Thanks to MSI I have the X299 Gaming M7 ACK motherboard on the test bench today. At the launch of the 2066 platform there was a bit of controversy over the ability of many of the motherboards to handle the power requirements of the 10+ core i9 series of Intel CPUs. At first glance, it appears that MSI was listening and responded with a 12 phase DrMOS power design and the added support of an extra four-pin ATX power connection. Let’s put it to the test and see if it can hold it’s own under pressure.
Specifications and Features
The MSI X299 Gaming M7 ACK is a fully-featured ATX form factor motherboard with an impressive list of extras. Looking at the specifications, we see that it supports LGA socket 2066 Intel i9, i7 and i5 processors on the X299 chipset.
Memory support is very dependent on the CPU used. With eight DDR4 memory slots, max capacity is 128 GB in dual or quad channel configurations. MSI is also claiming speeds of up to 4133 MHz are possible with quad channel and a staggering 4500 MHz in dual channel. I will not be able to test these claims since I don’t have the ram to support those speeds.
Moving to the expansion slots, we have a similar CPU dependency because Intel’s new line ranges from 44 PCIe lanes down to 16 PCIe lanes. The X299 Gaming M7 will support x16/x4/x16/x8 modes with a 44 lane CPU, x16/x4/x8/x0 or x8/x4/x8/x8 modes with a 28-lane CPU and, lastly x8/x0/x8/x0 or x8/x4/x4/x0 modes with a 16-lane CPU.
Tons of storage and RAID options, Intel Optane support, up to 18 USB connections and included WiFi/Bluetooth capabilities. As you can see, MSI hasn’t left much off this motherboard. I’ll leave the rest to the table below.
All specifications for the MSI X299 GAMING M7 ACK in the table below are provided by MSI.
|MSI X299 GAMING M7 ACK Specs|
|CPU (Max Support)||Supports Intel® Core™ X-Series Processor Family for LGA2066 Socket|
|Chipset||Intel X299 Chipset|
|Memory||• 8 x DDR4 memory slots, support up to 128 GB*
• Quad channel memory architecture with the CPU that supports up to 4-channels DDR4**
– X-series processor support DDR4 4133+(OC)/4000(OC)/3866(OC)/3800(OC)/3733(OC)/3600(OC)/3466(OC)/3400(OC)/3333(OC)/3200(OC)/3000(OC)/2933(OC)/2800(OC)/2667/2400/2133 MHz*
• Dual channel memory architecture with the CPU that supports up to 2-channels DDR4**
– X-series processor support DDR4 4500+(OC)/4400(OC)/4333(OC)/4266(OC)/4200(OC)/4133(OC)/4000(OC)/3866(OC)/3800(OC)/3733(OC)/3600(OC)/3466(OC)/3400(OC)/3333(OC)/3200(OC)/3000(OC)/2933(OC)/2800(OC)/2667/2400/2133 MHz*
• Supports Intel® Extreme Memory Profile (XMP)
* For the latest information about memory, please visit msi.com
** Please refer the DIMM Slots section for more details.
|Expansion Slots||• 4 x PCIe 3.0 x16 slots
– Support x16/ x4/ x16/ x8 mode with the 44-lane CPU.
– Support x16/ x4/ x8/ x0,x8/ x4/ x8/ x8 modes with the 28-lane CPU.
– Support x8/ x0/ x8/ x0, x8/ x4/ x4/ x0 modes with the 16-lane CPU.
• 2 x PCIe 3.0 x1 slots
* Please refer to manual for PCIe 3.0 bandwidth table.
|Multi-GPU Support||• Supports 3-Way AMD CrossFire Technology
• Supports 3-Way NVIDIA SLI Technology
|Storage||• Intel X299 Chipset
• 8 x SATA 6Gb/s ports*
• 2 x M.2 slots (Key M)*
– Supports up to PCIe 3.0 x4 and SATA 6Gb/s
– M2_1 slot supports 2242/ 2260 /2280 storage devices
– M2_2 slot supports 2242/ 2260 /2280/ 22110 storage devices
– Intel® Optane™ Memory Ready**
• 1 x U.2 port *
– Supports PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe storage
• Supports Intel Smart Response Technology***
* M.2 slots, U.2 port and SATA ports share the same bandwidth.
