Up today is another Z390 Motherboard, this time from MSI, the MEG Z390 ACE. MSI has updated their naming scheme recently introducing the MEG, MPG, and MAG series of motherboards. All three are Gaming centric with the “MEG” sitting at the top of the stack as the Extreme Gaming series followed by the Performance and Mainstream boards.
Coming from the upper tier of their gaming series, the MEG Z390 appears to be fully decked out with the hardware and looks to take on any virtual battlefield. Let’s take this board for a spin on the test bench and see how it stacks up to our other contenders!
Specifications and Features
As was mentioned, the MEG Z390 ACE comes from MSI’s premium gaming line of motherboards listing at $289.99 from Newegg or $284.99 on Amazon. At this time the “MEG” line consists of only two boards, the MEG Z390 ACE and the MSI MEG Z390 GODLIKE which is quite a bit more coming in at $565.99 but that board is fully dressed and fully powered with a larger power section and extensive cladding over most of the board.
The MEG Z390 ACE supports the eight and ninth generation of Intel processors using the LGA 1151 socket and Z390 chipset boasting a 13-phase (12+1) power section to better handle the power requirements of the eight-core i9-9900K. With the addition of two large metal heat sinks joined with a heat pipe, the MEG ACE is equipped to keep that power section cool even during overclocking.
We also have four DRAM slots on the ACE with MSI’s Steel Armor which will support up to 128 GB of dual-channel non-ECC memory. MSI has used their DDR4 Boost technology with its optimized traces and isolated circuitry enabling speeds of 4500 MHz and above on this board as well. This pushes high-speed memory support well above most mainstream motherboards available today.
For PCIe expansion, we have three full-length PCIe 3.0 x16 slots of which only the top one is x16 electrically bandwidth breakdown is in the table below. All three full-length slots have the Steel Armor for added strength and EMI shielding. The ACE also has three PCIe 3.0 x1 slots available for add-ins.
When it comes to storage the MEG Z390 ACE doesn’t come up short. We have six SATA 6 Gb/s ports which support RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10. On the M.2 side, MSI has included three slots on the ACE all of which support PCIe x4 with the top two supporting SATA based M.2 drives. Installing SATA drives in either of these two slots, as usual, removes the availability of certain SATA 6 Gb/s ports. The lowest slot only supports PCIe 3.0 X4 drives and is the only one which has the M.2 Shield FROZR heatsink. For more details of the storage layout and drive compatibility refer to the table below or the user manual from MSI’s website.
USB connectivity is also plentiful on the Z390 ACE with a total of 20 connections between onboard headers and the rear I/O shield. Starting at the rear shield we have four USB 3.1 Gen2 (10 Gb/s) Type-A ports from the Z390 chipset with an additional Type-A and Type-C from the added ASMedia 3142 chipset. We also have four USB 2.0 Type A ports on the back panel for a total of 10. The remaining USB headers are found on the motherboard as are two USB 2.0 (for 4 ports), two USB 3.1 Gen1 (5 Gb/s) (for 4 ports) and two USB 3.1 Gen2 (10 Gb/s) Type C.
The MEG Z390 ACE also features MSI’s Killer E2500 intelligent networking platform which detects and prioritizes gaming traffic for smooth, stutter-free game performance. The ACE also includes Intel’s CNVi based 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi with speeds up to 1.73 Gb/s and Bluetooth 5.0 for wireless connectivity.
MSI has also paid close attention to the audio, starting with the Realtek 7.1 channel, High Definition ALC1220 processor which is at the high-end of integrated audio solutions. PCB optimizations such as a fully separate audio section with dedicated left and right layers for EMI shielding and equal sound quality of both left and right channels. As well as other hardware and software optimizations like an ESS Sabre DAC, fine gold capacitors, Audio Boost 4, Nahimic Sound, Voice Boost, and a separate impedance sensing headphone amplifier.
Rounding things off MSI has implemented a variety of RGB LED connectivity on the MEG Z390 ACE. First, we have two standard LED headers for 12 V, 5050 RGB strips up to 3 A. There’s a “rainbow” header for 5 V WS2812B individually addressable LED strips with a rating of 3 A or 72 LEDs. MSI has even included a Corsair specific header for its LED strips or RGB fan control hub. The only included RGB lighting is the Mystic Light Infinity RGB LED incorporated into the I/O cladding which uses mirrors for a very unique effect. This along with all the headers is in your control using MSI’s Mystic Light software.
