MotherboardsTech Review

MSI MAG Z390 TOMAHAWK

MSI Putting on the pressure!

Key Features

  • Price: 159.99 USD
  • ATX Form Factor
  • Intel  Z390 chipset
  • LGA 1151 CPU socket
  • Compatible with 8th and 9th Gen. Intel CPUs
  • 4 x  16GB 4,266 MHz DDR4, maximum 64GB
  • 3 x PCI-E 3.0 x16, 2 x PCI-E 3.0 X1
  • Back IO : PS2 connector, 2 x USB 3.1 2nd gen. Type-A, 4 x USB 3.1 (1st Gen), 2 x Gigabit Ethernet, 1 x HDMI (1.4b), 1 x DisplayPort (1.2),S1220 Realtek 8 channels audio.
  • 2 x M.2 SSD (Optane ready), 6 x SATA 3
  • 2x CrossFire support, no SLI support

The Tomahawk is MSI work horse. Its best seller. It tries to make otherwise expensive features, available to the greater number, and have a particular focus on its aesthetics.

MSI also did try to deliver a premium feel to a floor-bottom budget board.

Stakes could not be higher for MSI.

  • 2 SATA cables
  • M.2 SSD screws and screw raisers
  • Driver DVD
  • Manual

The MAG Z390 TOMAHAWK

First and foremost, it is an ATX motherboard which will fit virtually any case you throw at it. Nothing new there. Note that there is no PCB back shield on this board.

MSI MAG Z390 TOMAHAWK

The Z390 chipset

The big difference in this new series is, of course, the chipset: The Z390.

What you need to know here is that the Z390 is in all and for all identical to its predecessor, the Z370. The only noticeable differences are the addition of 2 features (marked in red below) :

Intel Z370 versus Z390

Intel Chipset Z390 Z370
Overclocking Support Yes Yes
On-CPU PCI Express* 3.0 Configurations 1X16 or 2X8 or 1×8+2X4 1×16 or 2×8 or 1×8+2×4
Independent Display Ports / Pipes Support 3/3 3/3
Memory Channels / DIMMs per Channel 2/2 2/2
Processor Overclocking Yes Yes
Integrated Intel Wireless-AC Support (CNVi) Yes No
Intel Optane Memory Support Yes Yes
Maximum High Speed I/O Lanes 30? 30
Maximum USB 3.1 Ports: Gen 2 / Gen 1 6 / 10 0 / 10
Maximum SATA 6Gb/s Ports 6 6
Maximum PCI Express* 3.0 lanes 24 (v3.0) 24 (v3.0)
Intel Rapid Storage Technology Yes Yes
Maximum Intel RST for PCIe Storage Ports (x2 M.2 or x4 M.2) 3 3
Intel RST PCIe RAID 0, 1, 5 Yes Yes
Intel RST SATA RAID 0, 1, 5, 10 Yes Yes
Intel RST for CPU-attached Intel PCIe Storage Yes Yes

Other than that, they are the very same chipset, which is a good thing since both the Z370 and Z390 can support the same processors:

  • 8th Generation Intel Processors (Coffee Lake)
  • 9th Generation Intel Processors (Coffee Lake refresh)


Socket

MSI MAG Z390 TOMAHAWK

Luckily for all of us, this board still uses the highly compatible 1151 LGA CPU socket. Therefore, if you have installed any Intel CPU in the past decade, you should feel right at home.

And, as previously stated, the CPU socket will support both the 8th and 9th generation of Intel’s Icore CPUs.

VRM

The MSI MAG Z390 TOMAHAWK comes with 8 phases. These can power any CPUs of the 8th or 9th Generation Intel Icore CPUs, but it does not do so equally.

When confronted with an 8 physical cores CPU, such as the i9-9900K, despite the presence of MSI’s clever and innovative extended heatsink, VRMs are heating… and heating a lot! We got some serious thermo-throttling as soon as you try any kind of overclocking profile.

MSI MAG Z390 TOMAHAWK

Therefore, I would not advice to use the MAG Z390 TOMAHAWK with anything beyond a 6 physical cores CPU (i.e.: i7-9700K).

MSI MAG Z390 TOMAHAWK

I did mention the signature extended heat-sinks that MSI has been introducing with its new MPG/MAG/MEG series of motherboard.

