UK price (as reviewed): £469.99 (inc. VAT)
US price (as reviewed): $499.99 (exc. tax)
More often than not, we see a new chipset with a new generation of CPUs, but with AMD's extended support with its Socket TR4 now spanning two generations of CPUs, including the move to 32 cores with the Threadripper 2990WX, many X399 boards are now over a year old.
In addition, we haven't seen the same kind of release bonanza as we had with X399 and the launch of Threadripper last year, but that hasn't stopped board manufacturers either releasing new models, as is the case with MSI here and Gigabyte with the X399 Aorus Xtreme, or in the case of Asus, a cooling-boosted ROG Zenith Extreme. Today is all about the MSI MEG X399 Creation, which will set you back a similar price to the Asus board at £470.
We don't think you'd be too disappointed aesthetically for splashing out, and there's plenty of RGB lighting to go around too, illuminating the I/O shroud, chipset heatsink, and underside of the PCB in addition to three-pin addressable and four-pin 5050 RGB LED headers on the PCB. This is one serious motherboard in terms of specifications, too. That huge B2 Spirit stealth bomber-shaped heatsink covers a trio of M.2 slots that support either PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe SSDs or those of the SATA M.2 variety with a large chipset heatsink underneath too. Using our Samsung 960 Evo, the heatsinks saw a load temperature drop of 19°C in a looped run of CystalDiskMark.
The PCB is pretty crowded despite the extra real-estate from it being E-ATX, but whether you'll be dabbling in extreme overclocking, high-end 3D modelling workloads with your shiny new Threadripper 2990WX, or just a mix of demanding content creation and high-resolution gaming, there's enough power, cooling, and other features here to sink a battleship.
One of the most talked-about features of the board since we first saw it at Computex is its power delivery. Just when you think you're done counting chokes, you find more hindwing away somewhere. In total there are a staggering 19 power phases - 16 for the CPU and three for the SOC, with the hot spots cooled by massive twin heat pipe-linked heatsinks. It's a monster to be sure, and it did a good job of handling a Threadripper 2990WX in our review of that CPU too.
There are plenty of overclocking and testing tools, from debug LEDs at the top of the board to the usual POST code display, power and reset buttons, and MSI's Game Boost Knob, which allows you to dial in overclocking presets or for some additional control. There are also jumpers that can be shorted to increase or decrease the base clock, while on the rear I/O panel you get MSI's USB BIOS flashback and CMOS clear buttons. As well as these you get a trio of thermal probe headers with probes included in the box. There are ten fan headers too including the usual high amp one dedicated for water cooling pumps that can dish out up to 2A/24W, and all are fully configurable in MSI's EFI or software of course.
If the power delivery didn't blow you away then the storage and connectivity options will. There are eight SATA 6Gbps ports in addition to the three M.2 ports, twin USB 3.0 headers, and a USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C header as well - just as well, as the one on the rear I/O panel is limited to USB 3.0 speeds. As if this wasn't enough, MSI also includes the crazy M.2 Xpander-Aero - a quad M.2 port 16x PCIe dual-slot expansion card. This beast houses PCIe-only M.2 SSDs and includes a large fan-assisted cooler, chilling the heatsink that sits on top of the SSDs to hopefully end all worries about them throttling.
It's an acceptable inclusion on a super-premium motherboard, but we do have to question its presence here given that, lack of a U.2 port aside, you already get massive I/O and three heatsink-equipped M.2 ports on the PCB - enough for a 6TB array of Samsung NVMe SSDs. The fact it's dual-slot also means that you'll be losing precious space if you also intend to have multiple GPUs or other expansion cards. It's suitably extreme to be sure, but we did get a little more excited by the accessories in the Asus ROG Zenith Extreme, which sported a 10Gb network card, fan mount, USB driver stick, and other gubbins.
Unsurprisingly, you get full-fat Realtek ALC 1220 audio with gold-plated connectors on the rea I/O panel. You'll also find nine Type-A USB 3.0 ports as well as the Type-C USB 3.0 port and BIOS-related buttons too. Both Ethernet ports are Intel-powered, and there's also an Intel Wireless-AC 9260 802.11ac card that's Bluetooth 5 capable too.
October 15 2020 | 14:00