Introduction

MSI stands for Micro-Star Int’l. When it comes to the high-end enthusiast PC components MSI needs no introduction. They have established themselves among the top leading manufacturers of the PC stuff. MSI was established in 1986 and was manufacturing the motherboards. It was not until 1997 when MSI announced their first graphics card and barebone product. They become a public company in 1998. In 2000 they announced their first server product. In 2003, they announced their first Notebook product. They are focused on building and supporting the eSports community. MSI has now a full arsenal of products ranging from Motherboards, Graphics Cards to coolers, PSU, peripherals, and whatnot. Also adding to the lineup are cloud servers, tailor-made IPCs, intelligent robotic appliances, and human-centric vehicle electronics.

Intel released their Comet Lake series Core I CPUs dubbed as 10th generation chips. These chips are still from their 14nm fab node meaning we are still seeing Skylake refresh in play from Intel. One major difference for the 10th generation is the new pin layout comprising of 1200 socket pins as compared to 1150x pins on the previous sockets. This may have something to do with the power consumption/requirement of the high-end Core i9 CPUs. This would mean we have a new Chipset to support the new socket. Intel has introduced the Z490 chipset along with other related chipsets. Good thing is that the CPU package remains the same which has allowed Intel to provide the same mounting provision on the socket area as is on the Intel LGA115x sockets. The coolers supporting the Intel LGA115x sockets will also support the LGA1200 socket. What differences are there in the chipsets coming from Z370, Z390 to Z490? Well, there is not much but Intel has focused more on the network than anything else besides better DDR4 frequencies out of the box. Also, Intel has enabled DMI and PEG overclocking without affecting related components.

The above is a block diagram of the Intel Z370 chipset.

The above is a block diagram of the Intel Z390 chipset.

We are not seeing drastic differences in both.

Again, we see no drastic difference between the Z390 and Z490 chipsets. We now have Intel WiFi 6 CNVi which is to be used in conjunction with the CRF module and we have a 2.5 gigabit Ethernet connection from a PCIe 3.0 x1 lane. The motherboard manufacturers would need a supported controller for this provision. We still have 40 PCIe lanes with 16 lanes coming from the CPU and 24 coming from the chipset. Comet Lake does not support PCIe 4.0 which is disappointing particularly when the competition is already ahead from their second last generation. The DMI is using PCIe 3.0 interface. The CPU supports up to 2999MHz as compared to the 2666MHz support on the previous generation. It is expected that the coming Rocket Lake would support the PCIe 4.0 lanes. Since Comet Lake has future support for the coming 11th generation CPUs, this has implications in terms of the PCIe 3.0/4.0 implementation on the Z490 chipset motherboards. We have seen various vendors providing support for the PCIe 4.0 on their offering which may be a sort of hybrid design using switches as with PCIe 4.0, 20 lanes would be expected from the CPU alone. How it would actually settle, is yet to be seen!

MSI has sent us their MAG series motherboard for review which Z490 TOMAHAWK. MSI offers three series in their motherboards category. These are MPG, MEG, and MAG with MAG being the entry to mid-range level focused on functionality and durability. Here are some of the features of MSI MAG Z490 TOMAHAWK:

  • Supports 10th Gen Intel® Core™ / Pentium® Celeron® processors for LGA 1200 socket
  • Supports DDR4 Memory, up to 5000(OC) MHz
  • Ready 4 the Future: Support Lightning Gen 4 Solution for the future
  • Premium Thermal Solution: Extended Heatsink Design and M.2 Shield Frozr are built for high-performance system and non-stop works
  • 5G LAN: Upgraded network solution for professional and multimedia use. Delivers a secure, stable, and fast network connection
  • Turbo M.2: Running at PCI-E Gen3 x4 maximizes performance for NVMe based SSDs
  • Lightning USB 20G: Powered by ASmedia 3241 USB 3.2 Gen2x2 controller, offering never before seen USB speeds up to 20Gb/s with USB Type-C
  • Audio Boost: Reward your ears with studio grade sound quality
  • Multi-GPU: With Steel armor PCI-E slots. Supports 2-Way AMD Crossfire™

Product:              MSI MAG Z490 TOMAHAWK

Manufacturer:     MSI

Price:                  Rs.41700 [Shing pricing at the time of the review]

Specifications

 

Packaging and Unboxing

The motherboard is shipped inside a cardboard-based packing box.

