Prior to the release of Intel’s 11th Generation Rocket Lake processors, motherboard vendors unveiled their ranges of Z590 motherboards ready for the realm of PCIe 4.0. We saw a lot of refreshed models, with the MSI MEG Z590 Ace being one of them. Typically positioned as a bridge between the mid-range and the flagship models, the Ace has offered exceptional features in the past, with slightly fewer bells and whistles of models such as MSI’s Godlike, but still plenty to get excited about. The MSI MEG Z590 Ace includes an impressive four M.2 slots, six SATA ports, 2.5 gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi 6, and Intel’s latest Thunderbolt 4 Maple Ridge controller. Looking to dominate the premium motherboard market segment, we deep dive into the Ace in this review.
It’s no secret that the price of modern leading edge Intel motherboards has risen to unprecedented levels. There used to be a time when the most premium topped out at $175, but the mid-range on a premium chipset such as Z590 can easily cost consumers north of $300. Today vendors are competing more than ever to stack their boards with as many features and controllers as possible, even with fanciful designs and flashy RGB. It drives the price up even more. But rather than paying $600 for the top tier, going one below that top tier can offer almost the same level of features, but at half the price. Enter the Ace.
MSI’s designs have been getting better and better over the years, and the MSI MEG Z590 Ace being a fine example of this. Designed as a premium, albeit lower-cost alternative to its feature-laden MEG Z590 Godlike flagship model, the Ace is certainly no joker and provides ample specifications to the table. The aesthetics includes a primarily black design, with gold accented text on the rear panel cover, a heatpiped power delivery heatsink, and two areas with integrated RGB LED lighting; the rear panel cover and the chipset heatsink. Interestingly, MSI has done away with plastic covers and instead opts for premium metal covers, including the one hiding away the audio chip. There is also additional motherboard reinfocement on the rear of the motherboard to help with large heavy graphics cards.
For users looking for something slightly different, MSI recently unveiled its MEG Z590 Ace Gold Edition, with gold and brushed aluminum finishing for a ‘lighter’ looking alternative to the regular Ace, albeit with the exact same feature and controller set. Included in the set of both includes a driver install on a USB drive, something we’ve been advocating for, as well as a cleaning brush. Well there’s a first time for everything.
Some of the board’s features include three full-length PCIe slots, including two operating at PCIe 4.0 x16 or x8/x8, with the bottom full-length slot electronically locked to PCIe 3.0 x4 from the chipset. In between the full-length slots are two PCIe 3.0 x1 slots, while MSI includes a total of four M.2 slots, with the Ace being one of a small selection of boards to include more than three. The top M.2 slot supports PCIe 4.0 x4 M.2 drives, while the other three can support PCIe 3.0 x4, with two of the three featuring support for SATA-based drives. For conventional SATA devices, there’s a total of six SATA ports which all include support for RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 arrays. With Intel’s memory-related refinements for 11th Gen and Z590, the Ace can support up to DDR4-5600, which is very fast, while the four memory slots can also accommodate up to 128 GB of capacity.
More and more premium Intel motherboards use Thunderbolt, and the MSI is using Intel’s latest Maple Ridge Thunderbolt 4 controller. This not only adds two TB4 Type-C ports on the rear panel but a pair of mini-DisplayPort video inputs, which are especially handy for daisy-chaining external displays, and offering unparalleled connectivity for content creators. Other rear panel connectivity includes two USB 3.2 G2 Type-A, four USB 3.2 G1 Type-A, and two USB 2.0 ports, with a further USB 3.2 G2 Type-C front panel connector, one USB 3.2 G1 Type-A header offering two ports, and two USB 2.0 headers which allow for four additional ports. MSI uses a premium HD audio codec and DAC pairing for onboard audio, while networking includes a 2.5 GbE controller and Wi-Fi 6E CNVi pairing.
From a performance perspective, the MSI MEG Z590 Ace did very well in all three elements of our test suite, including system, compute, and gaming. In terms of power consumption, the Ace did use a little more juice than most Z590 models we’ve tested so far, although POST time is competitive, as is DPC latency performance. In our computation and gaming benchmarks, the Ace was competitive against other models.
When we overclocked the MSI MEG Z590 Ace with our i9-11900K, we observed relatively tight Vdroop control at lower frequencies and CPU VCore voltages below 5 GHz, although this changed as we above 5 GHz with some very aggressive Vdroop. We managed to get to 5.2 GHz all-cores 100% stable, with no thermal throttling and an incredible and equally terrifying power draw of 485 W at full-load. We saw an increase in POV-Ray performance as we tested each frequency. MSI’s auto-overclock Game Boost presets in the firmware actually performed worse than the default settings, with more CPU VCore, and much higher core temperatures and power draw. In our VRM thermal testing, the Ace performed well, with a reported temperature of 69ºC from the integrated thermal sensor on the large 18-phase power delivery and 73 and 75ºC respectively from our pair of K-Type thermocouples.
The MSI MEG Z590 Ace has an MSRP of $500, but you can currently find it cheaper at both Amazon and Newegg. At the time of writing, it can be purchased at Newegg for $492, while Amazon is a good chunk cheaper with a current price of $470. Another model worthy of mentioning, which is in a similar price range, is the ASUS ROG Maximus XIII Hero (our next Z590 review), which does have the better rear panel of the two, also with Thunderbolt 4, but more USB 3.2 G2 Type-A, with dual 2.5 GbE. The MSI MEG Z590 Ace does, however, have plenty going for it, with more M.2 real estate, and looks to play its hand slightly differently than other vendors.
This is only the introduction to our review! Read on for our extended analysis.
