MSI’s first MSI Z790 board, the MAG Z790 Tomahawk WIFI DDR4, came out of the budget side of the product stack. Using DDR4 instead of DDR5 can save you about $10-20 on motherboard costs and over $100 on RAM itself. Going this route will save you a lot of money that could be put into other parts such as video cards (especially if you already have DDR4 RAM).
At just over $300, the Tomahawk WIFI DDR4 is a full-featured option with four M.2 sockets, the latest generation premium audio codec, excellent power delivery and a distinctive all-black look. All in all, it’s an attractive option in his Z790 space on a budget, but there are similarly equipped boards that are cheaper now.
MSI’s Z790 product stack (as of this writing) consists of 14 motherboards of all shapes, sizes and price points. At the top of the food chain are his MEG boards (Godlike, MEG Ace), followed by MPG classes (Carbon WIFI, Edge WIFI, Edge WIFI DDr4, and Edge WIFI ITX). The cheaper MAG series has Tomahawk WIFI in DDR4 and DDR5 flavors. Additionally, six “Pro” boards meet the company’s budget for his Z790 offering.
Performance on DDR4-based motherboards was solid almost across the board. What was lacking was mainly the AIDA bandwidth test, 7Zip compression, and Procyon video editing, all of which were noticeably slower than the DDR5 system. I caught up with the product. DDR4-based motherboards are just as fast as DDR5 for most common tasks.
Below, we dig into the board details and see if it’s worthy of being on our Best Motherboards list. Before we get to the heart of the matter, we’ll start by listing the specs from the MSI website.
Specifications: MSI MAG Z790 Tomahawk WIFI DDR4
|voltage regulator||18 phases (16x 90A SPS MOSFET for Vcore)|
|video port||(1) HDMI (v2.1)|
|row 5 – cell 0||(1) DisplayPort (v1.4)|
|USB port||(1) USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 (20Gbps) Type-C|
|row 7 – cell 0||(1) USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10Gbps) Type-C|
|row 8 – cell 0||(4) USB 3.2 Gen2 (10Gbps)|
|row 9 – cell 0||(4) USB 3.2 Gen1 (5Gbps)|
|network jack||(1) 2.5GbE|
|audio jack||(5) Analog + SPDIF|
|PCIe x16||(1) v5.0 (x16)|
|Row 15 – Cell 0||(1) v4.0 (x4)|
|PCIe x 1||(1) v.3.0 (x4)|
|DIMM slots||(4) DDR4 5333+(OC)*, 128GB capacity|
|Row 21 – Cell 0||1DPC 1R Max Speed 5333+ MHz|
|Row 22 – Cell 0||1DPC 2R Max Speed 4800+ MHz|
|Row 23 – Cell 0||2DPC 1R Max Speed 4400+ MHz|
|Row 24 – Cell 0||2DPC 2R Max Speed 4000+ MHz|
|M.2 socket||(1) PCIe 5.0 x4 (128Gbps) / PCIe (up to 80mm)|
|Row 26 – Cell 0||(4) PCIe 4.0 x4 (64Gbps) / PCIe (up to 80mm)|
|Row 27 – Cell 0||Supports RAID0/1/5|
|SATA port||(7) SATA3 6Gbps (supports RAID 0/1/5/10)|
|USB header||(1) USB v3.2 Gen 2, Type-C (10Gbps)|
|Row 31 – Cell 0||(2) USB v3.2 Gen 1 (5Gbps)|
|fan/pump header||(8) 4-pin (CPU, pump, system fan)|
|RGB header||(3) aRGB (3 pin)|
|Row 34 – Cell 0||(1) RGB (4 pin)|
|diagnostic panel||(1) Dr. Debug|
|Row 36 – Cell 0||(1) EZ debug LED|
|SATA controller||ASMedia ASM1061|
|ethernet controller||(1) Intel I-225V (2.5GbE)|
|Wi-Fi/Bluetooth||Intel Wi-Fi 6E (2×2 ax, MU-MIMO, 2.4/5/6 GHz, 160 MHz, BT 5.3)|
|HD audio codec||Realtek ALC4080|
|DDL/DTS||✗ / ✗|
MSI MAG Z790 Tomahawk WIFI DDR4 Box Contents
MSI includes some basic accessories in addition to the motherboard. It’s certainly not a comprehensive accessory stack, but it does include some of what you need to get started. Below is a complete list of included accessories.
