Final Thoughts and Conclusion
- The MSI MPG Z690 Carbon EK X is available for US$630.
- Decent CPU overclocking
- Wi-Fi 6E
- 2x PCIe Gen 5.0
- 5x M.2 sockets
- RGB support/headers
- DDR5-6400 support
- Included leak tester
- CPU/VRM/M2 monoblock
- Only 2.5 Gb Ethernet
- Extra EZ M.2 clips require removal of heatsink(s)
- Third PCIe slot is only Gen3 4x
- 75 A power stages
As this review is coming to a close, it is again time to wrap things up. As with previous reviews, I will start with what I think MSI could improve before finishing on a positive note.
I think the first thing that comes to people's minds for a new system build is what the final price ends up being. Intel's new LGA 1700 platform has its share of upgrades for those who are into the newest trends and technology. Overall, the price of entry is higher than expected as the trend of increased cost per generation continues. This price increase can in part be justified by the new DDR5 and PCIe Gen 5.0 support, though not entirely. Both require better signal integrity, which is in turn more expensive to manufacture. I again find myself repeating this as the ongoing rare metals and chip shortages only inflate prices further. To put it bluntly. the newest things on the market are usually accompanied by an early adopter's tax. The "tax" isn't a real thing, but, rather, an idea embodying the market as a whole: New and shiny things will always cost more.
MSI's collaboration with EKWB for the MSI MPG Z690 Carbon EK X is unique, though not as uncommon as it once was. Watercooling is becoming more mainstream inside the PC enthusiast community. It seems the big four—MSI, Gigabyte, ASRock and ASUS—all have at least one motherboard available with watercooling as its primary selling point. The general price of entry for a custom loop is anywhere from $300 to $500 in parts alone. This tends to set a tone for things to come. Many newcomers look for cheaper alternatives, like All-In-One (AIO) coolers. However, once you put the money down, it can last for years. For reference, I recently retired tube fittings I bought in 2009. The D5 pump purchased all those years ago has over 30,000 hours of use and is still used daily in my test system.
When it comes to the choice of MSI motherboards that could have been used, the MSI MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi previously reviewed here at TPU was a great choice, as it is a solid product from MSI for the casual user. Reflecting back on the review, I feel I may have been a bit hash for what it accomplished. The main criticism came from the use of 75 A power stages and accompanying heatsink that just weren't not up to the task when it came to the torture test. This lead me to conclude that those looking to get extra performance from overclocking may have difficulties reaching their goals.
While the newest BIOS has solved some lingering memory compatibility problems, it could still use a few improvements. The Monoblock solves the thermal problem that was previously a concern during extended heavy loads from applications, which now leaves a few minor complaints still. With the previous generation, I would have expected the inclusion of Thunderbolt 4 GbE and 5G LAN at a similar price point. Instead, the MSI MPG Z690 Carbon EK X comes with the new 2.5 GbE standard and USB 3.2 ports all Z690 chipset motherboards have.
This is also echoed in the MSI MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi review. I found the lack of thought put into the design of the M.2 EZ clips a little disconcerting. It is not so much the EZ clips themselves as they are fantastic if you are someone who swaps drives often and tends to misplace screws in the process. The pending issue comes from the fact that MSI is using the same screw holes as for the EZ clips for the heatsink. This means either sacrificing the convenience of swapping and installing M.2 drives or removing the heatshield altogether. In short, the M.2 heatshield design on this motherboard prevents both from being used simultaneously.
The MSI MPG Z690 Carbon EK X holds plenty of features that make it a well-rounded product. For starters, it has a robust overclocking feature set for the CPU and memory in the BIOS. Those who rather set a heavy single-core overclock have the ability to do so with relative ease. Finding the right setting can be an issue due to everything essentially placed in one long list, but the search function is a welcome addition for those who know the name of the setting, but not where it is located.
What sets this motherboard apart from the pack is the clever use of space. Not only does the MSI MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi have two PCIe Gen5 slots, but they are far enough apart to avoid slot conflicts. Combined with a total of five M.2 sockets, this motherboard has the means to deliver what is required of an enthusiast-tier system at a reasonable price point. Add the rest of the feature set, like numerous fan headers, Wi-Fi 6E support, and high-fidelity audio, and it stands to be a well-rounded product.
This review isn't written to persuade you to spend what may be over your budget. For those getting into custom watercooling or already with a system, but ready to upgrade, the MSI MPG Z690 Carbon EK X is a well-priced product designed with practicality in mind. If everyone had unlimited funds, the obvious choice would be the ultra-high-end without compromises, but then this product would not exist. Many of us do not have that luxury, and others do have the mentality that less is more. Whatever the individual reasoning may be, with the help of EKWB, MSI has taken an already great mainstream motherboard and combined it in a utilitarian fashion. It is practical, by which I suppose the EK-Quantum Matrix7 monoblock presents itself as a functional object rather than fully blending in with the motherboard itself.
One could say that the monoblock has a bit of flare in and of itself, but it is contained to the upper region. This is the most straightforward approach and avoids higher cost while having it act as an anchor to an inherent pragmatic problem with boutique-grade enthusiast computers. This MSI EKWB collaboration may not have absolutely everything in terms of looks and features, but is a great entry-point for those looking to make the switch to open-loop watercooling solutions; it is not only limited to newcomers as it is priced competitively since the cost of buying the CPU block and motherboard separately may be within arm's reach of the MSI MPG Z690 Carbon EK X, but without the same full-coverage cooling capacity. I strongly recommend giving the MSI MPG Z690 Carbon EK X a closer examination if boutique-level watercooling is what you desire.