Something was clear during 2016: RGB LED is here and it wants to be everywhere. It seems that a multicolored piece of computer hardware is the new thing, and every vendor wants to show it off. Usually the LED comes with a colored product anyway, so there are multiple angles for aesthetics, but some motherboard manufacturers have decided that sometimes a cleaner look is needed. MSI’s Carbon series is meant to be this – clean, black, and carbon fiber accented. With today’s review, we’re looking at the MSI X99A Gaming Pro Carbon which follows this understated classical elegance, but then straps RGB LEDs on the top anyway.

Other AnandTech Reviews for Intel’s LGA2011-3 Platform

The Intel Core i7-6950X, i7-6900K, i7-6850K and i7-6800K Broadwell-E Review
The Intel Core i7-5960X, i7-5930K and i7-5820 Haswell-E Review
The Intel Xeon E5 v3 Fourteen-Core Review (E5-2695 v3, E5-2697 v3)
The Intel Xeon E5 v3 Twelve-Core Review (E5-2650L v3, E5-2690 v3)
The Intel Xeon E5 v3 Ten-Core Review (E5-2650 v3, E5-2687W v3)

X99 Series Motherboard Reviews:
Prices Correct at time of each review

($750) The ASRock X99 WS-E 10G Review
($600) The ASUS X99-E-WS 10G Review
($600) The ASRock X99 Extreme11 Review
($500) The ASUS Rampage V Extreme Review
($400) The ASUS X99-Deluxe Review
($340) The GIGABYTE X99 G1.Gaming WiFi Review
($330) The ASRock X99 OC Formula Review
($330) The MSI X99A Gaming Pro Carbon Review
($323) The ASRock X99 WS Review
($310) The GIGABYTE X99-UD7 WiFi Review
($310) The ASUS X99 Sabertooth Review
($300) The GIGABYTE X99-SOC Champion Review
($300) The ASRock X99E-ITX Review
($300) The MSI X99S MPower Review
($275) The ASUS X99-A Review
($241) The MSI X99S SLI PLUS Review

To read specifically about the X99 platform and the specifications therein, our deep dive into what it is can be found at this link.

The MSI X99A Gaming Pro Carbon Overview

When we discuss processors, typically the conversion ends up at some point about price/performance ratios and making sure that a user is getting what they want at the right price point. That isn’t particularly true for motherboards, because performance (aside a few system level metrics) typically is not related to cost, unless something odd is going on with the BIOS and some setting is applied incorrectly. What you get with a motherboard is feature-set, price, stability, add-ons, power, and for those inclined, overclocking.

As a result it can be hard to judge one motherboard over another. A feature that might be worth $15 extra to one person might only be worth $2 to another, based on their use and workflow. This is why we end up with so many different motherboard products as well, some differing by a single port because one global customer doesn’t want HDMI even though all the traces are there and it only saves $0.002 for the actual connector.

At the higher end of the motherboard market it is perhaps just as true, though slightly less picky: a user might not care if a fifth USB 3.0 port is there, but when it comes to things like PCIe storage, network controllers or Thunderbolt 3, the big things that do cost double digits, then it becomes relevant. Users in this price bracket may also be sensitive to aesthetics, local warranty packages, or promises of future updates.

So here’s the MSI X99A Gaming Pro Carbon. It performs well in our benchmark suite, but costs a bit more than a bottom rung X99 motherboard. It has PCIe storage, but you will have to select between M.2 or U.2. It’s designed for systems up to three-GPUs, reinforces the PCIe slots and gives overclocking presets. It provides enhanced audio with PCB separation and filter caps, but then also bundles the Nahimic software.

  

The choice of motherboard you want to buy is more budget driven than anything else, but motherboard manufacturers want to entice you in with features, especially if you are spending upwards of $1000 on a processor. The X99A Gaming Pro Carbon isn’t the cheapest, but was one of the showcase motherboards for MSI’s X99 refresh, with several new features and a new look as well as new software to play with – U.2, USB 3.1, slot reinforcement and a carbon-fiber look mixed with RGB LEDs. Read on for the full review. 

