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MSI B350 Tomahawk AM4 Motherboard Review

MAC

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Product Name: MSI B350 Tomahawk
Part Number: B350 TOMAHAWK
Warranty: 3 years


Forum Comment Thread




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.

 
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SKYMTL

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Packaging & Accessories

Packaging & Accessories


In the Hardware Installation section we examine how major components fit on the motherboard, and whether there are any serious issues that may affect installation and general functionality. Specifically, we are interested in determining whether there is adequate clearance in all critical areas.



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Since the Tomahawk in the model name relates to the cruise missile and not the axe, that is what is represented on the front of the packaging. The red bar is probably there to invoke the red backlit PCB audio separation line or even the red strips on the heatsinks. As always, we like that the back of the box is filled with useful information regarding all of the interesting features that have been packed onto this model, as well as a full specifications list and a handy rear I/O panel diagram.



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Once you flip open the box, you are greeted with two separate sections, the top half securely holds the motherboard in an anti-static bag while the bottom half contains the documentation, the driver/software DVD, and the accessories.


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As with most affordable motherboards, the accessories bundle is rather scarce, comprised of just two SATA 6Gb/s cables and a rear I/O panel cover. We would have liked to see four SATA cables, but MSI also only included two on the vastly more expensive Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon that we reviewed earlier, so apparently that's what they are doing at this moment.
 

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A Closer Look at the B350 Tomahawk

A Closer Look at the B350 Tomahawk




The first thing that really stands out when you take this motherboard out of its anti-static bag is the significant amount of grey silk screening on the black PCB. This is not the first time that we have seen this concept, but we really do like idea of the PCB as a giant canvas that can be made visually appealing. We also appreciate that MSI clearly put some effort into designing highly stylized chipset and MOSFET heatsinks. In our opinion, you really can't tell that this is a $110 USD / $145 CAD motherboard...at first glance anyways. If you start looking hard enough, the B350 Tomahawk's SATA port count and its legacy PCI Slots eventually do betray this model's aesthetics and reveal its price-conscious roots.

Size-wise this is a conventional ATX form factor motherboard - 305 mm x 244 mm / 12.0 in x 9.6 in - so there are no compatibility issues to worry about with any properly designed case. The overall layout is very well-thought-out and there are no critical shortcomings that we can point out. All the headers and ports are placed at the edge of the motherboard, the diagnostic LEDs are well positioned, and there's a large amount of room between the primary PCI-E x16 slot and the next slot. We aren't too fond of the placement of the M.2 slot since it is directly under the graphics card. This is less than ideal because high performance M.2 solid state drives have been known to throttle themselves when running too hot, and a graphics card can obviously radiate a lot of heat.



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While this motherboard's VRM section obviously can't compete with the higher-end X370 motherboards that we have reviewed, its six-phase CPU power design is very much the norm for B350 motherboards. The B350 Tomahawk has has been outfitted with a Richtek RT8894A PWM controller and a combo of NIKOS MOSFETs. While the use of middle-of-the-road NIKOS MOSFETs might bother us on a $300-400 motherboard, they are perfectly acceptable on a motherboard in this price range.

The Richtek controller is operating in 4+2 phase mode - which is to say four phases for the cores and two phases for the SOC. However, while the core voltage phases consists of one highside NIKOS PK616BA FET paired with two lowside NIKOS PK632BA FETs, the SOC phases get two of each so it clearly more capable than the pure phase count might indicate. While we can't find the exact specifications anywhere, these do appear to be the same solid black capacitors used on high-end MSI motherboards like the Z270 Gaming M7 and X370 XPower, so there's no cost-cutting there.

This motherboard has four fan headers near the CPU socket, one is the usual CPU fan header, there are two system fan headers, and one header labeled PUMP_FAN1 that has been designed for water pumps and can supply up to 2 amps of current. All six of the onboard fan headers are fully controllable via both DC and PWM fan control modes, and the motherboard itself can even detect and configure the fans.



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The four DDR4 memory slots are fed by a single-phase VRM, though it is a beefy phase since the MOSFETS have been doubled. By the way, they are the very same NIKOS MOSFETs as in the CPU VRM. This motherboards supports up to 64GB of total system memory, and it has been certified for overclocked memory speeds of up to DDR4-3200. Make sure to check out our Overclocking Results section to see whether we were able to hit that level.



