MSI B550 TOMAHAWK 2021 Review
MSI B550 TOMAHAWK Motherboard
- Lightning Gen 4 PCI-e Solution
- Quality materials and extended heatsink design
- Blazing fast USB 3.2 Gen 2
- 2.5 Gigabit LAN
- Easy BIOS updates
- Easy to work on
- No inbuilt Wi-Fi or Bluetooth adaptor
2020 was one incredible year for computer component launches. Both NVIDIA and AMD delivered graphics cards that changed the game (so to speak), delivering incredible performance… to those lucky enough to get their hands on one. And in the CPU space, AMD produced some of the greatest consumer-grade processors ever seen. With stock slowly dribbling back in, all this means that 2021 is a great time to sit down and commit to that new build you have been dreaming about.
No matter what other components you choose to use, the motherboard is an absolutely critical decision. It is at the heart of every build and deserves some serious thought. Despite common chipsets, not all motherboards are created equal and it pays find the board that best suits your needs and is built to last. It is the last piece of the build that you ever want to fail. Today I am building with the MSI B550 TOMAHAWK motherboard.
Disclosure: MSI provided Blog of Dad with the MSI B550 TOMAHAWK motherboard for the purpose of review and ongoing use. Any thoughts expressed about MSI products in this article are based on my own experiences. For more information, visit my disclosure statement.
- CPU: AMD Ryzen 5600X
- Cooling: be quiet! Dark Rock Pro 4
- Motherboard: MSI B550 TOMAHAWK
- Memory: 32GB (2x16GB) XLR8 DDR4 3200MHz
- Graphics: PNY GeForce RTX 2070 Super 8GB XLR8 Gaming Overclocked Edition
- System Drive: 250GB Samsung 980 PRO PCle 4.0 NVMe M.2 SSD
- Game Drive: 500GB XLR8 CS2311 2.5″ SATA III SSD
- Storage Drive: 3TB WD Blue 3.5″ HDD
- Case: be quiet! Silent Base 801
- Sound: EPOS SENNHEISER GSP 601 Gaming Series headset and EPOS GSX 300 External Soundcard
MSI B550 TOMAHAWK Key Specifications
Choosing a B550 motherboard can be an overwhelming task. There is a huge amount to chose from, with vastly different factors such as budget, components and connections to consider. The MSI B550 TOMAHAWK falls into what I regard the sweet spot – an excellent balance of budget-consciousness and build quality. Instead of trying to cram in all the bells and whistles (like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections) and inevitably compromising on quality, MSI appear to have carefully considered what matters the most, to the majority of users. The key features include:
Lightning Gen 4 PCI-e Solution
2020 was 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 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 MSI 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 CPUs the hottest item in processors right now, 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.
MSI B550 TOMAHAWK Installation
The ATX size of the MSI B550 TOMAHAWK is larger than I have been used to, with previous builds using space-saving Mini ITX designs. The extra space feels positively luxurious and not at all cumbersome. I guess it helps that I am working on the cavernous be quiet! Silent Base 801. Mounting the MSI B550 TOMAHAWK is a breeze, with the most challenging screw being in the upper left corner, especially if you have already installed a large air cooling system on your CPU, like the impressive be quiet! Dark Rock Pro 4 that I have on mine (see below). Again, building in a decent-sized, quality case helps. A lot.
It’s often the little things in a build that make all the difference to one’s enjoyment of it. MSI have thoughtfully included a permanently attached rear I/O plate. That’s not a huge deal, but I honestly cannot tell you the number of times I have installed a motherboard and several other components, only to realise that I had forgotten the removable I/O plate. It looks great too, with the integrated shroud creating a very classy look.
The configuration of the MSI B550 TOMAHAWK makes it very easy to work with. There is good room between the VRM heatsinks and the CPU power connector to complete one of the fiddliest parts of any build. The CPU fan (and pump fan) header is conveniently located and an abundance of system fan headers makes cooling solutions controlled directly from the motherboard convenient and easy.
Most headers on MSI B550 TOMAHAWK face directly upwards, which makes them easy to work with (although perhaps not quite as aesthetically pleasing), with the exception being the six SATA connections located on the edge of the TOMAHAWK at a right angle to the board. In addition to the already mentioned headers, there are also addressable RGB LED connections, RGB LED connections and USB 2.0, 3.2 Gen 1 5Gbps and USB 3.2 Gen 1 5Gbps Type-C connectors… If your case is fancy enough to support such things.
The manual is straightforward and easy to understand, with a combination of clear diagrams and written instructions. In addition, there are hyperlinks to video demonstrations for the installation of key components such as the CPU, which is a great resource for novice builders or those who want to double-check that they are doing things correctly.
MSI B550 TOMAHAWK BIOS
The MSI BIOS interface is fairly straightforward and pleasing to use. The EZ mode is great for novices and those who don’t feel the need to meddle with BIOS settings too much – providing a simple visual overview with easy access to all of the essentials, such as selecting a boot device and enabling a RAM memory profile.
Overclockers and those who like to fine-tune every aspect of their build will head straight over to the advanced section of the BIOS. Here there are plenty of options for tinkering with a range of settings. Overclocking isn’t really my thing (beyond enabling XMP), so I’ll leave any detailed analysis of this aspect well alone, except to say that everything seems well presented and easy to access.
MSI B550 TOMAHAWK SMART ACCESS MEMORY
For those of you fully committed to Team Red, the MSI range of 500-series motherboards recently received access to a BIOS update that should make the MSI B550 TOMAHAWK even more compelling. In that update, MSI unleashed AMD SMART ACCESS MEMORY, which is an innovative feature that gives desktop systems the ability to access the full capacity of the VRAM on AMD Radeon RX 6000 series graphics cards.
This has been tested to produce a 5-10% performance improvement, which is pretty impressive from what is essentially a BIOS update. Keep in mind that you will need to be using a 5000-series CPU. Sadly, I can’t yet take advantage of this bonus performance with my Nvidia-base GeForce RTX 2070 SUPER.
There are several drivers for the MSI B550 TOMAHAWK and the MSI Dragon Center software. Dragon Centre is a great app, with plenty of detail about your new system. In addition to monitoring vital statistics such as CPU usage and temperatures, it also allows control of any connected RGB LEDs.
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.
The 5000 series Ryzen CPUs are incredible and they deserve to be housed in an equally impressive motherboard. And the MSI B550 TOMAHAWK is most definitely a worthy home for a wide range of builds.