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MSI X370 Gaming Pro Carbon Review

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Category: Motherboards
Price: $159
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MSI X370 Gaming Pro Carbon Introduction:

AMD releasing a competitive processor was the unexpected drop of 2017. It followed that up with some competitive Vega-based graphics cards that once again were competitive with the performance they delivered. AMD delivered several chipsets for use with the new Ryzen processors to fit the needs of just about every user base, from those looking for a small form factor to a full ATX form factor board with the X370 chipset. MSI built out a full product stack that allowed users to affordably (until Threadripper) build a competitive quad-core (R3 & R5), hexa-core (R5), or octo-core (R7) system.

I looked at the MSI XPower Titanium, among other boards, and the top end of the X370 product stack from MSI looked pretty good. Now I get a bit further down the product stack with a board that should perform every bit as good: the MSI X370 Gaming Pro Carbon.

Priced at $159, this motherboard offers up a lot of bang for the buck with its Carbon Fiber visuals to the Mystic Lighting, M.2 cooling package, DDR4 Boost to improve memory performance and overclocking, as well as some functional features like Steel Armor for the PCIe and DDR4 DIMM slots. We already know what kind of performance to expect from the X370 Gaming Pro Carbon, so let's see if it can deliver. 

MSI X370 Gaming Pro Carbon Closer Look:

The Pro Carbon Series graphic is heavy on the racing theme imagery. The inference is that late model race cars employ Carbon Fiber as the material of choice for strength and weight savings to really drive performance. That being said, the X370 Gaming Pro Carbon is part of the Performance Gaming series of motherboards from MSI built for use with AMD socket AM4 processors. The RGB lighting effects around the car on the front panel hint at the Mystic Lighting feature set. On the back panel is an image of the board so you are fully aware of what you get in the box. The rest of the space is used to highlight the features on this board, including Mystic Light Extension connectivity, Lightning USB 3.1 Gen 2, MSI's Audio Boost sound, and more.

Inside the box, the board sits in a static resistant bag while the accessory bundle rides in the space beneath the board. Nothing special about how the board is packaged. It's a solution employed by all manufacturers and just works.

 

 

 

The accessory bundle included with the X370 Gaming Pro Carbon has everything you need to get this board up and running from the detailed manual and documentation to the driver disc, the SATA cable labels to the decorative I/O bracket. Additional accessories include a pair of SATA 6Gbps cables, an SLI bridge connector, and a pair of harnesses to connect RGB LED lighting to the motherboard where the lighting can be managed via MSI's Mystic Lighting feature set.

 

 

The X370 Gaming Pro Carbon, for the most part, follows an ATX form factor layout with the CPU and memory side by side on the upper half of the board. This board is designed for use with AMD's latest Ryzen processors, including the full Ryzen product stack from the R3 1200 up to the R7 1800X I will be testing this board with.

While there are several chipsets that can be used with the Ryzen product stack, this example from MSI is built around the X370 PCH. The black theme on the board is highlighted with Carbon Fiber graphics on the heat sinks and an RGB lighting package. The back side of the board shows the hardware support options, including support for AMD's Ryzen processors, NVIDIA's SLI and AMD CrossfireX multi-GPU solutions, and support for SteelSeries peripherals. There is not a lot of fluff to mask the purpose of this board.    

 

 

The I/O configuration for the MSI X370 Gaming Pro Carbon starts with a pair of USB 2.0 type A ports next to a PS/2 keyboard port. Onboard graphics are supported with a single DVI-D and HDMI 1.4 port. These ports are only active when a 7th Gen Athlon processor with an integrated graphics processor is installed in the CPU socket. Four USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports are managed from the installed Ryzen processor, while the USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports (1x Type A and 1x Type C) are handled by an ASMedia ASM2142 controller.

Network connectivity is managed by an Intel I211AT controller and via MSI's own Gaming LAN management software. Inbound current protection comes by way of MSI's LAN protect hardware solution that stops inbound current spikes of up to 15KV. The last in line are the gold-plated analog audio jacks and optical S/PDIF output from the ALC1220 Realtek 7.1 HD codec. 

Expansion slots on the X370 Gaming Pro Carbon include three PCIe 2.0 1x slots, a single PCIe 2.0 16x slot that supports 4x mode, and a pair of 16x PCIe 3.0 slots that support 16x/0x and 8x/8x modes when a Ryzen CPU is used and 8x/0x when a 7th Gen APU is used.

