It certainly has been an interesting year for Intel’s motherboard partners. We say this as for the first time since the X299 chipset days Intel has not launched a new chipset to accompany a new CPU generation. Instead, Intel has opted to keep their Z790 as their flagship chipset and allowed a third generation of CPUs to ‘Just Work’ with their ‘aging’ LGA1700 socket. More interesting still, Z690 chipset-based motherboards (aka 12th generation Core-I era motherboards) are also compatible with 13 and 14th generation Core-I CPUs. This in turn has made it rather difficult for their motherboard manufacturer clients to entice upgrade inclined consumers away from just purchasing a new CPU and towards a full system upgrade. This is where MSI and their newly released Z790 ‘Max’ variants enter the chat. Specifically, their MPG Edge which has always been laser focused on satisfying the needs of the mainstream and even entry level ‘premium’ buyer’s needs.
With zip. Zero. Zilch. Upgrades to the chipset MSI, like other tier-1 manufactures, have had to get creative. Creative with the discrete ‘addon’ ICs that Intel still has not gotten around to rolling into their Platform Controller Hub (or what we use to just call the ‘SouthBridge’) chipset design. For instance, while it is indeed true that the Z790 can technically offer ‘up to’ 8 SATA ports going above 6 necessitates trade-offs as the Z790 is still a smidgen PCI lane constrained. This is why most motherboards come with 4 to 6, as six SATA is usually ‘good enough’ these days for most buyers; however there are plenty of areas where 8 SATA ports will entice buyers to swap out their ‘aging’ Z690-series motherboard for a Z790 Edge TI MAX. This is a mistake MSI made with their last Z790 Edge (with 7 SATA) and have rectified it with their Ti Max edition.
The same is true for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Both of which are advancing at a breakneck pace and yet Intel still has not dedicated silicon for either. Back in days of yore (aka a couple months ago) Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.3 was about as good as you could get on a ‘board. With the Z790 Edge TI MAX you gain access to a Wi-Fi 7 controller and second gen BT 5.3 controller.
On their own those two improvements would garner a… less than enthusiastic response outside of HTPC and homebrew NAS enthusiasts. However, back in the bad old days (aka 12th generation era) DDR5 was bloody expensive, bloody slow… and motherboard manufactures still had not dialed in their designs for their “unique” demands. Since then things have changed and MSI has taken the time and effort to keep up with the changing landscaped. Thus, seeing DDR5-7800 abilities now offered on an sub-400 motherboard may just entice a lot of DDR5-6400 and even DDR5-7200 motherboard owners towards the MAX side.
The same holds true for system builders as MSI has finally upped their game in the critical ease of build department. Yes. Finally, they have include not only a front panel breakout cable adapter but also a special header that can do double duty as a ARGB header and an additional 4-pin fan header. At the same time. Once again on their own these improvements would convince few to spend more than just the cost of a new i5, but taken as a whole the new EDGE Ti Max edition certainly sounds like it lives up to its max(imized) name… especially when the launch day MSRP of $389 has not been “upgraded” from the days of yore (aka last year when the 13th generation Core-I and Z790 chipset launched). So, lets dig in and take a closer look at what has and has not changed over the past three gens of the EDGE series… and see if it makes sense to upgrade your Edge Z690 to a new and shiny Edge Ti MAX Z790.