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MSI Z270 Gaming M7 Motherboard Review

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,086
Location
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Feature Testing: Mystic Light

Feature Testing: Mystic Light



In the introduction, we mentioned that we were surprised that the Z270 Gaming M7 had a rather basic RGB LED lighting feature, and that it had one important oversight. We will elaborate on that now. First and foremost, despite sharing the "Mystic Light" nomenclature with the Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon, and all MSI products with RGB LED lightning, the way that the feature is implemented on the Gaming M7 is radically different than its cheaper sibling.

Instead of being able to display countless colours and having over a dozen effects, the Gaming M7 can only display seven colours and it has just 5 effects. Not only that, but you cannot control the various lighting sections independently, they are all linked together into one overall lighting zone. What that means is that all the LEDs will display a single colour and they will all twinkle together with the same effect. Well...actually not all the LEDs. You see the power and reset buttons, the Debug LED display, as well as a half dozen other diagnostic LEDs are of the red-only variety, and the two LEDs that indicate whether the CPU fans headers are in PWM or DC modes are either red or green. What this means that is that no matter what, you cannot really achieve a uniform colour pattern on this motherboard...unless you choose red.

This is a shame, since as you will see below MSI have done a great job of creating distinctive and truly eye-catching lighting designs. But first, let's take a peek at the software again:

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The LED utility is obviously the piece of software in charge of controlling the Mystic Light RGB LED lighting feature. Whether you like LED lighting or not, you will need to install this piece of software (which is integrated into the Gaming App) since there is no LED settings in the UEFI. If you want to disable this feature, it is as simple as clicking the icon in the top-right corner.

If you don’t want to disable them, that is good news since they are enabled by default. Using the LED utility you can adjust the lights to any one of seven colours and customize them with your choice of lighting effects, such as breathing, flashing, double flashing, random, or they can react to your music or your CPU temperature. You can also choose to disable all effects, and just display a static colour.

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Click on image to enlarge

As you can clearly see, the lighting choices that MSI made are great, the shapes and patterns are really appealing. That is why it's such a shame that you are really limited to red if you want a uniform colour scheme. As on the Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon, there is a fair amount of light emanating from the LAN and USB ports. It’s a cool gimmick, but one that few people will likely get to appreciate given its location at the rear of the case.

Don't forget that if you to further expand the lighting, there is also a header on which you can plug an aftermarket RGB LED light strip. This is a neat addition since it replaces the need for a separate controller or power source. You can simply attach a standard 5050 RGB LED strip to the included extension cable, and attach that cable to the header. This approach not only saves you money, and reduces clutter inside your system, but also gives you full control over that strip from inside the LED application.

Overall, MSI kind of missed the mark with this RGB LED lighting implementation. All of the necessary hardware is there and the design choices are excellent, but the colour and effect choices are limited, and the various non-RGB LEDs ruin the overall look if you choose any colour but red. Though some may disagree, we really don't mind that the lighting zones cannot be independently controlled, since we don't expect that many people will want to use different colours and effects at the same time.

Here is a little live action look at Mystic Light on the MSI Z270 Gaming M7:

<iframe width="700" height="394" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/TgUczEsY7kc?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​
 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
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Messages
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Location
Montreal
Feature Testing: Onboard Audio

Feature Testing: Onboard Audio


Since fewer and fewer consumers seem to be buying discrete sound cards, the quality of a motherboard's onboard audio is now more important than ever. As such, we figured that it was worthwhile to take a closer look at just how good the analog signal quality is coming out of the Audio Boost 4 PRO audio subsystem that is implemented on the Z270 Gaming M7. As mentioned earlier, this model features twin Realtek ALC1220 codecs, which is incredibly unique, so we are anxious to see what that means for performance, if anything. The MSI Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon that we reviewed earlier didn't really keep up with the competition in the audio department, so we'll see if that is an issues that plagues all MSI Z270 motherboards.

