- Introduction & Specifications
- Board Layout & Quality
- VRM Implementation
- Overclocking on the Z690 Tomahawk
1. Introduction & Specifications
The MAG Z690 Tomahawk WIFI DDR4 is a 285 USD (275 EUR) motherboard from MSI, which competes it in the upper midrange field. It's one of the pricier DDR4 boards from MSI, only the MPG Z690 EDGE WIFI DDR4 being more expensive, but still more affordable compared to the many pricier DDR5 models.
|MSI PRO Z690-P DDR4||~ 180 EUR|
|MSI PRO Z690-A DDR4||~ 195 EUR|
|MSI PRO Z690-A WIFI DDR4||~ 219 EUR|
|MSI MAG Z690 TOMAHAWK WIFI DDR4||~ 275 EUR|
|MSI MPG Z690 EDGE WIFI DDR4||~ 319 EUR|
In terms of features it has everything to offer most users would ask for. Four memory dimm slots for a total memory capacity of 128Gb of DDR4 as well as four M.2 slots, six SATA 6Gb/s ports, a Type-C USB port on the rear I/O, 2.5G Intel LAN, WI-FI 6, Bluetooth 5.2 and a PCIe 5.0 capable x16 slot should cover most peoples needs looking for a decent Z690 motherboard.
It does not feature any cosmetic RGB LEDs or OLED displays, but comes in a very good looking all-black finish. Compared to the cheaper MSI PRO Z690-A WIFI DDR4, you also get a slightly improved VRM design with bigger heatsinks and also additional heatsinks for all four M.2 slots.
|CPUs||12th Gen Intel processors (Alder Lake)|
Full support list on: www.msi.com
|Memory||4xDIMM, Dual-Channel mode (max. 128Gb)|
1DPC 1R up to 5200+ MHz
1DPC 2R up to 4800+ MHz
2DPC 1R up to 4400+ MHz
2DPC 2R up to 4000+ MHz
|Expansion Slot||1x PCIe x16 (5.0 x16, CPU)|
1x PCIe x16 (3.0 x4, Z690)
1x PCIe x16 (3.0 x1, Z690)
1x PCIe x1 (3.0 x1, Z690)
|Multi GPU||AMD Crossfire|
|Onboard Graphics||1x HDMI 2.1 up to 4K60Hz|
1x DPP 1.4 up to 4K60Hz
only with supported processors
|Storage||6x SATA 6Gb/s (Z690)|
1x M.2 PCIe 4.0 x4 (CPU)
1x M.2 PCIe 4.0 x4 (Z690)
1x M.2 PCIe 3.0 x4 (Z690)
1x M.2 PCIe 4.0 x4 (Z690)
|RAID||SATA: RAID 0, 1, 5, 10|
NVMe: RAID 0, 1, 5
|Audio||Realtek ALC4080 Codec|
|Networking & Bluetooth||1x Intel 2.5G LAN I225V|
Intel Wi-Fi 6
|Rear I/O||1x DisplayPort 1.4|
1x HDMI 2.1
2x USB 2.0 Port
2x USB 3.2 Gen1 (5 Gpbs)
3x USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10 Gbps)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 (20 Gpbs, Type-C)
1x 2.5G LAN Port
2x Wi-Fi / Bluetooth Antenna
Flash Bios Button
HD Audio Connectors
Optical S/PDIF out
|Fan Connectors||1x 4-pin CPU fan header|
1x 4-pin CPU pump header
6x 4-pin system fan header
|RGB Connectors||3x RAINBOW LED connectors|
1x RGB LED connector
1x EZ LED Control switch
|Debugging||4x colored EZ Debug LED|
|Dimensions||ATX (30.5 x 24.4 cm)|
The motherboard includes a basic set of accessories, like a printed user manual as well as a USB drive containing the drivers plus some utility software. The manual can also be found online on the MSI website.
|Motherboard||1x MAG Z690 TOMAHAWK WIFI DDR4|
|Documentation||1x User manual|
1x Quick installation guide
|Application||1x USB Drive with drivers & utilities|
|Cables||2x SATA 6Gb/s cables|
|Accessories||1x Wi-Fi antenna |
1x Case badge
2x EZ M.2 clip
1x MAG sticker
1x Product registration card
2. Board Layout & Quality
The overall build quality of the MAG Z690 Tomahawk WIFI DDR4 is good. The heatsinks for the VRM, the chipset and all M.2 drives are all made out of aluminum. The PCIe 5.0 slot has a steel armor and is SMD mounted. The board uses a 6 layer PCB with 2oz thicked copper which is standard in this price class.
Most memory traces of the DDR4 dimm slots are hidden inside the PCB layers which should improve signal quality and can increase memory overclocking headroom.
The CPU is powerd by two EPS 12V 8-Pin connectors which is needed if you are planning to run this board with overclocked i7 or i9 12th gen CPUs.
The VRM heatsinks are touching both the power stages and the inductors and also have a few big fins to increase surface area. Both heatsinks are completely made out of aluminum. The main heatsink extends back to the rear I/O part of the board.
There is no Post-Code display on the board, but instead it features four color coded troubleshooting LEDs on the top right of the PCB.
Six SATA 6 Gb/s ports can be found on the board, two of which are mounted on the side below the chipset and M.2 heatsinks, four can be found on the bottom right portion of the motherboard. This placement is suboptimal and I would favor to have four ports on the side instead for easier access and a cleaner installation.
