MSI X299 Gaming M7 ACK Visual Inspection

Our first real glimpse of the board on the previous page shows the Gaming M7 ACK isn't a run of the mill budget board. For its price point, it certainly shouldn't be. The PCB is matte black with only a few distinguishing colors, with all heatsinks and shrouds a grey color. The back panel IO shroud extends down through the PCIe area and covers the audio bits in the process. The color is left to the RGBs: the back panel IO portion has RGB LEDs, along with five more between the PCIe slots on the bottom portion of the shroud. The power delivery heatsink sitting above the socket also includes integrated RGB LEDs.

What is easily noticable when looking at the board is the chipset heatsink, which is quite unique with its shape. The heatsink, along with cooling the chipset, doubles as an M.2 module cooler, with arms spreading out between the PCIe slots. While having M.2 cooling isn't unique by itself, the cooling is hinged with the chipset heatsink, allowing the cooler to pop up rather than be removed entirely. I have to say this is one of the more clean implementations of a robust M.2 cooler.

 

Diving into the specifics of the board, the MSI Gaming M7 ACK includes a total of six fan headers. On the top is where the CPU Fan 1, Pump Fan 1, and SYS Fan 1 reside, with the latter two located in the upper right-hand corner by the debug LED, and the CPU Fan on the left above the DRAM slots and to the left of the EPS power connectors. The remaining three headers, called SYS Fan 2/3/4, are located at the bottom of the board. All six headers have the ability to control the attached fans via PWM or DC. The CPU and Pump fans have an LED to indicate the fan control mode visually with red being PWM and green DC. MSI documentation does not mention if any of the headers are high amperage.

For the power delivery, MSI touts a 12-phase power delivery with 10-phases (a doubled 5-phase design) going to the CPU, and another phase for the VCCSA. Driving these are International Rectifier's IR3550 fully integrated power stages with an IR35201 multi-phase buck controller. The doubling duties are handled by five IR3599 doublers. The memory power delivery uses a Primarion PV4210 PWM with each memory phase using two 25A/40A NexFETs, in the CSD87350Q. Sending power to the VRMs is an 8-pin EPS and an (optional) 4-pin EPS connector. These premium power bits are the same that we found on the X299 Gaming Pro Carbon AC. 

The board comes with eight slots for memory, which are all reinforced by MSI's Steel Armor. Keeping the memory locked in place is a single latch on the top of the DRAM slot. Compared to dual latch systems, the single latch is a bit easier when the system is installed, and still locks the sticks down securely, but might require a double check on the bottom latch to make sure the memory is in place. The board supports both Dual and Quad channel DDR4 with capacity up to 128GB. Memory speed for quad-channel processors is up to DDR4-4266, and DDR4-4500 with dual-channel processors. 

The top-down image of the right side of the board shows, in the bottom corner, two of the eight SATA ports oriented vertically from the board. This follows with a U.2 connector, the six SATA ports, a front panel USB 3.1 header, and a pair of USB 3.0 headers. 

To the right of the 24-pin ATX connector are EZ debug LEDs (4), for Boot, DRAM, VGA, and CPU, which give a visual display of where the board is at in POST. Located directly to the left of those are a miniature set of voltage read points covering Vcore, VCCIO, VCCSA, DDR, CPU (input voltage), and Ring voltage. These are quite helpful when extreme overclocking, rather than relying on software readouts.

Across the bottom of the motherboard, there are several IO headers and a couple of buttons. From left to right we see:

  • Front Panel Audio
  • RGB LED header
  • Sys Fan 2/3/4 headers
  • Front Panel connectors
  • 2 x USB 2.0 headers
  • VROC header
  • Power Button
  • Reset Button
  • Game Boost knob, that goes up to 11
  • 2 x SATA ports

Hidden under the shroud on the left, connecting to the front panel audio, are two Realtek ALC1220 audio chips. Two is not a typo. MSI has one set up for front panel audio, and the other for audio output on the rear. It also uses Chemicon Gold Series audio capacitors for the front and rear outputs as well as separated audio layers for the left and right channels. 

The bottom half of the board has a total of six PCIe slots with all four full-length slots reinforced. Between the full length slots are two x4 slots connected via the chipset. The primary video card slots are all CPU connected (lane breakdowns in the table below). The primary video card slot slots are, from top to bottom, slots one and four. This configuration allows for double and triple wide cards to fit. Any three-way SLI/Crossfire action will utilize slot 6 (bottom slot). 