Looking at the MSI MEG Z590 Ace visually, it is using an all-black color scheme with gold-colored text, which creates an accented look. From the top, the Ace has a large black rear panel cover that includes an affixed rear I/O panel, which sits over the CPU section of the power delivery heatsink. The rear panel cover itself includes an MSI Gaming dragon logo with integrated RGB LEDs which can be customized via the supplied software, and a carbon fiber section which adds contrast to the all-black design. Towards the center of the board is a wave of M.2 heatsinks which are amalgamated nicely into the design of the board with a matching chipset heatsink. Like the rear panel cover, the chipset heatsink also includes RGB LEDs. For cooling, the Ace includes eight 4-pin fan headers, with one dedicated for a CPU fan, one for a water pump, and six for chassis fans.
On the lower section of the board, the MSI MEG Z590 Ace includes three full-length PCIe slots, which each include metal slot reinforcement. The top two PCIe slots support PCIe 4.0 x16 or x8/x8, while the bottom full-length slot is electronically locked down to PCIe 3.0 x4. MSI includes a single 6-pin PCIe power connector which is designed to allow the PCIe slots to pull more power when overclocking graphics cards. In between the full-length slots is a pair of PCIe 3.0 x1 slots. In the top right-hand corner is a two-digit LED Debugger, with a power and reset button pairing located in the bottom right-hand corner. To the left of the buttons, are a pair of dip switches, one to enable or disable the RGB LEDs on the board, with the other allowing users to select between two BIOS chips.
For storage, MSI includes a total of four M.2 slots, with the top slot capable of supporting up to PCIe 4.0 x4, and the other three PCIe 3.0 x4, two of which also include support for SATA drives. At the lower right-hand side is a total of six SATA ports, with support for RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 arrays. There is however some storage bandwidth restrictions on this board, which are as follows:
- SATA2 shares SATA bandwidth with M2_2, but PCIe drives are unaffected
- SATA5 and SATA6 share bandwidth with M.2_3, regardless of drive type
- When PCIe_5 (bottom full-length slot) is populated, M.2_4 will revert to PCIe 3.0 x2 instead of x4
In the top-right hand corner are a total of four memory slots, which include metal slot reinforcement with a single installation clasp at the top of each slot. In terms of support, the Ace can support a combined total of 128 GB, with a maximum supported speed of up to DDR4-5600, which is very impressive.
For the power delivery, MSI is using an 18-phase design which is controlled by an Intersil ISL69269 PWM controller. Focusing on the CPU section of the power delivery, there’s a total of sixteen Intersil ISL99390 90 A power stages, while the SoC section is using two Renesas RAA220075 75 A power stages. The sixteen power stages on the CPU section paired in groups of two by eight Intersil ISL6617A doublers, which means the controller is operating at 8+2, eight channels for the CPU, and two for the SoC. This means the Ace can support a maximum output of up to 1440 A just for the CPU alone.
Keeping the power delivery cool is a pair of black metal heatsinks, which are interconnected via a single heat pipe. The heatsinks themselves feel quite weighty and have plenty of mass, with sections of deep fins that are designed to direct passive airflow to increase the heat dissipation capabilities of the heatsinks. Even the rear IO cover is attached, which should add some additional cooling properties to the heatsinks, and as the above image shows, the impressions of the thermal pads show the heatsink is making a good connection with the components.
Looking at the audio PCB, the Ace has Realtek’s latest ALC4082 HD audio codec, with an ESS Sabre 9018Q2C digital to analog converter (DAC), which provides an extra element of quality to the audio specifications. Flanking the ALC4082 are eleven Japanese gold Nichicon audio capacitors, while the PCB itself employs a line of separation from the rest of the board’s componentry. Interestingly, the cover used to hide the audio PCB is made from metal, and MSI looks to have done away with plastic covers and gone for a more premium feeling board. Something we applaud on a premium model such as this.
On the backside of the board is a large backplate, which adds both rigidity and some additional cooling properties to the rear of the power delivery. This includes a pair of thermal pads behind the power delivery sections, with a diagonal-shaped cutout behind the PCIe slot area.
The rear panel includes a premium selection of input and output, including two Thunderbolt 4 Type-C ports, with two mini-DisplayPort video inputs for the Thunderbolt 4. Other USB connectivity includes two USB 3.2 G2 Type-A, four USB 3.2 G1 Type-A, and two USB 2.0 ports. On the far left of the panel are a Clear CMOS and BIOS Flashback button pairing, while on the other side are five 3.5 mm audio jacks and S/PDIF optical output powered by a Realtek ALC4082 HD audio codec and ESS Sabre 9018Q2C DAC combination. The networking capabilities include a single Intel I225-V 2.5 GbE controller, with wireless capability and BT 5.2 connectivity coming from an Intel AX210 Wi-Fi 6 CNVi. Finishing off the rear panel is a single HDMI 2.0b video output.
What’s in The Box
Some of the most notable accessories within the large bundle include four SATA cables, a DisplayPort to mini-DisplayPort cable, four M.2 screw installation kits, a user manual, a quick installation guide, a USB drive containing drivers and software, with an Intel AX210 Wi-Fi 6E antenna and cool little cleaning brush.
