[section_title title=Introduction & Closer Look]
Introduction & Closer Look
The board that I have in front of me today was somewhat of a curve ball as I was under the impression that MSI were not going to release a motherboard that was tailored towards overclockers and gamers alike; oh how wrong I was. Meet the MSI Z170 XPOWER Titanium Edition. It is a cross between high-end gaming and overclocking by incorporating many features which appeal to both. One thing which instantly springs to mind from an overclockers perspective is the add-on PCB dubbed the ‘OC Dashboard’ that is included with the Titanium. It’s a small PCB which you can see towards to the top right of the motherboard in our overview shot just below. It allows for on-the-fly adjustment to various system settings such as the CPU multiplier and it also allows for BCLK adjustment from within Windows. There are a few other handy features, but I’ll cover those in greater detail a little later on.
From a design aspect, the motherboard features a rather unique colour scheme in the sense that it is nearly completely silver, or Titanium if you want to follow the name of the product, and it has never been seen before in the motherboard market unless you include some of the ECS P55 motherboards that had a grey colour to them. MSI have actually made the PCB and heatsinks on the Titanium sparkle dependent on how the light hits it. It does look truly amazing and I very much like the way it glistens, but it may not be to everyone’s liking. If you are into the shiny hardware and like to show off your machine, perhaps this is a motherboard that you should be taking a look at. Will its performance match its striking looks, or will it simply fall flat on its face? Let’s take a look at the Titanium in more detail and then put it through its paces.
Okay, let’s get up and close with the Titanium and then see what it is made of. So, starting off in our usual fashion by looking at the power delivery of the motherboard, we can see that the Titanium features a generous sixteen phase power design; it is admittedly targeted more so at the extreme overclocker(s), but there is also a sense of comfort knowing that whatever you throw at your CPU on ambient (air/water) cooling, your motherboard is going to be able to provide you with stable power, even under the highest loadings. What we can also see from this particular angle are the power inputs that the motherboard features. Not only is there a single 8 pin EPS connector but also an extra 4 pin power port, which isn’t all that surprising given that one of them is typically more than enough for 99.9 per cent of users out there. Adding in the secondary power line is just going to help with those extreme overclocks as it’ll allow cleaner, more stable power to be utilised compared to the single 8 pin EPS. Is it needed? Not at all. Is it desirable in an overclocking motherboard? Oh yes!
The RAM portion of a motherboard is often very much the same, with little differences to be spoken about. However, what surrounds the DIMM slots in the case of the Titanium is the OC Dashboard which you can see plugged into the motherboard as it overhangs a little. This isn’t the only way that you can connect the panel, but it is how you’d expect to find it if it were installed into a case for example. As an overclocker, it is far more suitable to have it connected to the supplied cable as it gives you approx. 20cm of play, which is especially important and useful if you’re freezing your RAM. I will be detailing my experiences with the OC Dashboard in the overclocking section of this review, and explaining exactly how it all works, and why it could be useful to you. In between the OC Dashboard, you can also spot some voltage read out points which prove to be very useful during extreme overclocking sessions, as they are far more reliable than any software choice(s) out there.
SATA expansion is something that we are starting to see more of in terms of SATA 6 Gbps ports, but they are also something which may inevitably become redundant and worthless as the world of technology moves forward at an alarming rate. That is a story for another day as we aren’t discussing storage connectivity options, but rather what is on the motherboard. So what we have is a total of eight SATA 6 Gbps ports, but four of them will be consumed if SATA Express is being utilised. There are no SATA Express (SATAe) cables included with the Titanium, but they are available for purchase elsewhere, should you wish to use an Express drive. To further add to the storage connectivity options, there’s also a USB 3.0 header just to the side of the SATA ports, and there is also an M.2 PCI-E slot or two floating around which you shall see momentarily.
PCI-E is the only kind of add-in card expansion that you’ll most likely see on any Skylake motherboard, bar a select few that may have brought legacy PCI back as well. On the Titanium, you’re able to utilise an entire host of slots, which consist of four PCI-E x16 lanes that run (unsure if this is actually correct) in a rather strange manner that you do not typically see on other motherboards. According to the specifications that are provided by MSI, they are wired to run at the following speeds; x16/0/0/x4, x8/0/x8/x4 or x8/x4/x4/x4. Located in between PCI-E x16 slots 1 and 2, as well as between 3 and 4, is a pair of M.2 PCI-E slots for all of that rapid 2000 MBps (or more!) storage expansion. You will of course need to take into consideration that the 6600K and 6700K (for example) only have 20 PCI-E lanes, which limits you somewhat when using multiple GPUs and/or M.2 SSDs. The final PCI-E lane that is always running at x4 (as you can see above) is provided by the PCH, so it isn’t actually as fast as the CPU links that are above. For some reason, only dual NVIDIA cards can be used in SLI but quad AMD cards can be used in CrossFire X. The reason for this is unknown to me, but I would hazard a guess that you could run a triple NVIDIA GPU solution without an issue, besides the two lanes dropping down to x4 instead of x8 or x16. That will hamper performance, so it won’t be ideal in any situation.
Just like with the M7 that I reviewed previously, there are a number of useful items which are down at this end of the motherboard. Some of the rather useful tools that are included with the Titanium consist of the LED POST monitor that we saw in the past and the ability to turn some PCI-E lanes on or off, depending on what you’re doing with the motherboard. It is very useful when you are using extreme cooling and wish to effectively turn off that card without disconnecting it, and then putting it back in when you’re ready to roll once more.
Inputs and outputs are rather important so it is only fair that we take a glance at those too before we take a look at the detailed specifications of the Z170 XPOWER Titanium Edition. So, in a list created by MSI; this is what we have:
1 x PS/2 keyboard/ mouse combo port
3 x USB 2.0 ports
* 1 x HOTKEY port
* 1 x BIOS FLASHBACK+ port
1 x Clear CMOS button
2 x HDMI™ ports
1 x DisplayPort
2 x USB 3.1 Gen2 ports
4 x USB 3.1 Gen1 ports
1 x LAN (RJ45) port
1 x Optical S/PDIF OUT connector
5 x OFC audio jacks