MSI Z270 Tomahawk in the test

In the meantime, the remaining motherboard manufacturers have zeroed in on gaming ranks. MSI has three gaming series, and today we take a look from the Arsenal entry-level series at the MSI Z270 Tomahawk, which aims to be an ideal platform for using Intel's current CPU generation 7. As the successor to the Z170 chipset series and after a few months on the market, we assume that the BIOS versions are fully developed. Our test clarifies the details.

Intro

Picture: MSI Z270 Tomahawk in the test

Are there motherboards like sand on the sea? The terminology was certainly so accurate many years ago, but today there are only a few players in the mainboard segment. However, there is still plenty of choice. Virtually all of the remaining manufacturers have now concentrated on the gaming sector and have created specially tailored series for this purpose. At MSI you can currently find a total of four mainboard types. The 08/15 and the gaming series, which is divided into three categories: Arsenal, Performance and Enthusiast. Arsenal represents the entry-level range in MSI's gaming motherboards and wants to be sophisticated, but also inexpensive.

The MSI Z270 Tomahawk from the series is based on Intel's best / highest chipset for Kaby Lake processors of the seventh CPU generation and of course comes with practically all the features that this Intel chipset has to offer. In addition, MSI has of course equipped its Tomahawk with additional features and has classified it in a price range around 150 euros. This is currently around 30 euros more than the predecessor with the Z170 chipset. Our test clarifies whether the investment is worthwhile.

General overview

Intel Z170 vs. Z270 at a glance

Chipset comparison Z270 Z170
base LGA 1151 LGA 1151
CPU support Kaby Lake (Gen 7) Kaby Lake (Gen 7)
Skylake (Gen 6) Skylake (Gen 6)
Storage support DDR4 DDR4
memory channels 2 2
maximum memory slots 4 4
PEG combination options 1 x 16 1 x 16
2 x 8 2 x 8
1 x 8 & 2 x 4 1 x 8 & 2 x 4
Maximum displays 3 3
DMI version 3.0 3.0
maximum number of USB ports 14 14
maximum number of USB 3.0 ports 10 10
maximum number of SATA 6 Gb / s ports 6 6
PCIe 3.0 lines (including CPU) 24 20
Intel RST (Rapid Storage Technology) Ja Ja
maximum number of RST PCIe connections (M.2 / SATA Express) 3 3
Intel Smart Response Technology Ja Ja
Intel Optane Technology Ja No

With the introduction of the Z270 chipset, Intel only made marginal changes compared to its predecessor, the Z170. The two main points are the number of PCI Express 3.0 lines, which has increased by four lanes, as well as the support of Intel's Optane technology.

If you roll over English test reports on the 16 iv> and 32 GByte large Intel Optane modules (there were no German test samples so far), you realize that paper is patient. The caching modules certainly perform well in connection with hard disks, but in the mix of all applications by no means come close to the possibilities of cheap SSDs. It is somewhat reminiscent of the initial options of using small SSDs for hard drive caching. The disadvantage is the low storage capacity of 16 to 32 GB and the price of up to 100 euros for the 32 GB version.

However, there are advantages to be found in connection with SSDs. Then, in particular, the performance with small file sizes (up to 4K) is massively increased, beyond the level of top SSD models. Mainstream SSDs often have a weak point in this area in particular.

Key data and scope of delivery MSI Z270 Tomahawk

In the previous chapter we have shown what the Intel chipset itself can or offers. The following table shows what the MSI Z270 Tomahawk has in its luggage.

Key data MSI Z270 Tomahawk
base LGA1151
chipset Intel Z270
Form factor ATX (30,4 x 24,3 cm)
CPU support Kaby Lake (Gen 7)
Skylake (Gen 6)
Storage support DDR4
maximum memory clock specification DDR4-2400
maximum memory clock OC DDR4-3800
Storage slots 4
maximum memory support 64 GByte
PCIe x16 slots 3
USB ports 14 (max)
8 x USB 3.1 Gen1 type A
1 x Gen2 Type C
1 x Gen2 type A
4 2.0 x USB
USB ports I / O panel 8
2 2.0 x USB
4 x USB 3.1 Gen1
2 x USB 3.1 Gen2
M.2 ports 2
SATA III 6
RAID 0/1/5/10
Audio Realtek ALC892 codec
SPDIF / analog
7.1 support
Monitor connections DVI-D
HDMI
LAN 10/100/1000
serial ports 1 x PS2

MSI naturally emphasizes the two existing M.2 slots, whereby one is intended for Intel's Optane technology, the second is connected via x4 PCI Express cables.

