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MSI Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon Motherboard Review

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,086
Location
Montreal
Having already reviewed Z270 motherboards from the likes of ASUS, ASRock, and GIGABYTE, we are starting off the new month with a look at an interesting model from the last of the big four motherboard manufacturers, Micro-Star International, better known as MSI.

The model that we are going to be reviewing is the Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon, which as you might have guessed features a carbon fiber aesthetic. While carbon fiber might be a premium material, thankfully this motherboard retails for a fairly reasonable $175 USD / $230 CAD. Starting off with an attractive price is always a good position to be in, but only if the product doesn't exhibit any signs of cost cutting. Thankfully, at least on paper, this model has everything that we have come to expect from a modern motherboard.

Going down the specs list, we see that the Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon has a 10-phase CPU power design, three physical PCI-E 3.0 x16 slots with support for 2-way SLI or 3-way CrossFireX, three PCI-E 3.0 x1 slots, six SATA 6Gb/s ports, and two full-speed PCI-E 3.0 x4 M.2 slots, one of which features a unique M.2 Shield heatspreader/heatshield. There is also one Intel-powered gigabit LAN port, two high-speed USB 3.1 ports, one Type-A and one Type-C, four USB 3.0 ports, two USB 3.0 headers, two USB 2.0 headers, an RGB LED light strip header (more on that below), and since we’re talking about headers, one of its six fan headers supports high current water pumps.

Those who plan on utilizing Kaby Lake's new HD Graphics 630 integrated GPU will have to make due with either DVI-D or HDMI 1.4, which is a rather limited assortment compared to some of the competition. Hopefully, if you're building a new Kaby Lake system you can afford a discrete graphics cards. With the visuals sorted, it's time to focus on sound. This model has been outfitted with the Audio Boost 4 onboard audio solution, which is based on the brand new Realtek ALC1220 ten-channel codec, and is bolstered by a Texas Instruments OP1652 op-amp and Japanese audio-grade capacitors. As has become an industry standard, there is also physical PCB-level audio separation line that protects the audio components from EMI. Given the gaming focus of this motherboard, MSI have also licensed the feature-rich Nahamic 2 audio suite, which will give gamers and budget audiophiles a great deal of tweaking capabilities.

Love it or hate it, no gaming-oriented motherboard is going to leave the factory unblemished by RGB LED lighting in 2017, and the Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon is no different. MSI's implementation is called Mystic Light, and it gives users a choice of 16.8 million colours and 17 effects to choose from. With four lightning zones that can be independently controlled, and a both a Windows and mobile app, there is a lot here for computer builders that want to create an eye-catching system.

MSI have elected to carry over their well-liked Click Bios 5 from Z170 to Z270, which is largely fine by us. However, it will be interesting to see what their singular automatic overclocking feature - known as Game Boost - can achieve in the face of very impressive results from the competition. We are also anxious to try out their revamped software suite, which features a whole host of interesting applications.

Overall, the MSI Z270 Gaming Pro appears to be hit all the right notes. Now it's time to see whether that holds true once we power it on and start testing and tweaking everything it has to offer.

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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,086
Location
Montreal
Packaging & Accessories

Packaging & Accessories


Now that we have gone over the Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon features and specifications in the intro, it is time to examine the packaging and then crack open the box to take a look at the bundled accessories. Let's check it out:

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Since carbon fiber is so closely linked to very high-end sports cars, it is no surprise that that is what adorns the front of this packaging. The subtle use of numerous colours also subliminally highlights the RGB LED lighting feature. On the back of the box, you will find quite a bit of information regarding all of the interesting features that have been packed onto this model, as well as a handy rear I/O panel diagram and a full specifications list.

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Once you flip open the box, you are greeted with two separate sections, the top half securely holds the motherboard in an anti-static bag while the bottom half contains the accessories, the documentation and the software DVD.

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Since the accessories bundle is fairly light, this will be quick. The Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon comes with a black and red rear I/O panel cover, a measly two SATA cables, a simple 2-way SLI bridge, and a RGB LED light strip extension cable that also acts as a Y-splitter so you can power two light strips from the single header. There's nothing necessarily missing from this bundle, but since we were spoiled by the ASRock Fatal1ty Z270 Gaming K6, we would have perhaps liked to see a high bandwidth SLI HB bridge. Still at least MSI didn't make the same bone-headed move as GIGABYTE, and completely omit an SLI bridge from a gaming motherboard...
 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,086
Location
Montreal
A Closer Look at the Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon

A Closer Look at the Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon



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The MSI Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon is a pretty attractive looking motherboard with a blacked-out design, very matte PCB with silkscreened graphics, faux carbon fiber inserts on all of the heatsinks and the rear I/O cover, and shiny metal accents on the memory slots, two of the PCI-E x16 slots, and the cool M.2 Shield. Unlike every other Z270 motherboard that we have reviewed so far, this model has a unique slot configuration that places a PCI-E x1 slot directly under the primary PCI-E x16 slot - instead of directly above it - which renders that slot useless as soon as a dual-slot graphics cards is installed. On the plus side, that has provided extra room for the M.2 slot to accommodate longer 22110-type SSDs. Other unusual layout decisions are the right angle USB 3.0 header - which is actually useful - and the fact that the SATA ports have been split into two locations. Other than that, this a conventional full-size ATX form factor motherboard with 30.5 x 24.4 cm / 12.0 x 9.6 in dimensions, and all the ports and connectors seem to be well-placed at the edges of the motherboard.

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The CPU socket on this motherboard is pretty well surrounded by rows of black capacitors, and that definitely makes the CPU socket area look a little cramped. However, after having installed our large tower heatsink and the water block from a Corsair Hydro H100i all-in-one liquid cooler, we have come to the conclusion that it is really a non-issue for anyone not installing a giant LN2 pot. Feel free to check out our Installation section to get a better look at the clearances.

The Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon has been outfitted with a competent 10-phase CPU power design that utilizes an uPI Semiconductor uP9508Q hybrid digital PWM controller and NIKOS MOSFETs that we consider merely acceptable. There are six doubled phases for the cores, two simple phases for the integrated graphics portion of the processor, and one simple phase each for the VCCSA and VCCIO. Though not explicitly stated in the marketing materials, we do believe that this motherboard is using 10K polymer capacitors throughout. Surprisingly, of all the inductors, only the one next to the 8-pin CPU power connector is of the higher-end variety that features titanium as its core material, hence the "Ti" stamp.

Although our pictures admittedly don't do a fantastic job of focusing directly on them, you do get a slightly closer look at the artificial carbon fiber inserts that are on the two MOSFET coolers. The heatsinks themselves proved more than adequate at cooling the heat output of electrical components, even when heavily overvolted and overclocked.

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The four DDR4 slots are fed by a single phase VRM, support up to 64GB of total system memory, and they have been certified for overclocked memory speeds of up to DDR4-3800. Make sure to check out our Overclocking Results section to see whether we were able to hit that level. MSI still haven't adopted the whole "clipless on one side" concept, but that's not a huge issue for us since as you'll see in our Installation section there are no clearance issues with the back of the primary graphics card.

As you may have noticed, MSI have put metal shielding on each of the memory slots. This was done for largely aesthetic purposes, since this shielding in no way strengthens the slots. In fact, if you click here, you will see that this metal shielding is actually very flimsy and makes no actual contact with the slots.

To the left of the 24-pin ATX power connector is one of the two internal USB 3.0 headers, while to the right of it are the EZ Debug LEDs that light up if there is an issue that caused a boot failure or non-detection of the CPU, graphics card, or RAM. The XMP LED next to the DDR4 memory slots indicates if XMP is enabled.

In the top-right corner of the motherboard you may notice a fan header labeled PUMP_FAN1, that is a special header that has been designed for water pumps and it can supply up to 2 amps of current. This fan header and the CPU fan header are the only both (out of six) to support both DC and PWM fan control modes.

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Here are the two internal USB 3.0/USB 3.1 Gen. 1 headers that can be used to add another four USB ports to the front of your case. This is one of the first motherboards that we have seen to include an angled USB header, and it is a welcome addition since it makes cable management much more simple.

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Directly below the CPU socket is one of the two M.2 slots, with a full-speed PCI-E 3.0 x4 interface, theoretical maximum bandwidth of 32Gb/s, and support for SATA, PCI-E, and PCI-E NVMe M.2 solid state drives. It also supports Intel's upcoming Optane technology. Since there is no PCI-E x1 slot in the way, you can install a 22110 form factor SSD, which is 110 millimeters long instead of the usual 80mm. You can also RAID this M.2 slot with the second one for added performance (RAID 0) or redundancy (RAID 1).

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This motherboard features six SATA 6Gb/s ports, all of which are supplied by the Z270 PCH and as a result support RAID 0/1/5/10 plus Intel Rapid Storage Technology. In a truly inexplicable move, two of the SATA ports have been moved to the bottom right corner of the motherboard. There are no U.2 or SATA Express ports on this motherboard, which we don't particularly mind given the lack of corporate and consumer enthusiasm towards those interfaces. If you need U.2, you can purchase MSI's Turbo U.2 Host Card accessory, which plugs into a M.2 slot.

