Being the first to offer something new isn't always easy, especially in terms of garnering popularity, yet Intel believes the consumer market is ready for the next big thing. With the release of Intel's 12th Gen Core processors in late 2021 came a new socket. LGA 1700 is supported by the Z690 chipset, which also holds the privilege of being the first to bring PCIe Gen 5.0 and DDR5 to the consumer market. While we wait for AMD to release the next generation of Ryzen CPUs and a new CPU socket of its own, AMD processors continue to offer welcome competition even as the AM4 platform starts to reach end of life.
For now though, Intel's 12th Gen Core processors are the only ones currently offering native PCIe 5.0 and DDR5 support, giving the company a head start. The Intel Z690 chipset has also been given a connection speed boost with the change to the DMI 4.0 interference at 16 GT/s, a doubling over DMI 3.0 found on the previous LGA 1200 socket. The next-biggest change is dual support for either DDR4 or DDR5 memory modules by the CPU, which has motherboard manufacturers offering a variety of configurations. Add this all together and Intel currently is the only platform satisfying various users and their specific needs.
MSI has come prepared with multiple product lines from the entry-level MAG Pro B660 to the flagship MEG Z690 Godlike. The MEG naming convention serves as MSI's upper-mid to high-end line for Intel motherboards. Generally offering expanded performance compared to the MPG series as well as some additional premium features, the MEG Z690 lineup typically comprises three models: the Unify, Ace, and Godlike. The MSI MEG Z690 Unify is the lowest entry of the MEG family, but still caters to consumers interested in more than the basics one may find at a lower price point.
The MSI MEG Z690 Unify features a dedicated VRM design with 19 power stages, five M.2 sockets, and an additional BIOS flashback function to get you out of unwanted situations. To round out the experience, the MSI MEG Z690 Unify also offers great connectivity with the newest WiFi 6E technology and Dual 2.5G LAN for those who need to transfer data quickly. It also includes SLI and CrossFire support and PS/2 connectivity for legacy peripherals. There is a lot to cover in this review, so let's take a closer look at the MSI MEG Z690 Unify.
Intel Socket LGA1700 12th Gen Core, Pentium Gold, and Celeron processors
CPU Power: 19-phase iGPU Power: not supported
4x DIMM, Support up to 128GB 2x Single Rank DDR5-6666+ (OC) 2x Dual Rank DDR5-5600+ 4x Single Rank DDR5-4000+ 4x Dual Rank DDR5-4000+
Clear CMOS button BIOS Flash button PS/2 keyboard/mouse port 2x 2.5 Gb Ethernet 2x USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports (5 Gbps) 1x USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 20 Gbps (Type-C) 2x USB 3.2 Gen2 10 Gbps (Type-A) 2x USB 2.0 ports 2x Wi-Fi antenna connectors 5x Audio jacks 1x Optical S/PDIF Out port
1x Realtek ALC4080 Codec
Supports AMD CrossFire Supports NVIDIA SLI
ATX Form Factor: 12.0 x 9.6 in.; 30.5 x 24.4 cm
Audio Boost 5
M.2 Shield Frozr
K7 thermal pad
Smart Fan Control
Mystic Light Extension
Mystic Light SYNC
EZ LED Control
EZ DEBUG LED
Lighting Gen 5 PCI-e Slot
Lighting Gen 4 M.2
Dual CPU Power: 8+8 EPS
2 oz copper thickened PCB
PCIe Steel Armor
Pre-installed I/O Shielding
Packaging and Contents
The MSI MEG Z690 Unify box gives off a more serious vibe than the rest of the MSI Z690 lineup. Below the misty motherboard picture is the product name, but not much more on the front.
The back of the box is brimming with information and does an excellent job of highlighting features this motherboard offers. Below the depiction of the motherboard is a list of specifications, which is always welcome. Overall, this is a prime example of how to show potential buyers what is being offered with clearly laid out sections of the more detailed specifications for those needing further confirmation.
The included accessories consist of everything necessary, with the manual, SATA and ARGB extension cables, and Wi-Fi antenna, to name a few. It is good to see more companies including a USB drive for the system drivers as building a computer with a DVD/CD drive has become increasingly rare.
