MSI MEG Z790 Godlike MAX Motherboard Review: the Apex of Features and Price

On the testbench this week is MSI’s Halo product for Z790 motherboards, the boldly-named Godlike MAX. This massive E-ATX (12 x 12.2-inch) board presents the best hardware money offers on a  desktop-class SKU. For about $1,200, you get the best the platform has to offer, including a class-leading seven M.2 sockets (one PCIe 5.0), a high-end audio solution with integrated AMP/DAC, Thunderbolt 4 (40 Gbps) ports, fast networking with a 10 GbE port and Wi-Fi 7, and of course, a premium appearance (including RGBs) fit for a top-of-the-line offering.

MSI has released several refresh boards, including our Godlike MAX ($1,299 MSRP), a Carbon MAX Wi-Fi ($499), Edge Ti MAX Wi-Fi ($399.99), the Tomahawk MAX Wi-Fi ($299.99), the budget Pro Z790-A MAX Wi-Fi ($279) and the Z790 Ace MAX ($699.99) we recently reviewed. Plenty of refresh boards are available in the MSI Z790 product stack, though the company is missing updated Micro ATX and Mini-ITX offerings.

The updated Godlike MAX brings native 14th Gen CPU support out of the box and Wi-Fi 7 on top of all the features. Power-wise, the VRMs are among the most robust for the platform. Along with the overkill cooling capability, it can easily handle processors like the Intel Core i9-14900K, no matter what cooling method. In addition to the hardware updates, MSI also refreshed the appearance a bit with a “…crystal cut pattern within black mirrors…” and more RGB lighting on the rear IO and along the bottom M.2 heatsink. It is an improvement as it’s all tastefully implemented. Outside of that, it isn’t much different than the original Z790 Godlike and is more of an iterative refresh than what we’d truly consider ‘new.’

Below, we’ll dig into the details of the board and see how it performs with the new Intel Core i9-14900K processor and against a few other new Z790 motherboards. Does it have a chance of making our best motherboard list? Read on to figure that out, but before we get into that, we’ll start by listing the specifications from the MSI website.

Specifications: MSI MEG Z790 Godlike MAX

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Socket LGA1700
Chipset Z790
Form Factor E-ATX (12.2 x 12-inches)
Voltage Regulator 28 Phase (26x 105A SPS MOSFETs for Vcore)
Video Ports (2) Thunderbolt 4 Type-C
Row 5 – Cell 0 (2) Mini DisplayPort (input ofr TB passthrough)
USB Ports (1) USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 Type-C (20 Gbps)
Row 7 – Cell 0 (4) USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10 Gbps)
Row 8 – Cell 0 (3) USB 3.2 Gen 1 (5 Gbps)
Row 9 – Cell 0 (2) USB 2.0 (480 Mbps)
Network Jacks (1) 2.5 GbE
Row 11 – Cell 0 (1) 10 GbE
Audio Jacks (5) Analog + SPDIF
Legacy Ports/Jacks
Other Ports/Jack
PCIe x16 (1) v5.0 x16
Row 16 – Cell 0 (1) v5.0 x8 (disabled when M.2_4 in use)
PCIe x8
PCIe x4
PCIe x1
CrossFire/SLI AMD Multi-GPU support
DIMM Slots (4) DDR5 7800+(OC), 192GB Capacity
Row 22 – Cell 0 1DPC 1R Max speed up to 7800+ MHz
Row 23 – Cell 0 1DPC 2R Max speed up to 6800+ MHz
Row 24 – Cell 0 2DPC 1R Max speed up to 6400+ MHz
Row 25 – Cell 0 2DPC 2R Max speed up to 6000+ MHz
M.2 Sockets (1) PCIe 5.0 x4 (128 Gbps) / PCIe (up to 110mm)
Row 27 – Cell 0 (3) PCIe 4.0 x4 (64 Gbps) / PCIe (up to 80mm)
Row 28 – Cell 0 (2) PCIe 4.0 x4 (64 Gbps) / PCIe + SATA (up to 80mm)
Row 29 – Cell 0 (1) PCIe 4.0 x4 (64 Gbps) / PCIe (up to 110mm)
Row 30 – Cell 0 Supports RAID 0/1/5/10
SATA Ports (6) SATA3 6 Gbps (Supports RAID 0/1/5/10)
USB Headers (1) USB v3.2 Gen 2×2, Type-C (20 Gbps)
Row 33 – Cell 0 (2) USB v3.2 Gen 1 (5 Gbps)
Row 34 – Cell 0 (2) USB v2.0 (480 Mbps)
Fan/Pump Headers (10) 4-Pin (CPU, Pump, System fans)
RGB Headers (3) aRGB (3-pin)
Row 37 – Cell 0 (1) RGB (4-pin)
Row 38 – Cell 0 (1) ARGB+FAN
Diagnostics Panel (1) Debug LED,
Row 40 – Cell 0 (1) EZ Debug LED (4 LEDs)
Internal Button/Switch Power and Reset buttons
SATA Controllers
Ethernet Controller(s) (1) Marvell AQC113CS-B1-C (10 GbE)
Row 44 – Cell 0 (1) Intel 2.5 GBps
Wi-Fi / Bluetooth Wi-Fi 7 (2×2 be, MU-MIMO, MLO 2.4/5/6 GHz, 320 MHz, BT 5.4)
USB Controllers Genyses Logic GL3590, GL3523, GL850
Row 47 – Cell 0 Intel JHL8540
HD Audio Codec Realtek ALC4082 + ESS ES9280AQ Combo DAC/HPA
DDL/DTS ✗ / ✗
Warranty 3 Years

