X370 XPower Gaming Titanium Review
Today we are going to be looking at the MSI X370 XPower Gaming Titanium, a board that somewhat seems to be like Marmite - you either love it or hate it. I'm not too fond of Marmite, but I do like Twiglets and they have a coating of Marmite on. Due to this Marmite nature the Titanium seems to carry I'm going to be doing a deep dive and quite possibly writing the longest, most detailed review yet. Let's get down to another peoples review dear readers as we see what the Titanium brings to the table and what it can offer us ever picky enthusiasts, will it be just cheap tin masquerading as Titanium or the true quality it promises? Let us find out in another peoples review.
Packaging & Accessories
Another awful winter day has thwarted me from being more creative with my pictures again today but let's not let that stop us from having our first cursory look at the Titanium.
You could say first impressions are positive as the box the Titanium comes in is nice and sturdy with a nice front flap held down by some Velcro. Opening up that flap made me shudder a bit though, and not in a good way, MSI prefer their marketing bluster buzz words over telling you detailed technical specifications those details are left to the very basics and bare minimum. (PS, you misspelled "Choke", "Chock", on the back of the box, MSI).
Taking a look at the accessories there is nothing unique included you get all the standard fare including User manual, quick start guide, SLI bridge, LED extension cables and 6x SATA cables. I will give MSI the nod with the SATA cables, one for each port the board has you don't see that very often nowadays and they included nice silver SATA cables instead of the generic black ones. You know accessories bundles from manufacturers are lacking when I start getting excited about two additional SATA cables and the fact they are a different colour to normal. Where's the passion, lads? I remember when manufacturers used to at least try with their accessory bundles.
Starting with the Titanium rear I/O we see it's quite rich, 1x HDMI 2.0 @ 60Hz, 1x Display Port, 2x USB 3.1 Gen2, 4x USB 3.1 Gen1, 2x USB 2.0, Clear CMOS button, PS/2 port, and the obligatory audio ports and optical S/PDIF. That USB 2.0 port mounted at 90 degrees is the Flash BIOS Button port, handy, but I'd prefer to see a proper physical backup ROM chip, and finally we have the intel LAN port.
Not bad overall then, I'll give MSI another small nod on the gold plated USB 3.1 Gen2 and audio ports while it makes negligible difference at best technically speaking it just makes the back I/O look far nicer and puts more of a quality stamp on it. The clear CMOS button is also a nice inclusion and isn't going to be easily accidentally caught.
Overall presentation of the Titanium is very good with a generally pleasing board layout and there is a good amount of fan headers, six in fact, but I wish the fan headers had been better placed as they seem to be scattered more in a disorganised manner rather than a well thought out one. The dragon on the heatsink looks fantastic but I'll admit I have a thing for dragons though. An M.2 SSD heatsink is also included, but if you are going to do a heatsink for an M.2 slot on a board with an additional M.2 slot MSI really ought to be including a heatsink for that second slot as well.
I'm not a fan of any automatic OC knob however, as far as I'm concerned they are a waste of PCB space. Due to that knob the FP headers have been shunted over to near the centre of the bottom of the board - that's possibly going to cause a few headaches for people wiring up the FP header using cheaper generic cases that often don't have very long FP header wires as one of many incorporated cost cutting measures so spare a thought for those people next time MSI.
I'm also going to draw attention to that plastic shroud you all know I dislike plastic shrouds at the best of times. Make them metal or don't bother putting them on at all and here is why I say that; If you are going to make a shroud large enough to cover the ALC1220 audio you might as well do it properly and make the shroud metal which will provide additional EMI and crosstalk shielding helping to give cleaner, crisper audio. The decision to use such poor quality plastic on a product that is meant to be of premium quality can only be described as an egregious decision. Enthusiasts are happy and willing to pay a premium for their components MSI, something of this quality is not acceptable let alone advertise it as a feature on the box.
Laid to bare
Now it's time to see what's underneath all of that shrouding and heatsinks.
The first thing we can note is how neat and tidy everything is, exemplary solder work with no flux residue either front or back, at all. We can see that the board has typical component choices for X370 with the ALC1220 audio codec, intel l211-AT LAN chip, Asmedia ASM2142, a couple U.2 ports and finally PCI-E and DIMM slot strengtheners that the MSI marketing department just couldn't stay away from so they are now called "Steel Armor".