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We really like the chipset cooler on this the B350 Tomahawk. It is undeniably cool looking, and not just another flat rectangular slab of aluminium. The only thing that could have made it even better was if MSI had actually integrated some red LEDs into it, so that it could be part of the overall lighting scheme.

As we illustrated in the introduction, the B350 chipset only supports four SATA 6Gb/s ports, two less than the X370. As a result, this motherboard only has four SATA 6Gb/s ports, support RAID 0/1/10. Now MSI could have repurposed the available SATA Express connectivity into more SATA ports, but would have obviously raised the price. We really don't mind this few SATA ports on a motherboard in this price range - it's more than most people use - however we can't understand why they put two angled ports and two upright ports. In 2017, upright SATA ports are an abomination on anything other than Mini ITX motherboards. It's just a cheap way of saving a few pennies and creating minor differences between this model and MSI's higher-end B350 Gaming Pro Carbon, which obviously has four angled SATA ports.

Demonstrating that they are well aware of the superiority of angled connectors, there is an angled USB 3.0 header right next to the aforementioned upright SATA ports. Dare we say slightly ironic?

Below the primary PCI-E x16 slot you will find the single M.2 slot. It features a full-speed PCI-E 3.0 x4 interface, theoretical maximum bandwidth of 32Gb/s, and support for SATA, PCI-E, and PCI-E NVMe M.2 solid state drives. This slot supports extra-long 22110 form factor drives that measure 110mm in length.
 
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SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at the B350 Tomahawk pt.2

A Closer Look at the B350 Tomahawk pt.2



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The lower-right corner of the motherboard is where you will find one of the system fan headers, the front panel header, one of the two USB 3.0 headers, and two USB 2.0 headers. Below the chipset heatsink you might also spot the TPM header.

Along the bottom edge of the motherboard are the parallel port and serial ports headers - haven't seen those in a while! - along with another one of the system fan headers, the RGB LED header, and the front panel audio header. The RGB LED header - dubbed JLED1 - is where you can plug in any 12V/2A 5050 RGB LED light strip and have it fully powered by the motherboard and controlled by the LED utility.


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Unquestionably, the largest difference between the X370 and B350 chipsets is multiple graphics card support. The X370 has it, while the B350 does it. The entire sixteen PCI-E 3.0 lanes dedicated to graphics purposes are all directed towards the primary PCI-E x16 slot on B350 motherboards. Realistically, lack of multi-GPU support is perfectly find for 95% of all system builds - even enthusiast system builds - since few people have any desire to install more than one graphics card.

On this motherboard, that primary PCI-E x16 slot has been steel-reinforced, given additional anchor points, and bolstered by heavy duty soldered connections.

Now surprisingly, the B350 Tomahawk specifications list actually claims support for 2-Way CrossFire. The reason for this is that - although it's not really recommended - you could theoretically install a second graphics card in the second PCI-E x16 slot, which operates at PCI-E 2.0 x4. CrossFire is compatible with x4 slots, whereas SLI is definitely not. We did not have two AMD cards on hand to test this capability, but we are sure that some enterprising individuals will. Having said that, keep in mind that if you occupy either of the PCI-E x1 slots, the PCI-E x4 slot will downgrade to x2 mode and eliminate any CrossFire possibilities.




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This motherboard's onboard audio is based on the familiar Realtek ALC892. This ten-channel audio codec was a high-end part back in 2010-2011, but it has been replaced by better performing codecs like the ALC1150 and ALC1220. Having said that, we understand that some sacrifices need to be made in order to reach this model's price point.

Accompanying the Realtek codec are ten Nippon Chemi-Con audio-grade capacitors, and some de-pop protection circuit, which should prevent the popping sounds that can occur when you plug/unplug devices or turn your PC on/off.

There is also a small PCB isolation line that surrounds the audio section and protects it from external electromagnetic interference (EMI). All of this serves to help to preserve the signal-to-noise (SNR) ratio and thus ensure the highest possible sound quality. Ideally, we would have liked to see an EMI cover on the codec, but again that's an addition most often found on pricier models.


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The B350 Tomahawk has an acceptable assortment of rear I/O panel ports, less than we would ideal like, but about what we would expect for a motherboard in this price range. Starting from left to right, there is a combo keyboard/mouse PS/2 port, two USB 2.0 ports, VGA/DVI-D/HDMI 1.4 video outputs, three USB 3.0 Type-A ports and one USB 3.0 Type-C port, one gigabit LAN ports, and six gold-plated audio jacks.

