MSI Z170 mobos offer three paths to gaming superiority

MSI has taken the wraps off of its Z170 Gaming line of motherboards. While we already knew bits and pieces about them, the floodgates have now opened, and we have information on thirteen different boards across three different families.

The Z170 Arsenal family is the entry level of MSI's Gaming series of boards. The Z170A Tomahawk is a full-sized ATX board with a pair of USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-A connectors and a Turbo M.2 slot (MSI's name for M.2 slots with four PCIe Gen3 lanes) with support NVMe SSDs. The Z170M Mortar is a microATX board without the USB 3.1 controller and a non-Turbo M.2 slot.

Both boards support dual-card CrossFire, and have extras like MSI's LAN Protect over-voltage protection, EZ Debug LED array and reinforced PCI Express x16 slots. There will also be two more microATX boards in the Arsenal family called the Bazooka and Grenade, but we don't have specs for them yet.

Next up, the Z170 Performance family represents the middle rung on MSI's Z170 ladder. There are three boards in this group, including the ATX Z170A Krait Gaming and the mini-ITX Z170I Gaming Pro. The smaller board comes with Intel 802.11ac Wi-Fi built in, as well as MSI's USB Audio Power, which is designed to provide a more stable 5v power supply for USB audio solutions.

The Z170A Krait Gaming and the third board in this line, the Z170A Gaming Pro, both feature USB 3.1 Gen 2 with Type-A ports, dual-card SLI support, and triple-card CrossFire support. All three boards include Turbo M.2 slots and reinforced PCI Express x16 slots, and have the same LAN Protect and EZ Debug LED array as the Arsenal boards.

At the top of MSI's Z170 line is the Enthusiast family, with a whopping six boards to its name. All of these boards sport dual Turbo M.2 slots, 2-way SLI and 3-way CrossFire support, and USB 3.1 Gen2 controllers. They all have EZ Debug LEDs, over-voltage protection, and LAN Protect.

The tippy-top of the lineup is the Z170A Gaming M9 ACK, which features Killer's AC1535 802.11ac Wi-Fi controller and MSI's Xtreme Audio suite. The C-Media CM6632A codec on this board has some absurd specs, like 32-bit sampling at rates of up to 384kHz. C-Media's controller also has ASIO driver support for low-latency applications like digital audio workstations. Xtreme Audio purportedly achieves a 120dB signal-to-noise ratio with a high-end ESS DAC, isolated PCB traces, and EMI shielding.  

The Gaming M9 packs in USB 3.1 Gen 2 connectivity with a single Type-C connector, and it comes with extras like BIOS Flashback (which lets you update the board's firmware with nothing more than a PSU and a USB thumb drive), as well as dedicated power, clear CMOS, and boot-into-firmware buttons. As if this deal wasn't sweet enough, MSI throws in a year's subscription for Xsplit Premium streaming software with the Z170A Gaming M9.

Working down from there, the Z170A Gaming M7, M5, M3, and Z170A-G45 Gaming trade in more and more of those hardware goodies for presumably lower prices. The Killer Wi-FI and high-end audio controllers are left off these boards. Starting with the Z170A Gaming M5, the hardware power and CMOS reset buttons come off, too. The USB 3.1 Type-C connector is absent on the Z170A Gaming M3. The Z170 Gaming M7 and M5 do include the Xsplit Premium subscription, but the lower-end boards lose that perk, too. 

The last board in MSI's Z170 lineup is designed for extreme overclockers. The Z170A Xpower Gaming Titanium boasts 16-phase power delivery, titanium chokes, and hardware switches to disable some of the four PCI Express x16 slots. It also includes test points on the board for checking system voltages with dedicated instrumentation, as well as an OC Panel, a removable add-in board with dedicated power and reset buttons to help overclockers using liquid nitrogen avoid freezing up the controls. 

On the bundled software side, MSI bundles some potentially useful utilities. Gaming Hotkey allows you to control overclocking features using the function keys on your keyboard, while Game Boost allows you to set up application-based overclocking. All of the boards come with MSI's Command Center, which controls LEDs, sets fan speed profiles, and allows for overclocking in Windows. Command Center can also set up a RAM disk with automatic timed backups. 

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