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MSI MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi review: Excellent 12th Gen Intel performance with impressive expansion

Intel's latest chipset is a match made in heaven for this premium MSI motherboard.

Msi Mpg Z690 Carbon Wifi Box
(Image: © 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: Price and availability

Msi Mpg Z690 Carbon Wifi

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: 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 Wifi

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: 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.

CategoryMSI MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi
SizeATX
CPUIntel 12th Gen
SocketLGA 1700
Power delivery18+1+1
RAM4x DDR5 DIMM (up to DDR5-6666+), 128GB limit
ChipsetIntel Z690
Expansion2x PCIe 5.0 x16 (x16 or dual x8)
1x PCIe 4.0 x16
Storage6x SATA (6Gbps)
4x M.2 2242/2260/2280 (PCIe 4.0 x4, SATA)
1x M.2 2242/2260/2280 (PCIe 3.0 x4)
AudioRealtek ALC4080
Rear portsBIOS 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
Dimensions305 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 Wifi

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: 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 Hero

Source: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: 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.

CategoryMSI MPG Z690 Carbon WiFiASUS ROG Maximus Z690 Hero
SizeATXATX
CPUIntel 12th GenIntel 12th Gen
SocketLGA 1700LGA 1700
Power delivery18+1+120+1
RAM4x DDR5 DIMM (up to DDR5-6666+), 128GB limit4x DDR5 DIMM (up to DDR5-6400+), 128GB limit
ChipsetIntel Z690Intel Z690
Expansion2x 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
Storage6x 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)
AudioRealtek ALC4080Realtek ALC4082
Rear portsBIOS 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
Dimensions305 x 244 mm305 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 Wifi

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: 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

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.

Rich Edmonds is a word conjurer at Windows Central, covering everything related to Windows, gaming, and hardware. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a device chassis. You can follow him over on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.

1 Comment
  • I miss the days when $400 was considered high end lol... Having said that, the new tech tax for PCI-E 5.0 and DDR5. Allows the price to sort of make sense. But yeah, the 2.5gig and 2.0 usb ports are probably due to “mandatory product segmentation”. As well as allowing the OEM to shave off a few pennies per board.