Our first look at MSI X299 offerings arrived in the form of a mid-range board from the Arsenal Gaming series, the Tomahawk Arctic. The Tomahawk line of motherboards, MSI says, have heavy plated heatsinks and "combative looks ready for anything". It uses MSI's branded 'Military Class VI' components and has features for gamers aimed to improve their gaming experience.

MSI X299 Tomahawk Arctic Overview

MSI released its Arsenal Gaming line back in 2015 with the Z170 chipset. Within the line were board names such as Grenade, Mortar, Bazooka, and the Tomahawk, each supporting a different level of features within the Arsenal line. The Arsenal Gaming Segment is suited for the beginner or casual gamer using integrated graphics or mainstream level VGAs. Features for the casual user have more subtle influences, such as LED lighting that is found on the back of the motherboard for an ambient light approach. The Mousemaster software allows users to tweak their high-end gaming mouse, and an EZ debug LED showing where in the boot process it may be getting hung up. All of the features are claimed to simplify and streamline activities for that casual user and gamer.

Overall, the CPU performance on the X299 Tomahawk AC was above average, managing to beat out comparable boards in some tests due to the use of Multi-Core Enhancement although some tests were more affected by MCE than others, as well as different tests to other MSI boards. We are not entirely sure why this happened as the testing used the exact same settings and drivers. Even turbo/clock speeds were the same in both tests, so it might be related to how the board ramps up and down the frequency on the local environment at the time. Boot times were in the middle of the pack, while power use was slightly higher than the previous boards tested. Overclocking results were the same as our other high-end motherboard tests, with our i9-7900X hitting 4.5 GHz at our temperature limit. The voltage needed to reach the clocks was slightly less, though not enough to push past our current temperature limited clock speeds. The small variance could also be due to software since the board does not have voltage read points to confirm with a digital multi-meter.

The Tomahawk gives users almost the full gamut of storage connectivity. There are six SATA ports, two M.2 slots, and one U.2 port. The two M.2 slots go through the chipset, and sends the data through the same path as the eight SATA ports to do so. With that, when using M.2 SATA devices, some SATA ports will be disabled. The U.2 port and the third PCIe slot are switched, meaning only one can be used at once. There are many options and many outcomes when using these devices. It is explained in more detail later in the review, as well as all the details are found in the manual (p32).

There are six total PCIe slots with the slots in positions 1, 4, and 6 are all CPU connected lanes (intended for video cards) while PCIe slots 2, 3, and 5 are sourced from the chipset. For connectivity, the MSI X299 Tomahawk has a USB 3.1 (10 Gbps) Type-C port and Type-A port on the back panel via an ASMedia 3142 controller, with three other 5 Gbps ports on the back panel managed by the ASMedia 1074 hub. The chipset delivers the remainder of the 5 Gbps and USB 2.0 ports. Audio comes through a Realtek ALC1220 codec, and networking from an Intel I219-V controller. 

The X299 Tomahawk Arctic is currently priced at $280 at both Newegg and Amazon. The price point places the Tomahawk Arctic in the middle of MSI's entire product stack, and between its twin siblings within the Arsenal line, the Tomahawk (non-Arctic) and the Tomahawk AC. They share the exact same DNA but are both non-white, while the Tomahawk AC adds Wi-Fi and Bluetooth using the Intel Dual Band Wireless AC 8265 module.

MSI's X299 Strategy

MSI brings a current total of 11 X299 boards to choose from: the MSI X299 XPower Gaming AC holds the flagship title and makes its home in the Enthusiast Gaming segment along with the X299 Gaming M7 ACK. There are a total of three boards in the Performance Gaming hierarchy in the X299 Gaming Pro Carbon AC, Gaming Pro Carbon, and X299M Gaming Pro Carbon AC (mATX). The Arsenal line carries the three Tomahawk boards, the X299 Tomahawk, the X299 Tomahawk Arctic (this review) and the X299 Tomahawk AC, while the Pro lineup for professionals has three motherboards; X299 SLI Plus (review soon!), X299 Raider, and X299M-A Pro.

