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MSI Z170A XPOWER Gaming Titanium Edition Motherboard - Review


by Hilbert Hagedoorn on: 09/01/2015

MSI Z170A XPOWER Gaming Titanium edition motherboard
Like bond - dressed to kill

We review one of the most talked about motherboards when it comes to design, the MSI Z170A XPOWER Gaming Titanium edition. It probably is the most interesting looking motherboard released ever thanks to a new PCB coating. Combined with a few extra's and an overall high class build MSI might have a true winner here. A motherboard that promises to deliver a high amount of features and provide that Skylake processor the full infrastructure is needs for a kick-ass gaming PC. Dressed to kill and with added benefits like USB 3.1, multiple M.2. slots and the fastest DDR4 support the product will shock and awe. These motherboards can (well must) be paired with new Skylake-S series processors. We'll quickly dive into the two most import ones. Skylake Core i5-6600K and Core i7 6700K processors for the desktop platform have been released. We test both processors, yet have separate reviews on each of these processors. A new chip, a new package meaning both of them are Socket 1151. The new series Skylake processors are energy efficient, quite powerful and this need to be paired with a new motherboards series. For you guys that means the Z170 and h170 range. In this review we test the Core i5 6600K. An unlocked Skylake processor that has four cores and slim a 92W TDP,that is lower compared to Haswell with its 95W TDP, thanks to the new and smaller 14nm fabrication process. The quad core CPU has 8 MB L3 cache, and an integrated memory controller that supports both DDR4 and DDR3 memory. The Z170 and H170 series motherboards will all be offered with DDR4 though. For the gaming community two processors are the most important. The Core i7 6700K has Four CPU cores with Hyper-Threading, 4.0GHz frequency, 4.20GHz maximum Turbo Boost frequency. Then there is the Core i5 6600K with four cores, 3.50GHz frequency and a 3.90GHz maximum Turbo Boost frequency, both based on the new LGA1151 socket package. Skylake is the code-name used by Intel for the 14nm processor micro-architecture under development and is the successor to the Broadwell architecture. 

So then, the MSI Z170A XPOWER Gaming Titanium edition motherboard, it certainly is a mouth full of words, but when you see it for the very first time, trust me you will be pleasantly surprized as it is a very feature rich product that will look terrific in any DIY PC build thanks to the new Titanium color PCB coating. PCB coating is a fairly new technology and a trend which you will see in the upcoming years on many products.
The motherboard features, performance and aesthetics matter to you then the MSI Z170A XPOWER Gaming Titanium edition might just be what the doctor ordered for you. A Titanium colored PCB with shielding and light accents. Features wise you may expect quadruple PCI-Express 3.0 ports, 8-channel Audio Boost 3 audio solution, the usual quality components and a Gigabit/s Ethernet jack. Then you will spot USB 3.1, not one but M.2. slots. meaning if you put two M.2. SSDs in RAID you can boost up-to 64 Gbps of bandwidth. Also included is an OC featured PCB you can mount outside on the chassis or test-bench, called the MSI OC Dashboard. Anyway, we'll show it all in detail of course. Have a peek at what we review today and then head on-wards into the review.

Product Showcase

The MSI Z170A XPOWER Gaming Ti follows a standard form factor (30.5x24.4cm). The motherboard is located in the XPOWER Gaming range and is a high-end product within this new Skylake desktop processor range. 

Check it out first, nice huh ? Included with the motherboard are the regulars including; manuals, driver CDs, SATA cables and a rear IO plate. It also has a couple of new features which we'll talk about in-depth in this review.

  • CPU support: Skylake-S class Intel Core processors
  • Chipset: Intel Z170 Chipset
  • 1x Gigabit Ethernet (Intel)
  • Storage: 
    • 8x SATA 6Gb/s Intel
    • 2x M.2, PCIe 32 Gb/s and shared SATA Express ports x2
    • 2x Sata Express also called SATAe
  • Connectivity: 
    • 4x PCI-E 3.0 x16  (single at x16 / dual at x8 / tripple at x8 - x8 - x4 / quad at x8/x4/x4/x4)
    • 3x PCI-E 3.0 x1
  • USB 3.0 / 3.1 
  • 8-channel Audio ALC1150 Realtek

Included in the bundle is one interesting looking motherboard and gear like SATA cables, SLI connectors and so on. Nifty is the OC dashboard, a small OC panel PCB you can place outside the chassis

The I/O back panel reveals 3.1/3.0/2.0 ports. A Realtek ALC1150 high definition audio codec is the main source for audio. The audio unit has special noise reducing capacitors and EMI shielding. You will spot one 10/100/1000  Gigabit Ethernet jack (Intel). Included is a PS/2 combo port for either a keyboard or a mouse, optical SPDIF out port and five audio jacks. If you plan to use the integrated IGP of the processor, you can make use of a DP or one of two HDMI connectors. The button to the left is a clear CMOS button. This motherboard unfortunately this motherboard does not come with a WIFI solution.

The board has 4 x PCIe 3.0 x16 slots which can be arranged in these slot configurations with graphics cards:
  • 1-way mode - x16 / x0 / x0 
  • 2-way mode - x8 / x8 / x0
  • 3-way mode - x8 / x8 / x4
  • 3-way mode - x8 / x4 / x4 / x4
As you can see these are PCI Express Gen 3.0 configurations, that's plenty for regular graphics card setups up-to even 4-way SLI/Crossfire. 

The motherboard comes with an 8-pin power connector and if you want to use it, another 4-pin as well. You'll get four DIMM slots that can be used for up-to 64GB of dual-channel memory. We use a new 3200 MHz kit from G.skill which we'll feature in detail in this review.

Back Panel I/O Ports
  • 1 x PS/2 keyboard/ mouse combo port
  • 3 x USB 2.0 ports
  •   * 1 x HOTKEY port
  •   * 1 x BIOS FLASHBACK+ port
  • 1 x Clear CMOS button
  • 2 x HDMI ports
  • 1 x DisplayPort
  • 2 x USB 3.1 Gen2 ports
  • 4 x USB 3.1 Gen1 ports
  • 1 x LAN (RJ45) port
  • 1 x Optical S/PDIF OUT connector
  • 5 x OFC audio jacks

And yes, even the backside has that Ti coloring going on. Here you can also clearly see an audio LED (red) trace running upwards.

