MSI MAG Z490 Tomahawk
~ $309 AUD
Back when I was growing up, when I was first getting into building PCs, the only way to get RGB in your machine was to steal it from the underbody kit of your street-racing older brother. Now it's everywhere. My keyboard lights up. My mouse lights up. My fans, my ram, my boys light up
(note: boys is not code for balls). It's too much.
So, upon opening the box of the MSI MAG B550 Tomahawk
, I was pleased to see the gunmetal black finish of the motherboard. The 'xenomorphic' colour scheme, to borrow an idea from Kosta
. I mean, certainly the B550 Tomahawk lights up — there are two locations for RGB 'enhancement' — but turning it off was as simple as booting into MSI
's Dragon Center
software suite. It took me literally seconds, and had the added benefit of Dragon Center downloading all relevant driver updates for me at the same time.
And so I was left with a machine as black as my soul. And giant windows through which to see it.
Naturally, because it's a B550 board I'm paring it with an AMD Ryzen 3700X
. I'm a huge fan of what AMD
has been doing these last few generations, so this was a match made in heaven. The B550 is pitched as the 'mid-range' Gen 3 chipset (compared to the X570), so a 3700X makes sense. Well, it does until Zen 3 architecture lands next month, anyway. Like Kosta's MSI MAG Z490 Tomahawk
build (basically the Intel version of this), my intention was simple — create a PC that is primed and ready for Cyberpunk 2077
The real reason we're here, using the MSI MAG B550 Tomahawk, is because it supports PCIe 4.0. It's one of the biggest reasons to go for AMD over Intel right now — because with PCIe 4.0 enabled M2 drives installed and the addition of DirectStorage
(at some point in the future), your PC will be able to do anything consoles can do. It usually takes a few years for PCs to undercut the one great advantage a new console generation has.
My intention was simple — create a PC that is primed and ready for Cyberpunk 2077 come November.
The Tomahawk comes to play in that regard too — but only sort-of. The top M2 slot features PCIe 4.0 X4, but the bottom slot is restricted to PCIe 3.0 X4. Which is not ideal, but it's not even the kicker. You can't use the bottom M2 slot and the lower PCIe slots at the same time, as they share lanes. The third PCIe slot gets disabled altogether, the M2 slot itself halves its lanes to PCIe 3.0 X2 and you're left with just the PCIe X1 slot.
This is the nature of the B550 chipset. Only one M2 slot and the PCIe 16X slot support PCIe 4.0. The X570 supports it across the board. Don't get it twisted, this isn't MSI's fault — it is the nature of the chipset itself. But what bugs me is that the SATA ports are semi-obstructed by the PCIe X16 slot. Or, rather, the graphics card I chonked into that bad boy blocks port access. The layout of the board and the need for graphics cards to grow in size with each new generation means actually accessing two of your six SATA ports is all but out of the question once you finally slot your graphics card into place. Other motherboards use SATA lanes for the M2 or lower PCIe slots, and with the SATA ports themselves being physically blocked by the graphics a similar application would make sense for the B550 Tomahawk.
In a more practical sense, you could probably live without using all four PCIe slots. Although, with no on-board wifi and middle-of-the-road on-board sound you could pretty easily find uses for two of the slots not taken up by your graphics card.
This is probably my only complaint about this board though — and it's literally a chipset 'feature' and a disagreement about MSI's workaround. It's like complaining about where the pickles were placed on my cheeseburger — I've still got pickles, they're still on the cheeseburger, it's just weird to see them on the bottom bun.
Outside of this quibble, it's a great board.
Hot Town, Summer in the City
Summer in Australia this year is going to be hot. We were already getting 30C nights 10 days into Spring, so there's zero chance that the sun is going to be chill about shit by the time November rolls around.
The real reason we're here, using the MSI MAG B550 Tomahawk, is because it supports PCIe 4.0. It's one of the biggest reasons to go for AMD over Intel right now.
Luckily the B550 Tomahawk comes pre-equipped with the ability to sink heat like the '11 Mavericks. The M.2 slots come with their own heatsinks off the bat, which is great if your drive lacks them — and they do the job, keeping my Kingston KC2500
hovering around 50C under load. The VRM heatsinks are whoppers — so big my fat fingers had a bit of trouble installing the stock AMD cooler (which I replaced with a Noctua NH-U9S when I was able).
Those heatsinks support the board's 13 Phase (10-2-1) VRM, which gives the board plenty of room to grow in the future — the fact is that AMD's backwards compatibility strategy will see the B550 remain viable across an array of CPUs for quite some time, but if you choose to stick with what you've built today you can easily eek out extra performance with very little risk thanks to a very balanced approach to power.
And with a bunch of fan slots, you're well prepared for what's going to be a scorcher this Christmas — though with just the 8-pin CPU connector on deck, you won't be overclocking too much anyway.
The RAM supports all the way up to 5100mhz but because all I play is Call of Duty Warzone
and Among Us
(and because I'm not a lunatic) I felt that 3200mhz was fine. And thanks to the extremely noob-friendly UEFI, bumping it up (to its factory rating) was extremely easy — it's two clicks when you've finished booting into the UEFI. If the UEFI has any drawbacks it's that it took a little hunting to work out how to strip back the UI so I could dig into the Advanced Settings — though once I made my way into the guts I was pleased to see a wealth of features.
CPU Socket: AM4
Chipset: AMD B550 Chipset
Graphics Interface: 1x PCI-E 4.0 x16 slot, 1x PCI-E 3.0 x16 slot (Supports 2-way AMD CrossFire Technology)
Memory Support: 4 DIMMs, Dual Channel DDR4-4866+(OC) Mhz
Storage: 2x M.2 slots, 6x SATA 6Gb/s
USB Ports: 2x USB 3.2 Gen 2 10Gbps (1 Type-C + 1 Type-A), 5x USB 3.2 Gen 1 5Gbps (1 Type-C + 4 Type-A), 6x USB 2.0,
LAN: Realtek RTL8125B 2.5G LAN, Realtek RTL8111H Gigabit LAN
Audio: 8-Channel (7.1) HD Audio with Audio Boost (ALC1200)
Working our way to the back of the board, we get to the IO panel. Things here are a little puzzling. There are six USB ports, including two hefty USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports to support something like the WD_BLACK P50 Game Drive
(although at "only" 10GBps) — all good on that front. The board itself supports more 3.2 ports at the front, including a USB C, so that's fantastic.
The B550 Tomahawk comes pre-equipped with the ability to sink heat like the '11 Mavericks.
I even understand the on-board video ports — we don't know what's in store just yet, but rumours of a Ryzen 5000 APU make them worth having. The same goes for the 2.5G LAN and 1G LAN ports — it's nice to have them for the future. What throws me is the PS2 port on a motherboard in 2020. If you're still using PS2 ports in 2020, either the keyboard in question has significant sentimental value to you or you're the IT Admin for an Amish colony.
In the end, that's sort of the story of the B550 Tomahawk — loads of fantastic options followed by one or two odd ones. It looks great, the layout is fantastic (if just a little bit cramped), it's future-proofed out the wazoo and it's supported by fantastic software both behind the scenes and post-boot thanks to MSI Dragon Center. With PCIe Gen4 built-in, it provides you with a great mid-range option to build out a machine that will be able to compete with the upcoming next-gen consoles — and it will remain relevant throughout the lifetime of those consoles thanks to the choices made.