The Tomahawk from the entry-level gaming series Arsenal has everything the gamer needs on paper. In addition, MSI has installed LED lighting in various areas, which can be controlled by software - MSI speaks of "Mystic Light Sync".

The larger models of the gaming series have debug displays; LED codes are used here. An internal optical feature, in addition to the gun metal colors of the mainboard, is the full gaming I / O cover - a plate that MSI has pulled over the external connections of the I / O panel and on which the board Designation is printed. In practice, however, this is of no use.

The scope of delivery is limited. Internally designed USB 2.0 or 3.0 ports remain internal unless you have suitable accessories to lead them to the outside, because MSI has nothing to offer in the scope of delivery. Even the piece of plastic, which makes it easier to connect the internal housing connections in order to finally plug this connector onto the internal mainboard rows, is missing in the case of the Arsenal series.

Impressions

The MSI Z270 Tomahawk is visually appealing and fits in well with the manufacturer's series of players. The full ATX board has a gun metal look, which is certainly not intended due to the name. Rather, the color scheme should be more reminiscent of a war paint, the angled chipset cooler and the cover of the I / O shield of the hatchet. In addition to the taste in optics, there is then hard fare. A total of ten converters surround the base LGA1151 for a stable power supply.

The driver modules of the power supply, which can heat up significantly under high load, are additionally cooled by passive heat sinks, which in turn have been adapted in the style of the rest of the mainboard design. The distance to the four DDR4 memory slots was generously designed so that memory modules and expansive heat sinks should not experience a collision as far as possible. In addition, if only two memory modules are fitted, the first and third slots remain empty, which increases the distance to the CPU cooler a little more. Of course, the space advantage does not apply when fully equipped.
According to the compatibility list for the processors, Intel's fastest CPUs of the 7000 series can currently be used, but of course Skylake processors of the 6000 series can also be installed. The DDR4 memory can be equipped with a maximum of 64 GB. Officially, the Kaby Lake memory controller only supports DDR4-2400. MSI also speaks of support up to DDR4-3800 in "OC operation". The latter means that this can, but does not have to work, and is no guarantee that OC memories with DDR4-3800 purchased in stores can be operated on the Tomahawk without any problems.

The MSI Z270 Tomahawk offers a total of three PCI Express x16 and three PCI Express x1 slots - but only in the physical version. If two graphics cards are fitted in the first and second PCI Express graphics card slot, the two pixel accelerators are only controlled with 2 x 8 PCIe lines per slot. If you get the idea of ​​using a third graphics card, the first slot is controlled with eight PCIe lines, in two and three then only with four lines each. The bandwidth naturally suffers as a result.

In addition, MSI calls the cladding of the first PCI-Express graphics card slot with a metal border "Steel Armor". This is currently in vogue with gaming boards, and while there is sometimes talk of better shielding, the main reason is actually a frame reinforcement of the slot, in the event that particularly heavy graphics cards are installed in the first slot. In principle, however, it is also possible to stow type x16 expansion cards in the two other x4 slots - they do not necessarily have to be graphics cards.

MSI has also installed a serial interface on the I / O shield, namely a PS / 2 connection. In addition, there is a DVI-D and an HDMI connection, if the integrated graphics solution of the processor is used. In addition to the Gigabit LAN interface, there are also the audio connections, which are controlled via the Realtek codec and also offer analog connections via the digital SPDIF out, which can offer up to 7.1 HD surround sound.

For the USB ports, MSI implemented two USB 2.0 ports and two USB 3.1 generation 2 ports. The latter are implemented as type A and type C. There are also four USB 3.1 ports, albeit generation 1 - with a lower bandwidth.

Internally, MSI has further options to offer via these eight external USB ports, which then have to be implemented optionally via accessories or housing connection options. In any case, there is no suitable accessory in the scope of delivery to lead the internal connections to the outside.

