Our next motherboard review comes courtesy of MSI. This go around, we get a chance to look at their flagship offering, the Z170A XPower Gaming Titanium Edition motherboard… wow, was that a mouthful! On the cover, it looks like the board is a mashup between the monster, overclocking-based, flagship XPower series we, as overclockers, love, and their black and white themed Krait line which focuses more on budget minded gaming. Being an avid overclocker, I am hoping MSI sticks to their roots on the XPower Gaming Titanium Edition and takes care of the overclockers. Bless your heart gamers, but your demographic is pretty easy to take care of in most cases. Let’s see where the needle lands when we look at MSI’s flagship Z170 motherboard!
Specifications and Features
Below is a list of specifications sourced from the MSI website for this board. Starting off with the memory, we see it has the ability to hold four DIMMs, supporting up to 64 GB and up to 3600 MHz (OC) speeds. It has four PCIe 3.0 x16 slots (physical) supporting a 16x/0x/0x/4x, 8x/0x/8x/x4 or 8x/4x/4x/4x setup. This configuration supports 4-Way AMD Crossfire, and 2-Way NVIDIA SLI.
Storage-wise, there are a total of eight SATA3 6 Gbps ports, and two PCIe 4x M.2 ports. The chipset ports support RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 for SATA, and RAID 0 and 1 for the M.2 ports. For USB, there are PLENTY of ports, 16 in fact. Two USB3.1 G2, seven USB3.1 with Superspeed boost, and seven USB2.0. To help keep your fans under control, there are a total of five motherboard headers you can plug them into.
The audio is handled by the ALC1150 codec, while LAN functionality is covered by the new Intel I219-V NIC. Those two features are aimed squarely at the gaming crowd for reliable onboard audio and LAN.
Much more information can be found in the table below!
|MSI Z170A XPower Gaming Titanium Edition
|CPU||• Supports 6th Gen Intel® Core&trade i3/i5/i7 processors, and Intel® Pentium® and Celeron® processors for Socket LGA1151
* Please refer to CPU Support for compatible CPU; the above description is for reference only.
|Chipset||Intel® Z170A Chipset|
|Main Memory||• 4 x DDR4 memory slots, support up to 64GB
– Supports DDR4 3600(OC)/ 3200(OC)/ 3000(OC)/ 2800(OC)/ 2600(OC)/ 2400/ 2133 MHz
• Dual channel memory architecture
• Supports non-ECC, un-buffered memory
• Supports Intel® Extreme Memory Profile (XMP)
|Slots||• 4 x PCIe 3.0 x16 slots (support x16/0/0/x4, x8/0/x8/x4 or x8/x4/x4/x4 modes)
• 3 x PCIe 3.0 x1 slots
|Onboard Graphics||• 2 x HDMI™ ports, support a maximum resolution of 4096×2160@24Hz, 2560×1600@60Hz
• 1 x DisplayPort, supports a maximum resolution of 4096×2304@24Hz, 2560×1600@60Hz, 3840×2160@60Hz, 1920×1200@60Hz
|Multi-GPU||• Supports 4-Way AMD® CrossFire™ Technology
• Supports 2-Way NVIDIA® SLI™ Technology
|Storage||• Intel® Z170 Express Chipset
• 8x SATA 6Gb/s ports*
• 2x M.2 ports
– Supports PCIe 3.0 x4 and SATA 6Gb/s standards, 4.2cm/ 6cm/ 8cm length M.2 SSD cards
– Supports PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe Mini-SAS SSD with Turbo U.2 Host Card**• 2x SATAe ports (PCIe 3.0 x2)***
• Supports Intel® Smart Response Technology for Intel Core™ processors* M.2, SATA and SATAe ports maximum support 1x M.2 SSDs + 6x SATAs or 2xM.2 SSDs + 1xSATAe HDD + 2xSATA HDDs.
