Introduction, Specifications, and Pricing
MSI's X299 GAMING PRO CARBON AC is second from the top when it comes to MSI's X299 motherboard lineup. The motherboard offers a very strong feature set, and a new level of customizability. The motherboard does not only have RGB LEDs built into the top and bottom of the PCB, but it has RGB LED headers and the ability to change the physical color of the heat sinks and shields.
MSI actually provides silver and gold colored tops, and you can switch out the carbon fiber ones for the different colored tops to change the motherboard's overall appearance. The motherboard is aimed mostly at gamers, so we will look at it through that viewing glass.
Let's take a look!
The X299 GAMING PRO CARBON AC features two M.2 slots, U.2, Intel LAN, Wireless AC, USB 3.1, and all the standard chipset features such as SATA6Gb/s and USB 3.0.
The X299 GAMING PRO CARBON AC costs $349.99.
Packaging and X299 GAMING PRO CARBON AC Overview
Packaging and Overview
The motherboard's box is very similar to their previous Gaming Pro Carbon series motherboard, except instead of a car on the front we get a picture of the motherboard. The motherboard packaging is better than what most other vendors have to offer.
The accessory package includes four SATA6Gb/s cables, a set of silver and gold plates, two antennas, RGB splitter and extension cable, 3D printing mounts, IO shield, SLI HB Bridge, manuals, driver DVD, and a case badge.
You can switch out the plates on the heat sinks, for this review MSI sent a custom wooden box with a set of plates that had TweakTown written on the VRM plate. I changed the carbon fiber black ones to blue.
The motherboard offers six fan headers, all of which are hybrid DC/PWM mode fans and can operate in either mode. The five headers circled in red all have the same characteristics, but the one header circled in yellow supports up to 2A of power for water cooling pumps. The motherboard's aesthetics are straight forward, all black with hints of silver can turn more silver or even gold with the default accessory package. The back of the motherboard isn't bare of components, but it doesn't have too many.
The motherboard's IO panel includes a clear CMOS button, BIOS Flashback recovery button, PS/2, three USB 2.0 ports (the vertical one is for the flashback feature), WIFI antenna outputs, four USB 3.0 ports, USB 3.1 type-A, USB 3.1 type-C, 1Gbit LAN, and 7.1 gold plated audio jacks with S/PDIF optical.
MSI's PCI-E layout isn't crazy complicated like some other motherboards. The PCI-E x1 slots are directly routed to the CPU. The first physical x16 slot is wired x16, the second is x4, third can be x16 with a 44 lane CPU or x8 with a 28 or 16 lane CPU, and the fourth only works at x8 with 44 and 28 lane CPUs. The SLI mapping is located on page 33 in the manual.
There are two M.2 slots, they will disable SATA slot 1 or 2, depending on which has a SATA based M.2 SSD in it. The M.2 shield is a bit thicker than their original, but not as thick as some of their competition.
There are eight SATA ports, two of them are angled straight up. The U.2 port shares its bandwidth with four of the SATA ports. There is one USB 3.0 internal header angled 90 degrees, and another one is angled straight. Between the two USB 3.0 internal header is a USB 3.1 type-C header.
The motherboard does support the extra 4-pin power connector, which is very important for overclocking the high core count CPUs. The motherboard also features a POST Code display along with boot LEDs in the top right corner.
In the lower right-hand corner of the motherboard, we find the two straight SATA 6Gbps ports, the OC Knob, Power and reset buttons, dual BIOS switch, VROC header, and two USB 2.0 ports. We find an RGB LED header at the bottom along with system fan headers, TPM header, and Demo LED button that allows you to change between LED modes.
The motherboard without the covers on the left and heat sinks and shields on the right.
MSI X299 GAMING PRO CARBON AC Circuit Analysis
The X299 GAMING PRO CARBON AC reveals its secrets without its heat sinks.
The VRM on the motherboard for the VCore or Input Voltage is 10 phases big; five true phases are doubled to 10. The IR35201 is being used in 5+1 phase mode, with the +1 being used for VCCSA, that is why you count 11 chokes in the image above.
Each VRM phase for the VCore or Input Voltage and System Agent uses an IR3555M 60A fully integrated PowIRstage which are best in class. Each PWM phase is doubled by an IR3599 doubler/quadruple.
There is also an IR35204 3+1 phase PWM being used to control one of the minor VRMs for VCCIO. A Texas Instruments 25A/40A CSD87350Q NexFET is used for the VCCIO.
Both memory VRMs use Primarion PV4210 digital PWMs, Primarion is owned by Infineon just like IR. Each memory phase uses two 25A/40A NexFETs, the CSD87350Q.
MSI X299 GAMING PRO CARBON AC Circuit Analysis Continued
X299 GAMING PRO CARBON AC Circuit Analysis Continued
The audio section of the motherboard features the Realtek ALC1220 along with an OP1652 amplifier for the front panel output, while the rear output uses the ALC1220's integrated amp. MSI also added Nippon Chemicon audio grade capacitors along with physical division between the audio section and the rest of the motherboard.