** Please refer to manual for Intel Optane Memory Configuration.
***The functions will be supported depend on the CPU.
|RAID||• Intel X299 Chipset
• Supports RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5 and RAID 10 for SATA storage devices
• Supports RAID 0 and RAID 1 for M.2 storage devices*
* M.2 PCIe RAID volume can be created with M.2/Optane Genie. Please refer to manual for M.2 PCIe SSD RAID.
|LAN||• 1 x Killer E2500 Gigabit LAN controller|
|Wireless LAN & Bluetooth||• Killer Wireless-AC 1535 module
– The Wireless module is pre-installed in the M2_3(Key-E) slot.
– Supports Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual band (2.4GHz,5GHz) up to 867 Mbps speed.
– Supports Bluetooth 4.1
|Audio||• Dual Realtek ALC1220 Codec
– 7.1-Channel High Definition Audio
– Supports S/PDIF output
|USB||• ASMedia ASM3142 Chipset
– 1 x USB 3.1 Gen2 (SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps) Type-A port on the back panel
– 2 x USB 3.1 Gen2 (Super Speed USB 10Gbps) Type-C ports(1 port on the back panel, 1 port available through the internal USB connector)
• ASMedia ASM1074 Hub
– 3 x USB 3.1 Gen1 (SuperSpeed USB) Type-A ports on theback panel
• Intel X299 Chipset
– 5 x USB 3.1 Gen1 (SuperSpeed USB) ports (1 port on the back panel, 4 ports available through the internal USB connectors)
– 7 x USB 2.0 (High-speed USB) ports (3 ports on the back panel, 4 ports available through the internal USB connectors)
|Back I/O Ports||– 1 x Clear CMOS button
– 1 x BIOS FLASHBACK+ button
– 1 x PS/2 keyboard/ mouse combo port
– 3 x USB 2.0 Type-A ports
– 2 x Wi-Fi Antenna connectors (optional)
– 4 x USB 3.1 Gen1 Type-A ports
– 1 x LAN (RJ45) port
– 1 x USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-A port
– 1 x USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-C port
– 1 x Optical S/PDIF OUT connector
– 5 x OFC audio jacks
|Internal I/O Ports||– 1 x 24-pin ATX main power connector
– 1 x 8-pin ATX 12V power connector
– 1 x 4-pin ATX 12V power connector
– 8 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
– 3 x M.2 slots (Key M x2, Key E x1)
– 1 x U.2 port
– 2 x USB 2.0 connectors (supports additional 4 USB 2.0 ports)
– 2 x USB 3.1 Gen1 connectors (supports additional 4 USB 3.1 Gen1 ports)
– 1 x USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-C port
– 1 x 4-pin CPU fan connector
– 1 x 4-pin Water Pump connector
– 4 x 4-pin system fan connectors
– 1 x Front panel audio connector
– 2 x Front panel connectors
– 1 x TPM module connector
– 1 x Virtual RAID on CPU connector
– 1 x Clear CMOS jumper
– 1 x Slow mode booting jumper
– 1 x GAME BOOST knob
– 1 x Power button
– 1 x Reset button
– 1 x Multi-BIOS switch
– 1 x RGB LED connector
– 1 x 2-Digit Debug Code LED
Windows® 7 installation toll included on Drivers & Utilities Disc
|Form Factor||• 12 in. x 9.6 in. (30.5 cm x 24.4 cm)
• ATX Form Factor
|Accessories||• Drivers & Utilities Disc
• Motherboard User Guide
• 4 x SATA Cable
• I/O Shield
• SATA Cable Labels
• 1 x SLI HB Bridge M
• 1 x 1 to 2 RGB LED Extension Y Cable 80cm
• 3D X-MOUNTING Screw Pillars
• Case Badge
• 2 x Antenna
The MSI Gaming M7 is a very good looking motherboard, all black with just some metal accents coming from the MSI steel armour which they have included on the memory slots and PCIe slots. Once it’s powered up, there’s a bit more color with the added LEDs in the heatsinks and I/O cover which you can tailor to fit your case with MSI’s Mystic Light software and the included LED extension for the onboard LED connectors.
MSI also hasn’t forgotten about the serious overclocker with this motherboard – with features such as dual BIOS chips and BIOS Flashback+ and also handy power and reset buttons with an added “slow” jumper to aid in LN2 overclocking. They’ve included voltage read points dubbed “V_Check points Lite”. I think Lite is the keyword here. The point are so small I had a hard time locating them and to use them you need very steady hands and a magnifying glass to read the labels.