Inside the Box of the MEG Z790 Godlike MAX

Along with the motherboard, MSI includes a ton of accessories. Not only do you get the basics (SATA cables, Wi-Fi antenna, and EZ M.2 clips), but the board also comes with the cool and useful M-Vision Dashboard – a 4.5-inch full-color IPS LCD panel device that connects via USB Type-C port and is used to monitor system operations (tuning, power/reset), system information (hardware monitor, etc.). It also displays the weather, a system clock, is a media controller, and allows hot-key customization. It’s one of the more unique and useful add-ons if you like to tweak and monitor your PC but don’t want to take up valuable space on your main display. Below is a complete list of the included accessories.

  • Quick install guide
  • Shout out flyer
  • Cable stickers
  • (4) EZ M.2 clips
  • (2) Thermistor cables
  • EX Front panel cable
  • (2) DP to Mini-DP
  • ARGB & Fan extension Y-cable
  • 1 to 2 RGB LED extension Y-cable
  • 1 to 3 ARGB Gen2 extension cable
  • Rainbow RGB LED extension cable
  • (6) SATA cables
  • M-Vision Cable

Design of the Godlike MAX

The design of the Z790 Godlike MAX is similar to the non-Max. It’s still a huge ATX-size board that measures no less than 12 inches on each side. It’s a bit bigger than other flagship boards (around 11 inches wide), so make sure your chassis has room for it and any potential cable management concerns that can arise. Outside of that, the 8-layer PCB still sports the black-on-black design but changes the accents with the crystal cutting pattern on the rear IO bottom M.2 heatsinks, illuminated by the RGB LEDs hidden below. The updated appearance is an improvement on an already good-looking design.

(Image credit: MSI)

Starting in the top left corner, we’d normally start with the 8-pin EPS connectors. They aren’t located here, but are over to the right, above the DRAM sockets. Here, we get a better look at the oversized aluminum VRM heatsinks hidden under the RGB feature. The top VRM heatsink, utilizing MSI’s Wavy Fin design,  connects to the larger heatsink through a sizeable direct touch heatpipe. Together, it keeps the impressive power delivery below running well within spec under any normal situation.

Moving past the clean socket area, we run into four unreinforced DRAM slots with their locking mechanism on the bottom. I like to see these on top so it’s easier to swap RAM with a video card installed, but most won’t find this to be a problem. MSI lists support up to DDR5-7800 and capacity up to 192 GB. The speed is the same as the original Z790 Godlike. On this board, we couldn’t run out of the DDR5-8000 kit (expected), nor our DDR5-7200 kit. While neither was on the list, I was hopeful the DDR5-7200 kit would work, but it’s not on the QVL list either and didn’t pass stress tests. Ultimately, only our DDR5-6000 kit worked by just setting the XMP profile. Stick with MSI’s QVL list for assured support.

Utilizing the increased size of ATX and then some, we run into the first two (of SEVEN!) M.2 sockets hiding under the heatsink. These two sockets support up to 80mm devices with speeds up to PCIe 4.0 x4 (64 Gbps). Along the top edge, above these two M.2 sockets, are the first two (of 11) total 4-pin fan/pump headers. We find the remainder of the headers along the right and bottom edges of the board. Each header supports PWM and DC-controlled devices with the CPU and System fans default to auto, while the pump headers default to PWM control. Power output varies on the ports, but there’s a lot of it. CPU_FAN1 and SYS_FAN1-7 output 2A/24W, while the two pump headers (PUMP_FAN1-2) provides 3A/36W. In short, there are plenty of headers and power to support whatever cooling solution you choose.