Speaking of which, the M.2 Shield attached to the bottom M.2 slot is a pretty cool addition to this motherboard. It is essentially just a piece of metal with a strip of thermal material under it that is intended to both draw heat away from an M.2 SSD and also reflect heat from the SSD if there's a graphics card in the second PCI-E x16 slot. This is great since as we have mentioned many times in the past, M.2 SSDs can start throttling themselves when they run too hot, which greatly affects their performance. This slot can only support SSDs up to 80mm length, but otherwise features identical specifications as the top slot, including support for Intel's upcoming Optane technology and RAID.

Now there are numerous storage combinations possible with this motherboard, and they have all have different effects on whether you can use a particular SATA port or M.2 slot, so definitely take a look at this compatibility table that we have made:

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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,086
Location
Montreal
A Closer Look at the Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon pt.2

A Closer Look at the Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon pt.2



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The lower-right corner of the motherboard is where you will find the two misplaced SATA ports and two USB 2.0 headers. If you look closely, next to the M.2 slot is a silkscreened diagram showing the pin layout of the two front panel headers. You must be careful because despite that diagrams location next to the "JSPI1" header, that is not one of the front panel headers. Frankly, we don't like the location of that diagram, and we also really don't like the fact that they split the front panel header into two separate headers.

The bottom edge of motherboard is where you will find the two front panel headers (JFP2 and JFP1, which is not visible), the DEMOLED1 button that changes the various RGB LEDs colours and/or effects when pushed, and the JPOWERLED1 header which serves as a "LED power input", but we have no idea what that means. The JTPM1 header is where you can plug in a TPM (Trusted Platform Module) module, SYS_FAN2 is self-explanatory, and JLED1 is the RGB LED header, where you can plug in any 12V/2A 5050 RGB LED light strip and have it fully powered by the motherboard and controlled by the LED utility.

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Much like previous generations, mainstream Kaby Lake processors support sixteen PCI-E 3.0 lanes for graphics purposes. These lanes are divided across two separate PCI-E x16 slots thanks to a handful of ASMedia ASM1480 PCI-E 3.0 switches . The third mechanical PCI-E x16 3.0 slot operates at x4, and as far as I can tell, it doesn’t actually share it’s bandwidth with anything else. Likewise, it doesn't appear that anything affects the three PCI-E x1 slots, which receive their lanes from the Z270 PCH.

In a regular single graphics card setup, the first PCI-E x16 slot will obviously operate at PCI-E 3.0 x16. In a dual graphics card configuration, the first and second slots will operate at PCI-E 3.0 x8, which will still provide ample bandwidth for even the highest-end GPUs. This 2-Way configuration is the limit for SLI however, as NVIDIA doesn't support SLI on any PCI-E x4 slots, which as mentioned above is the limit for the third PCI-E x16 slot. If you install three Radeon graphics cards, the expansion slots will be running at x8/x8/x4 in PCI-E 3.0 mode. This is obviously not optimal since this last slot doesn't have a direct low latency connection to the processor, but Triple CrossFireX does work in theory.

One of the new features that MSI are promoting are that the two main PCI-E x16 slots are reinforced with "Steel Armor". While this metal shielding will indeed stop the slot from bending when a heavy graphics card is installed, MSI are also claiming that it has some effect in reducing EMI as well. Regrettably, we can't test that.

As briefly mentioned on the previous page, this motherboard has a different PCI-E slot configuration than every other Z270 motherboard that we have reviewed thus far. While they all had a PCI-E x1 slot above the primary PCI-E x16 slot, on this motherboard the first PCI-E x1 slot is below the PCI-E x16 slot, and as a result it will obviously be blocked by any dual-slot graphics cards. It is a rather unusual decision, though perhaps they placed a greater priority on giving the M.2 slot extra room to handle extra-longer 22110-type M.2 solid state drives. Maybe that will be the form factor that Intel's upcoming Optane SSDs use...

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The Audio Boost 4 onboard audio is based on the new Realtek ALC1220 ten-channel HD audio codec, which has been paired to a very competent Texas Instruments OP1652 op-amp, and a handful of Nippon Chemi-Con audio-grade capacitors. We are glad to see that the audio codec has been covered with an electromagnetic interference (EMI) shield, and that there is a clear PCB isolation line protecting the audio section from the rest of the motherboard. The LEDs on the underside of the motherboard glow through that isolation line and are part of the adjustable multi-color Ambient LED feature.

