MSI H110M Grenade Micro ATX Motherboard Review

The H110M Grenade adds features to fill the price gap between low-end H110 and H170 boards. We take a look at how these added features move the value needle.

Moving up the Mainstream

Last summer I tested an assertion that for gamers running one graphics card, the choice of chipset was no longer going to meaningfully affect performance. The older H81 chipset allows only PCIe 2.0 mode for the CPU's 16 lanes to the graphics card, which has made builders looking for even minimum future-resistance uneasy. Even if the difference hasn’t been big so far, most gamers would try to at least squeeze a B85 board (16 PCIe 3.0 lanes to the CPU) into even a tight budget, just in case. The H110 chipset cured that problem altogether by providing a full 16 lanes of PCIe 3.0 connectivity for the primary graphics slot. As a result, the 100-series chipsets ought to offer the same graphical performance if a single card is used.

My H110M Pro-D review showed this to be true: even the cheapest H110 board I could find matched the performance of the much more advanced H170 boards I’d been testing. Might it be worthwhile to spend a little more? What might you get? Let’s bump the motherboard budget just a little and see what happens. MSI sent me the H110M Grenade, a board from its weapon-themed Arsenal gaming series. Let’s see what sort of blast radius it has.

The Grenade is clearly a step up from the PRO-D. It includes a Type-C USB 3.1 Gen 1 port (aka USB 3.0) and an M.2 slot, both missing from the cheaper board. We also gain a couple of video ports (VGA and HDMI) and a different Ethernet controller. In the box you get the board, I/O plate, a pair of SATA cables, driver CD, and a tiny 4x6” manual with 18 pages in each of eight languages that are not identified in a table of contents. I recognize English, German, French, and Russian; and there's no Spanish. The font is minuscule. Fortunately, I did not need the manual. The board is silkscreened, showing front panel connector placement.

Audio comes from the ALC887 codec, an upper-mainstream part, with a 90dB S/N ratio on the input, and 97dB S/N on the output. While not pro quality, most people using motherboard sound for games will find it sufficient. Intel’s I219-V is the gigabit LAN controller.

There is no status code display on the board. There are, however, four diagnostic red LEDs to help identify a CPU, RAM, VGA, or boot device issue on POST.

Beginning at the left rear and working counter-clockwise, the audio section is bordered with an LED strip that has a breathing effect (if you want it). The front panel audio is in the very corner. Moving forward you've got the COM1, TPM, and USB2.0 headers. JSP11 and JC1 headers are not described, and I left them alone. In the front corner are the front panel and speaker headers, with a tiny but readable silkscreen of their pinouts.

The front left corner has the SATA connectors. The first two point up, and the second two point to the front. Neither set alternates. Heading right on the front edge are the USB3.0 header and ATX power connector in their usual places. Next is the SYS_FAN2 header. It has four pins, but is not PWM; it uses voltage control, so a three-pin fan will work fine in it.

In the front right corner is a neat feature I’m seeing on MSI boards now: a set of diagnostic LEDs to help pinpoint boot problems. There are four on this board: for the Boot Device, VGA, RAM, and CPU.

The two RAM slots are behind these connectors and LEDs, and have latches on both sides. The PCIe slot is encased in metal to help protect that slot. The common CR2032 coin cell is between that and the CPU socket, so nothing will ever block it. On the other side of the PCIe slot is the M.2 slot, which will be partially covered if a two-slot graphics card is installed.

The CPU power connector is in the upper right behind the PS/2 connector. It has plenty of finger room around it, and the latch faces to the outside. All in all, nothing feels awkward about this layout.

Firmware

The MSI UEFI is straightforward. Here’s the EZ Mode intro screen:

Note that the M.2 device does not appear, although it is installed and working. Advanced mode looks like this:

If you go into Settings then to the System Status tab you will see this:

Once again, the M.2 drive does not appear.

You’ll see the following if you go to the Advanced tab, which is somewhat sparse as you’d expect on a non-tweaking board. You can slow it down, but not speed it up.

Let’s see now if there are any performance differences from the cheaper H110M Pro-D.

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