At first glance, there are a few interesting omissions. While this motherboard can support up to fourteen total USB ports when you take the internal headers into consideration, we do wish that there was at least one high-speed USB 3.1 Gen2 port. Having said that, while USB 3.1 Gen2 is native to this platform, and this chipset supports two of them, you do need an additional controller in order to exploit the feature. The higher-end MSI B350 Gaming Pro Carbon has that additional ASMedia ASM2142, while the Tomahawk does not.

The while the trio of video outputs are of no use with Ryzen processors, but they will come in handy for anyone planning to use one of AMD's new 7th generation Bristol Ridge APUs and the upcoming Zen-based Raven Ridge APUs





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So what's powering all these ports? Well starting from the top left there is an ASMedia ASM1083 PCI-E-to-PCI bridge chip for legacy support, an ASMedia ASM1543 switch provides support for the Type-C port, a Realtek 8111H powers the gigabit LAN port, an ITE IT6516BFN DisplayPort-to-VGA bridge chip is responsible for the VGA output, while the Nuvoton NCT6795D Super I/O monitoring controller handles system monitoring, fan control, and provides legacy support for the PS/2 port. A couple of ASMedia ASM1480 PCI-E 3.0 switches redirect the various PCI-E lanes to the PCI-E slots and the M.2 slot.



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The rear of the motherboard is largely devoid of any additional ICs or components. All of the heatsinks are attached with metal screws, which is what we expect from a quality motherboard no matter the price. We also get a good look at the numerous red LEDs that are placed all along the PCB isolation line that surrounds the audio sub-system.
 

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Hardware Installation

Hardware Installation


In the Hardware Installation section we examine how major components fit on the motherboard, and whether there are any serious issues that may affect installation and general functionality. Specifically, we are interested in determining whether there is adequate clearance in all critical areas.


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While we have never really encountered any clearance issues when installing an all-in-one liquid cooler - like this Corsair Hydro H110i - you will want to be careful on what side you place the hoses since they can get pretty close to the memory modules. By the way, the mounting hardware for the Hydro basically just clips and screws onto the stock plastic brackets that come pre-mounted to all AM4 motherboards.


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This motherboard has a wide open CPU socket area and reasonably low profile MOSFET heatsinks, so installing any type of cooling on this motherboard should be a breeze. No matter what mounting hardware your cooler comes with this motherboard can handle it without any clearance issues.



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When we occupied the memory slot nearest to the CPU socket, our Prolimatech Mega Shadow's fan clips still made contact with the heat spreaders even when using standard height memory modules. When we moved those standard height modules over a little bit, the fan clips were still extremely close, but there's was no contact. When we swapped in very tall G.Skill Trident Z memory modules, there were clearance issues even in the farthest memory slots, and it did prevent the installation of the fan clip on one side. The solution is obviously to find another way hold the fan in place, or to mount it on the other side of the heatsink, both of which are less than ideal.


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Due to the expansion slot layout, there is a pretty decent gap between the DDR4 memory slots and the back of the graphics card, so there is no need to take out the GPU before installing/uninstalling memory modules. The 24-pin ATX power connector and the 8-pin CPU power connector are both ideally placed, so that makes assembling and disassembling the system just a tad easier.



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This motherboard will easily hold one dual-slot graphics cards without difficulty. The card will obviously extend past the motherboard length-wise, but it doesn't block anything except the M.2 slot. All of the headers at the bottom edge of the motherboard are accessible no matter what, unless you find some rare dual-slot legacy PCI expansion card.


The four SATA ports are interesting, since two are angled and two are upright. As mentioned in the earlier pages, we would have preferred for them all to be angled. As it is now, if you install a triple-slot graphics card you may encounter some issues with cables that stick out of those two upright ports.


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Installing an SSD in the M.2 slot is a trouble-free affair, but you will need to remove any dual-slot graphics card installed in the primary PCI-E x16 slot. Otherwise it is an easy installation job.
 