The Z170 chipset will bring eight Intel chipset based SATA 6 Gb/s storage ports to the motherboard. Combined in here are two SATA Express (SATAe) ports. The board has two M.2. PCI Express slots using x4 lanes, giving the port not 10 GB/sec but 32 GB/sec performance. There are plenty USB 3.0 and 3.1 ports available though internal connectors motherboard connectors. BTW the industry calls USB 3.0 USB 3.1 Gen 1 these days, a little misleading TBH. USB 3.1 Gen 2 would be the new and proper 10 Gbps connectors

You will get four DIMM slots offer support for dual-channel DDR4 memory up to even 3600 MHz (OC). if you activate the XMP 2.0 profile in the BIOS, your memory will be automatically configured for you at its maximum clock speed and recommended voltage.  You can install a maximum of 64 GB in total. Again, XMP 2.0 must be supported, we'll show you this setup running at 2133 and 3200 MHz later on in the article.

Overall a terrific design really, aesthetically pleasing to the eyes as well. MSI applied their Military Class V components on the motherboard with updated DrMOS MosFETs and aluminum colored dark caps that are not only going to increase the motherboards lifespan, they look magnificent on this motherboard as well.  The board has a dual-bios, if you screw up an update or whatever, flick a micro-switch on the PCB and you will be booting again from your fail-save BIOS. A LED on the PCB will indicate which BIOS is active. MSI offers a Realtek ALC 1150 based multi-channel audio solution on this motherboard, it further enhances on that IC with improved component selection and a nifty software suite. New Audio Boost 3.  included is Nahimic, a sound quality enhancing DSP. All analog jacks feature gold-plating. 

Hard to spot with the Ti PCB, but to the left you can find a Diagnostic post LED, it will display the status/post code. Once you have booted into Windows it will display the package temperature of your processor. The board also has buttons for reset / power and a number of micro-switches.

There is a new HUGE big rotatable button slash knob. This is an interesting one and is called the Game Boost Knob. The know allows you to manually select a stage from 0 to 11 for overclocking your processor. So increasing this know will increase the processor frequency and the cool thing is, the voltage will be automatically adjusted as well. You power off the PC, rotate the know to your preference and then start the PC.
8x SATA 6Gb/s ports*
• 2x M.2 ports
- Supports PCIe 3.0 x4 and SATA 6Gb/s standards, 4.2cm/ 6cm/ 8cm length M.2 SSD cards
- Supports PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe Mini-SAS SSD with Turbo U.2 Host Card**

• 2x SATAe ports (PCIe 3.0 x2)***
• Supports Intel® Smart Response Technology for Intel Core™ processors

* M.2, SATA and SATAe ports maximum support 1x M.2 SSDs + 6x SATAs or 2xM.2 SSDs + 1xSATAe HDD + 2xSATA HDDs.
** The Turbo U.2 Host Card is not included, please purchase separately.
*** SATAe port is backward compatible with SATA.
The EMI shielded audio solution is based on the Realtek ALC1150 Codec with 7.1-Channel High Definition Audio and support for S/PDIF output combined with Audio Boost 3 and a Nahimic Audio Enhancer. 
Check that chipset heatsink, pretty cool design. Next to it to the left you can spot two M.2. slots and also take not of the metal cover on the two primary x16 PCI-Express slots. It provides a more sturdy and stronger slot, handy for very heavy graphics cards.

As mentioned you can use just the one 8-pin connector to power that processor of yours, but for a little extra boom-boom-pow in the voltage circuitry, you can add the 4-pin connector as well.

To the lower middle in the photo you can see the voltage monitoring points for use with a digital multi-meter. The connector left from it is used for the OC dashboard.

Here you can see the OC Dashboard, it is way more handy then I expected it to be. You can use it for basic functions like power on /off / reset etc, but also a firmware discharge and on the fly overclocking and have quick access booting into BIOS mode (yes ! no more holding that DEL key).

Here you can spot the diagnostic POST LED a bit better, once you have booted into Windows it'll display the package temperature of yourprocessor. As you can see there are also PEG switches available, you can disable the three primary PCI-Express slots, a feature commonly used when overclocking with LN2. Also notice the red LED lit audio circuitry isolation, it adds a very nice aesthetic effect to the motherboard when powered on. Below a few more photos with the product powered on:

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MSI Z170A XPOWER Gaming Titanium Edition Motherboard Review - Continued

The Skylake Architecture

We'll address some key aspects and a technical overview of the technology and architecture first. Chances are good that you already have learned about this information over time. Right lets step back a few generations and start at Sandy Bridge at 32nm. Sandy Bridge really was a completely new architecture, its successor Ivy Bridge did share a lot of common denominators. When we look at Sandy versus Ivy Bridge, the foremost complicating factor was moving the architecture towards a smaller production node; Ivy Bridge is a 22 nm processor series. Haswell then, is a 22 nm product yet based on a FinFET process that uses a non-planar transistor that sits around the gate on three sides. Built using a 22 nm process, Haswell is the "tick" in Intel's "tick-tock" development cycle, so Ivy Bridge was just a process size shrink from Sandy Bridge's 32 nm to 22 nm.
Then a jump to 14nm, Broadwell is a Tick in the release schedule to be followed by a Tock, Skylake. For Skylake several things changed, an increasingly more powerful graphics engine and that fabrication shrink at the 14nm node, this allows for an even more power friendlyprocessor. The 5th generation processors there will of course be a distinction per processor segment (i3/i5/i7). What you get in terms of features and what you need to remember limitation wise:
  • Desktop Core i7 processors have four cores / eight hyper-threads / Up to 8 MB L3 cache
  • Desktop Core i5 processors have four cores / NO hyper-threading / Up to 6 MB L3 cache
  • Desktop Core i3 processors have two cores (unannounced)
All models will come with the latest revision turbo mode but only the Core i7 series will be capable of handling multiple independent software threads per core, also known as hyper-threading. It's a feature we like very much as it really helps out on peak performance by allowing a processor to execute two different code streams at pretty much the same time. 
Microarchitecture CPU series Tick or Tock Fab node Year Released
Presler/Cedar Mill Pentium 4 / D Tick 65 nm 2006
Conroe/Merom Core 2 Duo/Quad Tock 65 nm 2006
Penryn Core 2 Duo/Quad Tick 45 nm 2007
Nehalem Core i Tock 45 nm 2008
Westmere Core i Tick 32 nm 2010
Sandy Bridge Core i 2xxx Tock 32 nm 2011
Ivy Bridge Core i 3xxx Tick 22 nm 2012
Haswell Core i 4xxx Tock 22 nm 2013
Broadwell Core i 5xxx Tick 14 nm 2014 & 2015 for desktops
Skylake Core i 6xxx Tock 14 nm 2015
Kabylake  Core i 7xxx Tock 14 nm 2016
Cannonlake Core i 8xxx? Tick 10 nm 2017

