So not everyone looking for a Z270 board wants or needs all of the gaming-focused features that most of the Z270 boards have. Specifically, some people just want something clean and simple looking without any special lighting and MSI seems to have just the thing. Their Z270 SLI Plus has a black and silver theme without any RGB lighting. It’s a lot closer to a budget board but it still has a few of the features you would need/want when building a simple gaming PC including the SLI support. So today I’m going to check it out and see what it has going for features, software, and performance. Let’s dive in!
Product Name: MSI Z270 SLI PLUS
Review Sample Provided by: MSI
Written by: Wes
Pictures by: Wes
Amazon Link: HERE
|DDR4 Boost||3800 MHz|
|DDR4 Steel Armor||Yes|
|M.2 Steel Armor||Yes|
|Lightning USB 3.1 Gen2||8/6|
|PCIe Steel Armor||Yes|
|RGB Mystic Light Extension||7 Colors / 5 Effects|
|Audio||Audio Boost 4|
|PCB Color||Matt Black|
Packaging and Accessories
The box for the Z270 SLI Plus is exactly what I like seeing, simple and all blacked out. There aren’t any unnecessary photos and the main feature is the product name in the middle. They have the MSI logo then down along the edge are a couple of the board's features. This includes the Intel NIC, A Lightning USB 3.1 connection, Turbo M.2, and what MSI calls VR Boost. The back of the box is all business as well. Here they have a full specification listing and a line drawing of the rear I/O panel to help people know what they are getting. Then there is a photo of the motherboard in the middle with each of its key features highlighted with a photo and details on why.
Inside the box, the motherboard is wrapped up in a static protective bag and then it sits in its own cardboard tray. When you pull that up you will find all of the documentation and accessories up under it. For documentation, you get a thick user guide book, a quick installation paper, information on registering, and then a driver/software disc. For accessories, the SLI Plus doesn’t come with much. You get a rear I/O cover that is as basic as they come. It is all silver and has the tiny springs that are bound to get caught on connections or cut you up. Then you get two SATA cables, one with a right angle connection on one end and the other with two normal plugs.
Board Layout and Pictures
The Z270 SLI Plus may have a lot of the same features as the gaming boards, but the board is a little simpler looking with its all blacked out look. It has a flat black PCB and black for all of the accents like the DIMMs and PCI slots. Even the three heatsinks have a flat black look with just a silver trim over them. Speaking of the heatsinks, the SLI Plus has about the same cooling configuration that you would see on a higher end board with the large flat chipset cooler down next to the PCI slots and the two thicker heatsinks to the left and above the CPU to cool the chokes. Then to really keep things looking good they also put a black cover over the real I/O panel with the Pro Series branding on it. All in all, it reminds me a lot of the X99 Deluxe board from Asus but with less white, MSI has clued in that not everyone who wants a good board needs or wants a red and black themed “gaming” board.
Okay, starting up in the top left corner lets run through the board layout and features. The rear I/O panel is covered by a flat black plastic cover. Behind it, they slipped a four pin PWN fan header down below the heatsink, a perfect spot to hook up a rear case fan. Above the heatsink is the 8-pin CPU power connection. The CPU socket for the new Z270 chipset is the same LGA1151 socket as the Z170 boards. There is then a 4 pin PWM fan header for the CPU over on the right between the ram and the top heatsink.
Up in the top right corner, we can see two more fan headers. One is labeled as a pump header so it is a secondary CPU header then the other is a system fan. Below the fan header, there are four small LEDs to help with debugging, they point to the area that things stopped at during boot. Then below them is the 24 pin power connection. Below that is a USB 3.1 internal header that faces up. For ram, the SLI Plus has four black DDR4 DIMMS with clips on both the top and bottom. What is interesting though is the new metal shields over the connections. With the Z170 boards and the second batch of X99 launches, a few manufacturers added shields around the PCI slots but this is the first time I’ve seen them also around the RAM DIMMS. They should help block any interference and they also add strength to keep the slots in place so they only help.
Down in the bottom right corner of the SLI Plus, there is a lot going on. Below the up facing USB 3.1 connection I mentioned in the last photo, there is a second USB 3.1 connection but this one is right angled and faces to the side. Considering how hard USB 3 cables are to cable manage, this is a nice option to have. Below it are six SATA connections with two facing up and four to the right. It’s weird not seeing SATA Express, but I guess with M.2 starting to catch on SATA Express isn’t really taking off. Down on the bottom edge, you have two USB 2.0 headers and the front panel connections. The front panel connections don’t have visible labels though so be ready to refer to the manual. There is also another PWM system fan header as well.
The connections carry on over to the left. There is a JCOM header, the audio connection, and an RGB LED header that you can hook up an RGB lighting strip to control your case lighting from your motherboard. There is also another PWM system fan header giving us a total of 6. The audio connection has the audio boost just above it and all of the audio chipset is separated by a small portion of resin to reduce interference from the motherboard. The audio boost logo is on a small shield that covers the amp with caps around it.
In the PCI slot area, the SLI Plus has a few things going on. For starters, it has three PCIe x1 slots and three full-length PCIe slots.
