So while some are still struggling to tackle with this issue a few brands like MSI did come up with something interesting and that also with a reasonable price tag. And as a result of which today I have with me the MSI X99A Gaming Pro Carbon Motherboard for review. So before we take a closer look at this offering lets just take a quick peek into the specifications.
MSI has managed to stuff in a lot of useful features into this offering at a reasonable price tag of around $330 or Rs 37,000 in India. It has all the conventional features of a X99 PCH board along with some new additions like a dedicated U.2 port the inclusion of a USB Type-C/USB 3.1 port and binding it all together are its stylish looks composed of a carbon fiber finish and Mystic RGB LEDs.
Packing and Accessories
MSI has a different color scheme for each of its motherboard range and the same goes for the Carbon series motherboards that pretty much like its previous generations is, well black!
The front doesn't have much to divulge in terms of feature set nor has an image of the motherboard instead the entire real estate is occupied by the signature MSI Carbon sports car.
The back unlike the front is printed to the brim with features! A detailed marked diagram of the motherboard is printed in one corner highlighting all the physical features and on the right we see features such as the Mystic LED, Turbo U.2, USB 3.1 briefly explained.
Open the box and you'll find the motherboard in an anti-static bag resting on top of the bottom compartment that houses all the accessories.
On the accessories front the MSI X99A Gaming Pro is on the humble end with just the basic and necessary accessories included to keep the price tag low. There’s two 2-way SLI bridge connectors, eight SATA 6Gb/s cables, quick connect front-panel connector or the G-connectors what MSI calls them , a door knob hanger, accessory installation pamphlet, warranty pamphlet, user manual, and installation DVD with software and drivers. Cable labeling stickers, LED lit I/O shield and and Mystic LED strip extension cable is also provided.
Closer Look and Features
MSI went low key with this one over here. Simply placing the motherboard out of the box shows the start reality that the motherboard is indeed different from what the usual trend is going on in the motherboard market today.
The X99A Gaming Pro Carbon is one of the few motherboards out there that shout elegance from every corner! Its a full matte black product with highlights of carbon fiber vinyl on the I/O shield, PCH and CPU VRM Heatsink accentuated by metal strips and underlying LEDs that can be used as per one's own whims.
Looking at the CPU area we can see the LGA 2011-3 socket resting in a remarkably clean area. This is the MSI "Turbo Socket" which comes with 2036 pins instead of the usual 2011 pins insuring effective voltage distribution and load sharing that gives much more easy and stable overclocking experience.
DIMM slots on the reinforced by metal shields that not only work as an EMI shielding to the RAM sticks to ensure hindrance free performance but also imparts tensile strength to the slots in case one uses tall or heavy Memory kits like my Kingston HyperX Predator.
The DIMM slots comes with its dedicated all digital power delivery system controlled by Powervation’s PV3203 Digital Dual-Phase Synchronous Buck Controller and supports maximum frequency of upto 3466+ Mhz. Also a debug LED display is provided right next to it which upon bootup shows the CPU temperature and is surprisingly very accurate!
Turn your gaze towards the PCIe area and we see four PCIe 3.0x16 slots and two PCIex1 slots for devices of a bygone era! A M.2 slot is also provided that we'll discuss later on.
All the four full sized PCIe slots are armored to support large and heavy graphics card. If you are using a 40 PCIe lane CPU then the configuration would be as follows for SLI configurations:
Single Card: 16x/0/0/0
Dual SLI: 16x/16x/0/0
Tri SLI: 16x/16x/8x/0
Quad SLI: 16x/8x/8x/8x
A notable fact over here is that in ATX board like this you tend to find seven PCIe slots in total with four full length and three PCIex1 but in the MSI X99A Gaming Pro there are only six eliminating the top most slot. By doing this MSI cleverly managed to shift the DIMM slots down by half an inch which in-turn cleared out some space in the CPU area and above it giving one the flexibility to choose from a range of beefy CPU air cooler without any compatibility issue.
The M.2 slot can accommodate a SSD upto 80mm in length and is good enough since that's the mainstream M.2 SSD dimension. This M.2 slot shares its PCIe lanes with the U.2 connector and the bottom most PCIex16 slot which means you can use only one of these three ports simultaneously since no discrete SATA controller or bridge is provided on the board to save cost, routing these ports directly through the CPU or the X99 PCH itself.
On the left side of the board we have the Audio Boost 3 technology powered by a Realtek ALC 1150 8-channel CODEC and protect by an LED illuminated isolation strip to prevent any static distortion. This arrangement is solidified with gold plated Chemi-con capacitors and three Texas Instruments OP1652 op-amps to power headphones and provide a surround sound experience.
The I/O panel is a standard panel but comes with one USB 3.1 support in form of one Type-A and one Type-C connector.
Since the X99 PCH doesn't have native 10GB/s support so MSI included a ASMedia ASM1142 controller. This is a 'budget' X99 motherboard hence Intel controller was not used which is a more expensive alternate with added benefits like the ThunderBolt III technology support.
