MSI Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon Review

Written by Antony Leather

January 3, 2017 | 16:58

Tags: #best-kaby-lake-motherboard #best-z270-motherboard #cheapest-kaby-lake-motherboard #kaby-lake #lga1151 #z270

Companies: #msi

MSI Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon Review

Manufacturer: MSI
UK price (as reviewed): Approx £160 (inc VAT)
US price (as reviewed): TBC

MSI Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon ReviewThe starting gun for the Z270 chipset has been fired and there's a whole lot to get through in terms of coverage over the next few months.

However, we're actually pleasantly surprised with what we've seen so far in terms of motherboards, and we haven't even had hands on with ASRock or EVGA yet. The other three major players - Asus, Gigabyte and MSI - sent us several examples of their shiny new Z270 boards, and there are all sorts of improvements.

You can see a roundup covering some of these here, but for now, we're setting off with the the first board to land in our lab - MSI's Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon, and will follow with some superb examples from Asus and Gigabyte in the very near future.

So where exactly does the Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon fit in? Well, at £160 or thereabouts (pricing will be confirmed in a few days, but MSI has given us this figure for now), it's a fair bit more expensive than its Z170 predecessor, which cost just £130 when we looked at it in February last year.

However, we're dealing with a very different animal this time, one which sports a variety of extra features. You get two M.2 ports instead of one, although this does mean you get one less 1x PCI-E 3.0 slot; there's an I/O shield shroud for a cleaner look; and the steel-plating now extends to the DIMM slots as well as the two primary 16x PCI-E 3.0 slots.

MSI Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon Review MSI Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon Review
Click to enlarge

The most obvious addition is a large metal heatsink sitting on top of one of the M.2 ports. Dubbed M.2 Shield, it's present on numerous models from MSI. It can only be attached to that lower port, which is a bit of a shame, but access to the top slot could well be blocked by large CPU coolers anyway. The plate sports a thermal pad on the underside and simply presses down onto the M.2 SSD to act as a heatsink.

MSI Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon Review MSI Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon Review
Click to enlarge

Samsung's latest SSDs - the 960 Evo and 960 Pro, both sport small copper heatsinks underneath their labels, but they still generate a fair amount of heat. Samsung specifies around 300GB of sequential throughput before they start to throttle, not something most of us will encounter, but we were pleased to see that the M.2 Shield did help to cool the SSD by a significant amount - 10°C in fact, as reported by Samsung's own Magician Software and checked in real time in HD Tune. MSI's boards equipped with the heatsink have been the fastest we've tested so far too, albeit only slightly. It's a simple addition, but the results speak for themselves, and it also helps to cover up those unsightly labels most M.2 SSDs come with too.

MSI M.2 Shield - Speed

CrystalDiskMark (Seq Q32T1)

  • M.2 Shield
  • No M.2 Shield
    • 3397
    • 1799
    • 3342
    • 1746
MB/sec (higher is better)
  • Read
  • Write

MSI M.2 Shield - Temperature


  • M.2 Shield
  • No M.2 Shield
    • 53
    • 63
Degrees Celcius (lower is better)
  • Temperature

Like Asus, MSI has ditched U.2 from many of its boards. This definitely makes sense at the lower end of the spectrum - if you're spending less than £200 on a motherboard, chances are you probably didn't opt for one of Intel's pricey U.2 drives last year, and right now a Samsung 960 Evo makes much more sense anyway, starting at around £130 for a 250GB model. SATA Express has been removed from the specifications too, so aside from the two M.2 ports, you get the standard six SATA 6Gbps ports.

MSI Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon Review MSI Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon Review
Click to enlarge

For the same price this time last year, you'd be hard pressed to find a motherboard for a similar price that didn't come equipped with the full complement of overclocking and testing tools, but sadly, prices seem to have risen markedly across the board and not just with MSI. Despite a price tag over £150, you don't get any LED POST code displays or onboard buttons for power or clearing the CMOS, but it's the same deal on Asus and Gigabyte's equivalent boards too.

MSI Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon Review MSI Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon Review
Click to enlarge

You get a 10-phase power delivery and a basic cooling arrangement, while the rear panel is reasonably populated with USB 3.1 (Gen 2) Type-A and Type-C ports, powered by an ASMedia controller, along with HDMI 1.4 and DVI-D ports. You also get four USB 3.0 ports and two USB 2.0 ports, so few should find themselves short here. One of the less talked about new features with Z270 motherboards is that the default audio codec now stands at Realtek ALC1220 - an upgrade from ALC1150, which further cements the idea that you don't really need a discrete audio card unless you're after exceptional audio quality, especially as the latest software allows for easy recording and streaming these days too. Thankfully, the upgrade sees some improvements in performance too, as you can see in our results.

MSI Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon Review
Click to enlarge

MSI's Mystic Light is fairly reserved on the Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon, with just a few select areas benefiting from the RGB lighting. If you want to use your own 4-pin RGB LED strips, then MSI offers a single header on the PCB for these - controllable via its Windows software - plus a Y-cable splitter for controlling two strips from the single header. While Asus nailed the RGB lighting the first time round, MSI and Gigabyte have seemingly tweaked their Z270 boards to allow for more accurate colours, which were lacking last time. No such problems here, though.

MSI Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon Review MSI Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon Review
Click to enlarge

With a lot of benchmark results we've seen pointing to the fact that even with two GTX 1080's in tow, using two slots with eight PCI-E lanes a piece doesn't appear to impact noticeably on frame rates, there's definitely a case for going dual-GPU on a Z270 board. You won't be gaining anything over Z170, of course, but it's nice to see some boards offering double-spacing between the two primary 16x PCI-E slots for better air cooling, as is the case with the Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon

MSI Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon Review
Click to enlarge


  • Chipset Intel Z170
  • Form factor ATX
  • CPU support LGA1151 compatible (Skylake, Kaby Lake)
  • Memory support Dual-channel, 4 slots, max 64GB
  • Sound 8-channel Realtek ALC1220 Codec
  • Networking Intel I219 Gigabit Ethernet
  • Ports Three 16x PCI-E 3.0, Three 1x PCI-E 3.0, 6 x SATA 6Gbps (Intel Z270), 2 x M.2, 1 x USB 3.1 Type-A, 1 x USB 3.1 Type-C, 8 x USB 3.0 (4 x via header), 6 x USB 2.0 (4 x via header), 1 x LAN, 3 x surround audio out, line in, mic, HDMI, DVI
  • Dimensions (mm) 305 x 244
  • ExtrasRGB LED extension cables, isolated audio circuitry, steel-plated PCI-E slots, M.2 heatsink

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