MSI's Audio Boost 4 solution sits right in front of the expansion slots and uses a shielded Realtek ALC 1220 codec, along with Nichicon audio capacitors, to deliver the Audio Boost 4 sound profile. Much like previous designs, an isolated PCB solution is used to improve the audio solution. An LED-lit border highlights the separated audio solution with split layers to isolate the left and right channels. A dedicated headphone amp that automatically senses the optimum impedance for your headphones again helps to deliver an incredible audio experience.

 

 

The bottom of the PCB has a ton of connectivity that starts with the front panel audio, as in most cases. The RGB LED extension port allows for the use of 5050 series LED strips of up to two meters that can be controlled via MSI's Gaming App. A single fan header is next, followed by the onboard LED effects demonstration tools. The front panel connections include two headers followed by a pair of USB 2.0 and a single USB 3.1 header. Two of the six SATA 6Gb/s ports are located on the bottom edge of the PCB, while four additional 6Gb/s ports are available in the traditional location on the right side of the PCB.

 

 

SATA 6Gb/s connectivity starts on the bottom corner of the PCB, but continues onto the right-hand side. Drive configurations are quite varied on this particular board with the use of a pair of M.2 SSD ports that can be used in PCIe or SATA modes. PCIe, M.2, and SATA 6Gb/s port availability are determined by which slots are in use with what type of devices you have installed.

A second USB 3.1 header increases the amount of high-speed USB 3.1 connectivity available for the user. Another of the four PWM or DC controllable system fan headers takes up residence before the 24-pin ATX power connection. Next up on the right side is system fan header number four and the PWM or DC controllable Pump Fan header. In MSI's BIOS, you can configure the fan settings to best suit your needs.

 

 

The top section of the PCB is pretty shallow when it comes to connectivity. The CPU fan header sits just to the left of the heat sink over the Military Class power supply components and an 8-pin EATX auxiliary power supply connection is used to feed additional current to the CPU. Memory support on the X370 Gaming Pro Carbon is limited to dual channel configurations using all four DDR4 Boost/Steel Armor-equipped DIMM slots. Speeds of DDR4 1866/ 2133/ 2400/ 2667(OC)/ 2933(OC)/ 3200(OC)+ MHz are supported using up to 64GB of memory. 

 

 

As a performance gaming motherboard, MSI has equipped the expansion slots most likely to be populated with its Steel Armor protection. For the DDR4 Boost DIMM slots, you get an optimized trace layout that features additional ground points and steel shielding to minimize any EMI effects while delivering a cleaner signal to the CPU. This becomes more important as you boost the memory speed since it's been proven that Ryzen delivers better gaming performance as you boost memory speed. At this point, with the latest updates, memory compatibility has continued to improve.

The shielding package is not just strictly for the DDR4 Boost DIMM slots. We see that MSI is using this feature on both the primary and secondary PCIe x16 slots to again improve the strength of the slot and reduce any EMI that could impact the signaling.

Any M.2 NVMe drives packed up under high-end video cards do tend to slow down when overheated. MSI is using its M.2 Shield package that helps reduce the overall operating temperature of the device. 

As an AMD X370 chipset-equipped board, the MSI X370 Gaming Pro Carbon uses an AM4 331 pin socket to support both AMD Ryzen and AMD's 7th generation Athlon processor stacks. The physical dimensions of the mounting points on the AM4 socket are different than those of the AM3+ socket. However, if you are using a clip-on style heat sink from an AM3+ setup, you are in luck as that part of the cooling solution mount is the same. If you want to reuse an old bolt-on style heat sink, you will have to get an adapter kit or purchase an AM4 specific cooling solution. AMD's Wraith Cooler is a viable option here as long as you don't beat up the chip with too much voltage.

The VR Boost accelerator chip is located next to the rear I/O USB ports that are specifically designed to improve the signaling and voltage stability needed for an exceptional VR experience. 

 

 

 

As part of the "Carbon" series, you know there are going to be some Carbon effects on the board. Most of this is found on the cooling package used over the Military Class VRM components around the CPU socket and over the X370 PCH. While the Carbon effects are nice and add depth, the RGB lighting on the board adds the additional bling factor everyone wants these days. You can use the Mystic Lighting App to pull up 16.8 million colors and 16 effects for a nice visual. If you are using Mystic Light Sync-compatible products, you integrate them into the LED theme you choose.   

 

 

While not the most fully featured board in the MSI X370 product stack, the Gaming Pro Carbon has more than enough bells and whistles to get you gaming at a furious pace. Add the Mystic Lighting and you get the looks to round out the whole package. Let's see how this board compares from a performance perspective to some other boards in this category.

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