Also the USB 3.0 ports are controlled via a VIA VL805 controller taking away any additional load from the X99 PCH since the USB 3.1 Type-C front panel header is already connected to it directly.
In terms of connectivity MSI went in for a clever layout and didn't stuff in all the 10 SATA 3 6GB/s ports on one side but split them in two areas. On one side you can see two SATA express ports and four SATA 3 ports right in between a U.2 port and a USB 3.1 Type-C front panel Header.
Rest four are oriented at right angles situated at the bottom of the south bridge in the proximity of the on-board Power, Reset and Game Boost button.
The board comes with a Game Boost dial that appears like a big red button/knob, you can turn this knob and get an instant over clock on your chip! Eight setting are provided which can be applied stepped up with every turn of this knob, over clocking your processor from as low as 4.3Ghz to as massive as 5Ghz or as MSI call its in the ad "This one goes upto 11"! What's more the voltage is adjusted aswell accordingly, how true is the 5Ghz mark we'll test that later on.
Removing the heatsinks and shields we can see some of the vital components of the MSI X99A Gaming Pro Carbon such as the X99 PCH itself. The surrounding area is clean since no PCIe bridge or native controller is employed on the board.
The power delivery to the PCIe devices is handles by a four channel Fintek F7540B multiplexr/demultiplexer.
Fan speed, I/O activity and even temperatures of various components on the motherboard are managed and channeled via the Nuvoton’s NCT6792D chip.
The CPU is powered by an 8-phase Military Class-5 power delivery system controlled by a Intersil ISL6388 PWM controller and constituted of 10-years rated Titanium Choke and Black Caps. This is not an all digital power delivery system but a reliable one for sure.
BIOS and Bundled Software
UEFI BIOS is getting more and more common with each manufacturer opting for it due to its simple and flexible interface along with the option to navigate via a mouse rather than a keyboard exclusive BIOS. MSI is no different and has offered not one but two versions of BIOS, EZ and Advanced versions, with the MSI X99A Gaming Pro Carbon so as to suit every customer's needs.
On boot up by default you'll be greeted with a more comprehensive and detailed EZ BIOS screen. This is a crammed up screen that has the details about all the components installed on the board along with options laid out neatly under clear tabs on the left side. If you want to change fan speeds, maybe boot devices, or use its automated overclocking function or XMP, you can do so quickly and easily.
On pressing the F7 key you'll be teleported into the Advanced BIOS version or the traditional MSI UEFI BIOS version. This is a version that all the over clockers will love since the settings are broadly laid out with tab heading like Over Clocking Settings itself. A plethora of features are there out of which I'm showing you a selective few.
Bundled SoftwareThis is the era when manufacturers provide customers with not just a motherboard and utility softwares that act more like blotwares if nothing else. Gigabyte App center is already what I've reviewed a lot of time & it has never failed to impress but MSI is no less rather a bit more refined in their approach.
The heart of the software set is the MSI command set which gives you general features and information regarding the CPU, GPU, Fan Speed, IGP and the Game Boost knob...again!
Also one beautiful graphical window is there that provides you with temperature readings of each component & even tell you where they are located on the board.
The gaming app section is something that you'll be familiar to if you are a MSI graphic card owner. It give you all the information and tweaking options related to your GPU and you can select which vital stat you want to see on your screen. Also you can adjust mouse sensitivity and assign hot keys to your gaming mouse from here making it a one stop solution for gaming.
The LED lighting section worth a special mention since its the only way one can control the lights on the Gaming Pro Carbon, it also has a iOS/Android App counterpart to control the color and behavior on the fly. One cool feature apart from the usual is that not only can you assign a particular color and behavior pattern to one particular section of the board like the chipset VRM and CPU VRM seperately but also you can make them change according to system temperature so its just amtter of a glance towards your motherboard to know if the temperatures are within the safe range or not.
The MSI RAM disk is a nifty little tool to help you create an ultra fast cache by taking some memory off of your RAM disk and increase the read/write speed of your storage devices. Its a great feature if you have unused or really high amount of memory installed.
Another added feature is the Nahimic settings. Yes its the same Nahimic I talked about in the beginning. The Nahimic audio software boosts the audio performance by supplying a high definition sound technology which leads to clearer audio performance whether that be during music, video or gaming.
Some extra software include the SteelSeries Engine 3 for Steelseries gaming accessories, MSI version of CPUZ, XSplit Gamecaster with one year free subscription etc
Benchmarks & Overclocking
Putting all the components together and booting up into Windows was a breeze with the MSI X99A Gaming Pro Carbon. Everything worked properly and installed properly without any issue. The motherboard looks elegant and all black when off or when the LEDs are turned down ensuring no hindrance with the glow and appearance of the motherboard LEDs whatsoever.