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UEFI Explored

UEFI Explored


MSI have unsurprisingly decided to carry forward their well-liked Click Bios 5. In fact, the overall layout and design of this UEFI has remained basically unchanged since Click Bios 2, so clearly MSI are the brand of choice for those who like consistency from one product to the next. The UEFI is divided across two distinct modes. The EZ Mode is simplified and features a mouse-friendly graphical user interface (GUI) for basic tasks, while the Advanced Mode has all the settings, options, and features that you could ever want. The one important setting that it does lack is any way of controlling the onboard LEDs, you must install the Gaming APP in order to manage that feature. There should at least be an on/off option for those who really don't want anything to do with RGB LED lighting.

In both modes, the top third of the screen is occupied by a row that contains a basic overview of your system (CPU temperature, motherboard temperature, CPU & RAM type, size and frequencies, date and time, etc) as well as a drag and drop boot priority list. While it does contain extremely handy information, this section carries over from one page to the next, taking up a massive amount of real-estate.

In the top-left corner are also two large buttons: Game Boost and XMP. The Game Boost feature is basically the same as what MSI used to call OC Genie so with a simple push of this button the BIOS will immediately overclock your system and do so in a completely hands-off manner. This model offers one Game Boost mode, and it will overclock a Ryzen 7 1800X to 4.0GHz. If that's not the enough, or if you just want to higher memory speeds, the XMP button enables your memory kit's XMP profile. Together these two features will remove two of the main reasons for entering the Advanced mode.




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When you first enter the Click Bios 5 you will be greeted with a single screen that uses large icons and simplistic language. This "EZ Mode" is instantly responsive to your input commands and there is almost no noticeable lag. They did however include a few transition delays when switching from one section to another, but this is an intentional design feature that makes the new UEFI more pleasing to use.

As the name suggests the EZ Mode of Click Bios 5 boasts a simplified layout and features a mouse-friendly interface that prioritizes ease of use and navigation. It obviously does not have all the functionality of the MSI’s “advanced” mode. However, MSI has taken the EZ Mode and made it into a more powerful section than what even ASUS offers in their EZ Mode.

In addition to being able to use MSI's fan tuning wizard, change boot priority, implement XMP RAM profiles, and even turn on Game Boost (or what was once called OC Genie), you can also access a fully enabled hardware monitor to help troubleshoot common issues. There are also options for Fast Boot, turning on or off the Ethernet or onboard sound controllers, configuring the SATA devices to use (or not use) AHCI/RAID mode and even view a BIOS log to review any changes previously made. This last feature is also perfect when troubleshooting issues that suddenly occur after a reboot. On top of all that you can also enter M-Flash to update your BIOS firmware, and access your own custom Favorites page, albeit it is empty by default, all without ever having to enter the actual Advanced Mode.

If the EZ Mode doesn't have the versatility that you are looking for, it is time to move on to the Advanced mode:



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In the Advanced mode, the bottom two-thirds of the screen is divided into two columns with three rows each and a center space. The left and right columns are dedicated to navigation for Settings, OC, M-Flash, OC Profile, Hardware Monitor, and Board Explorer with the first three being located in the left hand column and the last three in the right. Because the top of the screen and the two sides are occupied with static information or menus, that center space is not huge, and that is less than ideal since that is where you will be viewing and tweaking all the settings.

The Settings menu is the section where you will find the bulk of the BIOS's settings. The System Status sub-menu meanwhile lists some basic system information, including the date and time, standard storage devices, BIOS version, a few processor cache tidbits and the amount of memory installed. The Advanced sub-menu is also where you can enable/disable or just find all the various settings and options for all the onboard devices like the audio, LAN, USB 3.0, SATA ports, etc.

The Boot sub-menu is essentially where storage device priority can be set, boot drives are selected, the full screen logo can be enabled or disabled, and ton of other boot settings that can help with the installation or troubleshooting of various OS installations can be modified. The Security sub-menu is where you can set the administrator and individual user passwords, as well as enable or disable chassis intrusion feature. There is also a Save & Exit option but that seems redundant since you can just hit the F10 key instead.


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The OC menu is where most enthusiast will spend their time. Simply put, these pages easily make up for the quirky UI. The list of features and settings for those options is insanely long and we doubt many will find a feature missing. The amount of detail here is nothing short of impressive.

As its name suggests, the Advanced DRAM Configuration section is where you will find all the memory-related settings. Within this section you can select and change all the memory settings, and each memory channel has its own area, from which you can alter the primary and secondary timings. It has just about every memory modifier that an enthusiast or overclocker would need to fine-tune their modules.

