2017 has been a great year for Pc gamers and enthusiasts in general especially in the CPU market. AMD’s comeback with their Ryzen lineup of processors forced Intel to give up on their marketing plan of incremental updates with every new generation of processors and come up with something fresh, worth of the consumer’s money. And Intel came up with their 8th lineup of CPUs called “Coffee Lake”. What is different with Coffee Lake in comparison to older lineups is that after 10 years they finally brought 6 core CPUs to the mainstream market. Their high-end product, the i7 8700k features 6 cores and 12 threads and it’s MSRP price is just 20$ above its predecessor, the Kaby Lake i7 7700k. Even their i3 8th gen CPUs got an upgrade and now come packed with 4 cores and 4 threads. Quite a substantial upgrade if you consider the price of those processors not being much different than their predecessors.
One step forward, one backward
While Intel seems having taken a step forward, they shoot themselves in the foot at the same time as they announced a new lineup of motherboards for their new processors. The Z370 motherboards are fully compatible with Coffee Lake offering overclocking support and basically everything you would expect from an Intel board. Take a look at Intel’s website for more details on what the Z370 motherboards have to offer. Intel supposedly decided to launch their new Z370 chipset due to the fact that they had to re-evaluate the power delivery on their boards because Coffee Lake supports 2 more cores and 4 more threads. Backward compatibility of Coffee Lake is not supported on Z370 boards. According to an article by Tweak Town which you can read here, ASUS stated that backward compatibility of Coffee Lake with Z270 boards IS actually possible and could be implemented by Intel, but for their own reasons they decided not to.
Do you want it all? The MSI Z370 Gaming Pro Carbon AC has you covered
The inevitable truth is that if you want to take advantage of Coffee Lake’s processing power you have to include a new motherboard in your budget as well. On the other hand, Intel has refined the 14nm chip with Coffee Lake which means that you will get the most out of your new motherboard. Having said that, the MSI Z370 Gaming Pro Carbon AC is a strong contestant for the best 200$ Z370 motherboard. Although there are many great motherboards from all the manufacturers at this price range this board stands out due to an easy and understandable BIOS interface, overclocking stability, features and impressive RGB Lighting.
Specifications and Features
Let me walk you through the specifications and features of this motherboard :
- 4x USB 3.1 Gen1 ports.
- Lightning USB 3.1 Gen2.
- Wifi support up to 867Mbps and Bluetooth 4.2 support.
- DDR4 support up to 4.000 Mhz.
- Integrated Intel gaming LAN support with low latency for long gaming sessions.
- Mystic Light RGB support for immersive colors and combinations through their Mystic Light software.
- 10 power phases and enhanced heatsinks for extreme overclocking stability.
- PCIe lanes and RAM slots are enhanced with Steel Armor for maximum protection.
- Support for 2 NVMe SSDs + one M.2 Shield for keeping the NVMe drive’s temperature under control.
- 6 SATAIII ports allowing for up to 4 HDDs and 2 SSDs.
- Enhanced audio boost with golden audio jacks and 7.1 audio surround support.
- 2-way SLI and 3-way Crossfire support for multiple GPU configurations.
Features worth mentioning
Eye-pleasing and vivid RGB colors
MSI focused on delivering a premium motherboard with all kinds of features the enthusiast user would need. The great thing about this product is its RGB support. There are 4 RGB connectors on the motherboard allowing for endless customization and color combinations. Of course you can turn off the RGB lights if you are not fond of RGB, but still, it is a nice feature to have in my opinion. All color RGB color combinations and effects can be manually adjusted through the Mystic Light Utility software. You can change your motherboard’s looks in an instant by choosing the color combinations that you want, so you never get bored of the same color patterns and effects. Isn’t 2018 the year of RGB after all?
Separate PCIe Wifi card
Instead of implementing Wifi into the board itself, MSI decided to include a separate Wifi card which has to be installed in one of the 3 PCI slots on the motherboard. Personally, I like the fact that they did not go for integrated Wifi as some prefer an Ethernet connection to Wifi especially if they are playing online games. In that case, you do not need to install it at all. You can even give it to a friend who needs Wifi support. A Wifi card costs around 20$, so the inclusion of it surely makes the Z370 Gaming Pro Carbon AC a good deal for that 200$ price tag.
Included SLI Bridge
Yes, you heard it right. MSI additionally provides you with an SLI Bridge if you intend to make use of the SLI support the motherboard offers. Buying an SLI bridge separately can increase the cost of the board substantially, that is why it is nice to have it in the included package.
6 fan headers
There are 6 fan headers on the MSI Z370 Gaming Pro Carbon AC, 4 system fan headers, 1 CPU fan header and 1 Liquid pump header. The reason why I did not include this information in the specifications above is that I wanted to point out the plethora of fan headers included on this board. I do not like going through the trouble of connecting a fan controller and I would rather like having the ability to connect all my fans to the motherboard directly. With 4 system fan headers, there is no doubt that even multiple fans can be connected without an issue, allowing for full fan control through the BIOS.
Most motherboards only come with DVI and HDMI connectors, limiting your monitor’s display capabilities to 4k@30hz with HDMI. The Display Port gives you the opportunity to use Intel’s HD 630 integrated graphics without a GPU. For gamers, this is not important at all, but for content creators who do not rely on GPU power and focus more on the CPU for their daily work, the use of Intel HD Graphics on a 4k screen with 60Hz can be quite beneficial.
On the flipside, an enthusiast gamer chooses a board for its overclocking ability and in that sector, the MSI Z370 Gaming Pro Carbon AC does surprisingly well. The 10 power phases and enhanced heatsinks provide cool temperatures even with 24/7 overclocks beyond 5 GHz where Coffee Lake hits its core clock limit (around 5,1-5,3 GHz). The MSI Z370 Gaming Pro Carbon AC performs on par with similarly priced motherboards from other manufacturers like Asrock’s Taichi or Gigabyte’s Aorus Gaming M7. The main difference consists in the ease of MSI’s BIOS usage. Overclocking on an MSI board is really simple and the only thing you have to do is to adjust the core ratio, enable XMP, set the voltage and stress test the CPU. Enhanced Turbo lets you get an instant 4,7 GHz on all cores with the voltage on Auto. Great out of the box overclocking and easy manual tuning for higher overclocking results as well. MSI is the champion when it comes to easy overclocking.
Click here if you want a step by step guide on how to overclock your CPU.
There is nothing missing on the Z370 Gaming Pro Carbon AC. You get all the necessary features like NVMe support, plenty connectivity options, great overclocking support, steel armor PCIe and RAM slots and 7.1 audio support. This board, however, gives you the edge over other similar offerings: The included Wifi PCIe card and SLI bridge, the display port and the 6 fan headers are some features worth mentioning as they can be found on much more expensive boards. And the highlight, of course, is RGB Lightning support providing vivid colors and great RGB customization options. Turning those off is another option if you do not like RGB and like to keep it simple, but at 200$ these features make the MSI Z370 Gaming Pro Carbon AC an unbeatable deal.
Have you bought a Coffee Lake CPU? What motherboard do you have it on? Let me know in the comment section below along with your precious feedback.