|by MAC | September 4, 2017|
A Closer Look at the B350 Tomahawk
A Closer Look at the B350 Tomahawk
The first thing that really stands out when you take this motherboard out of its anti-static bag is the significant amount of grey silk screening on the black PCB. This is not the first time that we have seen this concept, but we really do like idea of the PCB as a giant canvas that can be made visually appealing. We also appreciate that MSI clearly put some effort into designing highly stylized chipset and MOSFET heatsinks. In our opinion, you really can't tell that this is a $110 USD / $145 CAD motherboard...at first glance anyways. If you start looking hard enough, the B350 Tomahawk's SATA port count and its legacy PCI Slots eventually do betray this model's aesthetics and reveal its price-conscious roots.
Size-wise this is a conventional ATX form factor motherboard - 305 mm x 244 mm / 12.0 in x 9.6 in - so there are no compatibility issues to worry about with any properly designed case. The overall layout is very well-thought-out and there are no critical shortcomings that we can point out. All the headers and ports are placed at the edge of the motherboard, the diagnostic LEDs are well positioned, and there's a large amount of room between the primary PCI-E x16 slot and the next slot. We aren't too fond of the placement of the M.2 slot since it is directly under the graphics card. This is less than ideal because high performance M.2 solid state drives have been known to throttle themselves when running too hot, and a graphics card can obviously radiate a lot of heat.
While this motherboard's VRM section obviously can't compete with the higher-end X370 motherboards that we have reviewed, its six-phase CPU power design is very much the norm for B350 motherboards. The B350 Tomahawk has has been outfitted with a Richtek RT8894A PWM controller and a combo of NIKOS MOSFETs. While the use of middle-of-the-road NIKOS MOSFETs might bother us on a $300-400 motherboard, they are perfectly acceptable on a motherboard in this price range.
The Richtek controller is operating in 4+2 phase mode - which is to say four phases for the cores and two phases for the SOC. However, while the core voltage phases consists of one highside NIKOS PK616BA FET paired with two lowside NIKOS PK632BA FETs, the SOC phases get two of each so it clearly more capable than the pure phase count might indicate. While we can't find the exact specifications anywhere, these do appear to be the same solid black capacitors used on high-end MSI motherboards like the Z270 Gaming M7 and X370 XPower, so there's no cost-cutting there.
This motherboard has four fan headers near the CPU socket, one is the usual CPU fan header, there are two system fan headers, and one header labeled PUMP_FAN1 that has been designed for water pumps and can supply up to 2 amps of current. All six of the onboard fan headers are fully controllable via both DC and PWM fan control modes, and the motherboard itself can even detect and configure the fans.
The four DDR4 memory slots are fed by a single-phase VRM, though it is a beefy phase since the MOSFETS have been doubled. By the way, they are the very same NIKOS MOSFETs as in the CPU VRM. This motherboards supports up to 64GB of total system memory, and it has been certified for overclocked memory speeds of up to DDR4-3200. Make sure to check out our Overclocking Results section to see whether we were able to hit that level.
We really like the chipset cooler on this the B350 Tomahawk. It is undeniably cool looking, and not just another flat rectangular slab of aluminium. The only thing that could have made it even better was if MSI had actually integrated some red LEDs into it, so that it could be part of the overall lighting scheme.
As we illustrated in the introduction, the B350 chipset only supports four SATA 6Gb/s ports, two less than the X370. As a result, this motherboard only has four SATA 6Gb/s ports, support RAID 0/1/10. Now MSI could have repurposed the available SATA Express connectivity into more SATA ports, but would have obviously raised the price. We really don't mind this few SATA ports on a motherboard in this price range - it's more than most people use - however we can't understand why they put two angled ports and two upright ports. In 2017, upright SATA ports are an abomination on anything other than Mini ITX motherboards. It's just a cheap way of saving a few pennies and creating minor differences between this model and MSI's higher-end B350 Gaming Pro Carbon, which obviously has four angled SATA ports.
Demonstrating that they are well aware of the superiority of angled connectors, there is an angled USB 3.0 header right next to the aforementioned upright SATA ports. Dare we say slightly ironic?
Below the primary PCI-E x16 slot you will find the single M.2 slot. It features a full-speed PCI-E 3.0 x4 interface, theoretical maximum bandwidth of 32Gb/s, and support for SATA, PCI-E, and PCI-E NVMe M.2 solid state drives. This slot supports extra-long 22110 form factor drives that measure 110mm in length.
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