The on-board power and reset buttons are a nice extra, as is the debug display. In an attempt to make the Titanium stand out it has additional CPU and GPU power connections, that additional M.2 slot, a few white LED lights dotted around (most on the rear of the PCB) and the colour of the board itself. I'm not convinced these things are enough to make the Titanium stand out in a line-up with the likes of the GT7, Fatal1ty K4 or Aorus Gaming 5, all of which are doing a better job at standing out in varying ways.
The most notable feature would have to be the two M.2 slots, one of them isn't particularly well placed though - should have gone above the top PCI-E 16x slot, not below it. The Titanium is also lacking a clock generator which for one of the best offerings from MSI is very poor, it's not a deal breaker but it is very disappointing not to see. I think MSI could have added more if they wanted to this PCB, or at the very least used higher quality components in some areas.
A closer look at the VRM and CPU socket area show lots of clearance for easier mounting of large CPU air coolers and water pumps, the capacitors have no manufacturer markings on so all I can conservatively tell you is that they should tolerate up to 105c and have a lifetime of at least 5000 hours. Optimistically I'd say they look like Nichicon 12Ks which are top drawer quality if that is indeed what they are. The chokes look to be Titanium (hence the branding name, I suppose), MSI say they are Titanium so without any manufacturer markings we'll have to take their word for it. On the reverse of the board we have IR3598s and IR35201s, the first thing I've seen that I can definitively say is of any significant stand-out quality. It's a start.
Now for the MOSFETs, these are Nikos PK616BAs. There has been some controversy around them regards their level of quality. I can tell you without getting too technical that they are capable of 50Amp and an operating junction and storage temperature range up to 150c.
Also on the board are these PK632BAs, they are a far better 78Amp, also rated up to 150c. For comparison I also looked up the highly regarded Infineon IR3555A, they are rated for 60Amp but nowhere could I find specifications on their operating temperature range.
To surmise the MOSFETs on paper are good quality. That said the Nikos PK616s are the lowest quality MOSFETs I've seen on any X370 board I have reviewed to date... Or maybe, just maybe, we aren't giving Nikos MOSFETs a fair shot because of MSIs indiscretions of the past. I'll leave that to you to decide.
CPU: AMD Zen 1700
Mainboard: MSI X370 XPower Gaming Titanium
RAM: 2x8GB G.Skill Ripjaws V 3200MHz 15-15-15-35
GPU: 4GB GTX 980 @ 1.5GHz, 7.5GHz memory
Storage: 250GB Hynix SL301 SATA SSD, WD 120GB M.2 SATA SSD (OS drive), 2TB Seagate Barracuda
Opticals: 24x Lite-On iHAS324 DVD-RW, 16x HP BH40N Blu-Ray
Sound: Xonar DX 7.1, Realtek ALC1220
PSU: EVGA 1000w Supernova G2
OS: Windows 10 Pro x64 (latest ISO) and all updates
Case: NZXT Phantom 530
All screenshots have been taken from UEFI 1.9.
Well now, this to me looks like MSI saved the good stuff for when you turn the system on. Just look at all those OC options. The UEFI is positively bursting at the seams with them, "Memory Try It!" will surely be an option a lot of users will fiddle with in order to establish a quick baseline from before proceeding to manually tune and improve individual memory timings. MSI deserve very high praise indeed for all of these OC options and features it is simply superb work.
Moving on to look at what memory timing options MSI give you I'm happy to say they have not missed a step here either, this is very, very thorough work by MSI and having the options broken down in to an expandable tree is just icing on the cake helping to make navigation that bit faster and easier.
Looking at the standard options available to you once again MSI have done an incredibly thorough job you will not find yourself wanting.
Lastly I wanted to show you all the options you have for fan profiles and even the save and exit window because instead of just the bog standard window that pops up asking if you want to save and exit MSI have gone the extra mile (or 10) and made it so you have a summary of every change you have made. Very useful for reviewing your changes, the programmers behind this firmware can be justly proud of what they have done. I am simply blown away by how thorough and meticulously detailed this firmware is.
You would hope someone from Gigabyte is taking notes.