Each of the main subsections defaults to a closed list making scrolling to the proper subgroup faster for experienced users, but more time consuming for novices - as they will have to manually enlarge each sub-section before being able to see the options. As we said this is a BIOS meant for enthusiasts and the learning curve can be very, very steep.

The CPU Specifications sub-section is where you can find all of the extensions that the processor you have installed supports, while the Memory-Z lists most of the important memory timings for each module you have installed.
 

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UEFI Explored pt.2

UEFI Explored pt.2



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The M-Flash section is the built-in utility that greatly simplifies the BIOS updating process. Here, the BIOS can be updated from a ROM file located on your hard drive(s) or USB flash drive(s). It is quick, painless, and it takes the worry out of BIOS flashing.

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The OC Profile feature gives users the option to save and switch between BIOS profiles, for example an everyday profile and a benchmarking profile. Not only is this infinitely quicker than manually inserting every setting, but the profiles can be saved and shared among other X370 XPower Gaming Titanium owners.

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The Hardware Monitor section is dedicated to the monitoring of the various voltages, temperatures, and fan speeds. This whole section is quite comprehensive, it has all the essential temperature and voltage readouts that you would expect. It also has improved fan control functionality thanks to real-time fan speed graphs with four manually adjustable RPM points. For those that prefer a more hands-off approach, there is also a Smart Fan Mode that can intelligently managed fan speeds based on CPU and/or system temperatures.

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One of the unique aspects of MSI's BIOS is the Board Explorer feature, which is an interactive map of the motherboard and what is attached to it. By clicking on any of the highlighted areas you can easily pull up detailed information about what fan headers, USB ports, and SATA ports are in use. It's actually a pretty neat feature.


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By pressing the F1 key or by clicking on the little heart icon in the top right corner you are brought to the new and somewhat hidden Favorites section. This basically allows you to have all your most useful or most used settings in one place, so you no longer have to search through the whole bios to find what you need time and time again.
 

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Included Software

Included Software


Command Center

The most important utility in MSI's software suite is the Command Center. Although MSI still has a few standalone apps for different functions, the CC can be used for a wide ranging number of tasks. This system management utility is the hub from which you can monitor system clock speeds, voltages, temperatures, and fan rotation but more importantly it allows users to do both automatic and manual overclocking from within Windows.

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The Command Center initially opens to the CPU tab, where you can see the current CPU multiplier(s) and the BCLK frequency.You can manually change the multiplier for any one or all of the cores, as well as increase or decrease both the base clock and CPU core voltage on-the-fly. You can also adjust the fan speeds of both the CPU and PUMP/FAN1 headers, either manually or by using the Fan tune option.

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The DRAM tab allows you to change the memory frequency, as well as alter the DRAM voltage (for each channel). Assuming you have an APU installed, the IGP tab allows you to control the clock multiplier and voltage of the GPU that is integrated into the processor.

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The Game Boost tab is where you will find the automatic overclocking feature. This tab mimics the Game Boost functionality
that is found in the BIOS and the actual physical knob as well. As you will see in our Overclocking Results section, it sets a very respectable overclock on both the 1800X and 1700X, but a quite mediocre one on the R7 1700.

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At the bottom this utility is a static strip with the buttons Advanced, Settings, and Information. Each of those three options reveals - in the form of icons - a handful of additional sub-menus and/or features.

For the Advanced option, the voltage button pop-ups a windows with eight fully adjustable system voltages. The fan button reveals where you can adjust all the system fans, and only the system fans, since the CPU fan control is part of the CPU section of the Command Center app. Clicking the DRAM button will reveal a few dozen memory timings settings, which is pretty sweet. The Sensor button opens up a large real-time onboard temperature sensor control window, which has temperature readouts and fan speeds.

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The Settings section is where you can record system voltages, fan speeds, and system temperatures. You can also establish high or low voltage, fan speed, and system temperature warnings. The Mobile Control panel is where you setup remote access to overclocking and monitoring functions, as well configure your mobile device as a remote for your system's media playback.

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The Information section is just some fundamental information about the specifications of the motherboard, the processor, and the system memory. There is also a Hardware Monitor that allows you to monitor system voltages, fan speeds, and temperatures.
 