- User manual
- Quick installation guide
- Reward/Shout out flyer
- Cable sticker sheet
- MEG Sticker sheet
- Case badge
- Product catalog
- Warranty registration card
- Intel AX210 Wi-Fi 6E antenna
- Cleaning brush
- 2 x Screwdrivers
- 4 x SATA cables
- DP to mini-DP cable
- Thermistor cable
- RGB LED splitter cable (1 to 2)
- MSI RGB LED extension cable
- Corsair RGB LED extension cable
- 4 x M.2 installation screws
The MSI MEG Z590 Ace is using its Click BIOS 5 UEFI firmware which we’ve seen many times before in previous reviews. Focusing on the GUI, it uses a black background, with red accents and white text, with red highlighting to signify which option is currently selected. The firmware itself has two modes for users to select between, a ‘basic’ mode and an ‘advanced’ mode designed for experienced users.
Upon entering the firmware during system POST which can be done by pressing the F2 or Del key, the first time this is done or when the CMOS has been reset, users can select which method of cooling they are using. This is a handy feature which until now, has previously been a mainstay of ASUS ROG models. Due to Intel’s various methods of obtaining extra performance, including Thermal Velocity Boost (TVB), it lets the firmware know what type of cooling users have installed on the CPU. For users with water cooling or premium AIO CPU coolers installed, this will unlock power limitations on the board for more aggressive turbo clock speeds, while users with air coolers will find things will be limited to just 288 W, on both the Intel PL1 and PL2 power limits. Selecting the ‘Boxed Cooler’ option will revert power limitations to Intel specification, including 125 W for the PL1, and 250 W for the PL2 power limits.
After selecting the cooling method, the Basic mode gives users a basic, yet informative view of the BIOS. Users can see information about the installed processor, memory, and storage, as well as current fan speeds. Along the top, users can drag and drop the desired boot priority which is handy if users have multiple drives with different operating installs, while there are also tabs for flashing the BIOS firmware, an integrated hardware monitor which allows access to the integrated fan curve profiles and presents. For users who select the wrong cooling setting, this can be changed by selecting the CPU Cooler Tuning option and making a different selection. Along the bottom, users can turn off the Thunderbolt 4 controller, enable Debug LED control, as well as enable RAID and turn off the board’s integrated RGB LEDs.
Users can flick between the Basic and Advanced modes by pressing the F7 key, although the Advanced mode does offer much more customization of the board’s firmware settings. Within the advanced mode, users can navigate around the heart of the BIOS, with plenty of options for storage, power management, and chipset-related settings. The Advanced mode also allows users to overclock the CPU and memory, and if required, the Intel UHD integrated graphics. With the MSI MEG Z590 Ace being an enthusiast-level board, there are lots of settings for overclocking the CPU, that including frequency, cache, and power options that can be customized. The Ace also has an LN2 mode for extreme overclockers who plan to use LN2 or DICE sub-ambient cooling methods. For memory, there are options for enabling or disabling XMP profiles on memory that are compatible, as well as an extensive selection of primary, secondary, and tertiary latencies that can be tweaked and customized. Users can also change advanced power settings such as power limits, and the board’s load-line calibration (LLC) settings which can improve stability when performance higher frequency overclocks on the CPU.
Overall, the MSI Click BIOS 5 firmware is consistent with other MSI models we’ve tested which are using it. It’s responsive to USB keyboard and mice, and it’s easy to navigate around. The basic and advanced modes cater to users with different experience levels, which is commonplace with consumer desktop motherboards in this day and age.
Looking at the software package supplied with the MSI MEG Z590 Ace, everything outside of its Nahimic audio software revolves around the MSI Center application. Not only does the MSI Center act as a central hub for all of the different software functions that MSI provides, but it is the plexus in which all of the customizations such as its Mystic Light RGB software and Live Update tool, are rolled into one. Other elements of software include support for the aforementioned Nahimic audio software, and a custom skinned version of CPU-Z which is based on MSI’s red and black Gaming branding.
Within the MSI Center, it includes all the functionality that its previous individual applications could do, with the exception of overclocking. Users looking to overclock the processor within Windows can download the Intel Extreme Tuning Utility (XTU). Some of the functionality of the MSI Center application includes the Creator mode where users can use MSI’s AI (assisted intelligence) Engine to determine which software needs prioritizing resource-wise, while the Gaming Mode allows users to optimize and auto-tune functions for specific titles. There’s also a LAN manager which is essentially a basic traffic shaping utility, with Mystic Light allowing users to customize the integrated and externally attached RGB LEDs, and sync them with some cool lighting effects.
Other utilities in the MSI Center include a basic hardware monitor, a system information panel, and the Live Update utility which allows users to update to the latest drivers. It also True Color for altering the color, brightness, and contrast in Windows without needing to touch monitor settings, and includes profiles for EyeRest, Gaming, Movies, and also allows for customization profiles to be created.
Overall the MSI Center removes a lot of bloat from its software bundle and piles it all into one. The only negative is that there’s no overclocking functionality which we have seen from its previous Dragon Center software.
The MSI MEG Z590 Ace is a premium ATX motherboard that sits just below its flagship MEG Z590 Godlike model in the product stack and is aimed at content creators, gamers, and enthusiasts using Intel 11th Gen Rocket Lake processors. The Z590 chipset is also backward compatible with the previous 10th Generation Comet Lake processors. There are plenty of features, including two full-length PCIe 4.0 slots that can operate at x16 or x8/x8, with a third full-length PCIe 3.0 slot electronically locked to x4, and two PCIe 3.0 x1 slots. For storage, MSI includes a total of four M.2 slots, with one PCIe 4.0 x4, two PCIe 3.0 x4/SATA, and one PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slot. There are also six SATA ports that feature support for RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 arrays. In regards to memory support, there are a total of four slots that can support up to DDR4-5600, with a maximum capacity of up to 128 GB. Looking at cooling compatibility, the Ace has eight 4-pin headers in total including one dedicated to a CPU fan, one for water pump, and six for chassis fans.