Next are the 2-character debug LEDs and the EZ debug LEDs in the corner. Both of these provide information during the POST process. If there’s a problem, one displays a detailed code while the problem area (CPU, VGA, RAM, Boot) remains lit on the EZ debug feature but lacks details. Combined, these should provide enough information for troubleshooting POST/Boot problems.

Crawling down the right edge are several additional headers and connectors, all sticking out horizontally and helping with cable management. Working our way down, we first run into a 3-pin ARGB header. You’ll find two more along the bottom edge and a 4-pin ARGB header. Control over these devices is managed through the Mystic Light application, which you can get through the MSI Center application. Next, we run into three more 4-pin fan headers, the 24-pin ATX power lead, a 6-pin PCIe power connector to enable 60W PD charging capability, and finally, two front panel Type-C ports, both running at 20 Gbps speeds. The top connector of these two (JUSB6) is the 60W-capable port.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

Power delivery on the Z790 Godlike MAX is the same as the non-MAX version. Power travels down from the EPS connector(s) onto a Renesas RAA229131 controller to the 26x 105A Renesas RAA22010540 SPS MOSFETs in a teamed configuration. The 2,730A available for the CPU is still the most I can recall seeing on a motherboard and surely won’t get in the way of any type of overclocking, including using LN2 (liquid nitrogen).

(Image credit: MSI)

The bottom half of the board is where most of the M.2 sockets reside, along with tons of headers, connectors, and even a few switches. The audio section on the left houses a Realtek ALC4082 codec and ESS ES9280AQ combo DAC/HPA. This is the flagship codec for the platform and is still one of the better audio implementations available on a motherboard.

Moving on to the M.2 sockets, five are hidden below the heatsinks in this area. For details on their bandwidth, see the specifications above. What’s worth mentioning here is how these break down. When the M2_4 (the PCIe 5.0 x4 socket) is populated, PCI_E2 (the second PCIe slot) is unavailable. If you’re using a SATA- or PCIe-based drive in M2_5, SATA ports 5-8 are unavailable, leaving you with just two functioning SATA ports available. The PCIe slots mixed in among the M.2 sockets are simple. Both use reinforcement and PCIe 5.0. The top slot supports up to x16 speeds, but both run at PCIe 5.0 x8 speeds when the second slot gets populated. The only concern with this configuration is a lack of slots for multiple expansion cards. Last, along the right edge, are two USB 3.2 Gen 1 (10 Gbps) headers and six SATA ports.

Across the bottom of the board are several exposed headers, all vertical. You’ll find the usual and quite a bit more: additional USB ports, RGB headers, fan headers, custom water cooling headers (for flow and temperatures), power/reset buttons, and more. Below is a complete list from left to right.

  • Front panel audio
  • 4-pin RGB
  • 3-pin ARGB
  • (6) 4-pin fan/pump headers
  • (2) 2-pin temperature headers
  • (2) USB 2.0 headers
  • Power/Reset buttons
  • BIOS/LED/M switches
  • M-Vision connector
  • Front panel

(Image credit: MSI)

The rear IO plate on the Z790 Godlike comes preinstalled to the motherboard. It has a black background with light-grey labels on the ports, making them relatively easy to read. There are a total of 10 USB ports:  two Thunderbolt 4 Type-C (40 Gbps, passes video as well), seven 3.2 Gen 2 (10 Gbps, one Type-C) ports, and one USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10 Gbps) Type-C port. On the left are three buttons: Clear CMOS, BIOS Flash, and the Smart button. The latter is programmable, letting you use it to do things like reset the PC, boot into Safe Mode, control fans and lighting, etc. Around the USB ports are the Marvell 10 GbE and Intel 2.5 GbE ports. Off to the right are the two Thunderbolt 4 Type-C ports and the Mini-DisplayPort inputs for video. Last but not least are the Wi-Fi antenna connections and the five-plug plus SPDIF audio stack.

MORE: Best Motherboards

MORE: How To Choose A Motherboard

MORE: All Motherboard Content

Firmware

MSI’s BIOS for the Godlike MAX hasn’t changed from the original, or any other MSI board in the last couple of generations for that matter. The menus reside on the sides, and information up top, with a black and red background. It’s a unique look compared to the competition. For Z790, the only updates were functionality for the new processors and chipset. The color scheme is still easy to read, and there’s the usual informative Easy Mode that displays various information about the system and allows for some changes (boot order and XMP enabled). Though different from other UEFIs, it is easy to get around; everything has a place, and the most frequently used options are readily available, not buried within sub-menus.