A lot of processors will be based on Skylake, the desktop side are actually the Skylake-S series, Skylake-Y series would power the Core M based processors for ultra low TDP devices, Skylake-U processors will be mainstream mobility devices and Skylake-H series are the high-end, performance focused mobility chips that will include both regular HQ variants along with Xeon processors for consumers demanding extra workstation capabilities on developer notebooks. But we focus on desktop, lets have a closer look.

Core Core i5-6600K and i7-6700K
Both models are quad-core processors based on the afore mentioned Skylake architecture and supersedes the Core i7-4770 / 4790 processor range (in design). The Core i7 model has hyper-threading and your OS will see it as an 8-core products. The CPU has 1 MB L2 cache (256 kB per physical core). Then there is a 8MB shared L3 cache. The integrated memory controller remains dual-channel, officially supporting up-to 2133 MHz, but we all know how high these puppies can clock.  The TDP for this processor is 65 Watt. The Core i5 model is fairly similar product, yet clocked a notch slower at a 3.5 GHz base clock and 3.9 Turbo allowance. This processor as stated does not have hyper-threading. Also it has slightly less L3 cache at its disposal, 6 MB.

Core i7 6700K - 4 cores and Hyper-Threading, 4.0GHz frequency, 4.20GHz maximum Turbo Boost frequency, 8MB last-level cache, dual-channel DDR3/DDR4 memory controller with 1600MHz or 2133MHz support, Intel HD Graphics 5000-series integrated graphics core, LGA1151 packaging

Core i5 6600K - 4 cores, 3.50GHz frequency, 3.90GHz maximum Turbo Boost frequency, 6MB last-level cache, dual-channel DDR3/DDR4 memory controller with 1600MHz or 2133MHz support, Intel HD Graphics 5000-series integrated graphics core, LGA1151 packaging;

There will be more varyants available though:
Intel Skylake Desktop Processors Lineup
Model Process Cores Core Clock Boost Clock Cache Memory Support TDP Socket Unlocked Design
Core i7-6700K 14nm 4/8 4.0 GHz 4.2 GHz 8 MB DDR4 2133 MHz 95W LGA 1151 Yes
Core i5-6600K 14nm 4/4 3.5 GHz 3.9 GHz 6 MB DDR4 2133 MHz 95W LGA 1151 Yes
Core i7-6700 14nm 4/8 3.4 GHz 4.0 GHz 8 MB DDR4 2133 MHz 65W LGA 1151 No
Core i5-6600 14nm 4/4 3.3 GHz 3.9 GHz 6 MB DDR4 2133 MHz 65W LGA 1151 No
Core i5-6500 14nm 4/4 3.2 GHz 3.6 GHz 6 MB DDR4 2133 MHz 65W LGA 1151 No
Core i5-6400 14nm 4/4 2.7 GHz 3.3 GHz 6 MB DDR4 2133 MHz 65W LGA 1151 No
Core i7-6700T 14nm 4/8 2.8 GHz 3.6 GHz 8 MB DDR4 2133 MHz 35W LGA 1151 No
Core i5-6600T 14nm 4/4 2.7 GHz 3.5 GHz 6 MB DDR4 2133 MHz 35W LGA 1151 No
Core i5-6500T 14nm 4/4 2.5 GHz 3.1 GHz 6 MB DDR4 2133 MHz 35W LGA 1151 No
Core i5-6400T 14nm 4/4 2.2 GHz 2.8 GHz 6 MB DDR4 2133 MHz 35W LGA 1151 No
The Skylake cache memory consists of a 32 KB L1 Data cache, 32 KB Instruction cache (= 64 KB L1) and then we spot a 256 KB L2 cache per core (1MB total) and then there's a L3 cache that is shared in-between the CPU cores which is 8 MB in total for the Core i7 processors and 6 MB for the Core i5 series. The L3 cache sits in the physical form of a ringbus. Thus the L3 cache can be used by the processor cores and also the graphics core. You can house the new Skylake processors on motherboards with the H170 and Z170 chipset, later on other business orented chipsets will be introduced as well. So no, the H97/Z97 chipset is not compatioble ! For end consumers like you and me the H series chipset is less performance targeted and comes with better support for HTPC monitor connectivity. The Zseries chipset is targeted at performance and enthusiast end users allowing much more tweaking and providing performance features. It also brings USB 3.1, SATA Express and PCIe M.2 SSD connectivity to the platform. 

CPU Core i7-5775C Core i5-5675C Core i7-6700K Core i5-6600K Core i7-4790K Core i7-4770K
Codename Broadwell Broadwell Skylake Skylake Haswell Haswell
Package LGA1150 LGA1150 LGA1151 LGA1151 LGA1150 LGA1150
Cores/threads 4/8 4/4 4/8 4/4 4/8 4/8
Frequency(GHz) 3.3-3.7 3.1-3.6 4.0-4.2 3.5-3.9 4.0-4.4 3.5-3.9
memory DDR3-1600 DDR3-1600 DDR4-2133 DDR4-2133 DDR3-1600 DDR3-1600
IGP Iris Pro 6200 Iris Pro 6200 Intel HD 530 Intel HD 530 Intel HD 4600 Intel HD 4600
L3 Cache 6MB 4MB 8MB 6MB 8MB 8MB
Fab 14nm 14nm 14nm 14nm 22nm 22nm
Unlocked multiplier Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
TDP 65W 65W 92W 92W 84W 95W
PCH - The Platform Controller Hub Chipsets

With the Skylake for desktop processors comes yet again a new motherboard chipset. You cannot stick to the Series 9 Chipset from Intel. For end consumers like you and me the H170 chipset will be less performance targeted and comes with better support for HTPC monitor connectivity. The Z170 chipset is, however, targeted at mainstream performance and enthusiast end users allowing much more tweaking and providing performance features.