Quick Links to Other Pages

In The Box and Visual Inspection
Test Bed and Setup
Benchmark Overview
BIOS
Software
System Performance (Audio, USB, Power, POST Times on Windows 7, Latency)
CPU Performance, Short Form (Office Tests and Transcoding)
Single GTX 980 Gaming Performance
Conclusions

Overclocking

Our standard overclocking methodology is as follows. We select the automatic overclock options and test for stability with PovRay and OCCT to simulate high-end workloads. These stability tests aim to catch any immediate causes for memory or CPU errors.

For manual overclocks, based on the information gathered from previous testing, starts off at a nominal voltage and CPU multiplier, and the multiplier is increased until the stability tests are failed. The CPU voltage is increased gradually until the stability tests are passed, and the process repeated until the motherboard reduces the multiplier automatically (due to safety protocol) or the CPU temperature reaches a stupidly high level (100ºC+). Our test bed is not in a case, which should push overclocks higher with fresher (cooler) air.

Overclock Results

Using the latest Core i7-6950X, the automated overclocking performance hit a snag when the AVX instructions came in, but the manual overclocking was good up to 4.1 GHz. 94ºC for our CPU sample is high enough without pushing it further.

Board Features, Visual Inspection
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  • ddriver - Monday, February 06, 2017 - link

    Great more rainbows, cuz nothing spells "pro" like rainbows do. IMO people already know that RGB LEDs implies they can change color, so rainbows aren't really necessary, unless trying to appeal to a specific and fairly narrow market niche. Reply
  • tarqsharq - Monday, February 06, 2017 - link

    Are you guys looking to update your review GPU?

    A GTX980 is seriously falling behind the times and will bottleneck a CPU in many titles even at 1080p.
    Reply
  • TEAMSWITCHER - Monday, February 06, 2017 - link

    If a GTX 980 is a bottleneck for 1080p gaming, then I'm officially done with the PC Gaming Industry ... forever. Have fun playing games that look pretty and run crappy. Reply
  • TheinsanegamerN - Wednesday, February 08, 2017 - link

    Oh no! a 2014 GPU is a bottleneck in the newest games in 2017?!? WHO WOUDDA THUNK?!?

    The 980 is a good gaming chip, but for benchmarks like this, it's been long known that there are better parts for the job. 980ti/1070 should be the minimum.
    Reply
  • close - Monday, February 06, 2017 - link

    Since the gaming PC is the only area where PC sales aren't slumping that niche might not be so small. You'd be amazed how many people dream of having a gaming system with the typical gaudy computer case, mandatory transparent side-panel, as many LEDs splashed around in every little component, the RGB-er the merrier, hopefully any kind of custom watercooling loop to show fluorescent tubing on top of everything else.

    It even says "Gaming Pro", not "Pro".

    Ian, are you sure about the $0.002 per HDMI connector thingy?
    Reply
  • ddriver - Monday, February 06, 2017 - link

    I meant leprechauns doh :D Reply
  • 80-wattHamster - Tuesday, February 07, 2017 - link

    It's probably not far off. When you get to quantities in the tens of thousands and up, stuff like that gets CHEAP. It's not $0.002 in final cost; production time and resources aren't free. Having an HDMI connector vs. not probably ends up being a difference of $0.10 (+/- $0.05). Folks that know electronics manufacturing better than I, please correct. Reply
  • Murloc - Thursday, February 09, 2017 - link

    ddriver wasn't complaining about the RGB LEDs, but rather that to advertise them they put them in a rainbow configuration, he thinks that it should be obvious and so they shouldn't do it, unless they were trying to attract people who like rainbows.
    I don't agree with him, rainbow advertising material makes it clear that the LEDs are INDEPENDENTLY controlled.
    Reply
  • Flunk - Monday, February 06, 2017 - link

    I don't think I agree with you. I'd say the best feature of customizable RGB lighting is that you can turn it off or just pick a suitable colour scheme. That way it doesn't matter what you want, the board will still appeal. I'm not big for the gaudy crap (I once bought an Alienware m14x R2 because of the massive discount and ran it with only the keyboard lights on an set to white the whole time), but it doesn't really bother me if the LEDs are there as long as I can turn it off. The reason you're seeing these everywhere is that they don't add very much cost to the bill of materials. Reply
  • ddriver - Monday, February 06, 2017 - link

    I don't think you got my point. I don't have a problem with customizable RGB LEDs, I was just pointing out that the rainbow showcasing really ruins the "pro" looks of the product. Reply

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