Msi Mpg Z690 Carbon Wifi BoxSource: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central

The 12th Gen Intel family of processors is finally upon us, and we've got some shiny new motherboards to play around with. If you're wanting to upgrade or build a new PC with the latest CPUs from Intel, you'll need to consider the Z690 chipset. Partnered manufacturers have numerous Z690 motherboards already available and today we're taking a look at one from MSI.

The MSI MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi is one of these launch motherboards with a list of enticing specifications. You've got PCIe 5.0 and DDR5 support, not to mention five M.2 slots, a hefty VRM setup with an 18+1+1 power delivery design, and a stunning subtle design that will work well with most PC cases. It's certainly poised for a seat on the best motherboards list, but it might be too much for some.

MSI MPG Z690 CARBON WIFI

MSI MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi

Bottom line: MSI did a stellar job with the MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi. It has everything you need for a powerful 12th Gen Intel PC build, including five M.2 slots, solid power delivery, and DDR5 support.

The Good

  • Stunning board design
  • Plenty of I/O
  • DDR5 and PCIe 5.0 support
  • Excellent performance
  • Five M.2 slots

The Bad

  • Only 2.5Gb LAN
  • Pricey
  • Overkill for most PC builds
  • Four USB 2.0 ports

MSI MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi: Price and availability

Msi Mpg Z690 Carbon WifiSource: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central

The MSRP for the MSI MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi is $400, which is about in line with previous generations for a mid-range motherboard. It's a full $200 more affordable than an ASUS Z690 board we'll be comparing this one against, though you'll miss out on an included PCIe M.2 expansion card, RGB and fan hub, as well as a few other notable features.

But really, when you're above $200 for a motherboard, there's little wiggle room between motherboards in terms of performance and this board should be right up there with the best. It may seem like quite a chunk of a budget, but the motherboard is what connects everything together inside the chassis.

MSI MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi: What's good

Msi Mpg Z690 Carbon WifiSource: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central

The packaging is the first thing you'll see and it provides some insight into how the board itself is designed. MSI opted to go with a clean look and feel, and removed unnecessary clutter. Inside, you'll find the motherboard, as well as manuals and stickers, and all the usual internal cabling and antenna for the Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.0.

Look at the unboxed motherboard and you'll realize it's a stunner. Only shades of black and dark gray are used throughout the PCB and shrouds, and you wouldn't even think there was RGB lighting installed. In terms of specifications, the MSI MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi is anything but subtle. To handle 12th Gen Intel processors, MSI uses an 18+1+1 phase design with 75A MOSFETs, allowing for some serious headroom for overclocking.

Category MSI MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi
Size ATX
CPU Intel 12th Gen
Socket LGA 1700
Power delivery 18+1+1
RAM 4x DDR5 DIMM (up to DDR5-6666+), 128GB limit
Chipset Intel Z690
Expansion 2x PCIe 5.0 x16 (x16 or dual x8)
1x PCIe 4.0 x16
Storage 6x SATA (6Gbps)
4x M.2 2242/2260/2280 (PCIe 4.0 x4, SATA)
1x M.2 2242/2260/2280 (PCIe 3.0 x4)
Audio Realtek ALC4080
Rear ports BIOS FlashBack Button
5x USB-A 3.2 Gen 2
1x USB-C 3.2 Gen 2x2
4x USB 2.0
1x DisplayPort
1x HDMI
1x 2.5Gb LAN
1x Optical S/PDIF out
5x Gold-plated audio jack
NVIDIA SLI
AMD CrossFire
Dimensions 305 x 244 mm
Launch price $400

For RAM, you can install up to 128GB of DDR-6666 MT/s, which is seriously fast compared to the previous generation DDR4 DIMMs. The Intel Z690 chipset also unlocks two PCIe 5.0 x16 slots for GPUs and expansion cards with a further PCIe 4.0 x16 slot. Then there are five (yes, five) M.2 slots located on the board without the need for a separate PCIe card.

A dual 8-pin header setup is located in the top-left of the board for supplying clean and reliable power, though you could get away with using just one if you don't plan on pushing the system hard. MSI, like ASUS, includes an LED debugging screen that's invaluable to quickly diagnose boot issues.

Along the side are the usual USB 3.0 and USB-C headers, as well as fan headers and the 24-pin ATX power input. Below the CPU socket are the PCIe and M.2 slots, the latter of which are covered by heatsinks that actually do aid in keeping drives cool. To the right of this configuration of slots are six SATA 6Gb/s ports for 3.5-inch and 2.5-inch drives.

There are more than enough headers for hooking up all your case fans, and everything is well laid out for those who are building their first PC. For rear I/O, it's more of a mixed bag. There are four USB 2.0 ports, which is strange to see on a $400 motherboard, but thankfully MSI does provide an additional five USB-A 3.2 Gen 2 and one USB-C 3.2 Gen 2x2 port to play with.

The MSI MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi is a great deal for early platform adopters.

MSI did a solid job with the heatsinks that cover the voltage regulator modules (VRMs), which can get rather toasty when under load, especially with an overclocked Intel Core i9-12900K. There are also heatsinks for the M.2 slots that come in handy if you're making use of PCIe 4.0 SSDs.

To put the MSI MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi to the test, we installed the board in two test rigs, both with an Intel Core i9-12900K, similar RAM modules, and an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080. The results were in line with expectations and traded blows against the ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 Hero, though the latter did manage to edge out, especially after overclocking was carried out.