We have a symbolic picture of a TOMAHAWK Cruise Missile reflecting the theme of MAG series motherboards. MSI is an official partner of ESL Pro League. The motherboard is based on an Intel Z490 chipset using an LGA1200 socket and is Intel OPTANE Memory Ready. The motherboard is also PCIe 4.0 ready as the PCB and circuitry are designed along with the future compatibility.

Salient features have been highlighted here. Core Boost means the motherboard is equipped with a digital power design to fully utilize the true power potential of the CPU. We have a Lightning USB 20G port available on the motherboard giving a rated 20Gbps speed. Salient specifications are printed at the bottom.

The features of the motherboard are printed in 18 languages.

We have a white color sticker with EAN, UPC, and serial no information of the product.

The motherboard is enclosed in an anti-static transparent container and is placed in a container above the accessories.

We have a dual section layout carrying the accessories.

Contents

These include:

  • 1x Motherboard
  • 1x Installation Disk
  • 1x User Manual
  • 1x Installation Guide
  • 1x MSI Review Program Brochure
  • 1x Metal Badge
  • x SATA Cables
  • 1x pack of M.2 SSD Mounting screws

Closer Look

Let’s take a look at the design and layout of the motherboard.

The motherboard has a gray color stenciling on the black color PCB which looks good in person. This fits well with the black/gray color covers all around. This motherboard would still make good for a neutral color build. We have 4x DIMM slots for DDR4 RAM, 4x PCIe 3.0 slots at X16/X8/X4/X1, 4+2 SATA ports, Thunderbolt port, USB 2.0 ports, USB Type-C, USB 3.1 Gen 1, USB 3.2 ports, onboard audio solution driven by Realtek ALC1200-VD1, Intel 2.5 and 1 GbE NICs. The motherboard has an ATX form factor measuring 30.5cmX24.4cm and is certified for Microsoft Windows 10 x64. The motherboard is using 6 PCB layers which allow for higher bandwidth and faster transfer speeds. This is also beneficial for reliable circuit transmission.

Let’s start with taking a look at the board from the top side.

The MSI MAG Z490 TOMAHAWK motherboard has an Intel LGA1200 socket. There is a small arrow indicator on the socket’s cover indicating the corner to which the arrow marked side of the CPU has to be aligned. The Intel LGA1200 on The MSI MAG Z490 TOMAHAWK motherboard supports Intel 10th Core i series CPUs. Surprisingly, I am not seeing any compatibility information with respect to the up-coming 11th gen Rocket Lake series CPUs. The motherboard comes with an HDMI port supporting a maximum resolution of 4096×[email protected] Hz. There is a Display Port as well with a maximum resolution of 4096×[email protected]

We have an extended and aggressively designed shroud covering the VRM and Rear IO ports. This shroud is entirely made of aluminum material and is quite heavy. We have black and gray color contrast on the shrouds with MSI branding on the IO Panel and MAG on the top heatsink. Actually, these are not shrouds rather a single piece of aluminum heatsink acting as shroud as well as the heat exchanger.

As can be seen in the above pictures, these are massive heatsink with each made out of a single aluminum piece. We have gray color thermal pads on the heatsinks with a thermal conductivity rating of 7W/mK which is slightly better than the pads we saw on the GIGABYTE Z490 AORUS PRO AX motherboard. The heatsink is using a cutout or finned design which is a not louvered design. There is no heat pipe provided on the heatsinks which is understandable given the MAG series motherboard though in my opinion a single 6mm or 8mm pipe could have been provided particularly in this price range.

The MSI MAG Z490 TOMAHAWK motherboard employs 12 + 1 +1 DUET RAIL POWER SYSTEM. Don’t get confused with the wording here as we actually have 6+1 power phases with two power stages combined in a single power phase. We have 14 chokes with 12 capacitors. 6 phases are going to the CPU socket. 1 phase (the rightmost on the top) is going to the GT whereas 1 phase (lowermost on the side) is going to the SA (System Agent).

