REVIEW MSI MEG Z490i Unify - User Review

Discussion in 'Overclocking & Hardware' started by headin2001, Aug 19, 2020.

  1. headin2001

    headin2001 Member

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    [​IMG]


    MSI MEG Z490i Unify – User Review


    Hey all,


    Back finally with some fresh Z490 content for you all. Today I have the new MEG Z490i Unify from MSI. The Unify is a relatively new product in MSI’s line-up originally making its debut in the X570 platform, now onto Z490 series ready to take on Intel’s 10th Gen Comet Lake-S CPUs. The MEG series being targeted at the higher end performance enthusiasts.


    In today’s review I aim to show you the product and my thoughts only. There will be a follow up post in future with performance comparisons between other ITX products in the Z490 line-up.


    The MSI Z490i Unify is a well featured motherboard for those looking at building a powerful mini-ITX system. It includes one of the most powerful VRM systems in the Z490 ITX line-up including active cooling, tuning for high memory speeds and a distinct blacked out, RGB-free stealth look.



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    I won’t bore you all with details on the 10th gen platform as there is plenty of other reviews out there on the web that will cover the in’s and out’s in much more detail than I can here. Let’s get into the specifications and some photos of this little baby.








    Specifications



    CPU

    Supports 10th Gen Intel® Core™ and Pentium® Gold / Celeron® processors

    Chipset

    Intel® Z490 Chipset

    Memory

    2x DDR4 memory slots, support up to 64GB 1

    Supports 1R 2133/2666/2933 MHz 1

    1DPC 1R Max speed up to 5000+ MHz

    1DPC 2R Max speed up to 4600+ MHz

    Supports Dual-Channel mode

    Supports non-ECC mode, un-buffered memory

    Supports Intel® Extreme Memory Profile [XMP]

    Please refer www.msi.com for more information on compatible memory.

    Expansion Slots

    1x PCIe 3.0 x16 slot

    Onboard Graphics

    1x DisplayPort, supports a maximum resolution of 4096x2304 @60Hz

    1x HDMI port, supports a maximum resolution of 4096x2160 @30Hz

    Intel® JHL7540 Thunderbolt™ 3 Controller

    1x Thunderbolt™ 3 [Type-C] port on the back panel

    Supports Thunderbolt™ 3 with a maximum resolution of 3840x2160 @60Hz or DisplayPort 1.4 with a maximum resolution of 4096x2304 @60 Hz

    Maximum shared memory is 1GB

    • THUNDERBOLT™ 3

    Intel® JHL7540 Thunderbolt™ 3 Controller

    1x Thunderbolt™ 3 [USB Type-C] port on the back panel

    Supports up to 40 Gbps transfer rate with Thunderbolt 3 devices

    Supports up to 10 Gbps transfer rate with USB 3.2 Gen2 10Gbps devices

    Supports up to 5V/3A , 15W power charging

    Supports Daisy-chain up to six Thunderbolt™ 3 devices

    Storage

    Intel® Z490 Chipset

    4x SATA 6Gb/s ports 1

    2x M.2 slots [Key M]

    M2_1 supports up to PCIe 3.0 x4 and SATA 6Gb/s, 2280 storage devices 1

    M2_2 supports up to PCIe 3.0 x4, 2280 storage devices

    Intel® Optane™ Memory Ready 2

    Supports Intel® Smart Response Technology for Intel Core™ processors

    The SATA2 will be unavailable when installing M.2 SATA device into M2_1 slot.

    Before using Intel® 0ptane™ memory modules, please ensure that you have updated the drivers and BI0S to the latest version from MSI website.

