UK price (as reviewed): £181.99 (inc. VAT)
US price (as reviewed): $209.99 (exc. tax)
The Gaming Pro Carbon has been the mainstay of MSI's mid-range ATX motherboards for a couple of generations, and it's certainly one of our favourites when it comes to boards costing between £150 and £200.
As with much of the rest of the field, it's seen a price hike since Z270 at the beginning of the year, but as per usual with Z370 motherboards, it has also seen numerous upgrades that help to justify that price tag and offer a shift in the lineup of boards MSI offers.
The obvious competition is the Asus ROG Strix Z370-E Gaming and Gigabyte's Z370 Aorus Ultra Gaming (which we'll be looking at soon), which both sit above and below the Gaming Pro Carbon AC.
However, it's all about features this time around with such close performance between boards, although there are still some differences in overclocking as EFIs develop and manufacturers get to grips with Coffee Lake.
As the image above might suggest, you get RGB lighting, but it's fairly subtle with just a few strips here and there along with a row of LEDs on the rear of the PCB. It's similar to Asus' effort, but if your retinas demand more then you'll probably be needing a Gigabyte board, although there are two RGB headers on the PCB to add your own LED strips. You can also control it from your smartphone using MSI's Mystic Light Mobile app for iOS and Android.
As its name suggests, the board includes Wi-Fi too - the first ATX board in the range to do so. Unlike most implementations we've seen, MSI has gone for a separate 802.11ac PCIe card rather than an integrated effort lodged in the rear I/O panel. There are two M.2 ports, but only one heatsink, and this is only able to be fitted to the upper of the two slots that sits between the CPU socket and primary 16x PCIe slot. Unfortunately, this has proven to be the worst location, as the heatsinks here can't make use of your case's airflow, and most other boards managed to keep our Samsung 960 Evo much cooler, with only a few degrees difference here between using the heatsink and not. Still, there were no speed issues to report; it's just the temperatures won't be as low as on other boards including MSI's own Z370 Godlike Gaming, where the most southerly heatsink-equipped port was a healthy 15°C cooler.
The pump header can handle up to 24W, which is impressive for a mid-range board, and this is enough to power a Laing DDC if you use a Molex to three-pin adaptor, allowing you to tap into the motherboard's fan control suite to quieten your pump down. Of course, it's also handy for AIO pumps. For some reason, MSI has opted to move two of the SATA 6Gbps ports to the bottom of the PCB. We guess this might be useful if your case has drive cages beneath the motherboard, but in most cases we'd prefer to see these on the side. There are two USB 3.0 headers on the PCB but no USB 3.1 header - not a major issue at the moment, but most other boards in this price range include one.
The rear panel has plenty of space for a Wi-Fi module, so we can only guess that it was cheaper for MSI to offer a discrete PCIe card. You get a decent amount of USB ports with seven Type-As in total, spanning USB 2.0, 3.0, and 3.1 plus some gold-plated audio connectors. The audio is the standard Realtek ALC 1220 codec, with separate PCB layers for left and right audio channels, a built-in DAC, and dedicated headphone amplifier.
February 19 2021 | 17:15