Intel’s Skylake family of processors for the mobile and desktop market are on the way, and motherboard manufacturers are getting themselves ready for a wave of hardware enthusiasts finally cashing in their savings from their piggy banks. Skylake brings about a number of changes for the desktop market, including a new chipset, a new socket, a new memory controller and a huge number of changes to motherboard configurations. Its pretty exciting to watch, honestly. MSI has been hard at work getting their motherboards ready for release and they released some details about their Z170A motherboards recently. Hit the jump for more hardware porn.
MSI’s redesigns don’t change their colour scheme, but they’ve gone all ASUS TUF-like on their shroud designs. Thankfully, none of the boards listed in the Z170A series pack a PCI slot, which is a nice change – everything is now PCI Express-based, finally leaving the old standard in the dust. All the boards also feature two M.2 32GB/s connectors, three PCI Express 16x slots (run in 8x/8x/8x mode for SLI or CrossFire), four DDR4 DIMM slots for up to 64GB of system memory, and MSI’s new audio solution, which doesn’t seem to be called Audio Boost any more, at least on the desktop boards.
The Z170A Gaming M9 also features a water cooling loop that runs through the CPU power phase heatsink, compatible with most standard tub sizes and fittings. Its awesome to see this attention to detail for the enthusiast market, and properly cooling down the power phases means that higher overclocks could be achieved.
MSI also boasts about their M.2 setup and that tells me that the Z170 chipset might finally allow for native RAID setups with M.2 drives and PCIe SSDs like the Intel SSD 730 family. This currently isn’t a possibility on the Z97 or X99 chipsets, as Intel hasn’t really updated the storage setups for those chipsets for some time. Being able to RAID a pair of M.2 drives would negate any benefit of deploying something like SATA Express, which MSI has elected not to include on these boards. What would the speeds be like on a RAID array of two NVMe-capable M.2 drives? I think the ballpark will be somewhere along the lines of 4GB/s reads and 3.5GB/s writes on some of the fastest available NVMe-capable drives currently available.
MSI is also debuting their Reactive Armor with the Z170A Gaming M9, which is a plastic plate that goes on the back of the motherboard to brace it better to prevent PCB flex. It might also be there as a safeguard against possibly shorts with the chassis, though I don’t think that’s been a danger to enthusiast setups for quite some time. If MSI can put out the schematics for the back plate, it might be fun to see what 3D-printed custom designs people will be able to come up with.
Intel’s Skylake platform is expected to debut in September along side Gamescom, to be held on 5 September 2015 and run for the weekend for public access to the expo. Intel is expected to host a keynote address for the event and they will probably target gamers and enthusiasts primarily in their first product rollout.