    Raid

    Intel® Z490 Chipset

    Supports RAID 0, RAID1, RAID 5 and RAID 10 for SATA storage devices

    Supports RAID 0 and RAID 1 for M.2 PCIe storage devices

    USB

    Intel® Z490 Chipset

    2x USB 3.2 Gen2 10Gbps ports [1 Type-A port on the back panel, 1 Type-C internal connector]

    4x USB 3.2 Gen1 5Gbps ports [2 Type-A ports on the back panel, 2 ports through the internal USB 3.2 Gen1 5Gbps connector]

    4x USB 2.0 ports [2 Type-A ports on the back panel, 2 ports through the internal USB 2.0 connector]

    Intel® JHL7540 Thunderbolt™ 3 Controller

    1x USB 3.2 Gen2 10Gbps Type-C port on the back panel

    Audio

    Realtek® ALC1220 Codec

    7.1-Channel High Definition Audio

    Supports S/PDIF output

    LAN

    1x Realtek® RTL8125B 2.5Gbps LAN controller

    Wireless LAN & Bluetooth

    Intel® AX201

    The Wireless module is pre-installed in the M.2 [Key-E] slot

    Supports MU-MIM0 TX/RX, 2.4GHz/ 5GHz [160MHz] up to 2.4Gbps

    Supports 802.11ac

    WiFi 6 pre-certified

    Supports Bluetooth® 5.1, FIPS, FISMA

    Internal Connectors

    1x 24-pin ATX main power connector

    1x 8-pin ATX 12V power connector

    4x SATA 6Gb/s connectors

    2x M.2 slots [M-Key]

    1x USB 3.2 Gen2 10Gbps Type-C port

    1x USB 3.2 Gen1 5Gbps connector [supports additional 2 USB 3.2 Gen1 5Gbps ports]

    1x USB 2.0 connector [supports additional 2 USB 2.0 ports]

    1x 4-pin CPU fan connector

    1x 4-pin water-pump fan connector

    1x 4-pin system fan connector

    1x Front panel audio connector

    2x System panel connectors

    1x Chassis Intrusion connector

    2x 3-pin RAINB0W LED connectors

    1xTPM module connector

    LED Features

    4x EZ Debug LED

    Back Panel Connectors

    Display port

    2x USB 2.0 ports

    2.5G LAN

    Wi-Fi /Bluetooth Antenna Connectors

    HD Audio Connectors

    HDMI port

    2x USB 3.2 Gen1 5Gbps (Type-A)

    Thunderbolt 3 (40Gbps)

    USB 3.2 Gen2 10Gbps (Type-A)

    Clear CM0S Button

    0ptical S/PDIF 0ut


    Dimensions

    6.7 in. x 6.7 in. [17.0 cm x 17.0 cm]

    Mini-ITX Form Factor






    Photo’s


    The MSI MEG Z490i Unify comes in a familiar flip-top package with all the usual marketing info found on the rear of the box.


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    Once opening the packaging, we are greeted with the motherboard provided in an antistatic bag for protection. Lifting the upper section of the packing up we find the accessories and manuals underneath.


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    Extras provided from MSI include a Users Guide, quick install guide, M.2 Screws 2x SATA cables, RGB extension cable, product registration card, driver DVD, MSI case badge, promotion card and Wi-Fi Antenna.


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    Now, with the motherboard out, we can see how MSI have gone with a clean blacked out theme. There is no RGB to be seen here people. Yes, this is more what a motherboard should look like, not unicorn vomit than no-one can see under all of the ancillaries. Considering an ITX system usually consists of a very confined setup that isn’t usually on show, I feel this is a massive plus in its omission. On the rear, MSI have a label attached to the CPU area warning not to overtighten your cooler. Given the tight confines of the platform and density of components, I find this a welcome reminder to take care during the installation.


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    The I/O area is fairly well appointed, with an integrated I/O shield. Connections provided include HDMI, Displayport, Wi-Fi, 5 audio ports plus optical audio, Thunderbolt 3 port, Realtek 2.5G LAN, 2xUSB Gen 1, 2xUSB 2.0, USB3.2 Gen 2 (red port) and clear CMOS button. The central area left for venting from the active VRM cooling fan.


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    Power is supplied through a single 8pin EPS located at the top corner of the motherboard. Some may think a single 8pin isn’t adequate when we have 10 core CPU’s to feed now, but the 235w continuous feed is more than adequate for supplying these beasts under heavy loads.

