MSI MAG Z790 Tomahawk (DDR4) review

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Words & Conclusion

Final Words 

The launch of Raptor lake processors brings a lot of platform possibilities and sheer performance. That's the bigger win over AMD Ryzen 7000, which required a new platform. As demonstrated with this DDR4-based motherboard, the performance definitely won't be dramatically different. So if you'd pick a firmware update and Raptor lake-ready B660/Z690 motherboard, you could upgrade to the latest core series processors with minimal additional cost for mobo/DDR4. And the processors certainly do perform well. 


We utilized a DDR4 3600 MHz kit for this review, and as stated, the performance will not disappoint, yes overall the performance levels can differ a few % at best, but you'd likely never notice it in real-world performance. The bigger question would this, does DDR4 make a big difference over DDR5? The answer is yes and no. On a regular graphics card, you'll be unable to observe any CPU/MEM-based bottleneck. You can use a card like the 3090 or better  and even at lower resolutions get extremely good performance with a small differential. How important that is for you is not something we can answer. But let it be stated that the differences will outweigh the benefit of the lower cost bill versus game performance.  However, we tested an MSI DDR4 motherboard based on Z790, so it has the latest and greatest features including WIFI6E and Ethernet with even a 2.5 Gbps. The Tomahawk also has a dainty power 16+1 phase arrangement. Our take on PCIe 5.0 is this: at this time and stage, it's not needed for graphics cards, and while for soon-to-be-released SSDs it might be a nice gimmick, we doubt that other than sustained performance, things will be much different. For us, at this time it's not a selling point. 


Energy efficiency

The Core i9-13900K is a processor rated at a staggering max 253 Watts TDP (PL2) states. That does not mean the processor runs that all the time, however for short bursts of time when needed it can pull that wattage. Overall the temperatures peak high, but only for a short time. We see better overall values than what AMD is offering with the 7950X. You could cool this processor with a premium heatpipe-based cooler however we'd advise a nice LCS kit. Our processor reached 96C for a short burst of time and settles in the 80~85c under a full 32-threaded load. 

The conclusion

We're not even slightly disappointed by the performance DDR4 brings towards what is intended as a DDR5 platform. herein probably lies the success of Raptor Lake, as you can re-use your a B660 series or Z690 motherboard (firmware upgrade mandatory), and re-use your DDR4/DDR5 memory. That will save you heaps of money. If you need a new motherboard though, the MSI Z790 Tomahawk is available in both DDR4 and DDR5 options, that's a choice. As stated, the differences are not going to be huge from a performance perspective, but they can be measured; perhaps if you plan a GeForce RTX 4090, here's where we'd obviously advise going the DDR5 route. But with standard graphics, you'll be okay with DDR4. MSI offers a very interesting motherboard, but it's still costing $309 which is a pretty sum of money for a motherboard. Please also be advised that the DDR5 version will be more expensive. As a motherboard, it functioned stable, and without any issues, we popped in the DDR4 memory, enabled the XMP profile and booted into windows; it's that simple. Next to that, you can house four M2 NVMe SSDs underneath heatsinks, you'll get proper WIFI6E, a 2.5 Gbps ethernet jack and your 16+1 power phases stages are backed by 90A power stages. All in all, it's a great-looking motherboard as well; no RGB bling, just an excellent black design. However, the platform cost of ownership for people building a new PC remains very steep. But with a DDR4 choice on the table, your investment might be a bit less expensive and thus a more attractive route to follow.  


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