Board Layout and Features
The MSI Z170A Gaming M7 is a full ATX motherboard featuring a matte black PCB accented with red and black heatsinks. These heatinks are very ornate and composed mostly of black anodized aluminum with either red silkscreen graphics or a physical metal cover to give the illusion of depth. While many of the details are covered once the motherboard is installed there is no denying the attention to detail when viewing the motherboard in the box or on the shelf.
To complement the ornate heatsinks you will also find a fitted aluminum shroud that covers the I/O connections and is color matched to the motherboard.
Looking at the back of the motherboard can give you an indication as to how the PCI Express slots are wired and determine which slots are primary and secondary in terms of bandwidth. You won't find any surface components aside from the cpu backplate and a few screws for the various heatsinks.
I count a total of 13 power phases on the onboard VRM for the CPU, Memory and PCI Express. In terms of size there are plenty of power phases for mild to extreme overclocking however the odd number seems a bit, odd.
Dual channel memory comes standard on the Skylake processor and the Z170X Gaming M7 supports standard speed DDR4 modules up to 2133Mhz with overclocking support beyond 3600Mhz. A maximum of 64GB is addressable with the proper module density.
A neat visual feature on this motherboard is the red lines between the CPU and memory sockets. These roughly follow the actual traces on the motherboard giving you a visual connection between the two.
Internal SATA connections number six and follow the new SATA6 connection standard. Two of the standard SATA6 ports are dedicated to SATA Express from the chipset.
The Z170 chipset comes with 20 PCI Express 3.0 lanes which happen to be more than you get with the Skylake processor. Unlike the CPU bandwidth the chipset PCIe is intended for connectivity and storage. To help maximize all of that bandwidth you will find two M.2 Socket 3 connections with 4x lanes of PCI Express each. Unlike on previous motherboards these don’t appear to share bandwidth the SATA Express so let the storage wars begin.
You can also use these M.2 slots with NVMe host cards for additional Mini-SAS SSD options.