Since many chipset functions now reside on the CPU die, and considering that there's only a handful of third-party peripheral controllers out there, we rarely see meaningful performance differences between motherboards these days. That said, we still test system performance with different motherboards, if for no other reason than to ensure everything is functioning correctly.
When it comes to testing motherboard performance, we've usually gathered benchmark results using the CPU's peak stock memory multipliers. Since DDR4 is so new, however, and Skylake's 2133MHz maximum stock DDR4 speed is so conservative, we've continued a practice we began with our X99 reviews. We test our Z170 boards with the memory clocked at the highest speed we can attain while keeping the CPU at its stock clocks.
We tested MSI's Z170A Gaming M5 against Asus' Z170-A, which I also recently reviewed. Both boards were able to clock our DDR4 DIMMs up to 3000MHz while maintaining stock CPU clocks, so the results below were gathered with these settings.
MSI's Z170A Gaming M5 trades blows with the Asus Z170-A. In some tests, the MSI board comes out on top by a small margin, while Asus' mobo wins in others, but the differences between the boards are small in each test. Even boot times are close:
Unlike our performance results, one's choice of motherboard can have a notable impact on power consumption. We measured total system power draw (sans monitor and speakers) at the wall socket with our test system idling for a period of five minutes at the Windows desktop and then under a full load of Cinebench rendering with the Unigine Valley demo running concurrently.
Although MSI's board isn't as efficient as Asus', it consumes less than 10W more, which is a pittance in the context of a complete system. That delta is too small to have a dramatic impact on system temperatures and noise levels inside a typical desktop rig.
The following page is loaded with detailed motherboard specifications, system configurations, and test procedures. If you're thinking of taking this opportunity to head straight to the conclusion, be sure to go back and study the tables on the next page—you don't want to fail any upcoming TR pop quizzes.
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