MSI MPG Z490 Carbon Gaming WiFi Review
The Intel Core i9-10900K is a very attractive platform. If you're like me and you've come up through the ranks from the days when CPU speeds were measured in single digits, and the thought of hitting 1 GHz on a core was the stuff of science fiction, getting more than 5 GHz across ten cores, and those ten cores have hyperthreading so are actually twenty, then it's difficult not to get a slight twitch at the prospect. Certainly if you deal with enormous photographs on a regular basis as I do then churning through your workflow in a timely manner can never have enough horsepower. Of course Intel are never going to give us an update on an existing socket, so you're left needing a Z490 motherboard.
The ones we've looked at so far have, in general, been pretty expensive so it was with a sense of relief we tested the MSI MPG Z490 Carbon Gaming WiFi, which definitely fits into the market at a more affordable price point, and discovered that it was on par with the others. Yes you're not getting all of the flash and flair that you might from something like the Godlike, and we had to push our CPU a little harder to get a similar overclock which, due to the MOSFETs on the Carbon, meant that the VRMs were a little warmer than we'd seen up to now because they were using more of their, ahem, capacity. However, just because it's slightly warmer than some seriously high end motherboards doesn't mean it's hot, merely that until now what we've reviewed was very cool indeed. Oh, by the way MSI, all motherboards are Gaming ones with WiFi, stop lengthening the name. Thank you.
In performance terms the Carbon definitely matched its contemporaries more often than not. The gap between the best performance and the worst is small enough that you're unlikely to notice it in real world usage unless you're doing nothing but rendering every moment that your computer is turned on. For those of us who just want to quickly compress our gaming footage into a format that won't smoke our internet cap restrictions then the Carbon is more than capable. It also, handily, performs very well in gaming too. We've often said that games are much more limited by the GPU you have installed than the platform upon which that GPU is installed. In the old days that might have meant saving £50 on your motherboard. These days it's the difference between getting a 2080 and a 2080 Ti. Strange times we live in for sure.
The aesthetics of the Carbon are good. Thankfully MSI have dialled back on the Carbon aspect, instead using it as an accent rather than the full shaboodle. One thing we're especially keen on is that you can turn the RGB lighting off in the BIOS if you so wish. It's just a lovely feature to have. Speaking of the BIOS it's very well laid out and clearly labelled. We're big fans of the aforementioned RGB controls but also the fan controls built in. The fact there is a "run it all at 100%" option is perfect for your first, cautious, overclocking efforts. Like all hardware the more you get used to it the less that such things are useful, but if you've just got a new cooler, or CPU, or what-have-you then knowing it'll be as cool as possible before you get into Windows and tame it with the utility software is a nice rock upon which to lean.
The Carbon range has been a robust part of the MSI lineup for a long while and the Z490 continues to marry excellent performance with buyer friendly pricing.