MSI Z170M Mortar Motherboard Review
It’s been a while since we’ve taken a look at a MATX Motherboard and it’s been a while since we’ve seen an MATX MB from MSI. What’s even more interesting is that this Motherboard from MSI is a Gaming based board but it’s not from their Performance Gaming series or their Enthusiast Gaming series. This one is from their new Arsenal Gaming series, this is the MSI Z170M Mortar.
The MSI Z170M Mortar is an Intel Z170 MATX Gaming motherboard supporting the latest 6th generation Intel® Core™ i3/i5/i7 processors. This particular motherboard has four DIMM slots supporting Dual Channel Memory/RAM up to 3600MHz OC with a total maximum of 64GB. There’s a total of 4 PCIe slots, two of which are x16 slots while the other two are x1 slots. As the second x16 slot only supports x4 speed the MSI Z170M Mortar only supports AMD’s CrossFire™ technology and not Nvidia’s SLI. In addition to this the motherboard sports 6 x SATA 6Gb/s ports as well as a single eSATA port. There are eight USB 3.0 ports (x4 via back panel & x4 via motherboard headers) and there are also six USB 2.0 ports (x2 via the back panel & x4 via motherboard headers). The Z170M Mortar also features a Realtek® ALC892 7.1 channel sound card as well as a Realtek® RTL8111H Gigabit LAN controller.
The MSI Z170M Mortar arrived at pcG in the wrong box, hold on a minute in the Wrong box!? Well, I thought it was the wrong box as there was no red and black colour scheme! 😉 With the Arsenal range there’s a whole new military colour scheme, and it’s green! The front of the box sports this new green colour as well as the new imagery that goes along with the new Arsenal range, which appears to be a mortar gun (makes sense I guess!). There’s not much else on the front of the box other than a logo for Intel Z170 and Core, as well as MSI logos for Arsenal Gaming and the familiar MSI Gaming Series logo.
The back of the box features far more detail regarding this MATX Z170 based motherboard. Highlighting the following: 4K & Legacy Video Support, Gaming LAN, GAMING DNA, Audio Boost, Military Class 4, EZ Debug LED, DDR4 Boost & Wi-Fi AC Compatible. What’s also really nice to see on the back of the box is a motherboard I/O panel breakdown, found at the bottom right.
On opening the box of the MSI Z170M Mortar we can see that the motherboard (and its associated contents) are adequately packaged, with the motherboard supported by a folded cardboard frame and sealed in an anti-static bag.
There’s not much in the box but the basics are here, although it’s a little disappointing to see only two SATA cables. But it’s nice not to see door hangers and stickers for a change… 😉
At the time of review, the MSI Z170M Mortar is retailing on Ebuyer for approximately £99 and comes with a 3 year warranty.
courtesy of MSI
|CPU||Supports 6th Gen Intel® Core™ i3/i5/i7 processors, and Intel® Pentium® and Celeron® processors for Socket LGA1151|
|Chipset||Intel® Z170 Express Chipset|
|Memory||4 x DDR4 memory slots, support up to 64GB
– Supports DDR4 3200(OC)/ 3000(OC)/ 2800(OC)/ 2600(OC)/ 2400/ 2133 MHz
– Dual channel memory architecture
|Slots||2 x PCIe 3.0 x16 slots (support x16/x4)
– 2 x PCIe 3.0 x1 slots
|Multi-GPU Support||Support for 2-Way AMD CrossFire™ technology|
|Onboard Graphics||• 1 x HDMI™ ports, support a maximum resolution of 4096×2160@24Hz, 2560×1600@60Hz
• 1 x VGA port, supports a maximum resolution of 2048×1536@50Hz, 2048×1280@60Hz, 1920×1200@60Hz
• 1 x DVI-D port, supports a maximum resolution of 1920×1200 @60Hz
• Intel® Z170 Chipset
• 6 x SATA 6Gb/s ports
• 1 x SATAe port*
• Supports RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5 and RAID 10
– 8 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports (4 ports on the back panel, 4 ports available through the internal USB headers)
– 6 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports (2 ports on the back panel, 4 ports available through the internal USB headers)
|Audio||• Realtek® ALC892 Codec
• 7.1-Channel High Definition Audio
• Supports S/PDIF output
|LAN||• 1 x Realtek RTL8111H Gigabit LAN controller|
|Dimensions||9.6 in. x 9.6 in. (24.4 cm x 24.4 cm) M-ATX Form Factor|
First impressions of the MSI Z170M Mortar are along the lines of, ok, it’s a MATX MSI Motherboard! That’s it James? Well yes and to some degree this is no bad thing, this MSI Motherboard from their Arsenal series is a pretty basic looking board, no colour, no fancy heatsinks, maybe you could say it’s a little boring perhaps!? But this means that this board will fit in with any Rig design and that’s a good thing in my book. I quite like its simplistic looks, even though it doesn’t shout Gamer!
