Today's Hard|Forum Post
Today's Hard|Forum Post

MSI Z270 SLI Plus LGA 1151 Motherboard Review

MSI brings to the table, one of the least expensive SLI capable motherboards based on Intel’s Z270 Express chipset available today. While not totally stripped, it does sacrifice a few things to keep costs down. That said, it’s also got a solid foundation and offers a ton of value for the money. If you are looking to build an LGA 1151 rig, you won’t want to miss this one.

Introduction

The MSI Z270 SLI PLUS is currently $125.95 with Prime Shipping after $10 MIR. Certainly that might whet your Z270 chipset whistle.

MSI is a brand name that we are familiar with here at HardOCP. It's a company that was founded in the 1980s and has become one of the largest and influential manufacturers in the PC market today. The company makes a lot of products related to this industry, but it's motherboards that it remains best known for. In the DIY computing arena, we've sampled a lot of what MSI has offered over the last decade and some change. I've personally seen MSI evolve from a "me too" enthusiast brand into an innovator.

Truth be told, I wasn't very excited about MSI's when I started reviewing motherboards over 10 years ago. Over the last few years however, I've seen MSI produce some of the best physical hardware available.

Today, MSI's marketing got a big odd. When you are firearms savvy, it's hard to take MSI seriously with model names like "Motar" or "Grenade" in the product stack. Still, MSI should be taken seriously. The days of awesome hardware with questionable firmware are over. In the last couple of years MSI has stepped up its game with the goal of dominating the PC gaming market. While it's marketing moves leave a lot of us tech guys scratching our heads, MSI's business tactics have been wildly successful.

MSI used to do pretty much what every other motherboard manufacturer did with its designs. Today, MSI has gotten some independence in its design. MSI doesn't often throw every feature but the kitchen sink into its motherboards anymore. I suspect this is primarily so it can undercut the costs of the other big motherboard manufacturers and making it so they don't necessarily compete directly with one another. MSI still has halo boards like that, but even the top of most of its product lines isn't usually filled with as much fluff as the competition's offerings usually are.

Article Image

That brings us to the motherboard we are looking at today. MSI’s Z270 SLI Plus is in essence a no-nonsense multi-GPU friendly motherboard for Kaby Lake processors. The Z270 SLI Plus isn't a stripped-down model exactly, but it isn't full of extra hardware that often goes unused. You don't have supplementary drive controllers or extra NICs, wireless network controllers, or anything like that.

The Z270 SLI Plus is based on Intel's Z270 Express chipset and supports Intel's socket LGA 1151 processors. This includes both Skylake and Kaby Lake processor architectures. This means that the Z270 SLI Plus supports PCI-Express 3.0, 6, SATA 6Gb/s ports, RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 along with Intel's Optane technology of course USB 3.1 Gen 1, USB 3.1 Gen 2, and legacy USB standards are supported by the chipset. Dual M.2 slots are provided as well, supporting up to type 22110 devices in one slot, and 2280 on the other. Multi-GPU Crossfire and SLI technologies are supported, making this potentially ideal for dual GPU configurations.

You might be wondering how the motherboard ends up being so cheap given the feature set? MSI had to do some cost cutting on this one in order to achieve the sub-$150 retail price point this motherboard is set at. To do that, MSI went with monochrome "white" LED's, dropping RGB LEDs. There is in fact an RGB header, so that functionality is retained in a sense. There is also only a single BIOS ROM chip, and therefore no redundancy. Lastly, it ditches things like an optical output and onboard power, reset and a digital POST code display. I do question the wisdom of ditching some of these items, but it places this motherboard into a unique position. You really won't find as solid of an SLI /multi-GPU friendly motherboard for less, which is why I think MSI went this route. Sure, you give up a few nice to haves, but you gain SLI support and dual M.2 slots. Frankly, those are almost unheard of features for Z270 at this price point.