Even though in our case, it shows to be not enough to keep the i9-9900k from overheating its VRMs, I love this feature.

RAM

MSI MAG Z390 TOMAHAWK

RAM wise, nothing surprising. We have the usual dual channel configuration which can support (for now) up to 64gb of DDR4 RAM, overclock-able up to 4,400 GHz. This is 166 MgHZ more than its direct competition.

M.2 SSD

MSI MAG Z390 TOMAHAWK

Storage wise, we have a dual M.2 SSD configuration. . And of course, the Z390 chipset is Optane ready. This will allow our M.2 SSD sticks to swap data up to 32 Gbps.

With this kind of theoretical transfers, do not be surprised to see your M.2 SSDs sticks overheating, and thermo-throttling.

MSI MAG Z390 TOMAHAWK

And with the placement of the longer M.2 SSD which will find itself stuck under the video-card, thing can only goes worse.

MSI MAG Z390 TOMAHAWK

That is why one of the M.2SSD (the shorted one), has been equipped with a thermo-padded heat-shield. Therefore, this is where I would recommend to place a bootable M.2 SSD if any.

SATA 3.0

MSI MAG Z390 TOMAHAWK SATA connectors

MSI MAG Z390 TOMAHAWK

For more classical storage solutions, we have our usual SATA 3.0 plugs. 6 in total, with a transfer rate of 6 Gbps each.

PCIe Lanes

MSI MAG Z390 TOMAHAWK

The MAG MSI Z390 TOMAHAWK  has five 3rd Generation PCI expresses.:

  • 3   16 lanes with different BUS speeds
  • 2    single lanes , single speeds
MSI MAG Z390 TOMAHAWK

PCIe wise, we are operating on the minimum requirements.

Only the closest 16 lanes  PCIe slot can operate up to 16 full BUS speed. Therefore, your unique video card should be here for optimal performances.

And that is precisely why, it has been metabolically reinforced.

The second 16 lanes PCIe slot has been capped to only 4 BUS speed and not metallically re-enforced, which makes perfect sense since the MSI MAG Z390 TOMAHAWK does not support SLI, Nvidia’s multiple GPU standard.

BUT… in a chilling twist, this board is apparently CrossFire compatible, meaning that it can operate 2 AMD video cards. And that’s were I find myself scratching my head.

The second PCIe is capped at 4 BUS speed, not metallically re-enforced, so if you did decide to go ahead with a second AMD video card, you d find yourself in an obviously handicapped system with both cards running at 4 BUS speed (multiple GPUs run as fast as the slowest one present), and possibly could damage the board.

BACK IO

First, let me note that we have an integrated I/O shield. Which is ALWAYS a good start.

MSI MAG Z390 TOMAHAWK

Starting from the left, we have :

  •  PS/2 keyboard/mouse connector
  • x2 USB 2.0 RX/TX 480 Mbps
  • x4 USB 3.1 2nd Gen. ( 3 type A + 1 type C) RX/TX 10 Gbps
  • x2 Display output : 1 HDM 1.4B + DisplayPort 1.2
  • x2  Gigabit LAN
  • Realtek S1220A

CNVI WiFi

MSI MAG Z390 TOMAHAWK

We can upgrade our board’s connectivity with CNVI module which will use the Z390’s nest WiFi ability and deliver a 802.11ac / 1.73 Gbps connection (including 5.0 Bluetooth )

Worth nothing, our connection is also  2×2 MU-MIMO compliant.

Asus ROG MAXIMUS XI Hero (WiFi)
MSI MAG Z390 TOMAHAWK

The new 2×2 MU-MIMO WiFi standard operates multiple download streams (when used and paired with an MU MIMO router), resulting in better coverage and more dedicated signal for each of your MU-MIMO devices.

On the MSI MAG Z390 TOMAHAWK, we can hope for WiFi speeds up to 1.7 Gbps, or that’s what Intel claims. I did not manage to go beyond 1.1 Gbps myself.

Front Panel connectors

MSI MAG Z390 TOMAHAWK

We have 1 USB 3.1 2nd gen type C front panel connector as well as a USB 3.1 1st gen type A (classical) front panel connector.

