Board Layout and Pictures
A few generations of motherboards ago MSI set out to redefine their product lineup to simplify things with short designations that show exactly what the board is focused on. I’ll be honest and even being in the industry the naming still hasn’t stuck with me. But here is the breakdown. MEG is their highest end, MPG is tuned for high gaming performance, MAG is more of a budget-focused gaming product, and then they have the pro lineup with PRO. That helps us understand where the MPG Z490 Gaming Carbon WiFi lands, even before looking into it anymore. MSI does have four boards for the Z490 launch in the MPG range, however. I do think that they could drop the gaming from the name to simplify things then we would still know that this is a Z490 board for Intel, a high-performance gaming board, and the carbon would let us know that the board is blacked out and WiFi obviously lets us know that it has wireless. I dig the new look MSI is going with the carbon lineup. There is still some fake carbon fiber but it is more realistic now and the black and grey theme is always welcomed. Unless you are trying to build a white build of course. The Z490 Carbon is a traditional ATX board and comes in at 30.5 cm x 24.4 cm, nothing about its layout is unusual or different.
For cooling the MPG Z490 Gaming Carbon WiFi does have a moderate amount of heatsinks and covers, but not the full board coverage that we are starting to see on all of the ultra-high-end boards. What that means is you get a normal VRM cooling solution with machined/extruded aluminum heatsinks on the top and side of the CPU socket. They keep the 14 total VRMs cool with the breakdown being 12 for the CPU and 2 for the memory. Those two heatsinks have a heatpipe running between them and MSI has machined in a lot of fins that you can see on the side profile to add additional cooling capacity. The chipset heatsink is a thin grey anodized aluminum heatsink with MSIs gaming dragon on it and a carbon fiber section that extends out over the top of the heatsink that slips between the PCIe slots where one of the X1 length slots is. Then the two M.2 covers are actually a little weird to me because they have a rounded shape that doesn’t match the chipset cooler next to them. One of those is a darker grey and the other is a lighter grey and they both come off with two screws with the M.2 slots under them along with thermal tape which comes preinstalled.
Being a higher-end board the MPG Z490 Gaming Carbon WiFi does have a full cover over the rear I/O which extends out over the VRM heatsinks. The carbon fiber weave look is molded into the plastic but from a short distance it looks surprisingly good and there are a few clear plastic areas for some of the boards RGB lighting here as well.
Starting up in the top left, let’s take a look at what the MPG Z490 Gaming Carbon WiFi has going on for features. This area is, as usual, mostly filled with the VRM heatsinks and the rear I/O. It does also have the CPU socket itself which interesting enough with most of this board being black or grey isn’t one of the tinted sockets like all of the other boards I have in to check out. For CPU power there is one 8-pin power-up between the top heatsink and the rear I/O and a second four port. There is also one four-pin PWM fan header down below the left heatsink which is ideal for rear case fans.
The top right has a little more going on starting with the four DDR4 DIMMs which are all in black. One notable thing is that the memory slots don’t have the additional metal shielding that most boards are adding. There is a four-pin PWM fan header to the left of the memory and then the right edge has FOUR more putting us at 6 so far. There is also an addressable RGB header right with them and a Corsair RGB header with it. Farther down there are a few small LED indicators to help diagnose boot issues. This is especially important because this board does not have a status screen or for that matter a power button. The power button is more for testing, which in my case was a bummer but I do understand that it isn’t needed once the case is installed typically. Below that is the standard 24 pin motherboard power and then there is a new style USB 3.2 Gen 2 front-panel header for a Type-C front panel connection.
The bottom right corner has the chipset cooler taking up a lot of room but along the right and bottom edge they did still fit a lot. Below the USB 3.2, Gen 2 connection previously mentioned is a normal USB 3.2 header which is orientated at a right angle so you don’t have to have that cable sticking up. Next to that are four SATA ports which are also at a right angle. The front panel connection is in the bottom right corner and there aren’t any labels or color codes so plan on having to bust out the manual. Next to that is the case speaker if you have one. Then also in the corner is a four-pin RGB header and a three-pin addressable RGB header as well. Over on the left is one older USB 2.0 header along with a cool manual switch to turn off the RGB lighting.
The bottom left corner is where you will find all of the PCIe slots which the MPG Z490 Gaming Carbon WiFi does have three PCIe x16 length slots. Two have metal shields on them but they don’t all get x16 bandwidth so here is the breakdown. The top slot gets a full x16 as long as the middle slot isn’t used. When both are in use they both get x8 and then the bottom slot is always x4. There are also two x1 slots slipped in. Also, there are two M.2 slots hidden under the heatsinks as well with one above the PGU and one down below the middle x16 slot. Both of those support x4 PCI drives or SATA drives and I love that the top M.2 slot isn’t up under the GPU so it should run much cooler. Down on the bottom edge, we have the rear audio connection on the left along with a four-pin RGB header next to it. Then two more PWM fan headers for a total of 8!
For the onboard audio, MSI did split things apart on to its own PCB and you can see the split section filled with resin. There isn’t a big shield over anything and this isn’t a high-end audio setup but it does have quality caps, just fewer than what we might see on the high-end boards. It runs on the Realtek ALC1220 Codec and what MSI called Audio Boost 4.
The back of the MPG Z490 Gaming Carbon WiFi mainly shows off that nice flat black PCB finish. I like that MSI slipped most of the required certification logos back here to keep the top cleaner and they also included three arrows to show where to not have your motherboard standoffs. Between that and the included paper, they clearly have had a LOT of people fry boards that way. You can also see the split PCB for the onboard audio really well here where it is split all the way up to the rear I/O and down to the front panel connection.
The rear I/O shield on the MPG Z490 Gaming Carbon WiFi comes preinstalled which is extremely nice. No worrying about getting it to fit perfectly or forgetting it and taking everything apart. It is blacked out like the board with the exception of the labels. So here is the breakdown. It does have display connections for both DisplayPort and HDMI. You also get two older USB 22.0 and a legacy PS2. I would trade that PS2 port for two more USB any day. There are four more Type-A USB ports that are red and are all USB 3.2 Gen 2. But it is the Type-C connection that caught my eye. MSI included the newer USB Gen 2x2 which is twice as fast on this board. I also like that he Type-C port doesn’t look like a Type-A port, I’ve plugged a few Type-C’s into Type-A’s and shorted and shut down the whole PC (opps) when trying to plug it in around the back of the PC in the dark. There is just one NIC which is the Realtek RTL8125B 2.5G NIC which should mean better network speeds in the future as 2.5G and 10G start to get into more network devices. I’m not sure why they didn’t go with the Intel though. The two WiFI plugs are of course for the included antenna and that is a newer WiFi 6 wireless NIC as well. Then on the end, you get a traditional audio layout including optical out. MSI does have the main audio out marked with white around it and a red connection. Overall I like what you get, other than wishing there were more USB ports. I don’t need this many Gen 2 Type-A ports as well, all of my gen 2 devices are all Type-C.