Main Specifications Overview:

Article Image

Detailed Specifications Overview:

Article Image

Packaging

The box is plain, black, and highlighted with white here and there. The black and silver color scheme comes from the motherboard itself, which is largely black and silver. The packaging is the same as any standard motherboard box used for the last couple of decades or more. Inside our sample arrived, intact with the following accessories: Driver disc, user manual, SATA cables, and I/O shield.

Article Image Article Image Article Image Article Image

Board Layout

Article Image

The layout of the Z270 SLI Plus is good with only a couple things I don't like. The location of the CMOS battery is less than ideal and I would have moved the second M.2 slot above the secondary PCIe x16 slot. Lastly, MSI has placed 6 SATA 6Gb/s ports on the motherboard, but the middle two are rotated into the vertical position. I'm not sure what it will take for MSI and others to understand that no enthusiasts I've ever met want vertical SATA ports. These often interfere with expansion card slots and it's hard to make your SATA cables look good when they come straight up off the motherboard like that. It's even worse when you've got some ports going one way, and others going a different direction.

The Z270 SLI Plus does have 6x 4-pin fan headers. There is also a dedicated water pump header. All the fans support DC and PWM modes. I mentioned earlier that the board lacks a LED POST display, but it does have debug LEDs. These are assigned to specific categories and blink for each. Think of them as idiot lights instead of gauges. It's not my favorite thing, but this feature isn't new. I've seen it on high end boards, including ROG motherboards from ASUS. However, I don't recall seeing these independently of the LED POST code readout.

Article Image Article Image

The CPU socket area looks good. You've got plenty of clearance around the socket. The motherboard has 10 power phases, 8 of which are dedicated to the CPU. The Z270 SLI Plus uses an all digital power design. Additionally, MSI uses solid aluminum core, low ESR capacitors that are rated for 10,000 hours. Dark chokes run at lower than average temperatures increasing efficiency and longevity. Lastly, titanium chokes are used which run cooler, and supposedly offer upwards of a 30% increase in power efficiency.

Article Image

There are four 288-pin DDR4 DIMM slots supporting up to 64GB of memory, which is a limitation of the CPU's memory controller, and the chipset hardware. These slots use dual-sided locking tabs and feature MSI's steel armor system which prevents PCB warping during memory installation. MSI's DDR4 boost design allows for higher memory overclocking by tuning the trace paths so that loading the DIMM slots doesn't create instability, or avoidable variances in signaling.

Article Image Article Image

The chipset is located in the usual bottom left hand corner. The heat sink is a simple design, sporting the monochromatic theme MSI chose for this motherboard. The heat sink is flat and designed to avoid clearance issues with the expansion slot area. In front of the chipset, you'll find the afore-mentioned nonsense that constitutes the SATA cable block. My issue with this is that you have four ports going one direction and two going another. Worse yet, is the two are vertical ports which I hate.

Article Image Article Image

The expansion slot area is well thought out with very few issues to report. MSI used its steel armor for the PCIe x16 slots. I'd like to have seen this on the third x16 slot as this can be used for AMD 3-way Crossfire configurations, but highly unlikely that this is the motherboard you would purchase if using three GPUs. It would also be more visually appealing, because I'm OCD like that. I do like the placement of the primary M.2 slot being above the first PCIe x16 slot. I'm not a fan of where the shorter M.2 slot was placed. I'd like to see it moved above the secondary PCIe x16 slot. Like most SLI capable Z270 chipset motherboards, the Z270 SLI Plus supports a lane configuration of x16/x0/x4, or x8/x8/x4. All PCIe x1 slots conform to the PCI-Express 3.0 standard.

Article Image

The I/O panel wastes a lot of space as you can imagine as motherboards in this price point always do. There are two USB 2.0 ports, 1x dedicated PS/2 mouse or keyboard port, 4x USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports, 2x USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports. One of the USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports is Type-A, the other is Type-C. There is one RJ-45 network jack, 1 HDMI 2.0 port, and one DVI-D port. Lastly, we have 6x mini-stereo jacks for analog audio output. MSI sacrificed the optical output, which I know some people aren't going to like. I don't agree with this decision, but that's what MSI did.