Software

MSI has a single utility, MSI Center, that covers quite a bit of functionality. From hardware monitoring to RGB control with Mystic Light, there are many applets to choose from within the software and a one-stop shop to download all of the company’s utilities. I wish there were some advanced overclocking options here, but for those looking to use the Gamebar feature, Super Charger, or any other utilities MSI offers, they will all be at your fingertips in MSI Center.

Test System / Comparison Products

We’ve updated our test system to Windows 11 64-bit OS with all updates applied as of mid-October 2023. We kept the sameAsus TUF RTX 3070 video card from our previous testing platforms but have updated the driver to the latest, keeping our games, F1 22 and Far Cry 6, the same. We use the latest non-beta motherboard BIOS available to the public, unless otherwise noted, using ‘optimized default’ settings except for the memory (XMP). The hardware and drivers we used are as follows:

Test System Components

Swipe to scroll horizontally
CPU Intel Core i9-14900K
Memory Kingston Fury Beast DDR5-6000 CL36 (KF560C36BBEAK2-32)
Row 2 – Cell 0 Teamgroup T-Force Delta RGB DDR5- 7200 CL34 (FF3D516G7200HC34ABK)
Row 3 – Cell 0 Klevv CRAS XR5 RGB (KD5AGUA80-80R380S)
GPU Asus TUF RTX 3070
Cooling Coolermaster MasterLiquid PL360 Flux
PSU EVGA Supernova 850W P6
Software Windows 11 64-bit (22H2)
Graphics NVIDIA Driver 537.42

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

Benchmark Settings

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Synthetic Benchmarks and Settings Row 0 – Cell 1
Procyon Version 2.6.848 64
Row 2 – Cell 0 Office Suite (Office 365), Video Editing (Premiere Pro 23.6), Photo Editing (Photoshop 25.0, Lightroom Classic 12.5)
3DMark Version 2.27.8177 64
Row 4 – Cell 0 Firestrike Extreme (v1.1) and Time Spy (v1.2) Default Presets
Cinebench R24 Version ‘build unknown’
Row 6 – Cell 0 Open GL Benchmark – Single and Multi-threaded
Blender Version 3.6.0
Row 8 – Cell 0 Full benchmark (all 3 tests)
Application Tests and Settings Row 9 – Cell 1
LAME MP3 Version SSE2_2019
Row 11 – Cell 0 Mixed 271MB WAV to mp3: Command: -b 160 –nores (160Kb/s)
HandBrake CLI Version: 1.2.2
Row 13 – Cell 0 Sintel Open Movie Project: 4.19GB 4K mkv to x264 (light AVX) and x265 (heavy AVX)
Corona 1.4 Version 1.4
Row 15 – Cell 0 Custom benchmark
7-Zip Version 21.03-beta
Row 17 – Cell 0 Integrated benchmark (Command Line)
Game Tests and Settings Row 18 – Cell 1
Far Cry 6 Ultra Preset – 1920 x 1080, HD Textures ON
F1 2022 Ultra Preset – 1920 x 1080, Ultra High (default) Bahrain (Clear/Dry), FPS Counter ON

MORE: Best Motherboards

MORE: How To Choose A Motherboard

MORE: All Motherboard Content

Our standard benchmarks and power tests are performed using the CPU’s stock frequencies (including any default boost/turbo), with all power-saving features enabled. We set optimized defaults in the BIOS and the memory by enabling the XMP profile. The Windows power scheme is set to Balanced (default) for this baseline testing so the PC idles appropriately.

Synthetic Benchmarks

Synthetics provide a great way to determine how a board runs, as identical settings should produce similar performance results. Turbo boost wattage and advanced memory timings are places where motherboard makers can still optimize for stability or performance, though, and those settings can impact some testing.

Overall performance in the synthetic benchmarks was the next we’ve seen in our refresh testing. The difference isn’t big, but you can plainly see from the charts the unlocked performance (and a good mount on our AIO) is on top or towards the top of the results. On any board configured this way, performance is limited by the CPU temperature and keeping it from throttling.

Timed Applications

In our timed applications, the Nova did well in Handbrake and Corona, matching or surpassing the other boards. It was at the bottom of the LAME results. However, the difference between our refresh boards and the 14900K was one-tenth of a second, or just a bit above a 1% difference (nearly negligible). Between our timed and synthetic benchmarks, the Nova was one of the top performers thus far.

