MSI X299M Gaming Pro Car­bon AC



While ASRock’s X299-ITX/ac (see p26) is the undis­puted king of small form fac­tor high-end desk­top (HEDT) moth­er­boards, mi­cro-ATX still of­fers a handy space-sav­ing size with the ben­e­fit of more ports and, un­like the ASRock board, the MSI X299M Gaming Pro Car­bon AC can house full-sized DIMMs in its quad-chan­nel mem­ory slots. It’s also over £100 cheaper than the ASRock board and comes with plenty of fea­tures too.

Un­like the ATX X299 boards we’ve tested since the chipset’s launch in July, the X299M Gaming Pro Car­bon AC only has four DIMM slots. That’s usual for mi­cro-ATX HEDT boards, though, and it still of­fers enough room for 64GB of quad-chan­nel mem­ory.

By cut­ting four mem­ory slots from the board, MSI also man­ages to fit two M.2 ports on the top of the PCB, with one of­fer­ing a heatsink, and both sup­port­ing SATA and PCI-E NVMe SSDs.

As you’d ex­pect at this price, you get all the usual over­clock­ing tools, with power and reset but­tons lo­cated be­low the PCH heatsink, a dual-BIOS switch found be­low the bot­tom PCI-E slot, plus an LED POST code dis­play. You’ll also find clear-CMOS and BIOS flash­back but­tons on the rear I/O panel, along with seven USB Type-A USB ports.

What’s more, you also get USB 2, USB 3 and USB 3.1 Type-C head­ers on the PCB, so we doubt any­one will be left want­ing here. There’s a gen­er­ous count of eight SATA 6Gbps ports too, so there’s plenty of scope to ex­pand your stor­age be­yond the two M.2 ports if nec­es­sary. Mean­while, the five 4-pin fan head­ers should be am­ple for most sys­tems, and MSI’s EFI and Win­dows-based fan con­trol sys­tems are ex­cel­lent too, whether you’re con­trol­ling all-in-one liquid cooler pumps or case fans. The ded­i­cated pump header can dish out up to 24W of power too, which should be enough even for fully fledged wa­ter­cool­ing pumps, such as the Laing DDC and D5, which you can then con­trol from the EFI or soft­ware.

The board of­fers a mod­icum of RGB light­ing, with LEDs dot­ted down the right and a small sec­tion of the I/O shield, plus you get one RGB LED header on the PCB. The aes­thet­ics are an oth­er­wise pre­dom­i­nantly black and sil­ver af­fair, al­though MSI does in­clude re­place­able fas­cias for the I/O shield in sil­ver and gold. As its name sug­gests, you get on-board 802.11ac Wi-Fi with a pair of mag­netic aeri­als in the box that you can at­tach to steel cases. Mean­while, on-board au­dio is pro­vided by the usual Real­tek ALC1220 codec.

There are no lay­out is­sues ei­ther, with the ex­cep­tion be­ing cramped spac­ing be­tween the two pri­mary 16x PCI-E slots (which each get the full 16 lanes if you have a Core i9-7900X or above). They’re so close to­gether that dual-slot graph­ics cards will see the top card’s cooler blocked.

This sit­u­a­tion is par for the course for mi­cro-ATX moth­er­boards, but you’d be well ad­vised to wa­ter-cool your graph­ics cards if you want an SLI or CrossFire setup, to pre­vent the top card from throt­tling. Per­for­mance The GPU throt­tling sit­u­a­tion was borne out in our gaming bench­marks. While the X299M Gaming Pro Car­bon AC was on par with other boards in Ashes of the Sin­gu­lar­ity, switch­ing to slightly longer, more graph­i­cally de­mand­ing bench­marks such as Unig­ine Val­ley saw it trail the rest of the field by a size­able mar­gin.

The is­sue here, as ex­pected, came from the close prox­im­ity of the top Radeon RX 480 with the sec­ond card in the CrossFire setup we use to test X299 moth­er­boards – the top card was starved of air and throt­tled as a re­sult. How­ever, this sit­u­a­tion is true of all dual-GPU set­ups on mi­cro-ATX moth­er­boards, so we can’t hold too much against MSI here, es­pe­cially when its per­for­mance is oth­er­wise bang on.

Mean­while, the M.2 heatsink only shaved 7°C off the tem­per­a­ture of our Sam­sung 960 Evo, while the sec­ond port, which lacks a heatsink en­tirely, had even lower tem­per­a­tures. These re­sults are down to the lo­ca­tion of

MSI’s EFI gives you great tools to tweak and tune a pow­er­ful PC

the lat­ter – it wasn’t sit­ting un­der a hot graph­ics card and was also able to make use of the air­flow from the front of our test rig. Nev­er­the­less, the heatsink did yield lower tem­per­a­tures than not us­ing it, and there was no sign of throt­tling im­pact­ing the SSD per­for­mance.

When it came to over­clock­ing, we man­aged to hit our usual 4.6GHz fre­quency with Intel’s Core i9-7900X us­ing a vcore of 1.24V, which is av­er­age for our CPU sam­ple. Raw per­for­mance num­bers were all on the money, though, with a sys­tem score of 230,659, which rose 12 per cent to 258,494 once over­clocked. Au­dio per­for­mance was also ex­cel­lent, with a chart-top­ping 119dBA dy­namic range level in RightMark’s Au­dio An­a­lyzer soft­ware, while the noise level hit just -113dBA. Con­clu­sion While the M.2 heatsink didn’t per­form as well as other boards, and two-way GPU set­ups will re­quire wa­ter-cooling throt­tling, we have no hes­i­ta­tion about rec­om­mend­ing the MSI X299M Gaming Pro Car­bon AC for build­ing a com­pact high-end desk­top rig. It’s drip­ping with fea­tures, costs less money than the ma­jor­ity of ATX X299 boards, it’s over­clock­ing-friendly, and MSI’s EFI and soft­ware give you great tools to tweak and tune a pow­er­ful PC. If you want a small PC with de­cent per­for­mance and fea­tures, with­out the lim­its of a mini-ITX board, the X299M Gaming Pro Car­bon AC de­liv­ers the goods for a rea­son­able price.

Un­like ATX X299 boards we’ve seen, there are only four DIMM slots There are two M.2 ports on top of the PCB, one of which has a heatsink There are loads of over­clock­ing ex­tras, in­clud­ing a POST code dis­play

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