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Firmware noir
Just like the Z170A Gaming M5 that we reviewed last year, the SLI Plus features the latest iteration of MSI's Click BIOS UEFI firmware—Click BIOS 5. The biggest difference between what we see on the SLI Plus compared to the Gaming M5 is that the former has traded in the red-and-black color scheme of the latter for a decidedly film-noir feel, with an almost completely black-and-white visual style. Our impressions remain the same though: the interface is both good-looking and easy to use.

The firmware presents two interfaces to the user: a novice-friendly EZ Mode, and a full-featured Advanced Mode. Upon entering the firmware for the first time, you're greeted with the EZ Mode interface:

The EZ Mode interface gives users one-click access to settings like boot device priorities, XMP profiles, the baked-in OC Genie overclocking profile, and a handful of other options. An array of five buttons along the left-hand side governs what information is shown in the central region of the interface.

The BIOS Log Review button provides a handy summary of any changes made during a tuning session. You'll also get this summary upon exiting the firmware. This change log is a great feature that should be standard across all boards.

If you tweak certain settings often, a "favorites" menu can be pulled up using the heart icon in the top right corner of the interface or through a dedicated button in the bottom-left corner of EZ Mode. These menus can be loaded with options pulled from anywhere in the firmware: just right-click on an option and select the favorite group you want to assign that item to. The firmware provides five such groups to toy with.

Advanced Mode is where most readers will probably spend the bulk of their time. Here, we find platform configuration options grouped under the Settings menu and overclocking options under the OC menu.

The OC menu provides no shortage of options for users to tweak their systems. Just set the "OC Explore Mode" to Expert, and you can wander through options for multipliers, frequencies, and what feels like a never-ending array of memory timing controls. There are loads of configurable voltages, too. The menus offer three modes for feeding the CPU cores and integrated graphics: manual, offset, and adaptive. Most values can be keyed in manually, and navigation is a breeze.

MSI continues its tradition of excellent firmware-based fan controls with the Z170A SLI Plus. These controls are found in the Hardware Monitor function, where individual profiles for two CPU fans and three system spinners can be configured.

Each profile has four points that can be clicked and dragged to define the response curve. The temperature-based control scheme is limited to four-pin PWM fans attached to the CPU headers. The three system fan headers can drive both three- and four-pin fans, but only in DC (or voltage control) mode.

At first glance, you might think that the checkboxes for CPU and system temperatures to the left alter the reference temperature for each profile. Unfortunately, those checkboxes merely change the source for the real-time tracker displayed on the graph.

One firmware feature that could come in handy is the Board Explorer. This window shows a graphical guide for the board's various onboard devices, as well as information about the hardware connected to each socket, slot, and port. This could be useful for both newbies and enthusiasts. And let's admit: an interactive overlay for your motherboard is kinda cool in its own right.

Overall, the SLI Plus' firmware is excellent. It's well laid-out and easy-to-use, and it provides a wealth of configuration options. Some of its default settings are questionable, though. First, the processor's C1E sleep states are disabled by default. These can easily be re-enabled by heading over to the CPU Features section of the OC Menu, but it would be nice if the defaults were based on real-world use cases, rather than ones that might boost performance in synthetic storage tests at the expense of increased power consumption.

Configuration options that silently apply other tweaks behind the user's back are another evil we must deal with on some modern motherboards. The SLI Plus, just like its Gaming M5 sibling, takes liberties with Turbo multipliers. The sleight-of-hand at issue occurs when the user enables an XMP profile. Instead of simply applying the faster memory profile, the firmware also runs our Core i7-6700K at 4.2GHz with all cores engaged—200MHz higher than the stock Turbo speed for all-core loads. Worst of all, it does so without providing any indication to the user that it "helped them out" with some free performance. The fact that other motherboards behave similarly doesn't excuse the practice. Thankfully, this "helpful" behavior can be disabled by disabling the "Enhanced Turbo" option under Misc Settings in the OC Menu.

With that, my short list of gripes about the SLI Plus' firmware comes to an end. On the next page, we'll look into the Windows software that comes with the board.