MSI is using ON NCP81229 PWM controller. The NCP81229 is a dual rail, six + one phase buck solution. The multi−phase rail control system is based on Dual−Edge pulse−width modulation (PWM) combined with DCR current sensing. This provides an ultra−fast initial response to dynamic load events and reduced system cost. It supports adjustable Switching Frequency Range, Digitally Stabilized Switching Frequency, UltraSonic Operation, PSYS Input Monitor (SVID address 0D), and meets Intel’s IMVP8 Specifications.

The MSI MAG Z490 TOMAHAWK is using NCP302155 power stages. Two of these stages are combined in a single power phase. The phases are rated for 55A each. The motherboard has over-voltage protection to safeguard from short-circuit damage to the components on the motherboard. MSI has placed a thermal sensor on the VRM allowing the temperature readout in the hardware monitor.

The 8+4 power connectors to power the CPU are located on the top left most side. The provision of extra 4-pins is for the Intel Core i9 10900 and 10850 variants which would require more power during overclocking. We have a maximum power draw of 540W from these two connectors using 45A. The MSI Core Boost technology combines MSI’s premium layout and digital power design which allows for faster and undistorted current delivery to the CPU at pin-point precision which would be helpful under heavy transient loads and overclocking.

There are 4 DIMM slots on the MSI MAG Z490 TOMAHAWK motherboard. These are in the Dual Channel configuration. They don’t have one fixed end and one openable latch. Both ends have to be opened to install/remove the RAM modules. These slots are not steel-reinforced which seems to be a cost-saving step taken by the MSI. The maximum capacity is 128GB with 32GB per DIMM slot and the maximum supported frequency is 5000 MT/s (OC). This motherboard supports non-ECC Un-buffered DIMM memory modules. Here is the supported speed as per the configuration:

  • Supports 1R 2133/2666/2933 MHz [Default]
  • 1DPC 1R Max speed up to 5000+ MHz
  • 1DPC 2R Max speed up to 4500+ MHz
  • 2DPC 1R Max speed up to 4400+ MHz
  • 2DPC 2R Max speed up to 4000+ MHz

The MSI MAG Z490 TOMAHAWK is using UNIKc P06P03A for a single-phase PWM with the driver. For that, we have MOSFET configuration in the solution of 2 On Semiconductor NTMFS4C029N in a two-low one-high (NTMFS4C024N). The NTMFS4C029N is rated for 30V at 46A whereas the NTMFS4C024N has a rating of 30V, 78A.

Let’s take a look at the top side’s connectivity provisions.

There is a single 4-pin PWM fan header above the CPU socket.

The fan headers on the MSI MAG Z490 TOMAHAWK are driven by the nuvoTon 3961S controller. I was not able to find any credible data spec sheet on these controllers for more details.

We have two RGB headers on the top right. One is labeled as JRGB2 which is a12V powered light header. The JRGB pin header provides the max 3A(12V) power supply for the up to 3 meters 5050 RGB LED strips showing single color. Next is a JRAINBOW2 labeled 3-pin light header. The JRAINBOW pin header provides the max 3A(5V) power supply for the WS2812B Addressable RGB LED strips in 75 LEDs. Speaking of the RGB lighting the MSI MAG Z490 TOMAHAWK comes with 29 LEDs under the chipset cover with MSI Mystic Light Support for full control over the light modes using 16.8M colors.

We have two 4-pin PWM fan headers here on the right side. One is dedicated to the pump of the liquid cooling solution rated for 2A whereas the other is labeled Sys_FAN6 implying its use for the fan control. The user can connect the fan to the pump header as well. Next, we have EZ Debug LEDs and a 24-pin ATX connector for the motherboard power. Next, we have a USB Type-C front panel port labeled as JUSB4.

Here is a closer look at the EZ Debug LEDs. This motherboard does not have a Debug LED with error codes for easy troubleshooting. MSI has implemented a budget-oriented 4 LEDs based troubleshooting mechanism which even the mid-range motherboards also pack. We have BOOT, VGA, DRAM, and CPU labeled LEDs. All are white color backlit. In case of any issue, the corresponding LED will continue to lit.

Continuing on the side of the PCB, we have a right-angled USB 3.0 front panel connector which is followed by 4x SATA 6.0 ports. This motherboard supports RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, and RAID 10. On the bottom, we have two more 4-pin PWM fan headers. The mounting holes come with double ESD protection which doubles up the grounding layer around the mounting holes, preventing static discharge surges from damaging the motherboard.