Z170 offers a wider range of features, you will see support for up-to six SATA3 devices, support for M.2, U2 but also USB 3.1 is going to be a common thing you will see with these motherboards. Z170 will be the platform used by you guys, you can expect PCI Express 3.0 with 16 links controlled by the processor and another 8 to 4 links through the PCH. Interesting to know is that the processor will drive 16 PCI-Express gen 3.0 lanes and then the PCH will drive another 20 PCI-Express gen 3.0 lanes. So your SATA / M.2 devices will not hog valuable PCI-Express lanes from the processor for graphics.

Next to the increase in PCI-Express lanes (16+20) a pretty big thing is DDR4 memory support, albeit that is linked through the processor's memory controllers, not the PCH. Later this year we expect the B150, Q150 and H110 business and value chipsets as well.

PCIe Lanes

With PCIe Gen 3.0, compatible processors and platforms can feature 16 PCIe 3.0 lanes to be used for graphics and/or other add-in PCI cards. All desktop chipsets have a single PCIe x16 device, the Z97 chipset added the option to use two devices at x8. Simply put, PCI-Express Gen 3 provides a 2x faster transfer rate than the previous generation, this delivers capabilities for next generation extreme gaming solutions. PCI-Express Gen 3 has twice the available bandwidth, 32 GB/s, improved efficiency and compatibility and as such it will offer better performance for current and next gen PCI-Express cards. Going from PCIe Gen 2 to Gen 3 doubles the bandwidth available to the add-on cards installed, from 500 MB/s per lane to 1 GB/s per lane. So a Gen 3 PCI-Express x16 slot is capable of offering 16 GB/s (or 128 Gbit/s) of bandwidth in each direction. That results in 32 GB/sec bi-directional bandwidth. Obviously the hardware you use needs to be compatible

M.2 Storage Units

I am still pretty excited about PCIe M.2 storage as I have checked out what it can do. Most Z97/Z170 and newer motherboards will likely all have that cute and tiny M.2 PCIe interface. That brings small form factor add-in SSDs to our desktop PC platform. There is an abbreviation for that, NGFF (Next Generation Form Factor). It is not just that though, SATA3 has not been amongst us for that long, but the SSDs evolved in a very fast manner, making SATA3 already a bottleneck for current generation SSDs. M.2 PCIe links directly to your PCIe lanes and as such, it is an interface with much more available bandwidth. At a cool 10 Gbps PCI-Express based M.2 has roughly 67% more bandwidth available opposed to SATA3 (6 Gbps). Next to that, all motherboard manufacturers now offer x4 links, generating 32 Gbit/s connectivity. So that will definitely kick off a new SSD race. You can expect performance in the 700 MB/sec up-to 3000MB/sec range with these products. 

SuperSpeed+ USB

USB 3.0 (also known as SuperSpeed USB) has a maximum bandwidth rate of 5 gbps (gigabits per second). That would be 625 MBps (megabytes per second), ten times faster than USB 2.0 (aka Hi-Speed USB). USB 3.1 (now known as SuperSpeed+ USB) however once again doubles the numbers and jumps from 5 towards 10 Gbps. On the now slowly accustomed USB 3.0 SuperSpeed interface you will pretty much be maxing out in the 400 to 450 MB/sec threshold due to a lot of factors. With USB 3.1 you could hover in the 700 Mb/sec range if you have a storage device that supports USB 3.1 though, as that obviously is a requirement. USB 3.0 was called SuperSpeed USB, and SuperSpeed+ USB will be the name for USB 3.1.


This one is simple, ALL USB solutions are backwards compatible, meaning you can use USB 1.x, 2.0 and 3.0 on this USB 3.1 interface just as well. Below, we placed the specifications between USB standards in a chart.
  USB 1.x USB 2.0 USB 3.0 / 3.1 gen 1 USB 3.1 gen 2
Branding Full Speed Hi-Speed SuperSpeed SuperSpeed+
Bandwith 12 Mbps 480 Mbps 5.0 Gbps 10.0 Gbps
Encoding 8b/10b 8b/10b 8b/10b 128b/132b
Data speed 1,2 MB/s 48 MB/s 625 MB/s 1250 MB/s

The C-type connector

There are several types of USB connectors, normal and mini sized. With Usb 3.1 there is a new reversible connector, this is called the USB Type-C connector. And while it unfortunately is yet another USB cable, this one is good though.

Interesting is that you can flip the connector 180-degrees and you can still insert it so there is no up or downside to the connector, you just plug it in. In blue, to the bottom of the photo you can see your normal Type-A USB 3.0 connector, above it with the rounded edges, the new mini Type-C USB 3.1 connector. It looks quite a bit like the Micro USB Type-B connector (left) commonly used with SmartPhones.

LGA 1151 - The CPU Socket

With Sandy Bridge we moved to socket LGA 1155 and for Ivy Bridge we kept that socket. Haswell and Broadwell fit onto socket LGA 1150. Now for Skylake there is one more pin in use, socket 1151 is the new socket to use. As such, you'll be required to purchase a new motherboard. The good news is that the cooler pins are similar to 1150/1155/1156 so you can re-use your cooler so you do not need to purchase a new CPU cooler.


Much like many motherboard manufacturers, you will get the new UEFI BIOS. The EFI BIOS is an Extensible Firmware Interface that complies with uEFI architecture, offering a user-friendly interface that goes beyond traditional keyboard-only BIOS controls to enable a way more flexible and convenient mouse input at BIOS level. The screenshots are of the uEFI BIOS feature, and yes it is as impressive as it looks. Above we are flashing the BIOS in that GUI. Admittedly that's a massive improvement over the classic BIOS alright.
We had some problems making screenshots with the Ti board, so the screenshots below are from the M7 which has 99% the same BIOS.