Gamers haven’t been overlooked with MSI’s software and hardware tools such as Gaming boost, Nahimic 2+, dedicated Virtual Reality hardware to deliver the best experience possible and dual Realtek ALC1220 Codec for front headphones and rear 7.1 channel high definition audio.
The next table lists the high-level feature set of the MSI X299 GAMING M7 ACK. All images and descriptions provided by MSI.
Retail Packaging and Accessories
Below we see a slide show of the MSI X299 Gaming M7 ACK’s retail packaging. MSI did a fine job with the packaging as you can see, the top left corner of the box is slightly misshapen. This occurred during shipping but there wasn’t any damage done to the motherboard or the other contents of the package. The front has a picture of the board and large lettering indicating the model, easily seen on retail shelving. Moving to the back we have a quick overview of the motherboard’s specifications and features.
The board came neatly wrapped in anti-static plastic resting in its own box located on top of a second container holding the accessories. As for accessories, there are plenty: the usual manual, utility disc and rear I/O shield along with four SATA cables and a one to two RGB LED extension. They have also included a High-Bandwidth SLI bridge, some standoffs for any 3D printed accessories you care to add to the board and a pair of antennae for the WIFI/bluetooth M.2 card that comes already installed on the board.
The MSI X299 GAMING M7 ACK
As I said previously, the MSI X299 Gaming M7 ACK is practically solid black with the exception of the steel armour accents and would easily work with any color scheme. The plastic I/O guard extends the length of the motherboard and is equipped with RGB LED’s at intervals between the PCIe slots.
On the back of the motherboard you can see the two x16 electrical PCIe slots as well as two x8 slots. You’ll also notice the huge socket 2066 CPU retainer backplate. One good thing with the new socket is that most coolers that fit the previous LGA 2011 v3 will also work on LGA 2066.
A Closer Look
The first thing that catches the eye in the PCIe area is the extra large PCH heatsink. This is MSI’s M.2 Shield FROZR which is intended to protect your M.2 drives from accidental damage as well as operate as a thermal solution/heatsink. The shield is held closed with two small screws. Removing these and opening the shield on its hinge reveals the two M.2 slots for additional drives. The back of the arms have thermal tape affixed to them (see picture below) which acts as an interface between the M.2 drives and the arms of the shield. This helps dissipate some of the heat these drives can produce. The only drawback I found was, it’s not possible to change or add an M.2 drive without first removing your graphics card.
You’ll also notice the four full length PCIe slots which come with MSI’s steel armour. This helps strengthen the PCIe slots themselves to support the heavier graphics cards without flexing and also helps shield the signals from EMI (electromagnetic interference ).
Moving to the top of the Gaming M7 we have two sets of four DIMM slots on either side of the CPU. To the top left there’s the eight-pin and optional four-pin ATX CPU power connectors. The 4-pin is optional but MSI’s Click5 BIOS suggested I engage it as I started stetting voltages manually. The bigger i9 CPUs will benefit from having the extra power so choose a power supply accordingly. To the far left in that picture is the fully digital IR 35201 controller next to the 10 year rated dark capacitors.
On the right side at the top is where the debug LED is located — Great for troubleshooting, and when everything is running normal it reports the CPU temperature, no need for additional software. Just to the top of the DIMM slots there’s the dedicated water pump header. It looks like a typical four-pin PWM fan header but supports up to 2A to accommodate water pumps. If you look closely along the top right edge of the PCB the V_Check Points Lite are located just beside a row of resistors – as I said they are easy to miss. Just below the main 24-pin ATX connector there’s also a USB3 front panel header.
Moving across the board to the lower left is the audio section which would normally be covered by the plastic shrouding along this edge. Below the dual Realtek chips is the front panel audio header. Moving to the right there’s an RGB LED header and a couple of system fan headers. As we move across the bottom of the board the right side gets a bit busier. Here we have a couple USB2 headers and a VRAID header. Right next to them are the oh-so-convenient power and reset buttons along with the Game Boost button for one touch overclocking. Directly above the reset button is the dual BIOS switch and just below the U.2 connector is the “Slow Mode” jumper for LN2 overclocking.
Here’s another one of my favorites, the clear CMOS button and the BIOS Flashback+ button which pairs with the vertical USB2.0 slot. Moving to the right there’s a PS2 port and a couple of USB2.0 slots for the mouse and keyboard along with 4 USB3.1 Gen1 ports. The Killer wifi antennae connect back here as well as the Killer Lan. There’s a couple of Lightning USB3.1 Gen2 type “A and “C” and lastly the gold plated audio jacks with S/PDIF.