    Further along the top, we find 3x 4-pin PWM fan headers (CPU, PUMP, SYS_FAN) plus an Addressable RGB header for external RGB LED lighting.


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    Moving down the side of the motherboard we have the 24pin ATX power connector, 2x SATA connectors, front panel USB 3.2 Gen2 type C connector and USB 3.2 Gen 1 5Gbps connector, a second addressable RGB LED connector, TPM module connector and an additional 2x SATA connector on the opposite side of the DIMM slots. As handy as a TPM connector can be for diagnostics, I feel this was a really bad position provided with the PCI-E slot clip inhibiting the access. Oh, I nearly forgot, there is also 4 LED’s in white located next to the USB Gen1 header indicating the boot process through bios. Unfortunately, these too are in an awkward position as when you have the cable connected for the USB front panel in a case, it blocks the visibility of the lights. Beside the 24pin connector would have been a more visible position.


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    Onto the bottom edge we have the Realtek ALC1220 HD audio codec with minimal physical PCB shielding and 3 Japanese gold audio capacitors. Directly beside the audio headers is the front panel connectors which can be awkward to access in smaller areas especially if the GPU is installed first. USB 2.0 front panel connector is squeezed in to the right of the front panel connectors and labelled for clarity. The reinforced PCIe 4.0 expansion slot supports operation at x16 and being PCIe 4.0 will have support for future CPU lane support when the 11th gen CPU’s arrive.


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    Removing the heatsink above the expansion slot we uncover the 1st of 2 x4 M.2 SSD slots. The other located on the backside of the motherboard. Total SATA drive support with RAID for the MSI MEG Z490i Unify is RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10. Another thing to note, is when the rear M.2 is populated, the board will disable one of the SATA ports for its function.


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    Removing the cradle under the M.2 drive position we find the Z490 chipset. Nuvoton NCT6687D is provided for I/O and system monitoring.


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    As with most ITX boards there is 2x DDR4 DIMM slots available. MSI engineers have designed the Unify to use SMD type slots which are visibly different to the usual slots we find on most boards due to the lack of the usual pin rows on the rear of the motherboard. This is all for supporting maximum speed for the memory channels. MSI reports that speeds in excess of 5000mhz are possible with the right IMC and memory IC’s. I tested this out myself, falling just short due to IMC limitations on my Engineering Sample CPU.


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    Removing the remainder of the 290g of heatsinks we are left with the board in its naked glory. The heatsink is of an aluminium construction with heat pipe connecting the top heatsink to the side I/O sink. There is an additional small fan for some active cooling which I didn’t feel necessary. The fan is only barely audible if anything without any other system fans running. The IO shied is integrated with the IO cover now saving losing it in the future near impossible as many find over the years.


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    Into the business end, MSI have included a super strong 8+1+1 phase VRM design.


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    Removing the heatsinks, we are confronted by a total of 9x ISL99390 90AMP mosfets and 1x ISL99360 60AMP mosfet. 8 full phases feeding the 10th GEN Intel CPU rails, 1 Phase for the SOC and 1 for powering the Thunderbolt 3 I believe. All of these phases being controlled by the ISL69269 regulator capable of looking after a full 8+2+2. She’s a solid setup able to handle over 700W.


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    Finally, with the I/O cover removed we can see the Intel AX201NGW Wi-Fi 6 module.


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    Final Thoughts


    Of all of the Z490 boards available, the MSI MEG Z490i Unify was in my Top 3 of boards I wanted to check out. Aimed at those that love memory tuning, it hasn’t failed to impress. Able to take my G.Skill TridentZ Royals all the way to 4900+C14-2T timings for benching is right up there with my higher engineered overclocking focussed boards.


