The Z370 war is in full swing, with several of the biggest companies in the hardware industry rolling out motherboards built around Intel’s latest chipset. The new Z370 specification is designed to feed power to the additional cores on these 8th generation “Coffee Lake” CPUs. Since 8th gen chips aren’t backwards-compatible with older chipsets, the pressure is on to get quality boards to market that can coax every last iota of performance out of these powerful new processors.
MSI is on top of their game as usual with this new generation, releasing several Z370 boards at a number of competitive price points. We got our hands on four of their Z370 motherboards to do a deep-dive on the grandiosely named Z370 GODLIKE GAMING ($499), the Z370 SLI-Plus ($149), the Z370 Gaming Carbon Pro AC ($199), and the Z370 Tomahawk ($129).
This is a diverse group of boards with a number of different features, so let’s get into it.
Z370 GODLIKE GAMING
Saying a product is “godlike” is a bold claim. It’s certainly an outstanding motherboard with some unique features, but whether or not it’s okay to call it “godlike” might have more to do with one’s religious convictions.
Branding aside, it’s most important (and most most exciting) to start off by addressing some of the unique features of the GODLIKE. There are other premium, enthusiast grade Z370 boards out there, but this board has elements that help bring it to the front of the pack.
First is the Killer xTend capability, which is unlike anything I’ve ever seen on a mobo.
The GODLIKE has three ethernet ports built in, as well as dual-band wireless AC. That seems excessive, until you realize what these extra ports are for. In essence, Killer xTend turns the GODLIKE GAMING into a miniature switch, and an incredibly versatile one at that. We experimented with a few different configurations, all of which worked flawlessly, and delivered stable, high speed throughput.
You can’t really go wrong with any of them, but the GODLIKE does stand out as one of the most feature rich boards we’ve ever encountered.
Killer xTend is managed through its own application in the OS, which needs to be downloaded and installed.
If you have an existing wireless network in place, the GODLIKE can connect to that and use its physical interfaces as repeaters for non-wireless connections. For example, you could plug in a console, printer, or NAS device into the ethernet ports and make them available on the rest of your network. In the opposite scenario, the GODLIKE can also act as a WiFi broadcaster using all the same hardware. If one of its ethernet jacks has an active internet connection, it can act as the central Wi-Fi access point for your household, and also route connections through its two other physical ports as well. On top of all of this, Killer’s GUI lets you manually set traffic priority, which means that bandwidth to piggy-backed devices can be throttled to ensure that online games using the GODLIKE board get the best performance.
This is awesome stuff all around. It does mean the GODLIKE always has to be powered on if you want to use those features, but having all of that fuctionality directly on your board has the potential for truly game-changing connection configurations.
It’s glaringly apparent that the GODLIKE was built for overclockers, both beginner and advanced. There are on-board power and reset buttons, as well as a diagnostic error code LED, all of which are meant to help advanced overclockers reproduce and diagnose issues that can potentially occur during OC configuration. There are PWM headers specifically earmarked for water cooling pumps, not to mention an abundance of system and chassis fan headers. To make overclocking simple, the board has a built-in 12-position “Game Boost” knob. Each position corresponds to a preset overclock profile, and overclocking is activated by pressing the red button on top of the knob. It makes the whole process a breeze, even for novice tuners.
Another huge plus for overclockers and power users: the GODLIKE’s BIOS is ridiculously feature rich. It’s got the full gamut of options you’d normally expect, (boot order, security, BIOS updates,) and also a suite of settings meant for tuning the system. There’s a pretty robust system for managing thermals, including custom fan speed profiles and zone-specific temperature monitoring. Best of all, the Game Boost settings can be software-managed and activated through the BIOS rather than through the on-board knob. Super useful once the system is closed in a case.
Rear I/O options include seven USB and one USB-C ports, a PS/2 port, 7.1 channel audio jacks with S/PDIF, and the two coaxial WiFi antenna connections. There are a few interesting features here: the GODLIKE might be one of the only motherboard I’ve ever seen with a built-in 6.35 (¼”) audio out jack. This could be a huge plus for those who are looking to build a music production setup, as many studio-grade headphones and amplifiers use the larger jack size. As another little extra for the overclocker crowd, there’s a button on the back that activates the BIOS Flashback feature, which is useful for rolling back the BIOS in the event it has a problematic configuration.
Interestingly, there are zero video outputs. MSI expects anyone who buys a GODLIKE is also going to be installing a dedicated GPU card, which is probably a valid assumption.
