Introduction, Specifications, and Pricing
The MSI MEG lineup is the top end of the motherboard offerings. MSI has the Godlike which we checked out previously. Today we are looking at the board just below the Godlike the ACE.
The MSI MEG Z490 ACE is an ATX board that is quite close to the Godlike, but a bit lower on the feature stack to give it a more affordable price point.
Memory support for the ACE is up to 5000MHz+ similar to the Godlike and is for up to two single rank DIMMs. However, going to Dual Rank will see around 4500MHz capable, and it moved down from there.
The I/O is stuffed with up to USB 3.2 2x2 via the rear panel Type-C USB port for up to 20Gb operation. While Thunderbolt 3 is 40Gb, it is less widely adopted, and thus I like seeing 2x2 on the ACE. Also, concerning I/O, we have Wi-Fi 6 (AX) along with a 2.5Gb Realtek and 1Gb Intel I219V LAN.
The VRM for the ACE is the same as the Godlike with sixteen 90A power stages doubled from the same Intersil controller. The only difference is that the ACE does not have any VCCGT phases, which means your iGPU will not be powered, which can be a detriment if you need the iGPU for things such as quick sync.
PCIe is triple x16 mechanical slots, all with metal shielding, along with two PCIe x1 slots. The top slot will be x16 but can bifurcate to x8/x8 with the second x16 slot. The third x16 slot is an x4 fed by the PCH.
The MSI MEG Z490 ACE is an attractively featured board at a $399 price point. This price range is in the upper of what many mainstream chipset users consider acceptable, and therefore we will have to see if it passes muster to earn a recommendation.
Motherboard Features and Marketing
Here we give space to the motherboard manufacturer to talk about their marketing points, and we assess them and provide our point of view on the claims.
We will start the show with the top of the product page where MSI explains the purpose of the MEG series. MEG is MSI's top-end line for enthusiasts users who want the best features and components for their motherboard.
First up is connectivity, which we covered on the intro after the spec listing. However, one thing not mentioned previously is the triple M.2 slots on the front of the board to ensure maximum storage expandability.
Cooling is up next with several notables such as an active fan on the VRM heat sink to ensure that even under the toughest conditions, the ACE will stand up to the loading. Although it is worth noting that the VRM is so massive and overkill, I do still question if it needs a heat sink, let alone an active one. The thermal pads for the VRM sink are 7W/mK type for optimal thermal transfer. Also, the VRM has a backplate to spread the loading and allow it to act as a heat spreader on the rear of the VRM.
Lastly, MSI calls out the ACE as the stable cornerstone of your system. This is supported by the 6-layer PCB design, which I mean is ok, but most high-end enthusiasts boards offer 8-layer, but 6-layers is fine as longa s it allows similar performance to other identical price boards. The PCIe and DDR steel armor also help with the protection of the slots and overall stability. The Digital PWM for the CPU VRM is also called out along with the partial backplate (called a chest plate) on the rear of the board.
Here we have a visualization of the VRM cooling components we discussed earlier.
Here we have a visual representation of the VRM components comprised of Intersil SPS, doublers, and PWM along with Titanium Choke III inductors for each phase.
Lastly, we have the VRM schema and how the splitting of the PWM signal works with the ACE VRM. The smart doublers allow current monitoring, and this can then be balanced to offer even loading for all of the power stages.
Packaging and Accessories
The front of the package for the ACE shows the board mostly and its name dominating the frontage. There are a few feature icons for the Intel technologies and, of course, MSI's RGB solution, Mystic Light.
The rear of the package has another shot of the board along with an I/O layout, spec listing, and a few feature callouts.
The hardware accessories are as follows:
- Wi-Fi Antennae
- 3x M.2 screws
- 4x plastic SATA cables
- 2x RGB extensions cables
- Corsair iCUE DRGB cable
- DRGB Extension cable
The paper goods for the ACE are up next.
- Quick install guide
- Motherboard manual
- 2x MSI marketing cards
- sticker sheet
- Black and gold case badge
- Driver disc
Now that the accessories are out of the way, let's take a look at the board itself.
MSI MEG Z490 ACE Overview
The front of the ACE is mostly covered by cooling for M.2, PCH, and VRM. The fan header total eight, and all are 4-pin and DC or PWM capable.
The rear of the ACE has a partial or about 30% backplate. The color aesthetic is carried over to the backplate via the gold design.
The I/O on the ACE is equipped as follows:
- BIOS Flashback Button
- Clear CMOS Button
- Wi-Fi Antennae Connectors
- Combo PS/2 port
- 2x USB 2.0 Type-A ports
- 2x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A ports
- 3x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A ports
- USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 Type-C port
- Analog 7.1ch audio with gold connectors
- Optical SPDIF port
- 2.5Gb RJ45 Realtek LAN port
- 1Gb RJ45 Intel LAN port
I do like that MSI was able to stuff the I/O with connectivity while also still have the airflow holes in the fixed I/O shield for the VRM cooling fan.
