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MSI Z170A Gaming M5

Tom Morgan
5 Aug 2015
Expert Reviews Recommended Logo
MSI Z170A Gaming M5 three quarters
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
150
inc VAT

The Z170A Gaming M5 is a seriously comprehensive Skylake motherboard, with everything you could want now – and in several years’ time

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Specifications

Processor socket: LGA 1151, Dimensions: 303x242mm, Chipset: Z170, Memory slots: 4, PCI-E x16 slots: 3, PCI-E x1 slots: 4, PCI slots: 0, USB ports: 2x USB, 4x USB3, 2x USB 3.1, Video outputs: DVI, HDMI

Red and black is most definitely the colour scheme of choice when it comes to high-end motherboards, but while we like the matt finish on Asrock’s Z170 Gaming K6+, the metallic heatsinks and silver PCI-Express ports on MSI’s Z170a Gaming M5 look even better. It’s the first MSI board we’ve seen that’s built for Intel’s new Skylake processors and, as you would expect, it has all the high-end features you would want.

Features

Like all Z170 motherboards, the Gaming M5 has an LGA1151 socket that’s designed exclusively for 6th Generation Core processors, so you can’t use it with previous generation Haswell chips. Two dedicated CPU fan headers near the socket should save you having to run cables across the board if you use a cooler with multiple fans, while the heatsink around the power circuitry won’t get in the way of large air coolers. The four RAM slots support up to 64GB of DDR4 memory, running at up to 3,600MHz with overclocking.

Beyond six SATA3 6Gbps ports, the biggest storage additions for 2015 are the two M.2 expansion slots for SATA or PCI-Express SSDs and SATA Express for U.2 external disks. The M.2 slots are raised slightly higher than in other motherboards, leaving room for SSDs with chunky headspreaders or stacked memory modules. Installing two M.2 SSDs will disable two of the regular SATA ports, however. All the SATA ports are angled outwards rather than upwards, so it’s easier to connect your cables before installing the board rather than struggle with it mounted in a case.

We also liked that MSI has angled the USB3 header on the right side of the board, as this chunky cable can often get in the way of other components if manufacturers don’t think carefully about its placement.

MSI Z170A Gaming M5 ports

The black and red theme continues on the rear I/O panel, with the PS/2 port, USB3 ports and 3.5mm microphone jack getting a splash of colour. This does make it tricky to spot the solitary USB 3.1 port, however; the only difference between this and the four USB 3 ports is a slight indentation that will be impossible to see if you keep your PC under a desk. Good luck getting all four 3.5mm cables for a 5.1 speaker system installed correctly on the first try too, as they are all black rather than colour-coded.

You’ll also find gaming-grade Killer Networking Gigabit Ethernet, a reversible USB Type-C port, and DVI and HDMI video outputs if you plan on using your processor’s integrated graphics. However, with three PCI-Express 3.0 slots there’s plenty of room for adding graphics cards. The top two are even reinforced to prevent very heavy video cards from damaging the slots. The top slot defaults to X16 speed, but adding a second card drops this down to x8 speeds. With three cards in SLI, the first two will run at x8 and the third will run at x4 speeds.

MSI Z170A Gaming M5 board layout

Performance

With our reference components (an Intel Core i5-6600k, 8GB of DDR4 RAM and an AMD Radeon R7 260x graphics card) installed and running at their stock speeds, the Z170 Gaming M5 scored 121 overall in our 4K multimedia benchmarks. This puts it slightly in front of our reference Skylake motherboard at stock speeds, giving it around a 20% performance boost over a year-old Devil’s Canyon Haswell refresh CPU.

With only enthusiast-level chips available at launch, we expect most Skylake upgraders to add a dedicated graphics card to their system, but the Z170A Gaming M5 was still able to get a smooth 50.5fps frame rate from Dirt Showdown using the Core i5-6600K’s HD Graphics 530 integrated GPU.

This board performs brilliantly at stock speeds, but it was built with overclocking in mind. However, with no power buttons on the board itself the Gaming M5 is clearly designed to live inside a case rather than on a test bench. The LED POST code display can still help with troubleshooting though. 

MSi Z170A Gaming M5 UEFI

In EZ mode, MSI’s UEFI BIOS is sensibly laid out and all the settings are clearly labelled for anyone unfamiliar with Skylake’s new unlocked Base Clock (BCLK), but for more precise control you can press F7 to enter Advanced mode. Here, you can change CPU multiplier, BCLK, RAM timings, and numerous voltage settings.

MSi Z170A Gaming M5 UEFI overclocking

We managed to get our Core i5-6600k up to 4.7GHz on other boards using air cooling, so we were expecting something similar here, but interestingly a 47x multiplier and slight voltage boost wasn’t enough to keep the Z17A stable. That being said, it still managed 4.5GHz with minimal tweaking, and produced an excellent 143 overall in our multimedia benchmarks – beating the Asus Z170-A when it was running 200MHz faster.

Conclusion

MSI arguably has the most future-proof Z170 motherboard we’ve seen so far, with twin M.2 slots designed with thicker, stacked memory SSDs in mind, two SATA Express ports and great overclocking performance, albeit not the best we’ve seen. A comprehensive software suite including a RAMdisk and XSplit Gamecaster software for live streaming to Twitch or YouTube add to the value, and while it costs slightly more than the Asus Z170-A, we think it’s arguably worth paying the extra if you plan on using M.2 any time soon.

Hardware
Processor socketLGA 1151
Form factorATX
Dimensions303x242mm
Processor support6th Generation Core processors (Skylake)
Processor external bus100MHz
ChipsetZ170
Supported memory typeDDR4
Maximum memory speed2,400MHz / 3,600MHz (OC)
Memory slots4
Maximum memory64GB
Motherboard power connectors1x 24-pin ATX, 1x 8-pin 12V
PCI-E x16 slots3
PCI-E x4 slots0
PCI-E x1 slots4
PCI slots0
Motherboard fan headers5
SATA II ports0
SATA III ports6
RAID support1, 0, 5, 10 (SATA) 1, 0 (M.2)
Wired network ports1x 10/100/1000Mbit/s
Motherboard sound (ports)Realtek HD Audio ALC1150 (5x analogue, optical S/PDIF)
USB ports2x USB, 4x USB3, 2x USB 3.1
USB headers2x USB, 1x USB3
Video outputsDVI, HDMI
Other portsPS/2, 2x M.2, SATA Express
Cables included4x SATA
Motherboard clock adjustmentCPU, RAM, GPU
Motherboard voltage adjustmentCPU, RAM, GPU, chipset

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