3D Games and 3DMark

Starting with the launch of Zen 4, we shifted our test games from F1 21 to F1 22 while keeping Far Cry 6. We run the games at 1920×1080 resolution using the Ultra preset (details listed above). As the resolution goes up, the CPU tends to have less impact. The goal with these settings is to determine if there are differences in performance at the most commonly used (and CPU/system bound) resolution with settings most people use or strive for (Ultra). We expect the difference between boards in these tests to be minor, with most falling within the margin of error differences. We’ve also added a minimum FPS value, which can affect your gameplay and immersion experience.

The Z790 Godlike was also average to above average in the gaming tests. The 3DMark results were slightly inconsistent, but the actual game results were towards the top. It is competent not only in productivity-type tasks but also in games.

Overclocking

Generation after generation, overclocking headroom has been shrinking with both Intel and AMD processors, with motherboard partners pushing the limits to set themselves apart from the plethora of options available to the consumer. With the overclocking headroom all but gone, we’ve left things at stock for cores but will push the Integrated Memory Controller (IMC) for faster RAM. Remember, for 14th-gen CPUs, the maximum stock spec for memory is DDR5-6000 versus DDR5-5600 for 13th-gen. We have a DDR5-7200 kit and a DDR5-8000 kit in-house to test the higher speeds.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

Using the latest BIOS at the time of writing (E7D85IMS.A10 – from 10/27), the only memory kit we could get to work was our DDR5-6000 kit. The other two kits weren’t on the QVL list, but we tried anyway. Both kits failed stress testing. We tried to add System Agent and even voltage for the RAM, but we couldn’t get either kit to pass our 30-minute stress test. Our best advice here is to stick to the QVL list for compatibility.

Power Consumption / VRM Temperatures

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

We used AIDA64’s System Stability Test with Stress CPU, FPU, Cache, and Memory enabled for power testing, using the peak power consumption value. The wattage reading is from the wall via a Kill-A-Watt meter to capture the entire PC (minus the monitor). The only variable that changes is the motherboard; all other parts remain the same. Please note we moved to using only the stock power use/VRM temperature charts. Since the system uses every available degree Celsius, unless you’re using a sub-ambient cooling solution, you’ll use more power and generate more heat using default settings.

Idle power use on the flagship Z790 Godlike MAX is higher than others, as many would expect. Idle power use sits around 80W at the wall, while the load wattage peaked at 450W, over 50W higher than its little brother (Z790 Ace MAX) and other tested boards (idle wattage is similar). If you want to be efficient, flagship-type boards like our Godlike with more features/items that use power aren’t the way. However, the difference in gaming (versus full-load work) isn’t as significant.

VRM temperatures on our Z790 Godlike MAX peaked just above 54 degrees Celsius. This is in the middle of the other boards, but it’sworth noting that the Godlike MAX used the most power compared to the other boards, running a steady ~320W versus others around the 300W mark or less. The “Extreme Cooling Solution” does a great job at keeping the high-end VRMs running well within specification.

Bottom Line

MSI’s MEG Z790 Godlike MAX is an iterative update to the non-MAX model. You get native 14th-gen support and Wi-Fi 7, along with a couple of aesthetic changes that improve the already premium appearance. Aside from that, it still comes with loads of storage (a whopping seven M.2 sockets and six SATA ports), flagship-caliber audio with an Amp and DAC, a slew of fast USB, including 40 Gbps Thunderbolt 4 ports, and one of the most robust power delivery solutions we’ve seen in a desktop-class board. It does offer the best of the best, and its tested performance matches the expectation.

There is competition in the flagship space from most partners. Asus offers its ROG Strix Z790 Extreme ($999.99), which has all the fixens, but isn’t updated with out-of-the-box 14th-gen support or Wi-Fi 7. Gigabyte has an updated board in the Z790 Aorus Xtreme X ($999.99) that stands up well to the Godlike. ASRock’s flagship, the Z790 Taichi ($479.99), has the hardware, including two PCIe 5.0 x4 (128 Gbps) M.2 sockets, but not quite all of the pomp and circumstance over boards that cost at least twice as much. If you want the best of the best, along with a fancy external dashboard and money is no object, the Z790 Godlike MAX is your weapon of choice. But there are similarly outfitted options that cost quite a bit less.

MORE: Best Motherboards

MORE: How To Choose A Motherboard

MORE: All Motherboard Content

This post was originally published on this site