MSI MPG Z590 Carbon EK X Review 4

MSI MPG Z590 Carbon EK X Review



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After almost a decade of total market dominance, Intel has spent the past few years on the defensive. AMD's Ryzen processors continue to show improvement year over year, with the most recent Ryzen 5000 series taking the crown of best gaming processor: Intel's last bastion of superiority.

Now, with a booming hardware market, Intel is preparing to make up some of that lost ground with the new 11th Gen Intel Core Processors. Intel is claiming these new 11th Gen CPUs offer double-digit IPC improvements despite remaining on a 14 nm process. The top-end 8-core Intel Core i9-11900K may not be able to compete with its Ryzen 9 5900X AMD rival in heavily multi-threaded scenarios, but the higher clock speeds and alleged IPC improvements could be enough to take back the gaming crown. Along with the new CPUs, there is a new chipset to match, the Intel Z590. Last year's Z490 chipset motherboards are also compatible with the new 11th Gen Intel Core Processors, but Z590 introduces some key advantages.

First, Z590 offers native PCIe 4.0 support from the CPU, which means the PCIe and M.2 slots powered off the CPU will offer PCIe 4.0 connectivity when an 11th Gen CPU is installed. The PCIe and M.2 slots controlled by the Z590 chipset are still PCI 3.0. While many high-end Z490 motherboards advertised this capability, it was not a standard feature for the platform. In addition to PCIe 4.0 support, Z590 offers USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 from the chipset. The USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 standard offers speeds of up to 20 Gb/s. Finally, Z590 boasts native support for 3200 MHz DDR4 memory. With these upgrades, Intel's Z series platform has feature parity with AMD's B550. On paper, Intel is catching up to AMD, but only testing will tell if these new Z590 motherboards are up to the challenge.

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 Z590 Carbon EK X is an exception. Developed in partnership with and distributed by EKWB, the MSI MPG Z590 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 Z590 Carbon EK X features a 16-phase Vcore VRM on a 6-layer PCB. There is also 2.5 Gb/s LAN and built-in WiFi 6E, as well as three M.2 slot heatsinks and even a physical RGB LED off switch. EK is including a leak test kit with the MSI MPG Z590 Carbon EK X, so you can build with confidence.

Let's take a closer look at what the MSI MPG Z590 Carbon EK X has to offer.


CPU Support:Intel 10th Gen or later processors
Power Design: CPU Power: 17-phase
Memory Power: 2-phase
Chipset:Intel Z590
Integrated Graphics:Dependant on installed CPU
Memory:4x DIMM, supports dual-channel DDR4-5333 (OC) MHz
Expansion Slots: 3x PCIe x16 (x16/x0/x4 or x8/x8/x4) slots
2x PCIe 3.0 x1 slots
Storage: 6x SATA 6 Gb/s port
3x M.2 port (SATA3/PCIe x4)
Networking:1x Intel 1225V 2.5G LAN
1x Intel WiFi 6E AX210 module
Rear Ports:4x USB 2.0 ports
1x DisplayPort
2x USB 3.2 Gen1 5 Gbps Type-A
1x 2.5G LAN
5x Audio Connectors
1x Flash BIOS Button
1x HDMI port
3x USB 3.2 Gen 2 10Gbps Type-A
1x USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 20Gbps Type-C
2x SMA WiFi connectors
1x Optical S/PDIF Out
Audio:1x Realtek ALC4080 Codec
Fan Headers:8x 4-pin
Form Factor:ATX Form Factor: 12.0 x 9.6 in.; 30.5 x 24.4 cm
Exclusive Features:
  • Custom EK monoblock
  • EK leak test kit
  • 2.5 Gb/s LAN
  • Intel WiFi 6E
  • Mystic Light
  • Frozr heatsink design
  • M.2 Shield Frozr
  • PCIe Steel Armor
  • Pre-installed I/O shielding

Testing for this review was conducted using a 10th Gen Intel Core i9-10900K. Stay tuned for an 11th Gen update when the new processors launch!

Packaging and Contents

The MSI MPG Z590 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.

The EK-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 above standard, with extras like a pair of keychain screwdrivers and a cleaning brush. Most notable is the inclusion of a USB stick with the drivers instead of a disc, a premium inclusion I would like to see more often.

The full list of accessories includes:
  • Manual and driver USB
  • MSI registration and rewards cards
  • MSI product catalog
  • 2x SATA 6 Gb/s cables
  • 3x M.2 mounting screws
  • EK-Leak tester
  • MSI badge
  • 3x Cable extensions
  • 2x Keychain screwdrivers
  • Cleaning brush
  • 2x Sticker sheets
  • WiFi antenna

Board Layout

The MSI MPG Z590 Carbon EK X features a black PCB with black and gray heatsinks.

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

The monoblock is a chunk of nickel-plated copper with an acrylic top and carbon-fiber accenting. EK has added a flow indicator, which is a nice improvement over last year's Z490 version.

There are three M.2 slots on the MSI MPG Z590 Carbon EK X; all feature full coverage heatsinks.

Note that the top M.2 slot is only functional when an 11th Gen CPU is installed.

The MSI MPG Z590 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 Z590 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.
  • 4x USB 2.0 ports
  • DisplayPort
  • 2x USB 3.2 Gen1 5 Gbps Type-A
  • 2.5G LAN
  • 5x Audio connectors
  • Flash BIOS button
  • HDMI port
  • 3x USB 3.2 Gen 2 10 Gbps Type-A
  • USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 20 Gbps Type-C
  • 2x SMA WiFi connectors
  • Optical S/PDIF Out

Networking on the MSI MPG Z590 Carbon EK X is handled by an Intel 2.5 Gb/s controller and an Intel WiFi 6E AX210 for wireless LAN.
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