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MSI MAG B660 Tomahawk WIFI Review: A Tempting Tomahawk

 


The MSI MAG B660 Tomahawk WIFI stands out as an affordable option to build an Alder Lake-based system around. The sub-$200 motherboard is at the top of the food chain within MSI’s B660 lineup, followed by the Mortar, Bazooka, and Pro SKUs. The Tomahawk gives off a premium vibe, with its all-black appearance, matching heatsinks and has plenty of other pleasing features. This includes three M.2 sockets and six SATA ports, plenty of USB connectivity on the rear IO (including 20 Gbps Type-C), a quality audio codec, and even the handy EZ M.2 clips so you don’t have to fumble with tiny screws. For $189.99, it’s a capable and well-rounded motherboard for those who never plan to overclock their Alder Lake processor.

The Tomahawk fought its way through our test suite with varying results. Where it performed well across all of the Procyon tests, it was a bit slower than average in many of our heavily multi-threaded tests as well as memory bandwidth. On the other hand, gaming performance results compared well against its pricier peers. While there are some slower-than-average results, they aren’t significantly out of line. Just be aware that with some heavy multi-threaded loads, there is the potential of throttling due to CPU temperature. But a quick tweak to the voltage eliminates this common behavior for the platform.


Before we get into the details and see if this board earns a spot on our best motherboards list, here are B660 Tomahawk’s detailed specifications, direct from MSI.





The MSI MAG B660 Tomahawk WIFI arrives with a matte black 6-layer PCB with a claimed 2 ounces of copper traces between. The primary PCIe slot sports steel armor to protect the slot against bending and shearing, along with some EMI mitigation. Like the Mortar and Torpedo boards, the heatsinks sport military design cues that fit MSI’s theme for these more budget-conscious offerings. However, if you’re into RGB lighting, you’ll have to connect your own to the board using the RGB/ARGB headers, as none are integrated. Overall, we like the look of the Tomahawk WIFI, and while it doesn’t jump out on its own, the all-black design gives the board a premium look that  should fit nearly all build themes.
Starting our journey around the board with the top half, on the left-hand side, we get a better look at the large VRM heatsinks that reach out over the IO area and sport MSI and MAG branding. Above the VRM heatsinks are two 8-pin EPS connectors (one required) to power the processor. Also here are four unreinforced, single-side locking DRAM slots, just past the socket area. The four slots support up to 128GB of RAM, with MSI listing speeds up to DDR5 6200+. Of course, reaching those speeds is a matter of the memory kit used and how many sticks you’re using, among other variables. In other words, your mileage may vary depending on your hardware.

Above the DRAM slots are the first two (of seven) 4-pin fan/pump headers. Here we find the CPU_FAN1 and PUMP_FAN1 headers. Both default to PWM mode. The CPU_FAN1 header supports up to 2A/24W, while the PUMP fan supports up to 3A/36W, which is plenty for most pumps and fans. Scattered around the board in various locations are five additional headers (SYS_FAN1-5). These default to DC mode and support up to 1A/12W. There are plenty of headers with ample power to drive your fans and pumps.

Continuing right, we run into the first two (of four) RGB headers. The two others are located along the bottom edge. In each area are 3-pin ARGB and 4-pin RGB headers. Since the board lacks its own RGB lighting, you have to use these headers if you’d like to light up the chassis and have it controlled with MSI’s Mystic Light software.

Moving down the right edge, we run into two more system fan headers, the EZ Debug LED (four LEDs that light up during the POST process), a 24-pin ATX connector to power the board, front panel USB 3.2 Gen 1 (5 Gbps) header and one USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10 Gbps) Type-C header. There’s nothing unusual on the top half of the board, but nothing major lacking, either.
The B660 Tomahawk WIFI implements a 14-phase Duet Rail (one signal to two MOSFETs without a phase doubler) power system, with 12 phases dedicated to Vcore. Power flows through the 8-pin EPS connector(s) to a 20-channel Renesas RAA229132 PWM controller and then onto the 12 60A Intersil ISL99360 SPS MOSFETs. The 720A available to the processor isn’t a lot (remember, you can’t overclock the processor on this platform), but it’s plenty to handle our Intel Core i9-12900K without getting in the way. You’re more limited by the stock voltage and temperatures than the power delivery.
The bottom half of the board, with heatsinks covering only the bits that can get hot, has the audio on the left and the M.2 sockets and PCIe slots in the middle. The far-right edge is cut out to allow for better cable management of the SATA ports and give the board a unique shape (a nice touch this price point). The audio on the left consists of a Realtek ALC1220P codec and several Chemicon brand audio capacitors. While the audio circuitry here isn’t the latest and greatest, few will notice the difference anyway, and most will be perfectly happy with this board’s last-generation flagship.

In the middle of the board are three PCIe slots–two full-length slots and one x1 slot. The top slot (PCI_E1) uses MSI’s Steel Armor to protect the slot and card and runs at PCIe 4.0 x16 speeds (sourced from the CPU), while the second full-length slot, PCI_E2, sources its lanes from the chipset and runs up to PCIe 3.0 x4 speeds. This configuration supports AMD CrossFire technology but does not have enough lanes for SLI. The bottom PCIe slot also sources its lanes from the chipset and runs at PCIe 3.0 x1.