For the rear I/O panel the Z270 SLI Plus isn’t packed like some of the high-end boards but it does have a few things going on. For starters, there are the DVI and HDMI connections for the onboard video on new Kaby Lake CPUs. Beyond that, over on the right is a standard 6 port audio panel. Then for USB, there are two USB 2.0 ports on the left for peripheral connections along with a single PS2 port. Then there are four dark blue USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports. The lighter blue port is a USB 3.1 Gen 2 port in a Type A configuration and the one below it is 3.1 Gen 2 as well but Type C. The four Gen 1 ports are capable of up to 5Gbps and the Gen 2 ports 10Gbps. Last but not least is the network port that is powered by an Intel i219V controller.
With the SLI Plus flipped over we get a better look at that sexy flat black PCB. You can see the split PCB for the audio circuitry as well over on the right side that runs all the way up to the rear I/O panel. Then there is the one little trick that MSI has been doing for a few years now that I love. They put all of the required logos on the bottom of the PCB, so they are there but it leaves the top looking much cleaner.
Software these days plays just as much of a role in the overall user experience as the board itself. So let's run through some of MSIs software for the SLI Plus as well as the boards BIOS. To start things off, I want to mention that unlike the Gigabyte board from last week, MSI doesn’t have one program that is required for all of the other programs to work. They have a list of programs, though personally, I would like it all to be integrated together. Anyhow, the program that I find the most useful from MSI is actually their Live Update program, it is currently in the 6th variation. This program lets you do a quick scan and see all of the drivers, utilities, and anything else that might need to be downloaded or updated. You can also check and do BIOS updates using the same software and it all works well.
The next most important program is the MSI Command Center. This one has the potential to be that one central program if they tried to integrate everything together. Basically, you can scroll through a whole list of overclocking settings for your CPU and RAM. Each is easy to adjust with sliders and for the CPU fan, you can adjust the speed profile. The last page is just a page for the OC Genie 4, here you can turn on a one click overclock. For our i7-7700K this jumps us up to 4.8GHz and for an i5-7600K you will see 4.5GHz. There is more room if you do it yourself, but for a one click that knows nothing about your PC this isn’t bad.
There are also a few advanced options that you can open up down along the bottom of the software. I’ve opened them all up for the photo below but you normally open them up one at a time. Here you can get into a few more details from the BIOS like more fan adjustments for the case fans, voltage controls, DRAM timings, and even a real-time map of your motherboard that shows things like fans and temperatures.
The last program that I installed (there are more you can download, but this was all I was interested in actually using) was MSI Mystic Light. This applies a lot more to some of the other MSI boards that have RGB lighting but the SLI Plus does have its white lighting and you can turn them on and off here. There are a few animation settings and then you can also control RGB lighting that are hooked up to the single LED controller plug on the board. Now the lighting controls are a little basic in my opinion, you only have 7 different colors and no color wheel to pick your own custom colors, but the option is at least there.
For the BIOS, the SLI Plus actually boots up into the EasyMode, this is one of my complaints on a lot of boards, what's the point of an easy mode if inexperienced users who end up in the BIOS have to hunt down the easier mode. So when you get into the BIOS the EasyMode page has all of the things someone might be looking for, all on one page. Up top, you can turn on XMP or OC Genie with a button pressed. Info on the board is next to it and the boot priority is all listed out and each can be dragged and moved to put them in a different order. Beyond that, over on the left are quick options for the CPU, memory, storage, and fan info.
Flipping over to the advanced mode you still have all of the easy to use options up top, only now there is a picture in the middle of the PRO Series board with options around it to get to more advanced options.
The settings button opens up a short list of pages that you might need. Here you have boot options, BIOS security options, system status, and an advanced page. These are basically all of the non-overclocking options all sorted together in one easy to get at place.
The OC page is exactly that the name implies. Here you have the CPU settings, Memory settings, and access to voltage adjustments. Each option is in the middle and if you click on anything over on the right there will be more details on what it does. So even though this is the advanced mode, MSI does give you a little help.
The hardware monitor option over on the right opens up a window with that is basically a windows program. This lets you see the current temperatures and voltages along the bottom and top left. From there you can select each of the 6 fan headers and adjust the smart fan profiles or set them to a single speed. There is also an option to flip each header from PWM mode to a standard DC mode as well.
The board explorer option also opens up into a smaller window inside of the BIOS. This one shows a photo of the motherboard and as you mouse over things it ill list what it is down on the bottom. With most things it has more details like for our CPU, it also mentions its clock speed as well. Mousing over the top of the rear I/O panel opens up a window that shows all of the I/O connections and you can mouse over individual ports to see what is hooked up to them as well.
When you are all finished up, if you made any changes the BIOS does give a warning to show a full list of anything changed. This lets you make sure you didn’t change anything accidently before confirming it.
