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MSI Z170A Gaming M9 ACK (Intel Z170) Motherboard Review

By: Steven Bassiri | Socket LGA 1150/1151 in Motherboards | Posted: Sep 7, 2015 3:09 pm
TweakTown Rating: 91%Manufacturer: MSI

Packaging and the Board

 

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The box is high quality; it has a window as well. There are boxes inside boxes and it has that heavy feel unique to expensive electronics.

 

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Accessories include 6x SATA6G cables, IO shield, modular red aluminum screws and washers, 2-Way extended SLI bridge, M-connectors, CPU installer tool, driver DVD, trail of X-Split, SATA cable stickers, Poster, case badge, door hanger, and manuals.

 

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The MSI Z170A GAMING M9 ACK has five fan headers. The two circled in green are 4-pin PWM only headers so with 3-pin fans they will run at 100%, the headers circled in blue are 4-pin voltage mode headers that will work with both PWM and voltage mode (3-pin) fans. The motherboard has a black and red color scheme, but MSI has taken red and black and put their own spin on it. They have added red silk screen on the PCB to add something unique, their dragon logo is on the PCH, and the shield and heat sinks have a good mixture of red and black accents. The VRM heat sink even has water cooling built in and the additional modular screws add a nice hint of red if you choose to use them. Interestingly enough, the back of the motherboard has a large aluminum shield, and it covers some backside components on the PCB. The armor on the back is meant to reinforce the PCB's integrity so heavy CPU coolers and GPUs won't warp the PCB.

 

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The IO Panel features Wi-Fi antenna ports, a ClearCMOS button, 2x USB 3.0 ports, 1x USB 3.1 Type-A, 1x USB 3.1 Type-C, 3x USB 2.0 ports, Killer GBit NIC, HDMI, DisplayPort, PS/2 KB/Mouse, 7.1 gold plated audio outputs with TOSLINK.

 

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The PCI-E layout is pretty much standard, all PCI-E lanes are PCI-E 3.0. The first and third full sized PCI-E 16x slots work at 16x/0x with one card or 8x/8x with two cards. They both have PCI-E metal re-enforcements for heavy GPUs, and the spacing is optimized to keep two triple slotted GPUs far apart for good airflow. The middle 16x slot is electrically 4x and wired to the PCH instead of the CPU. The middle slot has 4x of bandwidth that is shared with the three PCI-E 1x slots, so when you use the 1x slots the big 16x (4x electrical) downshifts to PCI-E 3.0 1x.

 

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There are two PCI-E 3.0 4x M.2 slots on the motherboard, and they share bandwidth with two sets of two SATA ports. The switching chart is provided above, and I should mention that most Z170 motherboards switch M.2 and SATA bandwidth because of the way the chipset ports are routed for SATA based M.2 slots and iRST.

 

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There are a total of six SATA6Gb/s ports. There are also two SATA Express connectors and each SATA Express connector is shared with the two SATA ports adjacent to it. There are two sets of internal USB 3.0 headers, one is right angled and the other is vertical. One of the OC features, the slow-mode switch which will reduce CPU and Uncore frequencies to their lowest possible values, is located between the two USB 3.0 internal headers.

 

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MSI has provided the Z170A GAMING M9 ACK with overclocking features including the standard power, reset, and clear CMOS buttons as well as a POST Code display and voltage read points. MSI has also implemented a USB UEFI flash recovery technology and the button right above the power button is to engage that tech. There is also a knob with a red button and this controls MSI's GAME BOOST feature, which is like OC Genie on steroids. It offers many auto-overclocking states, and there are 10 different levels, higher level equates to a higher overclock.

 

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The audio area is covered by a shield, but I highly recommend removing it because the audio section on this motherboard is as insane as it looks. The DDR Boost area is highlighting MSI's dedication to improving memory overclocking, and the red silk screen of memory traces is to highlight this (those aren't the actual trace paths and no they don't light up, even though that would be cool). It looks kind of intriguing, and at least it's something different than what we are normally used to, perhaps even a conversation starter.

 

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My sample came with the Killer Wireless AC card already installed.

 

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There are a lot of screws with this motherboard; you have metal shields screwed down on both the back and front sides of the PCB. The heat sinks seem to make good contact with the components they cool, and the VRM heat sink does have lights in the corner that shine towards the end of each end of the VRM heat sink.

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