MSI Comet Lake Boards Shown: Z490 MEG, MAG and More

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Three MSI comet lake boards: one meg, one mpg and one mag

MSI have detailed their LGA1200 motherboards for Intel Comet Lake desktop chips. With “only” ten Z490 boards MSI have shown a little more restraint than some other manufacturers, and each model has a clearer purpose. The range builds on past generations with impressive new overclocking features and connectivity.

This new range holds some very exciting-sounding features. Supposedly MSI can offer a very smart auto-OC for CPU, as well as much easier memory overclocking. Extremely high memory speeds are also qualified across the range.

MSI’s CPU OC Improvements for Comet Lake

Having taken some heat for the thermals of their cheaper X570 boards in unfavourable scenarios, MSI are going all-in on VRMs for Comet Lake. Even the Z490-A pro has a 12-phase VRM, with MSI’s “extended heatsink”. This is a clever design seen initially on B450 and B360 boards, that takes advantage of the rear fans that nearly all cases have. By making the VRM heatsink tall, it puts it in the path of airflow to that rear fan – and also provides an aesthetically pleasing cover for the IO area.

Even the Z490-A PRO has a large extended heatsink

Moving up the models, the MPG GAMING CARBON WIFI takes this to the next level with 12 phases of 60A power stages. Meanwhile the MEG series all use top tier 90A power stages with 16 phases, or 8 on the ITX-sized Z490I UNIFY. MSI are using an 8-phase control scheme for MEG boards with ‘phase controllers’ (doublers) in synchronous mode. This means each pair of phases is normally driven together with fast response, but the doubler can still balance current between them as needed.

8-pin CPU power connectors on an MSI comet lake boards connect to 16 90A power stages, which go through 16 titanium chokes to an Intel Comet Lake CPU. Control comes from a controller via 8 Intersil phase controllers.
The 16-phase VRM for MSI’s ATX+ MEG Z490 boards

Like ASRock, MSI have also chosen to equip their top-end MEG boards with semi-passive VRM fans. Speaking on livestream, MSI engineer Hendry Tsai commented “In the end, the Godlike is an overclocking motherboard. Active cooling is the best weapon for overclockers.” MSI are building their MEG boards for the most extreme scenarios.

An exploded view of the MEG Z490 UNIFY, showing the semi-passive fan

It’s not just VRMs though. MSI’s “Automated CPU Vcore Adjustment” is an interesting featured aimed at easing overclocking. Based on extensive internal testing, MSI believe they can extrapolate what voltage an individual comet lake chip will need for what speed. Ordinarily, overclocks using presets would risk being unstable or use excessive voltage. Now though, MSI say their auto voltage settings can be a lot smarter.

MSI’s Memory OC Improvements for Comet Lake

Some manufacturers have changed memory layout this generation, with Gigabyte moving to daisy-chain. MSI were already on daisy-chain for mainstream platforms, and are sticking with it. However, there is still a big change for Z490. Interdigital Tabbed Routing is a new kind of black magic that minimises noise on the memory traces. By adding small tabs, capacitance is created that helps filter out noise. Plus, since the traces are technically wider where the tabs are, impedance is reduced.

MSI have also improved their Memory TryIt! technology for this generation. Memory TryIt! provides an easy way to overclock memory, with an extensive set of presets users can try. With sensible presets, this should make memory OC easier while keeping results good. There’s now over 100 profiles available, with many fine-tuned for specific ICs. MSI have name-dropped Hynix DJR and Micron C9BJZ as ICs that are optimised for. In-house MSI overclocker Toppc was the first to break the 6GT/s barrier using DJR, and C9BJZ holds the current world record for memory frequency.

Yet another new feature on Z490 is Memory Force. This is a big claim, but MSI say that Memory Force can show you how much OC headroom your memory has. The higher the “memory force” reading, the more headroom you have. MSI even claim that Memory Force can report different values depending on the installed CPU, since the memory controller plays a part.

Astonishingly, MSI have qualified modules up to DDR4-4800 even on their base model Z490-A PRO. These extreme speeds are of course highly dependent on CPU. If the memory controller in the CPU can’t keep up, you’re not hitting top speeds. Still, this is a big claim. Credence is added by the fact that even the Z490-A PRO has a 6-layer PCB.

Connectivity

MSI are embracing Thunderbolt, with one port on their Z490I Unify and two on the Z490 Godlike. MSI are also equipping selected models with a 20Gbps USB 3.2 gen2x2 Type-C port, using an ASMedia 3241 controller. Type-C is further supported by front panel headers for USB Type-C across the entire MSI Z490 range, starting at 5Gbps gen1 speeds.

All MSI Z490 boards feature at least one 2.5Gbps ethernet port, using the latest Realtek RTL8125B controller. Now, many in the tech community swear by Intel networking products above all others. Speaking onstream, MSI’s Michiel Berkhout said “We did a lot of testing and this type of network controller gave us the best results on 2.5Gbit LAN, and it also fit best in our schedule in terms of timing, so we went with the Realtek one. Performance-wise, I think this is a great network controller”.

You know the 2.5Gbps ethernet on the MEG Z490 UNIFY is fast because there are orange lines drawn in

MSI are also PCIe 4.0 ready on all their Z490 boards. However, there’s a lot less noise about this from Team Dragon than some other brands. The current Comet Lake chips only provide PCIe 3.0, so MSI may want to avoid promising something that relies on Intel to deliver. Nonetheless, if a PCIe 4.0 CPU comes out on LGA1200, MSI’s Z490 lineup will be able to take advantage of the PCIe 4.0 capability.

Commenting on the cost of PCIe 4.0 readiness, MSI engineer Hendry Tsai said “for motherboard cost it’s quite a big portion […] like 10 plus dollars”. MSI are using at least 6 PCB layers for their entire Z490 lineup, as part of PCIe 4.0 readiness. This also benefits memory overclocking and VRM temperatures. The MEG Z490 Godlike pushes it to 8 layers, and the ITX-sized MEG Z490I Unify uses 10 layers to cram everything in.

Availability and Pricing

MSI have shared official MSRP pricing for their Comet Lake motherboards, covering both the US and Europe. EU prices include VAT, whereas US prices exclude sales tax.

Motherboard US MSRP (excl tax) EU MSRP (inc tax)
MEG Z490 GODLIKE $749 €899
MEG Z490 ACE $399 €489
MEG Z490 UNIFY $299 €329
MEG Z490I UNIFY $269 €299
MPG Z490 GAMING CARBON WIFI $269 €299
MPG Z490 GAMING EDGE WIFI $199 €239
MPG Z490M GAMING EDGE WIFI $189 €229
MPG Z490 GAMING PLUS $169 €189
MAG Z490 TOMAHAWK $189 €219
Z490-A PRO $159 €179

 

MSI Z490 motherboards are due to be available worldwide, including from Newegg in the US and Overclockers in the UK. Stock should come in around the retail launch of Comet Lake processors on the 20th of May.

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