** The Turbo U.2 Host Card is not included, please purchase separately.
*** SATAe port is backward compatible with SATA.RAID Intel® Z170 Chipset
– Supports RAID 0, RAID1, RAID 5 and RAID 10 for SATA storage devices
– Supports RAID 0 and RAID1 for M.2 PCIe storage devices** M.2 PCIe RAID volume can be created with UEFI BIOS
|USB||• ASMedia® ASM1142 Chipset
– 2 x USB 3.1 Gen2 (SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps) ports on the back panel• Intel® Z170 Express Chipset
– 7x USB 3.1 Gen1 (SuperSpeed USB) ports (4 ports on the back panel, 1 internal port, 2 ports available through the internal USB connector)
– 7x USB 2.0 (High-speed USB) ports (3 ports on the back panel, 4 ports available through the internal USB connectors)
|Audio||• Realtek® ALC1150 Codec
– 7.1-Channel High Definition Audio
– Supports S/PDIF output
|LAN||• 1 x Intel® I219-V Gigabit LAN controller|
|Internal I/O Connectors||– 1 x 24-pin ATX main power connector
– 1 x 8-pin ATX 12V power connector
– 1 x 4-pin ATX 12V power connector
– 1 x 6-pin ATX 12V power connector*
– 8 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
– 2 x USB 2.0 connectors (supports additional 4 USB 2.0 ports)
– 1 x USB 3.1 Gen1 connector (supports additional 2 USB 3.1 Gen1 ports)
– 1 x USB 3.1 Gen1 port
– 2 x 4-pin CPU fan connectors
– 3 x 4-pin system fan connectors
– 1 x Front panel audio connector
– 2 x Front panel connectors
– 1 x TPM module connector
– 1 x Chassis Intrusion connector
– 1 x OC DASHBOARD connector
– 1 x GAME BOOST button
– 1 x Power button
– 1 x Reset button
– 1 x BIOS FLASHBACK+ button
– 1 x HOTKEY switch
– 1 x PCIe CeaseFire switch
– 1 x Multi-BIOS switch
– 1 x 2-Digit Debug Code LED
* Provides additional power to PCIe x16 slots
|Back Panel I/O Ports||– 1 x PS/2 keyboard/ mouse combo port
– 3 x USB 2.0 ports
* 1 x HOTKEY port
* 1 x BIOS FLASHBACK+ port
– 1 x Clear CMOS button
– 2 x HDMI™ ports
– 1 x DisplayPort
– 2 x USB 3.1 Gen2 ports
– 4 x USB 3.1 Gen1 ports
– 1 x LAN (RJ45) port
– 1 x Optical S/PDIF OUT connector
– 5 x OFC audio jacks
|Dimensions||• 12 in. x 9.6 in. (30.5 cm x 24.4 cm)
• ATX Form Factor
Some of the features MSI would like you to be aware of are listed below (images/text sourced from the webpage). We first start out with DDR4 boost. This feature touts traces to the DIMMs and CPU are fully isolated. This is said to prevent signal distortion from electromagnetic signals to help them stay clean for ‘optimal performance and reliability’.
When we hear XPower uttered in the enthusiast PC community, we typically think of a flagship overclocking motherboard. While that sentiment is certainly not lost in this latest implementation (remember folks, it has ‘Gaming in its name now’), it’s not the main purpose of the board anymore it seems. To that end, MSI uses Intel’s latest NIC, the i219 to help with high performance connectivity and online gaming. This NIC is said to reduce CPU overhead and has high TCP/UDP throughput. It also comes with the Gaming LAN Manager software to help prioritize traffic. You are able to do this manually or the software can do it automatically for you.
The Z170 XPower Gaming uses their Audio Boost 3 sound which is supported by the Realtek ALC1150 codec on the back end. This is one of the best onboard audio codecs you can get, so we can see MSI is taking care of the gamer with this too. Along with the codec, it uses their Nahimic audio enhancer to tweak the sound to your liking and environment.
If you are looking for one button overclocking, MSI has you taken care of here too with its Game Boost dial that sits in the bottom right hand corner of the board. Just a quick twist and your CPU gets bumped up to the next level, up to 5 GHz even… assuming your CPU and cooling can handle it of course.
MSI has two USB3.1 Gen 2 Type-A ports on this board offering transfer speeds up to 10x USB3.2.1 G1 or 10 GB/s. Much faster than USB3/3.1 Gen1.