Stripping the MSI X299 GAMING M7 ACK
The heart of the MSI X299 Gaming M7 ACK is the 12 phase DrMOS power delivery. The IR 35201 eight phase PWM controller routes power through doublers located on the back of the motherboard to the IR 3555 60A combined driver/MOSFETs for improved efficiency and improved overclocking capabilities. MSI has also used their TitaniumII chokes which are smaller and more efficient than traditional chokes along with their low ESR dark capacitors with an increased lifespan of over 10 years.
As you can see below the heatsinks both have LED connectors for the motherboard the larger one sporting the MSI Dragon when lit. They both made great contact and did a fine job of keeping the X299 chipset as well as the VRM nice and cool even when the voltages were being pushed. As I mentioned earlier, the large M.2 FROZR shield has thermal tape applied to help keep those blistering M.2 drives cooler.
Here we get a good lok at the Gaming M7’s audio section. It’s powered with dual Realtek ALC 1220 audio processors with built-in amplifiers. One is dedicated to the front audio output for headphones and the second dedicated to the rear 7.1 channel speaker output. Both are routed through Chemi-Con capacitors which are widely considered to be one of the great choices for the best sound output. The audio area is isolated from the rest of the motherboard circuitry with an LED border and MSI uses separate PCB layers for the left and right audio channels to ensure clean signals.
The MSI X299 Gaming M7 ACK also features the Killer E2500 LAN and Killer wireless AC 1535 adapter. Using the included Killer Double Shot Pro allows you to piggyback the two for up to 1.867 Gbps. They’re also protected from power surges with Lan Protect.
Below are some thumbnails, click for a bigger view, of the other miscellaneous integrated circuit chips on the MSI X299 Gaming M7 ACK.
UEFI BIOS and Overclocking Software
MSI’s Click BIOS 5 is easy to navigate and quite intuitive. From the main screen it’s easy to access the main parts of the BIOS but is mostly information based. For the real work that’s where the Advanced screen comes in with a push of the F7 key. I would have added a slide of the MSI Board Explorer but every time I accessed that page in BIOS the PC would freeze and require a hard re-start. Any of slides below can be examined more closely by right clicking and opening the image in a new window.
Looking through the settings section in the advanced screen we find items such as the boot menu and the save and exit options.
Here’s where I spent a lot of time, the OC section of the BIOS. All the main CPU control setting can be found here: voltages, multipliers for CPU and cache etc… You also access the Digitall power section here for LLC settings.
The next section I dedicated to the DRAM settings since there’s a ton of them. I’ve also included a slide of the overclock setting profile page.
Below are some slides of the included software from MSI, such as the Command Center for in Windows overclocking and fan control, and Mystic Light LED control. All the software is accessible through the MSI App Manager desktop icon.
Test Setup, Benchmarks, and Overclocking
Listed below is the test system used for benchmarking. The Data used for comparison was taken from the i9 7900x review by EarthDog who was using an ASUS Prime X299 Deluxe
|CPU||–Intel i9 7900x|
|Cooler||-EK-XLC Predator 360|
|Motherboard||-MSI X299 Gaming M7 ACK|
|RAM||-Mixed G.Skill 4×8 GB @ 3600 CL 16|
|Graphics Card||-GTX 980Ti K|NGP|N Edition|
|Solid State Drive||-256GB Samsung 950 Pro NVMe|
|Power Supply||-SuperFlower Leadex 1K Platinum|
|Operating System||-Windows 10 x64|
We’ll perform our usual set of benchmarks which tests 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 AIDA64. 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 4 GHz to eliminate any inherent differences in stock BIOS options. Memory speed is XMP, unless otherwise specified.
Memory Bandwidth and Throughput Benchmark – AIDA64
At the time of this review AIDA64 didn’t have full support for the Intel i9 7900x. Most of the tests came within a few percent of each other which is expected when comparing motherboards. You will notice though that in the FPU suite there seemed to be quite a variance in the results. More than I would attribute to a different motherboard.