MSI's X299 Motherboard Lineup (11/20)
  AnandTech
Review
Amazon Newegg
X299 XPower Gaming AC   $450 $450
X299 Gaming M7 ACK   $378 $380
X299 Gaming Pro Carbon AC Review 9/21 $310 $310
X299 Gaming Pro Carbon   $320 $320
X299M Gaming Pro Carbon AC   $some -
X299 Tomahawk AC   $290 $290
X299 Tomahawk Arctic this review $280 $280
X299 Tomahawk   $269 $270
X299 SLI PLUS [upcoming link] $220 $220
X299 Raider   $215 $220
X299M-A Pro   - $237

The two mini-ITX versions are seemingly hard to find at this moment, in the US at least.

Information on Intel's X299 and our other Reviews

With Intel's release of the Basin Falls platform, encompassing the new X299 chipset and LGA2066 socket, a new generation of CPUs called Skylake-X and Kaby Lake-X were also released. The Skylake-X CPUs range from the 7800X, a hex-core part, all the way up to an 18-core 7980XE multitasking behemoth. Between the bookend CPUs are five others increasing in core count, as in the table below. The latter HCC models are set to be launched over 2H of 2017.

Skylake-X Processors
  7800X 7820X 7900X   7920X 7940X 7960X 7980XE
Silicon LCC   HCC
Cores / Threads 6/12 8/16 10/20   12/24 14/28 16/32 18/36
Base Clock / GHz 3.5 3.6 3.3   2.9 3.1 2.8 2.6
Turbo Clock / GHz 4.0 4.3 4.3   4.3 4.3 4.3 4.2
Turbo Max Clock N/A 4.5 4.5   4.4 4.4 4.4 4.4
L3 1.375 MB/core   1.375 MB/core
PCIe Lanes 28 44   44
Memory Channels 4   4
Memory Freq DDR4 2400 2666   2666
TDP 140W   140W 165W
Price $389 $599 $999   $1199 $1399 $1699 $1999

Board partners have launched dozens of motherboards on this platform already, several of which we will have an opportunity to look over in the coming weeks and months. 

Other AnandTech Reviews for Intel’s Basin Falls CPUs and X299

Prices checked 11/20

  • The Intel Skylake-X Review: Core i9-7900X, i7-7820X and i7-7800X Tested
  • The Intel Kaby Lake-X Review: Core i7-7740X and i5-7640X Tested
  • Intel Announces Basin Falls: The New High-End Desktop Platform and X299 Chipset
     
  • ($390) The ASRock X299 Professional Gaming i9 Review: [link]
  • ($310) The MSI X299 Gaming Pro Carbon Review [link]
  • ($300) The ASRock X299 Taichi Review [link]
  • ($280) The MSI X299 Tomahawk Arctic Review (this review)
     
  • ($500) The GIGABYTE X299 Gaming 9 Review (planned)
  • ($400) The GIGABYTE X299 Gaming 7 Review (planned)
  • ($400) The ASRock X299E-ITX/ac Review (being edited)
  • ($320) The ASUS Strix X299-E Gaming Review (running benchmarks)
  • ($340) The ASUS X299 TUF Mark 1 Review (running benchmarks)
  • ($220) The MSI X299 SLI Plus Review (being edited)

To read specifically about the X299 chip/platform and the specifications therein, our deep dive into what it is can be found at this link.