Despite meeting our audio hardware checklist, this motherboard's audio performance didn't really stand out from the crowd as you will see in our Audio Results section.

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The Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon has a pretty decent assortment of ports on its rear I/O panel. Starting from left to right, there is a combo keyboard/mouse PS/2 port, two USB 2.0 ports, a DVI-D video output, USB 3.1 Type-A and USB 3.1 Type-C ports, USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI 1.4 video output, one gigabit LAN port, two USB 3.0 ports, and five gold-plated analog audio jacks and one S/PDIF output.

Since this is the least expensive Z270 motherboard that we have tested yet, we can't really complain about the lack of a second LAN port or even a DisplayPort output. Six USB 2.0/3.0 ports, two USB 3.1 ports, one Intel-powered LAN port, and two video outputs is enough to satisfy our baseline connectivity requirements.

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Compared to some other motherboard, this model doesn't have a ton of additional third-party controllers, but it does have a an ASMedia ASM2142 USB 3.1 Gen2 host controller, an ASMedia ASM1543 USB 3.1 Type-C switch, an ASMedia ASM1464 USB 3.0 signal repeater, and a Intel I219-V gigabit LAN controller.

MSI have also added a VR Boost accelerator chip, which they claim can provide superior signal to a USB port, giving you a more seamless VR experience when you plug if your VR device into that single port. Once again, that's regrettably not really something that we can test at this point in time.

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While there are a handful of tiny ICs mounted on the back of the motherboard, what really caught our eye was all of the silkscreening. From what we can best described as a racetrack with a checkered starting line, to a bunch of gaming-related manufacturer brands and logos, it is all pretty unique.

As we have come to expect from a motherboard in this price range, all of the heatsinks and the plastic shroud are attached with metal screws.

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The other thing that is mounted on the back of the motherboard are a bunch of the LEDs. There are some following the PCB audio separation line, while others on the mounted near the top-right side of the motherboard to create an impressive effect that we demonstrate in the Mystic Light feature test page.
 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,086
Location
Montreal
Hardware Installation

Hardware Installation


In the Hardware Installation section we examine how major components fit on the motherboard, and whether there are any serious issues that may affect installation and general functionality. Specifically, we are interested in determining whether there is adequate clearance in all critical areas.

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As mentioned in the previous section, this motherboard has a fairly crowded CPU socket area due to the proximity of several capacitors to the socket. Having said that, when installed in the East-West or North-South orientation, our Prolimatech Mega Shadow cooler and its numerous bits of mounting hardware had no issues physically clearing the capacitors or the MOSFET heatsinks. As a result, we believe that most large CPU heatsink and all-in-one liquid coolers should be easily installable.

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We did not encounter any clearance issues between standard height memory modules and our large CPU cooler, though the fan clips did not come close to making contact with the memory heatspreader. Surprisingly, unlike on every other Z270 motherboard so far, we were able to install our tallest memory modules in the furthest memory slots. The fan clips did come exceptionally close to touching the memory heatspreader, so we had to be excessively careful when putting the fan clips into place.

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Thanks to the expansion slot layout, there is a large gap between the DDR4 memory slots and the back of the graphics card, so there is no need to take out the GPU in order to release the clips and install/uninstall the memory modules. The 24-pin ATX power connector and the 8-pin CPU power connector are both ideally placed, so that makes assembling and disassembling the system just a tad easier.

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This motherboard will hold one, two, or even three dual-slot graphics cards without difficulty. The cards will obviously extend past the motherboard length-wise, and that last card will overhang all the headers on the bottom edge of the motherboard. Since there is a decent amount of room between the primary graphics card and the heatsink, it was relatively easy to reach the PCI-E slot release clip.

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The four 90-degree SATA ports are obviously accessible no matter how many graphics cards are installed, while the two SATA ports in the bottom corner can be blocked by a dual-slot card installed in the third PCI-E x16 slot.

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Installing an M.2 SSD in the top M.2 slot is a trouble-free affair. You shouldn’t need to remove your CPU heatsink, but you will have to remove any graphics card installed in the primary PCI-E x16 slot since the space between the heatsink and the back of the graphics card is insufficient to fit any human-sized hands.

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Installing an M.2 SSD on the bottom M.2 slot is also simple. Obviously, any dual-slot expansion card installed in the secondary PCI-E x16 slot will cover the slot, so that card will need to be removed before installing or removing any M.2 solid state drive. Also, on this motherboard the unique M.2 Shield will need to be removed or flipped open.