There is a DIP switch in front of the SYS_FAN4 header. This allows the user to turn the LED lighting on and off.

It is time to take a look at the connectivity options on the lower side of the motherboard. Starting from the right there is a front panel connector labeled as JFP1. We have 3-pin and 5-pin thunderbolt Add-In headers. The Thunderbolt Add-In card is not included and needs to be purchased separately if needed.

Next, we have two more SATA 6.0 ports followed by a TPM header. Then we have two USB 2.0 9-pin headers.

MSI MAG Z490 TOMAHAWK is using a nuvoTon NUC126NE4AE controller coupled with a GL850G hub for USB connectivity. The NUC126NE4AE microcontroller based on the Arm® Cortex®-M0 core operates at up to 72 MHz. With its crystal-less USB 2.0 FS interface, it is able to generate the precise frequency required by USB protocol without the need for an external crystal. GL850G is Genesys Logic’s advanced version of Hub solutions which fully comply with Universal Serial Bus Specification Revision 2.0. This is MSI’s way of implementing the cost-effective and power efficient solution on the TOMAHAWK motherboard.

Next, we have a 3-pin light header followed by two more 4-pin PWM fan headers. Then there is a 4-pin light header. In total, we have two headers for each type of RGB lighting which is a wise implementation. In the end, we have a front panel audio header.

The MSI MAG Z490 TOMAHAWK Motherboard features a full-length chipset cover finished in an elegant manner with colorful stenciling using black and gray colors. TOMAHAWK is printed on the cover. It was a bit surprising to see the push pin style being used to connect the cover to the PCB.

There is another 4-pin PWM fan header located below the IO shroud.

PCIe Hardware

The MSI MAG Z490 TOMAHAWK comes with 4 PCIe slots. The top slot is steel reinforced and is electrically connected to the CPU socket and taking 16 lanes from the CPU. Here is the configuration information of these slots:

  • 1x PCIe 3.0 x16 slot (from CPU)
  • 1x PCIe 3.0 x16 slot (from PCH, supports x4 mode)
  • 2x PCIe x1 slots (from PCH)

The motherboard supports 2-Way AMD CrossFire™ technology. The enlarged PCI-e clip helps swap or remove devices easier. Keep the PCI-E slot stronger and safer. MSI PCI Express Steel Armor slot is secured to the motherboard with extra solder points and support the weight of heavy graphics cards. Steel Armor shields the point of contact from electromagnetic interference.

As mentioned above this motherboard is PCIe 4.0 ready which is done by IDT6V4 1801BN clock generator to strengthen the signal strength and provides better and sustained overclocking performance. This is further backed by the PCIe 4.0 ready switches on the PCB as the optimized PCB layout supports higher bandwidth and transfer speeds for the PCIe 4.0 which is not supported on the Comet Lake.

M.2 Port

The MSI MAG Z490 TOMAHAWK Gaming motherboard has two M.2 ports using PCIe Gen 3 interface.

M.2 SHIELD FROZR is the next generation M.2 thermal solution to avoid this by offering the best thermal protection to make sure that SSD maintains maximum performance. Both M.2 ports on this motherboard have SHIELD FROZR covers. The top M.2 port supports up to PCIe 3.0 x4 and SATA 6Gb/s, 2242/ 2260/ 2280/ 22110 storage devices. The second M.2 port supports up to PCIe 3.0 x4 and SATA 6Gb/s, 2242/ 2260/ 2280 storage devices.

The above picture shows the M.2 ports with their covers removed. SATA port no 2 will be unavailable when installing M.2 SATA SSD in the M2_1 slot. SATA port 5 and SATA port 6 will be unavailable when installing M.2 SATA/PCIe SSD in the M2_2 slot.

Both ports have thermal covers on the top with pre-applied thermal pads to ensure the cool temperature on the drives.

Setting up multiple SSDs in RAID can be a challenging task for which MSI has provided M.2 Genie feature to make setting up RAID 0 for M.2 and U.2 much easier and less time-consuming.

