Has there ever been a more exciting time to build a PC? From first timers to old hats, the incredible hardware released this year is driving upgrades and new builds like never before. Pandemic-driven work-from-home and home entertainment needs have further propelled PC building into the realm of the masses.
Those entering this space for the first time can easily become intimidated by the vast array of hardware on offer. There are endless combinations of components to consider and compatibility to ensure. After choosing the CPU at the core of the build, the next most important task is to choose the motherboard.
If you have decided to build with an AMD Ryzen 3000 series or 5000 series CPU, B550 motherboards are a great place to start. They can offer an abundance of support for the latest and most exciting components on offer, without reaching the extremes (performance and price) of the X570 motherboards. Of course, not all B550 motherboards are equal. Today I am taking a look at the MSI B550 TOMAHAWK. Let’s see how high the bar can be set…
MSI B550 TOMAHAWK First Impressions
MSI have a reputation for delivering high quality PC components, which was one of the reasons I wanted the MSI B550 TOMAHAWK as the basis for my new Ryzen build. If there is one component above all else that must be reliable, it’s the motherboard.
The B550 TOMAHAWK certainly looks and feels the part. The first thing I noticed when I picked up the box of this ATX motherboard was the decent weight. That heft reflects the quality of the components used on the board (including the 6 layer PCB with thickened copper) – more on that in a bit. The design is reasonably subtle, which makes the MSI B550 TOMAHAWK suitable for a wide range of builds. Despite this subtleness, there are still plenty of clues as to the quality of the motherboard on show.
The board and heatsinks are predominantly black, with grey accents and stenciled lines running diagonally across the board. There is a small amount of RGB lighting housed under the chipset heatsink for a subtle inbuilt lighting effect, but you can expand the RGB effects substantially by adding compatible components to the RGB headers – if that is your thing . This can all be controlled through MSI’s Dragon Center software.
Beyond MIS’s reputation for quality and reliability, there were several other factors that made the MSI B550 TOMAHAWK a compelling choice:
Lightning Gen 4 PCI-e Solution
2020 is the year of mainstream PCI-e 4.0, with the GeForce RTX 30-series supporting the latest standard and (arguably more importantly) NVMe M.2 SSD storage taking advantage of the blistering speed on offer. It is the support for the new Samsung 980 PRO PCle 4.0 NVMe M.2 SSD drive that compelled me to seek a quality B550 board like the MSI B550 TOMAHAWK.
Importantly, the MSI B550 TOMAHAWK includes the patented M.2 shield frozr for excellent M.2 cooling – something that is crucial for the longevity and sustained performance of these high spec, high speed drives.
The primary GPU slot is PCIe 4.0 x 16 and, importantly for those of us using heavyweight GPUs, reinforced. There shall be no sagging from my graphics card – something that concerned me on my old motherboard. As I am still using a 3rd Gen PCI-e PNY GeForce RTX 2070 SUPER 8GB XLR8 Gaming Overclocked Edition, the PCI-e 4.0 connection isn’t as important to me. It is worth noting that it is fully backward compatible, so there are no issues for those of us still using previous generation GPUs.
While many GPUs aren’t yet quite up to the task of taking full advantage of the blistering speed on offer with MSI’s Lightning Gen 4 PCI-e connections, it is a safe bet to assume this will become more important over time. It is nice to know that my new motherboard has room to grow!
In addition to the Gen 4 PCI-e x16 GPU slot and Gen 4 PCI-e x4 M.2 slot, the MSI B550 TOMAHAWK packs plenty of PCI-e 3.0 connections. There is an additional full-length slot for a 2nd GPU, with 2-way AMD CrossFire supported (but not SLI). There are also two x1 expansion slots and a second M.2 slot for not-quite-as-blazing-fast-but-still-extremely-good extra storage. I can see a very capable, high-capacity dedicated game drive in my not-too-distant future.
There are some limitations to these connections (they can’t all be used at the same time), but for the vast majority of users it means that the MSI B550 TOMAHAWK packs an abundance of customisation options. Those in need of more would do well to check out MSI’s X570 range.