Since isolated results don't really mean much, but we have also included some numbers from the plethora of motherboards that we have previously reviewed. All of the Z170 models feature onboard audio solutions that are built around the Realtek ALC1150 codec, while the Z270 motherboards all feature the newer Realtek ALC1220 codec. While they may all have similar codecs, there are vastly different hardware implementations that feature different op-amps, headphone amplifiers, filtering capacitors, secondary components and layouts.

We are going to do this using both quantitative and qualitative analysis, since sound quality isn't really something that can be adequately explained with only numbers. To do the quantitative portion, we have turned to RightMark Audio Analyzer (RMAA), which the standard application for this type of testing.

Since all modern motherboards support very high quality 24-bit, 192kHz audio playback we selected that as the sample mode option. Basically, what this test does is pipe the audio signal from the front-channel output to the line-in input via a 3.5mm male to 3.5mm male mini-plug cable, and then RightMark Audio Analyzer (RMAA) does the audio analysis. Obviously we disabled all software enhancements since they interfere with the pure technical performance that we are trying to benchmark.

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If we compare the Gaming M7 to the Gaming Pro Carbon, we think that it's fair to say that the results are essentially identical. That is not great news since that places this upper-end motherboard at the bottom of the pack when you compare it to the other Z270 motherboards, and even a few Z170 motherboards that we have reviewed. We didn't have a chance to benchmark the audio going to the front panel header's headphone jack, but there is no reason to suspect that it is any better. Ultimately though, numbers don't tell the whole story, since qualitatively there's absolutely nothing wrong with the audio quality. We listened to a variety of music and spoken word content using a mix of Grado SR225i and Koss PortaPro headphones, Westone UM1 IEMs, and Logitech Z-5500 5.1 speakers, and had no criticisms to make. As we tend to repeat, we aren't experts in this area, but we know what we like and know what wee don’t like, and we suspect that your average user will be perfectly satisfied with this motherboard's onboard audio capabilities.
 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
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Messages
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Location
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Feature Testing: M.2 PCI-E 3.0 x4

Feature Testing: M.2 PCI-E 3.0 x4


One of the big advancements of the Skylake/Z170 LGA1151 platform was the fact that it brought the M.2 slot to the mainstream. Not only did it make this new storage connector available at a more reasonable price, but it was now properly implemented too. While most first-gen X99 LGA2011-v3 motherboards had an M.2 connector, many were speed limited or had a caveats list a mile long. All Z170 motherboard boasted about their "full speed" PCI-E 3.0 x4 M.2 slots, and in our reviews those claims generally held up. With this new Z270 launch we expected similar performance levels from the M.2 slots, and that is what we are here to find out. While there still isn’t an M.2 SSD that can make full use of this interface's theoretical maximum bandwidth of 32Gbps (4GB/s), we settled on one that could crack the 2000MB/s barrier: the Samsung SSD 950 PRO 256GB.

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Despite now being usurped by the SSD 960 PRO, this high performance NVMe PCI-E SSD combines Samsung's awesome UBX controller with its industry-leading 3D V-NAND and is capable of sequential read speeds of up to 2,200MB/second and write speeds of up to 900MB/sec.

One of the ways that we will be evaluating the performance of a motherboard's M.2 interface is by verifying that is capable of matching or exceeding these listed transfer rates. The other is by checking to see whether it performs as well as when we install the SSD 950 PRO onto a ASUS Hyper M.2 x4 expansion card plugged directly into a PCI-E 3.0 x16 slot. The PCI-E lanes that the M.2 slot requires can come from either the processor or more usually the Z270 PCH, and we are interested to see how well that lane splitting was implemented and whether it is causing any performance issues.

One of the coolest aspects of the MSI Z270 Gaming M7 is the fact that it features three M.2 connectors, which can mean less cable management issues if you decide to ditch conventional wired storage. Although you can RAID the two together, we aren't going to be able to test that out since we don't have another SSD 950 PRO laying around. Nevertheless, we are interested in determining whether there is a performance difference between both connectors.