MSI uses a clip to hold in the M.2 drives instead of a regular screw, which makes it easier to swap out SSDs without having to unscrew them first. This is just a minor feature, but I personally really like it and would love to see similar solutions from other manufacturers as well.
The rear I/O capabilities of the Z690 Tomahawk WIFI DDR4 are solid. It features a total of seven USB Type-A ports, one Type-C port, one LAN port, two Wi-Fi antenna mounts, a complete HD audio solution, an HDMI and display port and a Flash-BIOS button.
There are a total of eight 4-Pin PWM fan headers on the motherboard with the following specifications:
|1x CPU pump header||3A||36W|
|1x CPU fan header||2A||24W|
|6x System fan header||1A||12W|
3. VRM Implementation
The Z690 Tomahawk WIFI DDR4 uses a 16+1+1 phase VRM configuration for power delivery using MP87992 power stages on all phases rated for 70A continues load. This gives the board a total current capacity of 1120 amps for powering any LGA1700 CPU available right now.
The 16 VCORE phases are running in what MSI calles duet rail configuration, which basically means there are always two phases running in parallel of a single PWM signal from the VRM controller.
VRM Thermal Performance
For testing the thermal performance of the VRM, the board was placed on an open air testbench while using an AIO watercooler on the CPU with no additional airflow over the VRM heatsink. An overclocked i5-12600K had to perform Cinebench R23 for 30 minutes straight, which resulted in a peak powerdraw of about 225 watt.
One thermocouple was placed in the middle of each group of power stages on the back of the motherboard, while a third one was used for measuring the ambient temperature.
During the first test the switching frequency of the VRM was set to the lowest possible value, 500KHz (this is also the default value). The VRM had no issue handling that kind of load during the whole testing period with temperatures raising by 26°C over ambient reaching a maximum of just 48°C. The temperature difference between the two power stages was 6°C with the top one obviously being the hotter one due to the smaller heatsink.
Dialing up the switching frequency from 500KHz al the way up to 1000KHz, the VRM still managed to keep the temperature under control, resulting in a 32°C temperature increase over ambient and a maximum temperature of 55°C.
I have no doubt that the cooling solution for the VRM is more than sufficient to keep the temperatures under control, even under sustained, heavy loads and even when using more power hungry chips like the i9-12900K for example.
LLC / Load Line Calibration
To learn how the different LLC settings behave, I set a constant VCORE of 1.4V and attached a multimeter probe at the back of the CPU socket to get a good measurement. I then used Cinebench R23 to place a load on the CPU and observed the voltage drop at the different LLC settings. All measurements where done using the default 500kHz switching frequency.
|LLC||Idle Voltage||Load Voltage||Drop|
|LLC1 (no LLC)||1.409||1.437||-|
If you look at the result with LLC1, one might think that the voltage actually increases under load, but that's actually not the case. The voltage measured behind the socket is not the exact voltage the CPU will see, because there is an additional voltage drop on the way from the back of the socket to the CPU. When under load, the voltage drop of the CPU increases and therefore the VRM has to compensate by increasing the voltage.
4. Overclocking on the Z690 Tomahawk
Looking at the 16 phase VCORE VRM implementation and the partially shielded memory traces, I expect this board to perform well at basic CPU and memory overclocking tasks, at least with ambient cooling solutions.
I put an Intel Core i5-12600K paired with 2x16GB 4000C16 dual rank memory kit from G.Skill rated at to the task, to find out if the board holds up to my expectations.
The board didn't have any issues running the provided XMP profile of the kit (4000 CL16-16-16-36), but only with the memory controller running in Gear2 mode. This is of course suboptimal, so I switched to Gear1 to see what the maximum stable setting would be.
Using 1.25V SA and 1.50V VDIMM, the best overclock I could achieve with the CPU and the Z690 Tomahawk WIFI DDR4 was 3600C14-14-14-34. Raising the memory voltage further did not allow for higher frequencies, so I believe this is all the IMC of the CPU can handle with reasonable voltage levels. MSI rates the board at 4800Mbs+ for 1DR2 memory configurations, which is impossible anyway when running in Gear1 mode.
I've never really experienced any major boot issues during memory overclocking. The board did usually recover very well after a failed overclocking attempt and allows you to fix your mistake instead of being stuck. With the colored troubleshooting LEDs it's also easy to spot a failed memory overclock as the board will just jump back and forth between the CPU and DRAM LED.
The Board didn't break a sweat overclocking my Intel Core i5-12600K to 5.0GHZ across all six P-Cores, with a single core boost of up to 5.3GHZ. The E-Cores reached 4GHZ and the Ring clock went up to 4.2GHZ. To achieve such an overclock I had to use 1.465V CPU core voltage with load line calibration set to LLC2.
Overclocking the CPU in general was pretty straight forward and predictable with the MSI BIOS. I didn't encounter any weird issues or stuff their like and could just focus on finding the best possible overclock for this particular chip.
For basic overclocking tasks like this on ambient temperatures, you do not really need anything more what the board offers.
Overall the MAG Z690 Tomahawk WIFI DDR4 is a solid motherboard if you do not care about any RGB bling, but instead prefer a simple and elegant design. The VRM and its cooling solution is very good and leaves enough headroom for overclocking. The I/O capabilities are about standard, but should be sufficient for most users. Overclocking was fun and the board was able to run the CPU completely maxed out without any issues.
If you don't need need all the M.2 heatsinks and are fine with a slightly weaker and hotter VRM, the ~55 EUR cheaper MSI PRO Z690-A WIFI DDR4 will offer you a little bit more value.
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