Review: MSI X299 Gaming Pro Carbon AC motherboard

This is the motherboard that we received with our recent Ryzen samples, and was used across all of our CPU benchmarks. In hindsight we can see why AMD sent this board – when it comes to performance, this board is a ripper.

One of the main reasons is that it appears to be one of the few boards that works properly with Intel’s Turbo Boost Max 3. It ran at 4.3GHz during most tests whereas the other boards would often top out at 4GHz. The automatic overclocking was even more impressive. To do so is simple – there’s a small rotating knob on the bottom left of the board that sets the speed between 4GHz and 5GHz in 100MHz increments. We initially got it to boot at 4.9GHz using this, but the stress test crashed just a few minutes in. Dropping the speed to 4.8GHz gave us 100% stability while running our CPU stress test for several hours, far outstripping the automatic overclocking of the other boards. We’re sure the other boards would probably hit this speed, but the user will have to do it manually rather than rely upon software.

As an ATX board, the Carbon comes with a relatively similar feature set to the other boards. There are four steel-reinforced PCIe x16 lanes, along with twin PCIe x2 lanes. It’s not quite up to the standards of the ASRock board when it comes to connectivity though. The default eight SATA 3 6Gbit/sec ports are included, along with two M.2 slots. However, MSI has also included a U.2 connector for a third high-speed SSD – it’s one of the few companies to regularly include this port on its boards. Both M.2 slots come with heat spreaders, and they seem a little thicker than the earlier iteration we saw on previous MSI boards.

A single Gigabit Ethernet connector is included, yet there’s no integrated Wi-Fi at all, a surprising omission considering how commonplace this is on the other boards. On the rear I/O panel are six USB 3.1 ports, one of which is Gen 2 Type C, another Gen 2 Type A, while the remainder are Gen 1 Type A. The naming of these ports has become rather confusing as not all manufacturers use the Gen designation; Gen 1 is 5Gbit/sec, while Gen 2 is 10Gbit/sec. There’s also a connection for a five USB 3.1 port header on the front of your case, one being a Gen 2 Type C, the other four being Gen 1, Type A. However, you’ll need to supply your own header, or the case must come with these. There’s also a handy clear CMOS and CMOS backup button on the I/O panel in case you push your settings too high.

MSI loves its RGB, and the board is equipped with its ‘Mystic Light’ system, which appears to be broken into three different zones, each of which can handle the full 16.8 million colours, with 17 different effects such as breathing, flashing, solid on and more. There’s also an RGB strip header. Audio is handled by MSI’s ‘Audio Boost 4’, which appears to be based on the Realtek ALC1220 codec along with the usual upgrades.

When it came time to test the board, we were most impressed, as it topped most of the results. Its most impressive lead came in the Tomb Raider test, where it was a huge 30% faster than its competitors. We retested this several times to validate it, and the result was the same each and every time. It also had a healthy lead in our Cloud Mark test (we run this rather than the high-resolution 3DMark tests to limit GPU bottlenecking).

It may not have the extra features of the ASRock board, but when it came time to overclock and real-game performance, the MSI X299 Gaming Pro Carbon AC blew the competition away. The fact that it did so within a similar price range means it’s the board we’d go to for the ultimate in performance at this price point. 

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