USB Ports

Following USB connectivity options are present on the MSI MAG Z490 TOMAHAWK Motherboard:

Intel® Z490 Chipset

  • 1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 10Gbps Type-A port on the back panel
  • 7x USB 3.2 Gen 1 5Gbps (4 Type-A ports on the back panel, 2 ports through the internal USB connector, 1 Type-C internal connector)
  • 2x USB 2.0 ports on the back panel
  • 4x USB 2.0 ports available through the internal USB connectors, hub-GL850G

ASMedia® ASM3241

  • 1x USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 20Gbps Type-C port on the back panel

Audio

The MSI MAG Z490 TOMAHAWK is using Realtek ALC1200-VB1 codec to drive the on-board audio which nothing extraordinary audio solution. The audio components and circuits have been laid on a reserved motherboard section and electrically isolated. The left and right audio channels are implemented in separate layers on the PCB to ensure improved sound quality. Audio Boost protects ears by eliminating those annoying loud popping sounds when you plug/unplug devices or turn your PC on/off. This motherboard is using high-end Chemicon audio capacitors. Channel support is 2/4/5.1/7.1 and S/PDIF Out is supported as well.

The above picture shows the audio controller on the motherboard.

Networking

There is no wireless networking solution on the MSI MAG Z490 TOMAHAWK motherboard. It comes with two NICs. One is the Intel 2.5 GbE and the other is 1 GbE NIE. Adoption of 2.5G LAN provides up to 2.5 GbE network connectivity, with at least two times faster transfer speeds compared to general 1GbE networking. It’s perfectly suited for gamers and streamers with the ultimate and smooth online experience. It is also backward compatible with Multi-Gig (10/100/1000/2500Mbps) RJ-45 Ethernet.

Driving the 2.5 GbE NIC is a Realtek RTL8125B controller chip.

I am surprised by this implementation. I would have preferred a WiFi solution instead of a 1 GbE connectivity if possible.

MSI LAN Manager is a handy utility when it comes to handling network connectivity. It offers:

  • Prioritizes games above other applications
  • Change applications’ traffic priority
  • Customize bandwidth for each application

Rear IO Panel

The IO shield is pre-installed which is a nice touch. The patent-pending design protects the IO ports and prevents electrostatic discharge damage. We have the following connectivity options:

  • PS/2 Combo Port
  • DisplayPort
  • USB 3.2 Gen 2 10Gbps (Type-A)
  • 1G LAN Port
  • 5G LAN
  • HD Audio Connectors
  • USB 2.0 Ports
  • HDMI Port
  • USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 20Gbps (Type-C)
  • USB 3.2 Gen 1 5Gbps (Type-A)
  • USB 3.2 Gen 1 5Gbps (Type-A)
  • Optical S/PDIF OUT

The Audio ports are all blacked out except one so color coding is not there to easily identify the connectivity option. All ports are labeled. The point of interest is the USB 3.2 Gen-2 2×2 20Gbps port here. MSI motherboard offers USB speeds up to 20Gb/s when connecting the Rear USB Type-C. The Lightning USB 20G connectors are covered with gold to ensure a better signal and performance.

Driving the USB 3.2 Gen-2 2×2 port for 20Gbps speed is the ASMedia ASM3241 controller. ASMedia ASM3142 is the next-generation Universal Series Bus XHCI host controller, bridging PCI Express to USB3.1 Gen-II, compliant with USB3.1 Specification Revision 1.0 and Intel eXtensible Host Controller Interface specification revision 1.1. ASMedia ASM3142 also supports the new feature of USB3.1 Gen2, named Multiple INs to achieve a full utilization rate of 10Gbps data rate, taking advantage of the available bandwidth of USB3.1 Gen2 bus.

The above is a backside view of the motherboard. The soldering job resulted in sharp edges of the components, so take care while handling. There are white color indicators identifying the keep-out areas for the PC Chassis standoffs.

BIOS

It is time to take a look at the UEFI/BIOS names Click BIOS 5. It has easier navigation with some extras which we don’t see on the competitors’ offering. The overall layout is user friendly. Spend a little bit of time and you will get used to it. Let’s start:

The EZ mode is loaded by default on the first startup. Pressing F7 will switch between the Advanced and EZ modes. The above picture is showing the Advanced mode. There is a ton of information on the top. Game Boost is an MSI way of giving a 1-second boost in the CPU core clocks (short-term overclocking). We have three control sections on the left side and three on the right side. The mid pane is where all the settings and variables will be loaded. M-Flash will update the BIOS of the motherboard.

