MSI Z170A SLI PLUS Software

A large portion of this page will be identical to the MSI Z170A Gaming M7 review, updated for specific features for the Z170A SLI PLUS.

In line with everything else in the motherboard space, MSI’s software package also gets an iterative update with the new Z170 platform. In previous years, we have heralded MSI for providing some of the best automatic update software available for motherboards with Live Update 6, which continues in the Z170 package. On the other side of the spectrum, we’ve criticized MSI for offering a 2.1+ volt user-facing setting for the processor in software with virtually no safety fence as even sub-zero overclockers do not go that high. Perhaps somewhat ambivalently, this is still true with Z170 as well, although to a lesser degree.

The first thing noticeable with an installation from the driver disk is that MSI puts in a custom logo / background:

It might sound superfluous, but in most PCs built today, users do not know the motherboard make inside. So by implementing a custom background design on installation, even if it is changed, at least the user gets another hint about what is inside. It’s also a no-brainer. This sort of background appeals to a wide range of users who would be buying this motherboard, and it is such as easy near-zero cost value-add to a system bundle I am surprised that not many other motherboard manufacturers do it.

Live Update

The Live Update tool continues is usual display pattern, available to regularly check for updates and showing what drivers/utilities are available online that can be updated to the next version. In recent versions of this software MSI has included the size of the download as well as the current/online versions to allow users to make a more informed choice.

We had no issues with this software, and it still remains one of the easiest update tools from motherboard manufacturers to use.

Fast Boot

One of the tools I love to see in motherboard software packages is a fast boot / restart in BIOS mode option. This is partly selfish – when testing the system it makes it easier to enter the BIOS through this method rather than repeatedly pressing F2/Del during a long POST sequence, but it can yield benefits for those who like to fine tune their system over several months.

Customized CPU-Z

CPU-Z is a shareware tool used by some enthusiasts to get details about their processor and system, but also to verify overclocks and the whole package is used as a verification tool when it comes to competitive overclocking, featuring in screenshots. As a result, the developers of CPU-Z allow manufacturers to develop skins (for a fee) for the software and distribute as necessary. MSI went in with this for the gaming range, and the gaming version is included in the bundle.

 

M-Cloud

Having a personalized home storage cloud, as opposed to just having home storage, is starting to become a thing. As a result, some motherboard manufacturers have started to include software to make this possible using their products – typically this software is just a skinned variant of a licensed package.

RAMDisk

MSI’s RAMDisk utility has been part of the package for a couple of years, with the concept being that users with large amounts of DRAM might want to partition some of it into a quick read/write cache valid when the system is in use. In the last generation we lamented the fact that the tool needed to enable a RAMDisk before you could adjust the size – this changes with Z170 by implementing a small 256MB RAMDisk on install, and it becomes a separate software element in its own right.

Intel XTU for MSI

The Extreme Tuning Utility from Intel is now an easy gateway to allow users to both overclock and benchmark their system. Some motherboard manufacturers include it with their driver packages, although anyone with a modern Intel based system can download it and see more information about what they have.

We also ran the XTU benchmark, and scored 1238. The screenshot is in the photo gallery below.

MSI Command Center

The previous implementations of MSI’s software have focused around the Command Center, with the idea that the other tools would all be accessed through this hub. For Z170 that idea has sort of melted away, leaving Command Center as a tool for overclocking, fan adjustment and monitoring.

From previous versions of the software, not a lot has changed. RAMDisk as mentioned above has been removed into its own package, and the OC Genie functionality has been updated for the new automatic overclock tool.

My main criticism of this tool is still here, although MSI have at least adjusted the severity – the voltage overclock dial still shows ‘1.55 volts’ as the maximum to which the CPU can be placed (it used to say 2.1 volts). This is despite the fact that this voltage will cause the system to overheat pretty quickly under air/water cooling and potentially damage the processor, the motherboard or something else. Sub-zero overclockers (and some extreme water setups in air conditioned environments) go this high, so it is a little extreme for 99% of users. What I would like to see is it go from 0.9V to 1.3V, and then require an ‘advanced mode’ button which would unlock anything above 1.3V.

