MSI Z270 SLI PLUS Reviewccokeman -
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MSI Z270 SLI PLUS Introduction:
Intel just released its latest Core architecture, Kaby Lake, and the 200 Series chipset on January 3rd of this year. While we did not see a lot of extra performance on the IPC level when compared to Sky Lake, the additional core clock speed boosts when using the Kaby Lake Core i7 7700K clearly show an advantage. For the 200 Series launch, MSI has a plethora of motherboards that support Intel's 7th Generation Core series processor spread across a quartet of segments.
First up, you have the Gaming Series that are targeted squarely at the enthusiast gaming segment. Here you would find any of the Gaming or Titanium branded motherboards. The Performance gaming segment is where you would find the Gaming Pro, Krait, and Carbon series boards. The Arsenal gaming segment has Military-themed board with names like Tomahawk, Mortar, and Bazooka. These boards feature beefed up heat sink packages, Military Class 5 components, and a wealth of Gaming-centric features.
Last up is the Pro Series that the board I am looking at today belongs to. MSI's Z270 SLI PLUS is a board designed for max performance without all the flash you see on the Gaming series. Sporting features such as Twin Turbo M.2 slots, Click BIOS 5, Military Class 5 components, Steel Armor on the PCIe and DDR4 slots, VR Boost, Audio Boost 4, and so much more. Priced at $149 out the door, MSI's Z270 SLI PLUS offers up performance with an expansive feature set. Let's dig into what MSI has cooked up for its 200 Series products.
MSI Z270 SLI PLUS Closer Look:
Whereas the Gaming Series screams out from the shelves with bright red coloring, the Pro Series is more subdued in the approach using a silver and black theme to get its point across. The front panel shows the product name, compatibility with Intel's 7th Gen Core series processors, and a few of the hardware technologies utilized on the board, such as an Intel network solution, Turbo M.2, and Lightning USB. The back side of the box walks you a bit deeper into the feature set with mentions of the Audio Boost 4, DDR4 Boost, and Multi-GPU technologies, along with MSI's own Military Class 5 components. Inside the box, you see pretty standard fare with the board in an anti-static bag and the accessory bundle in the lower section of the container. The accessory bundle consists of an I/O panel, manual, quick start guide, driver and software disc, and a pair of SATA 6Gbps data cables. Slim, but it's enough to get you going.
Pulled out of the packages, the MSI Z270 SLI PLUS, visually, mirrors the theme of the packaging, with a deep black PCB with silver accents. Built for use with an Intel 7th Generation Core series processor and based on the Intel Z270 PCH, it brings a bunch of new feature sets to the table. Visually, the layout is what we have come to expect from "mainstream" level ATX form factor motherboards. As such, the main components, such as the PCH, LGA socket, DIMM slots, and expansion slots, are all in roughly the same locations. Nothing wrong with it, because the layout just works. On the back side of the PCB, there is not much of note, but on the right side of the PCB you can see the Mystic LED lit border that isolates the Audio Boost components from the rest of the circuitry on the PCB. This lets the Audio Boost 4 sound solution act as if it was indeed a discrete audio solution. Strategically placed LED's light up to present a halo effect around the PCB.
The I/O panel on MSI's Z270 SLI PLUS is covered with a decorative shroud that really cleans up the area when the board is mounted in a chassis. From the left you have a pair of USB 2.0 ports managed by the Z270 chipset, a dual purpose PS/2 keyboard/mouse port, a single DVI-D port supporting a maximum resolution of 1920 x 1200, a pair of ASMedia ASM 2142 managed USB 3.1 ports (one Type A and one Type C), and an HDMI port that supports resolutions up to 4K @ 24Hz. Surrounding the HDMI port are four USB 3.1 ports managed by the Z270 PCH. Two of those are designed to be used with the VR Boost software to optimize the interface for use with VR components. An Intel I219-V managed Gigabit LAN port features MSI's LAN protect solution to prevent current spikes of up to 15KV from damaging the system. Gold plated connections are used on the rear analog audio ports for MSI's Audio Boost 4 High Definition 7.1 sound solution.
