MSI B350 Tomahawk AM4 Motherboard Review
Having reviewed a handful of enthusiast-oriented AMD X370 AM4 motherboards, we have become fans of this new platform. However, since all of the models that we have tested thus far have been firmly in the higher-end category – diminutive Biostar Mini ITX motherboard aside – we thought that it was time to start looking at what the more affordable alternatives had to offer. While there are handful of attractively priced X370 motherboards on the market, most are still excessive both price and feature wise for your average user. This naturally led us to looking at models based on AMD’s performance-tier chipset, the B350.
Now while buyers of Ryzen 7 processors may end up looking at something like the X370, B350 motherboards give up very little to their more expensive cousins. This makes them a very tempting solution for anyone buying a Ryzen 5 or Ryzen 3 processor. Even higher end Ryzen CPUs will find themselves at home on this platform.
While AMD’s A320 chipset is an interesting part in its own right, it has been entirely relegated to Micro ATX motherboards thus far. As a result, there really is only one interesting alternative to the X370, and that’s the B350. So what do you lose when downgrading to the mid-tower chipset? Not as much as you might think. First and foremost, you lose proper dual graphics card capabilities, which let’s face it is fine for 95% of systems. You also lose two SATA 6 Gb/s ports, four USB 3.0/USB 3.1 Gen1 ports, and a couple of general purpose PCI-E lanes. You can still overclock though, which is a huge bonus, since Intel doesn’t offer an overclocking-friendly mid-level chipset. Overall, if you can live with a single graphics card, four SATA ports, and up to fourteen total USB ports, then a B350-based motherboard might be right up your alley.
The motherboard that we are going to be reviewing today is the MSI B350 Tomahawk, which happens to be one of the most popular B350 models at the moment. With a retail price of $110 USD / $145 CAD, it certainly meets our definition of an affordable motherboard. When it comes to specs, it comes pretty well appointed. It has a six-phase CPU power design – which is average for B350 motherboards – along with one PCI-E x3.0 X16 slot, one PCI-E x16 slot that operates at PCI-E 2.0 x4, two PCI-E 2.0 x1 slots, and two legacy PCI slots. Connectivity wise, there are four SATA 6Gb/s ports, one full-speed M.2 x4 slot, eight USB 3.1 Gen1/USB 3.0 ports (four rear I/O, four via headers), and six USB 2.0 ports (two rear I/O, four via headers).
Since some pennies need to be pinched in order to reach a low price point, this model features a Realtek controller for the gigabit LAN port – an Intel controller is always preferable – and uses an older though still capable Realtek ALC892 ten-channel audio codec. That codec has been paired with Nippon Chemi-Con audio-grade capacitors, and the now familiar PCB-level audio separation line that protects the audio components from EMI. For those gamers on a tight budget, this motherboard also supports AMD’s new 7th generation Bristol Ridge APUs and the upcoming Zen-based Raven Ridge APUs. The reason that we mention this is that if you do install an APU, your video output choices will be HDMI 1.4, DVI-D, VGA.
Surprisingly, or not, the B350 Tomahawk actually has some LED lighting capabilities in the form of red ambient lighting and an RGB LED header, which will allow you to install any 5050 LED light strip and have it controlled by MSI’s included LED utility. While we are on the topic of aesthetics, as you will see in the Closer Look section, with the dual-tone PCB and the highly stylized heatsinks this is a pretty damn good looking motherboard for $110 USD.
Overall, this motherboard looks quite promising. As long as the UEFI BIOS and included software utilities aren’t troublesome, and it can achieve our baseline Ryzen 7 overclock, the MSI B350 Tomahawk is going to be an easy recommendation. Now it’s time to see if everything has indeed been well implemented.