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Included Software pt.2

Included Software pt.2


Gaming App

While the Command Center is clearly the primary utility in MSI's rich software suite, the standalone Gaming App is also incredibly useful, especially since it is the only means of controlling the onboard RGB LED lighting. As a result, we are glad to see that it has received a sizeable update for this generation.


When you first enter the app, you are presented with three system performance profiles. While you would expect the OC Mode to enable the Game Boost preset that is found in the UEFI, it didn't actually do anything for us, same with the Gaming Mode. The Silent Mode restored the clock frequencies to their default values and also allowed the system to downclock when idling. If you are using an MSI graphics card, the OC Mode and Gaming Mode should automatically provide some form of GPU overclock.

The other four small icons open up Gaming Hotkey, Mouse Master, and VR. The four greyed out icon obviously has something to do with headsets, but it is not a clickable option, even in MSI's documentation. Gaming Hotkey is user-friendly feature that allows for the easy programming of macro keys, assigning of function keys, or creation of shortcuts for everything from launching any of any application with a single press to multimedia playback control. Mouse Master is a mouse macro utility, allowing users to assigns actions to different keys, as well as adjusting DPI on-the-fly at the touch of a hotkey. The VR feature effectively just enables and closes unnecessary applications in order to ensure the best possible VR experience.


The three icons at the top of the Gaming App are far more interesting than the three/four at the bottom. The first one is - as its name suggests - related to the onboard LEDs. This LED section is the only feature that gives users control over the Mystic Light RGB LED lighting, since there is no such option in the UEFI.

The RGB LEDs that are integrated into the four main lightning areas, as well as the RGB light strip header, can be adjusted to any one of 16.8 million colours and customized with your choice of cool lighting effects, such as breathing, flashing, double flashing, marquee, meteor, stack, rainbow, lightning, and random. They can also dance to your music, but not to the actual beat, instead you need to select the type of music you are playing (pop, rap, jazz, play, movie). The rudimentary MB Function LEDs - of which there are five - only have four of these effects and don't respond to music. We wish that this software - or perhaps the whole Mystic Light implementation - was a little more 'intelligent', with actual music beat detection and other real-time effects like reacting to CPU temperature, etc.

Since every lighting area is independently controlled, when you make changes you must click apply to save before moving on to the next area, which is a little annoying. We wish there was a way to control all the lighting areas with one click. Currently, the only such option is a button in the top-right corner that only allows for enabling or disabling all the LEDs.

The Chart icon is for the OSD. This on-screen display feature provides a real-time in-game overlay of potential information like CPU usage, CPU frequency, CPU temperature, CPU voltage, how many system memory is being used, and of course what the frame rate is.

The little eye icon opens up the Eye Rest feature, which has four modes that adjust the screen contrast to the optimal level for the given situation. The Eye Rest mode reduces your displays blue light output, which is the type of light that fatigues your eyes the most. The Gaming Mode bumps up the contrast and makes colours pop a little more. The Movie mode dynamically tweaks the gamma and contrast levels. The Customize mode gives you full control over brightness, contrast, gamma, and level...which as far as we can tell is just a less dramatic brightness correction.


Live Update 6


The Live Update 6 utility is where you can automatically or manually update all the included motherboard-specific software, the drivers, and also download and flash the latest BIOS. You can also install or uninstall any of the software suites from this app as well.


X-Boost


The X-Boost utility offers a number of system modes designed to increase the performance of specific tasks. It is a little esoteric, since we have no idea what they could be doing to improve "Graphics Performance" or "Audio". Primarily though, this app is really marketed as a way boosting USB performance. In this respect it does work since it makes transfer rates slightly less erratic, but we suspect that is because there is a bit of caching going on somewhere.


Gaming LAN Manager


The Gaming LAN Manager is a utility designed to help reduce latency courtesy of the often-used cFosSpeed traffic-shapping technology. This utility provides users with a lot of control and monitoring capabilities over every application that is accessing the network. It displays CPU usage, ICMP and UDP average ping, and the network utilization of every system process and program. This tool also allows you give priority to certain applications, and throttle or block others to free network resources for other applications. It is your one-stop tool for monitoring and controlling all network traffic.


