Our standard benchmarks and power tests are performed using the CPU’s stock frequencies (including stock Thermal Velocity Boost), with all power-saving features enabled. Optimized defaults are set in the BIOS and the memory is set using the XMP profiles. For this baseline testing, Windows is set to High Performance, before we switch over to Balanced during power testing, so the PC idles properly.
Synthetics are a great tool to figure out if a board is running out of spec, as identical settings should produce similar performance results. Advanced memory timings are the one place where motherboard makers can still optimize for either stability or performance, though, and those settings can impact some testing.
In our synthetic benchmarks, the B550 Tomahawk kept up with the more expensive boards, with all results falling within the expected range. If anything, the Tomahawk ran just a bit faster than the other boards in most tests.
Our timed applications have the Tomahawk performing slightly better than the rest in these benchmarks. It was the fastest in both Handbrake tests, Corona and LAME testing. While the difference isn’t that much, it still finished the fastest.
3D Games and 3DMark
We’ve recently updated our game tests to The Division 2 and Forza Horizon 4. The games are run at 1920x1080 resolution using the Ultra preset. As the resolution goes up, the CPU tends to have less of an impact and most games at this resolution in the first place. The goal with these settings is to determine if there are differences in performance at the most commonly used resolution with settings most people use or at least strive for.
During our gaming and 3DMark tests, the B550 Tomahawk performed similarly to the other B550 boards we’ve tested so far. There’s nothing out of the ordinary here.
Power Consumption / VRM Temperatures
For power testing, we used AIDA64’s System Stability Test with Stress CPU, FPU and Cache enabled, using the peak power consumption value. The wattage reading is taken from the wall via a Kill-A-Watt meter to capture the entire ecosystem. The only variable that changes is the motherboard; all other parts are the same.
At idle, the B550 Tomahawk sat at 50W, in the middle of the pack. Under load testing, it peaked at 214W, the most of B550 boards we’ve tested so far by 4W. Power use according to Hwinfo for just the CPU peaked at 141W just like the others. With the recent news coming out that some AMD motherboards are misrepresenting power use for more performance, take this with a grain of salt. Our next set of reviews will capture this new value in HWinfo, so we can better see exactly how each board behaves.
The B550 Tomahawk’s 10-phase, 60A power bits for the CPU handled our testing without issue. During stock runs, the hottest point on the VRM was 46 degrees Celsius, while in Hwinfo it topped out at 50 degrees Celsius. When our CPU was overclocked to 4.3 GHz and 1.35V, VRTM temps went up to 48 degrees Celsius with, Hwinfo reporting 52 degrees. All temperatures are well within operating parameters -- no worries here.
There are several ways to overclock on AMD platforms, depending on your goals. If your focus is single-threaded performance, you may want to focus on using Precision Boost Overdrive (PBO) and adjusting its parameters. If you can use all cores and threads, setting a manual CPU multiplier and voltage is likely the better route. While the latter clips peak single-threaded performance a bit, it increases all core/thread performance from base. To that end, we use 4.3 GHz and 1.35V for an all core/thread overclock.
The B550 Tomahawk handled our 12-core/24-thread Ryzen 9 3900X without issue. Vdroop was minimal and easily mitigated with LLC. there’s nothing to complain about here.
On the memory side, we know AMD is limited to around 3600/3733 MHz when keeping FCLK at a 1:1 ratio with the memory. With this in mind, we add two more sticks and run 4x8GB at DDR4 3600, which is AMD’s current sweet spot. Our B550 Tomahawk happily booted right up with the XMP profile without additional tweaks and successfully completed our testing.
Priced at $179.99, the B550 Tomahawk competes with boards such as the ASRock B550 Steel Legend ($179.99), Gigabyte's B550 Aorus Pro ($179.99), and the Asus Strix B550-F Gaming ($189.99) we recently reviewed. The Asus is the most attractive of the group, while the Gigabyte has the most USB ports on the rear IO.
Power delivery on all of these boards will be sufficient for, at least, an overclocked Ryzen 9 3900X as we saw during testing. Out of these boards, the Tomahawk is the only one with two Ethernet ports (1 and 2.5 GbE), but like them, is missing Wi-Fi. For the most part, the primary thing that separates these boards is listed memory support, though all should easily hit the 3600/3733 MHz ‘sweet spot’ for AMD, as mentioned.
MSI’s B550 Tomahawk resides in the very crowded $150-$200 segment of the B550 market. Here you’ll find several boards with very little difference between them, which makes choosing one over the other difficult as it boils down to price, aesthetics, and the minor features you need and want on your motherboard.
The MSI B550 MAG Tomahawk continues its streak of providing a good overall value, while delivering a solid VRM capable of driving AMD’s current processors. Performance results matched or slightly surpassed the performance of the other boards tested. Overclocking proved effortless in our testing -- all we had to do was simply adjust known settings and go.
Some potential drawbacks are the six total USB count on the rear IO as well as the lesser audio codec compared to many other similar boards. Assuming these are not deal breakers for your build, the MSI B550 MAG Tomahawk deserves consideration if your budget is around the $180 mark.
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