|MSI MEG Z590 Ace ATX Motherboard|
|Warranty Period||3 Years|
|Price||$500 ($470 at Amazon)|
|Memory Slots (DDR4)||Four DDR4
Supporting 128 GB
Up to DDR4-5600
|Video Outputs||1 x HDMI 2.0b|
|Network Connectivity||Intel I225-V 2.5 GbE
Intel AX210 Wi-Fi 6E
|Onboard Audio||Realtek ALC4082
ESS Sabre 9018Q2C DAC
|PCIe Slots for Graphics (from CPU)||2 x PCIe 4.0 (x16, x8/x8)|
|PCIe Slots for Other (from PCH)||1 x PCIe 3.0 x4
2 x PCIe 3.0 x1
|Onboard SATA||Six, RAID 0/1/5/10 (Z590)|
|Onboard M.2||1 x PCIe 4.0 x4
1 x PCIe 3.0 x4
2 x PCIe 3.0 x4/SATA
|Thunderbolt 4 (40 Gbps)||2 x Type-C
2 x Mini-DisplayPort Inputs
|USB 3.2 (20 Gbps)||N/A|
|USB 3.2 (10 Gbps)||2 x USB Type-A (Rear panel)
1 x USB Type-C (One header)
|USB 3.1 (5 Gbps)||4 x USB Type-A (Rear panel)
2 x USB Type-A (One header)
|USB 2.0||2 x USB Type-A (Rear panel)
4 x USB Type-A (Two headers)
|Power Connectors||1 x 24-pin Motherboard
2 x 8-pin CPU
1 x 6-pin PCIe
|Fan Headers||1 x 4-pin CPU
1 x 4-pin Water Pump/chassis
6 x 4-pin Chassis
|IO Panel||2 x Antenna Ports (Intel AX210)
1 x HDMI 2.0 output
2 x Thunderbolt 4 Type-C
2 x Mini-DisplayPort inputs
2 x USB 3.2 G2 Type-A
4 x USB 3.2 G1 Type-A
2 x USB 2.0 Type-A
1 x RJ45 (Intel)
1 x BIOS Flashback button
1 x Clear CMOS button
5 x 3.5 mm audio jacks (Realtek)
1 x S/PDIF Optical output (Realtek)
The rear panel of the MSI MEG Z590 Ace has a wide variety of premium input and output, including dual Thunderbolt 4 Type-C with two mini-DisplayPort inputs, two USB 3.2 G2 Type-A, four USB 3.2 G1 Type-A, and two USB 2.0 ports. MSI also includes more USB capacity through front panel headers, including one USB 3.2 G2 Type-C (one header), two USB 3.2 G1 Type-A (one header), and four USB 2.0 (two headers) ports. Integrated audio is also impressive, with five 3.5 mm audio jacks and S/PDIF optical powered by Realtek’s latest ALC4082 HD audio codec and an ESS Sabre 9018Q2C DAC. For network connectivity, the Ace includes one Intel I225-V 2.5 GbE controller and the latest Intel AX210 Wi-Fi 6E CNVi, which also offers BT 5.2 connectivity. Users looking to use Intel’s integrated graphics will find the HDMI 2.0b video output very useful.
With some of the nuances with Intel’s Rocket Lake processors, our policy is to see if the system gives an automatic option to increase the power limits of the processor. If it does, we select the liquid cooling option. If it does not, we do not change the defaults. Adaptive Boost Technology is disabled by default.
|Processor||Intel Core i9-11900K, 125 W, $374
8 Cores, 16 Threads 3.5 GHz (5.3 GHz Turbo)
|Motherboard||MSI MEG Z590 Ace (BIOS 7D04v11)|
|Cooling||Corsair iCue H150i Elite Capellix 360 mm AIO|
|Power Supply||Corsair HX850 80Plus Platinum 850 W|
|Memory||G.Skill TridentZ DDR4-3200 CL 14-14-14-34 2T (2 x 8 GB)|
|Video Card||MSI GTX 1080 (1178/1279 Boost)|
|Hard Drive||Crucial MX300 1TB|
|Case||Corsair Crystal 680X|
|Operating System||Windows 10 Pro 64-bit: Build 20H2|
We must also thank the following:
|Hardware Providers for CPU and Motherboard Reviews|
|Sapphire RX 460 Nitro||MSI GTX 1080 Gaming X OC||Crucial MX200 +
|Corsair AX860i +
Not all motherboards are created equal. On the face of it, they should all perform the same and differ only in the functionality they provide – however, this is not the case. The obvious pointers are power consumption, POST time and latency. This can come down to the manufacturing process and prowess, so these are tested.
For Z590 we are running using Windows 10 64-bit with the 20H2 update.
Power consumption was tested on the system while in a single MSI GTX 1080 Gaming configuration with a wall meter connected to the power supply. Our power supply has ~75% efficiency > 50W, and 90%+ efficiency at 250W, suitable for both idle and multi-GPU loading. This method of power reading allows us to compare the power management of the UEFI and the board to supply components with power under load, and includes typical PSU losses due to efficiency. These are the real-world values that consumers may expect from a typical system (minus the monitor) using this motherboard.
While this method for power measurement may not be ideal, and you feel these numbers are not representative due to the high wattage power supply being used (we use the same PSU to remain consistent over a series of reviews, and the fact that some boards on our testbed get tested with three or four high powered GPUs), the important point to take away is the relationship between the numbers. These boards are all under the same conditions, and thus the differences between them should be easy to spot.
The MSI MEG Z590 Ace was slightly more power-hungry than other models on test, but not as hungry as the Taichi. There is no doubt that the Thunderbolt 4 controller will be a contributing factor to the additional power draw compared with the other models.