Knowing the MSI line, the Xpower used to be firmly rooted in overclocking for its pedigree, and even though the word Gaming managed to sneak its way into the Xpower line, it’s still focused on having superior overclocking abilities. On that note, this board features an ‘OC Dashboard’ which amounts to a raspberry pi sized PCB that has push button overclocking functionality. This includes, DirectOC +/- (multi/BCLK), Slow Mode (lowers clocks at boot to get into windows), Fast Boot and Complete Discharge. The Dashboard is a really convenient item to have, particularly when you are pushing the limits of overclocking. Along with this piece of hardware, the board also has its Military Class V components to help support it. This entails the Dr Mos MOSFETs (cooler and more efficient 3 in 1 package), Titanium chokes (better temperature tolerances, 40% higher current capacity, and 30% more efficient – yields better overclocking), Hi-c CAPs, and Dark Caps (more efficient, less resistance, longer life).
Another feature aimed at the gamer/average user is MSI’s Steel Armor on the PCIe slots. There are more solder points on the PCIe bracket to better support heavy video cards and helps protect the integrity of the PCIe signals on top of it. This is said to provide a stutter free gaming experience and higher GPU oveclocking… I would guess from less EMI and a more secure contact inside the slot.
Last, but certainly not least, one more feature for the gamers! The Gaming Device Port are USB ports to deliver the ‘best connectivity for high end gaming mice to fully utilize its speed’. This means more responsive and faster reactions, and smoother game play. You are able to customize DPI and program macros as well.
Retail Packaging and Accessories
Our first look at the retail packaging gives us a solid idea of the board on the inside. Atypical to MSI’s previous OC series, this packaging comes in a grey/titanium colored box on most sides. On the front the board is pictured along with the name, and which generation Intel processors the board supports with a picture of the uniquely colored board in the background. Flipping the box around to the back side goes over some of the details such as one button overclocking, the overclocking dashboard, and a few other features. Not too much on the sides and top/bottom. This box has a flap that opens up to display even more of the features (OC Power design totaling 16 phases, Game Boost, DDR4 Boost, M.2, USB3.1, gaming LAN, etc), while on the right side you get a sneak peak at the board inside.
When opening up the box, there are two smaller boxes inside. The top holds the motherboard, while the bottom holds all the included accessories (and there a lot). All in all, the board rests safe and sound in its box.
Meet the MSi Z170A XPower Gaming Titanium Edition
Our first glimpse of the board shows off that unique color, titanium. We have seen all different color boards from all AIB’s, but this one truly stands out with its almost speckled metal appearance and clearly strays from MSI’s yellow and black theme for their overclock boards and black and red for the gaming line. Since this board intends to cover both, it makes sense that it is changed up a bit. Some of the obvious features from the top down are the mostly white heatsinks attached to the VRMs, a total of four PCIe slots, the Game Boost button (below the PCH), and the OC Dashboard sitting up by the DIMMs. The back of the board exposes nothing exciting, however we do see the electrical breakdown of the PCIe slots (16x/8x/8x/8x). As we know from the limitations of the chipset it won’t break down like this for multiple GPUs, but that is the electrical potential of the slots anyway.
Overall this is board should fit well into a lot of themes with its color scheme as you can go any way with the accents and still match perfectly with the board.
A Closer Look
Zooming in to the bottom part of the board, from left to right we see the Audio Boost 3 EMI cover hiding the premium Realtek ALC1150 codec. We can also see the familiar LED laden line that separates the audio section from the rest of the board for improved sound via EMI reduction. The PCIe setup (physical) is a total of four full-length PCIe slots, with 1x sized slots, three of them, between the 16x slots. For multi-GPU configurations, your breakdown will look like this:
- 1-way mode – x16 / x0 / x0
- 2-way mode – x8 / x8 / x0
- 3-way mode – x8 / x8 / x4
- 3-way mode – x8 / x4 / x4 / x4
The PCH chipset is covered by a nice aluminum heatsink with the MSI gaming dragon printed on top of it for a nice aesthetic touch. Below that is where the Power/reset buttons as well as the Game Boost knob reside.
Sliding around to the upper right hand portion of the board to the DIMM area, we first see the front panel USB header, while next to it is a convenient USB3.1 Gen1 port (useful for benching station setups so one doesn’t have to reach around to the other side of the motherboard to plug in their USB stick). Next is the ATX 24-pin connector for motherboard power and next to it is the OC Dashboard that holds your BCLK/CPU multiplier adjustments, Power off/on/reset buttons, CMOS discharge, slow mode, and ‘instant’ BIOS, buttons to make overclocking easier, particularly for the extreme crowd. Last, but not least, here are the four DIMM slots supporting up to 64 GB of RAM with speeds of 3600 MHz (OC).