Below is the specification list from the MSI MEG Z390 ACE webpage.
|MSI MEG Z390 ACE Specifications|
|CPU||Supports 9th/ 8th Gen Intel Core / Pentium Gold / Celeron processors, Socket LGA 1151|
|Memory||Supports up to 128 GB Dual Channel DDR4 @ 4500MHz+ non-ECC UDIMM|
|Expansion Slots||3 x PCIe 3.0 x16 slots
3 x PCIe 3.0 x1 slots
|Multi-GPU Support||AMD CrossfireX, Nvidia SLI|
|Storage||6 x SATA 6Gb/s ports
3 x M.2 slot (Key M)
1 x Killer E2500 Gigabit Ethernet
1 x Intel Wireless-AC 9560 (1.73Gbps), Bluetooth 5.0
|Audio||Realtek ALC1220 HD Audio (7.1 channels) w/SPDIF|
Intel Z390 Chipset
6 x USB 3.1 Gen2 (SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps) ports (4 Type-A ports on the back panel, 2 Type-C internal connectors)
8 x USB 2.0 (High-speed USB) ports (4 Type-A ports on the back panel, 4 ports available through the internal USB 2.0 connectors)
ASMedia ASM1042 Chipset
4 x USB 3.1 Gen1 (SuperSpeed USB) ports available through the internal USB connectors
ASMedia ASM3142 Chipset
2 x USB 3.1 Gen2 (SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps) ports (1x Type-A, 1x Type-C) on the back panel
|Fan Headers||7 x 4-pin headers (PWM and voltage control)|
|OS Support||Supports Windows 10 64 bit|
|Price||$289.99 (Newegg), $284.99 (Amazon)|
We have also included a list of features sourced from the MSI website for the board:
Retail Packaging and Accessories
On the front of the retail packaging, we have a picture of the MSI MEG Z390 ACE, the name and some of the Intel compatibility. Turning the box over, however, exposes much more detail around the ACE’s features, general layout and a picture of the rear I/O giving a good overall description of what’s inside the box.
Accessories included with the MSI MEG Z390 ACE:
- SATA 6Gb/s Cables 4
- LED RAINBOW Cable 1
- LED Y Cable 1
- LED CORSAIR Cable 1
- Antenna Set 1
- SLI HB BRIDGE M 1
- M.2 Screw 3
- Case Badge 1
- SATA Cable Labels 1
- VIP Card 1
- DVD Driver DVD 1
- User Manual 1
- Quick Installation Guide
Below is a slideshow of the Retail packaging and accessories.
Meet the MSI MEG Z390 ACE
The overall look of the MSI MEG ACE is stylish yet understated using a matte black PCB with bright white lettering. MSI has added some grey heat sinks with additional grey accents on the I/O cladding as well as the PCH and M.2 Shield FROZR. We also have the Steel Armor on the DIMM slots and three full-length PCIe slots giving a bit of bright metal look from the polished chrome. The only hints of color come from some of the onboard LEDs but the only true RGB LED emanates from the I/O cladding. Through the use of LEDs and mirrors, MSI has created a rather striking effect using Mystic Light Infinity which is a nice twist on the RGB LED scene.
Turning the ACE over you can see that only the very top PCIe 3.0 slot is x16 electrically and zooming in we find the IR3598 phase doublers around the CPU socket. Aside from that not much to see back here.
A Closer Look
Starting at the left we have a large shroud covering the I/O and most of the heatsink beneath it. This shroud houses the Mystic Light Infinity beneath the large clear window in the center and has “ACE” stenciled on the grey portion. There’s some additional branding above the top PCIe slot and on the other large heatsink. The heatsinks are connected by a heat pipe did a fine job cooling the power section even under heavy loads when they were getting quite warm to the touch. This is expected when pushing the limits and demonstrates their efficiency at removing the heat.
Moving on we have the dual 8-pin EPS connectors, one being optional, which supply more than enough power for the CPU. Across the top and side, we’ll find the fan connectors, CPU, Pump, and system fans along with the Corsair RGB extension and one of the RGB LED headers. Beneath these headers, we have the four DIMM slots with their Steel Armor and the Debug LED diagnostics indicator just to the right of them. MSI has included four jumpers here as well, an LN2, force BIOS, Retry, and Slow function for the “extreme” overclocker when going sub-zero. Just to the right of these jumpers, if you zoom right in, is a voltage reading section for use with a DMM (Digital Multimeter) to monitor key voltages in real-time. These pads could have been a bit bigger as you’ll need a very steady hand to take advantage of this feature. Finishing off the top section of the ACE we have the 24-pin ATX power connector and the two USB 3.1 Gen2 headers.