Non-UEFI POST Time
Different motherboards have different POST sequences before an operating system is initialized. A lot of this is dependent on the board itself, and POST boot time is determined by the controllers on board (and the sequence of how those extras are organized). As part of our testing, we look at the POST Boot Time using a stopwatch. This is the time from pressing the ON button on the computer to when Windows starts loading. (We discount Windows loading as it is highly variable given Windows-specific features.)
In our POST time test, the Ace performed respectably and currently sits in the middle of our charts.
Deferred Procedure Call latency is a way in which Windows handles interrupt servicing. In order to wait for a processor to acknowledge the request, the system will queue all interrupt requests by priority. Critical interrupts will be handled as soon as possible, whereas lesser priority requests such as audio will be further down the line. If the audio device requires data, it will have to wait until the request is processed before the buffer is filled.
If the device drivers of higher priority components in a system are poorly implemented, this can cause delays in request scheduling and process time. This can lead to an empty audio buffer and characteristic audible pauses, pops and clicks. The DPC latency checker measures how much time is taken processing DPCs from driver invocation. The lower the value will result in better audio transfer at smaller buffer sizes. Results are measured in microseconds.
We test DPC latency out of the box at default settings, and the Ace performed well in our testing with a maximum latency of 106.2 microseconds.
For our motherboard reviews, we use our short form testing method. These tests usually focus on if a motherboard is using MultiCore Turbo (the feature used to have maximum turbo on at all times, giving a frequency advantage), or if there are slight gains to be had from tweaking the firmware. We put the memory settings at the CPU manufacturers suggested frequency, making it very easy to see which motherboards have MCT enabled by default.
For Z590 we are running using Windows 10 64-bit with the 20H2 update.
Rendering – Blender 2.79b: 3D Creation Suite
A high profile rendering tool, Blender is open-source allowing for massive amounts of configurability, and is used by a number of high-profile animation studios worldwide. The organization recently released a Blender benchmark package, a couple of weeks after we had narrowed our Blender test for our new suite, however their test can take over an hour. For our results, we run one of the sub-tests in that suite through the command line – a standard ‘bmw27’ scene in CPU only mode, and measure the time to complete the render.
Rendering – POV-Ray 3.7.1: Ray Tracing
The Persistence of Vision Ray Tracer, or POV-Ray, is a freeware package for as the name suggests, ray tracing. It is a pure renderer, rather than modeling software, but the latest beta version contains a handy benchmark for stressing all processing threads on a platform. We have been using this test in motherboard reviews to test memory stability at various CPU speeds to good effect – if it passes the test, the IMC in the CPU is stable for a given CPU speed. As a CPU test, it runs for approximately 1-2 minutes on high-end platforms.
Rendering – Crysis CPU Render
One of the most oft used memes in computer gaming is ‘Can It Run Crysis?’. The original 2007 game, built in the Crytek engine by Crytek, was heralded as a computationally complex title for the hardware at the time and several years after, suggesting that a user needed graphics hardware from the future in order to run it. Fast forward over a decade, and the game runs fairly easily on modern GPUs, but we can also apply the same concept to pure CPU rendering – can the CPU render Crysis? Since 64 core processors entered the market, one can dream. We built a benchmark to see whether the hardware can.
For this test, we’re running Crysis’ own GPU benchmark, but in CPU render mode. This is a 2000 frame test, which we run over a series of resolutions from 800×600 up to 1920×1080. For simplicity, we provide the 1080p test here.
Rendering – Cinebench R23: link
Maxon’s real-world and cross-platform Cinebench test suite has been a staple in benchmarking and rendering performance for many years. Its latest installment is the R23 version, which is based on its latest 23 code which uses updated compilers. It acts as a real-world system benchmark that incorporates common tasks and rendering workloads as opposed to less diverse benchmarks which only take measurements based on certain CPU functions. Cinebench R23 can also measure both single-threaded and multi-threaded performance.
Compression – WinRAR 5.90: link
Our WinRAR test from 2013 is updated to the latest version of WinRAR at the start of 2014. We compress a set of 2867 files across 320 folders totaling 1.52 GB in size – 95% of these files are small typical website files, and the rest (90% of the size) are small 30-second 720p videos.
3DPMv2.1 – 3D Movement Algorithm Test: link
3DPM is a self-penned benchmark, taking basic 3D movement algorithms used in Brownian Motion simulations and testing them for speed. High floating point performance, MHz, and IPC win in the single thread version, whereas the multithread version has to handle the threads and loves more cores. For a brief explanation of the platform agnostic coding behind this benchmark, see my forum post here.
NAMD 2.13 (ApoA1): Molecular Dynamics
One frequent request over the years has been for some form of molecular dynamics simulation. Molecular dynamics forms the basis of a lot of computational biology and chemistry when modeling specific molecules, enabling researchers to find low energy configurations or potential active binding sites, especially when looking at larger proteins. We’re using the NAMD software here, or Nanoscale Molecular Dynamics, often cited for its parallel efficiency. Unfortunately the version we’re using is limited to 64 threads on Windows, but we can still use it to analyze our processors. We’re simulating the ApoA1 protein for 10 minutes, and reporting back the ‘nanoseconds per day’ that our processor can simulate. Molecular dynamics is so complex that yes, you can spend a day simply calculating a nanosecond of molecular movement.
For Z590 we are running using Windows 10 64-bit with the 20H2 update.
