MSI X99A TOMAHAWK Review

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Do you have an aging X99 motherboard that limits your options with PCIe SSDs? Or maybe you’ve been eyeing some high-speed DDR4 that your current board cant handle. In the last few months, many motherboard manufacturers have released new X99 motherboards to update the X99 chipset and let power users keep up with the Joneses. MSI’s X99A TOMAHAWK, for example, includes a 32Gbps M.2 slot, a 32Gbps U.2 port, and two lOGbps USB 3.1 ports (one Type C and one Type A). Other gaming goodies are onboard, too.

The X99A TOMAHAWK is a member of MSI’s ARSENAL GAMING series, which also includes boards bearing MORTAR, BAZOOKA, and GRENADE titles. Speaking generally, these boards feature less onboard overclocking and multi-GPU amenities than MSI’s high-end X99 boards, but the ARESNAL models are typically more affordable. The X99A TOMAHAWK is priced $269.99, while some of MSIs enthusiast GAMING boards cost more than $400. Best of all, the X99A TOMAHAWK comes with MSI’s Audio Boost 3, GAMING LAN Manager, and Gaming Device Port additions that make the high-end models great for gaming duties.

Right out of the box, you’ll be able to use either Intel’s Broadwell-E Core i7 Extreme Edition processors or the older Haswell-E processors with the X99A TOMAHAWK. If you opt for one of Intel’s Broadwell-E CPUs, the X99A TOMAHAWK will automatically optimize performance with single-threaded workloads via Intel’s Turbo Boost 3.0 Max Technology. Intel’s Extreme Edition chips are also great multitaskers, and MSI further enhances your build’s multitasking capabilities by providing eight DIMM slots that can handle up to 128GB of DDR4-3333MHz memory.

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A gaming build based around the X99A TOMAHAWK can include up to three GPUs in SLI or CrossFire. If you install an Extreme Edition chip with 40 PCIe lanes and three graphics cards, the board’s three PCIe xl6 slots will operate at x16/x16/x8 speeds. With a 28 PCIe lane Extreme Edition processor, lane speed on the three PCIe xl6 slots will drop to x8/x8/x8 speed with three GPUs.

In addition to the three PCIe x16 slots, MSI also includes two PCIe x1 slots— both of which are located beneath the top PCIe x16 slot.

The layout of the PCIe x16 slots—with two PCIe x1 slots between the top and middle x16 slots—provides some extra breathing room between two dual slot GPUs. Of course, this assumes you don’t plan on installing an add-on card into one of the PCIe x1 slots. The expansion slot layout also means you can install a GPU with a three slot cooler into the top PCIe x16 slot without covering the second PCIe x16 slot. Beneath the second PCIe x16 slot, MSI provides an M.2 slot that supports type 2242/2260/2280/22110 form factors.

To support offboard storage, the X99A TOMAHAWK includes a U.2 port and 10 6Gbps SATA ports. Interestingly, four of the 6Gbps SATA ports are located along the bottom of the PCB with frontfacing connectors. The U.2 port and the remaining six 6Gbps SATA ports reside in the conventional location along the right of the PCB with right angled connectors. The front-facing SATA ports, on the other hand, take up valuable space along the bottom of the PCB, which forces MSI to squeeze most all of the front panel headers under the bottom PCIe x16 slot.

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The X99 chipset, by itself, comes up a little short on native USB bandwidth when USB 3.1 ports enter the equation. For this reason, MSI adds two ASMedia chipsets to the X99A TOMAHAWK. The ASM 1142 chipset supports the two USB 3.1 ports on the rear panel, while the ASM 1074 chipset serves up four USB 3.0 ports on the rear panel. The X99 chipset powers the two USB 3.0 headers, the two USB 2.0 headers, and the four USB 2.0 ports on the rear panel.

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This motherboard performed exceptionally well, as you might expect, when paired with an Intel Core i7-6950X, a ZOTAC GeForce GTX 1070 AMP Edition, and 32GB of HyperX Predator DDR4-3000. One need only look at the overall score (8423) in 3DMark’s Fire Strike Extreme test to see how powerful our test system is. The X99A TOMAHAWK and 32GB of HyperX Predator memory also showed well in Sisoftware’s Memory Bandwidth test with transfer rates near 60GBps. Intel’s Core ¡7-6950X displayed just why it’s the most powerful Extreme Edition chip available, too, with 1887 points in Cinebench 15.

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MSI Computer Extreme Gaming Intel X99 LGA 2011 DDR4 USB 3.1 ATX...

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The X99A TOMAHAWK is an excellent value for builders looking to upgrade their X99 mainboard. The onboard additions, such as the 32Gbps U.2 and M.2 ports, are similar to what you’d find on a higher priced X99 models. In addition to the performance enhancements, MSI includes its top-notch onboard audio and networking, as well as utilities that let you customize and manage sound quality and network traffic. The X99A TOMAHAWK is a missile that’s aimed squarely at gamers.

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    State Of The Art Standards U.2 2016-10-05 at 4:36 pm

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