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Clockwise from top left: M.2 top vs M.2 middle vs. M.2 bottom vs PCI-E

As can see, the performance of the three M.2 slots on the Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon was excellent. They all performed nearly identically with each other, and they came within less than 1% of the performance of the PCI-E slot adapter.

While transfer rates are obviously an important metric, we figured that it was also worthwhile to take a peak at instructions per second (IOPS) to ensure that there wasn't any variance there either:

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Clockwise from top left: M.2 top vs M.2 middle vs. M.2 bottom vs PCI-E

Once again, the differences are essentially non-existent and well within the margin of error for this benchmark. As a result, it is clear that the M.2 interface on the Z270 Gaming M7 has been very well implemented and should ensure that you get optimal performance from any current or future M.2 x4 solid state drives.
 

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
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Messages
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Location
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Auto & Manual Overclocking Results

Auto & Manual Overclocking Results


It wouldn't be an HWC review if we didn't include some overclocking results, so we thoroughly tested this motherboard's capabilities, especially its auto-overclocking functionality. There won't be any ground breaking insights on how to overclock Kaby Lake - since it's just Skylake Plus - but our personal pointers are to increase the vCore up to around 1.35V if you're cooling can handle it, while increasing the VCCIO up to 1.20V, and the System Agent voltage up to 1.25V if you plan on increasing the cache or memory frequency. If you are trying to achieve the highest possible DDR4 memory speeds, increasing the VCCIO to 1.25V and vSA to 1.35V might be worth trying out. These last two are really only needed if you plan on seriously pushing the Uncore/cache frequency or the memory frequency. On the memory front, we are sticking with (up to) 1.40V in order to alleviate any possible bottlenecks and to stay inline with all our previous DDR4 reviews. By the way, if you have an unlocked K-series processor, there's no reason to go crazy increasing the BCLK if you can achieve similar results by just tweaking the various multipliers instead.


Auto Overclocking

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Click on image to enlarge

As we mentioned in the introduction, this motherboard has one of the cooler automatic overclocking features that we have encountered. The Game Boost Knob is a large rotating knob/clickable button that is found in the lower right-hand corner of the motherboard. It allows users a means of (literally) manually overclocking their system with the ease of automatic presets. The knob has different eight positions, starting from zero (which means off) to the mythical 11. These presets can overclock a Core i7-7700K from a mere 4.60Ghz all the way up to 5.20GHz. Also, as you will see below, MSI have included memory overclocking in these presets, so you're getting a pretty holistic overclock.

If the motherboard is already installed in your case, you don't have to bother manually toying with the knob. In the top left corner of the UEFI, there is an option to switch between hardware and software mode, and you can just select the desired overclocking preset with your mouse.

If you are not comfortable entering the BIOS, MSI have a Windows-based software solution for you as well:

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Click on image to enlarge

In the Command Center app, there is a Game Boost tab that gives you full access to the eight Game Boost presets. It also lists what overclock you can expect at each level, which is obviously incredibly handy. Once you have chosen your desired preset, a simple reboot locks in the overclock. The whole process takes only few seconds. It is very well implemented and we like the fact that there are actually levels, unlike the single preset approach on the MSI Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon.

Let's see the results:

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Obviously, we had to try Level 11. We knew that our particular i7-7700K could enter Windows at 5.20GHz given enough voltage, but knew better than to expect any stability. As you can see, for this preset MSI have cranked the Vcore all the way up to 1.50V, which is stratospheric. Despite this large amount of voltage, our chip simply could not pass any serious stability tests like wPrime or 3DMark. Even if we achieved stability, we wouldn't feel comfortable with this much voltage running through a 14nm processor that wasn't being super-cooled.

Since this motherboard has multiple presets we simply decided to try the next one down, Level 10:

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Click on image to enlarge

As you can see, Game Boost Level 10 proved to be more manageable for our Core i7-7700K. It pushed our chip up to 5.10GHz at 1.40V and also surprisingly boost the memory to DDR4-3733. This latter part is really impressive since so few other automatic overclocking features ever bother with the memory, much less ever cross DDR4-3000. The memory timings are still very loose, but that’s just the default timings of our G.Skill DDR4-3866 16GB memory kit. While 1.40V is much better than 1.50V, we still think that much voltage can overwhelm a lot of lesser cooling solutions, so just make sure to keep an eye on your core temperatures.