Now we have taken an in-depth look at the UEFI and been absolutely bowled over by the quality let's take a look at some of the software you might find yourself using with the Titanium, perhaps this is where the board will stamp it's mark further.
So the first application I open, the Command Centre, and we have this. MSI are certainly not shy about flexing their software programming skills. The only limitation I found is that you cannot adjust DRAM frequency from within it which means having to do it from the UEFI. Despite that this has to be the most detailed Windows based overclocking software suit out there, I wonder if Unwinder had any input in the development of it?
The next application I looked at is the Gaming App, much like the Command Centre it is filled with options for gamers and tweakers alike. It's a good job I'm already sitting down because if I wasn't, I'd need to.
I took a peek at the LAN Manager software next. To say the intel l211-AT has had a serious software upgrade would be a monumental understatement. All of the software on display here isn't just good, or even great, this is award winning levels of epic right here.
Lastly I wanted to look at the Nahimic software developed by A-Volute. These guys are new to me and unless you own an MSI board from 2015 or newer you could be forgiven for never hearing the name before. A-Volute is a company that initially developed and sold software to militaries for flight simulation training. The technology they continue to develop was first overhauled for music and gaming then appeared with MSI products back in 2015 and have continued to appear with MSI products since then.
What is Nahimic you ask? Nahimic is an all-in-one audio software solution much like Creative offers their X-Fi MB and Cinema 3 software, the difference is that Nahimic software is continually updated, improved and evolved instead of being years out of date like the Creative software is. Nahimic offers such features as Surround sound and the truly innovative "Sound Tracker". Currently A-Volute is in the process of developing and launching Nahimic 3 audio software. Here are some of the features Nahimic 3 offers;
Ok, so that's introduced A-Volute and Nahimic let's get back to the Titanium and how Nahimic sounds. Audio quality I found to be crisp and precise, it performed superbly with excellent highs and powerful rumbles. There is a marked difference between the quality of audio you can obtain by manipulating the equalizer in the MSI Realtek control panel and what you can obtain by using the Nahimic control panel. Put simply, the Nahimic control centre is superior. I did find that 8KHz and 16KHz with the Nahimic equalizer did not seem to have the same response as opposed to the Realtek equalizer though and I do feel it would be better if the Nahimic suit were to fully take over from the Realtek CP as it is a little clunky having two different CPs. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. If someone were to take the current best Realtek audio chip, give it the full "premium makeover" with it being on a separate add-in PCB the results would be superb and finally we would have an add-in audio solution with regular driver and software updates. Is this something you could make happen in joint collaboration with Realtek, A-Volute? Please?
As someone who has now used Creative, Nahimic, Sonic Studio 3 as well as other audio software I can honestly say Nahimic is far, far better than any other audio software I have used before it is truly in a class of the very finest. More manufacturers certainly at least need to take a look at Nahimic I truly feel it is the way forward for audio I have not been this excited for development in audio since the ADI 1988B and the Soundmax software, boy was that good hardware for the day only let down by slow fragmented driver updates with newer driver files often scattered across multiple manufacturers driver packages, but I digress. You owe it to yourselves to experience the Nahimic software it is remarkably good.
Test your metal!
The purpose in this section is to test thermodynamic efficiency of any heatsinks using BOINC and the SETI@Home project. As usual thermal pads on the VRM heatsinks are replaced with Laird 6W/m-k pads to ensure the highest possible level of consistency across reviews. We want to know how effective the heatsink design is without differing stock thermal pads playing any factor.
For those that don't know the most efficient type of heatsink is always one that uses high grade thermal interface material, the thinner the better, good contact between heatsink and IC (a good, solid imprint of the heatsinked ICs is a sure indication of optimal contact), solid way of mounting the heatsinks, and the heatsinks themselves will have a lot of fins to maximise cooling capacity and take advantage of any natural airflow with the base of the heatsink being free of any milling marks that would hinder thermal efficiency.
For testing I will be using a DT8380 infrared temperature gun, accurate to +/- 2%.