CPU-Z Screenshots & System
Here we have CPU-Z screenshots of the processor in the motherboard we used today, let's have a look. So, that's all looking alright, indeed a 8MB L3 cache. If interested, you can download CPU-Z here

Power Consumption

In an IDLE state, a PC (Z170 / processor / memory / GeForce GTX 780 Ti / SSD) consumes just under 40 Watts. This number depends and will vary per motherboard (added ICs/controllers/wifi/bluetooth) and PSU (efficiency). Keep in mind that we measure the ENTIRE PC, not just the processor's power consumption. Your average PC can differ from our numbers if you add optical drives, HDDs, soundcards etc.
Based on just an IGP thus no dedicated graphics card installed, we idle at 37 Watts and max out at roughly 106 Watts (no graphics card has been installed in that condition).

The above measurement is without a graphics card, thus IGP only. I want to make it very clear that power consumption measurements will differ per PC and setup. Your attached components use power but your motherboard can also have additional ICs installed like an audio controller, 3rd party chips, network controllers, extra SATA controllers, extra USB controllers, and so on. These parts all consume power, so these results are a subjective indication. Next to that, we stress all CPU cores 100% and thus show a peak power consumption. Unless you transcode video with the right software your average power consumption will be much lower.

Overall temperatures are OK, we are using Corsair H110 LCS cooling setup

Hardware & Software Used

We now begin the benchmark portion of this article, but first let me show you our test system plus the softwarewe used.
MSI Z170A XPOWER GAMING Titanium edition
Intel Core i7-6700K (ES Skylake)

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MSI Z170A XPOWER Gaming Titanium Edition Motherboard Review - Continued

Graphics Cards

GeForce GTX 780 Ti - Review
2x4 GB DDR4 2133 MHz (default) and 3200 MHz XMP tested
Power Supply Unit
1200 Watt Platinum Certified Corsair AX1200i - Review
Dell 3007WFP - QHD up to 2560x1600
ASUS PQ321 native 4K UHD Monitor  at 3840 x 2160 - Review
OS related Software
Windows 8.1 (latest patches & updates installed) 
DirectX 9/10/11 latest End User Runtime  (Download)
Nvidia GeForce driver 337.61 (Download)
Software benchmark suite
SiSoft Sandra
3DMark Vantage
3DMark 2013
Cyberlink MediaEspresso
CineBENCH 11.5
Tomb Raider
BioShock Infinite 

A Word About "FPS"
What are we looking for in gaming, performance wise? First off, obviously Guru3D tends to think that all games should be played at the best image quality (IQ) possible. There's a dilemma though, IQ often interferes with the performance of a graphics card. We measure this in FPS, the number of frames a graphics card can render per second, the higher it is the more fluently your game will display itself.
A game's frames per second (FPS) is a measured average of a series of tests. That test is often a time demo, a recorded part of the game which is a 1:1 representation of the actual game and its gameplay experience. After forcing the same image quality settings; this time-demo is then used for all graphics cards so that the actual measuring is as objective as can be.
Frames per second Gameplay
<30 FPS very limited gameplay
30-40 FPS average yet very playable
40-60 FPS good gameplay
>60 FPS best possible gameplay
  • So if a graphics card barely manages less than 30 FPS, then the game is not very playable, we want to avoid that at all cost.
  • With 30 FPS up-to roughly 40 FPS you'll be very able to play the game with perhaps a tiny stutter at certain graphically intensive parts. Overall a very enjoyable experience. Match the best possible resolution to this result and you'll have the best possible rendering quality versus resolution, hey you want both of them to be as high as possible.
  • When a graphics card is doing 60 FPS on average or higher then you can rest assured that the game will likely play extremely smoothly at every point in the game, turn on every possible in-game IQ setting.
  • Over 100 FPS? You either have a MONSTER graphics card or a very old game.

Monitor Setup

Before playing games, setting up your monitor's contrast & brightness levels is a very important thing to do. I realized recently that a lot of you guys have set up your monitor improperly. How do we know this? Because we receive a couple of emails every now and then telling us that a reader can't distinguish between the benchmark charts (colors) in our reviews. We realized, if that happens, your monitor is not properly set up.

Looking at the above graph, what are you looking for?
  • Top bar - This simple test pattern is evenly spaced from 0 to 255 brightness levels, with no profile embedded. If your monitor is correctly set up, you should be able to distinguish each step, and each step should be visually distinct from its neighbors by the same amount. Also, the dark-end step differences should be about the same as the light-end step differences. Finally, the first step should be completely black.
  • The three lower blocks - The far left box is a black box with in the middle a little box a tint lower then black. The middle box is a lined square with a central grey square. The far right white box has a smaller "grey" box that should barely be visible.
You should be able to distinguish all small differences, only then you monitor is setup properly contrast and saturation wise.

Processor performance: CineBench 11.5

CINEBENCH is a real-world cross platform test suite that evaluates your computer's performance capabilities. CINEBENCH is based on MAXON's animation software CINEMA 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation. MAXON software has been used in blockbuster movies such as Spider-Man, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia and many more. This test scenario uses all of your system's processing power to render a photorealistic 3D scene (from the viral "No Keyframes" animation by AixSponza). This scene makes use of various different algorithms to stress all available processor cores.

The Cinema 4D engine can use systems with up to 64 processor threads which makes it rather future proof and also excellent for multi-core processors. The test scene contains approximately 2,000 objects containing more than 300,000 total polygons and uses sharp and blurred reflections, area lights and shadows, procedural shaders, antialiasing, and much more. The result is given in points. The higher the number, the faster the processor. In these charts we show you several CPUs and platforms. So the MSI XPower Ti motherboard is being tested with a Core i7 6700K.

Processor Performance: FryRender

FryRender is a benchmarking framework for everyone, not just for 3D users; anyone out there, from hardware integrators or hardware reviewers to die-hard gamers. Since its conception, FryRender has been designed with the aim of being the most muscled engine in its category. As a result, and after several years of intense development, FryRender's core doesn't let a single CPU cycle be wasted. Its routines have been written to be cache efficient, and to take the maximum advantage possible of the new multi-threading capabilities present in modern CPU architectures.

