When it comes to Kaby Lake, not everyone requires maximum theoretical speeds. Some users may want a full-strength Z270-based system, yet there is always demand for cost-conscious alternatives. Intel’s H270 chipset is the offering to satisfy this space. Devoid of overclocking options yet shaving pounds off price tags, H270 suits users disinterested by tweaking as well as the system builders’ catering for them. No overclocking doesn’t mean incapable of course, and MSI’s Tomahawk Arctic H270 seeks to prove the point.
MSI Tomahawk Arctic H270 Review – Design
MSI’s ‘Arctic’ theme blesses both the Tomahawk Z270 and this H270 motherboard. The company is proud of it, and we can see why. White and grey are key themes on many a modern setup, but to combine both on a motherboard is less usual. Because of the combination the Tomahawk Arctic H270 immediately suits its name. Engulfed in what appears to be a snow-camo effect, the I/O cover, heatsinks, and even the white CPU socket protector, are theme-perfect. It almost feels as though we’ve intercepted a shipment destined to a distant Arctic research post.
Back in the real world, it’s impossible to call this motherboard anything other than striking. Almost everything adds to the Arctic effect, from DIMM sockets to an unwitting CMOS battery. Black capacitors, SATA and other connectors pop their heads from camouflaged cover. Yet more obviously disobeying the theme are all three PCI connectors, the M2_1 socket and the second and third PCIe slots. The reason is that only the first PCIe socket, the M2_2 slot, and the board’s DIMM sockets have MSI’s Steel Armor protection. MSI needs to differentiate, and we understand the potential costs of added Steel Armor deployment. However, we wonder if a dark grey might have been better for the slots without; just so as to sit more at ease with the overall theme.
Adding a final flourish to the Tomahawk Arctic H270 is its lighting. Kitted out with white LEDs, when powered on, a cool glow emanates from around the motherboard. We wouldn’t expect any less, and this board also supports MSI’s Mystic Light. As such, you can synchronise RBG sequences with an added 12V light strip and other supporting products.
We can discount overclocking from the repertoire of the Tomahawk Arctic H270. Yet otherwise, this is a well-featured product. Starting with memory support, MSI offers a maximum 64GB in four slots, each encased in the aforementioned Steel Armor. The board supports 2400 memory (max), and to boost the default 2133 MHz to 2400 MHz we needed to enable XMP in the BIOS.
Around the DIMM sockets there are no buttons, and to the top-left of DIMMA1 is the designated CPU fan 4-pin connector. We like this positioning, enabling us to run the CPU cooler’s wire back under the cooler fan and keep the middle of the motherboard clutter free. Moving down the right edge of the board, there are two USB 3.1 Gen1 connectors – further reducing wire clutter, this time at the bottom of the board – followed by the six SATA 6Gb/s connectors. Everything here is neat and as expected.
Moving around the motherboard, there are three PCIe Gen 3 slots (x16, x4, x1) and three PCI 1x slots. In terms of dual-GPU use, SLI isn’t supported but CrossFire is (in 16x, 4x). That configuration will be impacted by M.2 use though. The Tomahawk Arctic H270 has two M.2 slots: M2_1 (above the first PCIe slot, up to 22110mm), and M2_2 (between the second and third PCIe slots, up to 2280mm). Populating M2_2 with a M.2 PCIe SSD means just a single graphics card can be used in x16 mode. That’s a necessary compromise though.
Before cooling, wrapping up the key internal features are two USB 2.0 headers, and the motherboard’s audio chip. MSI’s opted for the 7.1 ALC 892 codec from Realtek, which is tried and tested. Users demanding a more up to date solution from a motherboard at a similar price, might look elsewhere. Even towards Z270 options such as the Gigabyte Z270-Gaming K3, which features the ALC 1220 codec. For the rear I/O ports, the Tomahawk Arctic H270 offers a PS/2, two USB 2.0 (Type A) ports, four USB 3.1 Gen 1 (Type A) ports, and two USB 3.1 Gen 2 (Type A, Type C) ports. A DVI-D, HDMI, RJ45, Optical S/PDIF and audio jacks are also present.
Back inside our test system, this motherboard is well-catered for when it comes to cooling – perhaps surprisingly so, given the lack of overclocking available from this chipset. Along with the CPU fan header mentioned earlier, MSI provides a designated water pump 4-pin connector and four 4-pin system fan headers – a good glut of options for airflow preferences. A 4pin RGB LED connector is also found to the bottom left of the motherboard, for those requiring Mystic Light functionality.
MSI Tomahawk Arctic H270 Review – BIOS
The BIOS here is one of the most accessible we’ve seen. It’s perhaps not the smartest, but MSI’s no-nonsense clickable ‘panels’ make it easy to access the key areas of the BIOS (even if the Overclocking section has restricted use). Yet particularly impressive are the Board Explorer – useful for a reminder of what’s installed and what’s where – and the Hardware Monitor ‘dashboard’. The latter means a better handle on cooling and system efficiency, and we’ll never turn our nose up at that. We also liked the prominent XMP button for maxing out the motherboard’s 2400 memory limit; even if that offers more to a motherboard with a 270 chipset.
MSI Tomahawk Arctic H270 Review – Performance
Testing this motherboard, we went with an i7-7700K to get a real sense of where it sits in our reviews of 200 series boards. H270 motherboards may close of overclocking, but they still support K-series CPUs, and you still get the advertised base and Turbo Boost speeds on offer. In using a 7700K in testing we wanted to get a clear comparison of actual board performance.
- Intel Core i7-7700K
- Samsung 850 Pro SSD
- 16GB Crucial Ballistix DDR4-3000 kit
- Noctua NH-U12S
- Corsair AX1500i
- Windows 10 Home Edition
*No graphics card installed
MSI Tomahawk Arctic H270 Review – Conclusion
Placing well across our benchmarks, the Tomahawk Arctic H270 delivers performance not far from the excellent Gigabyte Gaming Z270-K3. The Arctic more closely trades victories with the Z270-A, coming out on top in our Geekbench, memory bandwidth and Fire Strike results. It’s a closer battle on our Battlefield 1 test, and it’s clear that MSI has a worthy motherboard here. That it delivers on the lowest idle and peak power draws we’ve seen from a 200 series motherboard is a respectable feather in the cap.
A strikingly designed and well-balanced product, we’d call this a fine platform for Kaby Lake builds absent overclocks. For any user wanting upgraded audio (and preferring some tweaking options) the Gigabyte Z270-Gaming-K3 might be a better fit. Ultimately though, for committed H270 buyers the Tomahawk Arctic will deliver, and look a mighty fine sight while doing it.