Let's first and foremost take note of that monster VRM heatsink, it's finned! With a heatpipe to help spread thermal load! I'm very optimistic to see how good of a job it does of cooling. It ticks a lot of the right boxes so it should perform very well. Thermal contact is also no problem here the VRM heatsink makes superb contact and the chipset heatsink was also making great contact. A word of caution though; MSI appear to like to use a weak thermal epoxy, it cleans off easy enough, albeit messily, by scraping it then using some 99.9% isopropyl alcohol but be very careful should you want to replace it, leverage the heatsink very gently and gradually. As usual I have no data on the thermal conductivity of any thermal materials MSI have used, they don't provide that information but "middling grade" is assumed, in other words 3-4W/m-k, you can do better.
I'll admit I've been very much looking forward to this part of the review, I absolutely could not wait to see how effective the VRM heatsink being a properly finned design with heatpipe to help spread thermal load would perform. Now I've also finished tweaking my own VRM test procedure (you probably all noticed it's varied a bit as of late) I'll include the results which I obtained with the GT7, which used the same test methods I've used here today and just so happens to use the next best VRM heatsinks of the X370 boards I've reviewed so far, without any further needless chatter let's have a look at the results.
I'll give you a moment to let these results sink in. Get it? "Sink", heatsink, sink in. Ahaa.. I know it's not my greatest pun.
All ready? Off we go then.
These results are thoroughly impressive and if I'm honest I'm not surprised. I've banged on about it before and I'm going to bang on about it again and repeatedly bang on about it until every manufacturer gets it into their head. This is what happens when you use a heatsink that properly obeys the laws of thermodynamics. MSI have come out swinging again and shown people how you design a proper heatsink.
Let us break down these results a bit, same testing methods, same voltage, same CPU, same thermal interface material with the only difference being the heatsink itself that amount to a load difference of 9.8c and 7.7c at 1.28v and a difference of 17.4c and 8.4c at 1.37v. The heatsink on the Titanium is simply light years ahead of anything else I've seen or tested to date and MSI have not done anything special at all to attain these fantastic results, just obeyed thermodynamics 101.
From this point on stock Fire Strike results will be changing a bit. I have deliberated for some time on what the best baseline configuration would be due to the nature of Zen and automatically boosting where TDP allows and also the most representative system memory speed of what people are typically running with a Zen system. As such I've decided the most representative baseline is to manually set the R7 1700 at the automatic boost clock of 3.2GHz to eliminate any possible variation in clock speed by just letting the auto boost handle it and to run system memory at 2933MHz.
Nothing too much to report performance looks very good. Breaking 13k right out of the gates is nothing to turn your nose up at.
AIDA doesn't report anything unusual, and once again we see the problem memory dividers on the Aorus board again working absolutely fine on another board, this time the MSI Titanium. That's three boards from three different manufacturers that can all run 2400 and 2667 memory dividers without a problem.
Are you getting the message yet that the problem with these dividers lay squarely with the Aorus and you, Gigabyte.
For our final AIDA test we have the 3200MHz results, once again nothing out of the ordinary and right around what you would expect.
Overclocking proved to be the most enjoyable to date on the Titanium, the extremely well developed firmware and software suits made the process the most streamlined of all of the boards I have reviewed. The Titanium isn't the best overclocker I've had for testing though. As I have now built up a nice list of overclocking results there is going to be a slight change to the overclocking section where you'll now be able to see memory OC results I achieve on every board I review in one table.
These are good results, the Titanium pulls the average frequency at 1T equalling the Aorus and K4. 2T command rate sadly does not help the Titanium achieve higher frequencies though. With all that memory compatibility the Titanium trumpets I had expected better and to at least pull 3466MHz at 1T like the GT7. MSI have work to do still here in the memory department.
It should be noted that the above table has results that have been achieved on the latest available firmware at time of testing, meaning some results come from boards with AGESA 126.96.36.199B and others with AGESA 188.8.131.52.2A. Notably the boards that achieved better memory overclocking results are the boards that have a firmware update with AGESA 184.108.40.206.2A.
These are the final OC results I landed on. They are good, but fall a fair way short of being the best when it comes to memory overclocking. If MSI can improve memory compatibility the Titanium will be in with a strong shout of being able to be considered as one of the better platforms to OC on. With X470 three or four months off though, you might have to pin your hopes on AMD doing that work and it being carried over by MSI with firmware updates, if they release any at all that is adding support for the new upcoming Zen+ and so forth.
