinguish the previous Z77, Z87, and Z97 chipsets, the Z170 is the best argument for upgrading your rig since Sandy Bridge was introduced. Let’s take a look at what’s new:

Intel Z170A System Architecture

Intel’s progress in mainstream chipsets (i.e. not including the LGA2011 and 2011v3 platform) has been very slow, with only incremental improvements– a few more USB 3.0 ports here, some SATA 6 there– for the past few years. And while native support for these features was nice, it wasn’t anything that hadn’t been done with third-party chips before. The one thing the mainstream systems increasingly needed was more PCI-E lanes, and with the Z170, Intel has finally obliged. Why do you want more PCI-E lanes? Because all the spiffy new I/O devices, like m.2 SSDs, are using them.

z170-chipset-block-diagram-rwd

The main thing in this diagram is the box labeled “Up to 20xPCI Express 3.0”. That’s the real win here. Chipset support for PCI-E lanes started with the Z68, which supplied 8 PCI-E 2.0 lanes, and there it stayed through the Z77, Z87, and Z97 chipsets. I’ve prepared a summary chart below showing native interface capabilities of Intel’s last few chipsets.

SATA 3gb SATA 6gb USB 2.0 USB 3.0 PCI-E 2.0 PCI-E 3.0 m.2 support
Z68 6 14 8
Z77 6 10 4 8
Z87 6 8 6 8
Z97 6 8 6 8 2xPCI-E 2.0, mSATA
Z170 6 14 10 20 12xPCI-E 3.0, mSATA
X99 10 8 6 8

With the 16 lanes supplied by the Skylake CPU, a Z170-based system now has a total of 36 PCI-E 3.0 lanes available. An X99 system can still beat this, depending on the CPU: while the X99 chipset only provides 8 of the slower PCI-E 2.0 lanes, the Haswell-E LGA2011v3 CPU can supply up to 40 PCI-E 3.0 lanes on its own (the number of lanes depends on which CPU). Note that since the chipset PCI-E lanes cannot be used for GPUs, Z170 systems still don’t support triple-GPU setups any better than their predecessors, with an 8x4x4 configuration. So an X99 system still has the edge here.

Let’s take a look at this board in the next section.


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2 comments

  1. Kristijan Vragović

    I have a question about motherboard that really bugs me since i would like to use MSI boards in the future. Fan headers that are on my MSI Z87 G65 gaming motherboard offer PWM control only on CPU header while other 3 offer just voltage control. So. what i wanna know is have MSI changed things a little bit and put PWM control on all 5 fan headers or is the situation the same as i described it for my MB. Thanks

    1. Olin Coles

      It’s going to be different for every motherboard model, and then, making things a bit more difficult, some UEFI/BIOS settings will allow you to change a fan header to turn PWM on or off. You might want to look into the settings on your board to see if this isn’t already possible.

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