We do have to mention that the 5.10GHz clock speed was not static, the processor would occasionally downclock to 4.70GHz at 1.41V in certain heavily threaded workloads. You will see the evidence of that in our wPrime and FAHBench. Either way, few real-life applications or games ever actually require eight threads, and even fewer ever max out all the cores, so this Game Boost feature will still provide a heathy performance increase in most scenarios.


Manual Overclocking

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The Z270 Gaming M7 had no problems hitting our manual overclocking target of 5.0GHz at 1.35V. While our Core i7-7700K can reach up to 5.1GHz, as evidenced above, the amount of extra voltage required to do so makes it an unattractive proposition due to the increased heat output. As on every other Z270 motherboard, we settled on 4.6GHz for the cache, which is 400MHz above the default. This came in handy when it came to extracting the most possible bandwidth from our G.Skill Trident Z F4-3866C18D-16GTZ memory kit. This motherboard was indeed able to apply this memory kit's DDR4-3866 XMP profile, but we were a little shocked at the amount of voltage that it applied: 1.424V for the System Agent, 1.408V for the I/O, and 1.360V for the RAM. While the RAM voltage is closed enough to what it should be (1.35V), the other two are way off the charts. We aren’t comfortable using more than 1.35V with either of two voltages, particularly since it really isn’t required to hit a ‘mere’ DDR4-3866.

Memory Overclocking

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Since this motherboard is certified for DDR4-4133+, we decided to try out some real memory overclocking. While the M7 was not able to successfully apply our Corsair DDR4-4000 kit's XMP profile, but we were able to overclock our G.Skill DDR4-3866 modules to DDR4-4000. Only a small handful of the motherboards that we have reviewed have ever reached this level, so clearly MSI have done a great job with this model.
 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
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Messages
1,086
Location
Montreal
System Benchmarks

System Benchmarks


In the System and Gaming Benchmarks sections, we reveal the results from a number of benchmarks run with the Core i7-7700K and Z270 Gaming M7 at default clocks, with the three best automatic overclocks, and using own our manual overclock. This will illustrate how much performance can be achieved with this motherboard in stock and overclocked form. For a thorough comparison of the Core i7-7700K versus a number of different CPUs have a look at our "Intel Kaby Lake i7-7700K & i5-7600K Review" article.


SuperPi Mod v1.9 WP


When running the SuperPI 32MB benchmark, we are calculating Pi to 32 million digits and timing the process. Obviously more CPU power helps in this intense calculation, but the memory sub-system also plays an important role, as does the operating system. We are running one instance of SuperPi Mod v1.9 WP. This is therefore a single-thread workload.

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wPRIME 2.10


wPrime is a leading multithreaded benchmark for x86 processors that tests your processor performance by calculating square roots with a recursive call of Newton's method for estimating functions, with f(x)=x2-k, where k is the number we're sqrting, until Sgn(f(x)/f'(x)) does not equal that of the previous iteration, starting with an estimation of k/2. It then uses an iterative calling of the estimation method a set amount of times to increase the accuracy of the results. It then confirms that n(k)2=k to ensure the calculation was correct. It repeats this for all numbers from 1 to the requested maximum. This is a highly multi-threaded workload.

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The reason that the Auto OC result is not as good as the 5.1Ghz core clock would indicate is because the processor would often drop down to 4.7Ghz in this application.


Cinebench R15


Cinebench R15 64-bit
Test1: CPU Image Render
Comparison: Generated Score


The latest benchmark from MAXON, Cinebench R15 makes use of all your system's processing power to render a photorealistic 3D scene using various different algorithms to stress all available processor cores. The test scene contains approximately 2,000 objects containing more than 300,000 total polygons and uses sharp and blurred reflections, area lights and shadows, procedural shaders, antialiasing, and much more. This particular benchmarking can measure systems with up to 64 processor threads. The result is given in points (pts). The higher the number, the faster your processor.