There are three M.2 sockets on the board, all of which hide below a heatsink. The top socket, labeled M2_1, connects through the CPU and runs at PCIe 4.0 x4 (64 Gbps) speeds, supporting up to 110mm PCIe devices. The other sockets, M2_2 and M2_3, support up to 80mm modules. M2_2, runs up to PCIe 4.0 x4 while M2_3 runs up to PCie 4.0 x2 (32 Gbps) and also supports SATA-based drives. On the right edge are four SATA ports that support RAID0/1/5/10, while along the bottom edge are two more SATA ports (that do not support RAID). SATA7 is unavailable when using an M.2 SATA SSD in the M2_3 slot. So your worst-case scenario is three M.2 sockets (one SATA-based) and five SATA drives which should be plenty of storage for most users. 

Across the bottom are several headers, including USB ports and RGB. Below is a complete list, from left to right:

Front panel audio
4-pin RGB header
3-pin ARGB header
(2) System Fan headers
Power LED
Thunderbolt header
Tuning controller header
Thunderbolt header
(2) USB 2.0 headers
(2) SATA ports
Front panel header(s)
The rear IO area sports a pre-installed IO plate that matches the B660 Tomahawk’s black-on-black theme.  The black background gives way to grey writing for the ports and MAG branding and is easy to read.

There are nine USB ports here: four USB 2.0 (480 Mbps), four USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10 Gbps) and a 20 Gbps USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 Type port–enough for most users. Video outputs consist of a single HDMI v2.1 port and DisplayPort v1.4. For networking, we spy the single 2.5GbE port and Wi-Fi 6E antenna connections. Last but not least, the audio stack consists of five analog plugs plus a SPDIF port.

Firmware, Software and Test System

Like other MSI BIOS configurations, the B660 Tomahawk starts you out with an informational EZ Mode that allows editing of some high-level functions, including enabling XMP profiles, adjusting fan speeds, and more. The main menu is informational up top, while the bottom two-thirds is where the adjustments happen. You select the section you want on the left or right sides, and the details show in the middle. You don’t have to dig down several screens to reach the overclocking options, as they are mostly on the main page. Some digging is inevitable, but overall we find this BIOS full of options and easy to read and get around.
For software, the theme these days is to place a lot of the functionality in one program. MSI’s take on this is called Dragon Center, which lets you download individual applets. Some of the programs include Mystic Light (RGB control), LAN Manager, User Scenario (overclocking, monitoring, and fan control), Super Charger, MSI Companion (help record games), and many more. Though updates should fix this down the road, it’s worth noting that you cannot overclock the system with the version I had. But serious overclockers will want to do their tweaking in the BIOS anyway.



We’ve updated our test system to Windows 11 64-bit OS with all updates applied. We kept the same (opens in new tab)Asus TUF RTX 3070(opens in new tab) video card from our previous testing platforms but updated the driver to version 496.13. Additionally, our game selection has been updated, as noted in the table below. We use the latest non-beta motherboard BIOS available to the public unless otherwise noted. The hardware we used is as follows:


EVGA supplied our Supernova 850W P6 power supply (appropriately sized and more efficient than the outgoing 1.2KW monster we used) for our test systems, and G.Skill sent us a DDR5-5600 (F5-5600U3636C16GX2-TZ5RK) memory kit for launch day testing.
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. For this baseline testing, the Windows power scheme is set to balanced (default), so the PC idles appropriately.

To get the most out of the Intel Alder Lake chips, you need to be on Windows 11 with its updated scheduler. In most cases, Windows 10 performs well. However, some tests (Cinebench R20, Corona and POVRay) take a significant hit. In short, if you’re going with Alder Lake, you must upgrade to Windows 11 for the best results across the board. That may change with patching and updates in the future, though.

Overclocking the CPU isn’t possible on B660-based chipsets, but the platform allows memory speed adjustment. With our DDR5-5400 and DDR5-6000 kits, we simply set XMP, and off we went without a hitch. Surely there’s some headroom left, but I’d imagine people purchasing a budget-class board aren’t looking to buy expensive RAM that’s far outside the sweet spot  of around DDR5-6000.

MSI’s MAG B660 Tomahawk WIFI positions itself as a more affordable option to build your Alder Lake-based system on. If you want almost everything the Z690 Tomahawk offers but don’t plan to overclock, the B660 Tomahawk is a much less expensive option ($189.99(opens in new tab) compared to $269.99(opens in new tab)/$259.99(opens in new tab), DDR5/DDR4, respectively). The most significant differences between the boards come from M.2 socket count (three vs. four), the audio codec (ALC4080 vs. ALC1220), and the Z690 version overclocks and comes with more robust VRMs. In short, if you’re looking to save some money and don’t plan on overclocking, the B660 Tomahawk is a very good option in this space.

Specs-wise, there’s a lot to like here. Although this board, and B660 in general, doesn’t have PCIe 5.0 capability, it has plenty of PCIe 4.0 connectivity to get the most out of your connected devices. Between the six SATA ports and three M.2 sockets (with the EZ clip), there are plenty of options for storage, including SATA-based M.2 modules. If you need a lot of USB ports on the rear IO, the Tomahawk has you covered with nine and a 20 Gbps Type-C port. But it’s not all about the specs either. Even without integrated RGB lighting, the jet-black board looks good with most build themes.

In the end, the B660 Tomahawk WIFI is a well-rounded option for building your Alder Lake-based system. Not only is the sub-$200 price point attractive, but the configuration compares well with its similarly priced peers (Asus Strix B660-A Gaming WIFI D4 and the Gigabyte B660 Aorus Master). At the same price, it’s a toss-up between the Gigabyte and this MSI, with the Asus nearly pricing itself out of the game, costing $40 more. If you’re looking to break into the Alder Lake space while not completely blowing your budget out of the water, the MSI MAG B660 Tomahawk WIFI should be on your shortlist of sub-$200 DDR5-based B660 motherboards.

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