The full list of accessories includes:
Quick installation guide
USB drive (drivers and software)
SATA 6 Gb/s cables
LED JRGB Y cable
LED JCORSAIR cable
LED JRAINBOW cable
EZ M.2 clip
Product registration card
Small screwdriver set
On the surface, the MSI MEG Z690 Unify looks just like the last generation, and the one before that. It's black with no RGB lighting on the motherboard. Because it is a new socket, minor tweaks in layout have been made. A new addition to the Unify series is the back of the PCB now having a support frame to keep it from warping when the LGA 1700 socket is stressed by certain CPU coolers and mounts.
The back of the PCB also has an alteration with the inclusion of warning zones showing possible conflicts with cases and where the standoff should be placed.
Viewing the MSI MEG Z690 Unify at a lower angle gives us a wider perspective of potential installation hazards. In the case of the LGA 1700 socket for the Z690, new and old CPU coolers will need a new retention bracket if the mounting holes do not line up. Some additional care was placed into the layout of the capacitors to keep them away from the socket. Neither VRM heatsink section is particularly oversized, and far enough from the socket to avoid CPU cooler mounting troubles.
The MSI MEG Z690 Unify offers two PCI Express x16 slots, with the top two reinforced for extra stress support. PCIe slot one and two are PCIe Gen5 with a total of x16 lanes coming from the CPU. Slot one can either operate at x16 or x8. Slot 2 is wired for PCIe Gen5 x8 and will split the available lanes with the first slot if populated. These are all backwards compatible, allowing older PCIe devices to work without issue. The third slot is wired for PCIe Gen3 x4, and an open back allows for x8 and x16 PCIe add-on cards to be installed as well.
The motherboard also has both NVIDIA SLI and AMD Crossfire support, which is rare to see as neither multi-GPU solutions are popular or often supported in games as of 2022. Nonetheless, if you need this, MSI has you covered.
There are five M.2 sockets on the MSI MEG Z690 Unify, four of which are Gen4 x4, and all of them feature full-coverage heatsinks and thermal pads on the motherboard. The bottom two M.2 sockets share the same screw. While a minor inconvenience, this screw has to be removed to populate these sockets. Once done, reinsert the screw.
Note that the manual mentions that using M.2 socket (#4) will disable SATA port A/B. These are the lowest two SATA ports in the photo.
The MSI MEG Z690 Unify includes built-in power and reset buttons. These can be useful when first setting up the computer, if it is not fully wired up yet or for troubleshooting purposes. This is of course a matter of personal preference as neither button is required.
MSI included both the debug display and post LEDs. Voltage read points for VCC, VDD2 and CPU_AUX are placed next to the LEDs for further troubleshooting.
The MSI MEG Z690 Unify has two USB 3.2 Gen1 and USB 2.0 headers. An internal USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 (20 Gbps) Type-E header is included as well.
A hidden feature lost in the jumble of different headers and small labels is the Safe Boot, OC Retry, and Tuning Controller connector. If you are handy with wiring, it is easy to connect these up for more granular control outside the BIOS.
MSI included one 12v RGB and two addressable RGB headers.
The MSI MEG Z690 Unify uses an Intel I225-V 2.5 Gbps LAN controller for its network ports.
This motherboard also features dual 8-pin EPS connectors to make sure the power delivery is never an issue when it comes to overclocking the CPU.
The board has a total of six SATA 6 Gb/s ports on the side, angled 90 degrees from the board. Four of the ports draw their bandwidth from the Z690 chipset, while the other two labeled SATA A/B go to a separate ASM 1061 SATA controller. These A/B ports will be disabled when the M.2 (#4) socket is populated.
When it comes to external connectivity, the MSI MEG Z690 Unify has a bit more of everything. Besides Thunderbolt 4 and 10 Gb LAN, it is all here. Noteworthy connectors that set this apart from the herd are the Clear CMOS, BIOS Flashback, PS/2 port, and Dual 2.5 Gb LAN.