The slot arrangement is comprised of three x16 mechanical slots with metal armor, and two PCIe x1 slots. The top slot is x16 or x8/x8 with the second slot. The bottom and x1 slots are from the PCH, and the x16 unit is wired for x4.
The M.2 slot heat sinks are now removed. We see the thermal pads with blue plastic covering in place. With these cooler plates removed, we also get a bit more of a look at the PCB, which we will be undressing more.
The lower edge of the board carries various connectivity as follows:
- Front panel audio header
- Thunderbolt header
- 12V RGB and 5V ARGB headers
- 3x Fan headers
- Thunderbolt header
- TPM module header
- 2x USB 2.0 headers
- Hex post code LED display
- Power button
- Reset button
- LED disable switch
- Front panel and speaker header
That is a lot across the bottom, but do keep in mind there are also jumpers along the right bottom edge that are OC specific enabling things such as slow mode and other LN2 related features.
The 24-pin side of the board hosts various connectivity as follows:
- Fan header
- 6x SATA 6Gb ports
- USB 3.2 Gen 2 header
- USB 3.2 Gen 1 header
- 24-pin main ATX connector
The ACE has dual 8-pin EPS connectors to ensure the VRM has all the amperage it could ever want to push, even the most extreme overclocks.
The upper righthand edge of the ACE doesn't have the controls I am used to as a lot of that is at the bottom, as we observed earlier. However, up here, we do have the voltage read points and post status LEDs.
Looking at the socket form this angle, we can see the massive array of seventeen total inductors for the 16+1 VRM array.
The partial backplate is now removed, and we can see it is purely for stiffening and aesthetic purposes. There is no thermal interface connecting the board to the VRM or any other component.
Puling the cooling and the rest of the cladding, we get the VRM heat sink along with the PCH sink. The impressions on all of the thermal pads are good, which means the VRM has good tight contact and should have no issues with thermal transfer.
Now, I think it's about time we move on to the PCB and circuit analysis of the ACE.
PCB and Circuit Analysis
Here we see the ACE uncovered and the massive VRM encompassing half of the socket.
First up is the Infineon ISL69269 PWM controller, which controls the board's VRM. This controller is backed by ISL99390 90A power stages, which are routed through doublers. The doublers split and balance the signal form the PWM to the power stages to ensure even loading.
Moving to the bottom left of the VRM and we see the ASMedia ASM3241, which powers the 2x2 USB Type-C port. We also see the I219V below that which is the 1Gb Intel LAN controller, and the RTL8125B 2.5Gb LAN controller.
Here we have the Nuvotron NUC126NE4AE, which is an ARM controller used for RGB control.
Here we have the Nuvotron SuperIO controller, which is used for various monitoring and, in many cases, fan control functions.
The audio solution on the ACE is where we visit next, which shows the ALC1220 codec, backed by an ESS Sabre DAC. The audio solution also employes Nichicon gold caps.
Here we get a closer shot of the top corner and the discrete dual N channel MOSFETs used for the memory VRM.
BIOS/UEFI and Software
Moving into the UEFI, and the very user-friendly easy mode interface greets you. Of course, we will be moving directly to the advanced mode. We will show you several screenshots of the UEFI below.
We will depart the UEFI now and carry on into the OS, where we can begin performance testing.
Test System and Configuration
My testbench is strictly controlled with a fresh OS for any platform or component change. The system uses all the same components whenever possible to maintain comparable results between platforms. The ambient in the test lab is rigorously controlled at 22C +/- 1C.
All tests are run a minimum of three times, and any outliers are discarded, and a replacement test run will be completed to achieve our average results. The use of a TITAN RTX for the testing is to ensure that the GPU is not the bottleneck for performance results, and will best represent the scaling across CPU and platforms.
- Motherboard: MSI MEG Z490 ACE (buy from Amazon)
- CPU: Intel Core i9 10900K
- Thermal Paste: Arctic Cooling MX-4 (buy from Amazon)
- Cooler: Alphacool Eisbaer LT 360mm (buy from Amazon)
- Memory: Corsair Dominator RGB 3600MHz 16GBx2 (buy from Amazon)
- Video Card: NVIDIA TITAN RTX (buy from Amazon)
- Storage - Boot Drive: Corsair MP600 (PCIe 4) 2TB (buy from Amazon)
- Network Switch: Buffalo Multi-Gigabit BS-MP2008 (buy from Amazon)
- Testbench: DimasTech Easy XL (buy from Amazon)
- Power Supply: Thermaltake 1200W (buy from Amazon)
- OS: Microsoft Windows 10 (buy from Amazon)
- Monitor: ASUS XG438 43" 4K (buy from Amazon)
- Video Capture: Elgato 4K 60 Pro (buy from Amazon)
- Keyboard: Logitech G910 Orion Spectrum (buy from Amazon)
- Mouse: Corsair Logitech G502 (buy from Amazon)
WPrime, SuperPi, Cinebench, and AIDA64
WPrime is first up and being a multi-threaded benchmark. We know it will scale with any CPU we throw at it. You can manually set the number of workers or threads you want to allocate to the calculation, which we did the total thread count for each CPU to ensure we measure the maximum performance the CPU can offer.