Looking at what I would call the right side of the board and working left to right; in the far left corner we find two of the six SATA 6Gb/s ports, followed by the single eSATA port and the other four SATA 6Gb/s ports, all of which are provided courtesy of the Intel chipset. Next up we have a horizontally mounted USB 3.0 port, followed by the main 24-pin power socket. This is then followed by the EZ Debug LEDs, that allow for troubleshooting the CPU, RAM or VGA adapter via three individual LEDs. And finally in the far right corner we find one of two System Fan headers. Just above the 24-pin power socket we find the four memory DIMMs supporting up to 64GB of RAM in a Dual Channel configuration, supporting speeds up to 3600MHz OC.
Looking at the opposite side of the board (the left) and again working left to right, we first find the main motherboard IO panel (more on this later). Beyond this we find the Realtek® ALC892 7.1 channel audio circuitry with its isolated audio PCB, Chemi-Con audio capacitors and anti-popcorn noise technology.
Looking at the PCIe 3.0 lanes we see that as this is an MATX board there are only four PCIe lanes. The top one is a x16 slot followed by two x1 slots and finally another x16 slot. Note that if one Graphics Card is used the top slot runs at x16 speed, but if two Graphics cards are used the top one runs at x16 and the second x16 slot runs at x4, meaning that this board will only support AMD’s CrossFire™ multi GPU technology and not Nvidia’s SLI.
Looking at what is effectively the top of the board we can see that it’s dominated by the CPU Power phase heatsinks and the LGA1151 Socket, new for Skylake. In addition to this over on the right we find the main 8-pin CPU power socket, while on the left of the heatsink we find the only CPU Fan header.
Looking at the bottom of the board and again working from left to right, in the far corner we find the HD Audio header followed by a socket that’s not known to me but is described (in the manual) as being for a specific card (whatever that means!?). Next to this we have the second of two System Fan headers, a Serial port header, a TPM module header (still never used one of these!?) and a single USB 2.0 header. After a short gap we find a single USB 3.1 Gen 1 header and finally the Front Panel header. Inbound of the edge of the board we find the chipset’s heatsink that’s disappointingly not screwed to the board as well as the M.2 socket, but more on this later.
Flipping the board over allows us to appreciate the matte black PCB, and the reason for why the top of the board looks as clean as it does. This is because all of the logos are on the back! Although I’m unsure as to why the board is ‘Certified by SteelSeries’!? You can now also clearly see the isolated PCB for the Realtek® audio circuitry. It’s also nice to see that the CPU power phase heatsinks are screwed to the board, but again here we can see that the chipset heatsink is disappointingly not.
Taking a more detailed look at some of the more interesting features of the MSI Z170M Mortar let me first draw you attentions to the DIMM slots and of course DDR4 Boost. The four DIMM slots themselves support up to 64GB Memory/RAM. While according to the box the Z170M Mortar supports RAM speeds up to 3600MHz OC while the specifications say 3200MHz OC!? In addition to this we have DDR4 Boost that has optimized traces and fully isolated circuitry, helping to keep those memory signals Pure for optimal performance (MSI’s words not mine!). In addition to this there’s also a XMP LED, that illuminates when XMP as been enabled via the UEFI.
Hidden beneath that MSI heatsink is the main Z170 chipset, that undoubtedly can get a little warm. It’s disappointing though that this heatsink is simply clipped to the board and not screwed. I’ve never been a fan of clipped-in heatsinks…
The audio circuitry is based upon a Realtek® ALC892 7.1 channel sound device and has (as you can see) its PCB isolated from the rest of the board. The circuitry also boasts Separated Audio Layers, Chemi-Con Audio capacitors, and anti-popcorn Noise. This latter feature prevents your Headset popping when you plug it in or out, or when you power the PC on/off.
