MSI X99A Gaming Pro Carbon Motherboard Review
Whenever a new processor line is introduced, motherboard vendors usually go nuts and create all manner of next generation products based off of a new chipset. But what happens when the chipset is carried over without any changes from the previous generation? Itís happened in the past with Intelís X79 platform, AMDís ages-old 990FX and now Intelís ultra expensive Broadwell lineup is tied at the hip to a chipset which was launched nearly two years ago. No one is taking Broadwell-E sitting down, least of all MSI. Their new X99A Gaming Pro Carbon highlights a situation where even though the underlying chipset hasnít changed, itís still possible to completely modernize a motherboard.
While the X99 chipset has certainly become synonymous with performance and longevity, Intel's decision to extend its service life to the new Broadwell-E generation was controversial. While Z170 has received a litany of chipset-bound PCI-E lanes for high bandwidth I/O, X99 hasnít. Intel happens to disagree with any assessment of obsolescence and feels that their current PCH is still more than capable of supporting the Broadwell-E ecosystem. On the surface such a decision does make a certain amount of sense as the existing combination of a massive quad channel DDR4 memory bus, epic core count, and large number of PCI-E lanes has been a winning formula.
Whether or not you agree with Intel, beyond a shadow of doubt this has placed motherboard manufactures in a rather difficult and precarious position. Instead of at least being able to rely upon a new PCH to help sell their next generation 2011-v3 motherboards they instead have to find ways of persuading consumers with existing Broadwell-E capable motherboards (via a simple firmware upgrade) that purchasing a new board along with the new processor makes more sense than a simple (and free) firmware update. That is a difficult task given the fact that socket 2011-v3 X99 motherboards were never known for their affordability to begin with and the 'second generation' X99 based motherboards are not likely to change this perception.
So on to this MSI X99A Gaming Pro Carbon, a board which is representative of the steps this design philosophy has taken to its logical conclusion Ė and boy is it ever a nice conclusion for consumers. This is one heck of a value-focused motherboard.
Even with a reasonable price tag of $330, the MSI X99A Gaming Pro Carbon features an 8-phase 'Military Class V' CPU power design that provides more than enough power, even during high overclocking sessions. Further helping overclockers get the most from these next generation Intel processors, MSI includes not only their custom OC Engine that features 100/125/167 MHz straps, but also their 'Turbo' Socket which has 2036 pins instead of the usual 2011 pins.
On the RAM side of the equation thereís some drastic improvements as well via a rather robust dedicated all digital power delivery system, electronically separated pathways and EMI shielding ('DDR4 Steel Armor') for the DIMMS as well. This promises to allow better memory overclocking which is why this 2011-v3 motherboard supports speeds of up to DDR4-3466+.
On the sound side of things MSI has pulled out all the stops and includes their Audio Boost 3 with Nahimic enhancements for crystal clear sound in and out of gaming environments. In addition to EMI shielding this Realtek ALC1150 based sound solution comes with dedicated dual op-amps, and Nippon Chemi-Con capacitors alongside an isolated PCB to further reduce EMI. This promises to be one potent sound solution.
On top of all these extremely enticing features MSI has also included a few more that are sure to satisfy. Firstly, this is the world's first motherboard to come equipped with a front header USB 3.0 Type-C port. This alone makes the Carbon rather special since up until now all USB3.1 Gen 1 (aka USB 3.0) Type-C ports have always been located on the rear I/O panel Ė making them less than user-friendly for portable devices! This however is only one of the special features this Gaming Pro Carbon motherboard offers.
In addition to a very stylish carbon fiber and steel (via the Steel Armored PCIe slots) design this board also comes with Mystic Light RGB (16.8 million color) LED lighting effects that allow the heatsinks, rear IO shield and the audio portion to glow. Not only can these colors can be controlled via WiFi and a special application, but they can be set up to show the CPU temperature Ė so with just a look you can tell if the processor is hitting a thermal wall. Thereís even a dedicated Mystic Light Extension header for RGB strip lighting (not included) so that you can take this Mystic lighting to the next level and really customize your rig.
If all that was not enough MSI also includes two more features that will surely seal the deal for numerous enthusiasts. In addition to the x4 M.2 2280 port thereís a honest to god U.2 port. Of course the M.2, U.2 and the fourth PCIe x16 slot share lanes, but with access to U.2 the chances of anyone using anything besides that port (or one of the other PCIe ports) is slim to say the least.
Taken as a whole, on paper at least the MSI X99A Gaming Pro Carbon seems like it may have everything any typical enthusiast could want. Based on previous generation MSI X99 motherboards we do have high expectations for this motherboard, and given its asking price of $330 USD it does need to not only live up to our expectations but surpass them in order to successfully argue why consumers of existing X99 motherboards need to upgrade to these '2.0' models.
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