MSI MAG Z490 Tomahawk
~ $399 AUD
In our review of the MSI MEG X570 Unify
we referred to the motherboard as kind of like MU-TH-UR 6000 aboard the Nostromo in the sci-fi classic Alien. Of course, a motherboard for a gaming rig doesn’t have to deal with a Xenomorph roaming its PCI-Express lanes and taking out rogue bits and bytes, but it is the glue – so to speak – that connects the CPU to the system memory, GPU, and storage.
Where the Unify presents a more high-end and premium gaming motherboard solution (the X570 chipset in our review model covers the latest Ryzen CPUs
), the Tomahawk range from MSI presents a more affordable and feature packed solution. One built for delivering the sort of performance you’d want when firing up the latest Epic Games Store
freebie or whatever Microsoft
has added to Xbox Game Pass
in any given week.
Or, you’re putting together a reasonably affordable yet powerful rig that won’t break a sweat once Cyberpunk 2077
releases in November. Arguably 2020’s biggest game.
The Z490 revision of the latest Tomahawk is designed for the latest 10th Gen Intel Core processors, and on that front we paired it with an Intel Core i5 10600K on the account of the MSI MAG Z490 Tomahawk
feeling like something in that same and impressive ‘bang for your buck’ price range.
Were there any surprises? Not really. Well, one. In the end we quickly understood why the Tomahawk line of motherboards have been a go-to for many budding PC builders out there: excellent features, rugged and well-laid out design, and great tools and software to back it all up.
Okay, so that surprise mentioned above was more of a reminder in that heading into this review we forgot that the 10th Gen Intel processors don’t support PCI-E Gen 4. That’s not really a fault of the Tomahawk range per se, but instead an omission in the current crop of Intel CPUs. Motherboards after all are tied to CPUs, in that you pick a motherboard based on what CPU you have. Which means the graphics and M2 drive interfaces on the MSI MAG Z490 Tomahawk are all Gen 3. For now that is, as MSI notes that the support is there and an update could be applied to use that functionality once the next generation of Intel processors arrive.
Excellent features, rugged and well-laid out design, and great tools and software to back it all up.
This is not a deal-breaker mind you, but with Gen 4 M2 drives only just starting to crop up and the new RTX 30 series supporting PCIE Gen 4, the Z490 isn’t quite as forward thinking as we’d have liked due to this limitation. That said, all NVIDIA and AMD graphics cards built that support PCIE Gen 4 are backwards compatible and the bandwidth Gen 3 offers is more than enough for high-end gaming. In fact the jury is deliberating on whether Gen 4 offers a noticeable bump in performance when it comes to games.
CPU Socket: Socket 1200
Chipset: Intel Z490 Chipset
Graphics Interface: 2x PCI-E 3.0 x16 slots (Support 2-way AMD CrossFire Technology)
Memory Support: 4 DIMMs, Dual Channel DDR4-4800(OC)
Storage: 2x M.2 slots with Intel Optane Technology, 6x SATA 6Gb/s
USB Ports: 1x USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 20Gbps port (Type C), 1 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 10Gbps port (1 Type-A), 7 x USB 3.2 Gen 1 5Gbps ports (6 Type-A + 1 Type-C), 6 x USB 2.0 ports
LAN: Realtek 8125B 2.5G LAN. Intel I219V Gigabit LAN
Audio: 8-Channel (7.1) HD Audio with Audio Boost
Elsewhere though what you get here is impressive, memory support (and overclocking) of up-to DDR-4800 (we kept things at the more reasonable 3200 MHz), and 2 x M.2 slots for high-speed storage. Both fitted out with heatsinks too. Having two of these on hand feels like a must in 2020, because even at Gen 3 the speeds you get are just too good to pass up – magnitudes faster than a regular SATA-based SSD. That, and it’s great to have one M.2 with Windows 10 installed and one M.2 for games.
Now, you may be of the school that thinks a single high-volume M.2 could serve the same purpose, but M.2 prices greater than 1TB kind of dictate in a very formal and old-timey fashion… “Here ye here ye, for now and forth-with a two-slot M.2 solution shall be… for thee”. Ahem.
One area where the Tomahawk range stands out is the ridiculously fast dual-LAN setup, which all but mitigates any potential latency or multiplayer bandwidth issues that could lie on the PC side as opposed to the state of Australia’s NBN. No Wi-Fi 6 is an omission to be sure but in terms of network speeds you get both 2.5G and high-speed Intel Gigabit LAN.
Oh, and plenty of USB ports – with enough 3.2 offerings on the motherboard to negate any reason to even connect USB 2.0 outside of maybe a keyboard or mouse. The inclusion of USB-C is very welcome too, and one of those things normally associated with more premium boards.
Before we get to performance talk, it’s also worth talking about the look of the Tomahawk range, in that it errs on the side of a billion-dollar attack chopper. Rugged, almost militaristic in its angles, it has the look of something custom-designed for Call of Duty
. It’s not overly garish either, with minimal use of RGB that you can adjust with ease via MSI’s wonderful Dragon Center
One area where the Tomahawk range stands out is the ridiculously fast dual-LAN setup, which all but mitigates any potential latency or multiplayer bandwidth issues that could lie on the PC side.
Which yeah, brings us to the first bit about performance – setting this thing up with drivers and so forth happens automatically alongside a fresh Windows 10 install and MSI’s own Dragon Center software. Dragon Center not only presents a great monitoring tool for getting a snapshot of CPU temps and fan speeds, but it provides quick access to turn on Gaming Modes or adjust fans for silence when you simply want to spend the morning reading the Reddits as opposed to listening to your AIO cooler. The MSI BIOS interface is similarly feature packed and offers up an easy-to-use mode for those not into reading numbers and seeing the letter V over and over.
When it comes to the letter V, the Tomahawk features a thermal readout for the VRM – but sadly no Code system so you can look-up what’s happening in real-time. A sentence that will only make sense to voltage tinkerers and those that overclock. In the end though the MSI MAG Z490 Tomahawk is an impressive board for those putting together an Intel build. The only real areas it falls short are when it comes to the lack of WiFi and the on-board audio not being all that great. For the price and performance, it’s a great choice for any Intel gaming rig.