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WinRAR x64


WinRAR x64 5.40
Test: Built-in benchmark, processing 1000MB of data.
Comparison: Time to Finish

One of the most popular file archival and compression utilities, WinRAR's built-in benchmark is a great way of measuring a processor's compression and decompression performance. Since it is a memory bandwidth intensive workload it is also useful in evaluating the efficiency of a system's memory subsystem.


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FAHBench


FAHBench 1.2.0
Test: OpenCL on CPU
Comparison: Generated Score

FAHBench is the official Folding@home benchmark that measures the compute performance of CPUs and GPUs. It can test both OpenCL and CUDA code, using either single or double precision, and implicit or explicit modeling. The single precision implicit model most closely relates to current folding performance.


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The reason that the Auto OC result is not as good as the 5.1Ghz core clock would indicate is because the processor would occasionally drop down to 4.7Ghz in this application.


HEVC Decode Benchmark v1.61


HEVC Decode Benchmark (Cobra) v1.61
Test: Frame rates at various resolution, focusing on the top quality 25Mbps bitrate results.
Comparison: FPS (Frames per Second)

The HEVC Decode Benchmark measures a system's HEVC video decoding performance at various bitrates and resolutions. HEVC, also known as H.265, is the successor to the H.264/MPEG-4 AVC (Advanced Video Coding) standard and it is very computationally intensive if not hardware accelerated. This decode test is done entirely on the CPU.


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LuxMark v3.1


Test: OpenCL CPU Mode benchmark of the LuxBall HDR scene.
Comparison: Generated Score

LuxMark is a OpenCL benchmarking tool that utilizes the LuxRender 3D rendering engine. Since it OpenCL based, this benchmark can be used to test OpenCL rendering performance on both CPUs and GPUs, and it can put a significant load on the system due to its highly parallelized code.


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PCMark 8


PCMark 8 is the latest iteration of Futuremark’s system benchmark franchise. It generates an overall score based upon system performance with all components being stressed in one way or another. The result is posted as a generalized score. In this case, we tested with both the standard Conventional benchmark and the Accelerated benchmark, which automatically chooses the optimal device on which to perform OpenCL acceleration.

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AIDA64 Memory Benchmark

AIDA64 Extreme Edition is a diagnostic and benchmarking software suite for home users that provides a wide range of features to assist in overclocking, hardware error diagnosis, stress testing, and sensor monitoring. It has unique capabilities to assess the performance of the processor, system memory, and disk drives.

The benchmarks used in this review are the memory bandwidth and latency benchmarks. Memory bandwidth benchmarks (Memory Read, Memory Write, Memory Copy) measure the maximum achievable memory data transfer bandwidth. The code behind these benchmark methods are written in Assembly and they are extremely optimized for every popular AMD, Intel and VIA processor core variants by utilizing the appropriate x86/x64, x87, MMX, MMX+, 3DNow!, SSE, SSE2, SSE4.1, AVX, and AVX2 instruction set extension.
The Memory Latency benchmark measures the typical delay when the CPU reads data from system memory. Memory latency time means the penalty measured from the issuing of the read command until the data arrives to the integer registers of the CPU.


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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
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Messages
1,086
Location
Montreal
Gaming Benchmarks

Gaming Benchmarks



Futuremark 3DMark (2013)


3DMark v1.1.0
Graphic Settings: Fire Strike Preset
Rendered Resolution: 1920x1080
Test: Specific Physics Score and Full Run 3DMarks
Comparison: Generated Score


3DMark is the brand new cross-platform benchmark from the gurus over at Futuremark. Designed to test a full range of hardware from smartphones to high-end PCs, it includes three tests for DirectX 9, DirectX 10 and DirectX 11 hardware, and allows users to compare 3DMark scores with other Windows, Android and iOS devices. Most important to us is the new Fire Strike preset, a DirectX 11 showcase that tests tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading. Like every new 3DMark version, this test is extremely GPU-bound, but it does contain a heavy physics test that can show off the potential of modern multi-core processors.


