MSI Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon Review

MSI’s Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon is the company’s take on a mid-range motherboard with features that will appeal to gamers. Noteworthy inclusions are a comprehensive set of RGB LEDs spread across the board, a design which caters for dual-GPU gamers, and the company’s smart M.2 Shield cooling plate.

Intel’s Z270 chipset has some interesting CPUs to go along with it, and it seems many have the potential to reach 5 GHz for daily use, something many enthusiasts have only dreamed of until now. Of course, you do need that capable board to match that overly capable CPU, and MSI’s Z270 GAMING PRO CARBON is fortunately more than just one of those boards.

The Z270 platform also gives us some welcome enthusiast-friendly features, like the ability to split the processor’s sixteen Gen3 PCIe lanes across multiple slots for multi-GPU graphics configs. The Z270 also offers full control over the processor’s various knobs and dials, allowing overclockers to tweak to their hearts’ content.

It’s worth pointing out that both the new Kaby Lake processors as well as previous-generation Skylake CPUs can be used in the new Z270-based boards, thanks to the two chips sharing a common LGA1151 socket. We’ve also seen motherboard makers release firmware updates for existing 100-series boards to support Kaby Lake CPUs, so a new 200-series motherboard is not a requirement for running the latest and greatest silicon.
With that general introduction out of the way, one of the first 200-series motherboards we’re looking at is MSI’s Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon.

The Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon fits into MSI’s “Performance Gaming” product segment. Like the rest of the Carbon models, it features a rear I/O cluster shroud and heatsinks with carbon-fiber-patterned accents. The plastic shroud is held on by two screws, so if you’re not a fan of the look, you can simply remove those screws, disconnect the LED cable, and leave the shroud in the box.
The full-sized ATX board sports a very blacked-out look, with only a smattering of silver highlights along the expansion slots and across the heatsinks decorating the matte black PCB. If it weren’t for the Audio Boost logo on the EMI shield covering the codec and the nickel accents from the nearby caps, the board would be living in a monochromatic world.

The back of the board shows that all the heatsinks are held firmly in place with screws rather than push-pins. Screws not only ensure better heatsink contact with the components beneath, but they also give the board a more premium feel. We can also see certification logos for SteelSeries gaming peripherals, Nahimic audio software, CrossFire, and SLI. If you were hoping to show those logos off in your build, you’re probably going to be out of luck.
The underside of the board also gives us a good look at the RGB LEDs running along the left hand side and down the isolated audio section. These provide the ground effects for MSI’s lighting system, which the company calls Mystic Light. As four out of five gaming hardware designers know, the presence of LEDs will make your processor’s transistors switch faster and with more vigor. For those folks willing to risk running their systems dark, all of the lighting can thankfully be disabled.

 The two VRM heatsinks conceal the Pro Carbon’s 11 digitally-controlled power phases. Just as with Intel’s Skylake processors, Kaby Lake once again puts the responsibility of CPU voltage regulation in the motherboard maker’s hands. Given that Kaby Lake shares the existing LGA1151 platform with Skylake, this should come as no surprise. We’ll have to wait for a future generation of processors to see if the fully-integrated voltage regulator (FIVR) that was introduced with Haswell chips and improved upon in Broadwell CPUs will be seen again.

Specifications Of MSI Z270

CPU Support: 7th/6th Gen Intel Core i3/i5/i7 processors, Intel Pentium/Celeron processors
Power Design: CPU Power: 10 phase
Memory Power: 2 phase
Chipset: Intel Z270
Integrated Graphics: Dependent on installed CPU
Memory: 4x DIMM, Max. 64 GB; supports 3866 MHz+(OC)
Expansion Slots: 3x PCIe 3.0 x16 slots
3x PCIe 2.0 x1 slot
2x Ultra M.2 slot (32 Gb/s)
Storage: 6x SATA 6 Gb/s port (Intel Z270)
Networking: 1x GigaLAN Intel I219-V
Rear Ports: 1x PS/2 mouse / keyboard port
4x USB 3.0 port
1x USB 3.1 Type-A port
1x USB 3.1 Type-C port
2x USB 2.0 ports
1x LAN port
1x Optical audio port
5x Audio jacks
Audio: Realtek ALC1220 Audio Codec
Fan Headers: 6x 4-pin
Form Factor: ATX Form Factor: 12.0-in x 9.6-in, 30.5 cm x 24.4 cm
Exclusive Features:
  • DDR4 Boost
  • VR Ready
  • VR Boost
  • Mystic Light
  • Mystic Light Sync
  • Twin Turbo M.2
  • Steel Armor
  • M.2 Shield
  • Intel Optane Memory Ready
  • Lightning USB 3.1 Gen2
  • Audio Boost 4 with Nahimic 2
  • GAMING LAN with LAN Protect
  • Military Class 5
  • Guard-Pro