X299 Motherboard Review Notice

If you’ve been following the minutiae of the saga of X299 motherboards, you might have heard some issues regarding power delivery, overclocking, and the ability to cool these processors down given the power consumption. In a nutshell, it comes down to this:

  • Skylake-X consumes a lot of power at peak (150W+),
  • The thermal interface inside the CPU doesn’t do much requiring a powerful CPU cooler,
  • Some motherboard vendors apply Multi-Core Turbo which raises the power consumption and voltage, exacerbating the issue
  • The VRMs have to deal with more power, and due to losses, raise in temperature
  • Some motherboards do not have sufficient VRM cooling without an active cooler
  • This causes the CPU to declock or hit thermal power states as to not degrade components
  • This causes a performance drop, and overclocked systems are affected even more than usual

There has been some excellent work done by Igor Wallossek over at Tom’s Hardware, with thermal probes, thermal cameras, and performance analysis. The bottom line is that motherboard vendors need to be careful when it comes to default settings (if MCT is enabled by default) and provide sufficient VRM cooling in all scenarios – either larger and heavier heatsinks or moving back to active cooling. This means there are going to be some X299 boards that perform normally, and some that underperform based on BIOS versions or design decisions.

Visual Inspection
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  • blppt - Tuesday, November 21, 2017 - link

    Believe it or not, I've had exactly zero issues with my ASRock Taichi X399---was kinda concerned about trusting a "budget brand" but after seeing all the issues with the MSI/ASUS/GB boards, I decided to give them a try.

    I do NOT use custom fan profiles though---cant tell you if those work or not.
    Reply
  • PeachNCream - Monday, November 20, 2017 - link

    While the motherboard's price and features seem reasonable, the terminology used to describe the target audience seems weird to me. When I think of casual gaming, playing things like Candy Crush Saga or spending time on Pogo.com both come to mind. Maybe there's a few inexpensive titles or some occasional 3D stuff, but certainly nothing that needs a 6+ core CPU or even much more than a low end dGPU. Reply
  • inighthawki - Monday, November 20, 2017 - link

    "Casual" in the realm of PC gaming pretty much refers to anything short of playing competitively or professional, which can essentially refer to anyone who just wants really high performance. Reply
  • PeachNCream - Monday, November 20, 2017 - link

    That's a much broader use of the term than I've seen anywhere else. It's not like "casual gamer" has a formal definition someplace so you can get away with using it like that, but you and MSI are the only ones I know of that have done it. I think from MSI's view, its mostly wishful thinking to get people playing Farmville to buy a $280 motherboard and a Skylake-X CPU for it. I'm sure they'd like that and their marketing people are trying to encourage more casual types to move up the product stacks, but most of us causal types are playing games on our phones and tablets or on a very low-end notebook PC rather than a desktop put together from individual parts. Reply
  • Intervenator - Monday, November 20, 2017 - link

    I appreciate how this board is the most aesthetically pleasing white board I have ever seen on the market, and one of the nicest looking boards of all colors and designs I have seen in a long time. Reply
  • nevcairiel - Tuesday, November 21, 2017 - link

    The X299 Tomahawk has a particularly bad VRM implementation, so that should probably be noted somewhere. It has some VRM components on the back of the board with only a tiny heatspreader on them (and only a 4x2 design). The X299 Gaming Pro Carbon in comparison comes with a 6x2 power design using better components - and even those need to get cooled on high OCs.

    From the feature set alone, the Tomahawk looked like a board I might've bought, but alas the subpar VRM limiting the OC potential had turned me off of those quite fast.
    Reply
  • Joe Shields - Tuesday, November 21, 2017 - link

    It was mentioned below the specifications table that it wasn't 'great'. However, it handled all of our testing and overclocking just fine. You will likely run out of cooling first before there is a worry about the VRMs here. Also consider the board is marketed for the professional, so there really isn't a need in the first place considering the vast majority using the board will likely keep it at stock or mild clocks anyway. Reply
  • Joe Shields - Tuesday, November 21, 2017 - link

    Apologies, that is the SLI Plus marketed towards the professional. Scratch that portion of the above post. :) Reply
  • notR1CH - Tuesday, November 21, 2017 - link

    What's this?! An MSI motherboard without an integrated Killer NIC? I hope they've finally realized gamers aren't interested in sub-par Killer products and this trend continues. Reply
  • gammaray - Wednesday, November 22, 2017 - link

    Why you say Killer NIC is sub par? Reply

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