The settings menu has system-related settings in it. The boot settings are also located here in addition to the security options.

System status is showing the updated and current system information.

The Advanced settings would a plethora of settings for the PCIe, USB, Thunderbolt, CSM mode, NVMe test, and Secure Erase, etc. It is surprising to see CSM settings taken off from the Boot menu to this section.

The PCIe generation can be manually set from the PCIe sub-system menu.

Integrated Peripherals contain all the onboard devices settings.

The BIOS menu will give you full control over the USB settings.

Power Management can be accessed if you want to set your PC to start automatically as soon as the power is restored.

Boot menu has related settings including the Fast Boot and MSI Fast Boot. The MSI Fast BOOT disables all the USB and SATA ports for faster POST and windows loading time.

The security menu has related settings in it including Secure Boot options.

Save & Exit has related settings and does what it is supposed to do. Save the settings and exit the BIOS. There is no profile saving/loading option here.

OC section contains all the settings where you can tweak the CPU and the memory to get the most out of your hardware.

The Advanced CPU Settings has many related settings like EIST, C-States, Hyperthreading, Turbo Boost, etc settings.

Clockgen Features has related settings.

Advanced DRAM configuration has Memory timings, training timings, Latencies, and other related settings to tweak the DRAM.

The voltage settings are located on the main page under the OC section at the bottom.

The CPU Specifications will show the minimalistic CPU’s specification.

Memory SPD shows the SPD information of the populated DRAM on the DIMM slot. It will not work for the un-populated slot.

Multiple CPU features and functionalities are listed here.

OC Profile enables the user to save up to 6 profiles for their desired BIOS settings/configuration depending upon the requirement. The user can save the profile to the USB drive and loads it from the USB drive as well.

Hardware Monitor loads another interface where the user can monitor the thermal sensors readouts as well the voltage readouts. There are 5 sensors on this motherboard. I am still unable to figure out the TRUE AUTO PWM function on this motherboard. The Smart Fan Mode has MSI set factory fan curve. The user can set the fan mode to PWM or DC from the left side pane. Temperature source can be set to CPU, CPU socket or System, MOs, PCH. This motherboard has 8 fans/pump headers.

Board Explorer will load pictures of the motherboard. The red highlighted areas on the board are the ones that are populated with the devices and hovering the mouse over these areas will show the device information on the bottom.

Software

Dragon Center is the name of the application software which MSI has provided at the user’s disposal. This central application offers a multitude of functions and control all from a single window.

The Dragon Center needs Administrative rights at the first startup.

The user is presented with the terms and conditions to which the user must agree to proceed further with the installation.

Wait till the SDK is installed.

You will be asked to join or enter the login information for the existing member. Clicking on Skip will take you further without registering or logging into your account.

The first loaded option by default is the Gaming Mode. The user can add the installed game here to take full advantage of the system boost specifically for the gaming to get every FPS possible.

There are 4 scenarios that the user can select depending upon the requirement.

User Scenario options are further listed here. There is a settings button on the far right side which will load more options.

Clicking the settings button will load a plethora of further settings where the user can tweak the voltages and components to take full advantage of the system.

The Monitor section is doing what the name tells! It is giving updated and current system statistics.

Clicking the Hardware Monitor will load a separate window with the statistics. That window will remain on top of all windows.

Eye Rest is geared towards display settings.

LAN Manager is your handy app when it comes to handling the network connectivity.

Mystic Light will load the light controls for the motherboard and connected RGB devices to the motherboard. The user can sync all the devices for single-control or set individual lighting on the devices.

LED Style has over 16 pre-defined modes that the user can use per requirement. The RGB light illumination using 16.8 M colors is possible.

The Live Update module will list the MSI and third party software which the user can optionally download and install.

Test Setup

Following test bench setup is used to test the performance of the motherboard:

  • Intel i7 10700k
  • EK-AIO 240 D-RGB
  • T-Force Night Hawk RGB 16GB @ 3200 MT/s
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Founder’s Edition
  • CORSAIR AX1200i
  • Addlink S70 256 M.2 NVMe SSD for OS
  • Samsung 840 EVO 1 TB SSD for the Games

There is no extra fan except two fans on the cooler, one in the PSU and the blower cooler in the graphics card.