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We were able to install our Prolimatech Mega Shadow heatsink without running into any issues, but its large rear mounting bracket did come pretty close to one little solder point. This is the case on most motherboards, so nothing to worry about there.
 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,086
Location
Montreal
BIOS Rundown

BIOS Rundown


Given the relatively minor differences between Z170 and Z270 motherboards, MSI have unsurprisingly decided to carry forward their well-liked Click Bios 5. In fact, the overall layout and design of this UEFI has remained basically unchanged since Click Bios 2, so clearly MSI are the brand of choice for those who like consistency from one product to the next. The UEFI is divided across two distinct modes. The EZ Mode is simplified and features a mouse-friendly graphical user interface (GUI) for basic tasks, while the Advanced Mode has all the settings, options, and features that you could ever want. The one important setting that it does lack is any way of controlling the onboard LEDs, you must install the Gaming APP in order to manage that feature. There should at least be an on/off option for those who really don't want anything to do with RGB LED lighting.

In both modes, the top third of the screen is occupied by a row that contains a basic overview of your system (CPU temperature, motherboard temperature, CPU & RAM type, size and frequencies, date and time, etc) as well as a drag and drop boot priority list. While it does contain extremely handy information, this section carries over from one page to the next, taking up a massive amount of real-estate.

In the top-left corner are also two large buttons: Game Boost and XMP. The Game Boost feature is basically the same as what MSI used to call OC Genie so with a simple push of this button the BIOS will immediately overclock your system and do so in a completely hands-off manner. This model offers one Game Boost mode, and it will overclock a Core i7-7700K to 4.8GHz, while also setting a DDR4-3200 memory speed. If that's not the enough, or if you just want to higher memory speeds, the XMP button enables your memory kit's XMP profile. Together these two features will remove two of the main reasons for entering the Advanced mode.


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When you first enter the Click Bios 5 you will be greeted with a single screen that uses large icons and simplistic language. This "EZ Mode" is instantly responsive to your input commands and there is almost no noticeable lag. They did however include a few transition delays when switching from one section to another, but this is an intentional design feature that makes the new UEFI more pleasing to use.

As the name suggests the EZ Mode of Click Bios 5 boasts a simplified layout and features a mouse-friendly interface that prioritizes ease of use and navigation. It obviously does not have all the functionality of the MSI’s “advanced” mode. However, MSI has taken the EZ Mode and made it into a more powerful section than what even ASUS offers in their EZ Mode.

In addition to being able to use MSI's fan tuning wizard, change boot priority, implement XMP RAM profiles, and even turn on Game Boost (or what was once called OC Genie), you can also access a fully enabled hardware monitor to help troubleshoot common issues. There are also options for Fast Boot, turning on or off the Ethernet or onboard sound controllers, configuring the SATA devices to use (or not use) AHCI/RAID mode and even view a BIOS log to review any changes previously made. This last feature is also perfect when troubleshooting issues that suddenly occur after a reboot. On top of all that you can also enter M-Flash to update your BIOS firmware, and access your own custom Favorites page, albeit it is empty by default, all without ever having to enter the actual Advanced Mode.

If the EZ Mode doesn't have the versatility that you are looking for, it is time to move on to the Advanced mode:

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In the Advanced mode, the bottom two-thirds of the screen is divided into two columns with three rows each and a center space. The left and right columns are dedicated to navigation for Settings, OC, M-Flash, OC Profile, Hardware Monitor, and Board Explorer with the first three being located in the left hand column and the last three in the right. Because the top of the screen and the two sides are occupied with static information or menus, that center space is not huge, and that is less than ideal since that is where you will be viewing and tweaking all the settings.

The Settings menu is the section where you will find the bulk of the BIOS's settings. The System Status sub-menu meanwhile lists some basic system information, including the date and time, standard storage devices, BIOS version, a few processor cache tidbits and the amount of memory installed. The Advanced sub-menu is also where you can enable/disable or just find all the various settings and options for all the onboard devices like the audio, LAN, USB 3.0, SATA ports, etc.

The Boot sub-menu is essentially where storage device priority can be set, boot drives are selected, the full screen logo can be enabled or disabled, and ton of other boot settings that can help with the installation or troubleshooting of various OS installations can be modified. The Security sub-menu is where you can set the administrator and individual user passwords, as well as enable or disable chassis intrusion feature. There is also a Save & Exit option but that seems redundant since you can just hit the F10 key instead.