The last picture in this group shows a close up of the socket area. We can see it’s pretty clear around there which is conducive to sub-ambient cooling and ease of installing insulation. There are a grand total of 16 phases (I would imagine a 12+4 configuration) so there should be plenty of clean power available for sub-ambient operations. Hiding around the other side of the VRM heatsink is the CPU 8-pin and optional 4-pin (use when extreme overclocking).
Next up are the boards inputs and outputs. Starting with the back I/O, from left to right we see a PS/2 port stacked on two USB2 ports. To the right of them is your clear CMOS button and next to it, a vertically oriented USB port for BIOS flashback. There are two more USB3.1 Gen1 ports on top of HDMI, while next to it gives you DisplayPort on top of another HDMI port. The Intel LAN rests atop two more USB3.1 Gen1 ports. Next to it are your only USB3.1 Gen2 ports and finally, the audio stack.
For SATA ports, we have a total of eight standard ports and two SATA Express (SATAe). You can also catch a better glimpse of the front panel USB connector, and the side facing USB port in this image.
Across the bottom is the debug LED, PCIe CeaseFire DIP switches), the hotkey switch, two front panel USB2 ports, a system fan header, front panel headers, and finally the power on/off and Game Boost knob.
After taking off the heatsinks this is what the MSI Z170 XPower Gaming Titanium Edition looks like. You can see from the second picture good contact was made on the VRM and PCH heatsink so we are set there. The next image shows a close up of the CPU 8-pin and (optional – for extreme overclocking) 4-pin power lead(s). The last picture shows a close up of the Titanium chokes, and the robust International Rectifier branded power bits (more details on those in the slideshow below).
Below is a list of some of the IC’s used on this board. From ASMedia on SATA and USB, to International Rectifier MOSFETs and voltage controllers, PTN HDMI controllers and more, you can catch a closeup here!
UEFI BIOS and Overclocking Software
Next up are two slideshows of MSI’s Click BIOS 5. The first screenshot shows the “EZ” screen which is more of a summary type of page than it is for changing things. You still can change a couple of high level items from here though such as the boot order, Game Boost, and XMP profiles for the RAM. The second shot on forward shows the “Advanced” BIOS screens starting from Settings (can control most board functionality here that doesn’t have to do with overclocking), OC (where you control overclocking), M-Flash (this is where you can flash the BIOS), OC Profile (self explanatory – where one stores BIOS profiles), Hardware monitor (shows the status of fans hooked up to the board as well as being able to control them), and finally, Board Explorer which shows at a high level what is attached to all of the slots.
As some of you may know I do have a ‘man crush’ of MSI’s Click BIOS. I like the look, its smooth to maneuver around, and everything is placed logically to me. This version is no different outside of a few more options that may not available in the lower end models.
Below is a list of BIOS in the OC Settings section. As you would expect from a board of this caliber, everything is in there, including an extra deep, double trough, kitchen sink!
Test Setup, Benchmarks, and Overclocking
Listed below is the test system used for benchmarking:
|CPU||Intel 6700K @ Stock (4.2 GHz) and 4.7 GHz Overclocked|
|Motherboard||MSI Z170A XPower Gaming Titanium Edition|
|RAM||2×4 GB DDR4 GSkill Ripjaws 4 @ 3000 15-15-15-35 1.35v|
|Graphics Card||MSI R9 390 Gaming 8G|
|Solid State Drive||OCZ Vertex 3|
|Power Supply||SeaSonic SS-1000XP (80+ Platinum)|
|Operating System||Windows 7 x64 SP1|
|Graphics Drivers||Catalyst 15.7.1|
AIDA64 and MaxxMEM – Memory Bandwidth and Throughput
Cinebench R11.5 and R15 – CPU Rendering Benchmark
Super Pi 1M and 32M / Pifast – Single Threaded CPU Benchmark
WPrime 32M and 1024M, x624, PoV Ray R3.73, 7Zip, and Intel XTU – Multi-Threaded CPU benchmarks
x264 Pass 1 and 2
PoV Ray R3.73
7zip – Compression Benchmark
The slideshows below compare the results above with other boards we have run on the same platform in the past. The only difference here is the board, and occasionally drivers (we use what is the latest on the website at the time of the review). Typically we see ‘margin of error’ type differences between the boards and for the most part (spoiler alert!!), that holds true here.