Being a highly-optimized and extremely math-intensive application (mostly in floating-point) which makes a very efficient use of the system's cache, we think that FryRender is the near perfect tool for measuring "how much brute computational power" a computer is able to deliver. BTW we are testing at reference 2133 MHz DDR4 memory speeds, however we also have some 3200 MHz DDR4 memory kits at hand. In the memory section I'll show you that. But Fryrender does a LOT of stuff in memory, as such this is an excellent showcase of what the increase to 3200 MHz memory can do and mean. 

Performance Processor: MediaShow Espresso

MediaShow Espresso, the cool thing about this video transcoder is that it can utilize the GPU to assist it with the transcoding process. However, you can also solely use the CPU, making this a very interesting benchmark as you can check out behavior of CPU transcoding AND GPU transcoding all in one test. Mind you that hardware accelerating like AVX and GPU, OpenCL have been disabled for this test. This is pure unadulterated CPU performance.

Above, you can find the results of this new test. In this test we transcode a 200 MB AVCHD 1920x1080i media file to a 1280x720P MP4 binary (YouTube format). This measurement is in seconds needed for the process, thus lower = better. BTW HW encoding through the AVX instruction set has been improved, if you look at the top result, yeah .. that matters alright !

Video Transcoding: H.264 (DTS5.1) to x.264 AC3 5.1
Video transcoding is well suited for systems that have more CPU cores. Encoding/transcoding to x.264 format is one of the most intensive tasks a processor can perform. As such this is one of the better tests in the entire review. We encode a h.264 DTS 1080P trailer of 150 MB to Matroska x.264 with 5.1 channels AC3. It's compressed in such a way that you can play it back with Haali media splitter and/or FFDSHOW codecs. We use the Handbrake software suite which is multi-core aware... the more processor cores it sees, the faster it can and will transcode. This software is also a wonderful benchmark for CPU and memory testing.

The displayed number is the number of frames rendered per second averaged out over the encoding process. The higher the number, the faster the performance is. It's exactly in applications like these where processors with more cores really shine as they are all utilized to the maximum.

Performance Processor: 3DMark 06 CPU Test

3DMark Vantage has a standalone CPU test. It's multi-core and multi-threading aware, up-to 16 threads. We'll look at the overall P score in the game segment of this article as well of course.

Performance System Memory: Memory Read Test

So for memory we had some good stuff to work with, Intel has a couple of certified partners for memory to get some sweet XMP profiles going. We test memory at the default rated max Intel spec at 2133 MHz for DDR4.

What you will notice are pretty far our dual-channel read and write numbers. You are basically hovering over the 31GB/sec range. Things however will get even more crazy, behold the coolness below. G.Skill for example send out a DDR4 memory kit rated at 3200 MHz. That my friends is configured by enabling XMP in the BIOS, and that's it. All of the sudden, the numbers will chance dramatically:

Above - Default clock frequency on CPU / 3200 MHz on DDR4
So if you like to go a little more crazy, purchase some nice compatible faster XMP ready memory and enable that XMP profile in the BIOS. Faster memory is relative though, your overall PC experience will not be much faster, yet memory intensive applications like say transcoding or a CPU limited game that where you will see little gains. Every bit helps right ?
Let's chart it up:

Now with the regular memory at 2133 MHz versus AIDA memory tests we see good performance hovering at the 31K marker, and with a 3200 MHz kit, you are way over 43K.

Memory Write Test

We did the same with the memory write tests. The Write perf jumps to 32K at 2133 MHz and ~49K at 3200 MHz. G.Skill Ripjaws V DDR4 kits gents, enable XMP and you are good to go. 

Performance System Memory: DDR4 2133 and 3200 MHz

On this page I wanted to show you a couple of benchmarks indicating what happens when you use memory at its default 2133 MHz, of of you purchase an expensive say 3200 MHz XMP kit and use that.

XMP 2.0 memory is very easy, in the BIOS you activate the XMP profile and boom, your processor will remain at its defaults yet the memory runs much faster. History has shown that faster clocked memory doesn't help much in overall performance like CPU intensive applications and gaming. However with applications that do a lot in memory, that where it might make a big difference. These would be video transcoding applications etc.
Have a look at a few examples we made. Mind you that these are generic results from a Core i7 6700K and a Z170 motherboard showing the effect overall. So these numbers below are not measured with the specific motherboard.

Performance Storage Subsystem - USB 3.0

With the modern age controllers we started adding SSD performance numbers measured on such interfaces (when applicable). Putting these in nicely styled charts would be better, but with technology so new we just do not have anything out there yet to compare to, so here are some raw peak performance numbers. 

Above you can see the Corsair Flash Voyager GTX 128GB USB 3.0 flash drive with today's tested motherboard. It is one of the fastest USB 3.0 sticks available on the market and makes USB 2.0 at 25~30 MB/sec look rather pale in comparison.

SATA 6 Gbps performance

Intel offers a grand total of eight SATA3 (6Gbps) ports with their Z170 chipset, and we think that is just excellent. Below we show SATA3 6 Gbps (BIOS at AHCI mode) performance with a SATA3 SSD. 

Above the SATA3 (6Gbps) Intel controller. AHCI mode is enabled in the BIOS, especially with SSDs that helps a little on peak performance. The native Intel SATA3 (6 Gbps controllers) are the fastest your money can get you really. The latest AMD Series 8 and 9 chipsets also offer really good performance.

M.2 PCI-E SSD Storage Performance

Aside from its naming I am pretty stoked about M.2 as I have checked out what it can do and immediately got excited. I think M.2 will be wider adopted than SATA Express this year because it is easy, handy, transferable to any M.2 ready PC and it doesn't need complex RAID setups. That brings small form factors add-in SSDs to our PC platform at blazing fast speeds. There is an abbreviation for that, NGFF (Next Generation Form Factor). It is not just that though, SATA3 has not been amongst us for that long, but the SSDs evolved in a very fast manner, making SATA3 already a bottleneck for current generation SSDs as SATA3 SSDs end at roughly 570 MB/sec in terms of read/write performance. 

Above the M.2. SSD being seated onto the M.2. Slot
M.2 PCI-E SSDs are merely small form factor SSDs that communicate over your PCI Express lanes, giving it 10 Gbps of bandwidth, eliminating SATA3 bottlenecks. The cool thing with this motherboard is that is gets increased bandwith to 32 Gbps by using a x4 PCI-Express links provided by the chipset. The M6e combines the latest generation Marvell 88SS9183 dual-core server-grade controller and carefully selected synchronous Toshiba Toggle NAND flash.