Finally we have what would appear to be a short M.2 socket, certainly not long enough for some of the M.2 SSDs that I’ve seen, or been using!? That’s because this socket is actually for an M.2 Wi-Fi adapter, although where you buy a M.2 Wi-Fi AC I don’t know!?
Overall there’s a lot to like about the MSI Z170M Mortar Motherboard, one of the aspects that I like is the simplistic (vanilla!) design, as it will fit in well with any Rig build. But the lack of SLI support and the lack of a dedicated M.2 slot is a little disappointing. Although we must remember that at under £100 we can’t have it all… 😉
A new build was put together to house the MSI Z170M Mortar Motherboard with a new Intel Core i5-6600K Skylake CPU and new DDR4 memory in the form of G.Skill RipJaws 2400MHz. In addition to this, as this is a MATX Motherboard, the system was installed into a Raijintek Styx Case with a SilverStone Strider 750W Power Supply. The following components were also used:
|Case||Raijintek Styx||Power Supply||SilverStone Strider 750 W|
|Motherboard||MSI Z170M Mortar||CPU||Intel Core I5-6600K Processor|
|CPU Cooler||Noctua NH-U12S||RAM||G Skill Ripjaws 4 8GB|
|Graphics Card||EVGA GeForce GTX 980Ti Classified||SSD||HyperX FURY 120GB|
Installation of the MSI Z170M Mortar was easy enough thanks in part to a decent layout. The Motherboard assembly was simple enough consisting of the board itself, our test Intel Core i5-6600K Skylake CPU, a Noctua NH-U12S CPU Cooler and 8GB of G.Skill RipJaws 4 2400MHz memory. With the motherboard assembly complete it was secured to our test Case (Raijintek Styx) by way of the eight screws required. One thing that did cause a problem (with this setup) was the horizontal USB 3.0 port, that due to the case design was very hard to get into position. It may be better on all MATX/ITX boards that the USB 3.0 socket is vertical as there’s often very little space within a MATX case to bring the cable in horizontally. Please note this is not a criticism leveled at MSI, it’s simply a possible issue worth noting… 😉
All necessary SATA cables were connected to the motherboard, I actually used the SATA 6Gb/s port nearest to the corner of the board (SATA_5) for the HyperX Fury SSD. All of the relevant power cables from the SilverStone Strider 750W were then plugged into the MSI Z170M Mortar along with all of the case fans. Final cables included USB 3.0 (a little awkward that one, see above!) and HD Audio along with the always rather fiddly Front Panel wires, made more difficult by the fact that the correct positions for the plugs are not present on the board, meaning that it needed to be looked up in the manual! That just left the installation of our new test GPU an EVGA GeForce GTX 980Ti Classified.
Now the MSI Z170M Mortar apparently has a Gaming LED Effect, although you’d be hard pushed to tell. There’s a handful of LEDs on the back of the motherboard that illuminate red. But as you can see from the image above centre (sorry very hard to capture) the effect is a little, well, subtle! 😮
Now it’s time for some testing…
For all of our Z170 testing we will be using Windows 10 (DirectX 12), therefore a new installation of Windows 10 64Bit was performed and the following Drivers were installed. The latest MSI Drivers were used and can been obtained (here). Although the MSI Z170M Mortar has its Drivers and Utilities available on the supplied DVD, we here at pcG try to keep up with the latest Drivers and software where possible.
|* The latest BIOS (version A.2) was downloaded and installed via MSI’s M-Flash utility and this version was used throughout testing. *|
- System & Chipset Drivers – Intel Chipset Driver (10.1.1.9)
- Audio Driver – Realtek High Definition Audio Driver (22.214.171.12487)
- On-Board LAN Drivers – Realtek PCI-E Ethernet Drivers (10.6.1001.2015)
- Nvidia Driver 361.43 WHQL
During testing the following tools/benchmarks & games were used/played:
I have to admit I rather like MSI’s Click BIOS 5, ok I have to confess I’ve seen a lot of it by now and therefore know some of its intricacies. Overall though I very much like the look, it’s for the most part easy to use, and the definition and the functionality between the EZ Mode and the Advanced Mode is logical.
The MSI Z170M Mortar booted first time and I was greeted with the UEFI EZ Mode shown below left. As you can see everything has been detected correctly and the Intel Core i5-6600K is running at 3.5GHz, while our 2400MHz G.Skill Ripjaws RAM has defaulted (which is perfectly normal) to 2133MHz.
