UK price (as reviewed): £399.99 (inc. VAT)
US price (as reviewed): $399.99 (exc. tax)
We're finally here - our first Z490 motherboard review and think what you want about Intel's CPUs - there are some cracking looking motherboards out there and many have some seriously potent cooling and power to deal with Intel's new 10th Gen CPUs. Today's example is MSI's MEG Z490 Ace, with MEG generally pointing you at the fact that this is a premium motherboard. More specifically, all of MSI's MEG Z490 boards have rather potent VRMs and cooling and include a chipset fan or fans to boost cooling when things get toasty.
As you can see above, the board has a huge heatsink array for the trio of M.2 ports, with each port sporting its own separate piece. This is good news as it means that at least two of the ports will be reachable without having to remove your graphics card, which can't be said of boards that have a single, large heatsink. After a trio of back-to-back CrystalDiskMark runs, our Samsung 960 Evo hit a peak of 49°C. Two of these support either PCIe or SATA 6Gbps M.2 SSDs while a third is limited to PCIe only, although these days PCIe NVMe SSDs are probably going to make up the vast majority of enthusiast hardware. Those M.2 ports share bandwidth with three of the SATA 6Gbps ports so it's worth noting you can't use all storage ports at the same time - that goes for most boards that mix three M.2 ports with half-a-dozen SATA ports, though. It's easily one of the best-looking boards we've seen, with restrained but vibrant lighting that splashes across the PCH heatsink and I/O shroud.
Popping off that shroud reveals the tiny VRM fan, which draws air in from the I/O panel and out towards the CPU socket through the left VRM heatsink. The two heatsinks are connected via a heatpipe so this fan can essentially add active cooling to the entire VRM cooling array - handy if you'll be pushing that Core i9-10900K to a hefty overclock. There are also backplates that aid cooling, too.
MSI uses eight Intersil phase controllers with 16 power stages (actually, 16+1 in total) rated at 90A and as we've mentioned, these are actively cooled. However, even in the fan's boost mode where it spins up at the lowest temperature and after 10 minutes of full non-AVX load with our Core i9-10900K, the VRMs sat below 55°C and the fan failed to reach its start-up temperature. It's clear, then, that it's only going to be needed in extreme situations and that the cooling here is more than adequate of dealing with stock speed or modest overclocks without needing active cooling. However, while the VRM fan is listed in MSI's Dragon Centre software, you're not able to do anything other than change profiles.
There are plenty of enthusiast-focused tools on the PCB itself and you get power and reset buttons, an LED POST code display, eight fan headers. However, there are no thermal probe headers, which means no way to tie in alternative temperature inputs to the onboard fan control. At £400, we'd prefer to see this kind of flexibility, especially for water-cooling purposes.
Below, the rear I/O panel is reasonably well-equipped although again at £400 we'd prefer to see more than seven Type-A USB ports and two of these are USB 2.0. You do get an ASMedia USB 3.2 2x2 20Gbps Type-C port, but there's no Thunderbolt here. You also get a USB BIOS Flashback button, CMOS clear button, antenna connectors for the 802.11ax WIFi and the full complement of ports for the Realtek ALC1220 audio. As with all of MSI's Z490 boards, you get a 2.5 Gigabit Realtek LAN port, and with the MEG Z490 Ace there's also a standard Intel Gigabit port.
November 6 2020 | 17:30