M.2 PCI-E links directly to your PCI-E lanes and as such, it is an interface with much more available bandwidth. You can expect performancein the 700 MB/sec range with these products. We ran some tests with a Plextor M6 M.2 SSD unit. This specific product can handle a maximum sustained data read speed is well over 700 MB/s and the top write speed is of 550 MB/s. 

Game performance with the integrated GPU

For CPU and motherboards review we have added new additions in IGP performance, 720P and 1080P for the integrated GPU (iGPU) as well measured on a dedicated graphics card (dGPU), GeForce GTX 780 Ti. This page shows iGPU results, thus the graphics processor that resides in your Intel processor.

We test at medium quality settings since we test integrated graphics, but look at that. Intel is moving forward on their IGPs. Skylake makes use of the Intel 530 series IGPs.

The IGP on the Intel side getting faster and more competitive with AMD APUs. It's not even close to the new GT3e IGP that houses inside the 5775C though. Ah well, let's place a dedicated graphics card onto this motherboard, head on over to the next page.
Dedicated graphics performance then. with a GeForce GTX 780 Ti. You can check out the differential in-between say a Core i7 4770K/4790K  and Core i7 4790 of course. 

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MSI Z170A XPOWER Gaming Titanium Edition Motherboard Review - Continued

We test at Ultra quality settings which is a bit unrealistic with today's dedicated cards. The performance benefit in-between the CPUs is nominal to say at the least. That is the reality anno 2015. This is going to be even closer with upcoming DX12 games.

With this GPU and medium image quality settings will never be GPU bound, and this displays CPU and mainboard performance difference really well when something changes in the system.

DX11: 3DMark 2013

3DMark includes everything you need to benchmark your hardware. With three all new tests you can bench everything from smartphones and tablets, to notebooks and home PCs, to the latest high-end, multi-GPU gaming desktops. And it's not just for Windows. With 3DMark you can compare your scores with Android and iOS devices too.

Accelerating & Enhancing Video on Skylake processors

CPU with integrated GPU based platforms are a lot about additional features and performance on top of regular processing. So another key feature is of course the embedded GPU with video processor. The combo of the video processor and some additional shader processors inside that chipset allows for high-definition 1080P content playback, acceleration, and though limited... enhancement of overall picture quality. For those that use other content like the immensely popular MKV / x.264 container formats, please download Media Player Classic Home Cinema. This free open source software will DXVA accelerate and enhance your MKV content at 1080P or even higher. We have written an article on Media Player Classic Home Cinema and how to set up that software to make this happen, please read that here

Above an example of 1080P, a concert from Muse in MKV x.264 format - there is no dedicated graphics card installed, so this is the Intel iGPU at work here and quite frankly it does the job extremely smooth. You'll notice a CPU load of up-to 2% here, power consumption at this stage was roughly ~65 Watts for the entire PC. We have some extra shaders enabled like complex Image Sharpening. Perfect playback. But let's disable DXVA and try Ultra HD playback.

Ultra HD content playback. In the 4K resolution Elysium trailer we have an MP4 H.264 file and the CPU load is ~35%. Unlike many APUs we recently tested, Ultra HD video-playback did not result into stuttering, and that is a good thing. Here as well we have additional shaders enabled like image sharpening and darkened black levels. These shaders run over the iGPU.

Normally the reason why we notice stuttering is that the trailer is not DXVA encoded, or DXVA at 4K does not yet work. So then the processor cores will kick in and only IF they can handle the content fast enough this will be a successful mission. Even a Core i5 6600K is plenty fast for this job, as expected.

Overclocking Performance

Overclocking wise we reached 4900 MHz as bootable and in the end 4800 MHz stable we needed a rather high 1.388 Volts for that on this motherboard (reported incorrect on CPU-Z). Below you can find a handful of results we ran with the overclocked settings as explained. For cooling we used a fairly affordable Corsair H110 liquid cooling unit. The same settings as previous benchmarks have shown, have been used here as well.

Overclocking with GAME BOOST knob

There is a new HUGE big rotatable button slash knob. This is an interesting one and is called the Game Boost Knob.Typically I do not have a lot of good words for automated overclock processes, but this one works surprisingly well.

The knob allows you to manually select a stage from 0 to 11 for overclocking your processor. So increasing this know will increase the processor frequency and the cool thing is, the voltage will be automatically adjusted as well. You power off the PC, rotate the know to your preference and then start the PC. Now at this stage I had the Core i5 6600K housed inside the motherboard (not the 6700K) and mainly due to curiosity I tried out the functions. The results where impressive and more importantly, stable.

We powered down the PC, then turned the knob to position 6, we got 102 Mhz x 43 = 4386 MHz. Interesting ...
We again powered down the PC, then turned the knob to position 11. We now startup the PC, have to wait a few seconds as the automated overclock configures itself, and boom we where booting into windows. After starting up CPU-Z surprizingly enough the 3.5/3.9 GHz (base/boost clock) was now running at 4700 MHz full on. Even more surprizingly, it was 100% stable and energy consumption remained at a 120 Watt under load level. Totally OK.

Since the results are this good I wanted to quickly add this page of info with the help of two test runs. Above you can see the automated OC at its maximum 4.7 GHz running Wprime. We ran it a couple of times and the OC remained stable. The CPU Voltage will fluctuate based on load, it can run up-to 1.45V.

I also ran CineBench a couple of times, same here. Totally stable. Not bad for an automated overclock feature not bad at all.I also want to mention that the memory was tweaked at default as well with this function, it was clocked stable at 2667 MHz. So yeah for the tweaking layman that needs an easy overclock, this might be very helpful.