One of the plus point of MSI boards from the past was the OC Genie button, sometimes found on the Motherboard itself and sometimes in the UEFI. In the last year this has been replaced with the all new Game Boost button and the XMP button, that really do the same thing! Enabling the XMP button simply forces your RAM to run at its Profile 1 XMP setting (assuming it has one). This by default is normally the RAM’s maximum speed with the correct Timings and voltage. Enabling the Game Boost button here on the MSI Z170M Mortar simply sets our 6600K’s clock speed to 4.1GHz, which is a little disappointing to be honest! The image below centre shows the UEFI EZ Mode with both the Game Boost and the XMP buttons enabled. The end result is that our Intel Core i5-6600K is now running at 4.1GHz instead of 3.5GHz (3.9GHz Turbo), and the RAM is now running at 2400MHz instead of 2133MHz. Result! 🙂
One oddity that I noticed is that the XMP LED on the Motherboard only comes on if you enable the XMP button in the UEFI, if you enable XMP any other way (like via Game Boost or manually) the LED does not illuminate! Go figure!?
What’s nice about this UEFI and others (namely Asus) is that you get to see the settings that are being changed before you save. This is a really handy way of learning what some of these inbuilt overclocking functions do. The screenshot above right shows the changes made by enabling the Game Boost button, although the Clock Speed Ratio (41) is strangely missing!?
To dial in our normal overclock settings for our Intel Core i5-6600K at 4.5GHz the only settings I changed in the UEFI were, CPU Ratio – 45, Extreme Memory Profile (X.M.P) – Enabled and CPU Core Voltage 1.3V. As you can see from the screenshot above right this was indeed then captured (before I saved) by the UEFI.
What’s interesting, and can be seen in the latter two CPU-Z screenshots above, is the fact that the MSI Z170M Mortar suffers one of the worst cases of vDroop that I’ve seen! vDroop, WTF!? Well, it’s nothing to do with erectile dysfunction that’s for sure! 😉 But it’s still not good! It basically describes a drop in voltage (CPU Core voltage) when the CPU is under load. If you look at the centre screenshot above you’ll see that at idle that vCore voltage is at 1.352 volts, yet under load (screenshot on the right) this voltage drops to 1.312v. The end result is that you’re not using the voltage that you think you are, and that just makes things difficult…
- Benchmark Results (CPU @ STOCK: 3.5GHz (1.008v) : RAM @ 2400MHz) with EVGA GeForce GTX 980Ti Classified
|Metro Last Light||1920×1080||104.00|
|Unigine Heaven 4.0||1920×1080||2361|
- Benchmark Results (CPU @ OC: 4.5GHz (1.256v) : RAM @ 2400MHz) with EVGA GeForce GTX 980Ti Classified
|Metro Last Light||1920×1080||115.00|
|Unigine Heaven 4.0||1920×1080||2394|
When the first few benchmark results started coming back for the MSI Z170M Mortar I have to say, that not only was I a little disappointed I was a little worried too. As all of the results seemed a little on the low side. Now we have not tested very many motherboards with our new EVGA 980Ti Classified, but all of the stock results that I had seen in the past were better than the Z170M Mortar!? After a bit of further testing it would seem that’s just the way it is, out of the box performance simply isn’t as good as the competition. But, luckily…
The overclocked performance of the MSI Z170M Mortar is far better! 🙂 In fact the Mortar has produced the best results that we have seen so far in our Overclocked benchmarks. Admittedly there’s very little in it, but the fact still stands.