- Quick install guide
- (2) SATA data cables
- EZ M.2 Clip
- Wi-Fi antenna
- USB driver stick
- cable sticker
MSI Z790 Tomahawk WIFI Design
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MSI’s Tomahawk board uses a military-style theme and has an all-black look that includes a 6-layer PCB. In fact, the only difference on the board is the enhanced PCIe slot and M.2 socket numbering. The board uses a large, heavy heatsink around the VRM, with a brushed aluminum finish and other beautiful cutouts. If you’re looking for his RGB lighting onboard, the Tomahawk has none, but you can add your own headers. Overall, the board will suit most build themes and you can add your own RGB glow if you want.
Starting with the top half of the board, we’ll take a closer look at the VRM heatsink and its design elements. There’s no heatpipe shared between them, but the under-the-hood parts are nice enough to not require a larger (and more expensive) design, sticking out between the two VRM heatsinks. There are two 8-pin EPS power connectors for powering the CPU (one required).
To the right of the socket are four non-hardened DRAM slots with locking mechanisms on each side. MSI lists support for capacities up to DDR4 5333 and 128GB. As expected, I had no problems with DDR4 3600 or DDR4 4000 sticks. If I were to nitpick about RAM slots, I’d like them to be one-sided locked so they could be easily removed, but few people care about that.
Located above the DRAM slots, it spies the first two (out of eight) fan headers and two (out of four) RGB headers. Starting with a 4-pin fan header, it will all auto-detect whether the connected device is her PWM-controlled or DC-controlled. All system fan headers support 1A/12W, CPU_Fan outputs up to 2A/24W, while the pump fan outputs up to 3A/36W. Control of the connected 4-pin device is done from BIOS or MSI Center software.
Along the right edge is another fan header, an EZ debug LED, and a 24-pin ATX power connector to power the board. Just below that are the USB 3.2 Gen 1 (5 Gbps) and USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10 Gbps) headers on the front panel.
Moving to the VRM, power flows from the 8-pin EPS connector to the Renesas RAA229132 PWM controller. For Vcore, the power goes to 16x 90A Intersil ISL99390 SPS MOSFETs. The available 1,440 amps can handle the flagship Intel Core i9-13900K stock and overclocked. No concerns about Tomahawk power delivery.
You’ll find more of this class of PCBs in the bottom half of the board than the more expensive ones. To that end, the audio section is fully exposed on the left, showing off the Realtek ALC 4080 codec and some exclusive gold audio capacitors. It doesn’t have the fancy DACs found on some high-end boards, but it does have the latest generation codecs. Most users will be happy with this audio implementation.
In the middle of the board are two PCIe slots and all M.2 sockets. Starting with the slots, there are two full-length PCIe slots and one x1 size slot. The top full-length slot (primary graphics slot) is reinforced to prevent shearing from heavy video cards that can help with EMI. This slot is connected through the CPU and is the only slot that supports PCIe 5.0. The bottom full-length slot is connected through the chipset and runs up to PCIe 4.0 x4, while the x1 slot is PCIe 3.0 x1 and draws bandwidth from the chipset. Crossfire support is not mentioned in the specs or the manual, but it is possible in terms of bandwidth.
For M.2 storage, there are 4 sockets mixed between PCIe slots. From top to bottom, M.2_1 supplies lanes from the CPU and supports PCIe 4.0 x4 (64 Gbps) modules up to 110mm. The next three sockets get their bandwidth from the chipset and work with PCIe 4.0 x4 (64Gbps) and up to 80mm modules. M.2_3 supports SATA-based storage devices and PCIe.
Several headers are exposed at the bottom of the board. You’ll find the usual stuff like extra USB ports, an RGB header, and a power/reset button. Below is the complete list from left to right.
- front panel audio
- 4-pin ARGB header
- 3-pin RGB header
- thunderbolt header
- (3) system fan header
- (2) USB 2.0 headers
- (1) system fan header
- SATA port
- system panel header
Going back to the pre-installed rear IO, the Z790 Tomahawk features a black background with light gray labels on all ports. It has 10 USB ports. Six 10 Gbps ports (red, and two Type-C), and four 5 Gbps ports (blue). The DisplayPort and HDMI ports are on the far left, next to the small transparent CMOS and BIOS flashback buttons. The Intel 2.5 GbE port sits above his one of the Type-C ports, and the Wi-Fi 6E antenna connection is on the right, next to the 5-plug analog and SPDIF audio stacks.
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