Microsoft Windows 10 x64 Pro 20H2 (OS Build 19042.630) was used for all the testing. Nvidia 460.79 drivers were used for graphics card testing. Following software were used for performance evaluation: –

Storage Drive Tests:

  • AS SSD
  • ATTO
  • Crystal Disk Mark

CPU Tests:

  • Cinebench R15
  • Cinebench R20
  • GeekBench 5
  • 7-Zip
  • AIDA64 Extreme
  • Super Pi

Memory Tests:

  • AIDA64 Extreme

Overall System Tests:

  • PCMark10
  • Performance Test

For gaming and synthetic bench of the graphics card following software were used:-

  • 3DMark
  • Assassin’s Creed Origin
  • Shadow of Tomb Raider
  • Metro Exodus
  • Far Cry 5
  • DOOM Eternal

Testing

This section will show the results of the various test suites and gaming benchmarks that we have run on this motherboard.

PCMark 10

Performance Test

Cinebench

Geekbench 5

7-Zip

Super PI

Render Time

AIDA64 Extreme 6.3 Memory

X264 HD Benchmark

CrystalDiskMark

ATTO

AS SSD

3DMark

Following games have been tested using their maximum graphics quality presets/settings.

Overclocking, Power Consumption, and Thermals

For the purpose of to the point testing, we disabled the MSI Core enhancement to stay with the Intel defaults. On stock, all the settings were left at Auto except the DRAM voltage and timings. We have used Blender Benchmark on stock and overclocked settings for the thermals and stability. CORSAIR Link software was used to take a reading of the power consumption.

The average temperature was 58.75°C with an ambient of 15.9°C as compared to 65.75°C with an ambient of 19.5°C on GIGABYTE Z490 AORUS PRO AX. The maximum power package was 130.937 as compared to the package power of 134.475W on the GIGABYTE board. The MSI board is not aggressively pouring in more voltage than needed, unlike the GIGABYTE motherboard.

The above picture shows the power draw of the system as reported by CORSAIR iCUE coming off their AX1200i PSU. Please, note that the graphics card was not under any load. Your mileage would vary and there is no way this should be taken as a reference point.

Next, we loaded the Game Boost from the UEFI/BIOS and repeated the tests. The Game Boost has upped the core clock under multi-core load by 100MHz resulting in 4800MHz all core as compared to 4700MHz all core on the stock. Also, there was a 5200MHz boost to a single core load. 1.370V was the maximum VCore draw across the board which is too much for 4800MHz all core boost which has resulted in more power draw and higher thermals. 78.87°C was the average temperature with a maximum package power draw of 180.245W. The ambient temperature was 15.8°C.

The power draw of the PC was 316W or so as reported by the CORSAIR iCUE. This is without the graphics card load and can’t be referenced in any way as power consumption will vary from configuration to configuration.

I was able to overclock the chip with all cores on 5.1GHz using 1.379V on the GIGABYTE motherboard. Surprisingly, the MSI MAG Z490 TOMAHAWK has achieved the same voltage across all cores on Auto settings which is quite impressive. The result was the same as the manual voltage. I did not tweak the Load Line Calibration. Under Blender Benchmark the average temperature was 78.87°C at an ambient of 15.1°C. The maximum power on the package was 187.478W. GIGABYTE motherboard does well under the overclocking scenario in terms of the thermals.

The above picture is showing the system power draw without graphics load.

Here is the Cinebench R23 result from the overclocking

Thermal Imaging

We have used the Hti HT18 Thermal camera to record the thermals of the VRM area of the motherboard under load using blender benchmark on the stock and with overclock scenario.

The maximum temperature on the MOSFETs was 51.9°C with an ambient of 15.9°C.

With 5.1GHz all core under Blender Benchmark testing, the maximum temperature on the MOSFETs was 64°C with an ambient of 15.1°C.

The MOSFET thermals are a bit higher than what we saw on the GIGABYTE Z490 AORUS PRO AX but not high to caution the users as they are still a solid mark.