The BIOS is straightforward to use and there were no stability concerns with the board through use. The array of M.2 slots is clearly a highlight, especially with four of them capable of running at PCIe 4.0 speeds. The fact that you can really push even Intel's Core i9 processor beyond its factor set limits without encountering issues makes the MSI MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi a great deal for early platform adopters.

MSI MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi: What's not good

Msi Mpg Z690 Carbon WifiSource: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central

There are a few minor complaints worth pointing out, especially if you're looking to drop $400 on a new motherboard. The rear I/O only includes a 2.5Gb LAN port, which is a shame and would have been a nice touch to see MSI go out and install a 5Gb or 10Gb port. Then, there are the odd four USB 2.0 ports, which should have been swapped out for 3.0 at least.

If you've got power-hungry accessories, these USB 2.0 ports may struggle to keep up. But if you don't really need that additional bandwidth, the motherboard itself is a little overkill for most PCs. Not everyone needs such great overclocking support. As aforementioned, $200 is when you'll start to encounter plenty of solid motherboards with a great list of features.

And you will need to have that antenna plugged in to use the Bluetooth without dropouts and quality issues.

MSI MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi: Competition

ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 HeroSource: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central

The closest competitors are probably the ASUS ROG Strix Z690 Gaming and Gigabyte Z690 AORUS Master, but we've only reviewed the ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 Hero thus far. It's a very similar motherboard considering there's a $200 difference in the MSRP. Check out the specifications of the two boards below.

Category MSI MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 Hero
Size ATX ATX
CPU Intel 12th Gen Intel 12th Gen
Socket LGA 1700 LGA 1700
Power delivery 18+1+1 20+1
RAM 4x DDR5 DIMM (up to DDR5-6666+), 128GB limit 4x DDR5 DIMM (up to DDR5-6400+), 128GB limit
Chipset Intel Z690 Intel Z690
Expansion 2x PCIe 5.0 x16 (x16 or dual x8)
1x PCIe 4.0 x16
2x PCIe 5.0 x16 (x16 or dual x8)
1x PCIe 4.0 x16
Storage 6x SATA (6Gbps)
4x M.2 2242/2260/2280 (PCIe 4.0 x4, SATA)
1x M.2 2242/2260/2280 (PCIe 3.0 x4)
6x SATA (6Gbps)
2x M.2 2242/2260/2280 (PCIe 4.0 x4, SATA)
1x M.2 2242/2260/2280 (PCIe 3.0 x4)
ROG Hyper M.2 expansion card (1x M.2 2242/2260/2280 (PCIe 5.0, SATA)
ROG Hyper M.2 expansion card (1x M.2 2242/2260/2280 (PCIe 4.0, SATA)
Audio Realtek ALC4080 Realtek ALC4082
Rear ports BIOS FlashBack Button
5x USB-A 3.2 Gen 2
1x USB-C 3.2 Gen 2x2
4x USB 2.0
1x DisplayPort
1x HDMI
1x 2.5Gb LAN
1x Optical S/PDIF out
5x Gold-plated audio jack
BIOS FlashBack Button
Clear CMOS button
1x 2.5G LAN
1x ASUS Wi-Fi
2x Thunderbolt 4
6x USB-A 3.2 Gen 2 (up to 10Gbps)
1x USB-C 3.2 Gen 2
2x USB-A 2.0
1x HDMI
1x Optical S/PDIF out
5x Gold-plated audio jack
NVIDIA SLI
AMD CrossFire
Dimensions 305 x 244 mm 305 x 244 mm
Launch price $400 $600

The MSI MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi is actually rated to handle faster SSR5 RAM at 6666 MT/s, but mostly everything else is the same. You've got a similar PCIe setup, audio codec, rear ports (though the MSI has two more USB 2.0), BIOS Flashback button, and support for a multi-GPU PC build.

We'd recommend sticking with the Z690 chipset for the latest 12th Gen Intel processors, especially if you plan to overclock the CPU or RAM. It really boils down to your personal preference on which brand you have had the best experience with and which board has a design that fits your PC case and other components best.

MSI MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi: Should you buy it?

Msi Mpg Z690 Carbon WifiSource: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central

You should buy this if ...

  • You have a 12th Gen Intel CPU
  • You want to use DDR5 and PCIe 5.0
  • You plan to do some overclocking
  • You prefer to use PCIe NVMe SSDs
  • You don't mind spending $400 on a motherboard

You shouldn't buy this if...

  • You want to use DDR4 RAM
  • You want a budget-friendly motherboard
  • You don't plan to overclock your CPU
  • You want a flashier design with plenty of RGB

4 out of 5

You'll struggle to see a notable difference in benchmarks and games between motherboards with the Z690 chipset. There will be some discrepancies like with the ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 Hero, but this is a considerably more expensive motherboard with a hefty VRM setup. This allows for far more potent overclocking.

But the MSI MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi is an extremely capable foundation for a PC build. It has pretty much everything you'll need without unnecessary bloat or inflated price. I'm talking dual PCIe 5.0 slots, DDR5 support, five M.2 slots, 2.5Gb LAN and Wi-Fi 6E networking, and an 18+1+1 power delivery design that can handle an overclocked Intel Core i9-12900K.

We like the design of the motherboard, which provides a more subtle look that focuses attention on all the RGB lighting inside the chassis for showcasing all your other components. There are some onboard LEDs, but they're far from obnoxious. Not all Z590 motherboards support DDR5 RAM and have multiple PCIe 5.0 slots so MSI has a strong offering with the MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi.

MSI MPG Z690 CARBON WIFI

MSI MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi

Bottom line: If you want a Z690 motherboard that offers enough in terms of features and overclocking stability without decimating your PC build budget, look no further than the MSI MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi.

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