SuperPi is a much older test, but it's worth including as it is a single-threaded computation workload that really can show in granular detail differences in the computational ability of the silicon being tested. One thing to note is that this is an aging application that tends to favor intel architecture, so don't be surprised when you see much better results by some chips, as those same chips you will see get beaten in other tests.
Cinebench is a long-standing render benchmark that has been heavily relied upon by both Intel and AMD to showcase their newest platforms during unveils. The benchmark has two tests, a single-core workload that will utilize one thread or 1T. There is also a multi-threaded test which uses all threads or nT of a tested CPU
All of the results show the ACE placing in the middle to upper-pack. This is not a bad result, but then again, we would expect no less for a board creeping into the $400 territory.
Moving to Aida64, we start with memory performance. The ACE shows solid results here, with what we would expect from the parts we have installed.
The AES encryption test gives a result in MB/s, and the ACE round out the top-three on the chart.
For FPU testing, we have 32-bit single-precision first. Here we see the ACE come in at a top-three finish again.
Now with the next level, we have the 64-bit double-precision test. Here the ACE tops the chart, while it's within the margin of the others, it does deliver the goods.
Lastly, we have 80-bit extended precision, and the ACE once again rounds out the top three.
Handbrake, 7-Zip, and WebXPRT
7-Zip is an open-source and free compression application. It works well with multi-threading and also can see gains from clock speed as well.
WebXPRT is a browser-based test, and we like this test as this is one of the areas not many think to test. This also happens to be a real-world usage test that can be impacted by the mitigations which have recently rolled through and were patched.
All of the tests show the ACE at the top three on the charts, except for WebXPRT, where it takes a hit falling to the bottom three.
Unigine and UL Benchmarks
Superposition from Unigine is a DX12 based benchmark. We test with the 720p LOW preset as this removes all but the most basic GPU loading, and all of the FPS performance comes from the CPUs ability to push frames to the GPU. This test is far more efficient and speed based rather than being highly threaded.
Unigine Superposition is one of our 3D gaming loads, and we test it at the 720p low preset to remove the GPU from the equation as much as possible and show the impact of the system on graphical performance. Here we see the ACE drop to 5th on our chart, although it is within the margin of the others.
PCMark is a benchmark from UL and tests various workload types to represent typical workloads for a PC. Everything from video conferencing, image import, and editing, along with 3D rendering, are tested.
The overall result shows the ACE once again trailing a bit and toward the bottom of the charts, which hints that specific workload types are not taking advantage of the ACE's capabilities, and more UEFI tuning may be necessary to pull these results up.
3DMark Firestrike is our second graphics or synthetic gaming test. Here we see the ACE pull a good result. However, the Combined score is oddly low, and once again, it seems like the ACE may not necessarily get along with the Futuremark workloads.
3DMark Time Spy
Time Spy is another 3DMark test variant, but this one is for DX12 based systems. This test can be quite stressful, and since its an entirely different load, you may be surprised to see how the results shuffle when compared to Firestrike.
Moving to the newest graphical and gaming benchmark in the UL suite, and the ACE once again shows in the upper quarter of results, which is where we would expect it to fall based on the other testing results we have seen.
System I/O Benchmarks
For storage performance, we test the platform using a PCIe 4.0 Corsair MP600 2TB M.2 NVMe drive. It is tested in CrystaldiskMark 7.0.0 x64, and we average the results to ensure a good cross-section of expected performance. Do note that some platforms do not support the new PCIe gen 4, and therefore will cap out around 3400-3500MB/s.
M.2: MP600 2TB
Here, with the MP600, we see the ACE once again fall off a bit; although its small and within a reasonable margin, it is lower than other results we have on Z490 boards, which makes me question if the DMI on the ACE is cluttered.
SATA: T-Force 2350GB SSD
SATA performance has the ACE falling inline with the other competitors.
USB: WD P50 1TB
For the external storage, we select the fastest port to test the P50, which is the USB 3.2 2x2, and we see the performance in the 1700MB/s range for sequential. This is not bad but not the top of the chart, as I can only assume there is other traffic on the datapath causing the less than optimal results when compared to the Taichi at the top of this chart, nearly maxing out the 2x2 theoretical bandwidth.