The lower half of the ACE contains all the storage, PCIe expansion, PCH, and Audio. Looking to the far left under the cladding with the word AUDIO BOOST HD we have the Realtek ALC1220 which drives the 7.1 channel HD audio, Nippon-Chemicon caps, and an ESS Sabre DAC for premium sound quality and immersive gaming.
Moving into the PCIe area we find all three M.2 slots. The upper two slots will accommodate SATA or PCIe based drives with the topmost slot able to accept the longer 110 mm drives. When using SATA based drives here it does disable some of the SATA ports to the right so be sure to consult the manual for details. The lowest M.2 slot with the M.2 Shield FROZR heat sink will only accept PCIe based drives with a maximum length of 80 mm.
The ACE has three full-length PCIe slots featuring MSI’s Steel Armor. According to the specs, it’s able to support 2-way NVIDIA SLI or 3-way AMD CF setups this breaks the bandwidth down to x8/x8 for dual cards and x8/x4/x4 when using three graphics cards. We also have three PCIe 3.0 X1 slots nestled in here which all use lanes from the PCH versus the CPU like the full-length slots.
Moving to the right is the Z390 chipset covered by a good sized heat sink which sports the MSI Gaming Dragon along with six SATA 6 Gb/s ports and one of the two USB 3.1 Gen1 headers.
Across the bottom, we see a ton of headers. We’ll just put these in a bulleted list for ease of reading (from L to R).
- Front Panel Audio
- System fan header x 2
- Rainbow LED header
- RGB LED header
- USB 2.0 header x 2
- USB 3.1 Gen1 header
- Front panel connectors
- Reset button
- Power button
- Game Boost knob
Moving around to the rear I/O area we see MSI has included a preinstalled I/O shield which seems to be gaining popularity these days. One of the first things to take note of is the absence of any video out ports so you will need a dedicated graphics card with this motherboard.
On the far left, we see a couple of buttons which are the Clear CMOS and BIOS Flashback. The latter in conjunction with the upper USB 2.0 slot (outlined in red) will allow you to flash the BIOS without a CPU and also useful for going back to older BIOS versions. Next to the buttons, we have four USB 2.0 ports followed by the Killer LAN and six USB 3.1 Gen2 ports one of which is Type-C. To finish things off we have the audio jacks with S/PDIF and the WiFi connectors for the included antenna.
Last up, we have the SATA 6 Gb/s ports numbered 1-6 from right to left with the odd number referring to the lower port. When using the M.2 slots some of these ports become unavailable. When using the top M.2 slot with a SATA drive, SATA_2 is unavailable. Using the middle M.2 slot with a SATA drive renders the SATA_5 unavailable and if using a PCIe based drive here you will lose SATA_5 and SATA_6.
The power section on the MSI MEG Z390 ACE is a 12+1 phase setup. Power from the dual 8-pin connectors are routed through the International Rectifier IR35201 8-phase digital controller and into the IR3598 doublers on the back of the board. From there each phase is using Onsemi 4C024N and 4C029N power MOSFETs for the high and low side with MSI’s Titanium chokes. This setup provided ample power for our i9 9900K at 5.1 GHz.
Below are images of some of the IC’s found on the board.
Below is a picture of the board on the test bench where you can see the Mystic Light Infinity in action!
UEFI BIOS and Overclocking Software
The MEG Z390 ACE BIOS has an EZ mode as well as an Advanced mode which is accessible by using F7 or clicking on the tab at the top of the page. EZ mode displays all pertinent system information and allows access to most commonly used options with the click of the mouse. It also has the ability to set the XMP for the RAM and set a quick overclock using the Game Boost button at the top left next to the XMP button.
After switching to advanced mode the Game Boost and XMP buttons are still available but the BIOS access has been broken into six sections, Settings, OC, MFlash, OC Profile, Hardware Monitor, and Board Explorer. Most users will head right for the OC section. This is where most of the settings you will need for overclocking are located such as Core and Cache multipliers, all relative voltages and DRAM settings. Within the OC section, there are some subsections worth mentioning like the DRAM configuration which contains detailed options for the main, sub, and advanced timings as well as latency and termination configurations. We also have the DigitALL Power section which contains the various LLC and Phase controls as well as Over Voltage / Current and Temperature protections. One last subsection worth mentioning is the CPU Features which contains numerous CPU related setting like Hyper-threading, core control, and EIST.