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Futuremark 3DMark 11


3DMark 11 v1.0.5
Graphic Settings: Extreme Preset
Resolution: 1920x1080
Test: Specific Physics Score and Full Run 3DMarks
Comparison: Generated Score


3DMark 11 is Futuremark's very latest benchmark, designed to tests all of the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading. At the moment, it is lot more GPU-bound than past versions are now, but it does contain a terrific physics test which really taxes modern multi-core processors.


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Futuremark 3DMark Vantage


3DMark Vantage v1.1.2
Graphic Settings: Performance Preset
Resolution: 1280x1024

Test: Specific CPU Score and Full Run 3DMarks
Comparison: Generated Score

3DMark Vantage is the follow-up to the highly successful 3DMark06. It uses DirectX 10 exclusively so if you are running Windows XP, you can forget about this benchmark. Along with being a very capable graphics card testing application, it also has very heavily multi-threaded CPU tests, such Physics Simulation and Artificial Intelligence (AI), which makes it a good all-around gaming benchmark.


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Valve Particle Simulation Benchmark


Valve Particle Simulation Benchmark
Resolution: 1920x1080
Anti-Aliasing: 4X
Anisotropic Filtering: 8X
Graphic Settings: High

Comparison: Particle Performance Metric

Originally intended to demonstrate new processing effects added to Half Life 2: Episode 2 and future projects, the particle benchmark condenses what can be found throughout HL2:EP2 and combines it all into one small but deadly package. This test does not symbolize the performance scale for just Episode Two exclusively, but also for many other games and applications that utilize multi-core processing and particle effects. This benchmark might be a little old, but is still very highly-threaded and thus will keep scaling nicely as processors gain more and more threads. As you will see the benchmark does not score in FPS but rather in its own "Particle Performance Metric", which is useful for direct CPU comparisons.


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X3: Terran Conflict


X3: Terran Conflict 1.2.0.0
Resolution: 1920x1080
Texture & Shader Quality: High
Antialiasing 4X
Anisotropic Mode: 8X
Glow Enabled

Game Benchmark
Comparison: FPS (Frames per Second)

X3: Terran Conflict (X3TC) is the culmination of the X-series of space trading and combat simulator computer games from German developer Egosoft. With its vast space worlds, intricately detailed ships, and excellent effects, it remains a great test of modern CPU performance. While the X3 Reality engine is single-threaded, it provides us with an interesting look at performance in an old school game environment.


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Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward Benchmark


Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward
Resolution: 1920x1080
Texture & Shader Quality: Maximum IQ
DirectX 11
Fullscreen

Game Benchmark
Comparison: Generated Score

Square Enix released this benchmarking tool to rate how your system will perform in Heavensward, the expansion to Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. This official benchmark software uses actual maps and playable characters to benchmark gaming performance and assign a score to your PC.


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Grand Theft Auto V


DirectX Version: DirectX 11
Resolution: 1920x1080
FXAA: On
MSAA: X4
NVIDIA TXAA: Off
Anisotropic Filtering: X16
All advanced graphics settings off.

In GTA V, we utilize the handy in-game benchmarking tool. We do ten full runs of the benchmark and average the results of pass 3 since they are the least erratic. We do additional runs if some of the results are clearly anomalous. The Rockstar Advanced Game Engine (RAGE) is ostensibly multi-threaded, but it definitely places the bulk of the CPU load on only one or two threads.


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Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor


Resolution: 1920x1080
Graphical Quality: Custom
Mesh/Shadow/Texture Filtering/Vegetation Range: Ultra
Lighting/Texture Quality/Ambient Occlusion: High
Depth of Field/Order Independent Transparency/Tesselation: Enabled

With its high resolution textures and several other visual tweaks, Shadow of Mordor’s open world is also one of the most detailed around. This means it puts massive load on graphics cards and should help point towards which GPUs will excel at next generation titles. We do three full runs of the benchmark and average the results.