Of course, the MSI Z270 Tomahawk also offers two internal M.2 connections for SSDs or one for Intel's Optane technology, both connected at full speed via PCI Express 3.0 lines (Twin Turbo M.2). In addition, there are the six SATA III ports (270 Gb / s) that are usual for the Z6 chipset. In addition to the design, there is LED color support, which can be adjusted using MSI software and sets accents (Mystic Light).

Practice

Function tests

Function tests MSI Z270 Tomahawk
BIOS / UEFI update nothing special
Windows 10 installation ok
Driver integration ok
USB 2.0 burner Samsung ok
Standby mode:
S1 / S3 / idle state ok / ok / ok
Network operation:
Surfing / downloads / home network ok / ok / ok
Fan control 4-pin PWM several profiles pre-assigned
further possibilities via software
Boot options USB stick: ok
HDD: ok
USB DVD: ok

Compatibility tests

Compatibility tests MSI Z270 Tomahawk
Speicher see below
processors Intel Core i7-7700K: ok
Intel Core i5-7500: ok
Intel Core i7-6700K: ok
graphics Cards NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080: ok
AMD Radeon RX 480: ok
USB: DVD burner: ok
SanDisk Extreme Pro USB3.1: ok
Canon-IXUS-Digicam: ok
HDD / SSD: SanDisk Ultra II 960 GB: ok
Crucial MX300 525 GB: ok
Seagate ST2000VX

memory compatibility

Storage kit SPD detection XMP detection Manual DDR4-2400
Corsair Vengeance DDR4-3000 (LPX CMK-16GX4M2B300C15) ok ok ok
Crucial Ballistix DDR4-2400 (BL S8GD240FSC) ok ok ok
G.Skill Trident Z DDR4-3600 (F4-3600C16D - 16GTZ) ok no ok
G.Skill Trident Z DDR4-3200 (F4-3200C16D - 16GTZB) ok ok ok
Geil DDR4-3200 CL16 (GEX416GB3200C16DC) ok ok ok

Load tests

Load tests MSI Z270 Tomahawk
Memory / CPU Prime95: ok
Applications PCMark 8: ok
3D games AC Syndicate; OK
Batman - Arkham Knight: ok
Battlefield 1: ok
Deus Ex - MD: ok
DOOM: ok
Mafia III: ok
Rise of the Tomb Raider: ok
The Witcher 3: ok

Audio quality


We determined the audio quality with the latest version of the RightMark Audio Analyzer 6.2.1. For this purpose, we used the software to determine the sound quality of the sound chips on the circuit board in the range of 24 bit, 192 kHz. This should currently correspond to the high audio quality of a Blu-ray Disc.

Since during the tests the test signal is picked up at the output of the sound card and then fed back directly to the input of the chip with a cable, the quality of the cable used has a not insignificant influence on the results achieved. In order to keep the influence as low or comparable as possible, we therefore use a cable from [i!] with gold-plated jack plugs.

If you would like to find out more about the following tests for audio measurement and their meaning, you will find a detailed explanation in this glossary.

Benchmarks

As a rule, mainboards with the same chipset should only differ marginally in terms of performance. Significant differences only arise if any automatic overclocking options for CPU and / or memory are switched on, otherwise the deviations should be marginal or within the range of the measurement tolerance. This also applies to the hard disk / SSD performance, provided that the same chip requirements apply. Differences can result from additional controller chips, or whether, for example, an SSD is connected via SATA or PCI Express, especially with M.2 SSDs.

To assess the performance, we use PCMark 8 from Futuremark and rely on its test suites Creative, Home, Work and Storage.

Creative

In the Creative Suite, Futuremark uses web surfing, video conferences for playback and encoding, image processing and video editing as well as music conversion for performance evaluation. Different scenarios are used, which Futuremark also evaluates and weights differently. Futuremark is also placing the games area in the creative area, and two of the tests then also include "mainstream gaming" in different resolutions.

PCMark 8 passed these test areas a total of three times in order to achieve a useful average. The run on a Core i7-7700K takes just under an hour.

