Now all the motherboards for the Coffee Lake processors are based on the Intel Z370. When assembling a new PC with 8-generation Core chips, you need to choose one of the models on the top-end chipset. In the five months since the announcement of the new platform, manufacturers have prepared many devices with different functionality, equipment and their unique features. Today in focus of our attention is the full-format model with a militant but concise title – MSI Z370 TOMAHAWK.
Scope of supply
Included with the board is a user’s manual, a CD with drivers and software, an installation manual, a plug to the back of the case, a pair of SATA interface cables and an extension cable for connecting an external RGB tape.
Design and layout
MSI Z370 TOMAHAWK format ATX and has a size of 304 × 243 mm. On the black printed circuit board there is a decorative white color. Elements of the cooling system, as well as a plastic protective casing in the interface panel area are made in graphite color. In general, the design is not striking without bright contrast elements. Something immediately prompts that visually “pick” the developers will be using additional illumination.
The board is naturally based on the Intel Z370 chipset and supports all processors of Coffee Lake. Recall that now this family includes models Core i7 / i5 / i3. Soon, the range of Core i5 chips will expand, and the most affordable CPUs with Core 8 architecture will be added – Celeron G4xxx and Pentium Gold G5xxx.
The power subsystem uses a 10-phase power stabilization scheme. The PWM controller uP9598Q is used, therefore obviously the developer uses the architecture with a doubling of the power phases. As power packs, the elements QN3107 and QN3103 are used. For additional cooling, medium-sized radiator units are mounted on the MOSFET, which are fixed with screws. In general, judging by the elemental base, VRM will allow us to experiment with the overclocking of 6-nuclear chips within reasonable limits. The MSI Z370 TOMAHAWK has 4 slots for memory modules, allowing up to 64 GB of RAM to be used. For DIMM connectors, a two-way locking mechanism is provided. Declared support for modes up to DDR4-4000. In the endless list of tested and validated memory kits on the manufacturer’s website there are as many as 825 positions. When sorting according to the operating frequency, DDR4-4000 sets are found in the top.
Recall that officially for the Coffee Lake processors support for DDR4-2400 / 2666 memory is indicated, but based on the Intel Z370, it’s possible to use significantly higher speed sets or experiment with overclocking modules.
The model offers six expansion slots – three full-format PCI Express x16 and the same amount of compact PCI Express x1. The board does not allow to separate the processor lines of the PCI Express 3.0 bus, which determines the operating modes of the presented slots. The first full-format PCI Express slot always works in x16 mode. The connector has a metal cover for mechanical amplification, it is recommended to use it for installing the video card.
The second full-size slot is serviced by the chipset and can work in the mode up to x4 (depends on the configuration of the drives). The lower PCI-E x16 slot is allocated one PCI-E 3.0 line, that’s why in spite of its size, the connector is designed for expansion cards that have enough bandwidth up to 1 GB / s.
The impossibility of dividing the processor lines in the proportions x8 + x8 automatically excludes support SLI. This is not a big loss for a platform of this class, especially if you take into account the cost of current video cards with NVIDIA chips, which in principle can be used in pairs (GeForce GTX 1070 and higher). There are no problems with CrossFireX configurations. The board allows you to install two graphics adapters with AMD chips. Combinations of x16 + x4 slots are enough to synchronize a pair of video cards, the only issue is the overall efficiency of such a bundle.
The board has six 4-pin connectors for connecting fans. For all connectors, independent control channels using pulse modulation (PWM) or by changing the supply voltage (DC) are used. In this case, automatic determination of the adjustment method is not provided. When connecting the fans, it is necessary to select the control mode (PWM / DC) in the BIOS. Initially, the PWM mode is assigned for the CPU cooler and pump combo pumps, and the DC for the others.
The Command Center application allows you to monitor only two temperature values - the overall board heat and CPU temperature.
It is curious that the BIOS also has sensor monitoring, located in the area of VRM elements, and utilities such as AIDA64 or HWiNFO64 allow to fix the heating of the chipset. If these indicators can be obtained, it would be good to be able to adjust the cooling system taking into account these data. Perhaps the manufacturer will later open such an opportunity.
The middle-class motherboards do not spoil the abundance of additional controls. Often this is a delusion of top models. In this case, the price and overpayment for options that are not likely to be used at all, is simply irrelevant. From the useful existing “dopov” we will select a set of signal LEDs EZ Debug LED, which allow in rapid mode to identify the problematic node at the stage of system loading.
But without which it is now impossible to imagine any motherboard, it is without additional illumination. Here it is also in abundance. RGB-LEDs are installed along the perimeter of the PCB with a higher concentration in the area of the audio subsystem. All the LEDs are located on the back of the PCB, so the overall intensity of the glow is relatively small.
The chipset’s radiator has been highlighted separately.
If additional light wants to fill the space inside the system unit or bring the illusion out, on the board provides one 4-pin connector for connecting an external LED strip.
Garlands of RGB-elements 5050 with a voltage of 12 V are supported. Recall that the bundle includes a 80-cm extension cable, and the case when the lights are displayed outside. To lose the useful length of the LED tape is not necessary.
Mystic Light application is used to adjust the lighting system. There are four independent zones – perimeter lighting, a chipset radiator, an audio subsystem and a channel for an external RGB tape.
There are more than a dozen different modes available. MSI Mystic Light Sync technology is also supported to synchronize the backlighting of various platform components and peripherals.
The board offers interesting options for configuring the storage subsystem. The model is equipped with six SATA ports (the right edge of the PCB) and a pair of M.2 (22110 + 2280). Both M.2 connectors allow using both PCI-E and SATA drives.
