Date: Tuesday , September 18, 2018
Last year, when Threadripper launched, motherboard makers seemed rather gunshy about making motherboards to support it. Most companies had one or two offerings rather than five or more models built around that specific chipset and socket. AMD has definitely made a comeback this last year with Ryzen and Threadripper. The latter is certainly a niche product with an appeal for a specific crowd. To that end, MSI has deviated from its gaming standard with the introduction of the MEG X399 Creation. This is a motherboard that fills the same sort of void tackled by GIGABYTE’s X399 Designare. It's not a gaming board specifically, although its very similar to one that is. There is a bit of overlap between professionals who use their machines to make money by creating content and gamers. The MEG X399 Creation is in that same vein.
AMD’s 2990WX ($1750) is a processor that few people will purchase but it does get an hardware geek like myself excited. I don’t know that I would buy one myself but, seeing 64 threads running in task manager gets me far more excited than it probably should. It’s a powerful processor that needs a powerful motherboard to handle it. The VRM demands are probably the greatest we’ve ever seen on any consumer or HEDT motherboard when overclocking or even just running at stock clocks.
The MSI MEG X399 Creation ($500) is based on AMD’s X399 chipset. So, no new chipset for the 2xxx series Threadripper CPUs. I’ve seen people on various forum threads suggest that the earlier Threadripper boards were built well enough to handle the newer Threadripper options which is true in some sense of the word. However, we talk more about this in detail later. For the sake of argument, we will assume it’s true and move on for now. I’ll simply say that not all socket TR4 motherboards are created equal at this point.
This is certainly not an exaggeration. MSI’s MEG X399 Creation is an absolute beast. It has 19 DrMOS power phases. 16 of which are dedicated to the CPU and another 3 are provided for SOC voltage. Naturally, there is some phase doubling going on here, but that’s OK. The power phases are from International Rectifier and these have far more power generation capability than you could ever need. The electrical subsystem is powered through dual 8-pin CPU power plugs and can supply 60A / 720watts to the CPU according to MSI’s documentation. An external clock generator provides additional flexibility for base clock adjustment and memory tuning. Of course, on a motherboard like this overcurrent protection was to be expected.
The motherboard is extremely feature-rich in general. It features wireless networking, dual Gigabit Ethernet ports, 3x built in M.2 ports, premium audio and overclocking features, and other design elements that exude quality ranging from a premium PCB design to steel reinforcement for slots, and some of the beefiest heatsinks we’ve ever seen.
Main Specifications Overview:
Detailed Specifications Overview:
The packaging is what you would expect for any premium motherboard. However, inside the box you’ll find a comprehensive bundle of information and accessories. More accessories here than I care to list so I won’t bother boring you with all of that. A nice change of pace is how some of these accessories are packaged. All the cables are wrapped in plastic as usual, but they been placed inside this small cloth MSI bag which keeps them nice and organized in the box. As you can see from the above images are a ton of items included.
However, one accessory which is far more noteworthy than just about any included accessory I have ever seen bundled with a motherboard in the last 10 years or so. The accessory in question is a four slot M.2 to PCI-Express adapter. MSI calls it the M.2 Xpander Aero. This adapter features a nice heat sink and fan set up as well as thermal pads for your installed drives. There are temperature probes for each drive which can be found in each M.2 slot. Each slot supports drives up to 110mm in length. The adapter requires a dedicated six pin PCIe power connector to function. The adapter card itself takes up to expansion slots in the chassis and on the motherboard. Between this accessory and the built in M.2 slots one can install 8x PCIe M.2 drives. The M.2 Xpander Aero doesn’t allow for the use of SATA based M.2 devices but the built-in slots on the main motherboard PCB do.
The PCB is absolutely packed with integrated features, port headers, 10x fan headers, 3x thermal probe headers, SATA ports and other features. All of these things take up a massive amount of PCB real estate. However, MSI has done an outstanding job with the layout and has created a very nice layout that works well with few exceptions. I prefer the onboard controls closer to the RAM slots and the ATX power connector, but that’s a minor issue. I also don’t care for the location of the CMOS battery, but its seldom a problem. All you need to do is remove the video card to access the battery, which while not ideal isn’t a deal breaker by any means.
The CPU area is virtually the same as is it on every other socket TR4 motherboards. That’s to say that its cramped. The 19 power phases and huge MOSFET coolers take up a ton of space. The RAM slots are very close to the CPU which can’t be avoided. Installation of taller memory modules can certainly cause problems with larger air coolers. (The Cooler Master Wraith Ripper is actually designed with taller DIMMs as shown here in our installation video.) But this is not much of a problem given that air cooling the higher end Threadripper CPUs may not take you very far. Air coolers may get things done at stock speeds but once you start overclocking air cooling becomes woefully inadequate for the 2990WX. TR4 water blocks are on the large side as well but still fit the footprint of the socket itself.