Final Words & conclusion

MSI has a new trick up their sleeves, PCB coating. We already noticed some sort of coating on the M7 that we reviewed, there was a trace logo pattern on the motherboard. Meaning they have found a way to coat the PCB with a pattern and likely two tone colors combined with logo designs. In the years to come what vinyl wrapping is to cars, could become specialized coating for motherboards. The first real demonstration is this absolutely magnificent Titanium edition. Now I will nitpick here and there a little, as well it comes with my age, but the true evolution here really is the coating. Time will tell what more MSI can do with patterns, logos and colored coating, but this first introduction is magnificent (if you like the color of course). The hardware itself is great and MSI is offering one of the best performing products out there in the Z170 segment, it lacks a few features though. I do miss AC WIFI and perhaps a second Ethernet jack preferably from Intel to that user can choose either an intel or E2400 NIC, hey I told ya, old age and nitpicking :) Other then that the board is very feature rich, overclockable and and has these stunning looks. Interesting are the OC dial and the new external PCB called OC dashboard.  Performance wise the board seems to rock the 6700K processor we threw at it. Intel doesn't make and thus offer any reference motherboards anymore, so it is hard to define a reference processors performance point as the board mother-partners will do everything in their power to tweak out the last bit of performance. And sure, that's not a bad thing but there can be some platform (brand) performance differences. But yeah, the extra perf you see is mostly related to the higher base clocks. That's just the processor side, I mean the Z170 offer it all in terms of features, stability and reliability really, heaps of USB 3.0/3.1 connectors, plenty SATA3 ports, super dual fast M.2. and a lovely audio solution.

The performance is up there and combined with DDR4 memory this processor makes a good step forward. Combined with the series 100 chipset new features are available as well, SATA3, M.2 and SATA Express. Then there's the added benefit of DDR4 memory that not only use less power, the frequency can be so much higher as well, bringing more bandwidth and overall performance to the applications that require fast memory. Combine that with things like nice Gigabit jacks, exemplary audio solutions on the new motherboards and things like USB 3.0 / 3.1. The overall platform experience is what it is all about for Skylake. Performance with kick-ass features. 

USB 3.1 Gen 1 versus Gen2

The industry is pulling the weirdest trick in the books right now. Most boxes (packaging) are listing USB 3.0 (5 Gbps) as USB 3.1 Gen 1. Read that well as it emenas that USB 3.1 Gen 2 is the new REAL 3.1 connector with 10 Gbps. Totally lame and confusing for the end users. Really,lame. So remember, if you read USB 3.1 Gen 1, that really is 100% the same old USB 3.0 connector, and USB 3.1 Gen 2 is the new 10 Gbps connector.


Combined with 8 SATA 6Gbps ports we can hardly complain about anything. Nice are the recent developments on the M.2 interface, pop in a M.2 compatible PCI-E SSD and you'll see your SSD quickly perform in the 700/800 Mb/sec range. Overall your SATA and M.2 connectivity is plentiful and top notch when it comes to performance. Great to see is that the slow has obtained a x4 PCIe interface connection allowing it 32 Gbps of bandwidth to work in. To compare a little, your SATA3 port has 6 Gbps available. So that small form factor SSD solution now is very future proof. Even better is that MSI includes two M.2. slots both at x4. RAID them and you can achieve seriously sexy performance levels with the right M.2. SSDs.


Taste differ per person, I like reallt like how the Titanium version has turned out in its looks. It's new, it's different and for that alone this motherboard distinguishes itself from the competition. Where I commented the two metal plated PCI-Express x16 slots in a previous review, they now make sense in the Titanium design. The motherboards strangely enough has red LEDs to create a bit of a HALO effect, it makes the motherboard pop out of your chassis but perhaps white would have been a better color ? Well anything visually that is subjective I guess. This is just a very lovely looking solution for the enthusiast PC gamer. 

Performance & tweaking

The overall performance in combo with the MSI Z170A Xpower Titanium motherboard as such I'd rate as "really good" for a quad core Core i7 6700K and good for the Core i5 6600K. Temps remain reasonable at default clocks, temperatures when the CPU is overclocked with added voltage definitely seem to be a notch better opposed to Haswell but still can rise fast and hot. Depending at your CPU you can clock these Skylake processors anywhere from 4.6 to 5.0 GHz depending on a bit of luck. At such a high you will need a lot of voltage, 1.40 maybe passing 1.50 volts when you reach the 5 Ghz barrier on your processor. 

The bottom line

The MSI Z170A XPOWER GAMING Titanium motherboard has been released for two reasons only, to shock and to awe. By going completely outside the trend and applying the new coating MSI did something really unique. Obviously the hardware itself shares 99% of the DNA that the MSI Z170A gaming series offers. But as you have been able to read, MSI did an exemplary job on the Z170 series, all is good aside from two minor points. The MSI Z170A Xpower Titanium probably could have used two Gigabit Ethernet jacks, one from Intel and perhaps a Killer NIC so that you can make a choice in-between the Killer and the Intel jack. Secondly, AC WIFI or better yet the sheer lack of WIFI whatsoever. I do believe that motherboards anno 2015 should all have some sort of WIFI as the internet of things is wireless these days.  Aside from these two slight remarks we have to acknowledge that the board as tested is sweet in aesthetics, sweet in performance and sweet in its overall features. I just have to mention the Game Boost Knob, normally I am not  a fan of automated overclocks, but this one worked properly. We tested a Core i5 6600K, placed the know at it's highest position (11) and booted into windows to find out we where running 4700 MHz on the four CPU cores and the memory was boosted to 2667 MHz. Now I am not saying it'll work this easy for all processors out there, but the end-result was impressive. An automated overclock with automated voltages that was stable at an impressive clock frequency, you don't see that often.

Rounding up I think that the MSI Z170A XPower Titanium motherboard is aesthetically a VERY pleasing motherboard, but does require other components to match. Example a red, white or yellow graphics card combined with a Ti flavored motherboard looks bad. So that is a bit of a challenge. Dark black components like a dark colored graphic card would be the right combo to use. The looks and design combined with USB connectivity, one Gigabit jack and all the tweaking mania you need make it a grand choice. Your DDR4 memory can be easily configured by enabling the XMP 2.0 profile. You will gain excellent features combined with seriously nice performance and very decent energy consumption levels. I have no doubt that some of you can reach 5 GHz on this CPU, the MSI motherboard will certainly allow for this. The overall combination of the MSI Z170A XPOWER Titanium and a Core i5 6600K or Core i7 6700K will be very solid. The MSI Z170A XPOWER Gaming Titanium will receive our Top pick award, as it really is that, a top pick that comes recommended here at, unfortunately I did not have a price on this mobo at the time of writing.

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