Two other sections of interest would be the Settings section and the Hardware monitoring section. The Settings section contains your boot, security, and advanced options while the Monitoring section is where you’ll go to adjust fan settings and read system temperatures.
Overall the BIOS was easy to navigate and nearly everything needed for overclocking was accessible through the overclocking section or subsections contained within it.
Below is a slideshow of the remainder of the BIOS.
Overclocking/Monitoring Software – MSI Dragon Center
MSI has also updated its Overclocking/hardware monitoring software and also given it a new title the MSI Dragon Center. The Dragon Center was quite easy to navigate and worked quite well. All overclocking settings were divided into sections separating the multipliers and voltages and took effect without requiring a reboot. I also liked the hardware monitoring which was customizable with the ability to select which items to track and could be monitored in real time.
MSI has also included their Mystic light software to control the boards lighting as well as synchronizing all the compatible peripherals.
Test Setup and Performance
Here we take a slightly different approach to CPU testing with ours based on a lot of Hwbot.org benchmarks since that is what we are known for, overclocking and benchmarking. We use real-world testing as well with Cinebench, x265, POV-Ray, and 7Zip in order to give readers a good idea of the general performance of the product tested.
|Test System Components|
|Motherboard||MSI MEG Z390 ACE|
|CPU||Intel i9 9900K|
|CPU Cooler||EVGA CLC 240|
|Memory||2×8 GB G.Skill Trident Z 3200 MHz CL15-15-15-35|
|SSD||Toshiba OCZ TR200 480 GB (OS + Applications)|
|Power Supply||EVGA 750W G3|
|Video Card||ASUS ROG Strix GTX 1080 Ti (417.71 drivers)|
Thanks go out to EVGA for providing the CLC 240 CPU Cooler and 750 W G3 Power Supply to cool and power the system, G.Skill for the Trident Z DRAM, and Toshiba OCZ for the 480 GB TR200 SSD storage running the OS, benchmarks, and games. With our partners helping out, we are able to build matching test systems to mitigate many differences found between using different hardware. This allows for multiple reviewers in different locations to use the same test system and compare results without additional variables.
We’ll perform our usual set of benchmarks which test rendering, memory performance, and single/multi-threaded CPU performance. For 2D benchmarks, we’ll use SuperPi 1M and 32M, wPrime and Intel XTU. For rendering it’s Cinebench R11.5 and R15. Memory performance is checked against the AIDA64 test suite. For encoding, we use x265 (HWBOT Version) and PoV Ray. A more real-world test is included in 7zip. Testing is performed with the CPU at stock speeds (set BIOS optimized defaults, XMP only no MCE). Memory speed is 3200 MHz using the XMP profile unless otherwise specified.
AIDA64 – Memory Bandwidth and Throughput
AIDA64 Cache and Memory Benchmark
|AIDA64 Cache and Memory Benchmark – Raw Data|
|MSI MEG Z390 ACE||47547||48103||43614||46.6|
|Z390 AORUS Master||47356||47864||43421||42.8|
|ASRock Z390 Extreme 4||47825||47818||44069||41.6|
|ASUS ROG Maximus XI APEX||47261||46188||43081||42.1|
AIDA64 – CPU Tests
|AIDA64 CPU Benchmark – Raw Data|
|MSI MEG Z390 ACE||101625||23101||841.8||43222||10799|
|Z390 AORUS Master||100686||23262||836||42830||10783|
|ASRock Z390 Extreme 4||100928||23483||837||42835||10783|
|ASUS ROG Maximus XI APEX||100669||23586||833.6||42855||10787|
AIDA64 – FPU Tests
|AIDA64 FPU Benchmark – Raw Data|
|MSI MEG Z390 ACE||9059||78797||41638||11440|
|Z390 AORUS Master||9075||80001||43032||11336|
|ASRock Z390 Extreme 4||8995||79979||43033||11333|
|ASUS ROG Maximus XI APEX||8997||76641||41231||11341|
Real World Tests
|Cinebench R11.5/R15, POVRay, x265 (HWBot), 7Zip – Raw Data|
|MSI MEG Z390 ACE||22.4||2053||4345||67.1||69673|
|Z390 AORUS Master||22.3||2067||4274||67.0||69672|
|ASRock Z390 Extreme 4||22.3||2050||4301||67.0||70323|
|ASUS ROG Maximus XI APEX||22.4||2060||4320||66.7||69229|
Pi and Prime Based Tests
|SuperPi and wPrime Benchmarks – Raw Data|
|Motherboard||Spi 1M||SPi 32M||WPrime 32M||WPrime 1024M||Intel XTU|
|MSI MEG Z390 ACE||7.357||410.257||2.483||67.749||3322|
|Z390 AORUS Master||7.427||412.6||2.594||68.765||3253|
|ASRock Z390 Extreme 4||7.404||407.8||2.593||68.429||3253|
|ASUS ROG Maximus XI APEX||7.405||407.84||2.576||68.389||3287|
In our testing, the MSI MEG Z390 ACE performed well with all benchmarks falling within the expected range. It traded blows very competently, but as we know with motherboards, in most cases, there is little difference in performance between them and that theme remains consistent here. No outliers, good consistent performance.
