I travelled up to Johannesburg last week to attend a conference scheduled by MSI and their local distribution partner TVR. I don’t normally go to these sorts of parties because they’re always far away, but since this is the local launch of Intel’s 200-series motherboards and Kaby Lake processors, it seemed worthwhile. The presentation was handled by local distributor TVR with MSI representatives in attendance, and it was held at the Montecasino Ster-Kinekor Private Lounge. Pretty sweet!

The first event of the day was the presentation for the media by TVR’s national manager Bill Gradwell, and MSI’s business development manager Neil Campbell. The presentation itself wasn’t overly surprising because I’d been caught up already through some CES news, but MSI spent a little bit of time going through some of the things they’d optimised this generation.

One of those was, surprisingly, improved USB throughput. On their 200-series boards, there exists a dedicated USB port for hooking up VR headsets, and Campbell explained that this was necessary because using a regular port may result in stuff like electromagnetic interference, or the port running below spec to cause issues. That same work went into beefing up the USB 3.1 ports, isolating them from the rest of the board’s traces and beefing up throughput by optimising power delivery. MSI calls this “Lightning USB”, though it has no relation or reliance on Apple’s Lightning connector used for Thunderbolt 3.0 connectivity.

They’ve also fixed a primary issue I’ve had with most boards with upgraded audio solutions by adding on an AMP for the rear audio. Most “high-end” integrated audio solutions thus far only had an amp for the front panel ports, but this didn’t help anyone plugging their headphones or speaker sets in at the rear. I’m not sure why they didn’t fix this with the Skylake family, but I’m not complaining now that it’s here.

MSI’s mini desktops will come to market locally this year. On the right is the new Aegis M3 updated with Kaby Lake, and the machine on the left is the new Trident 3, a small-form-factor console replacement.

The other thing that piqued my interest was their decision to segment the traces and circuitry for the DIMM modules from the rest of the board. MSI believes that this might help make memory overclocks more stable and deliver higher throughput, which may be the case if it holds up well in tests against their competitors. There’s a dedicated power delivery mechanism for the DIMMs that is also shielded on the PCB from interference, and it remains to be seen if this makes any difference compared to MSI’s previous boards.

After the presentation, we headed up to the private lounge to mingle, get some snacks, and take a closer look at several of the motherboards on display from the new series, and three demo machines for journalists (and later the public) to toy with.

These machines immediately attracted the attention of myself and tech Youtuber (and friend) UFDisciple, and we proceeded to toy with them. One of them was sporting the new MSI Z270 SLI PLUS motherboard and an Intel Core i5-7600. Which was overclockable (it shouldn’t be). Behold our 105MHz BLCK overclock!

In reality we couldn’t get that to stick for any length of time because the GPU, an aged MSI GTX 970, was artifacting like crazy every now and then. The machine next to it, running a Z270 Gaming M7 and a Core i7-7700K, was perfectly happy with a 5.1GHz overclock on a Corsair H110i all-in-one water cooler, without any voltage tweaks. I’m not joking when I say that 5.0GHz is going to be absurdly easy to obtain if you win even just a little bit in the silicon lottery with your sample. 5.2GHz was possible, but wasn’t stable. 5.3GHz was right out, and would bluescreen immediately.

When the time came for the public viewing, about twenty people were in attendance, and some small prizes were up for grabs for anyone who asked a good question about the new products. I saved my indignant shouts about Zen and the lack of socket AM4 motherboards for another time, but others won a cute Lucky the Dragon plushy and a mini LEGO set of Lucky.

All in all, the event was very relaxed and fun at the same time. The energy surrounding the MSI brand is very different to the one I remember when I was working in retail, handling different distributors for my workplace. The MSI of yore wasn’t as limber, or open to new ways of doing things, as this one is. Gaming wasn’t a focus then, and now it’s become the primary way for a new brand to differentiate themselves and grow in a market that has so many years of growth ahead of it.

I wish MSI and TVR all the best for their Kaby Lake launch, and look forward to how they’ll handle the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti one later this quarter, and the AMD Ryzen launch after that, and the Vega launch after that. It’s going to be a busy year!