In addition, we have 2 USB 2.0 front panel connectors. Worth noting, these are not only relevant for data transfer, but they are also very useful  for All-In-One water pumps energy supply and PWM abilities, or for Intelligent PSUs for in and out wattage readout / monitoring.

Fan & Pump Connectors

MSI MAG Z390 TOMAHAWK

We have 7 native PWM fan connectors, 1 of which can be used for your water pumps. And that will not make our enthusiastic friends dream, but it will be plenty to run a descent single-loop custom water cooling

I would have loved to see an additional Water-Pump connector, to allow a dual custom water cooling configuration.

Mystic Light Sync

As in every major motherboard manufacturer these days, MSI has its own software controlled RGB Syn effects: Mystic Light Sync.

It’ll allow you to harmonize and sync colour themes and RGB effect through your builds and supported components.

MSI MAG Z390 TOMAHAWK

PCB

We have 2 nest RGB strips present on the board.

MSI MAG Z390 TOMAHAWK

PCB

One right below the PCB

MSI MAG Z390 TOMAHAWK

Under the Heat-shield

And one right under the chipset heat-shield.

But if that is not enough, you can add up to 2 additional RGB strips!

MSI MAG Z390 TOMAHAWK

And even an Addressable RGB connector. At this price level, this is luxury.


EZ Debug LED

MSI MAG Z390 TOMAHAWK

This is one feature you do not always see at this price point.

Since we do not have a Q-LED screen, the EZ debugger takes a leading role in guiding us in case of trouble.


Conclusion

The TOMAHAWK is clearly aiming at pleasing budget gamers and tries to deliver on performance, aesthetics and some premium features (integrated IO shield, dual gigabit LAN, EZ debugger).

My only issue here, is the single video card approach. Extra PCIe lanes are available both in the CPU and the Chipset, therefore it would have cost nothing to the manufacturer to allow up to 8 BUS speed on the second 16 slot PCIe, and therefore allow a multiple GPU configuration.

And do not be fooled by the CrossFire compatibility of this board. Having the second PCIe slot caped at 4 BUS speed is a deal breaker since both cards would run at that speed.

In essence, this is a single GPU motherboard. Making it a rather poor future-proof product.

VRM wise, on paper, the MAG Z390 TOMAHAWK can run and support any type of 8th or 9th gen Intel Icore processors, but again, in practice you can not fully run 8th physical Core CPU(s) without risking heavy  VRM over heating, and subsequently,   rather severe thermo-throttling.

Here again, a rather imitating design  which will limit your CPU compatibility to the i7 series and nothing higher.

It is clear that the MAG Z390 TOMAHAWK, at this price line will suit only first time builders or the most budget friendly builds out there.

Within its limitations, it delivers good and robust performances, and is surprisingly reliable and easy to debug. You simply need to know what you are getting yourself into. Nothing crazy.

If you are looking for a more enthusiastic, future-proof motherboard, then, pass your way, and start looking at 200+ price segments.

QUICK OVERVIEW

CPU & northbridge support

Supported Processor
8th & 9th Gen. Intel Icore Processors
Chipset
Z390
CPU socket
LGA1151

 

Memory

Slots
4 (dual channel)
Max System Memory (Gigabytes)
64
Memory Technology
DDR4
Maximum Clock (MgHz)
4,400

Connectors

USB 2.0 
2 on-board
USB 3.1  (1st Gen)
2 on-board
USB 3.1 (2nd Gen)
4 Type A IO
LAN
2 up to 1 Gb/s
WiFi
802.11AC + 2×2 MU MIMO + Bluetooth 5.0

 

 

 

All right... but

PERFORMANCES
OVERCLOCKING
DESIGN
DURABILITY
PRICE
ACCESSORIES
LOOKS
CUSTOM WATER COOLING
TROUBLESHOOTING
CONNECTIVITY

Good value within its limitations

Within its limitations, it delivers good and robust performances, and is surprisingly reliable and easy to debug. You simply need to know what you are getting yourself into. Nothing crazy. If you are looking for a more enthusiastic, future-proof motherboard, then, pass your way, and start looking at 200+ price segments.

BUY IT NOW
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Laurent

The never aging alpha geek is still here! Don't you dare question me!

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