For the benchmarks we used the following test setup configuration --
CPU: Intel Core i7 5930K OC at 4.5Ghz on all six cores
Motherboard: MSI X99A Gaming Pro Carbon
RAM: Kingston HyperX Predator 16GB DDR4 (4x4) 3000Mhz Memory Kit
Cooler: Corsair H100i GTX
Graphics Card: MSI GeForce GTX 1070 Gaming X 8GB DDR5
Storage: Corsair Neutron GTX 480GB SSD
Power Supply: Corsair AX860i 860W 80+ Platinum
OS: Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit
GPU Driver: NVIDIA ForceWare 368.69
For overclocking we are aware that our Intel i7 5930K sample can hit 4.5Ghz easily on any motherboard and so was the case with the MSI X99A Gaming Pro Carbon. We managed a stable 4.5Ghz at 1.375v and as for the memory enabling both the XMP 2.0 profiles on the Predator was a swift process with no issues at all.
Due to the limitations of the cooler we couldn't keep the processor stable and had thermal throttling issues upon benchmarking otherwise we did manage a stable 4.8Ghz at 1.4v with this motherboard which is not at all bad for a Haswell-E chip!
For the benchmarks we'll keep the processor at 4.5Ghz and memory at 2666Mhz which is what any user would use in real life.
AIDA64 Cache & Memory Benchmark
AIDA64 Extreme Edition is a great tool to bench your CPU and RAM in terms of their read-write-copy abilities. Our i7 5930K showed an impressive score along with the Kingston HyperX Predator kit.
The reason for including this benchmark was to simply observe the AES and Hash Test which is a determent of how easily your CPU or GPU can crunch complex calculations and higher score is always regarded better.
7zip is a compression and decompression program that utilizes the processing power of the CPU alone. It is a synthetic benchmark that gives results very close to real life scores.
The Intel XTU utility not only helps one to overclock and test the system stability all in one place but also can be used to benchmark the processor in terms of comparative score.
Cinebench R15 & Cinebench R11.5
Cinebench uses Maxon's Cinema 4D engine to render a photo-realistic scene of some shiny balls and weird things (we miss the motorbike). The scene is highly complex, with reflections, ambient occlusion and procedural shaders so it gives a CPU a tough workout.
As Cinema 4D is a real-world application - used on films such as Spider-Man and Star Wars - Cinebench can be viewed as a real-world benchmark.
wPrime is a leading multithreaded benchmark for x86 processors that tests your processor performance by calculating square roots with a recursive call of Newton’s method for estimating functions.
3D Mark Fire Strike
Fire Strike by 3D Mark is a test suit that plays a cinematic scene to determine the FPS, GPU temperature and CPU temperature scaling everything via a cumulative score. It is a great tool to benchmark your GPU since the render is GPU dependent.
I can't start gaming benchmarks without running my all time favorites Crysis 3 but its a game that no system loves! The CryEngine 3 behind this scenic beauty can bring down any system to its knees and I mean any system. I set everything to Ultra at 1920x1080 resolution with MSAA 4X and motion blur high.
Middle Earth : Shadow of Mordor
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is an action role-playing video game set in The Lord of the Rings universe, developed by Monolith Productions and released by Warner Bros. The game takes place during the gap between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings saga. Not very taxing but due to its wide variety of scenes and ever changing topography it becomes a reliable game for benchmarking. We used Very High preset at full HD resolution for our testing.
Far Cry Primal
A game that takes the concept of going back in time a bit too far, set in pre-historic central Europe where man is still fighting the forces of nature to become the dominant species on Earth. Based on Ubisoft's latest Dunia Engine, the game takes advantage of DirectX 11 and is heavily taxing on high-end GPUs. We used Very High preset at 1920x1080 resolution since that's what is considered the sweet spot for this game.
CrystalDiskMark is a disk benchmark software that analyses different types of hard drive. Giving sequential benchmark write and read statistics in MB/s. A simple program that is very useful. As seen the Corsair Neutron GTX performs very well on the X99A Gaming Pro Carbon.
My VerdictI've reviewed quite a bunch of X99 motherboards till date and even a few from this new lineup of version 2.0 boards since Broadwell-E came into light but there was something that was always missing be it in terms of feature set, price or even looks but that was all till we met the MSI X99A Gaming Pro Carbon Motherboard.
I mean this product is oddly well balanced in almost everything! Not only does it bring the X99 motherboards in the more affordable realm but also manages to deliver almost all the features that a majority of consumer base would ever need.
The BIOS and Command Center are still the same as the previous generation with no change at all which is something that I felt bad about since this is supposed to be an entirely new motherboard lineup with well just an old X99 PCH! Probably they'll fix this with a new update soon.
I don't have much to complain about the Gaming Pro Carbon to be true since this whole package is so well priced and in the end that's all that matters to an average consumer especially in the X99 category where the processors are already quite pricey!
So in the end I'd say that MSI has managed to produce a gem in the form of the X99A Gaming Pro Carbon and though its not a flagship product but it very well can be a game changer for MSI!
I give it a 9/10