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    The VRM circuitry is super strong for a small board like this. As we know, the ITX form factory isn’t super conducive to a large VRM system, but MSI have managed to squeeze 8+1+1 phase circuitries in with relative ease. ISL99390 90A Mosfet’s reinforcing that this has been designed to take the load of the current king 10900K plus hopefully whatever new offering Intel has up their sleeve in the near future.


    Benchmark performance is right on the mark. You can check the results against the other boards in my round-up post (Coming Soon).


    Memory latency at stock settings I felt wanting. This could be fixed with tuning the RTL offsets and tightening a few timings, but for most users this is a bit more than they should have to do. I feel MSI have set the bios to train loose for memory compatibility at the expense of performance, so I hope in future BIOS revisions they look at tuning this area a bit to help the base performance in this area.


    MSI went one step forward on the Z490i Unify with the addition of a Thunderbolt 3 controller. Only one other manufacturer has included Thunderbolt on their ITX board, so it’s a welcome addition given the space constraints in an ITX form factor. Couple that there is a full featured Realtek ALC1220 HD audio section, Realtek RTL8125B 2.5GbE Ethernet, and an Intel AX201 Wi-Fi all taking up valuable space, the MSI Engineers have done a fantastic job at not only fitting it all in, but also providing connectors in a relatively clean layout.


    For those wanting to push things further, MSI have a LN2 bios available to unlock so extra voltages. Unfortunately, there is a couple missing that can be vital like DDRVTT, CPUPLL and CPU vCore also tops out at 1.72v which is a bit on the low side for those wanting to run full cold. ACPI support is also missing in the bios making XP operation no possible at this stage.


    Pros

    No on-board RGB Lighting!!!

    Memory tuning and speed

    All Black theme

    10 Layer PCB


    Cons

    Memory Latency

    Front panel connector position

    Memory Profiles don’t all work

    Memory VTT voltage option not available

    No 1T Memory support at higher frequency



    Price is around the $480-529AUD mark making it a very competitively priced performance motherboard to rival the larger ATX varieties in some circumstances.


    For those that want to see a bit more of the bios and settings, see my YouTube run through below: PLEASE STAND BY
     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2020
    sskmercer, bex, glnn_23 and 5 others like this.
  2. nCrypt

    nCrypt Member

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    love it!

    I would like to see RGB though for the SOLE reason, you can turn it off!

    Main reason i have the RGB there, is so i can set a particular colour to match my watercooling build at the time, but, loving the blacked out hardware, computer world has overdone the RGB.

    when i saw the position of the front audio and front header, having built many itx systems, and currently use 2 ITX systems, that spot is so dam annoying, trying to run cables nicely.

    looks like a nice board noneless, nice writeup, love seeing these!

    if i could id send you my X570 impact to have a review like this done up!

    Cheers!
     
  3. OP
    OP
    headin2001

    headin2001 Member

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    nCrypt likes this.
  4. Zarok77

    Zarok77 Member

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    Useful!
    pros no onboard rgb agree
    same on the unify ATX board i couldn't run 1T and latency under 42ns
     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2020
  5. OP
    OP
    headin2001

    headin2001 Member

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    Sub 42ns was possible. I was seeing sub 40ns on other boards, but with further tuning of the RTL and IOL's seem's to help pull the latency down.

    4500C17 Daily settings - 40.9ns

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    4800C14-13-2T bench like settings. - 38.8

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    Zarok77 likes this.
  6. bex

    bex Member

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    Great review. What is your everyday setting's dram volts? Was your ram part of the mobo's QVL?
     
  7. OP
    OP
    headin2001

    headin2001 Member

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    Good questions. Neither sets I tested were on the QVL list, being TridentZ Neo's 3800C14's in dual, and TridentZ Royal 4000C17's. Both sets worked flawlessly.

    Daily ram setting for 4500C17-17-17 was set to 1.5v max.
     
  8. spit051261

    spit051261 Member

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    I found the memory profiles pants with the ACE and Godlike . Even after updating Bios .
    I tried 3 or 4 different kits .
    It wouldn't even run any profile on my 4000 CL15 hic will ru n supersonic on an Apex
     

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