Below is a simplified list of  how the PCIe slots will work with each family of CPUs (talking PCIe lanes) when multiple cards are used (the "@" symbol is used to show slot preference for the configuration):

MSI X299 Gaming M7 ACK CPU PCIe Layout
  44-Lane
1/2-Way
44-Lane
3-Way
28-Lane
1/2-Way
28-Lane
3-Way
16-Lane
1-Way
16-Lane
2-Way
PCIe 1 @x16 @x16 @x16 @x8 @x8 @x8
PCIe 3 x4 x4 x4 x4 x4 -
PCIe 4 @x16 @x16 @x8 @x8 x4 @x8
PCIe 6 x8 @x8 - @x8 - -
 
SLI Yes Yes Yes Yes - Yes
Crossfire Yes Yes Yes Yes - Yes

So what might seem odd here is that the PCIe 3 slot is listed as PCIe 3.0 x4 from the CPU in all configurations, despite being a full sized slot. This is due to the breakdown with the PCIe lanes for the U.2/M.2 slots.

The back panel IO has the following connectors:

  • 1 x Clear CMOS
  • 1 x BIOS Flashback+ button
  • 1 x PS/2 Keyboard/mouse combo port
  • 3 x USB 2.0 ports
  • 2 x Wi-Fi Antenna connectors
  • 4 x USB 3.1 (5 Gbps) ports
  • 1 x LAN (RJ45) ports
  • 1 x USB 3.1 (10 Gbps) Type-A port
  • 1 x USB 3.1 (10 Gbps) Type-C port
  • 1 x Optical S/PDIF OUT connector
  • 5 x OFC audio jacks

In the Box

The MSI X299 Gaming M7 ACK includes the following accessories:

  • Driver & Utilities Disk
  • Motherboard User Guide
  • 4 x SATA cables
  • IO Shield
  • SLI HB Bridge M
  • 1 x 1 to 2 RGB LED Extension Y Cable (80cm)
  • Quick Installation Guide, SATA Labels, Manual
  • 3D X-Mounting Screw pillars
  • Case badge
  • 2 x Antenna

MSI X299 Gaming M7 ACK Overview BIOS and Software
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  • Diji1 - Wednesday, March 07, 2018 - link

    >don't buy that QoS bullshit, Ian, you're not stupid, if some idiot is shittorenting on ADSL no amount of qos

    So you've never used (or properly configured?) a device with QoS then I take it because if you had you wouldn't be dribbling inane stuff from your imagination like this.
    Reply
  • karakarga - Wednesday, March 07, 2018 - link

    New mainboards may start to use Doby Atmos playback with 9.1.6 output. New UHD films may soon adapt to it. Buying an amplifier is really expensive for hearing it. Computer with the help of CPU may ease it for us. Reply
  • PeachNCream - Monday, March 05, 2018 - link

    Lots of us have a very good understanding of networking so don't discount us as lacking the knowledge necessary to make sense of what Rivet Networks says their hardware is doing with respect to packet analysis and traffic prioritization. Maybe the specific implementation is unique to Killer NICs (I'd even argue that's not the case since they're moving to Intel hardware so if there is packet prioritization happening in hardware, it'll eventually be Intel's implementation with Rivet's interface atop it to allow user configuration). It also seems preconceived (alarmingly so) to assume the readers would just pop in to make negative comments if you go through the trouble of running benchmarks. I'd like to think there's value in what Anandtech publishes which is why most of us, even those with strongly negative opinions about Killer products, are here in the first place reading articles. Some of us don't clearly articulate why we don't like something though. Instead it might come off as general loathing, but I think the feedback you're getting here is rooted in the favorable light Killer is cast in without supporting data that's further combined with negative customer experiences of past Killer NIC products. If you'd like to address that perception and remain as outwardly positive quantified data that isn't marketing material direct from the company would go a long way because claims would have the necessary backing.

    I do worry though, that the Killer NIC's benefits can't be realized in benchmarks. If its the case that the key selling points aren't measurable, repeatable, or demonstrable then do they really exist? Are the use cases where a Killer NIC's benefits most likely to be realized commonplace enough to begin with and if they are, what sorts of difficulties make measurement so elusive? It's hard to accept the sales pitch if there's not a trustworthy third party out there that can show they actually exist.

