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MSI Z170A XPOWER GAMING TITANIUM EDITION Review

MSI has a goal to be the number one motherboard maker in PC Gaming. To that end MSI has been rebranding and the Z170A XPOWER GAMING TITANIUM EDITION motherboard is an example of this shift in focus. This new XPOWER series retains much of its heritage but shifts gears towards being an upper echelon gaming oriented solution.

Introduction

MSI is a well-known fixture in the do it yourself computer market. A couple of years ago MSI started the shift towards a gaming oriented market focus. The introduction of the Z77-GD65 GAMING motherboard proved to be quite successful. This success led to an expansion of the Gaming series. Those motherboards sold very well, especially in overseas markets. This success has finally culminated in that series becoming the new standard for MSI. Indeed the entire Z97 product family was all a bunch of red and black motherboards with a dragon on the heat sinks. The only holdouts were the MPower and XPower series. MSI has effectively rebranded all of its motherboards and motherboard families to now include "gaming" in the product name. Thus the last holdouts, the XPower and MPower series have now become "gaming" motherboards as well.

For the XPower line, nothing has really changed beyond the aesthetic. When you get down to it the basic design principals of the series is unchanged. These motherboards still have Intel network controllers and a strong focus toward overclocking, performance and features. The feature set again remains much as it was in the black and yellow days. The main difference is the color scheme and the styling of the UEFI. This new "Titanium Edition" sports a silver motif with black highlights and the occasional red accent where lighting is concerned.

The XPower series has always represented the best MSI has to offer. These motherboards are the ones that push the technological and performance boundaries to new heights. Indeed we’ve been extremely fond of the yellow and black motherboards in the past. We’ve often found those to be every bit as good and sometimes better than anything GIGABYTE or ASUS has to offer. Indeed Kyle is currently running the MSI X99S XPower AC in his own rig. Kyle could easily have any motherboard on the market he would desire and he opted for that one. You can’t say more than that. I’ve indeed considered putting several of the XPower motherboards in my own machine although I opted for something else based on one or two issues. The biggest one being a preference for ASUS’ UEFI BIOS over MSI’s.

In any case, make no mistake the gaming focus hasn’t changed the XPower series in any way aside from its’ aesthetics. Personally I always liked the black and yellow color scheme, but the silver and black scheme works very well also.

The MSI Z170A XPOWER GAMING TITANIUM EDITION has a ridiculously long name and currently costs $299.99 according to PC Hound. It’s based on the Z170 Express chipset from Intel and supports the latest Core i3/i5/i7 CPUs using the LGA 1151 socket. The MSI Z170A XPOWER GAMING TITANIUM EDITION utilizes a 16 phase digital power solution. New titanium chokes are used in the design. These chokes can withstand higher temperatures and offer superior heat dissipation. All solid electrolytic capacitors are used throughout the design. MSI’s OC PCB design and Military Class 5 components are also a hallmark of the XPower series. As expected overcurrent protection ensures that damaging the hardware through tuning is quite difficult if not impossible. The overclocking focus of the previous generation XPower series has not been lost. MSI’s OC Engine 2 allows for a great deal in flexibility to configure the motherboard base clock.

There is a new OC Panel feature. This can be attached directly to the motherboard or connected via a cable. When attached directly, it provides some controls on the opposite side of the motherboard. Things like the LN2 switch still work, although for some reason the power and reset buttons do not work while directly attached. Remote mounting proved to be far more useful. This allows for the controls to continue to working avoiding LN2 PCB freeze. This panel also works well with the cable as a remote switch. It offers controls for incremental base clock and turbo ratios in controllable increments. Additionally a true CMOS discharge button is provided to reset the CMOS quickly and easily. Voltage check points and an LN2 slow mode are provided for the enthusiast as well. MSI has carefully thought out the design with superb attention to detail. A "cease fire" mode enables the user to disable and enable PCIe slots at will. Other gaming features such as the mouse master and GAMING Hotkey enable the user to set macros on the keyboard and mouse as if they had higher end peripherals, or simply want to use the same software regardless of the brand of mouse or keyboard they’ve got.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

Packaging

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The packaging is very nice looking with its silver and black color scheme. The usual box flap details more product information. The window in the box allows you to see the motherboard without opening the box. At least partially. Inside the box you will find a ton of accessories including but not limited to: Door hanger, driver disc, user manual, OC dashboard, OC dashboard interface cable, CPU installer, SATA Cables, voltage check cables, I/O shield, and an SLI bridge.

Board Layout

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The motherboard layout is superb. There aren’t any major problems or issues to be found here. The one complaint I do really have isn’t an issue of placement so much as quality and the design. The GameBoost knob is somewhat cheap feeling and it’s so small that turning it isn’t the easiest thing to do. It’s also smooth and lacks positive clicking between increments which would have all provided for a better experience. This feature didn’t work for me either, but that’s something I’ll go over in a bit.

The CPU socket area is very clean. You can hardly see the voltage hardware due to being so small and shrouded by the fairly large heat sinks. The titanium chokes take up less surface area than the previous chokes MSI has used in the past.

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The 288-pin DDR4 DIMM slots aren’t color coded. These are all black for aesthetic reasons. There is a single locking tab per slot to secure the memory modules. In this case the proximity of the memory slots to the expansion slot area makes this necessary. MSI employs isolated memory circuitry for improved memory signaling. And XMP status LED shows you if XMP is enabled or not.

The chipset is cooled with a passive heat sink. It is flat and adorned with the dragon motif common to MSI’s Gaming series. To the left of the chipset cooler you will find all the onboard power, reset, and other controls. In front of the chipset are the SATA and SATA Express ports. These utilize the right angled and locking design common to higher end motherboards. At the trailing edge of the motherboard near the expansion slot area you’ll find the cease fire dip switches. These are used to enable and disable PCIe slots. This feature can be useful in a variety of scenarios. Not the least of which is troubleshooting.

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The expansion slot area is clean and well thought out for the most part. I don’t care for the location of the CMOS battery but the bigger problem is the location of the dual M.2 slots. These are effectively going to both be under potentially hot GPUs in an SLI or Crossfire based system. Another thing you may have noticed are the dual "silver" PCIe x16 slots. These are reinforced with a steel bracket to handle the increased weight of modern GPUs. MSI calls this "Steel Armor." You’ve got to love marketing guys. All kidding aside, it is a shame the other PCIe x16 slots aren’t covered as well. While these aren’t ideal for GPUs I’d have liked to see it for purely aesthetic reasons. Behind the expansion slots you can clearly see the LED trace path style light which denotes the separation of the audio hardware from the rest of the motherboard. Here you will also see dedicated Nippon Chemi-Con audio capacitors and the EMI shielding over the Realtel ALC1150 HD audio CODEC.

I’ve provided a picture of the bottom of the motherboard’s PCB. This shows the actual physical hardware and electrical pin configuration of the PCI-Express slots. These support several possible lane configurations. The possible configurations are: x16/0/0/x4, x8/0/x8/x4 and x8/x4/x4/x4.

The I/O panel contains a single PS/2 keyboard or mouse port. There are 3x USB 2.0 ports, 6x USB 3.1 ports, 2x HDMI 2.0 ports, 1x DisplayPort 1.2, 1x RJ-45 port, 1x optical output, 5x mini-stereo headphone jacks. These are gold plated, but bracketed in color coded plastic to make connecting cables easier.