MSI Z170A Gaming M5 Review

Written by Antony Leather

September 11, 2015 // 9:09 a.m.

Tags: #best-z170-board #lga1151 #lga1151-board #micro-atx-board #msi #msi-z170a-gaming-m5-review #skylake #z170

MSI Z170A Gaming M5 Revieww

Manufacturer: MSI
UK price (as reviewed): £139.98 (inc VAT)
US price (as reviewed): $189.99 (ex Tax)

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Today we're looking at the Z170A Gaming M5 from MSI, its take on a £140 Skylake motherboard. Supply is finally ramping up for Z170 motherboards after a scarce couple of weeks in the wake of Intel's new chipset launch last month.

While there are a still a few models to be announced and more still to hit the shelves, every major motherboard manufacturer now has something to offer. Price-wise, this model has recently had a £10 price cut, previously retailing for £150 - just one or two notes less than the likes of Asus's Maximus VIII Gene and Hero, so it's now a little more competitive.

Cosmetically, the Z170A Gaming M5 is a tad plain overall compared to many boards that cost £10-20 more, but it's sharp and clean-looking with the two main 16x PCI-E slots sporting metal shrouds that add to the aesthetics - something Gigabyte has done with some of its boards too.

The two large power circuitry heatsinks should do a good job of cooling the hot spots underneath, where you'll find the board's 12 power phase circuitry, although they're not linked by a heat pipe. At first glance, the PCB is fairly sparsely-populated too. There are no power, reset or CMOS clear switches - just a POST code display - but, slightly bizarrely, MSI has included voltage measuring points. This is a little disappointing for a £140 motherboard, but then we are finding Skylake kit to be more expensive than equivalent Z97 boards.

MSI Z170A Gaming M5 Review MSI Z170A Gaming M5 Review
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However, there are a few good bits here too. For starters, there's a pair of M.2 ports which support RAID 0 and RAID 1 and are configurable in the EFI, with both ports suppporting SSDs up to 80mm in length. MSI was a strong supporter of USB 3.1 - now called USB 3.1 Gen 2 - and both Type-A and Type-C connectors are present on the I/O panel courtesy of the ASMedia ASM1142 controller along with a handy amount of regular USB 3 and USB 2 ports.

MSI Z170A Gaming M5 Review MSI Z170A Gaming M5 Review
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Six SATA 6Gbps ports should be enough for most people, although you'll need to refer to the manual as to which ports you use combined with an M.2 drive as some share bandwidth. MSI includes beefed-up audio too with isolated audio circuitry, including dual headphone amplifiers. If you're considering throwing multiple GPUs into the equation, then 2-way SLI and 3-way CrossFire are supported in x8/x8 and x8/x8/x4 configurations respectively.

There's also a generous amount of 1x PCI-E slots - four in total with one of these sitting above the top 16x slot so whatever your GPU setup, you'll have access to one. That said, two of these slots do sit over the M.2 ports so if you're system is particularly crammed, you'll likely need to remove a few components to get at them.

Layout-wise, there's not much to complain about other than the aforementioned M.2 port locations. The SATA ports and USB 3 header are all mounted at right angles so there are no issues with blocked ports with long GPUs. There's plenty of room around the power sockets and a decent gap between the two main 16x PCI-E slots as well for better air cooling. Those CPU area heatsinks sit fairly low too.

MSI Z170A Gaming M5 Review MSI Z170A Gaming M5 Review
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Software-wise there are a few interesting additions including a rival to Asus's Keybot, called Gaming Hotkey. Here, you can run macros from dedicated keys (even if you're keyboard doesn't have dedicated macro keys or the ability to save macros), plus you can launch games, apps and even overclocking profiles. There's a similar application for mice too along with a fairly in-depth CPU overclocking program, and MSI is also following in Asus's footsteps by offering a RAMdisk program too, allowing you to allocate a portion of system memory to boost data transfer speeds in specific scenarios.

Specifications

  • Chipset Intel Z170
  • Form factor ATX
  • CPU support LGA1151 compatible (Skylake)
  • Memory support Dual-channel, 4 slots, max 64GB
  • Sound 8-channel Realtek ALC1150 Codec
  • Networking Killer E2400 Gigabit LAN
  • Ports 6 x SATA 6Gbps via Intel Z170, 2 x M.2, 2 x SATA Express, 1 x USB 3.1 (Gen2) Type-A, 1 x USB 3.1 (Gen2) Type-C, 6 x USB 3.0 (2 x via header), 6 x USB 2.0 (4 x via header), 1 x LAN, audio out, line in, mic, Optical S/PDIF out, DVI, HDMI
  • Dimensions (mm) 305 x 244
  • Extras LED POST code read-out, isolated audio circuitry, voltage measurement points

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