Originally penned by Sid Meier and his team, the Civilization series of turn-based strategy games are a cult classic, and many an excuse for an all-nighter trying to get Gandhi to declare war on you due to an integer underflow. Truth be told I never actually played the first version, but I have played every edition from the second to the sixth, including the fourth as voiced by the late Leonard Nimoy, and it a game that is easy to pick up, but hard to master.
Benchmarking Civilization has always been somewhat of an oxymoron – for a turn based strategy game, the frame rate is not necessarily the important thing here and even in the right mood, something as low as 5 frames per second can be enough. With Civilization 6 however, Firaxis went hardcore on visual fidelity, trying to pull you into the game. As a result, Civilization can taxing on graphics and CPUs as we crank up the details, especially in DirectX 12.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider (DX12)
The latest installment of the Tomb Raider franchise does less rising and lurks more in the shadows with Shadow of the Tomb Raider. As expected this action-adventure follows Lara Croft which is the main protagonist of the franchise as she muscles through the Mesoamerican and South American regions looking to stop a Mayan apocalyptic she herself unleashed. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the direct sequel to the previous Rise of the Tomb Raider and was developed by Eidos Montreal and Crystal Dynamics and was published by Square Enix which hit shelves across multiple platforms in September 2018. This title effectively closes the Lara Croft Origins story and has received critical acclaims upon its release.
The integrated Shadow of the Tomb Raider benchmark is similar to that of the previous game Rise of the Tomb Raider, which we have used in our previous benchmarking suite. The newer Shadow of the Tomb Raider uses DirectX 11 and 12, with this particular title being touted as having one of the best implementations of DirectX 12 of any game released so far.
Strange Brigade (DX12)
Strange Brigade is based in 1903’s Egypt and follows a story which is very similar to that of the Mummy film franchise. This particular third-person shooter is developed by Rebellion Developments which is more widely known for games such as the Sniper Elite and Alien vs Predator series. The game follows the hunt for Seteki the Witch Queen who has arisen once again and the only ‘troop’ who can ultimately stop her. Gameplay is cooperative-centric with a wide variety of different levels and many puzzles which need solving by the British colonial Secret Service agents sent to put an end to her reign of barbaric and brutality.
The game supports both the DirectX 12 and Vulkan APIs and houses its own built-in benchmark which offers various options up for customization including textures, anti-aliasing, reflections, draw distance and even allows users to enable or disable motion blur, ambient occlusion and tessellation among others. AMD has boasted previously that Strange Brigade is part of its Vulkan API implementation offering scalability for AMD multi-graphics card configurations. For our testing, we use the DirectX 12 benchmark.
Experience with the MSI MEG Z590 Ace
The art of overclocking can be considered as a skill, as to get the right combination of settings to deliver an optimized, yet stable enough system to deliver the performance can be time-consuming and tedious. Despite the excellent work from both Intel and AMD over the last couple of years with its interpretations of ‘turbo’ and ‘boost’, this doesn’t typically affect all of the cores, and instead focuses on one or two. On an eight-core processor such as the Intel Core i9-11900K, providing whatever software of application is being used can utilize the cores and threads, typically more performance can be had from pushing all of the cores higher. At present, Intel employs some of the most aggressive methods of automatic overclocking with its Thermal Velocity Boost (TVB), and more recently with Rocket Lake, its new Adaptive Boost Technology (ABT) on its 11th Gen Core i9 K and KF processors.
Perhaps the biggest disadvantage when it comes to overclocking the processor is having to deal with the extra heat and power implications. As Intel is pushing its silicon almost to its limit right out of the factory, adequate cooling is needed. Due to previous experiences when overclocking our i9-11900K in previous Z590 reviews, we’ve seen power consumption figures surpassing 350 W when overclocking, which is a phenomenal amount of wattage for an eight-core chip. Even at default settings, new processors, from both Intel and AMD, typically run warmer than previous generations, so we recommend using premium cooling solutions such as AIO CPU coolers, or even large tower coolers to help manage the extra heat generated.
Looking at our experience with the MSI MEG Z590 Ace, all of the board’s relevant overclocking settings can be found in the OC section, which can be accessed in the Advanced section of the BIOS. MSI includes a large 18-phase power delivery, with premium components, and as such, MSI includes an LN2 mode which can be enabled within the firmware for extreme overclockers looking to go sub-ambient with their chips.
In the OC section of the BIOS, users can overclock the CPU, memory, and integrated Intel UHD graphics, and everything is laid out in a long straight menu, with specific sub-menus for power settings, CPU-specific technologies, and memory latencies. Towards the top of the menu are the CPU, Cache, and Core AVX frequency settings, with voltages further down the list. The Click 5 BIOS includes extensive memory customization and overclocking capabilities, with frequency, Intel’s new Gear Mode that allows users to operate 2:1 with users looking to use very high-frequency DDR4, as well as primary, secondary, and tertiary latency control.
Overall, the MSI Click BIOS 5 on the Ace has everything a novice user could need to perform simple overclocks, including the ability to enable X.M.P 2.0 profiles on compatible memory kits, as well as more for advanced users and experienced tweakers. We’ve seen many iterations of MSI’s firmware over the years, and MSI’s Click BIOS 5 is perhaps the most user-friendly and advanced we’ve seen from the company. It’s easy to navigate, all the options to get overclocking done are present, but be aware that overclocking any area of Intel’s processor, including memory, invalidates the warranty.
Our standard overclocking methodology is as follows. We select the automatic overclock options and test for stability with POV-Ray and Prime95 to simulate high-end workloads. These stability tests aim to catch any immediate causes for memory or CPU errors.
