Benchmarks & Conclusion
We're looking for oddities in the bench scores. Boring benchmarks are good benchmarks for motherboards. Dramatic scores are due to motherboards cheating with hidden clock boosts, while a board lagging behind is usually a configuration conflict.
The beefy 20-thread CPU makes itself known in the 3DMark physics scores, but it's obvious the older 290X is holding back the full system potential. That's okay as we're comparing system consistency, not going for benchmark records, and the Gaming Pro Carbon shows no problem in our Futuremark suite.
As with Futuremark, we see great consistency in the Sandra tests. The small niggles often come down to BCLK differences across boards. A 0.02 MHz difference in BCLK means 0.7 MHZ difference at the CPU. That's enough to show a small difference in a bench test.
The RAM bandwidth is something else altogether. MSI boards usually set a good line between stability and performance in the auto secondary timings, and the Carbon doesn't disappoint. However, the numbers above are only the result of the board being set to a static 35x CPU multiplier for the bench suite. Left at pure stock settings, RAM bandwidth at JEDEC standard topped out at 39 GB/s. That's only a worry for those who don't overclock the Gaming Pro Carbon in any way, which is practically no one.
The new NVMe drive struts its stuff in DiskSpd. The GPC's 128K write speed might seem worrisome compared to competing boards. However, you'd need to be transferring from a massive RAM drive or other PCIe-based storage to ever notice the hold up.
The Gaming Pro Carbon performs exactly as expected across our gaming suite.
Application & Productivity Benchmarks
Our real-world applications don't reveal any problems with the Carbon. The GPC's slight advantage in disk speed (minus 128k write) explains the 7-Zip advantage. A small speed up in Illustrator is the only item of note.
Power & Temperature
MSI motherboards tend to be power efficient, and the Gaming Pro Carbon is no different. Less power draw usually translates to lower temperatures, which we also see. The large VRM heatsink does its job well.
Overall Performance & Efficiency
Apart from the GPC's victory in the Adobe suite, we see less than 1% deviations across the line.
Doing the same amount of work on less power is the recipe for efficiency.
While CPU overclocking benefits are straightforward, memory is a little different. Cranking up RAM frequency alone can actually impair performance if the timings are too lax. The Carbon's auto timings are sufficiently tight to ensure you're getting the performance you think you are with premium RAM. It's not the fastest RAM board available, but it's toward the top.
As we so often see, pricier boards generally take a hit when we consider value. While the GPC is cheaper than top-shelf boards available, at more than $300 it's still pricey for most people. But not all metrics of performance and customer satisfaction are empirically measureable.
I think "hit and miss" sums up the X99A Gaming Pro Carbon. It hits a lot of the higher-end points you don't always see in this price range, particularly proper three-way GPU support. The board has dual firmware chips. CPU overclocking is good. RAM overclocking is adequate. And the M.2 socket still works in 3.0 x4 mode with three GPUs.
Unfortunately, MSI cuts some corners in noticeable places. The firmware chips aren't socketed for replacement. No voltage check points are included. The BCLK isn't as configurable as we would like. The pump specific fan header offers nothing special for a lot of liquid cooling users. And only one fan header supports PWM.
As always, it comes down to price. For most users, the GPC's shortcomings would be inconveniences, not system hampering flaws. But most people don't want to pay extra for a board that doesn't meet all their needs. The lone feature that really sets the board apart is the forward-facing type-C port. Had it been a true USB 3.1 port, the GPC's value would increase greatly. But at only 5Gb/s, it doesn't have much usefulness over the other two 3.0 headers on either side.
If you absolutely need that Type-C port, the Gaming Pro Carbon is toward the top of a very short list. Alternatively, if you want top-notch X99 CPU overclocking on the cheap, the GPC is a great option. Otherwise I'd say its $320 MSRP is at least $20 too high. It still deserves the Tom's Hardware Approved stamp. Under $300 the board becomes a more compelling product. If you can find it on sale in the $275 range, it becomes a recommended buy.
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