The Intel Z370 chipset offers a total of 6 SATA channels, which should be taken into account when planning a drive system. For example, if you use two SATA drives in M.2 format, the corresponding number of available individual ports will be deactivated. It is unlikely that such a scheme will be useful in practice, but in this case it is possible. Often, if you have two M.2 ports on the board, only one of them can install a SATA drive. A configuration with two such devices is also supported here. Not that this was an advantage, rather a feature of a specific model.
Equipping a board with high-speed SSDs with PCI-E data transmission, it’s best to start with M.2 located in the center of the board (M2_1). If you occupy the second drive port (M2_2) with this drive, the medium full-length PCI-E expansion slot will be deactivated, operating in the x4 mode. In both M.2 slots, you can also “charge” Intel Optane accelerators, if there is one in your system.
MSI Z370 TOMAHAWK received an additional USB 3.1 Gen2 controller. The board is equipped with the ASMedia ASM3142 chip, which offers two ports with a bandwidth of up to 10 Gb / s. In this case, both connectors are output to the interface panel. One connector looks like a USB Type-A, the second one is a compact symmetrical USB Type-C.
As for USB 3.0, or as they are known by manufacturers – USB 3.1 Gen1, then the developers rely on the capabilities of the Intel Z370. Four corresponding ports are located on the external panel, two internal connectors allow you to display on the wall of the case four more USB 3.0. In all cases, direct chipset links are used without additional hub-splitters.
If to mention USB 2.0, then two corresponding ports are output to the interface panel, while a pair of internal pads potentially give four more corresponding ports.
For the network capabilities of the board meets the Intel i219-V gigabit controller, which reveals the potential of the chipset.
For the audio subsystem, the 8-channel Realtek ALC892 chip is used. The area of the audio path is separated from the main PCB array, and specialized Japanese capacitances from Chemicon are used in the circuit.
Formally, Realtek top codec would not be in the way here, although fans of crystal clear sound will in any case prefer a discrete solution.
On the reverse side of the printed a minimum of additional elements. The insulating track separating the sound path is clearly visible here, as well as the fastening screws of all the elements of the cooling system and even the decorative cover over the interface panel.
On the interface panel there are the combined PS / 2, two USB 2.0 ports, four USB 3.0, and also a pair of high-speed USB 3.1 Gen2 (Type-A + Type-C) and an Ethernet socket. Note that the manufacturer does not use color markings of internal inserts to allocate 10-gigabit USB ports.
DVI-D video outputs and full-format HDMI are provided for connection of display devices. To adjust the acoustics on the panel, there is an extended unit with five 3.5 mm connectors and a digital optical S / PDIF.
We are already familiar with the capabilities of UEFI’s proprietary shell from MSI. Click BIOS 5 has a peculiar layout. In basic mode EZ Mode, the basic settings can be performed with a mouse. Advanced opens all available options.
The key system settings are located in the OC section. At first glance, a large infinite “sheet” of parameters is actually well structured, so you will not have to search for the necessary option for a long time. In addition, the section can be represented in two modes – Normal and Expert. In the first, a list of the most current parameters is initially opened, in the second one a complete list of options is available.
The processor voltage is regulated in the range 0.6-1.55 V in steps of 0.005 V. In the opinion of the developers, the value of 1.36 V is already critical. After exceeding this threshold, the indicator turns red. The used declared limits once again demonstrate that the board does not pretend to be a platform for serious overclocking experiments. Although for overclocking with air or liquid cooling systems, even such values will be enough in excess.
The voltage on the memory modules varies within the range of 0.6-2.2 V in 0.01 V increments. After exceeding 1.4 V, the indicator is illuminated in red. Note that in the Normal settings mode, the key parameters of the modules are highlighted in the DRAM configuration tab, while the subtimings and additional settings are collapsed and grouped together.
For the simple overclocking of processors with unlocked multipliers, the manufacturer offers a Game Boost mechanism that can be activated either programmatically in one of the Command Center applications, or in the BIOS shell. In the case of the Core i7-8700K, the increase in frequencies was minimal.
Under the load on all computing units, the processor instead of the regular for this mode 4300 MHz worked at 4400 MHz. Additional 100 MHz weather will not do, although they get free of charge, and without any threat of stability or overheating. Obviously, the manufacturer decided to offer the owners a “bird in the hand” and the easiest way to go beyond the standard conventions, and those who want more can only roll up their sleeves and already in the manual mode try overclocker happiness.
Our copy of the chip takes 5000 MHz at 1.35 V , although the internal thermal interface of the processor does not allow to effectively cool the chip in this mode.
After overclocking with increasing voltage, we also measured the temperature parameters of the power unit. The radiator on the elements installed along the interface panel, after a half-hour stress test AIDA64 was warmed up to 50-52C. Actual temperatures of the MOSFET will obviously be 10-15C higher, that is quite within the limits.
Motherboards based on the Intel Z370 chipset allow using high-speed memory modules, deviating significantly from officially supported modes. In addition, there is an opportunity to experiment with overclocking. The regular test set DDR4-2666 HyperX Fury (HX426C15FBK2 / 16) expectedly took the characteristic of our kit DDR4-3100. In addition, during the preparation of the material, we also found a set of even faster memory G.Skill FlareX F4-3200C14D-16GFX (2 × 16 GB, CL14, DDR4-3200).
We managed to get stable operation of the kit in DDR4 mode -3500 (16-18-18-38), increasing the supply voltage from 1.35 to 1.4 V.
With the increase in the effective frequency, the memory bandwidth also increased. Approximately 50 GB / s in dual-channel mode – nice even for the eye figures.