For manual overclocks, based on the information gathered from the previous testing, start off at a nominal voltage and CPU multiplier, and the multiplier is increased until the stability tests are failed. The CPU voltage is increased gradually until the stability tests are passed. The process is repeated until the motherboard reduces the multiplier automatically (due to safety protocol) or the CPU temperature reaches a stupidly high level (105ºC+). Our testbed is not in a case, which should push overclocks higher with fresher (cooler) air.
When overclocking our Intel Core i9-11900K with the MSI MEG Z590 Ace, we noticed that MSI also hasn’t included any specific overclocking presets to its firmware for users to use. It does include the ‘Game Boost’ function, but when we tested it against the hardware at default settings, we actually saw less performance in our POV-Ray testing, with higher thermal and power draw which provided no benefit whatsoever.
When testing the board with manual overclocking, we managed to get our Core i9-11900K to 5.2 GHz on all-cores stable, albeit with a monstrous power draw of 485 watts! With liquid cooling selected in the cooler tuning feature within the board’s firmware, it effectively lifts all power limitations, and as we didn’t see any thermal throttling, it also seemed to disable any thermal limits that may have been present. Overclocking from 4.7 GHz to 5.2 GHz, we saw consistent and incremental increases in our POV-Ray testing, with relatively tight VDroop control through the lower frequencies. As we stepped up from 5.0 GHz and with more CPU VCore set in the firmware, VDroop did get a little loose, and at 5.2 GHz, we saw CPU VCore overshoot by around 4%, which is still acceptable, but comes at a thermal and power cost.
Overall the MSI MEG Z590 Ace is a solid board for enthusiasts to overclock Rocket Lake with, and there’s potential for further performance gains, provided that users are using adequate and premium cooling. The levels of VDroop throughout our testing with default load-line calibration settings are acceptable, and the Ace can be considered a solid board for overclocking.
A lot more focus has been put on power delivery specifications and capabilities, not just by manufacturers but as a result of users’ demands. In addition to the extra power benefits from things like overclocking, more efficient designs in power deliveries and cooling solutions aim to bring temperatures down. Although this isn’t something most users ever need to worry about, certain enthusiasts are bringing more focus onto each board’s power delivery. The more premium models tend to include bigger and higher-grade power deliveries, with bigger and more intricate heatsink designs, with some even providing water blocks, while others are spending more just to make sure the most efficient parts on the market are being used.
Our method of testing is if the power delivery and its heatsink are effective at dissipating heat. We do this by running an intensely heavy CPU workload for a prolonged method of time. We apply an overclock which is deemed safe and at the maximum that the silicon on our testbed processor allows. We then run the Prime95 with AVX2 enabled under a torture test for an hour at the maximum stable overclock we can which puts insane pressure on the processor. We collect our data via three different methods which include the following:
- Taking a thermal image from a birds-eye view after an hour with a Flir Pro thermal imaging camera
- Securing two probes on to the rear of the PCB, right underneath CPU VCore section of the power delivery for better parity in case a probe reports a faulty reading
- Taking a reading of the VRM temperature from the sensor reading within the HWInfo monitoring application
The reason for using three different methods is that some sensors can read inaccurate temperatures, which can give very erratic results for users looking to gauge whether an overclock is too much pressure for the power delivery handle. With using a probe on the rear, it can also show the efficiency of the power stages and heatsinks as a wide margin between the probe and sensor temperature can show that the heatsink is dissipating heat and that the design is working, or that the internal sensor is massively wrong. To ensure our probe was accurate before testing, I binned 10 and selected the most accurate (within 1c of the actual temperature) for better parity in our testing.
To recreate a real-world testing scenario, the system is built into a conventional desktop chassis which is widely available. This is to show and alleviate issues when testing on open testbeds which we have done previously, which allows natural airflow to flow over the power delivery heatsinks. It provides a better comparison for the end-user and allows us to mitigate issues where heatsinks have been designed with airflow in mind, and those that have not. The idea of a heatsink is to allow effective dissipation of heat and not act as an insulator, with much more focus from consumers over the last couple of years on power delivery componentry and performance than in previous years.
For thermal imaging, we use a Flir One camera to indicate where the heat is generated around the socket area, as some designs use different configurations and an evenly spread power delivery with good components will usually generate less heat. Manufacturers who use inefficient heatsinks and cheap out on power delivery components should run hotter than those who have invested. Of course, a $700 flagship motherboard is likely to outperform a cheaper $100 model under the same testing conditions, but it is still worth testing to see which vendors are doing things correctly.
Thermal Analysis Results
The MSI MEG Z590 Ace has a large 18-phase power delivery split into a sixteen-phase setup for the CPU, and two power stages for the SoC. The CPU section includes sixteen Intersil ISL99390 90 A power stages with eight Intersil ISL6617A doublers, while the SoC section is using a pair of Renesas RAA220075 75 A power stages. Controlling the power delivery is an Intersil ISL69269 PWM controller which is operating at 8+2. Cooling the power delivery is a pair of weighty and well-crafted heatsinks, which are connected by a single heat pipe. Attached to the heatsinks is the large metal rear panel cover, which should also add some additional cooling properties in systems with good passive airflow. The heatsinks themselves have deep channeled fins that are designed to direct and catch passive airflow when installed into a chassis.
Looking at our VRM thermal testing results for Z590, the MSI MEG Z590 Ace performed reasonably well all things considered. We observed power delivery temperatures of 69ºC from the integrated thermal sensor, with temperatures of 73 and 75ºC respectively with our pair of K-type thermocouples. Typically when testing Z590, especially on the GIGABYTE models, we’ve observed hotter power planes than the power delivery components themselves, but this is a different case with the Ace, which shows the heat isn’t just being dumped into it, with pretty decent heat dissipation. The design of the 16+2 power delivery which is technically operating at 8+2, and the combination of the large heatsinks look to be operating with good efficiency and is taking the heat away effectively.