Aida64 Memory and Cache Benchmark
|MSI X299 Gaming M7 ACK||95174||94727||81472||70.7|
|ASUS Prime X299 Deluxe||90501||88143||73927||74.6|
Aida64 CPU Benchmark Tests
|MSI X299 Gaming M7 ACK||108924||42516||900.2||45464||11840|
|ASUS Prime X299 Deluxe||108615||45787||903.4||45434||12023|
Aida64 FPU Benchmark tests
|MSI X299 Gaming M7 ACK||8071||83611||44638||12025|
|ASUS Prime X299 Deluxe||8378||75093||40073||12124|
CPU Rendering/Encoding Benchmarks – Cinebench R11.5 and R15, PoV Ray R3.73, HWBot X265 and 7Zip
Legacy CPU Benchmarks – Super Pi 1M, 32M, Wprime 32M,1024M and Intel XTU
As you can see from the benchmarks above the results are right in line with expectations of an upper tier motherboard. The MSI and ASUS motherboards traded blows with a couple percentage points here and there but overall they were pretty even with no clear winner.
Pushing the Limits
The MSI X299 GAMING M7 ACK hit 4.7 GHz on the CPU. It seems to be fairly stable at this level, running Aida64 Stability Test without issue, Prime95 ran for about 20 minutes but crashes to desktop so a bit more voltage would be needed for full stability at this speed. I was also able to raise the Cache speed to 300 and the memory to 3800 MHz at CL18. The system ran fairly strong at these settings as I said just a hair away from being 24/7 stable. What I would like to comment on is how “hungry” this 10 core 20 thread CPU got when I starting to push it. When I first booted to 4.7 GHz, I ran a few benchmarks and they were scoring terribly. So I went back to BIOS and added a bit of V_Core but when trying to boot into Windows the PC would crash. My next move was to add some VCCIN, which is the main voltage rail that feeds the CPU – all internal voltage are fed from this. I found that for 4.7 on this CPU I needed 2.05 V on the VCCIN rail and possibly a bit more for stability. I really didn’t put too much time into “stability” since, personally, I wouldn’t run a CPU like the i9 7900X at those voltages 24/7.
I also spent a couple hours working with the RAM just to test how strong the IMC was and how it handles 10 cores and 20 threads. My main interest is competitive benchmarking and some benchmarks rely heavily on memory and cache speeds. While testing the memory I was running at a more-conservative 4.5 GHz, which for this CPU, I would feel comfortable running as my daily speeds and settings. The core voltage was quite reasonable at 1.22 V and VCCIN was bumped up to 1.95 V for stability in P95. I would also like to add at this point that I was impressed with the EK predator 360 AIO’s ability to keep this bad boy cool. As you will see in the Intel XTU screenshot it was maxing at 69°C which was about the same temperature it hovered at for Prime95. The difference being during the XTU run I had a few other voltages bumped up to accommodate the cache speed of 3200 MHz and the RAM running at 3800 MHZ CL 14-14-14-28. Which even at 4.5 GHz took a bigger bump voltage wise than I expected.
MSI has found a good balance here between the gamer and the overclocking enthusiast. For the enthusiast we have high quality power delivery and easy on board power, clear CMOS and BIOS Flashback+ functions which make it easy to push the limits. Then there’s the high speed Killer LAN and onboard WiFi, VR hardware support, and dual-High Definition audio for the serious gamer. Not to mention all the complimenting software that goes with it.
The all-black look of the motherboard is aesthetically pleasing on its own. When powered up , it has just the right amount of added LED effects and combined with the Mystic Light software, the user is in full control to customize any way they like.
I was able to overclock the i9 7900x to roughly 40% over base speeds without any power or heat issues coming from the board. I will say that pushing the bigger CPUs past 4.5 GHz on this motherboard is going to require more tweaking in the BIOS than just adding V_Core. I was very happy with the DRAM performance and still find MSI’s Memory Try It a great feature. Being able to take two, 2X8 GB sets of RAM with different speeds and timings (both sets I tested are Samsung-based) and have them running stable at 3600 MHz and 3800 MHZ with a single setting in BIOS is beyond convenient.
Overall I’m impressed with the MSI X299 Gaming M7 ACK. With a retail price of $399.99 USD currently at Newegg.com it comes in $90 cheaper than one of its direct competitors, the ASUS Prime x299-Deluxe. This isn’t MSI’s top tier motherboard but I can’t find anything it’s missing and the performance was outstanding. I have no qualms giving it the Overclockers Approval!
Click the stamp for an explanation of what this means.
Shawn Jennings – Johan45