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The OC menu is where most enthusiast will spend their time. Simply put, these pages easily make up for the quirky UI. The list of features and settings for those options is insanely long and we doubt many will find a feature missing. The amount of detail here is nothing short of impressive.

As its name suggests, the Advanced DRAM Configuration section is where you will find all the memory-related settings. Within this section you can select and change all the memory settings, and each memory channel has its own area, from which you can alter the primary and secondary timings. It has just about every memory modifier that an enthusiast or overclocker would need to fine-tune their modules.

Each of the main subsections defaults to a closed list making scrolling to the proper subgroup faster for experienced users, but more time consuming for novices - as they will have to manually enlarge each sub-section before being able to see the options. As we said this is a BIOS meant for enthusiasts and the learning curve can be very, very steep.

The CPU Specifications sub-section is where you can find all of the extensions that the processor you have installed supports, while the Memory-Z lists most of the important memory timings for each module you have installed.
 

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,086
Location
Montreal
BIOS Rundown pt.2

BIOS Rundown pt.2



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The M-Flash section is the built-in utility that greatly simplifies the BIOS updating process. Here, the BIOS can be updated from a ROM file located on your hard drive(s) or USB flash drive(s). It is quick, painless, and it takes the worry out of BIOS flashing.

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The OC Profile feature gives users the option to save and switch between BIOS profiles, for example an everyday profile and a benchmarking profile. Not only is this infinitely quicker than manually inserting every setting, but the profiles can be saved and shared among other Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon owners.

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The Hardware Monitor section is dedicated to the monitoring of the various voltages, temperatures, and fan speeds. This whole section is quite comprehensive, it has all the essential temperature and voltage readouts that you would expect. It also has improved fan control functionality thanks to real-time fan speed graphs with four manually adjustable RPM points. For those that prefer a more hands-off approach, there is also a Smart Fan Mode that can intelligently managed fan speeds based on CPU and/or system temperatures.

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One of the unique aspects of MSI's BIOS is the Board Explorer feature, which is an interactive map of the motherboard and what is attached to it. By clicking on any of the highlighted areas you can easily pull up detailed information about what fan headers, USB ports, and SATA ports are in use. It's actually a pretty neat feature.

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By pressing the F1 key or by clicking on the little heart icon in the top right corner you are brought to the new and somewhat hidden Favorites section. This basically mirrors what we have seen on ASUS motherboards, and it basically allows you to have all your most useful or most used settings in one place, so you no longer have to search through the whole bios to find what you need time and time again.
 

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
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Messages
1,086
Location
Montreal
Included Software

Included Software


Command Center

The most important utility in MSI's software suite is the Command Center. Although MSI still has a few standalone apps for different functions, the CC can be used for a wide ranging number of tasks. This system management utility is the hub from which you can monitor system clock speeds, voltages, temperatures, and fan rotation but more importantly it allows users to do both automatic and manual overclocking from within Windows.

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The Command Center initially opens to the CPU tab, where you can see the current CPU multiplier(s) and the BCLK frequency.You can manually change the multiplier for any one or all of the cores, as well as increase or decrease both the base clock and CPU core voltage on-the-fly. You can also adjust the fan speeds of both the CPU and PUMP/FAN1 headers, either manually or by using the Fan tune option.

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The DRAM tab allows you to change the memory frequency, as well as alter the DRAM voltage (for each channel). The IGP tab allows you to control the clock multiplier and voltage of the GPU that is integrated into the processor. This section might not be all that useful since most users will have a dedicated graphics cards.

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The Game Boost tab is where you will find the automatic overclocking feature, though we prefer using the one-click button in the BIOS. As you will see in our Overclocking Results section, thought it is very easy to use it isn't quite as versatile or aggressive as some other manufacturers implementations.

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At the bottom this utility is a static strip with the buttons Advanced, Settings, and Information. Each of those three options reveals - in the form of icons - a handful of additional sub-menus and/or features.

For the Advanced option, the voltage button pop-ups a windows with eight fully adjustable system voltages. The fan button reveals where you can adjust all the system fans, and only the system fans, since the CPU fan control is part of the CPU section of the Command Center app. Clicking the DRAM button will reveal a few dozen memory timings settings, which is pretty sweet. The Sensor button opens up a large real-time onboard temperature sensor control window, which has temperature readouts and fan speeds.

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The Settings section is where you can record system voltages, fan speeds, and system temperatures. You can also establish high or low voltage, fan speed, and system temperature warnings. The Mobile Control panel is where you setup remote access to overclocking and monitoring functions, as well configure your mobile device as a remote for your system's media playback.