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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,086
Location
Montreal
Voltage Regulation / Power Consumption

Voltage Regulation

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Since it is a gaming-oriented model with serious overclocking aspirations, the Z270 Gaming M7 has a few onboard voltage measurement points. Our voltage regulation testing will focus on those various system voltages and the differences encountered between what is selected in the BIOS and what is measured by a digital multi-meter (DMM). Thanks to the six onboard voltage measurement points we didn't have to go poking & prodding everywhere, since all the voltage read points are located in one convenient spot.

These measurements were taken at stock system speeds and with all settings set to default in the BIOS. We used Prime 95 Blend in order to create a heavy system load. Here are our findings:

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We also decided to take a close look at the stability of the all-important CPU Vcore line. This was achieved with a 90 minute run of the AIDA64 System Stability Test, which puts a very substantial load on the system. In order to further increase the strain on the motherboard's voltage regulation components we overclocked our Core i7-7700K to 4.8Ghz at 1.35V (in the BIOS). Although voltage droop is part Intel's specifications, we utilized the Load-Line Calibration (LLC) settings in order to see if this motherboard has what it takes to maintain a rock steady vCore line.

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Although the above only represents an approximately 15 minute portion of the 90 minute run, we watched attentively throughout and there were never any dips or spikes, period. The vCore line was straight as an arrow throughout and it never deviated from 1.352V. You can't really ask for better than that.


Power Consumption

For this section, every energy saving feature was enabled in the BIOS and the Windows power plan was changed from High Performance to Balanced. For our idle test, we let the system idle for 15 minutes and measured the peak wattage through our UPM EM100 power meter. For our CPU load test, we ran Prime 95 In-place large FFTs on all available threads, measuring the peak wattage via the UPM EM100 power meter. For our overall system load test, we ran Prime 95 on all available threads while simultaneously loading the GPU with 3DMark Vantage - Test 6 Perlin Noise.

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At default clocks and with XMP enabled, this motherboard achieved very respectable power consumption numbers, very much inline with the Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon and ASUS Maximus IX Hero. The same holds true for the overclocking numbers, both automatic and manual. Overall then, nothing abnormal to report on the power consumption front.
 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
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Messages
1,086
Location
Montreal
Conclusion

Conclusion


One of the MSI Z270 Gaming M7's biggest selling points is obviously the triple M.2 slots, since it still a very rare feature. With SATA Express effectively dead and U.2 not far behind it, the M.2 standard has emerged as the storage solution of the future. While high-speed PCI-E SSDs have gotten the most publicity, slower but larger 2TB+ models are arriving and as the price keeps falling will make interesting replacements for standard 2.5" drives. Also, let's not forget that Intel's Optane technology is incoming, and those SSD cache drives will also be M.2-based, so spare slots will likely come in handy. We particularly appreciate the fact that MSI implemented these triple slots very well. They routed bandwidth in such a way that you can occupy all three M.2 slots and still be able to use four of the six SATA 6Gb/s ports, so there's no compromises that need to be made when it comes storage.

Like all Z270 motherboards that we have reviewed, this model has two high-speed USB 3.1 Gen2 ports in the back, one Type-A and one Type-C, but it also has USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-C front panel header. He have only seen this once before - on the ASUS Maximus IX Hero - and it is a fantastic addition for anyone with a compatible case. While we are on the topic of connectivity, given this motherboard's price tag, we are disappointed by the lack of a second LAN port. The Killer E2500 controller might offer interesting networking monitoring and packet prioritization capabilities, but we would have really liked to see one Intel-powered gigabit LAN port, since they do tend to have greater compatibility with non-mainstream operating systems and arguably even better performance. Failing that, onboard 802.11ac WiFi would have been an interesting method of bolstering this model's networking pedigree.

