MSI MPG Z490 Carbon EK X Review 12

MSI MPG Z490 Carbon EK X Review



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Ten months ago, AMD released the Ryzen 3000 series desktop processors in one of the most monumental hardware launches of the modern era. This final step completed the Red brand's ascent back into the forefront of the desktop processor market that began with the launch of the first generation of Ryzen CPUs. Today, Intel is finally firing back with the launch of the 10th Generation Intel Core processors, along with a new motherboard standard to drive them.

As should be no surprise, the focus will remain on the new motherboards. While the 10th Gen Intel Core processors will not support PCIe 4.0 connectivity because of signal integrity issues, many Z490 motherboards are designed to support the PCIe 4.0 specification. This is accomplished by adding clock generators to help clean up the signal. Generally speaking, when it comes to long-term platform support, AMD has been the trendsetter. Has AMD's long support of the AM4 socket on its newer generation processors inspired Intel to take similar steps?

So what is Z490 offering right now? For starters, there has been a large focus on VRM and VRM cooling design. With the top-level Intel Core i9-10900K featuring 10 cores along with HyperThreading, the ability to deliver clean, continuous power is going to be one of the primary factors that separates a good Z490 board from the competition. With the introduction of HyperThreading on Intel's mid-range line-up, power delivery is going to be vital in all segments.

The MSI Performance Gaming line, or "MPG" for short, from MSI is generally pitched as the middle ground between the no holds barred MEG line and more value-oriented MAG line. The MSI MPG Z490 Carbon EK X is an exception. Developed in partnership with and distributed by EKWB, the MSI MPG Z490 Carbon EK X features a monoblock for CPU and VRM cooling as well as all the tools you need to integrate it into your custom water-cooling build.

The MSI MPG Z490 Carbon EK X features a 12-phase Vcore VRM on a 6-layer PCB. There is also 2.5 Gb/s LAN and built-in WiFi 6, as well as two M.2 slot heatsinks and even a physical RGB LED off switch. EK is including a leak test kit with the MSI MPG Z490 Carbon EK X, so you can build with confidence.

Let's take a closer look at what the MSI MPG Z490 Carbon EK X has to offer.


CPU Support:Intel 10th Gen or later processors
Power Design: CPU Power: 14 phase
Memory Power: 2 phase
Chipset:Intel Z490
Integrated Graphics:Dependant on installed CPU
Memory:4x DIMM, supports dual-channel DDR4-4800 (OC) MHz
Expansion Slots: 3x PCIe 3.0 x16 (x16/x0/x4 or x8/x8/x4) slots
2x PCIe 3.0 x1 slots
Storage: 6x SATA 6 Gb/s port
2x M.2 port (SATA3/PCIe 3.0 x4)
Networking:1x Realtek RTL8125AG 2.5G LAN
1x Intel 802.11ax WiFi module
Rear Ports:2x Antenna ports
1x PS/2 Mouse/Keyboard port
1x DisplayPort
1x HDMI port
1x Optical SPDIF out port
1x LAN (RJ45) port
1x USB 3.2 (Gen2x2) Type-C port
4x USB 3.2 (Gen2) Type-A ports
2x USB 2.0 ports
5x 3.5 mm audio jacks
Audio:1x Realtek ALC1220 Codec
Fan Headers:8x 4-pin
Form Factor:ATX Form Factor: 12.0 in x 9.6 in, 30.5 cm x 24.4 cm
Exclusive Features:
  • Custom EK monoblock
  • EK leak test kit
  • Nahimic 3 Audio
  • 2.5 Gb/s Realtek LAN
  • Intel WiFi 6
  • Mystic Light
  • Frozr heatsink design
  • M.2 Shield Frozr
  • NVIDIA SLI support
  • PCIe Steel Armor
  • Pre-installed I/O shielding
  • Dragon Center
  • Click BIOS 5

Packaging and Contents

The MSI MPG Z490 Carbon EK X box's most distinctive feature is its size. With a good 30% of added width, extras have clearly been included.

The printing on the box is clear and informative, featuring all the highlights: a top-down shot of the board, several panels detailing prominent features, a diagram outlining the rear I/O, and the specifications list. The box design is well executed and a good fit for the board.

Opening the box, it is clear what the extra space is used for: the monoblock and leak tester kit sit to the left of the board with the other accessories stored underneath.

The leak tester kit consists of a pressure gauge and small air pump along with all the fittings needed to interface it with a custom liquid-cooling loop. Simply install the gauge in line with your loop before it is filled and pressurize the system with the air pump. If the pressure holds, there are no leaks.

The other accessories are mostly standard, with a few nice extras. MSI has included a variety of RGB extensions. Notably absent is any kind of rear I/O shield because the shield is integrated into the board.

The full list of accessories includes:
  • Manual and support DVD
  • MSI registration and rewards cards
  • MSI product catalog
  • 2x SATA 6 Gb/s cables
  • 2x M.2 mounting screws
  • EK leak tester kit
  • MSI badge
  • 3x Cable extensions
  • WiFi antenna

Board Layout

The MSI MPG Z490 Carbon EK X features a black and silver PCB with gray heatsinks.

The CPU socket is open enough for most air coolers, but that is obviously not relevant here.

The block itself is a chunk of nickel-plated copper with an acrylic top and carbon fiber accenting.

There are two M.2 slots on the MSI MPG Z490 Carbon EK X; one above the first PCIe x16 slot and another between the second and third PCIe x16 slot.

The MSI MPG Z490 Carbon EK X offers three PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots, the top two of which are encased in Steel Armor, as well as two PCI Express 3.0 x1 slots. The board has a total of six SATA 6 Gb/s ports on the side, angled 90 degrees from the board.

The MSI MPG Z490 Carbon EK X has a good I/O offering that includes an optical S/PDIF out port and a USB 3.2 Gen2x2 Type-C port.
  • 2x Antenna ports
  • 2x USB 2.0 ports
  • PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port
  • 4x USB 3.2 Gen2 Type-A port
  • USB 3.2 Gen2x2 Type-C port
  • RJ-45 LAN port
  • Optical SPDIF out port
  • 5x 3.5 mm audio jacks
  • DisplayPort
  • HDMI port
Networking on the MSI MPG Z490 Carbon EK X is handled by a Realtek RTL8125 for 2.5 Gb/s LAN and an Intel 802.11ax for WiFi support.
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