MSI CPU-Z


This motherboard ships with a special edition of CPU-Z especially created to match the aesthetics of MSI Gaming motherboards. It is kept as up-to-date as the regular version, and is available at the same place: CPUID.com


RAMDisk


The B350 Tomahawk comes with the familiar RAMDisk utility. For those not familiar with what a RAMDisk is, it basically acts as a virtual drive that is much faster than even the fastest high-end solid state drive. The reason for this is that it makes use of unused system memory (ie: RAM), and turns a chunk of it into an OS-level storage partition (with its own drive letter) that can be used to accelerate the performance and response times of installed or cached applications.


Nahimic 2


Much like the Creative Sound Blaster Cinema suite that ships with certain motherboards, the Nahimic 2 application takes a capable onboard audio solution and noticeably improves it. With this program you can enhance the surround soundstage to make it easier to pinpoint enemy player locations in online games, optimize the output for clearer audio for music, improve your microphone's abilities to yell orders to your team mate, record XSplit Gamecaster sessions to improve the sound before you upload to your audience, or even just balance all audio at the same level so when switching between applications you don’t deafen yourself. Much like Sound Blaster Cinema add-on which ships with certain motherboards, the Nahimic Audio Enhancer application takes an already good onboard audio solution and noticeably improves it. With this program you can enhanced enhance the surround soundstage to make it easier to pinpoint enemy player locations in online games, optimize the output for clearer audio for music, improve your microphone's abilities to yell orders to your team mate, record XSplit Gamecaster sessions to improve the sound before you upload to your audience, or even just balance all audio at the same level so when switching between applications you don’t deafen yourself.


While we have represented you with that pieces of software that are the most interesting to us, there are bunch of other utilities that we didn't have time to touch on, such as Fast Boost which enables/disables the UEFI's fast boot mode, or Smart Tool which creates a bootable USB for Windows 7 installation, or Dragon Eye that can overlay Twitch or YouTube videos on top of your active gaming session, or Mobile Control which is essentially a smartphone version of the Command Center application. There is also a free 1 year premium license for XSplit Gamecaster V2, which is a utility that allows record, stream and share your gaming session.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Test Setups & Methodology

Test Setups & Methodology



For this review, we are going to be testing the performance of the MSI B350 Tomahawk four configurations: default settings @ DDR4-2133, default settings @ DDR4-3200, automatic overclocking settings, and manual overclock settings. The components and software are the same across all five configurations, and aside from manually selecting the frequencies, timings, and voltages in the manual overclock configuration, every option in the BIOS was at its default setting.

AMD Ryzen AM4 Test Setup​

For all of the benchmarks, appropriate lengths are taken to ensure an equal comparison through methodical setup, installation, and testing. The following outlines our testing methodology:

A) Windows is installed using a full format.

B) Chipset drivers and accessory hardware drivers (audio, network, GPU) are installed.

C) To ensure consistent results, a few tweaks are applied to Windows 10 Pro and the NVIDIA control panel:
  • UAC – Disabled
  • Indexing – Disabled
  • Superfetch – Disabled
  • System Protection/Restore – Disabled
  • Problem & Error Reporting – Disabled
  • Remote Desktop/Assistance - Disabled
  • Windows Security Center Alerts – Disabled
  • Windows Defender – Disabled
  • Screensaver – Disabled
  • Power Plan – High Performance
  • V-Sync – Off

D) All available Windows updates are then installed.

E) All programs are installed and then updated, followed by a defragment.

F) Benchmarks are each run three to ten times, and unless otherwise stated the results are then averaged.


Here is a full list of the applications that we utilized in our benchmarking suite:
  • 3DMark Vantage Professional Edition v1.1.3
  • 3DMark11 Professional Edition v1.0.132.0
  • 3DMark 2013 Professional Edition v2.3.3693
  • AIDA64 Engineer Edition v5.90.4242 Beta
  • Cinebench R15 64-bit
  • FAHBench 1.2.0
  • Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward Benchmark
  • Grand Theft Auto V
  • HEVC Decode Benchmark (Cobra) v1.61
  • LuxMark v3.1
  • Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
  • PCMark 8 v2.7.613
  • SuperPi Mod v1.9 WP
  • Valve Particle Simulation Benchmark v1.0.0.0
  • WinRAR x64 5.50
  • wPRIME version v2.10
  • X3: Terran Conflict Demo v1.0
That is about all you need to know methodology wise, so let's get to the good stuff!
 
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