MSI uses Intel's i219v PHY for Gbit LAN along with Intel's Dual Band Wireless-AC 8265NGW for 867Mbps Wireless AC.
The motherboard features two ASM3142 USB 3.1 controllers; each gets two PCI-E 3.0 lanes, one goes for the rear USB 3.1 the other for the internal header. Both use the ASM1543 as the type-C controller and switch.
ASMedia's ASM1074 is used as a USB 3.0 hub, it takes one USB 3.0 port and outputs three at the rear IO. A single re-driver, the ASMedia ASM1464 is used to improve signaling on the one USB 3.0 port from the PCH routed to the rear IO, as the hub for the other three already acts as a repeater/re-driver.
All of those quick switches, it's really quite a sight on these motherboards. The Renesas R5F104 series microcontroller is used for RGB LED control, and maybe BIOS flashback features.
An ICS6V41742B is used as the clock generator to improve BCLK overclocking. NuvoTon's NCT6795D is used as the SuperIO on this motherboard; it provides PS/2, fan control, and system monitoring.
Dual 128Mbit BIOS ROMs provide redundancy. The nuvoton NCT5605Y is a GPIO extender for the SuperIO, while the NCT7802Y is a system monitoring IC used for fan control.
BIOS and Software
MSI's UEFI for the X299 platform is almost identical to that of its other platforms. You get two modes; an EZ Mode for more novice users and an advanced mode for the more experienced.
Fan control through a GUI is quite easy, and I actually like the full-screen graph MSI provides. Like some other vendors, fan control is only offered in a GUI instead of also being offered in a menu style layout. Overall BIOS settings were easy to understand and utilize.
Software included with the motherboard includes Mystic Light, Live Update 6, APP Manager, X-Boost, Gaming APP, DPC Latency Tuner, Command Center, Live Update 6, and APP Manager.
Test System Setup
Steven's Motherboard Test System Specifications
- Motherboard: MSI X299 Gaming Pro Carbon AC
- CPU: Intel Core i9-7900X
- Cooler: Corsair H110i - Buy from Amazon
- Memory: G.Skill TridentZ RGB (4x8GB) 3600MHz
- Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 - Buy from Amazon / Read our review
- Storage - Boot Drive: Corsair LS 240GB
- Storage – M.2 Drive: Samsung 950 Pro 256GB
- Storage - USB Drive: Corsair Voyager GS 64GB - Buy from Amazon / Read our review
- Case: Corsair Obsidian 900D - Buy from Amazon / Read our review
- Power Supply: Corsair RM1000 - Buy from Amazon / Read our review
- OS: Microsoft Windows 10 - Buy from Amazon
- Monitor: ASUS PA328 ProArt 32" 4K - Buy from Amazon
- Keyboard: Corsair K70 LUX - Buy from Amazon
- Mouse: Corsair M65 PRO RGB - Buy from Amazon / Read our review
- Headset: Corsair VOID RGB Wireless - Buy from Amazon / Read our review
- BIOS: 1.12
The motherboard with the blue TweakTown customized panels looks neat.
The LEDs are diffused because they sit under many of the panels, but there are also some LEDs that are not diffused. Overall, the motherboard looks great and offers a lot of glamors if that is what you are looking for.
Right now, I am going to see how far the motherboard can push my 7900X. The best overclock (or typical one) able to pass my Handbrake 4K encoding benchmark for stability is 4.6GHz with 1.2v VCore. On this motherboard, I set 1.76v for VIN with their second strongest LLC level.
I like that I can set the CPU to use dynamic or fixed frequency, as I like to use fixed, but dynamic is the basic default behavior of the CPU as overclocking is achieved through Turbo Mode mechanisms. The motherboard overclocked like the rest to 4.6GHz, and overclocked our G.Skill kit to 3.6GHz as expected.
We are still waiting on more X299 memory kits to arrive, as we only have one on hand and it's running XMP in the CPU section. We have one kit on the way, and more should be on hand soon enough.
CPU, Memory, and System Benchmarks
3DMark: Fire Strike
3DMark: Cloud Gate
MSI's performance with the X299 Gaming Pro Carbon is solid in the CPU and memory range, but does a tad better in games than the other two boards on the list. We are not sure if it is due to tightening of sub-timings at stock, but the motherboard's gaming performance is slightly better at stock. It could be because of tightening of underlying timings or because of a different turbo mechanism, but the margin is very slim.
At this point, and as we go further, we will not see too much deviation in the performance of the CPU, memory, or GPU. I do not take much too much credence into benchmarking the CPU or GPU to see how well the motherboard does, as the difference is usually within the margin of error. These tests are to make sure performance is not below that margin, or to see what is going on if it's above.