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The Information section is just some fundamental information about the specifications of the motherboard, the processor, and the system memory. There is also a Hardware Monitor that allows you to monitor system voltages, fan speeds, and temperatures.
 

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,086
Location
Montreal
Included Software pt.2

Included Software pt.2


Gaming App

While the Command Center is clearly the primary utility in MSI's rich software suite, the standalone Gaming App is also incredibly useful, especially since it is the only means of controlling the onboard RGB LED lighting. As a result, we are glad to see that it has received a sizeable update for this generation.

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When you first enter the app, you are presented with three system performance profiles. The OC Mode simply enables the Game Boost preset that is found in the UEFI, and thus overclocks a Core i7-7700K processor to 4.8Ghz. The Gaming Mode forces the processor to run at its Turbo frequencies at all times, while the Silent Mode restores the clock frequencies to their default values and also allows the system to downclock to 800MHz when idling. If you are using an MSI graphics card, the Game Boost and Gaming Mode should automatically provide some form of GPU overclock.

The other four small icons open up Gaming Hotkey, Mouse Master, and VR. The four greyed out icon obviously has something to do with headsets, but it is not a clickable option, even in MSI's documentation. Gaming Hotkey is user-friendly feature that allows for the easy programming of macro keys, assigning of function keys, or creation of shortcuts for everything from launching any of any application with a single press to multimedia playback control. Mouse Master is a mouse macro utility, allowing users to assigns actions to different keys, as well as adjusting DPI on-the-fly at the touch of a hotkey. The VR feature effectively just enables and closes unnecessary applications in order to ensure the best possible VR experience.


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The three icons at the top of the Gaming App are far more interesting than the three/four at the bottom. The first one is - as its name suggests - related to the onboard LEDs. This LED section is the only feature that gives users control over the Mystic Light RGB LED lighting, since there is no such option in the UEFI.

The RGB LEDs that are integrated into the four main lightning areas, as well as the RGB light strip header, can be adjusted to any one of 16.8 million colours and customized with your choice of cool lighting effects, such as breathing, flashing, double flashing, marquee, meteor, stack, rainbow, lightning, and random. They can also dance to your music, but not to the actual beat, instead you need to select the type of music you are playing (pop, rap, jazz, play, movie). The rudimentary MB Function LEDs - of which there are five - only have four of these effects and don't respond to music. We wish that this software - or perhaps the whole Mystic Light implementation - was a little more 'intelligent', with actual music beat detection and other real-time effects like reacting to CPU temperature, etc.

Since every lighting area is independently controlled, when you make changes you must click apply to save before moving on to the next area, which is a little annoying. We wish there was a way to control all the lighting areas with one click. Currently, the only such option is a button in the top-right corner that only allows for enabling or disabling all the LEDs.

The Chart icon is for the OSD. This on-screen display feature provides a real-time in-game overlay of potential information like CPU usage, CPU frequency, CPU temperature, CPU voltage, how many system memory is being used, and of course what the frame rate is.

The little eye icon opens up the Eye Rest feature, which has four modes that adjust the screen contrast to the optimal level for the given situation. The Eye Rest mode reduces your displays blue light output, which is the type of light that fatigues your eyes the most. The Gaming Mode bumps up the contrast and makes colours pop a little more. The Movie mode dynamically tweaks the gamma and contrast levels. The Customize mode gives you full control over brightness, contrast, gamma, and level...which as far as we can tell is just a less dramatic brightness correction.


Live Update 6

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The Live Update 6 utility is where you can automatically or manually update all the included motherboard-specific software, the drivers, and also download and flash the latest BIOS. You can also install or uninstall any of the software suites from this app as well.


X-Boost

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The X-Boost utility offers a number of system modes designed to increase the performance of specific tasks. It is a little esoteric, since we have no idea what they could be doing to improve "Graphics Performance" or "Audio". Primarily though, this app is really marketed as a way boosting USB performance. In this respect it does work since it makes transfer rates slightly less erratic, but we suspect that is because there is a bit of caching going on somewhere.


Gaming LAN Manager

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The Gaming LAN Manager is a utility designed to help reduce latency courtesy of the often-used cFosSpeed traffic-shapping technology. This utility provides users with a lot of control and monitoring capabilities over every application that is accessing the network. It displays CPU usage, ICMP and UDP average ping, and the network utilization of every system process and program. This tool also allows you give priority to certain applications, and throttle or block others to free network resources for other applications. It is your one-stop tool for monitoring and controlling all network traffic.