Expansion comes in the form of three 16x PCIe 3.0 slots that run at 16x/0x/4x or 8x/8x/4x, along with three PCIe 3.0 1x slots. The upper two slots feature MSI's Steel Armor to keep the slot from bending under the weight of larger video cards while also preventing EMI intrusion. Using this configuration, multi-GPU strategies from both AMD (3-Way) and NVIDIA (2-Way) are supported. Between the ports are the Turbo M.2 headers that can be occupied by a pair of 2242 / 2260 / 2280 / 22110 form factor NVMe drives and Optane memory. This allows access speeds of up to 32Gb/s per drive. Both of these M.2 ports are covered in MSI's Steel armor for protection.
In front of the expansion slots is the bulk of the shielded Realtek ALC 1220 High Definition audio solution. MSI is using a new design that is much like what we see on the ASUS ROG offerings, using an isolated set of circuits with separate layers for the left and right audio channels. Marking the border of the PCB and audio circuitry is an RGB LED border that works with MSI's Mystic Lighting software. The 120dB SNR / 32-bit rated EMI-shielded ALC 1220 High Definition audio processor comes with a built-in DAC. A headphone impedance sensing amplifier that sets the optimal impedance for your headphones (up to 600 ohm) is used for front panel audio. MSI chose Chemicon Audio capacitors due to their solid reputation for use in quality audio solutions.
Along the bottom of the board is a majority of the board connectivity. From the left is the front panel audio header, one of the six PWM controllable fan headers, and a header for use with RGB LED strips that can be controlled with MSI's Mystic lighting software. Next up is a serial header and parallel connection header, TPM header, a pair of USB 2.0 headers, and the front panel connection point.
Up the right side of the board is another of the six controllable 4-pin fan headers and the bulk of the SATA connectivity. There are a total of six SATA 6Gbps slots on this board that support Intel's Smart Response Technologies, RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, and RAID 10. Four of the ports point towrd the side of the PCB, while two face upwards. A change from what I normally see on boards. Next to the SATA ports are a pair of USB 3.1 headers. One upright and the other laid down to fit under a performance discrete GPU. The 24-pin ATX power connection is in a standard location with another pair of 4-pin fan connectors. The uppermost connection is for use with the water pump in any of the current AIO liquid cooling setups on the market. These fan headers can be controlled in both standard DC mode or PWM mode in both the BIOS and in MSI's Command Center application.
Between the ATX power connection and the lower fan header are the EZ Debug LED's that visualize boot issues with the DRAM, VGA, CPU, or boot drive, so you know where to start your trouble shooting if there are issues. Up to 64 GB of DDR4 memory at speeds of 3800MHz is officially supported using four DIMMs. Around each DIMM slot is MSI's Steel Armor that minimizes electrical interference at the slot. By using an optimized and isolated trace layout in the PCB, DDR4 Boost ensures memory compatibility and performance are not concerns. Across the top of the PCB there is not much to discuss, but the 8-pin CPU power connection and the top half of the digital power circuit cooling.
Cooling the Military Class V digital voltage circuitry are a pair of aluminum heat sinks that follow the silver and black theme of the board. The Z270 PCH is covered with a large, low profile heat sink that easily fits under any of the large video cards on the market, including MSI's own Gaming X offerings. MSI is using a combination of Dark Chokes, Titanium chokes that run up to 30% more efficiently, and lower ESR Dark Caps as part of its Military class strategy to improve longevity of the system and components. Even with the Dark Chokes and Dark Caps encroaching on the CPU socket, these components do not interfere with any of the heat sink combinations used in my testing.
The hardware is only part of the equation when you look at the entire package that makes up the MSI Z270 SLI PLUS. The software component, BIOS, and actual performance add to this equation so that you get a full picture of what MSI has to offer.