Test Rig and Procedures
|Intel Z270 Test System|
|CPU||Intel i7-7700||Live Pricing|
Noctua NH-U14S for cooling
Noctua NT-H1 Thermal Paste
|Memory||Kingston HyperX FURY DDR4 16GB kit 2666MHz||Live Pricing|
|Storage||Kingston HyperX 240GB SSD||Live Pricing|
|Video Card||AMD RX480||Live Pricing|
|Power Supply||Thermaltake 850w||Live Pricing|
|Case||Microcool Banchetto 101 Test bench||Live Pricing|
|OS||Windows 10 Pro 64-bit||Live Pricing|
|Passmark Performance Test 9.0||Overall PCMark score|
|PCMark 8||We use the Home Accelerated benchmark and track the overall score|
|3DMark||We run the 2013 Fire Strike test on the performance setting|
|In Game Tests|
|Deus Ex: Mankind Divided||In game benchmark, ultra setting, 1080p|
|Hitman 2016||Fullscreen with V-Sync turned off Detail, Texture Quality, Shadow Maps, and Shadow Resolution all set to their highest settings. Tested at 1080p in DX12|
|Passmark||Passmark Advanced network test|
For performance testing, I did run the SLI Plus through a few of our basic benchmarks but those were all just to confirm that everything worked well and there were no glaring differences. The actual performance between boards doesn’t really change now that everything is integrated into Intel’s chipsets. That said, the SLI Plus performed well when paired with the i7-7700 and the RX480 though in Deus Ex you would want to drop the settings down slightly to smooth out those framerates. My main concern was really with the network performance because this is one area that not everyone is running the same configuration. The Intel i219V NIC that the SLI Plus has is fairly standard, though. It did perform really well against the Gigabyte board with its combination of the same Intel i219V and a Killer NIC. This goes to show that there are variances in network performance as well depending on network load.
|Motherboard||Overall Score||Graphics Score||Physics Score|
|MSI Z270 SLI PLUS||11087||12951||14627|
|Gigabyte Z270X Gaming K7||11151||13073||14604|
|PCMark 8 Home Accelerated Score|
|MSI Z270 SLI PLUS||5063|
|Gigabyte Z270X Gaming K7||5191|
|Passmark PerformanceTest 9.0 Overall Score|
|MSI Z270 SLI PLUS||6228.7|
|Gigabyte Z270X Gaming K7||6415.7|
|Deus Ex: Mankind Divided Average FPS|
|MSI Z270 SLI PLUS||45.3 FPS|
|Gigabyte Z270X Gaming K7||45.2 FPS|
|Hitman 2016 Average FPS|
|MSI Z270 SLI PLUS||84.69 FPS|
|Gigabyte Z270X Gaming K7||81.74 FPS|
|Average Network Speed|
|MSI Z270 SLI PLUS||928.0 Mbits/Sec|
|Gigabyte Z270X Gaming K7 - Killer E2500||884.5 Mbits/Sec|
|Gigabyte Z270X Gaming K7 - Intel NIC||895.4 Mbits/Sec|
Like I said before, with the all black and silver board the SLI Plus isn’t really designed to be a new flashy gaming board at all. It does however still have some lighting. When it is running and assuming you didn’t turn it off in the software, it has white LEDS in all four corners of the board that gives it a little backlighting. This white lighting fits the simple design of the board really well. You can’t control individual zones, though, so remember if you don’t like it you will need to turn them all off.
Overall and Final Verdict
Having run through the features, software, and performance of the MSI Z270 SLI Plus I can finally put it all together and see how the board compares to everything else on the market. First off I really like the flat black board and heatsinks with just silver for an accent color. It is simple and is going to look amazing in every single build. The Rear I/O cover helps clean things up as well. Honestly, this is basically the Kylo Ren motherboard, especially if you look at the design on the I/O cover. To keep things simple the SLI Plus also just has white accent lighting, but MSI did slip an RGB header on there as well to control case lighting as needed, though the software looks to only let you set that to 7 different colors, so I would avoid it.
The board isn’t really packed with features, but you do get all of the connections you should need for any current build with its 6 SATA connections, enough PCIe for SLI or Crossfire, and two M.2’s. The metal shields for the memory and PCIe x16 slots are a nice touch as well. Even the M.2’s have steel armor as well. Really my only complaint was that there aren’t any of the other future connections other than the m.2’s so you don’t get SATA Express, U.2, and the new internal USB 3.1 header. Of those I really only think that new USB header is going to be an issue, I really don’t see the other two taking off at this point.
With all of the features you might need, a simple but good look, and MSIs software the Z270 SLI Plus is a great board and with an MSRP of $149.99 it actually ends up being a good value. I did, however, spend a lot of time comparing it with the MSI Z270 SLI and frankly, if you are just looking at the two specification listings and the boards you might think they are the same board with just a little less of the silver accents. This really caught my eye because the SLI Plus costs even less. But here is a quick run through the differences. The Plus has the Steel Armor on the memory and m.2’s, the RGB header for case lighting, and VR Boost. Really for $10 less, the Z270 SLI ends up being a better buy. I would prefer to have the Steel Armor protection on the M.2 and DDR connections, but all of the other differences are negligible. Either way, both boards end up being great buys for anyone building a Z270 build that just wants a simple non-RGB build.
Live Pricing: HERE