The MOSFET coolers are some of the most robust I have ever seen. Additionally, these use an embedded heat pipe to improve heat dissipation capability. The MOSFET cooler behind the CPU socket that backs up to the I/O panel has a shroud that surrounds the I/O panel area. Gone are the super thin tin shrouds from the X99 GODLIKE era. This one is plastic and while I’d ordinarily say this could be used to pick up the motherboard, this is one extremely heavy motherboard. I’m not sure handling it by the shroud alone would be a good idea.
There are eight 288-pin DDR4 slots supporting a total of 128GB of DDR4 RAM. The MSI MEG X399 Creation supports speeds in excess of DDR4 3600MHz through overclocking. However, this is beyond JEDEC specifications and given that the memory controller is part of the CPU, your mileage may vary. So far we’ve had no trouble with DDR4 3400MHz or better out of all the socket TR4 motherboards we’ve tested recently, so I don’t think this will be a problem so long as your modules are up to the task.
The slots use reinforced steel brackets (called "Steel Armor" by MSI) to prevent PCB plate bending. A single sided locking tab mechanism is employed for memory module retention. This is necessary given the space constraints imposed by having a motherboard with so many features and a large expansion slot area which nearly runs into the RAM slots. These slots are not color-coded to indicate proper dual or quad channel memory mode operation. However, there is clear silk screening on the motherboard which clearly shows how to populate the DIMM slots for optimal performance. These markings can be found right next to the CPU socket closest to the primary PCI-Express x16 expansion slot.
MSI also states that they’ve done extensive testing with many popular modules and kits from various manufacturers to provide a greater range of memory compatibility than we’ve seen on the AMD platform in the past. That said, socket TR4 was never as difficult on the compatibility front as X370 / AM4 motherboards were.
As a rule, chipset coolers aren’t terribly interesting. In this case, the chipset cooling is noteworthy for being unique. The stylized heatsink appears to stretch out in front of the memory slots and out through most of the PCI express expansion area. These are actually covers for the M.2 slots. The covers use thermal pads to aid in conducting heat from the drive to the heat sink. MSI calls this its "M.2 Shield Frozr" system. These covers also act as heat sinks for your installed M.2 form factor SSDs. When the covers are removed you can see a much more modest chipset cooler. It does feature embedded RGB lighting. The motherboard has very little RGB LED lighting compared to products released in the last couple of years.
As you can see, there are three M.2 slots underneath the heat sink covers. Two of which support devices up to 110mm in length. The third one which is closest to the SATA ports and the PCB’s edge only supports 80mm devices. The only thing I hate about this cooling system is that it uses a ton of tiny screws. Additionally, there are standard screws for retaining the M.2 drives. Additional screws may be required underneath to secure the drives if they aren’t full length. Fortunately, MSI pre-installs the standoffs for this purpose. These can be moved anywhere as necessary or taken out if they are in the way.
The expansion slot area is far reaching as it envelops the chipset cooler when you really look at things. However, the expansion slot area is good but does do one thing that seems stupid at first. What I’m referring to is the placement of the PCIe x1 slot. With almost any decent modern graphics card this slot would be blocked and be of no use what so ever. However, MSI doesn’t recommend installing the graphics card in PCI_E1. It recommends using slots PCI_E3 and PCI_E5 as these connect to the primary CCX complex housing die 0 on the CPU. In fact, MSI provides a map of this on its product page for the MEG X399 Creation.
PCIe Steel armor is utilized here to prevent plate bending and to provide protection from shearing forces. Multi-GPU configurations are obviously supported. This includes 2-Way, Quad, and 3-Way multi-GPU configurations. Unfortunately, the specs don’t map out PCIe lane support for this, so I referenced the back of the motherboard to look at the pins behind each slot. It shows support for a x16/x8/x16/x8 lane configuration. Since SLI support isn’t the big deal it once was I wouldn’t worry too much about this. However, there are plenty of lanes for the M.2 Xpander Aero Card or whatever else you might need to put into your system.
For such a high-end motherboard, the MSI MEG X399 Creation disappoints in one way. It lacks the built-in I/O shield we’ve started to see on competing motherboards. These make for a nicer looking I/O area which feels higher quality and makes installation of the motherboard into the chassis a little easier. There are 10x USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports. One of these is a Type-C port. There are also 2x RJ-45 ports, 2x antenna jacks for WiFi, 5x mini-stereo jacks and 1x optical output. Lastly, there are two buttons. One is for a BIOS flashback / BIOS recovery and the other is a clear CMOS button.