Features are what separate an enthusiast motherboard from a performance or budget motherboard - and this one has lots of them.
The RGB LEDs are designated into zones around the board with a single header for case lighting, RAM like the GEIL that we used in our Ryzen 5 review or perhaps an RGB Wraith cooler. The software is easy to use and it makes the design colour agnostic - I should note that the only way to control the lighting is via the software as the BIOS does not interact with the RGB LEDs. There are status LEDs on the board for RAM, GPU etc. that are red but you can adjust the effect (breathing, static, flashing) or simply turn them off.
MSI has also included an RGB extension cable with splitter so that you can extend the Mystic Lighting effects easily to other devices. If you have MSI Gaming series graphics card, the Gaming App also syncs with the LED on that product as well. The Smartphone app also allows you to change the effect without needing to switch out of your game.
Whilst the ability to customise the colours on the fly is easy, I didn't find myself tweaking them once I had the rig setup. Call me boring but I ended up settling on red in the final build and installing the red ADATA Dazzle kit with pulsing red LEDs on the DDR4 modules. It looked great in the In Win 509 case with smoked glass side panel.
Study Construction and EMI protection
The cool looking steel highlights are more than structural re-enforcement, MSI designers have also included Electromagnetic Interference protection to key areas of the board to make it perform better when being tweaked beyond the rated specification.
There are two M.2 slots (one slot supports 42mm-110mm M.2 drives and the other supports 42-80mm M.2 drives) with the upper one having a thermal shield that both looks cool and is designed to protect the M.2 SSD from performance issues linked to heat.
We see 'armour-like' protection on the M.2 slots, the PCI-E slots and the DDR4 slots. In the case of the M.2 and DDR4 slots, the protection is Electro Magnetic Interference based but there is also a level of protection from physical damage. The soldered connections are also enhanced to provide additional support - MSI claim that this design is 4x stronger than the standard soldering.
ESD protection also extends to the motherboard mounts to protect against electrostatic discharge via the chassis. The ESD protection is rated at double protection level with dual rings of grounding.
I'd have been disappointed not to see the signature Military Class 5 chokes and caps plus the other Electrostatic discharge and circuit protection measures built into the X370 Gaming Pro Carbon. MSI pride themselves on quality components and given the expected lifespan of the socket and reported future ease of upgrading AM4 CPUs, this is perhaps more relevant than on the Intel boards that have a socket change every couple of years.
Although the In Win 509 case is massive and open, we still wanted to keep it neat and the layout of the headers on this board is neat-freak-friendly. The fan headers are both well placed and more functional than previous products. The design includes fan headers that operate in DC or PWM mode, with a dedicated Pump header (up to 2 amp).
Unlike the Z270 Gaming M7 board that we reviewed earlier this year, the lighting is slightly more restrained on the X370 Gaming Pro Carbon and in my opinion it makes for a more understated but still attractive looking setup. There are less indicator and RGB lights but enough to allow a custom look and sufficient to help debug if the thing doesn't boot.
The power connections are in the standard locations with a 24 pin on the right side and an 8 pin CPU power connector at the top.
We don't see any actual power, rest or OC Genie buttons on the board. I have mixed feelings on these buttons generally. On one hand, for the purposes of review in an open case, these are handy and mean that I can be lazy when connecting the front panel IO. On the other hand, once a system has been built the side panel should be on to protect it from dust and reduce any fan noise so I also don't see why an enthusiast should be paying for features that they will probably never need. I'm more than happy to see MSI leave this feature off the X370 Gaming Pro Carbon, not worry about the switches or circuit routing and hopefully pass the savings on to the consumer with a more competitive price.
The BIOS is good but perhaps not as extensive as other BIOS offerings that I have seen. There are all the essential options available plus enough to keep most tweakers and overclockers in their happy place. RGB light control was not available in the BIOS but everything else that I looked for was there.
Memory Overclocking and setup did work and we were able to have the GEIL EVO X at 2933MHz with manual timings. The other memory that we had on hand had to settle for 2133 and even the Memory Try-it function on the BIOS was unable to have any joy in operating above the standard frequency. It's worth keeping in mind that we are still in relative early days for Ryzen and the X370 chipset with more BIOS updates ahead of us to tweak memory compatibility.
The VR Boost chip filters the signal so that your VR Headset (connected to the optimised and labelled port) receives a clean and consistent signal for optimum performance. This will still of course depend on the other components that you have in your build. The rear IO shield has these ports clearly marked and even lit with a red LED to avoid confusion.
The X370 Gaming Pro Carbon uses MSI's Audio Boost 4. The rear audio ports have gold plated connectors for ultimate signal transmission. MSI has included the Realtek ALC1220 audio processor but also implemented separate amplifiers so that you can use front and ready audio sources at the same time. It also means that the audio output supports headphones with up to 600Ω impedance.
Sound processor isolation is also implemented at a PCB level which is now considered standard for gaming or enthusiast motherboards. There is a strip that shows the audio section of the main board isolated at a PCB level. There are even different PCB layers for the left and right channels.
The Audio Boost 4 implementation has an EMI shielded ALC1220 with built in DAC delivering a 120dB Signal to Noise Ratio / 32-bit.
Nahimic 2 offers voice shaper and voice leveller at a mic level but when it comes to the speakers, there are 10 equaliser bands, 4 gaming pre-sets, 3 audio profiles and 6 EQ pre-sets with a single custom profile. When testing this with VOIP, the person on the other end didn't have any issues hearing or understanding me either in a frantic game with other noise and keyboard clicking or in general Skype chat without the background noise.
I'd expected to see Killer LAN on this board but I don't have any complaints with the Intel Gaming LAN. The RJ45 socket is able to protect the system with up to 15KV anti-surge and ESD. The software is easy to use, handles the prioritisation as advertised and I couldn't fault it in the end. Ping times, latency and file transfer performance were all top notch and limited by the infrastructure that I was connected to rather than the Intel Gaming LAN.
USB connectivity is as follows:
- Front Panel: 4xUSB 3.1 Gen1/Type A, 4x USB 2.0
- Rear IO: 2x USB 2.0, USB 3.1 - 1(Gen2, Type C), 1(Gen2, Type A), 4(Gen1, Type A)
This USB connectivity is enough to keep most, if not all gamers happy in at least the medium term.
The Command Center application is familiar from previous encounters. It is robust and regularly updated.
Live update is also reliable and kept our drivers and application up to date without any fuss.
The MSI branded CPUz application is included on the installation CD along with a cool MSI branded wallpaper - whilst you don't need them and could go with a generic CPUz / personal preference wallpaper, they do look good and match the physical appearance of the board.
The RAMDisk application is handy for cache and temporary file space to save wear and tear on your SSD and although I doubt many people will use this, it's better to have it than need to pay ~$30 for a separate utility.
I've long been a fan of the MSI Gaming App so this was a welcome and familiar friend to see on the installation list.
The following applications are nice to have but will likely not be used by many gamers. That said, if you do buy this board make sure to check them out.
Dragon Eye lets you have an overlay with custom transparency and overlay functions. You can watch a stream or YouTube video while playing and even pause and adjust the volume without leaving your game. Check out the MSI site here for more details. It can be really handy when following a tutorial that is external to your game or even watching something from TV while playing and it might be enough to avoid that need for a second monitor.
Gaming Hotkey is an easy to use program that does what it says - it maps keys to different functions but without the need for a gaming keyboard with macro keys.