MSI Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon Review

Manufacturer: MSI
UK price (as reviewed): £126.20 (inc VAT)
US price (as reviewed): Approx $169.99

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An area that's seen plenty of attention in the motherboard industry in the last year is aesthetics. It's something that's always been a factor, of course, but as performance differs so little at the mid-range to high-end area of the market (there is some more significant variation with audio, though) eye-candy has become a key consideration.

As well as funky shrouds and snazzy colours, lighting is the next big thing and most of the major manufacturers are going head to head in allowing us to customise our boards. Asus has perhaps the best option we've seen with its Aura lighting in the new Maximus VIII Formula, which has a plain, black colourless PCB, yet it comes alive when you engage its various RGB LEDs. It even includes a standard 4-pin RGB LED header for some extra eye-candy.


MSI is also on the bandwagon, but rather than try and match the Formula, with a similarly eye-watering price tag, the MSI Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon costs less than half the price - just £120. That's even £60 less than the Asus Maximus VIII Hero, which is one of Asus' cheapest offerings to include RGB lighting.

MSI Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon Review MSI Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon Review
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It also sports a splattering of carbon fibre patters and a jet-black PCB. The lighting comes in two parts - the usual illuminated isolated audio PCB plus sundry LEDs, all of which are red, but can be switched on or off in the Gaming desktop app. The RGB part comes in the form of a stripe at the side of the PCB next to the 24-pin ATX connector. The lighting is a fixed brightness and while it's fairly bright, it doesn't penetrate the PCB particularly well or evenly - certainly not as well as images on MSI's website. However, if you can reflect it off your motherboard tray it should look great and there's full RGB control as well as various lighting effects.

MSI Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon Review MSI Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon Review
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The Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon itself looks pretty tidy, though, with silver details including two steel PCI-E slot shrouds and large black heatsinks. Unfortunately, the latter did interfere with hooking up the primary CPU fan cable, which is sandwiched between the frist DIMM slot and the top heatsink, while the left heatsink made it quite tricky to install our Corsair H80i GT waterblock.

MSI Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon Review MSI Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon Review
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The rest of the layout is pretty good, though, with a generous four 1x PCI-E slots, with one located above the top 16x PCI-E slot, which should mean it's always available even if you have two monstrous triple-slot GPUs in a two-way GPU setup. The single SATA Express connector/pair of SATA 6Gbps ports is located away from the rest of the ports for better cable tidying with the remainder plus one of the two USB 3 headers being right-angled too.

MSI Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon Review MSI Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon Review
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MSI Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon Review MSI Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon Review
Above - examples of colours picked from the RGB spectrum - green, purple, yellow, white - Click to enlarge

Despite its reasonable price tag compared to some of the other boards we've looked at recently, the Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon also includes single USB 3.1 Type-A and Type-C ports, as well as beefed up audio with Nahimic audio enhancement, Chemi-Con capacitors and dual headphone amps.

MSI Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon Review
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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 Intel I219-V Gigabit LAN
  • Ports 6 x SATA 6Gbps via Intel Z170, 1 x SATA Express, 1 x M.2 PCI-E 3.0 x4 (up to 2280), 1 x USB 3.1 Type-C, 1 x USB 3.1 Type A, 4 x USB 3.0 + 4 x via headers, 4 x USB 2.0 + 4 via headers, 1 x LAN, audio out, line in, mic, Optical S/PDIF out, HDMI 1.4, VGA, DVI-D
  • Dimensions (mm) 305x 244
  • Extras Isolated audio circuitry, steel-plated PCI-E slots, RGB lighting

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