The second half of last year had been a roller coaster of desktop and processor news. Intel launched the Broadwell processors, followed by Nvidia introducing the GTX 980 Ti graphics card into the gaming market. AMD then followed with the Fury X and Fury graphics cards featuring high bandwidth memory, and finally Intel’s Skylake processors burst through the door, along with MSI Z170 gaming motherboards.
I have recently managed to get my hands on the MSI Z170A Gaming M3 motherboard, an entry-level gaming motherboard from MSI.
Let’s start off with the changes from Z97 to Z170 chipset. The most important change on the Z170 is the move to the new socket, LGA 1151, in order to support the Skylake-S CPUs. However, it is not compatible with LGA 1150 processors.
Luckily, the heatsink mounting is still identical. So any heatsink that worked on the 1150 will still work on socket 1151. Along with the change in socket is the addition of support for DDR4 memory. It is faster, allows for twice the density and uses less power than DDR3.
In addition, the connectivity between CPU and chipset has also been upgraded to DMI 3.0, allowing a full 20 PCI-e 3.0 lanes. Most of these lanes will likely go towards features like USB 3.1, onboard WiFi, or Thunderbolt, depending on the motherboard manufacturer.
MSI has done some noticeable aesthetic changes on the MSI Z170A Gaming M3. In terms of presentation, MSI Z170A Gaming M3 has had a complete facelift. There is no more their signature dragon logo in the center of the packaging. Instead, it is replaced with an X motif with the MSI gaming dragon army emblem. The model name is printed in bold making a clear designation of the product.
Taking a closer look at the board, it can be seen that MSI is going deeper with its black and red theme and has employed a sharper design on the heatsinks with angles serving to break the lines for enhanced visual effect.
Almost everything on the PCB is deep black including all the DIMM slots and PCI-e slots. In addition, there is a pseudo-diagram design on the side of the CPU socket. The audio area on the board is still LED lit with the trace pattern but smaller in area now compared to the previous design. MSI also employs an 8-phase VRM in the Z170A Gaming and uses Titanium chokes as part of its Military Class 5 feature set.
In term of performance, I had tested the MSI Z170A Gaming M3 with Cinebench R15, SuperPi 32M and 3DMark Vantage. For real world performance testing, I tried out audio encoding, data compression and image resizing.
For overclocking features, MSI Z170A Gaming M3 has GUI overclocking controls presented in both advanced and easy mode. This allows the controls to be more refined or simpler. With an Intel Core i5-6600k, it managed to hit 4.6Ghz at 1.36V with minimal effort.
For power and temperatures testing, I had used AIDA64 to run the stress test. The MSI Z170A Gaming M3 was left to idle for 30 minutes before readings are taken and load data was taken after the 30-minutes AIDA64 stress test. Power readings were taken for the entire system from the socket. From the result it is clear that the MSI Z170A Gaming M3 shows very good power usage and temperature across the board.
In conclusion, the MSI Z170A Gaming M3 is a very well made motherboard that has a very sturdy feel even though it is entry-level and it does offer all the essentials for gaming. One thing that I would like to highlight is that this board does not offer SLI support which for me is a curious omission as MSI has always been offering that feature on their previous motherboards except the Z97.
However, it still meets all the basics needed including what you’d expect from the Z170 chipset such as m.2 slots, DDR4 support, etc. Together with its high build quality and gaming features like audio amplifier and network traffic management application which help to improve network latency, the MSI Z170A Gaming M3 is a compelling product at its price point.
Verdict: A very well designed gaming motherboard