The Xpower Z170A looks phenomenal. If you're building inside a high-end PC cabinet with a huge side window, this is the kind of board you'd want to show off. The pale grey color isn't actually the board itself; MSI has managed to print a thin layer on both sides of the PCB which is much like the labels you see on on some SD cards and pen drives. It could get scuffed, especially at the edges and corners, but you don't need to be any more careful than you would when assembling any other high-end parts.
The printing actually makes the board look blank in some areas where we're used to seeing at least circuit board traces. MSI has made up for that with graphical touches around the CPU socket and additional accents such as the metal-plated primary PCIe slots.
- ATX Form Factor
- Intel Z170 Chipset
- Intel LGA1151 Socket
- 4 x Dual-Channel DDR4-3600 (OC)
- 8 x SATA III, 2 x SATA Express, 2 x M.2
- 4 x PCIe 3.0 x16 Slots
- 3 x PCIe 3.0 x1 Slots
- Audio Boost 3 with Nahimic Enhancer
- Gigabit Ethernet Controller
- NVIDIA SLI/AMD CrossFire Support
We immediately noticed that the RAM slots are quite close to the CPU socket. Big coolers and RAM with tall heatsinks will clash, but then again most people using a board like this will do so with a liquid cooling block which will mitigate that problem. MSI says the voltage regulating components around the CPU socket are of the highest quality, improving both stability at extreme settings and overall power efficiency.
The full-length PCIe slots are spaced out, and you get a double-length SLI bridge in the box so you can gang up multiple cards and still have good air circulation. Four of the slots are full x16 length, but only the first one can actually deliver 16 lanes. The others work at x4, x8 and x4 respectively. The x16 and x8 slots have metallic shielding which should help stabilise the heaviest of graphics cards.
While the upper M.2 slot is obscured when a graphics card is installed, the lower one remains accessible even with a triple-width monster GPU sitting in the primary PCI-E slot. A second card will cover up the lower M.2 slot however, so plan multi-GPU setups accordingly. The OC panel can remain installed on the upper-right side as a daughter card or attached via a short, cable (included) as a small, exposed control device.
The functionality of the OC Panel is fantastic, but it needs better presentation than it's given here. A longer cable with a plastic housing for the panel or a front-mounting bracket for a 5.25" drive bay would be ideal additions to the package.
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