Also for the second time we’re actually seeing a difference (on our Skylake platform) in the Stock and Overclocked scores, especially in the Metro Last Light benchmark that seems to be leaning on the motherboard and sub-system more than some of the other Gaming related benchmarks. This is due to the increase in framerate as now the new GPU is not holding the motherboard back in any way, therefore the motherboard is forced into working that little bit harder! 😉
Sound wise (pretty important on a Gaming motherboard) the Realtek® ALC892 7.1 channel sound card aboard the Mortar performed ok. It’s certainly not as good as some of the other on-board sound setups we’ve heard, as it’s lacking any form of real sparkle and it’s also a little lacking in power. Those who like it loud may want to look at alternatives or invest in a dedicated soundcard. But what we mustn’t loose sight of hear (haha) is the fact that the Z170M Mortar is a sub £100 motherboard, and we simply shouldn’t expect too much of it…
There are so many features and so much software that comes with (or is downloadable) for the MSI Z170M Mortar, that to try and cover it would be a review in itself! I’m also not a big fan of software so for me the only software that I’m likely to install is MSI’s Command Center utility and that in itself is a portal to a handful of other options. But I have to admit I do rather like MSI’s one stop shop Command Center, as I’ve no doubt said before! 😉
Software (Command Center)
On launching MSI’s Command Center you’re greeted with a smart screen that depicts the current state of your CPU and its physical Cores, while on the right there’s a dial and various other options for controlling the MB attached fans. What’s particularly nice are the bars that represent the Core speeds and the way that these can now be overclocked through the software.
The impressive screenshot above just goes to show what’s available through the Command Center software, it basically shows almost every additional screen that can be called up via the software. As I said there’s certainly plenty of it.
Software (Live Update 6)
The out of the box performance of the MSI Z170M Mortar may be a little lacking as is the number of features. But once overclocked this little board is capable of great things and at under £100, you simply cannot go wrong…
The MSI Z170M Mortar arrived at pcG in a unusual coloured box, especially for MSI. That’s because this box isn’t red/black, but green! That’s the new colour scheme for the new Arsenal range of motherboards, of which the Z170M Mortar is one. Once out of the box the scope of the colour scheme (and military theme) seems to stop, as this is one of the simplest (plain!) boards that I’ve seen in a while. And it is for that reason, that I rather like it, especially as it will fit in with any coloured Rig build that you may have planned.
The board is a little lacking in features though, with the main omissions being SLI support and a real M.2 socket. The M.2 socket aboard the Z170M Mortar is designed for a WiFi adapter, that it doesn’t come with!? Other than some simple (yet useful!) MSI features there’s not too much to get excited about here, but the price is exciting at less than £100!
Installation of the board was as easy as one would expect, with the board generally having a good layout. The only issues I have is the use of a horizontal USB 3.0 plug, as this tends to get difficult to access especially in a MATX Case, and the fact that the chipset heatsink is clipped to the board and not screwed. The motherboard booted first time and it was straight into MSI’s Click BIOS 5 UEFI. I have to confess that I’m pretty familiar with this interface and I’m also a bit of a fan. MSI have done a lot to improve their UEFI in the last year or so and it shows. It’s easy to read, easy to navigate and easy to overclock. I had no issues in using either their Game Boost technology to boost the CPU up to 4.1GHz or dial in our test overclock (see Hardware Performance) of 4.5GHz. The board also remained stable throughout testing and Gaming.
The only thing I noticed was that when overclocking and when under full load the MSI Z170M Mortar suffers from vDroop. I found that when the CPU was under full load the voltage applied to the CPU Core would drop significantly, with the potential to cause instability. This means that you’ll need to dial in a higher vCore voltage as the real voltage will drop under load (see main review for detail). Of course all of this can be monitored via MSI’s own Command Center utility,allowing you to work out the perfect settings.
Initial testing revealed the MSI Z170M Mortar to be a little slow, producing some of the slowest speeds we’ve seen, albeit by very little. Strangely this issue went away once the board was overclocked. As when we tested with our 4.5GHz (with XMP) setting the MSI Z170M Mortar produced some of the best scores we’ve seen to date.
When it comes to software there’s always too much to choose from as far as I’m concerned, and the Z170M Mortar suffers the same issue. But I have to say that I am a fan of MSI’s Command Center software; that like it’s UEFI, is now a fully fledged professional piece of software. Here you can overclock and monitor to your hearts content, it’s a simple one stop shop for most of your nerdy needs! 😉 In addition to this MSI’s Live Update 6 software helps to ensure that all of your MSI software, Drivers and BIOS are up to date. I just wish I could run it when I wanted, and it not start with Windows…
The MSI Z170M Mortar is a simple MATX Gaming motherboard that has pretty much the right amount of features for its sub £100 asking price. As long as your not planning a SLI setup with M.2 drives (which is unlikely at less than £100), you’re likely to be very happy with the Z170M Mortar. I for one think it’s a great little board, and I think we’re going to keep it around here at pcG to help us in further testing in the future…
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Many thanks to MSI for providing this sample for review