Overall the MSI MEG Z590 Ace performs well in our thermal VRM testing and is nearly on par with the ASRock Z590 Taichi, which is using active cooling as opposed to passive on the Ace.
For many conventional PC users building a new system, selecting a motherboard primarily comes down to several reasons, with the most notable one coming down to budget. While the battle between AMD and Intel in both performance and value is raging on, it’s a good time for users that are looking to capitalize on a new processor. The drawback is, over the years, motherboard prices have been rising exponentially, with the flagship models costing upwards of $1000. In the example of Rocket Lake, the Core i9-11900K can be bought from Amazon for $590, with a flagship motherboard model costing nearly double that. It comes down to features, capability, and controller sets, with more premium variants of all three of the elements leading to increased pricing. To get premium features, including those from Intel’s Z590 chipset, users don’t need to spend $1000 to get an enhanced experience, with the MSI MEG Z590 Ace offering lots of quality for a lower price than halo parts.
Above the mid-range offerings, but sitting below the flagships, is the MSI MEG Z590 Ace, with its all-black and now all-metal aesthetic, which is an improvement over the Z490 Ace and offers users a better all-round premium-feeling product. There’s also enough RGB LED lighting for users to customize the aesthetic, with a solid selection of premium components on offer for users to get to grips with. Not targeted at a specific market, MSI caters to a wider market with the Ace, including gamers, enthusiasts, and content creators.
The Ace has four M.2 slots in terms of features, which is just one of a handful of models on Z590 to offer this, with one operating at the fastest PCIe 4.0 x4 speeds and the other three at PCIe 3.0 x4. Two of the PCIe 3.0 x4 slots support SATA, and unfortunately, the bottom PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slot shares bandwidth with the chipset-driven full-length PCIe 3.0 x4 slot, which means populating the aforementioned slot will drop the PCIe slot bandwidth . In addition to this, there are six SATA ports which all feature support for RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 arrays. There are three full-length PCIe slots, including two PCIe 4.0 operating at x16 and x8/x8, while the bottom full-length slot is electronically locked to PCIe 3.0 x4. Located in between the full-length slots are two PCIe 3.0 x1 slots.
On the controller set, MSI includes Intel’s latest Maple Ridge Thunderbolt 4 controller, which adds dual Type-C on the rear panel, as well as two mini-DisplayPort video inputs that allow users to daisy chain compatible displays. This is a better quality alternative to USB 3.2 G2x2 which the Ace omits, with 40 Gbps versus 20 Gbps for better data transfer speeds. Users looking for additional Type-C connectivity can add one USB 3.2 G2 Type-C port with one front panel header featured. Other USB connectivity includes two USB 3.2 G2 Type-A, four USB 3.2 G1 Type-A, and two USB 2.0 on the rear panel, although two USB 3.2 G1 Type-A ports and four USB 2.0 ports can be added via the front panel headers. Networking capability is decent, with one Intel I225-V 2.5 GbE port on the rear panel, with the latest Intel AX210 Wi-Fi 6E CNVi also allows users to connect BT 5.2 devices up.
What’s also interesting is what comes in the box with the board. First up is a USB drive with all the drivers and software – moving to USB for this has been very much requested, as cheaper boards come with DVDs, and almost no-one buying these boards has an optical disk drive any more. So the USB drive is very much appreciated. The other angle is that the box contains a cleaning brush. I guess for your keyboard?
Focusing on performance, the MSI MEG Z590 Ace performed competitively against other Z590 models tested. Although it was a little more power-hungry than most, it did well across our system, compute, and gaming benchmarks. Particular highlights include Cinebench R23, where we got the highest multi-threaded score so far on Z590, while in our system testing, DPC latency out of the box and POST times were respectable.
Overclocking with the Ace also proved fruitful. A particular highlight is having the ability to select what cooling method is being used in the BIOS, which determines the level of power the board and CPU will use when in operation. While this isn’t a new feature, it’s nice to see MSI implement it into the firmware. As we overclocked our Core i9-11900K, it was apparent that selecting water cooling/AIO also disabled thermal throttling, which saw us achieve even more performance in our POV-Ray testing. Regarding CPU VCore and VDroop control, it was relatively tight, but nothing completely off the rails, so the firmware and the large 18-phase power delivery are doing their job well.
In our VRM thermal testing, with good and consistent temperatures throughout, especially compared to the competition. It’s nice to see MSI isn’t just dumping heat into the power plane area around the CPU socket and effectively pulling heat away with a combination of large heatsinks and adequate passive airflow when installed into our test system.
At the time of writing, the MSI MEG Z590 Ace is available at Amazon for $470 and at Newegg for $492, so we recommend users make their purchase at Amazon. Regarding competition, the best comes from ASUS with the ROG Maximus XIII Hero ($500), with a very similar feature set, but includes two Intel I225-V 2.5 GbE controllers, and has six USB 3.2 G2 Type-A ports on the rear panel. Both boards are solid examples of premium models, so the decision comes down to aesthetics and rear panel connectivity.
Overall when judging the MSI MEG Z590 Ace on its own merits, it’s a solid motherboard with plenty of premium features, including Thunderbolt 4, four M.2, PCIe 4.0, and performs well in our test suite. Given the quality of the competition at the $450-500 price point, it’s hard to directly recommend the MSI other than it’s got everything a premium model should have; it looks good and performs just as well. The fact MSI has improved and has opted for all-metal covers instead of garish plastic covers is something we feel worthy of applauding.