Today we have the MSI Z170 GAMING M3 motherboard in for review. This motherboard represents the entry-level portion of MSI’s all new GAMING series which feature a lot of new stuff that really set them apart from other boards. Funny enough, the MSI Z170A GAMING M3 isn’t really indicative of these new features possessing mostly the basics of what MSI prides as its GAMING solutions. Still, its a well-meant endeavor and its price range serves as an indication MSI isn’t trying too hard to make these boards as premium as possible making them a great option for those looking to save a few bucks on a new motherboard for their Z170 gaming systems.
Supports 6th Gen Intel® Core™ / Pentium® / Celeron® processors for LGA 1151 socket
Supports DDR4-3600+(OC) Memory
DDR4 Boost: Give your DDR4 memory a performance boost
USB 3.1 Gen2 2X FASTER: USB 3.1 Gen2 offers performance twice as fast as a regular USB 3.0 connection
Turbo M.2 32Gb/s + Turbo U.2 ready + USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-A + SATA 6Gb/s
GAMING LAN with LAN Protect, powered by Killer™: The best online gaming experience with lowest latency
Audio Boost 3: Reward your ears with studio grade sound quality
Nahimic Audio Enhancer: Immersive sound quality that pushes the limits of reality
Game Boost: This one goes up to eleven; generate more FPS in games with 1 push of a button
GAMING Hotkey: Launch your favorite games with a single button
OBS Streaming software: Share your gaming achievements with the world!
SteelSeries Certified: Optimized for SteelSeries gaming gear
Military Class 5: The latest evolution in high quality components featuring the brand new Titanium Chokes
Intel has opted to stagger the launch of the Skylake CPUs with the flagship Core i7-6700K and Core i5-6600K unlocked processors debuting at launch together with the Z170 chipset. Further SKUs were released after launch for the lower end of the product stack.
Intel Skylake CPUs presents a new microarchitecture using the 14nm process seen in Broadwell processors. Intel Skylake CPUs will feature improved efficiency numbers and IPC performance together with a new IGP. As with all launch CPUs, these top-end unlocked processors are aimed at enthusiasts and support multiplier overclocking.
Also in the platform is support for DDR4. The new processors fully supports dual-channel DDR4 memory with the new DDR4 modules supporting higher default memory of 2133MHz at only 1.2v. Some motherboard makers may also opt to use DDR3 still as the processor still retain support for that.
The Intel Z170 Chipset
Accompanying the Intel Skylake 6th-gen processors is the new 100-series chipset, codenamed Sunrise Point. As the primary consumer chipset for the 6th-generation Intel Core processors, the 100-series chipset is available in various chipset series from the mainstream H110, H170 and Z170 and the business-class B150, Q150 and Q170. Intel has decided to stagger the release of their Skylake processors which made the release of the other chipset only happen recently. While it’d take an entire post to describe the finer details on the difference of each chipset, to sum it up really quick the chipsets differ in features: with the Z170 offering the most in terms of expansion and support as well as PCI-e lanes with lower model chipsets reducing on what’s offering the business-class ones expanding to include Small Business Basics and Small Business Advantage.
For the most part of what we’re reviewing we’ll take a look at the Z170 chipset, the top-end chipset for desktop and offers the most features and support for multiplier overclocking.
One of the primary changes from Z97 to Z170 is support for a newsocket, the LGA 1151. LGA 1151 supports Intel Skylake CPUs and is not compatible with LGA 1150 processors and vice versa. Mounting holes for the 115x range have remained the same though so your old LGA 1156/1155/1150 will still be compatible with the new LGA 1151 motherboards.
Support for DDR4 memory is also one of the changes that comes with the new chipset. Connectivity between CPU and chipset also utilizes DMI 3.0 allowing a full 20 PCI-e 3.0 lanes which is up to the motherboard maker on how they utilize it.
Closer Look – MSI Z170A GAMING M3
The MSI Z170A GAMING M3 is a complete facelift in terms of presentation. First-off, the packaging now employs a new design with the GAMING dragon no now replaced with an X motiff with the MSI Gaming Dragon army emblem in the center. The model name is printed in bold making a clear designation of the product.
Looking at the board closer we can see MSI going deeper with its black and red theme and has opted for a sharper design on the heatsinks with angles serving to break the lines for visual effect. The PCB is deep black with almost everything in black also including all DIMM slots and PCI-e slots. MSI has caught on the PCB artwork going for a pseudo-diagram design in the side of the CPU socket. The audio area is still LED lit with the trace pattern now a bit more reserved than previous designs with larger areas. MSI employs an 8-phase VRM in the Z170A GAMING and uses Titanium chokes as part of its Military Class 5 feature set.
Maxon offers a nice benchmark tool called Cinebench which really stresses your entire system to render a very complex scene. The output score is completely unique to Cinebench but allows us to have a rough idea of how the CPU works with 3D rendering tasks. We use both the latest version as well as the older release.
wPrime, SuperPI 32M
wPrime is a multi-threaded benchmarking application designed to measure the raw computational power of a CPU. It can be configured to run on a custom number of threads to accomodate multi-core CPUs.
SuperPI is another benchmarking tool that utilizes the pure computational power of a CPU. This test however is purely single-threaded and shows us the performance of a single core which gives us a good picture of how a processor performs on similar tasks.
3DMark 06, 3DMark Vantage
3D Mark06 is a benchmarking software designed to measure the performance of a system in DirectX9 applications. The test has long been updated with newer version of the software for more modern use but the CPU test is still relevant and still gives us a good image of system performance by loading the CPU with logic, path-finding and physics computation tasks.
3DMark Vantage is the successor to 3DMark 06 and is targeted for DirectX10 compliant devices. Similar to our 3DMark 06 test, we only take the CPU scores using the Performance preset.