For the aesthetically minded, the GODLIKE has plenty of RGB lighting zones scattered across the board, all of which can be managed with Mystic Light. Some are more noticeable than others, but the lighting on the chipset and the rear I/O shield is gorgeous. For good measure, the board also has a handful of RGB control headers scattered around, and even comes with an LED strip to get your customization started off right.
MSI really wants to drive home that the GODLIKE is a premium motherboard, which is why they’ve bundled in some pretty plush accessories with the board. The package comes with braided SATA cables, and three magnetic covers for the rear I/O shield, each with a different printed on design. The coup-de-grace might be the included PCIe M.2 expansion card, which adds two more M.2 slots to your system, if the three on-board aren’t enough, or if the three PCIe lanes are already in use.
MSI has pulled no punches with this motherboard. If you’re interested in basing your 8th gen build on this flagship board, you can get the Z370 GODLIKE GAMING for just under $500.
Z370 Gaming Pro Carbon AC
Next up we have the MSI Z370 Gaming Pro Carbon AC motherboard. While it doesn’t have some of the unique, flashy features of the GODLIKE, this is still a high-quality, enthusiast grade board that checks all the right boxes.
As with the GODLIKE, overclocking won’t be an issue. Through the BIOS, the Pro Carbon AC offers a full range of OC settings, though they are all software-based, including the "Game Boost” toggle. All the important things are still there, such as CPU speed/voltage settings, and the same interface is present to manage fans and cooling profiles.
Customization is very robust as well. The Pro Carbon AC has RGB zones all over the PCB and heat sinks, which again can be managed through MSI’s Mystic Light software in the OS. There are a handful of RGB headers, which are a mix of 5V and 12V pins. It’s also just a good looking board that perfectly complements an open-air or glass-panel case. There are plenty of angular sci-fi bits, and who doesn’t love carbon fiber trim?
The Pro Carbon AC has the standard range of rear I/O ports: a bunch of USB ports, a single USB-C port, 7.1 channel audio jacks, HDMI and Display ports, and of course an ethernet jack. While MSI makes and offers a non-AC Pro Carbon, the Pro Carbon AC comes with a PICe x1 dual band WiFi add in card. It’s convenient if you need wireless capability, but don’t want to shop around for a separate card. There are three PCIe x16 slots, (two of which are reinforced for holding heavier GPUs) and two M.2 slots (one with a thermal heat shield) which provide plenty of room to grow on the board as well.
The MSI Pro Carbon AC is a all around solid motherboard that should more than meet the needs of gaming enthusiasts. You can pick up the Pro Carbon AC for $199.99.
Z370 Tomahawk & Z370 SLI PLUS
Lastly, let’s look at two very similar motherboards that come in at lower price points, but still have all the essentials. The Tomahawk and SLI PLUS are extremely similar feature wise, though there are a few differences. The Tomahawk only officially supports AMD crossfire, whereas the SLI PLUS, as the name implies, supports Nvidia SLI as well. To that end, it has two reinforced PCIe buses to hold beefy GPU’s more securely.
There are some substantial visual differences between the boards. The Tomahawk has more of a military/industrial feeling to it, while the SLI PLUS is decidedly more sci-fi looking. Both of these boards have some RGB elements in place, but they’re far less flashy than some of their higher-end cousins. If you’re really keen on having some customized lighting, despair not! Each board still has a 5050 RGB header.
Both the Tomahawk and SLI PLUS have plenty of connectivity for the buck, too. Rear I/O on both includes seven USB ports, one USB-C, 7.1 Audio, an Ethernet jack and a PS/2 port. Video options include an HDMI port and a DVI port, which might be handy for users with legacy equipment. Luckily, these boards don’t lose out on M.2 capability, as each has two slots, as well as three PCIex16 slots.
Finally, the BIOS package on these two appears to be largely the same as higher end boards. Again, there are plenty of settings to tweak for overclocking projects, and the full suite of options you’d normally expect. Not much else to say here, other than it makes sense that MSI would attempt to design the BIOS of each one of their Z370 as similarly as possible, just to cut down on support costs and development time. It’s a smart move and one that benefits consumers, so I see no problem with it.
All four of these boards will get you where you want to go if you’re looking to upgrade to 8th Gen. You can’t really go wrong with any of them, but the GODLIKE does stand out as one of the most feature-rich boards we’ve ever encountered. Of course it has a price to match, but sometimes you get what you pay for.
These are all solid entries, and the price variation means there’s something for everyone. It will be interesting to see what innovations MSI comes up with with the inevitable next round of upgrades.