Network testing: Iperf
We use IPerf for network throughput testing; the server is an 8700K based DIY rig with an Aquantia 10Gb interface.
Here we see the ACE showing equivalent results to the other 2.5Gb equipped boards.
The next part of network testing is a file transfer test. We use the same endpoint, but we are transferring data from the internal SanDisk Extreme Pro 1TB NVMe SSD.
Here we see the file transfer test, which took 202.28 seconds, matching the other 2.5Gb equipped boards once again.
Here we see the actual throughput from windows reporting at an uninterrupted 279MB/s.
Clocks, Overclocking, Thermals, and Power Consumption
Here we will look at the physical and functional performance metrics for the new Z490 motherboards. This includes out of the box clocks, thermals, power consumption, and of course, overclocking.
Out of the Box Clocks
First up is a frequency plot for the 10900K on the ACE, we see the loaded speed is 4.9GHz, and we record quick blips to 5.1GHz. The board turbos to 5.3GHz via TVB, but that speed comes and goes so fast, we did not see it on our logging, but we did visually confirm it is hitting those speeds.
For power consumption tests, we use a wall meter to test the full system draw. The reason for this is it will represent what the entire system pulls versus our meter, which shows the power draw on each PSU cable. The reason for this is that measuring the power draw from the EPS cable, for example, does not take into account VRM losses and, therefore, can show a much higher power draw for the CPU or other device due to an inefficient VRM design or loading range.
Idle power with the full system and TITAN RTX discrete GPU in place, we see the 10900K pulling 67W, which is the 4th place as far as lowest; this falls in line with most of the boards.
Loading up the CPU with a full FPU load, and we see the power usage jumps to 3rd place at 269W.
Testing synthetic GPU stress only is an excellent way to show the overhead the CPU adds, as the GPU does not pull more power after it reaches steady state. Here we see the ACE drop a bit in the standings as the power draw once the GPU reached a steady state of 413W. This is not a major jump compared to the bulk of the boards, but it is a bit higher than some of the others.
Idle temps for the 10900K in the ACE is 27C, which is right in the thick of the pack.
Loading each CPU up with a full burn-in FPU load, and we see the CPU reach an average temp of 71.6C, which is at the top four of our tested boards, but all boards are within a couple of degrees, so they should all deliver good overall thermals and consistent performance.
Here we see the ACE under our thermal imager with a full load on the CPU for over an hour. The upper VRM cooler topped out at 46C with the lefthand heat sink portion hitting 47C. The PCB down near the VCCIO/VCCSA parts we see gets up to 50C, which is of no concern. With this out of the way, I stand by my assertion that the ACE could run without much of an issue without heat sinks for the VRM and likely would walk away unscathed.
Overclocking with Comet Lake has been a lesson in limitations, both thermally and architecturally. As intel squeezes the 14nm node for all it has, the frequency is now under several boosting algorithms, which help enhance single or dual-core performance to the nth degree. However, it does not leave much on the table for overclocking.
The ACE did exactly what I would expect, which is it pushed the 10900K to the 5.2GHz clock, which our sample has been proven to accomplish. It did this with a static voltage of 1.325VCore (1.315V set in UEFI), and LLC set aggressively.
The MSI MEG Z490 ACE has shown itself to be a competent performer with a myriad of features to please most enthusiasts users.
What we like
CPU Performance: The ACE shows some very strong results in our CPU testing.
PCIe 4.0: While the PCIe 4 is not here, for Intel at least, we know that by the time it is, there will be even more GPUs and SSD's available that can utilize the faster interface.
USB 3.2 2x2: The ACE is one of only four boards we have tested that comes with the newest USB interface. While Thunderbolt 3 is faster, it is also less widely utilized, and devices can be much more expensive. Therefore, we are happy to see this equipped on the MSI MEG Z490 ACE.
What do we think could be better?
M.2 performance: The ACE had some struggles as far as throughput on the M.2 slot, and I can only assume that's due to DMI congestion. I hope it is something that MSI can tune a bit with a UEFI or EC update.
Wired Network: The Ace has a 2.5Gb LAN port, and I do wish it was at least a 5Gb port to better match boards such as the Hero, but overall having a functional multi-gig port is still welcome.
The MSI MEG Z490 ACE is an awesome board with some great feature appointments. The ACE is not perfect, but it does enough things well that I can easily recommend it. Is MSI is to do some UEFI tuning to help tighten up the performance issues we observed in graphics and Futuremark tests, it would easily take an editor's choice. But I think with all things considered, the ACE deserves the silver Recommended award.
The Bottom Line
MSI pulls off yet another awesome and capable board in its MEG series with the ACE. While it's not all roses, there is so much to like or love, it's hard not to recommend.