    I understand why you'd like to consult with Rivet's personnel in the process of finding a way to measure and demonstrate what their hardware can do, but surely they already went through this trouble to get the numbers for their marketing materials that would put their product performance into bar graphs alongside other common network adapters. They've got to have invented that wheel already if they're claiming those benefits since false claims would expose the company to legal liability. It'd be odd that they're mum about it since their hardware appeals to a crowd of technically-inclined consumers that get very excited over a 2ms improvement in ping times to a game server.
    Reply
  • npz - Monday, March 05, 2018 - link

    I'd say that given their well deserved bad reputation in the past, they have a higher bar to climb to really convince the more knowledgeable consumer. And that is just merely for performance claims, not reliability, which is where the majority of their bad rep comes from. To be honest, I do not expect any tech journalist outfit to become a third party QA dev team either. Reply
  • PeachNCream - Tuesday, March 06, 2018 - link

    I hope I'm not misunderstanding what you're saying, but please correct me if I'm reading your intention wrong. I'm not expecting Anandtech to perform quality assurance at all. What I think is reasonable to ask is that if AT identifies Killer NICs in an outwardly positive manner over and over again despite the nearly universally negative response it generates among readers, then the onus is on Anandtech to provide some kind of evidence that proves there's a good reason for it. Good reason beyond not getting future free samples from a hardware company like say MSI if the site doesn't write a positive article.

    I've been watching and reading AT for years and aside from a 2006 review of very, very old Killer NIC hardware, there's been no published benchmark data. In the meantime, Rivet Networks' personnel were fast to respond to comments about their products in other articles AND Ian has been a strong supporter, often defending what is a questionable location to place QoS on a network (individual device NIC versus the home router, for example). Taking a dim view of the readers' capability to comprehend how TCP/IP networks handle data transmission and assuming there's no point in presenting benchmarks because the feedback in comments will be negative shows contempt for readers and is worrisome. That naturally leads to a certain amount of suspicion and I think combined altogether paints a picture that leads to a cycle of negative feedback plus a loss of reader engagement. I'm hoping that benchmarks done independently of Rivet Networks' involvement or influence with a genuine, honest assessment of company claims can break the cycle, because I don't think there really is an underlying ethical issue even though there are some worrying indicators.
    Reply
  • jabber - Monday, March 12, 2018 - link

    Are you the guy that used to put up glowing posts about Killer NICs going back to when they first came out? Every review that came out showing they offered nothing for the huge mark up would be a post from that guy stating the opposite. If only I could remember his name. But yeah every review you would find this guy bigging up the Killers. It was quite hilarious. Reply
  • PeachNCream - Monday, March 12, 2018 - link

    I'm absolutely not that guy in the slightest bit. My opinion about Killer NICs has swung between apathetic to mildly suspicious over time. I hoped that my posts conveyed that while I'm open to the idea of giving Rivet Networks the benefit of doubt, it bothers me quite a bit that Anandtech paints Killer NICs in a positive light without providing readers with supporting data. I just want to see some sort of evidence OR for the push to boost Killer NICs dialed back to a dull roar. Reply
  • npz - Monday, March 05, 2018 - link

    But for non-whitelisted programs, won't the packet analytics only work if the data is not encrypted? And everyone's is encrypted now.

    I can see a very realistic scenario of doing these concurrently: torrent downloading/uploading + gaming + live streaming. I can also envision another more niche but professional use case of video conferencing + DAW collaboration program + maybe live streaming your session
    Reply
  • PeachNCream - Tuesday, March 06, 2018 - link

    It depends on where the encryption is happening, but if its say a software package that wraps up communication inside a VPN tunnel, then the NIC will be unable to distinguish one stream from another and won't be able to exercise any prioritization. At least, that's what I believe will be the case anyway unless the ethernet adapter itself is performing encryption which is the case in most modern hardware when you're transmitting data over WiFi using modern WPA.

    Additionally, performing packet analysis takes compute time somewhere. Whether that happens inside the NIC or relies on the CPU, it will add latency which is another reason why I'm not so sure about Rivet's claims of improved performance. Finally, there's the problem of other devices on the network outside of the NIC's control and the path data takes after leaving the router through the ISP's network and then other provider wires. A Killer NIC can't address any of those problems which, besides persistent problems with their firmware and driver quality, is why the performance claims are suspect.
    Reply
  • nevcairiel - Tuesday, March 06, 2018 - link

    >If you are gaming, plus downloading, plus streaming, plus watching youtube on another monitor etc,
    > the priority thing does its job.

    I have my router doing proper QoS, I can download at full speed and not notice a dip in gaming. IMHO the "bottleneck" in the network needs to perform this task for good results, and thats often the gateway from ethernet to the internet.
    Reply

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