Conclusion

This is the second motherboard in the Z490 chipset which have reviewed as we took a look at the GIGABYTE Z490 AORUS PRO AX earlier. This time we have taken a spin on the MSI MAG Z490 TOMAHAWK motherboard. Coming from the MGA series this is no frill but durable and still feature-rich motherboard at affordable pricing (at least in terms of International pricing in USD!)  The MSI MAG Z490 TOMAHAWK Gaming Motherboard falls between the entry to mid-range offering from the manufacturer at this price. This is definitely not an enthusiast-grade or upper mid-segment board by any means but this does not mean it serves no purpose. The motherboard is listed at Rs 41700/- (USD 190) with Shing who is an authorized distributor of MSI here in Pakistan.

The MSI MAG Z490 TOMAHAWK packs 12+1+1 Duet Rail Power System driven by ON NCP81229 PWM controller which is actually like 6+1 power phases as two NCP302155 power stages are combined to a single power phase hence the term Duet Rail. 1 phase is going to the System Agent and 1 phase is going to GT. Each phase is 55A rated and is enough to handle the load. MSI has employed two aluminum-made heavyweight heatsinks on top of the VRM coupled with 7W/mK rated thermal pads. Though there is no heat pipe connecting both heatsinks, the cooling solution is still sufficient to keep the VRMs cool under heavy transient loads.

Using the Intel LGA1200 socket and Z490 chipset this motherboard is supporting the Intel 10th gen CPUs. There is no compatibility information provided with respect to the coming Rocket Lake series Core i series CPUs from Intel. The way it looks, the motherboard will be compatible with the 11th gen anyway. Unfortunately, the Comet Lake does not support PCIe 4.0 protocol which is a letdown particularly when AMD with its Zen2+ already had PCIe 4.0 hardware in the market when this generation was launched. With Zen 3, AMD has taken their game to the next level which is unrivaled at the moment. The motherboard manufacturers have nothing to blame as this limitation is from the Intel platform.

The MSI MAG Z490 TOMAHAWK Gaming Motherboard has 4 DIMM slots with a maximum capacity of 128GB DDR4 in a dual-channel using a maximum supported transfer rate of 5000 MT/s. This speed is not supported if all 4 DIMM slots are populated so make sure to read the specifications carefully. These slots are not stainless steel reinforced. The board has dual M.2 ports with MSI Shield Frozr thermal covers to ensure that the M.2 drives don’t get throttle under load and provide maximum performance. MSI has taken a hybrid approach as they have provided a PCIe 4.0 ready PCB with PCIe 4.0 Turbo B-Clock chip to provide future compatibility. We have 4x PCIe slots with only the top slot being PCIe 4.0 ready and it is electrically wired to the CPU socket. This slot is also steel reinforced. There are 6x SATA 6Gb/s ports that share bandwidth with the M.2 ports.

In terms of the cooling department, there are 8x 4-pin PWM fan/pump headers with pump header rated for a maximum of 2A current. There are 5x thermal sensors across the entire PCB. MSI has also installed a sensor on the VRM so the user can have the thermal readout for the VRMs. The true AUTO PWM function is somewhat missing on this motherboard. The motherboard has 8+4 pin EPS connectors allowing for a maximum of 540W at 45A power output. The board hosts a plenty of USB ports including 7x USB 3.2 Gen-1 ports, 1x USB 3.2 Gen-2 Type-A, 1x USBG 3.2 Gen-2 2×2 20Gbps Type-C port, and 6x USB 2.0 ports. There is a front panel Type-C port available as well. The motherboard has a single RGB LED zone under the chipset cover. In addition, there are 2x 5V lighting headers and 2x 12V lighting headers. The user can switch off the light using a DIP switch.  The motherboard comes with Intel 2.5 GbE NIC and a 1 GbE NIC solution which is surprising. I would have gone for WiFi connectivity instead of a 1 GbE NIC. The Audio section is using Chemicon capacitors to drive the Realtek ALC1200-VB1 Audio Controller which is pretty standard stuff. We have Thunderbolt ports as well.

So, what the numbers are saying about the actual performance of the motherboard? The motherboard is eating anything I throw at it and it is crunching those numbers for sure. I was blown away with the stock results as on many occasions the results were better than the other motherboard we have tested. The VRMs will handle the load easily and the thermals are fine as well. For Core i9 CPUs, I should be on the look-out when overclocking to ensure that thermals remain within the optimal range. MSI has done a good job with their UEFI/BIOS programming as this motherboard is not pumping un-necessary voltage on Auto settings on stock and even on overclocking scenarios. All-in-all, this motherboard has performed remarkably well all-around.

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