MSI’s Gaming Pro Carbon boards have become synonymous for providing a thorough feature set, with a solid balance in terms of what you get for your money. I have previously taken a look at MSI’s X370 and Z270 Carbon boards, my coverage of which can be found in the following playlist: http://bit.ly/MSIMobo
Aesthetics & Layout:
Taking a look around the board we see a fairly neutral colour scheme, with the main black and silver accents being relatively easy to fit within your chosen build aesthetic. One of MSI’s standout features on this board is that the plastic shrouds highlighted in the image below can actually be removed and swapped out, enabling you to better match a chosen colour scheme In the box you get silver and gold replacements alongside the black ones pre installed on the board. A thanks also has to go out from me here to MSI, who sent me some custom GeekaWhat replacements in a nice wooden box. MSI also tout the option to 3D print your own here, but I am scepitcle of how accessible this is to people: who really has a 3D printer of their own?!
The layout of the board is fairly generic, with the new LGA 2066 socket surrounded by 8 RAM dimm slots, four on each side. PCI-E lanes are plentiful (even if the PCI-E lanes on your X299 CPU may not be 😛), with 5 gen 3 slots in the following order: X16, X1, X4, X16, X1, X8
How many of these slots can be used will vary on the PCI-E lanes on your CPU of course.
Storage support is nothing short of superb. There’s 2 M.2 connections, one 80mm length
slot and one of 110mm in legnth. The board supports M.2 RAID, in RAID 1 and RAID 0 varieties, but note any RAID 0 configs must use identical drive models. SATA support is very good, with 6 side facing SATA 3 ports and 2 upwards facing ones for flexibility in cable management. RAID support here is also fantastic, with on board RAID for RAID 0,1, 5 and 10 using Intel’s Rapid Storage Technology. There’s also an underutilised U.2 connection that you probably won’t use, but a nice edition nevertheless. Note that not all storage connections can be used at once, given chip-set and PCI-E lane restrictions, the manual should be referenced for the exact combinations, which can be found here.
Front & Rear Panel IO:
IO connectivity is jet another strong point, and taking a deeper dive here uncovers what is being ‘powered’, so to speak, by the X299 chipset and what is being driven by external controllers (from ASMedia).
Working from the left of the IO, to the right we have the clear CMOS and BIOS flashback buttons, a legacy, and soon to become eradicated I would image, PS2 combo port with 2 USB 2 ports below. On it’s side there is the BIOS USB 2 port, which can be used for updating the BIOS of a USB stick and to the right of that the WiFi connection antennas. These anteaters come included and are beefy to say the least. They are fantastic at picking up signal and support 802.11 AC WiFi in 2.4 and 5GHz bandwidth flavours and Dual Mode Bluetooth 4.2, a newer more energy efficient standard of Bluetooth. Next up we have 4 USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports of the Type A variety, followed by a gigabit Ethernet port, and USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports, 1 Type A and one type C here. The difference between these 2 USB 3.1 generations is the 5Gbit/s throughput on the Gen 1 and 10Gbit/s throughput on the newer gen 2 ports. To round off the IO is the usual staple of 3.5mm 7.1 audio out ports and an Optical audio output. ASMedia power the USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports on the board and 3 of the USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports on the rear panel, with the rest being powered naively by the X299 chip set.
On board connections are also another good point: 2 USB 3 headers, one right angled and one facing in the standard upwards orientation, 2 upwards facing USB 2 headers and a USB 3.1 header for support with the latest cases which feature USB 3.1 Type C.
Fan headers are a little lacking here, with 3 up top, and 3 down the bottom. For most people this will be more than enough, but a 240mm push pull radiator will easily take up 5 of these, although the use of fan hubs mitigates any issues.
Next up let’s touch on overclocking. MSI tout 5GHz+ on some X299 CPUs using this motherboard, but the new 4.0GHz i5 chip, for example comes stock with a 4.5Ghz turbo boost. The VRMs are catered for nicely and power delivery is good, MSI adding an auxiliary 4 pin power connection to the standard 8, not unusual for the ‘X’ line of chipsets, and something which improves overclocking capabilities, particularly for higher wattage chips. 12 phase power delivery and BIOS flashback are also features welcomed by overcooks, with the ability to revert to an old version of the BIOS, without the need for a CPU or RAM to be installed. If you do not wish to manually overclock in the BIOS MSI have a piece software called ‘OC Genie’, which will apply an automatic overclock, based on predetermined presets and system stability. For the best overclcocking results, a manua loverclock is highly recommended.
System Specs: i5 7640k, Cooler Master Seidon 240V, 250GB 950 Pro M.2, XFX RX 480
To measure the performance of this motherboard I comprised a set of 3 tests, 2 synthetic and one gaming, to create an ‘apple’s to apple’s’ comparison to another X299 motherboard I have, the ASUS ROG X299-E Gaming STRIX board. I repeated each test 3 times to ensure the results were accurate. The gaming test I used was Project Cars, running FRAPS to measure the minimum and average FPS through the first 60seconds of an identical race.
MSI X299 Gaming Pro Carbon: Min: 66FPS, Avg: 97.983FPS
ASUS X299 STRIX: Min: 87, Avg: 97.35FPS
3D Mark Firestrike:
To conclude, the X299 chipset and line of CPUs, as a whole package, feels a little messy, from the underwhelming i5 chip I tried (a new, entry level addition to the ‘X’ line-up), to the rushed nature of the launch. That being said, we cannot forget how capable the chips in this lineup are, referencing particularity the 6 core+ chips. We must also not get caught up in the ‘Threadripper’ hype – yes, AMD’s imminent lineup, to compete with this line of CPUs, is exciting, really exciting, but Threadripper hasn’t arrived to the consumer, or to reviewers yet and it has a lot to live up to, especially next to such capable chips as these.
MSI have done a good job here, a really good job here. I feel they have balanced well the feature set, giving option such as the U.2 port mentioned earlier, something msot will never use, but something that will be appreciated by a few. The IO is fantastic, and design wise I think it’s great!
For the video version of this review please click here