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While the three M.2 slots are rarity, their uniqueness is nothing when compared this motherboard's Audio Boost 4 PRO onboard audio solution. We have never seen another motherboard with two audio codecs. MSI have apparently done this so that gamers could use headphones and speakers at the same time, but even now we aren't clear why anyone would want to do that. Nevertheless, ultimately an onboard audio solution is judged by its sound quality, not by its novel capabilities. While the codecs are backed up by the usual complement of audio-grade capacitors, gold-plated audio jacks, de-pop protection, and an audio separation line, the end result is once again not quite up to par with the competition. This model effectively posted identical results as the MSI Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon, and as such its audio numbers are below that the competition. We could point out the lack of EMI covers, but the Pro Carbon had one and that apparently didn't change much. Thankfully, we have reached such a high level that even a bottom-ranked audio solution still rates as "very good" and its qualitative audio quality is perfectly acceptable.

Any way you look at it, the Z270 Gaming M7 is a good looking motherboard. The largely black aesthetic, the sleek heatsinks, the Steel Armor elements, and the cool shrouds and covers all look good. And they all have little plastic cut-outs to allow LED lighting to shine through. So while this model has lighting in all the right spots, and it looks fantastic, it also has the most basic RGB LED lighting feature that we have seen on any Z270 motherboard. While it shares the same "Mystic Light" moniker as the Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon, the two are nothing alike in most respects. This model can only display seven colours, it has just 5 effects, and all the LEDs are linked together so they cannot be independently controlled. It seems like a weird artificial limitation, since clearly the LEDs can output more than seven colours and another version of the LED software has almost twice the number of effects. Now that is one issue, the other is that unless you choose a red lighting scheme, you will never achieve colour uniformity on this motherboard. The power and reset buttons, the Debug LED display, as well as a half dozen other diagnostic LEDs are of the red-only variety, and there's two fan headers with LEDs that glow either red or green. These is also no way to disable any of these offensive red lights, so they will interfere with whatever aesthetic you are going for. Now while we don't mind talking about it, we aren't going to crucify this model due to these shortcomings since we have yet to hear from users for whom RGB LED lighting is actually a must-have/deal-breaking feature.

What is important is overclocking, the Gaming M7 does this very well, in all respects. The physical Game Boost Knob is a fun feature that makes automatic overclocking totally idiot-proof, and we like the fact that the Game Boost feature is accessible not only via this knob, but via the UEFI and Windows-based software. The seven incremental presets ranging from 4.60GHz to 5.20GHz are a nice touch, and we love the fact that they not only overclock the processor, but the memory as well. While our Core i7-7700K couldn't handle the most highest preset, the next one down pushed our chip to 5.1GHz at 1.40V and also set an aggressive DDR4-3733 memory speed. It is an adaptive overclock though, so the processor would occasionally downclock to 4.70GHz in certain heavily threaded workloads. We suspect that MSI is doing this to mitigate any heat output issues with mainstream cooling solutions, which is fine by us.

When we took over for some manual overclocking, this motherboard and its excellent UEFI aided us in reaching a 5.0Ghz CPU core clock, 4.6Ghz cache clock, and we had no problems running our G.Skill DDR4-3866 memory kit at full speed. Since this motherboard boasts support for DDR4-4133+, we decided to try out our Corsair DDR4-4000 kit, but regrettably did not have any success when it came to applying that kit's XMP profile. Nevertheless, we did manage to push our G.Skill modules to DDR4-4000, which is a plateau that few other motherboards have ever reached. Overall, we had fun with our manual overclocking endeavours, but we really only scratched the surface. This is MSI's flagship Z270 motherboard, and it was designed to handle extreme overclocking with sub-zero cooling solutions. There are a bunch of overclocking-specific headers, jumpers, switches, and buttons that add an untold amount of functionality to the motherboard. We also love the voltage read points.

While the audio and lighting aspects of this motherboard that are a little puzzling, though perfectly acceptable, the rest of the MSI Z270 Gaming M7 is fantastic. The storage connectivity is excellent, the software and UEFI are top-notch, the automatic overclocking feature is one of the best, and there’s a bunch extreme overclocking add-ons. The feedback that we have read from current owners of this motherboard is exceedingly positive, and we now clearly see why.

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