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The MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon Motherboard Review!

The MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon is one of the first Intel Z390 motherboards to hit the market in support of the 9th Generation Intel Core i9-9900K processor.

Let’s unbox and take a close look at the MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon motherboard. We will investigate its key features and find out if this is the Intel Z390 motherboard to pair with your 9th Generation Intel Core processor!

MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon Price + Availability

Our review sample is of the “standard” MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon motherboard with an official price of US$ 199 / ~£159 / RM 834.

MSI also offers an AC variant that adds WiFi-AC connectivity, called the MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon AC. It has an official price of US$ 229 / ~£183 / RM 960..

Here are some direct purchase links of the MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon (prices accurate as of 14 December 2018) :

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And here are some direct purchase links of the MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon AC (prices accurate as of 14 December 2018) :

 

Unboxing The MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon

Let’s take a quick look around the MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon (US | UK | MY) motherboard’s box before we unbox it, and find out what it contains!

Inside the box, you should find the following items :

  • One MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon motherboard
  • One MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon User Guide
  • One MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon Quick Installation Guide
  • One Intel Z390 chipset driver and utility DVD
  • One set of MSI case badge, pamphlet and registration card
  • One set of twelve SATA cable labels
  • Two M.2 NVMe SSD screws
  • One NVIDIA SLI HB bridge
  • One set of Mystic Light, RAINBOW and CORSAIR extension cables for LED lighting
  • Two SATA cables

Next Page > MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon Up Close + Full Specifications

 

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The MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon Up Close

The MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon (US | UK | MY) is a full-sized ATX motherboard, built around the new Intel Z390 chipset.

This is one of MSI’s premium model for the mainstream enthusiast / gamers market. Hence, it boasts premium features like Mystic Light RGB lighting, PCI-E Steel Armor reinforcement, and Audio Boost 4 capabilities.

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MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon Specifications

SpecificationsMSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon
Form FactorATX
- 9.6-inch x 12-inch
- 24.3 cm x 30.4 cm
ChipsetIntel Z390
SocketLGA 1151
Supported Processors8th Gen / 9th Gen Intel Core or Pentium Gold or Celeron processors
Memory Slots4 x DDR4 DIMM Slots
- Dual Channel
- Up to 64 GB
Memory SupportOfficial : DDR4-2133 / DDR4-2400 / DDR4-2666
OC : DDR4-2800 to DDR4-4400
PCI Express Slots3 x PCIe 3.0 x16
3 x PCIe 3.0 X1
Multi-GPU Support2-Way NVIDIA SLI
2-Way AMD CrossFire
M.2 Sockets2 x PCIe 3.0 x 4
SATA Ports6 x SATA 6 Gbps
RAID SupportRAID 0 / 1 / 5 / 10
LAN SupportIntel i219-V Gigabit LAN
Rear I/O Ports1 x USB 3.1 Gen2 Type C
3 x USB 3.1 Gen1 Type A
2 x USB 2.0
1 x DisplayPort 1.2
1 x HDMI 1.4
1 x PS/2 combo port
1 x Gigabit LAN port
1 x Optical S/PDIF out
5 x Audio ports
I/O Port Headers1 x USB 3.1 Gen2 Type C
4 x USB 3.1 Gen1 Type A
4 x USB 2.0
1 x Serial Port
1 x TPM header
Audio ProcessorRealtek ALC1220P
- Supports 7.1 channel HD Audio
I/O ControllerNuvoton NCT6797D
Hardware MonitorsCPU / system temperature detection
CPU / system fan speed detection
CPU / system fan speed control
Fan Headers1 x 4-pin CPU fan header
1 x 4-pin water pump header
5 x 4-pin system fan headers
Debug LED4 x EZ Debug LED lights
Onboard Power / Reset ButtonNo / No
WarrantyThree Years

Next Page > CPU Power, DDR4 + PCIe Slots, M.2 Sockets

 

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CPU Power & Overclockability

The MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon (US | UK | MY) has what appears to be 11+2 phases, which increases overclockability, while reducing electromagnetic interference with minimal power loss.

