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MSI X99A Gaming Pro Carbon Motherboard Review

Benchmarks & Conclusion

Synthetic Benchmarks

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 Gaming Benchmarks

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 The Gaming Pro Carbon performs exactly as expected across our gaming suite.

Application & Productivity Benchmarks

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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

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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.

Overclocking Performance

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.

Performance Value

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.

Final Word

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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  • JamesSneed
    Must admit its an odd time to be reviewing a X99 board with the X299 boards imminent.
    Reply
  • AgentLozen
    Jamessneed said:
    Must admit its an odd time to be reviewing a X99 board with the X299 boards iminent.
    The same thought occured to me also. I feel like Broadwell-E CPUs just don't make any sense right now with Ryzen on the market. I was go as far as to say that if you were building a high end desktop, buying Broadwell-E is a bad investment.
    Reply
  • JamesSneed
    19824098 said:
    Jamessneed said:
    Must admit its an odd time to be reviewing a X99 board with the X299 boards iminent.
    The same thought occured to me also. I feel like Broadwell-E CPUs just don't make any sense right now with Ryzen on the market. I was go as far as to say that if you were building a high end desktop, buying Broadwell-E is a bad investment.

    Not so much Ryzen, its that the Skylake-x embargo lifts this coming Monday. Then the new HEDT X299 platform will be hitting shelves in two weeks. Its mostly pointless to be reviewing something that is obsolete in three days in my opinion. I would venture to guess the Broadwell-E sales between now and two weeks are pretty much dead knowing you have a cheaper and faster Skylake-X immanent.
    Reply
  • dstarr3
    It's a good thing I built my new computer just a couple years ago. I can wait until this RGB fad is mercifully over before having to build a new one.
    Reply
  • JamesSneed
    19824261 said:
    It's a good thing I built my new computer just a couple years ago. I can wait until this RGB fad is mercifully over before having to build a new one.

    Yeah well I need a new PC so I'm in the other camp. At least it can be turned off. I just wish they did the LED thing with useful intent. Say back lighting your front panel ports and back ports so you can see where plug stuff even its its pretty dark for those of us who have our cases under desks. The ASUS Zenith board put a color coded LED in each 3.5mm audio ports on the back so you can see where to plug stuff in low light, this kind of thing would be nice.

    Reply
  • artk2219
    Honestly I kind of feel bad for the reviewer, he probably worked on this review for some time, only for us to all basically scratch our heads and ask why? With Ryzen out, and Core I9 and Threadripper releasing in a very short amount of time X99 is basically a dead platform, one that no one should be moving to unless your replacing a broken board, and dont feel like making a bigger change. But even then, this board alone is the price of a Ryzen 1600 and motherboard, and you could probably reuse the DDR 4 from the previous build (if it was broadwell or haswell based).
    Reply
  • RedJaron
    Not all reviews are posted the instant they're completed. If there's some kind of exclusive, such as a new GPU launch or tradeshow news, those will usually bump basic product reviews down. With the 1080 Ti reviews, Computex, and E3 recently, amid other things, this got delayed.
    Reply
  • JamesSneed
    19824860 said:
    Not all reviews are posted the instant they're completed. If there's some kind of exclusive, such as a new GPU launch or tradeshow news, those will usually bump basic product reviews down. With the 1080 Ti reviews, Computex, and E3 recently, amid other things, this got delayed.

    The board came out 6 months ago. :??:
    Reply
  • shrapnel_indie
    MSI X99A Gaming Pro Carbon: The board being reviewed here.
    ASRock X99 Taichi: Can't find a review on this site for it at all. Where is its review on this site?
    Gigabyte GA-X99P-SLI: Can't find a review on this site for it at all. Where is its review on this site?
    Reply
  • the nerd 389
    $280 and no PWM support on the pump header or case headers?

    MSI should be ashamed of themselves. I can, begrudgingly, forgive them for not putting PWM on the case fan headers, but the pump header? Really? There's no excuse for that at any price. That goes beyond terrible engineering, and is possibly even worthy of a class-action lawsuit.

    After all, if you put a build together with the assumption that the pump header is suitable for pumps, you could destroy the pump and it would be entirely the fault of the motherboard. Depending on the build, the loss of a pump could cause a cascade failure in the CPU and corruption of the OS.
    Reply