The final Fire Strike run, the score is right on point with what the GT7 managed. You'll also note that there is the better part of 1000 points to be gained compared to the baseline results by overclocking the CPU and system memory which is always a nice welcome improvement to see.
This has been a hard peoples review, all down to the Titanium being a bit of a mixed bag. On a hardware level the Titanium is no worse than many other boards, better in a good number of ways in fact, but it makes bizarre cost cutting decisions in places that hurt it more than you would think. In terms of software and firmware the board is almost flawless. We will deal with all of this the best we can, let's start with the positives.
In favour of the Titanium there is far more to like about it than there isn't the new price makes it an interesting proposition, for the most part the board has good specification and component selection (B+ grade I'd say), with fantastic firmware packed with a copious amount of options, good memory compatibility overall, excellent VRM heatsink keeping VRMs well under any kind of temperature that can be considered hot meaning if you are living in a hot country or a country prone to hot summers you can throw your arms up in the air and rejoice at this point, and absolutely superb audio with Nahimic 2. Other software suits such as the Command Centre, Gaming App, and Gaming LAN all add functionality and convenience while being responsive and intuitive and most importantly not buggy. Overclocking is also good taking the R7 1700 to the same frequency every other board has managed of just over 3.9GHz and memory overclocking is also fairly good achieving 3333MHz both 1T and 2T but is some way short of the best results I've seen from the kit of RipjawsV and the timings also required more manual tuning than on any of the other boards. Voltage stability also proved to be very good with LLC.
For as much as the Titanium gets right it also takes some odd cost cutting decisions the cheap, flimsy plastic shroud gives the board a significantly cheaper look and feel than it should have I'd also have liked to see that awesome dragon logo on the chipset heatsink light up to give the board some individuality to make it stand out. No, I'm not against LEDs on mainboards if they are tastefully done (Read: not slapped all over like a carnival display) that won't negatively affect the looks of the board once they do start to lose their luminosity and of course some RGB headers for people to add their own lighting. The lack of a clock generator while not a deal breaker is going to make the Titanium a much harder sell to overclockers and gamers that like to fiddle, a Rivet Networks "Killer" Ethernet controller would have been preferred to help deviate from an otherwise typical component selection too but that is just a personal preference rather than a necessity. I love you MSI, but someone over there really needs to have a word with the marketing department they are overstepping the line, advertising thin flimsy metal as a "feature" to improve signal integrity is REALLY pushing it in reality the difference is extremely marginal if you can even measure a difference to begin with. Let's not get in to that cheap plastic shroud being advertised as a "feature", it's not, it's a gimmick at best, and a poor one at that.
Lastly those Nikos MOSFETs are going to turn some people off no matter what price the Titanium has attached to it. Your goal now MSI should be to change people's minds about the quality of Nikos MOSFETs quietly trying to hide the fact you are using them is not the way to go about it. Instead release numbers, graphs and results of your own testing of them compared to other MOSFETs, show people why they don't need to be concerned about them.
Overall the Titanium is a board that consists of good but commonly selected hardware with question's hanging over the component choices for the MOSFETs. It is the exceptional firmware and accompanying software suits that mostly carry the Titanium, the software engineers should be proud of what they have accomplished. The hardware engineers, you can do better. Ultimately at the new retail price of 130 pounds the Titanium remains a good option if you don't mind the appearance looking cheap (all the shrouds fault) and comparatively speaking, low quality MOSFETs.
My thanks goes to the A-Volute / Nahimic representative for providing me with additional details about the company and the Nahimic software suit.
I'm going to change the way I score accessories included with mainboards from this review on, manufacturers are getting what I feel is a bit of a free ride in that department. All of the accessories bundles I have looked at have been nothing beyond bare metal but functional, there's no desire to be different or effort put in to them anymore. Therefore any accessories bundle that only gives you the bare minimum essentials for the board will now earn an automatic 5 / 10. I won't be shy about dropping down lower either if I feel the manufacturer is being particularly stingy.
Hardware Functionality & Quality: 14 / 20
Accessories: 6 / 10
Aesthetics: 6 / 10
UEFI Functionality & Quality: 27/ 30
Performance & Overclocking: 27 / 30
Final Score: 80%