MSI's Z270 family of boards ship with the company's familiar Click BIOS UEFI-based firmware, dubbed "Click BIOS 5." While the firmware is very similar to that of MSI's previous Z170 and X99 boards, there are a few additions for the that we'll look at below. Building on what's come before isn't a bad thing, though, because 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 Game Boost 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.
A new addition to MSI's firmware is the search function, which will bring up all of the configuration options that contain the word you've typed in. To access this function, simply click the magnifying glass icon in the top right corner of the interface. This is an especially handy feature as it saves you searching through all the different menus to find the one setting you're after.
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 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 which favorite you'd like that option to be under in the menu.
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 an inordinate number 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.
Another new feature that was added to MSI's Click BIOS for the Z270-based boards is the ability to invoke the secure erase command on SSDs directly from the firmware. This can be found under the Advanced Settings menu, when in Advanced Mode.
MSI has some of the best firmware-based fan controls we've seen, and the company's Z270 boards continue this tradition. Fan controls are found in the Hardware Monitor function, where individual profiles for the CPU fan, the pump, and four 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 works with four-pin PWM fans attached to both the CPU and system fan headers and each header can be configured for PWM or DC (voltage control) mode. Settings to adjust spin-up and spin-down times for each header can be seen to the left of the response curve. Increasing these intervals smooths out the fan response to changes in temperature, preventing brief spikes from producing audible oscillations in fan speeds.
At first glance, you might think that the checkboxes for CPU and system temperatures 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. That information could come in handy for both newbies and enthusiasts. And let's admit: an interactive overlay for your motherboard is kinda cool in its own right.
For those Windows 7 die-hards, the Pro Carbon retains the "Windows 7 Installation" firmware option that we saw on MSI's Z170 boards. This setting works around the issue that Intel chipsets since the Z170 dropped support for full USB 2.0 Enhanced Host Controller Interface (EHCI) mode, which makes installing Windows 7 on newer boards a little tricky. Purportedly, all users need to do is enable this setting, plug a keyboard and mouse into the USB ports beneath the PS/2 port, and kick off the Win7 install. Once that's done, users need only to install the XHCI drivers before disabling the setting. That said, Microsoft's official stance is that Kaby Lake is only fully supported with Windows 10, so your mileage may vary if you're using Intel's latest and greatest.
Overall, the firmware of MSI's Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon is excellent. It's well laid-out and easy-to-use, and it provides a wealth of configuration options. It does have a few questionable default settings, 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.
Some modern motherboards tend to take liberties with Turbo multipliers, too. Sometimes, that silent sleight-of-hand occurs when a user enables an XMP profile. In the case of MSI's Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon though, the defaults are even more aggressive. With default settings the firmware runs our Core i7-6700K at 4.2GHz with all cores engaged—200MHz higher than the stock Turbo speed for all-core loads.
While most CPUs can probably tolerate this bump in clock speed, running a user's chip at higher than stock speeds without telling them is definitely not what motherboards should be doing. The fact that other motherboards behave similarly doesn't excuse the practice. Thankfully, this behavior can be disabled by disabling the "Enhanced Turbo" option under Misc Setting in the OC Menu.
With that, we've exhausted our deep dive into the Pro Carbon's firmware. On the next page, we'll look into the cornucopia of software that comes with the board.