We’re now a whole year on from Skylake’s launch and enthusiasts are already getting excited about Intel’s next CPU core – Kaby Lake. Before then, though, we’re still seeing a trickle of refreshed Z170 boards with new features. As well as offering some aesthetic boosts, these new boards such as MSI’s Z170A MPOWER Gaming Titanium, also sport useful physical features too.
It’s mainly about the aesthetics with MSI’s latest Z170 board, though, with it sporting the same metallic, grey/ granite finish as other boards in the Titanium range, hence the name. It looks fantastic, and it’s a far cry from the black models we’ve seen recently from both MSI and Asus, which usually rely on RGB lighting to jazz up their appearance.
There’s no customisable lighting here – the Z170A MPOWER Gaming Titanium relies solely on its paint scheme to score points, although it does include a 4-pin RGB LED header plus extension cables to control third-party LEDs, plus the DIMM slots and 16x PCI-E slots feature steel covers. The Titanium finish also extends to a large shroud that covers the audio circuitry and unsightly I/O ports, while also topping the PCH and VRM heatsinks. Whatever your colour scheme, the Z170A MPOWER Gaming Titanium’s neutral aesthetics should work well with it.
That’s just as well because, at $240, it certainly isn’t cheap. One of our favourite boards – Asus’ Maximus VIII Ranger – retails for $30 less, and the MSI board lacks Wi-Fi and most on-board overclocking and testing tools as well. Thankfully, it has some extra features to help justify the extra cash. It has two M.2 ports, potentially enabling you to install two NVMe PCI-E SSDs in a RAID array. It also includes a U.2 port, which is the other form of next-gen storage, although U.2 choices are less varied and more expensive than their M.2 counterparts. Using both M.2 ports or the U.2 port will see the total number of usable SATA 6Gbps ports reduced, as they share bandwidth – you’ll need to step up to an X99 system to really kit your system out with next-gen storage.
Meanwhile, if you’re considering a CrossFire or SLI setup with two GPUs, you’ll be pleased to hear that the first and second 16x PCI-E slots are doublespaced with a 1x PCI-E slot sandwiched in between them, which should allow large air-cooled graphics cards to breath. As you’d expect, there are both USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A and Type-C ports as well, and MSI has also seen fit to include a Type-C port next to the SATA ports too, catering for new cases that include them on their front panels.
We’re consistently impressed by MSI’s EFI, and the Z170A MPOWER Gaming Titanium saw much of the same. The GUI is well laid out with snappy, lag-free response, and all the essential settings are easy to find, including a decent cooling control section for tuning fan profiles. The EFI made it easy to overclock our Core i7-6700K, although we only managed to get our test CPU to 4.7GHz – not our usual 4.8GHz – despite pumping more than 1.4V through the CPU.
We also spotted that, during stock speed tests, the Turbo frequency would ramp up to 4.2GHz quite regularly, which resulted in some very competitive results in our benchmarks, where only the more expensive MSI Z170A XPOWER Gaming Titanium Edition and Asus Maximus VIII Formula managed to outperform it, and only by slim margins. Once overclocked, the 100MHz deficit was clear, though, with the system score of 146,164 being several thousand points short of the next slowest result.
However, we wouldn’t recommend using your CPU 24/7 at these levels anyway, so only extreme overclocking will be affected here. As our game test showed, this deficit is likely to have zero impact on gaming frame rates too.
Meanwhile, audio performance was standard for Realtek ALC1150 on-board sound, with noise and dynamic range levels of -103.4dBA and 103.3dBA respectively at 24bit/192KHz, which is better than many sub-$40 sound cards. There were no issues with storage performance either, with the Z170A MPOWER Gaming Titanium hitting near-maximum throughput on its M.2 ports, with read and write speeds of 2,282MB/sec and 958MB/sec respectively.
There are some caveats with the Z170A MPOWER Gaming Titanium, namely its lack of features such as Wi-Fi, as well as power and reset buttons, and a clear-CMOS switch. We’d expect most of these features to be included on a Z170 board costing over $200.
However, the Z170A MPOWER Gaming Titanium’s goal isn’t to offer an endless list of features, but a unique design. It looks spectacular, and it would look even better when coupled with some white LEDs, especially if it’s sitting inside a clean, white case.
The rest of the specification is solid, although we question the use of U.2 on Z170, given the cost of the SSDs. It’s great to see two M.2 ports too, allowing potential for security from a RAID 1 array, or increased performance (and higher risk) from a RAID 0 setup. While the Z170A MPOWER Gaming Titanium isn’t dripping with features, it still comes highly recommended if you’re after a high-performing, good-looking motherboard.