Refreshed Intel Z790 motherboards such the MSI MAG Z790 TOMAHAWK MAX WIFI herald the imminent arrival of Intel's next generation of processor offerings on the LGA1700 socket.
Intel's 13th Generation Raptor Lake processors were launched back in October 2022, alongside the 700-series of chipsets (i.e. the B760, H770 and Z790). Then, 13th Gen was supposed to be the final generation of processors to be offered on the LGA1700 socket, where Intel would have introduced its next generation of processors on an entirely new platform.
Fast forward to today, and the above has come to naught due to a multitude of reasons, where as a result, Intel has given the LGA1700 socket a new lease of life with its decision to release 13th Gen's successor (codenamed "Raptor Lake Refresh") on the very same platform. For the uninformed, LGA1700 was originally introduced way back in October 2021 with Intel's 12th Generation Alder Lake processors, alongside the 600-series of chipset offerings such as the Z690. In view of this turn of events, motherboard manufacturers have taken this as an opportunity to refresh their line-up of LGA1700 motherboard offerings, in anticipation for the arrival of Intel's next-gen processor offerings. MSI is no exception, where it has announced a slew of "Z790 MAX" motherboards featuring the Intel Z790 chipset, serving up new features and optimisations for Intel's next-gen processors.
For today's article, we'll be taking a look at a motherboard offering that occupies the bottom rung of MSI's new Z790 MAX product stack - the MAG Z790 TOMAHAWK MAX WIFI.
Summary of Specifications
Processor Support: Intel 13th Gen Core processors & 12th Gen Core, Pentium Gold and Celeron processors, next-gen Raptor Lake Refresh processors supported as well
Chipset: Intel Z790
Memory: 4x DDR5 slots, max 192GB, up to DDR5 7800+ (OC) support
Audio: Realtek ALC4080 audio codec
LAN: Intel I225-V 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet
WIFI: Qualcomm QCNCM865 WIFI 7 module with built-in Bluetooth 5.4
Expansion Slots: 1x PCIe 5.0 x16, 1x PCIe 4.0 x16 (x4 mode), 1x PCIe 3.0 x1
Storage: 8x SATA III, 1x PCIe 5.0 x4 M.2 (NVMe drives only - shares bandwidth with PCIe 5.0 x16 slot), 2x PCIe 4.0 x4 M.2 (NVMe drives only), 1x PCIe 4.0 x4 M.2 (NVMe & SATA drives)
Form Factor: ATX
Packaging & Contents
As an offering from the MAG series of products, the MAG Z790 TOMAHAWK MAX WIFI is positioned at the mid-range of MSI’s Z790 motherboard offerings, sitting above the PRO series of budget-friendlier offerings and placing below the performance-oriented MPG series as well as the top-of-the-range MEG line-up of enthusiast-class product offerings. As can be seen, the MAG Z790 TOMAHAWK MAX WIFI comes in a predominantly black box with green accents, and moving over to the rear, we get the usual overview of specs for this board.
Included with the board are the following accessories:
- 2x SATA III cables
- 1x front panel header extension cable
- MSI thumb drive (containing drivers and utilities)
- 2x EZ M.2 clips
- Quick installation guide
- Regulatory information leaflet
- Promotional leaflet (encouraging customers to leave a MSI product review)
- Sheet of MSI decorative stickers
The MAG Z790 TOMAHAWK MAX WIFI sports a relatively uncontroversial aesthetic with a black-coloured PCB and large black heatsinks all around - the said heatsinks feature lime green accents for a nice pop of colour. Fans of RGB lighting effects might be disappointed to note that the board does not come with any onboard RGB LEDs, though it does of course come with an assortment of RGB headers.
As a more premium motherboard offering, the MAG Z790 TOMAHAWK MAX WIFI comes with an integrated I/O shield design.
The heatsink for the Intel Z790 chipset is a passively-cooled affair, and MSI has included heatsinks for all four M.2 slots that the board comes with, where the third and fourth M.2 slots share a common heatsink.
The heatsink for the first M.2 slot features a tool-less design, where removing it is a simple matter of pressing down on a latch found on the side of the heatsink, and pulling it up and away from the board.
Over on the rear of the board, we see that MSI has several markings indicated as "case standoff keep out zones". These markings serve as a reminder not to install unnecessary case standoffs that could otherwise cause a motherboard short circuit. Another feature worth noting is the protective paint that MSI has applied around the mounting screw holes of the board, which are intended to help protect the PCB against scratches that could be caused by one's motherboard standoffs during installation.
VRM & Memory Support
In terms of its power delivery solution, the MAG Z790 TOMAHAWK MAX WIFI comes with 16+1+1 power phases with 90A power stages.
Memory support is by means of four DDR5 slots that provide support for up to 192GBs of RAM and the DDR5 7800+ standard. The slots are of a dual-tabbed design, and serve up support for Intel's XMP 3.0 memory overclocking profiles.