PCMark 8 suite

Creation Suite

MSI Z270 Tomahawk
[i7-7700K]

5661
MSI Z170a Gaming M7
[i7-7700K]

5552
Points (higher values ​​are better)

Home

With the Home Suite, Futuremark is - as the name suggests - based on average domestic use. Once again, Internet surfing and a small amount of image processing are added to the balance. A bit of video editing and office work are involved, and when playing, you tend to see the casual gamer here.

Again, these tests are repeated every three times before a remedy is formed. Due to the lower requirements, the test suite also requires less time and can be completed in around 30 minutes.

PCMark 8 suite

Home Suite

MSI Z170a Gaming M7
[i7-7700K]

100%
MSI Z270 Tomahawk
[i7-7700K]

98%
Points (higher values ​​are better)

Work

Futuremarks Work-Suite can be understood as typical office use in the company. Spreadsheets and word processing are in the foreground alongside internet use and video conferencing. The requirements made here are practically the lowest of the three PCMark 8 test suites.

Here too, Futuremark draws the mean from three complete benchmark runs. This test suite can also be completed in around 30 minutes.

PCMark 8 suite

Work suite

MSI Z170a Gaming M7
[i7-7700K]

3809
MSI Z270 Tomahawk
[i7-7700K]

3790
Points (higher values ​​are better)

storage

Futuremark's storage suite also tries to orientate itself in a practical way and draws less on synthetic applications than on known applications. Their start, load and storage times are in the foreground. Games like World of Warcraft or Battlefield 3, Adobe professional programs like Photoshop, After Effects or Illustrator and of course Microsoft Office programs like Word, Excel and PowerPoint are consulted.

Here, too, Futuremark must complete the test runs every three times before a remedy is formed. The performance values ​​primarily depend on the storage medium used (SSD or HDD), and of course on the way the medium is integrated into the system. The test runs take about 45 minutes in our system with SSD on SATA III (6 Gb / s).

PCMark 8 suite

Storage Suite

MSI Z270 Tomahawk
[i7-7700K]

4967
MSI Z170a Gaming M7
[i7-7700K]

4951
Points (higher values ​​are better)

Summary

The MSI Z270 Tomahawk competed against the MSI Z170a Gaming M7 in today's comparison. At first glance, this is an unfair comparison, as the Tomahawk is part of MSI's Arsenal entry-level gaming series, while the Gaming M7 is in the enthusiast class. There may be a clear difference in the equipment or the scope of delivery, but also in the price. Although the price of the Z170 mainboards has fallen, simply because the Z270 mainboards are on the market, the two current representatives are still selling for over 40 euros, and that's where the Z270 Tomahawk wants to score.

In the area of ​​performance, it has no disadvantages, but rather slight advantages, since the chipset is the first to support Intel's Optane technology and is also equipped with more PCI Express lines on the chipset side, which also enables M.2 SSD implementations easier to offer than faster PCIe execution. This is the case with the Tomahawk, but this was also implemented in the Z170a Gaming M7 due to its enthusiast group.

Picture: MSI Z270 Tomahawk in the test

For a previous owner of a Z170 mainboard, switching to the Z270 is practically not worthwhile, because as our comparisons showed, both mainboards are at the same level of performance. Even though Intel's preferred platform for Generation 7 core processors is the Z270 chipset, they feel just as at home in a Z170 motherboard.

The Z270 Tomahawk did not make any mistakes in today's test. The failed test with the G.Skill kit with a DDR4-3600 clock rate is to be overcome, and the Z170a Gaming M7 also failed. In addition, we did not encounter any errors. The board is visually appealing and equipped with sufficient options for the majority of players. The implementation of the integrated audio solution can be described as okay overall, even though the Realtek codec is used on most motherboards with these chipsets and is able to do something similar.

With a price of around 150 Euro the Z270 Tomahawk is on the road in the usual regions for sensibly equipped gaming mainboards with Z270 chipset. The sale of the Z170 motherboards is currently making life difficult, because an MSI Z170 Tomahawk is currently available for around 130 Euro. But that's nothing new in the hardware scene either.

Test environment

Hardware:

About David Maul

David Maul is a qualified business IT specialist with a passion for hardware