OC Genie only has one mode here, and 4.4 GHz is a reasonable overclock for an i7-6700K. Your mileage may vary, as our CPU was not completely stable with the OC Genie setting (it failed OCCT after 4 minutes).  

BIOS System Performance
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  • HollyDOL - Wednesday, April 13, 2016 - link

    Price given this board is very impressive piece of hardware... Reply
  • ImSpartacus - Wednesday, April 13, 2016 - link

    Yeah, I'm tickled to see gems like this.

    That was a fun review to read.
    Reply
  • jasonelmore - Wednesday, April 13, 2016 - link

    Throw in a $20 5 Port USB 3.0 Card and this thing has everything you need.

    http://smile.amazon.com/dp/B00FCQPVI8
    Reply
  • mczak - Wednesday, April 13, 2016 - link

    It's missing DisplayPort. Sadly, nearly all cheaper boards miss this. So, if you don't have a need for powerful graphics and are just fine with the IGP, but you still want to hook up one of those quite cheapie 4k monitor, you're out of luck. Really wish they'd ditch those near useless VGA and DVI-D ports in favor of DP (ok the latter isn't useless but all of intel's DVI-D ports are going to be single-link, hence limited to 1920x1200) - or better instead of ditching DVI-D and VGA they should just have one DVI-I port instead for people who really want to hook up that analog monitor there... Reply
  • Manch - Thursday, April 14, 2016 - link

    Your use case is very much a niche. 4K monitors are not the norm. Many people still have vga monitors as well. If you're going to drive a 4k display odds are you wont be using igp. I don't really see an issue here. Reply
  • Visual - Thursday, April 14, 2016 - link

    To add to that, even if I wanted a 4k monitor, I'd personally not want to use DP for that. A port meant just for computers was a terrible idea from the start and I will never buy anything with it. I'll stick with HDMI and its future versions.
    And DP has the same limitations as HDMI in regards to 4k@60p - you need newer versions of either to support that.
    Reply
  • mczak - Thursday, April 14, 2016 - link

    No, you only need DP 1.2 for 4k@60p (with no chroma subsampling). Everybody supports that since like forever. But for the same with HDMI, you need HDMI 2.0, which isn't supported by anything intel ships. All 4k monitors (but, of course, not TVs) support DP 1.2 too (except some very old models). I don't disagree HDMI 2.0 wouldn't be nice, but with Skylake IGP it's just not going to happen. Reply
  • mczak - Thursday, April 14, 2016 - link

    To clarify, intel supports DP 1.2 since Haswell.
    And FWIW there's still quite a lot of 4k monitors you can buy today which actually do not support HDMI 2.0 neither - they _require_ DP for 4k@60p.
    (There actually is a way for skylake based systems to do HDMI 2.0 - the Alpine Ridge TB controller can do that. Clearly, not an option for budged oriented boards. Kaby Lake however should support HDMI 2.0.)
    Reply
  • mczak - Thursday, April 14, 2016 - link

    Well, if you just want a gorgeous looking monitor for web browsing, office work or whatever, the IGP would do just fine with a 4k monitor (fwiw apple ships plenty of exactly such configurations).
    But sure 4k gaming isn't going to work...
    And as for VGA, that's why I suggested a DVI-I port - can still use monitors with VGA port with that (albeit would require an adapter).
    Maybe it's a niche (but then things like m2 nvme ssds are a niche too in that price segment), but it could be trivially supported by motherboards with only a tiny cost (no chips or anything required - just the connector).
    Reply
  • amrs - Thursday, April 14, 2016 - link

    Funny. Last time I was shopping for a motherboard I was cursing. "Do I really have to pay for all those useless video connectors?" Wasn't much choice. One less useless connector now I suppose. I've only used the IGP VGA in my Ivy Bridge board and then only for the initial testing in the garage where my ancient Eizo CRT sits. Reply

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