Front Panel USB Connectivity
For front panel USB connectivity, MSI has included a single USB 3,2 Gen 1 Type-A front panel header that provides for up to two USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A ports, as well as a USB 3,2 Gen 2 Type-C front panel header.
Also included are two front panel USB 2.0 headers located along the bottom edge of the motherboard, with each header providing support for up to two front panel USB 2.0 Type-A ports, for a total of four USB 2.0 ports.
Expansion Slots & Storage Options
The MAG Z790 TOMAHAWK MAX WIFI comes with a PCIe 5.0 x16 slot for a graphics card – the said slot comes with the Steel Armour feature that reinforces the slot for use with heavy graphics cards.
Also included are a PCIe 3.0 x1 slot, as well as a full-length PCIe 4.0 x16 slot that operates at x4 mode.
In the storage department, MSI has included eight SATA III ports, with six ports in a right-angled configuration so as to aid with cable management, and two ports in a straight-angled configuration. SATA ports 1 to 2 and 5 to 8 are native to the Intel Z790 chipset, while ports A1 and A2 are powered by a third-party ASMedia ASM1061 controller. It's worth noting that the ports labelled SATA_1 and SATA_2 will be disabled should a M.2 SSD be installed in the M2_3 M.2 slot.
Four M.2 slots are also included with the board, with slot M2_1 supporting the PCIe 5.0 x4 standard, and the remaining three slots (M2_2, M2_3 and M2_4) being PCIe 4.0 x4 slots. End-users of this board who intend to use a M.2 SATA drive are in luck, as slot M2_3 provides support for M.2 SATA drives.
Do note that due to chipset limitations, where the Intel Z790 chipset does not have dedicated PCIe 5.0 lanes for M.2 drives, MSI has designed the board such that the M2_1 slot shares bandwidth with the PCIe 5.0 x16 slot intended for a graphics card. That is to say, when a NVMe drive is installed in the M2_1 slot, the PCIe 5.0 x16 slot for a graphics card will operate at x8 mode instead.
Audio & Internet Connectivity
The MAG Z790 TOMAHAWK MAX WIFI comes with Realtek's ALC4080 audio codec, which can be considered a premium audio offering. Internet connectivity on the other hand, is courtesy of Intel's I225-V controller that serves up support for the 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet standard.
A key feature that MSI's Z790 MAX motherboard offerings have is support for the latest WIFI 7 standard - here, MSI's included a Qualcomm QCNCM865 WIFI 7 module that also dishes up support for Bluetooth 5.4 connectivity. The Qualcomm module was only accessible when the motherboard's VRM heatsink and integrated I/O shield were removed.
Fan & RGB Headers
The MAG Z790 TOMAHAWK MAX WIFI comes with a whopping eight fan headers:
- 1x CPU_FAN1
- 1x PUMP_FAN1
- 6x SYS_FAN
RGB headers are in no short supply too, where MSI has included three addressable RGB headers (highlighted in orange) and a single 12V standard RGB header (highlighted in green).
The board comes with a USB4 add-on card header that is to be hooked up to an optional USB4 PCIe expansion card that is sold separately by MSI. The said USB4 expansion card comes with two USB4 40Gb/s Type-C ports, which support 100W and 27W charging respectively, and also includes two DisplayPort in connectors that allow for display output over the card's two USB4 Type-C ports.
MSI's also included a safe boot header that allows end-users to boot with default BIOS settings while lowering the processor's PCIe operation mode, which could be a handy feature to have on hand for overclocking purposes.
Moving up top, a set of EZ Debug LEDs are included with the board - the said LEDs can be used to troubleshoot Power On Self Test (POST) issues.
The board comes with the following rear I/O ports:
- 1x DisplayPort 1.4 (supports display output of up to 8K resolution at 60Hz)
- 1x HDMI 2.1 (supports display output of up to 4K resolution at 60Hz)
- 4x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A (5 Gbps)
- 4x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A (10 Gbps)
- 1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C (10 Gbps)
- 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet port
- 1x USB 3,2 Gen 2x2 Type-C (20 Gbps)
- WIFI antennae connectors
- Audio jack connectors
Also included on the rear I/O are a Clear CMOS button and a Flash BIOS button that allows end-users to update the board's BIOS without needing to install a CPU, RAM and graphics card.
To sum up, the MSI MAG Z790 TOMAHAWK MAX WIFI comes across as a compelling mid-range Intel Z790 motherboard offering with a balanced feature set, where it comes with modern features such as WIFI 7 support, a beefy VRM setup, PCIe 5.0 support for a graphics card and so on. That said, one minor downside worth mentioning is the fact that the PCIe 5.0 M.2 slot shares bandwidth with the PCIe 5.0 x16 slot for a graphics card, which may catch some unsuspecting end-users unaware when they realise that their primary graphics card slot is operating at half its maximum possible bandwidth, when a M.2 drive is installed in the PCIe 5.0 x4 M.2 slot.
As of the time of writing this article, pricing information for the MAG Z790 TOMAHAWK MAX WIFI is unavailable, and will be updated in due course.
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The motherboard featured in this article was a review unit provided on loan from MSI.