It has a fully-digital PWM architecture with load-line calibration. Although high quality (and expensive) analog PWM exists, digital PWM allows for more accurate control of the power frequency and modulation.

The MOSFETs and inductors are kept cool by aluminium alloy heatsinks, which help to increase reliability and longevity of the VRM.

To keep extreme gamers and overclockers happy, there are a total of SEVEN fan headers peppered throughout the motherboard. One of these is a dedicated water pump header that supports up to 2 amps, giving you full control of the water pump speed.

If there are any enthusiast-grade features that we regret were not included in this motherboard, it would be the Power and Reset buttons.

 

DDR4 Memory Slots

The MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon (US | UK | MY) has four DDR4 DIMM slots. The Intel Z390 chipset only supports DDR4 memory up to 2666 MHz, but the Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon allows for overclocked memory clock speeds of up to 3600 MHz, with all four slots populated.

If you can live with just two slots, you can further push their clock speeds up to 4400 MHz! This is made possible by its fully-isolated memory circuitry and improved layout, which reduces interference for a cleaner signal.

The four memory slots are also covered with Steel Armor. In this case, it is not meant to add strength to the slots, but to protect them against electromagnetic interference.

 

PCI Express Slots

The MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon (US | UK | MY) motherboard has six PCI Express slots – three full-sized PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots, and three smaller PCI Express 3.0 x1 slots.

The first two PCI Express x16 slots are sheet metal reinforced – what MSI calls Steel Armor. They increase the rigidity of the PCI Express slots, allowing them to support heavy graphics cards. The third PCI Express x16 slot lacks this Steel Armor reinforcement.

The top-most PCI Express 3.0 x16 slot operates at full x16 speed with a single graphics card.

If you have two graphics cards, you will need to install them in the first and second PCIe x16 slots; and they will both run at x8 speed. The third PCIe x16 slot only runs at x4 speed.

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Dual PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 Sockets

The MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon  motherboard has two PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 sockets. They support M.2 solid state drives, with lengths of 42 mm, 60 mm, 80 mm or 110 mm. The third PCI Express x16 slot (which runs at x4 speed) can be used to add a third SSD. You can run them in RAID 0, 1, 5 or 10.

Only the second M.2 socket has a heatsink, and it’s a large one. If you intend to install only one M.2 SSD, then you should obviously install it in the lower M.2 socket, so the drive is cooled.

The upper M.2 socket is “naked”, although you can always install a DIMM cooler to help keep both the memory modules and the SSD installed in this socket cool.

Next Page > SATA Ports, Audio Boost 4 with Nahimic 3, I/O Ports, Mystic Light

 

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Limited SATA Ports

The MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon (US | UK | MY) has six standard SATA 6Gb/s ports. There are no SATA Express ports. But what’s really problematic is the stacked side-facing design. They may prove to be troublesome to access in tight cases. If only MSI included a few vertical ports.

Do note that the first M.2 socket (M2_1) uses the SATA_2 port, if you opt to use it in the SATA mode. In addition, the second M.2 socket (M2_2) uses both the SATA_5 and SATA_6 ports in PCIe mode.

What this basically means is you have limited support for SATA drives with the Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon. It’s not the end of the world, but don’t expect to run two M.2 SSDs with six SATA drives. That’s not happening.

You can have six SATA drives only if you install one SSD in the first M.2 socket in PCIe mode. With two SSDs in PCIe mode, you can only have a maximum of four SATA drives.

 

Audio Boost 4 with Nahimic 3

The MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon (US | UK | MY) features their Audio Boost 4 audio technology, which promises to deliver “studio-grade” audio capabilities.