System IO Benchmarks
ixChariot Network Throughput:
The motherboard offers excellent SATA and M.2 storage performance figures; it must not have power saving turned on for IO speeds. Network performance is also solid.
Audio RMAA 5.5:
I disable all audio features, set the correct bitrates, and then test the audio with a loopback test.
Sound Judgment by Ear: Excellent, I think the RMAA results are this way because of some of the software MSI has in their package. There are five ratings for audio: 1. Problems, 2. Okay, 3. Acceptable, 4. Very good, 5. Excellent
VRM and System Thermal Imaging and Power Consumption
Thermal Imaging and Power Consumption
System power is measured at the wall with an AC power meter.
Note on Thermal Images: In the temperature section, we use our Seek thermal imaging camera to capture the surface temperatures of major components on the board. I look at the VRM and then all other things that light up the screen. If there is something to worry about, then I will state it. Otherwise, I will just show the hotter running parts of the board for fun. Unless some component is over 80-90C, then there isn't anything to worry about.
All systems will act differently, so I will look for commonalities, such as how far from the VRM the heat spreads through the PCB and the difference in temperature between the front side and backside of the PCB. Keep in mind, the majority of the heat from the VRM goes into the PCB as it is a giant soldered on copper heat sink. A larger difference in temperature between the back and front of the PCB points towards a more effective heat sink.
Thermal Testing at Stock Speeds:
The image on the left is always at idle, and the image on the right is at load. During ALL TESTS, fans above the VRM that cool the CPU cooler's (Corsair H110i) radiator are turned on to high (12v).
Up-close of the front of the VRM.
The motherboard runs just fine at stock concerning VRM temperatures. However, the back of the board did get a bit more toasty than the front, so the heat sink could do better.
Up-close of the back of the VRM.
4.6GHz 1.75V VCCIN OCed VRM Thermal Imaging:
There is an eight-degree increase on the back of the PCB compared to the front. It gets very hot in the center of the VRM. Either way, if you want to avoid the VRM throttling at frequencies above 4.6Ghz with the 7900X, I recommend good case airflow or a fan just for the VRM area, that is even if you can get to 4.6GHz.
The motherboard's VRM is also using best in class power stages and PWM, but I am unsure of the current capabilities of the inductors, and the VRM is five phases doubled to ten.
What's Hot, What's Not & Final Thoughts
Here are key points about the MSI X299 Gaming Pro Carbon AC
Uniquely Customizable: MSI sent us the motherboard with two customized sets of panels for the motherboard's heat sinks and panels. The board does come with a set of gold and silver panels, so anywhere you see carbon fiber you can physically change the color. We were provided a set of blue and gold with TweakTown written on the VRM panel. You can now customize your panels, and I hope MSI releases 3D printable templates for those who want to customize the motherboard even more. The RGB LEDs on the back and on the motherboard as well as the headers adds to the unique customizability of the motherboard.
Intel LAN and Wireless AC: I was surprised to find Intel network controllers on both the wired and wireless solutions for the motherboard. Intel's solutions are generally favored, especially on the wired side, and at this price point, many will be happy.
Solid Quality: The IR VRM components are best in class, and MSI used all the latest controllers for USB 3.1 and audio. The motherboard also uses re-drivers when required, which is something I like about MSI motherboards.
OC Features: The X299 Gaming Pro Carbon is mostly a gaming motherboard, but it does offer a decent amount of overclocking features to quench your thirst. You get a POST Code display along with buttons, and even rear clear CMOS and BIOS recovery buttons. For the novice, there is an OC Knob you can turn to get an automatic overclock.
Hard to Remove Panels: I almost scratched the heat sinks when trying to remove the default carbon fiber panels, so make sure to take care when switching them out (I recommend something strong, sharp, and plastic).
No 4-Way SLI: Like a lot of other X299 motherboards, and only a few X99 motherboards, the X299 Gaming Pro Carbon AC doesn't offer 4-way SLI.
The MSI X299 Gaming Pro Carbon is not at the high-end when compared to what else MSI has in store for us, the Gaming M7 costs more, which means MSI will release a slew of higher-end motherboards for future processors. That being said it is still high-end enough but strategically positioned as a sweet spot product in regards to price and performance.
While it isn't a cheap solution, it's in the mid-range between the cheapest and most expensive X299 motherboards on the market now, and I think it offers a very fair amount of features for that price. I really like the customizability of the motherboard, and MSI has done a nice job with the interchangeable panels; they are first to market with such a feature.
If you are looking for a sweet spot gaming motherboard for the X299 platform, the X299 Gaming Pro Carbon AC is definitely worth a look.
The Bottom Line: MSI's X299 GAMING PRO CARBON AC does offer a fair amount of premium hardware features, but one of the coolest and unique features is the ability for you to physically change the color of the motherboard's heat sinks and panels.
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