Ryzen is here and we've seen the number of AMD boards on the market increase exponentially with the new AM4 socket. Selecting one for your next AMD system is an important decision because the socket is likely to stick around for a while which means that you could be entering into a long-term relationship. MSI hasn't made selection easy with a massive choice of AM4 boards but we found the enthusiast gamer's sweet spot with the X370 Gaming Pro Carbon.
AMD's AM3/AM3+ socket stuck around since 2009 which has been a great innings. Motherboard manufacturers were still making new 990FX series boards as late as last year to support a chipset and socket that was being replaced. How is this relevant? Longevity - There are gamers out there that were able to upgrade their CPU without changing their board during that time. The relatively rapid succession of socket changes we see from Intel in the 115x socket has been frustrating at times but a necessary evil due to the performance gap between Intel and AMD's previous generation of CPUs. The game has now changed with Ryzen. The X370 is the enthusiast AM4 chipset that allows overclocking and the top performance options in terms of bandwidth and expansion. Gamers can buy an enthusiast board like the MSI X370 Gaming Pro Carbon with those extra bells and whistles at a reduced risk of buyer's remorse knowing that the Ryzen 5 1500X CPU they can currently afford could easily be upgraded later to something with more grunt without the need to change the rest of their platform. Time will tell if this hurts AM4 motherboard sales as new generations of AM4 socket CPUs are released and people actually start upgrading.
In April I had the opportunity to see the full line-up of AM4 motherboards from MSI at an event in Melbourne. The line up was extensive and perhaps a little excessive as MSI appears to have targetted every price point in the market from the cheapest business/home office requirement to the mad scientist tweaker. The upper mid-range is probably the X370 Gaming Pro Carbon and at $279 you do get a fair bit for your money. MSI went all out in terms of features that will appeal to gamers and didn't worry about additional power connections or crazy overclocking features that most of us won't use and shouldn't have to pay for. This board is pitched at gamers who take their tech more seriously than casually - and they nailed the brief perfectly.
The features are extensive, the aesthetics are somewhat restrained but still edgy and the performance is exactly what we expected from an enthusiast product.
Let's start with the aesthetics and layout of the X370 Gaming Pro Carbon. The layout is highly practical as we have come to expect from MSI. The fan and I/O headers are all in sensible places, heat sinks don't get in the way and clearance isn't an issue with regard to the socket or first PCI-E slot. The RAM slots are easy to access and use the twin locking levers at either end rather than a single locking lever at one end. The "carbon" aesthetic isn't over the top and has been tastefully worked into the board design. The black PCB has a stealthy look to it which allows the subtle RGB LED lighting to be more of a highlight on the heat sink and accent around the edges without dominating the board with bling. The rear IO shield has the MSI Gaming Dragon displayed and is otherwise simple but still with a premium feel to it. LED lighting on the LAN port and USB/VR ports is a nice touch and makes for easy identification of the RJ45 network port in the dark or under a desk.
When unboxing the X370 Gaming Pro Carbon, I found it to be well packed and consistent with every other MSI motherboard I've seen in the last 4 years. The cardboard inner packaging is sturdy and well fitted with little room for movement. The accessories are found under the board tray with an easy to read manual, cable labels, rear IO shield and driver CD. It's pretty standard stuff here but also important to note that no corners were cut by MSI to skimp on packaging. The outer of the box is well printed and has that premium feel that you appreciate when spending $279 on a board.