DPC Latency Tuner

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As you might have gathered from its name, the DPC Latency Tuner allows users to tweak a few key CPU and memory settings in order to lower DPC latency. While DPC issues are largely software related, there are a few hardware tweaks like stopping the processor from constantly varying its clock speed that may also improve any latency issues.


RAMDisk

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The Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon comes with the familiar RAMDisk utility. For those not familiar with what a RAMDisk is, it basically acts as a virtual drive that is much faster than even the fastest high-end solid state drive. The reason for this is that it makes use of unused system memory (ie: RAM), and turns a chunk of it into an OS-level storage partition (with its own drive letter) that can be used to accelerate the performance and response times of installed or cached applications.


Nahimic 2

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Much like the Creative Sound Blaster Cinema suite that ships with certain motherboards, the Nahimic 2 application takes a capable onboard audio solution and noticeably improves it. With this program you can enhance the surround soundstage to make it easier to pinpoint enemy player locations in online games, optimize the output for clearer audio for music, improve your microphone's abilities to yell orders to your team mate, record XSplit Gamecaster sessions to improve the sound before you upload to your audience, or even just balance all audio at the same level so when switching between applications you don’t deafen yourself. Much like Sound Blaster Cinema add-on which ships with certain motherboards, the Nahimic Audio Enhancer application takes an already good onboard audio solution and noticeably improves it. With this program you can enhanced enhance the surround soundstage to make it easier to pinpoint enemy player locations in online games, optimize the output for clearer audio for music, improve your microphone's abilities to yell orders to your team mate, record XSplit Gamecaster sessions to improve the sound before you upload to your audience, or even just balance all audio at the same level so when switching between applications you don’t deafen yourself.


While we have represented you with that pieces of software that are the most interesting to us, there are bunch of other utilities that we didn't have time to touch on, such as Fast Boost which enables/disables the UEFI's fast boot mode, or Smart Tool which creates a bootable USB for Windows 7 installation, or Dragon Eye that can overlay Twitch or YouTube videos on top of your active gaming session, or Mobile Control which is essentially a smartphone version of the Command Center application. There is also a free 1 year premium license for XSplit Gamecaster V2, which is a utility that allows record, stream and share your gaming session
 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,086
Location
Montreal
Test Setups & Methodology

Test Setups & Methodology



For this review, we are going to be testing the performance of the Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon in four configurations: default settings @ DDR4-2133, default settings with XMP enabled (DDR4-3866), one automatic overclock, and our manual overclock. The components and software are the same across all five configurations, and aside from manually selecting the frequencies, timings, and voltages in the manual overclock configuration, every option in the BIOS was at its default setting.

Intel Core i7 'Kaby Lake' LGA1151 DDR4 Test Setup​
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For all of the benchmarks, appropriate lengths are taken to ensure an equal comparison through methodical setup, installation, and testing. The following outlines our testing methodology:

A) Windows is installed using a full format.

B) Chipset drivers and accessory hardware drivers (audio, network, GPU) are installed.

C)To ensure consistent results, a few tweaks are applied to Windows 10 Pro and the NVIDIA control panel:
  • UAC – Disabled
  • Indexing – Disabled
  • Superfetch – Disabled
  • System Protection/Restore – Disabled
  • Problem & Error Reporting – Disabled
  • Remote Desktop/Assistance - Disabled
  • Windows Security Center Alerts – Disabled
  • Windows Defender – Disabled
  • Screensaver – Disabled
  • Power Plan – High Performance
  • V-Sync – Off

D) All available Windows updates are then installed.

E) All programs are installed and then updated, followed by a defragment.

F) Benchmarks are each run three to ten times, and unless otherwise stated the results are then averaged.


Here is a full list of the applications that we utilized in our benchmarking suite:
  • 3DMark Vantage Professional Edition v1.1.3
  • 3DMark11 Professional Edition v1.0.132.0
  • 3DMark 2013 Professional Edition v2.2.3491
  • AIDA64 Engineer Edition v5.80.4000
  • Cinebench R15 64-bit
  • FAHBench 1.2.0
  • Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward Benchmark
  • Grand Theft Auto V
  • HEVC Decode Benchmark (Cobra) v1.61
  • LuxMark v3.1
  • Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
  • PCMark 8
  • SuperPi Mod v1.9 WP
  • Valve Particle Simulation Benchmark v1.0.0.0
  • WinRAR x64 5.40
  • wPRIME version v2.10
  • X3: Terran Conflict Demo v1.0
That is about all you need to know methodology wise, so let's get to the good stuff!
 
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