Extended Heatsink Design and other quality materials
I mentioned the noticeable heft to the MSI B550 TOMAHAWK motherboard earlier and I believe a large part of that can be attributed to the extensive use of heatsinks across the board. In addition to the two M.2 heatsinks, the MSI B550 TOMAHAWK includes two VRM heatsinks and the chipset heatsink.
The two VRM heatsinks are substantial (that may be an understatement) and for good reason – they disperse the heat generated by one of the most premium VRM designs in the B500 market. Don’t know what a VRM is? Neither did I, but after quite a lot of research I can describe it as the system that delivers clean and stable power to the CPU and other components. Basically, if you want to squeeze the most performance possible out of that beast of a Ryzen 5000-series CPU, the MSI B550 TOMAHAWK is an excellent choice.
The chipset heatsink provides extra heat dispersion, in addition to looking good with included RGB lighting. Unlike X570 motherboards, there is no cooling fan required here.
Finally, the enhanced 6 layer PCB with 2oz thickened copper further improves heat dissipation and performance reliability. The MSI B550 TOMAHAWK is built to perform consistently even under demanding circumstances, even when you are sweating through the heat of battle.
AMD Turbo USB 3.2 Gen2
The MSI B550 TOMAHAWK might not have the most external connections on the market, but MSI have chosen wisely and provided the ports that satisfy most needs. The rear USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A and Type-C ports deliver transfer speeds up to a blazing-fast 10Gbps. Turbo USB offers faster USB speeds when connecting multiple USB 3.2 Gen2 devices at the same time.
A further two USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A ports are included on the rear, with the potential to add one Type-C and two Type-A ports to the front of the case. Two USB 2.0 ports are located at the rear and a further four are supported on compatible front panels. For me (as, I assume, for most) that is plenty.
2.5 Gigabit LAN
The MSI B550 TOMAHAWK doesn’t include a built-in Wi-Fi solution. Those who require it will need to investigate add-on cards, but for most semi-competitive gamers and up, that just isn’t a problem. Anyone who is serious about their online gaming knows that a wired connection is the only way. MSI have upped the LAN game on the B550 TOMAHAWK, with a high-bandwidth, low-latency 2.5G plus Gigabit LAN connection. In addition, MSI LAN Manager is designed to automatically classify and prioritise the latency-sensitivity for applications. All this should make for an excellent online experience.
With the 5000-series motherboards just days away, the MSI B550 TOMAHAWK will surely be on the radar of those looking to harness the goodness on offer.
For just about every compatible motherboard out there, that means one thing – BIOS UPDATE.
In the past, those words were enough to send a shiver down the spine of any amateur PC builder. For some current motherboards, it is still a hassle. But with the Flash BIOS Button on the MSI B550 TOMAHAWK, the whole process is made very simple. Crucially, for those building a new system from scratch, this method means you don’t need to have a previous generation CPU installed in order to update the BIOS.
If you are building with a Ryzen 5000-series CPU and still not comfortable with the idea of updating the BIOS, ask your supplier to ensure they are providing you with a MSI B550 TOMAHAWK that is already updated to the latest BIOS.
MSI B550 TOMAHAWK – Final Thoughts
The MSI TOMAHAWK series of motherboards has long been highly regarded for its bang-for-buck approach to the gaming PC. The MSI B550 TOMAHAWK isn’t the cheapest motherboard around, but when you consider the quality of the components and the MSI reputation, the value is hard to pass up. For a component that is as crucial to the long-term performance and reliability of your entire system, I would always spend that little bit extra. It’s worth it.
For now, I have the glorious MSI B550 TOMAHAWK with a Ryzen 5 5600X-sized hole just waiting to be plugged. If the early reports are reliable, that CPU is going to be an absolute beast and I cannot wait to install one in its rightful home. With the Samsung 980 PRO PCle 4.0 NVMe M.2 SSD already installed and 32GB of PNY XLR8 DDR4 gaming RAM ready to go, the MSI B550 TOMAHAWK is going to be delivering speeds beyond my wildest dreams! Stay tuned…