Most motherboards stand out from rivals by serving up chunky heatsinks, whacky colours and of course an array of extra features, but MSI’s Z170A Gaming Pro breaks the mould by dedicating a centimetre or so of its entire right-hand side to a strip of multi-colour LEDs.
Changeable to whatever colour the user desires, they're designed to make for the ideal way to match your motherboard to the rest of your PC's lighting scheme. But is it all show and no go?
The Gaming Pro is one of the best looking motherboards I've tested so far. Like many, it sports a black and red theme but here it's done in as minimalist way as possible, aside from the great big strip of light down the edge of course.
It's actually a slightly odd decision to go for red trim on some of the components as the matching-by-default LEDs can actually be changed to a different colour, meaning the red bits would now clash. A more sensible colour might have been silver or white.
See also: Best Intel Z170 Motherboards
You also don't get a shroud of any sort over the rear IO, which I certainly don't mind but judging by all the other boards I've recently tested it seems to be the in thing. They serve no purpose other than looks so I'd much rather the money were spent elsewhere.
Sadly that modest approach is also reflected in the overall feature set. You miss out on any onboard extras like power switches, LED post readouts and overclocking buttons, plus the audio chip is pretty basic.
The layout also has a few compromises. Most obviously, the strip of LEDs – which are actually embedded into the PCB, making the whole edge of the PCB light up – mean none of the SATA ports are on at a right-angle but instead face straight out from the PCB. That means cable management won't be as easy and they'll trail over the lighting strip anyway. There's also a dearth of fan headers at the top of the board where they're most conveniently placed for attaching to top- and front-mounted coolers.
At least the sole SATA Express socket is on the bottom edge where it's a little easier to tuck cables away. Also, you do get an M.2 SSD slot, and it's positioned so you can just about access it without having to remove a graphics card.
You can fit up to three graphics cards for up to 3-way Crossfire or quad-SLI (two cards with dual-GPUs) or alternatively there are three x1 PCI-E slots for other expansion cards, plus an old PCI slot for legacy hardware – ideal for those still rocking old sound cards for instance.
As for connectivity, this is another area where this board trails the competition a touch. You do get USB 3.1 support – with two ports on the rear IO panel (two more via headers) – but there's no Type-C connector. You otherwise get four USB 3.0 ports on the rear panel (two more via headers) and two USB 2.0 ports (four more via headers).
There's also no DisplayPort onboard Intel graphics, which for most users won't be a concern as they'll be using a separate graphics card, but it's a notable difference nonetheless. You do at least get gold-plated audio connections and an illuminated LAN port though!
So although the onboard features are modest, there are quite a few things you can do with MSI's software. There’s a one-button tool for overclocking the processor, an option for prioritising network traffic, and a utility to assign hotkeys and macros to your keyboard even if it’s not a gaming model that offers support for these features.
All this modesty in specification is reflected in this board's performance. While at stock speeds a motherboard only makes a minimal of difference to system performance – it's all about overclocking potential – this board nonetheless came last in our Cinebench R15 multi-core CPU benchmark.
Its score of 10723 in 3DMark FireStrike is also second from bottom of the five Z170 motherboards I've tested so far. For comparison the best results I've obtained so far are 659 for Cinebench and 10802 for 3DMark.
Compounding the slightly underwhelming performance results is that this board consumes the joint most power at idle – 40W, although it actually consumes the second least while under load – 278W.
There's not a lot that really stands out about the Gaming Pro other than its design. Its price is fairly modest but its feature set and performance is a step below what's offered by other models at this price – it does seem slightly compromised by that LED strip.
Still, it's a perfectly adequate board, particularly if you're not overly interested in heavy overclocking and it certainly does look the part. Plus the addition of a PCI slot makes it potentially attractive to those with older expansion cards they'd still like to use.
The MSI Z170A Gaming Pro is no powerhouse but is a perfectly adequate Z170 motherboard with a stylish look. Not one for heavy overclockers but if you're after something stylish it could fit the bill.