The gaming benchmarks as with the 2D benchmark results we saw previously were very similar again. The MEG Z390 ACE pulled almost 92 FPS in Ashes of the Singularity and 127 FPS in Shadow of the Tomb Raider using an ASUS 1080 Ti STRIX.
Now, power consumption seemed to be a bit elevated on the ACE when compared to some of the other boards we have reviewed. At 310 W during the Prime 95 small FFT test, it was 30 W higher than the AORUS and 14 W higher than the APEX but still far below the 380 W it took for the Extreme 4 to run the same test.
Overclocking on the MSI MEG Z390 ACE was pretty straight forward as far as the BIOS was concerned, select the multiplier and adjust the voltage to compensate. I did have some issues dialing in a good LLC setting. Finding a setting that completely leveled out the voltage in Windows while under load was not possible. Selecting level 4 in BIOS would result in about the same V_Droop experienced while set to auto which was 0.03 V, changing to level 3 resulted in an overshoot on the voltage while under load of approximately the same 0.03 V. This isn’t uncommon so we just worked with auto settings and settled on an overclock of 5.1 GHz with no AVX offset.
The ACE’s memory was also tested. The 3200 MHz sticks were swapped for a set of G.Skill 4266 CL19 2×8 GB memory which, once set to XMP ran flawlessly. The 5.1 GHz overclock with 4266 MHz memory was tested with the AIDA64 stability test for just over 30 minutes. This may not show 100% stability but it does show that the MSI MEG Z390 ACE is definitely capable of a decent high speed overclock on both the CPU and memory. This was done on an open test bench with minimal airflow over the motherboard, the VRM heatsinks were warm to the touch with software reporting them at 70 °C.
The MSI MEG Z390 ACE has a lot to offer any user starting with a solid 12-phase power section and dual 8-pin EPS connectors. For those who really want to push the boundaries and drop to sub-zero, the ACE is even prepared for that with LN2 specific jumpers to mitigate cold boot issues and voltage read points for live monitoring via DMM. On the gaming or the benching side, the ACE will also run multi-card setups with dual NVIDIA SLI or triple AMD crossfire support. On the data storage front, the ACE is also well prepared with three M.2 slots and six SATA ports along with 20 possible USB connections including six USB 3.1 Gen2 (one Type-C) on the rear I/O and two USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-C internal headers just to name a few. The RGB implementation is understated with only the Mystic Light Infinity on the IO cladding but MSI has included enough headers for expansion on this board to keep any RGB LED aficionado happy.
Overclocking on the ACE went well, the BIOS was easy to navigate and the board handled itself very well overall. My only beef here was with the LLC control, but that was easily worked around. A bit of V_Droop is normal during operation and well within spec but it would have been nice to even things up a bit more. This MSI board also handled high-speed memory very well, enabling XMP on the 4266 MHz RAM was all it took and the system was stable at that speed even with a 5.1 GHz overclock.
The MSI MEG Z390 ACE is currently priced at $289.99 at Newegg and $283.97 on Amazon. There’s a fair amount of competition at this price point including the ROG Maximus XI Hero (Wi-Fi) and the GIGABYTE Z390 AORUS Master which all carry similar options. The ACE provides good value for those looking to get everything the Z390 platform has to offer in the Gaming arena. Keep in mind the ACE has a little bit extra up its sleeve with the added “Extreme OC” goodies that MSI has thrown in making it a viable option no matter where you choose to play!
– Shawn Jennings (Johan45)