In the first graph with Super Pi, WPrime, and PiFast, outside of the ASUS offering (Sabertooth) being a bit slower than the rest, by 3% or so, these results are awfully close to each other as we expect. The Z170A XPower Gaming does seem to be a bit faster than the rest on average, but again, its all within 1% in most cases.
In the second graph, listing Cinebench, XTU, 7Zip, POVRay, and x264, everything is again within about 1% of each other outside of a couple of outliers (the Sabertooth being a hair slower). Here the XPower Gaming was just a hair slower than the MSI Gaming M7 and the Gigabyte Gaming 7 in this grouping.
The last graph compares memory speeds in AIDA64 and MaxMemm. In this test, the XPower Gaming, did show an overall lead here of 2%+ in many of the tests.
Overall a solid showing for the board, winning some and losing some, but normally the boards are right together.
Pushing the Limits
I had a chance to wring out some extra performance out of this CPU, and the results can be found in the images below. The first screenshot shows a short, but stressful on all cores, benchmark, x265 from Hwbot (we are having a competition using it here at the site: CHECK IT OUT). In this benchmark I was able to push the processor to over 4.85 GHz under a custom water loop. Temperatures in this short bench only reached about 72C so there was some headroom yet. The second screenshot shows a simple 200 BCLK, 3K memory, and 4.8 GHz running a longer all core benchmark in Hyper Pi 32M.
Overclocking was easy on this board. I didn’t have to touch anything except for Vcore and adjust the memory multiplier to reach the clocks we see below. Surely this will change for extreme cooling, however the XPower Gaming has you covered. There is even an option in the BIOS that when enabled to LN2, it will setup the board for extreme overclocking by disabling power limits and setting the VRM up properly. I really liked messing around with the Dashboard as, to me, it makes it a easier to tinker than playing with the windows software to do the same thing.
Out of the gate, I will be willing to concede that I was really looking forward to reviewing this board. In the past, I looked at the overclock-centric MPower and XPower and in the end, really liked the results of those boards. The MSI Z170A XPower Gaming Titanium Edition is a bit of a conundrum to me I have to admit. Gone is the ‘pure’ overclocking board of the XPower (though, MSI has clearly not forgotten about it!) and its yellow and black theme, but in comes the XPower with gaming features with a different theme all together. As an overclocking purest this was disconcerting a bit, but I realize why it was done. Since they did not skimp on anything that has to do with overclocking, my concerns were put to rest on that front.
MSI did not leave behind the overclocker. The XPower Gaming has a lot of features geared towards the enthusiast overclocker and sub-ambient crowd. It has the OC Dashboard for on the fly, push button overclocking, robust high-end power delivery area with its 16 phase (total) International Rectifier made power bits, DIP switch to disable PCIe for ease of troubleshooting, OC Essentials, Military Class V parts, and enough BIOS options to make your head explode.
On the gaming side of things, MSI didn’t skimp there either. Although, you can go down an endless hole to overclock your CPU to its limit, it also has the Game Boost knob onboard so one can simply just turn the dial to raise your clock speeds. Most gamers don’t want to really mess with things so I appreciate this as a ‘crossover’ type of feature on this board. Other items geared to the gamer are the use of the Intel i219V NIC and its accompanying software, MSI Gaming LAN Manager, to help get the best ping and shape your network traffic accordingly as well as the USB gaming ports and Realtek ALC1150 audio.
As flagship boards go, the MSI Z170A XPower Gaming Titanium Edition really brought to the table a mix of features to make most any user happy. Overclock using LN2/Dry Ice? This board has you covered. Game competitively, this board still has you covered! Pricing on the XPower is $299.99 at newegg.com. This board, being a flagship model competes with the likes of the (unreleased?) Gigabyte Z170X SOC Force ($???), the EVGA Z170 Classified ($399), the ASRock Z170 OC Formula ($252). While any of these boards can do what the XPower Gaming Titanium can do, the XPower shows to me that it can please a pretty broad audience. Only the more overclocking-centric ASRock OC Formula comes in cheaper so we know the board is priced right among its peers in the flaghsip/overclocking segment. If you are looking for a board that will happily go cold with a slew of options AND game with the best of them, you should put the MSI Z170A XPower Gaming Titanium on your short list.
Joe Shields (Earthdog)