Performance Testing – Real World
Video Conversion, Audio Encoding
We use a 30-minute 350MB 720p MP4 video and convert it to standard iOS iPhone MP4 format using Xilisoft Video Converter for pure processor conversion. For audio, we convert a 73-minute album (D-Coy – Black Katipunero) into MP3 LAME 160Kbps CBR with dbPowerAmp Batch converter and note the time it takes to rip the disc.
Compression, Image Resizing
We use WinRAR on default settings to compress 3340 files of varying types including MP3s, various images and documents for a total of 3.3GB of data. We resize 3,246 varying images of different formatsand sizes (a total of 883MB) to our standard 1200×900 resolution and note the time it takes to finish up the batch job.
Performance Testing – 3D Benchmarks
3DMark 11, 3DMark Fire Strike
3DMark 11 is the most recent iteration (not counting the version for the upcoming Windows 8) of the popular benchmarking software from Futuremark. For this test we run the Performance preset of the benchmark which comes with the free version of 3DMark 11 which should present a more reproducible scenario for a lot of people.
The latest iteration of the most widely-used benchmarking application in the world gets a reboot of sorts with the latest version just going by the name of 3DMark. This version includes the Fire Strike benchmark which features tons of new implementations to put modern systems through their paces.
Overclocking controls on the MSI Z170A GAMING M3 remain similar to the recent releases: a smooth GUI segments options with the overclocking controls presented in both an advanced and easy mode, allowing controls to be more refined or simple as preferred by the user. We managed to bring our i7-6700K to its peak again with this board with minimal effort and as with most of the boards we’ve tested, we’ve reached 4.6Ghz at 1.35v relatively easy. As we can confirm this is the wall of our processor, we fiddled with the BCLK a bit to give it a bit more boost but it went flaky.
As for BCLK overclocking, we can achieve the same results using BCLK OC with the same settings and with a 132Mhz and a 35Mhz multiplier.
Power & Temperatures
We check to see how motherboard makers tune their default BIOS settings and see how it impacts temperatures and power consumption. The system is left to idle for 30 minutes before readings are taken and load data is taken 30 minutes while AIDA64 stress test is running. Power readings are taken for the entire system from the socket. Power draw for the entire system is captured for this test via an outlet wattmeter and temperatures are recorded via Intel Extreme Tuning app.
The MSI Z170A GAMING M3 shows very good power draw and temps across the board. This is due to a very simple power setup and rather consecutive voltage settings being fed to the processor.
Skylake has been a very weird launch but despite of that, it is still a new platform and will be the one we will have going forward to 2016. As we’ve seen throughout the last generations, motherboard technology has reached the point where all brands can compete evenly in terms of performance and they all bring-out the best of their respective processors. What has been and always be the contention point for components is their feature set, quality and aesthetic. Let’s break it down for the MSI Z170A GAMING M3:
Performance. As we always say, raw boards with little to no extras always do way better in benchmarks than heavily featured boards. That’s not always the case but it has held true in most benchmarks and the MSI Z170 GAMING M3 does put out very good numbers in our benches. Overclocking controls are good and can bring up any processor to good levels as expected.
Build Quality. MSI has certainly come a long way from their shit-brown, mismarketed days of old and have fully embraced black PCBs and have no taken it a step further with some PCB art with their silk-screened prints. While not really necessary, its very well made and the board has a very sturdy feel even for the entry-level offering that it is. While we do wish MSI we would’ve kept everything uniform with its higher tier models like keeping all SATA ports angled and at least one of the PCI-e x16 slots or even both being reinforced using the new metall brace for the PCI-e slots found on the higher Z170 GAMING series from MSI.
Functionality. As its position suggests, the board is the most basic of all gaming boards and offers just a slight sidegrade upgrade from its PRO series counterpart. The MSI Z170A GAMING M3 offers the essentials for gaming and is a good launching point for new gaming system builders that want a good balance of features and price. One thing though is that this board DOES NOT support SLI which is a curious omission as MSI has always offered such a feature on their previous boards except last-generation (Z97.)
Bundle. Quite a basic bundle, the usual extras of stickers and a door hanger.
Value. At $149, the MSI Z170A GAMING M3 sits on a nice spot. Its closest competitor being the GIGABYTE Z170X GAMING 3 (closely named, I know) and the non-ROG ASUS Z170 PRO GAMING. All these boards are relatively close to each other in terms of feature as we’ll discuss later. Going back to the Z170A GAMING M3, its got plenty to brag about.
The MSI Z170A GAMING M3 pretty much takes the balance crown this generation making it the most accessible of most of the Z170 boards aimed at the “gaming” crowd. While there’s really no outright winner amongst its close rivals, it will all boil down to looks and with the MSI Z170A GAMING M3 and ASUS Z170 PRO GAMING looking so much alike, its easy to see why ASUS went a different route with the ROG lineups.
Barring looks, the MSI Z170A GAMING M3 is a capable motherboard with all the essentials you need for a solid gaming build. Its got all the basics nailed down including what you’d expect from the Z170 chipset: m.2 slots, DDR4 support, etc. this together with gaming-oriented features like a amplified audio and gaming-oriented LAN with traffic management amongst others. These features together alongside MSI’s build quality makes a really compelling offer at its price point.
Price / Where to Buy:
US – $149 – MSI Z170A GAMING M3 PH – Php10500
If you’re looking for a Z170 motherboard that covers mainly the essentials of a gaming system, the MSI Z170A GAMING M3 is a top-choice for the budget and mainstream systems.
MSI backs the MSI Z170A GAMING M3 with a 3-year warranty. We give it our B2G Value Award.