Although MSI has been quite reticent about their Audio Boost 4 technology, our investigation revealed that it consists of :

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  • an EMI-shielded Realtek ALC1220P audio processor
  • an isolated audio circuit
  • Japanese-made Chemi-Con capacitors
  • dual op amplifiers
  • Nahimic 3 virtual 7.1 sound software

Their Nahimic 3 software is what creates a virtual 7.1 surround sound effect out of ordinary stereo sound. It will give you better directional audio cues when you game, and a more immersive listening experience when you watch movies, or listen to music.

 

Rear I/O Ports

The MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon (US | UK | MY) has pre-installed shields for the rear I/O ports, for easier installation and better EMI protection.

To the left are two USB 2.0 Type A ports with a PS/2 combo port above, followed by the DisplayPort and HDMI ports. Marked in red are two USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports – one Type A and one Type C.

Next, you have the Intel I219V LAN port, with two USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports (red). Finally, we have the five audio ports and the optical S/PDIF out port.

 

MSI Mystic Light

As its name suggests, the MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon (US | UK | MY) is designed to appeal to gamers. Hence, it supports the MSI Mystic Light technology, which allows you to control and sync RGB LED lighting on the motherboard and other compatible devices.

Mystic Light gives you full control of the 16.8 million LED colours with 29 light effects. Thanks to the provided extension cables, it is compatible with standard RGB, RAINBOW as well as CORSAIR LED lights.

Next Page > Our Verdict + Award, Price + Availability

 

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Our Verdict & Award

MSI is an old hand at designing and manufacturing quality motherboards, and that experience shows in the MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon (US | UK | MY). After all, this is a motherboard that is designed to appeal to both gamers and overclockers, and it takes some finesse to get the mix just right.

Hardware enthusiasts and overclockers will like its enhanced CPU overclocking features that include an 11+2 phase digital PWM architecture, and easy overclocking via the MSI Dragon Center software. With improved circuitry routing and EMI protection, it also offers improved DDR4 memory overclockability to 4.4 GHz.

Gamers who want an edge over their competitors without the “hassle” of overclocking will love the automatic overclocking features in the MSI Dragon Center – Game Boost, XMP and fan controls. Everything can be controlled with a click (or two) of a button!

Gamers who love to show off their cases will also love the Mystic Light capability built in. Not only does this motherboard support standard RGB lights, it also supports CORSAIR and RAINBOW RGB lights.

Even audiophiles are not left out. Its Audio Boost 4 technology promises to deliver studio-grade high-definition audio through isolated audio circuitry, with an EMI-shielded audio processor, and dual headphone amplifiers.

If that’s not enough, it comes with the Nahimic 3 virtual 7.1 sound software to create an expansive 3D soundscape for a more immersive and realistic gaming and entertainment experience.

Being designed for the mainstream market, there are some feature compromises, to be sure.

It has two M.2 sockets but only one is cooled by a heatsink. It also has limited SATA ports, and no SATA Express ports. There is a set of four EZ Debug LED lights, but there are no onboard Power or Reset buttons, which some enthusiasts favour.

But if you can live with those small compromises, this is a well-made Intel Z390 motherboard that offers a lot of great features at a really affordable price of just $200 in the US.

For these reasons, we think the MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon (US | UK | MY) deserves our Reviewer’s Choice Award. Great job, MSI!

 

MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon Price + Availability

Our review sample is of the “standard” MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon motherboard with an official price of US$ 199 / ~£159 / RM 834.

MSI also offers an AC variant that adds WiFi-AC connectivity, called the MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon AC. It has an official price of US$ 229 / ~£183 / RM 960..

Here are some direct purchase links of the MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon (prices accurate as of 14 December 2018) :

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And here are some direct purchase links of the MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon AC (prices accurate as of 14 December 2018) :

 

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Support Tech ARP!

If you like our work, you can help support our work by visiting our sponsors, participating in the Tech ARP Forums, or even donating to our fund. Any help you can render is greatly appreciated!