When it comes to computers, I often say hardware brands are like wines. They tend to have good and bad years. In my experience, barring a few exceptions, no brand has a flawless, nor a fully flawed track record. Loyalty to vendors that have done well by you isn’t a bad thing but it’s important to be able to look at your experiences objectively and not be afraid to switch your loyalties when you need to.
Let me regail you with the story of how I went from a loyal customer of MSI for nearly a decade to one that may very well never deal with them again.
I recently built myself a new third generation Ryzen desktop for gaming and streaming. You can see the full specs here. My friend Syncrosys built a similar machine around the same time. When choosing what motherboard we wanted, we had to do a lot of research. Most X570 boards were either cheaper and lacking features we wanted or wildly overpriced and full of extra stuff no one asked for, largely to take advantage of (i.e. rip off) early adopters. The MSI MPG X570 Gaming Pro Carbon WiFi (seriously, who names these things?) was one of the only launch boards that struck the middle ground we wanted. Good quality VRMs, no extra features we didn’t want (except Wi-Fi), generally good reviews and the price was as reasonable as X570 can be. We both grabbed one.
Syncrosys has mostly had a good experience but if you follow me, you know mine has been anything but. The first board I put in the machine had a VRM literally catch fire when I first powered it up. I sadly didn’t record it but a flame equivalent to that of a lighter is what I saw. Needless to say, the board never worked again. I took it back to the excellent RB Computing where I bought it from but they didn’t have any more and supplies were backordered indefinitely. They offered to send it back to MSI for me and also to give me a new one if a shipment came in first. MSI has a Canadian RMA facility and I was told they usually turn over fast.
Two and a half weeks later and I had no board and MSI had no ETA on when they’d get more. Typically, manufacturers keep some stock back to handle RMA requests. MSI didn’t appear to or they got so many returns, they ran out. After almost a month of waiting, they actually e-mailed RB Computing and told them they had no idea when more would come in and offered to refund the wholesale purchase, something RB Computing said had never happened in over 20 years of doing business. They said something seemed fishy about the whole situation but had no details beyond that. At time of writing, these boards are still hard to come by while other brands and models are plentiful, yet I can’t find anything online that indicates a widespread issue that would have caused them to stop shipments. Thankfully, I was able to find another one in stock elsewhere.
The new board arrived and didn’t catch fire but it had other problems. At first, it was just that the hard disk activity LED was stuck on at all times (a minor issue to most but monitoring disk activity is important to me.) Shortly after that, I discovered Wake-On-LAN didn’t work (again, unimportant to most, important to me) and about a week after using it, the chipset fan (which isn’t supposed to spin at all under low load) was constantly spinning at an ear-piercing 4,000RPM and wouldn’t respond to any PWM commands.
These are often problems that can be solved with tweaking or at worst, a BIOS update. I was already running the latest release BIOS so I took to MSI’s forums and found a thread of other people with the HDD LED issue. Most of them had no answers but one person said they were told by support that it was a known BIOS issue and a fix was coming. I opened my own support ticket to inquire about this, which anyone with the link can see. I was told by the representative to update to a beta BIOS that was on the web site and after that, an newer one that wasn’t even on the site yet. Neither of these fixed anything, though the unreleased BIOS did cause my system to randomly boot loop until I downgraded it and repaired Windows 10.
As you can see, I informed them that the solution didn’t work and at that point, they ghosted on me. I waited 5 days with no response so I requested an update and still didn’t receive one. I tweeted at MSI’s support account several times and received no response, even during times when they were actively replying to others. I sent their publicly listed Canadian support e-mail a message asking what was going on with my ticket and have never received a response.
Finally, I decided to call their 1-800 support number. After calling six times before their phone system would actually pick up as opposed to just ring endlessly, I was finally transferred to a representative in California. This person proceeded to provide me some of the rudest, most condescending “support” I’ve experienced in a long time. He wouldn’t look up my ticket and just kept wanting me to explain the issues. I did so, along with explaining what I’d already tried at support’s instruction. No word of a lie, his response was to ask me if any of these issues were really that big a deal. I told him that defects are defects and their severity is irrelevant if a nearly $400 motherboard (or a $50 one for that matter) isn’t doing what it was advertised to. He had no solutions to offer and just told me to send it in for RMA, at my expense of course. When I told him the last board was gone for almost a month before MSI gave up and refunded my supplier, he said he had no knowledge of what their stock was or not but that if these issues were so important, that’s what I had to do. He wouldn’t even entertain any other potential solutions to the issues. I hung up in disgust.
Shortly after, I ordered a recently released equivalent motherboard from ASUS, a brand I had previously avoided because of some of their own prior quality issues. It cost $30 more and doesn’t have Wi-Fi or Bluetooth but I’m writing this post from that computer right now and everything is working perfectly. I’ve sent the MSI board back for a refund.
It’s well-known that unfortunately, nearly every computer component manufacturer has terrible support. Indeed, I’ve experienced support for all the major players and with the exception of EVGA, there are none I would even consider not awful, much less good. However, I’ve never experienced support this bad in all my years of working with computers and certainly not for a premium product, sold at a premium price. MSI is not nearly the world’s largest motherboard manufacturer but according to Wikipedia, they’re a 33 year old, publicly traded company that did $3.55 billion in revenue in 2017. Small they most certainly aren’t. However, in that same page is a link to a laptopmag.com article, which lists MSI as having the worst support of any of the component vendor in 2019. Worse still, this is for support of their laptops, which sell for a lot more than motherboards. It’s clear their support is a cut below even the normally low standards of this industry.
I’ve used MSI motherboards exclusively for nearly a decade and used their GPUs for some of that time as well. I’ve sold many of their components (and even laptops) to clients and recommended them to friends. I take my reputation seriously and don’t recommend brands unless I’m confident in them and would use them myself. Indeed, MSI’s product quality was so good, I’d literally never had to use their support before now. Many X570 boards were rushed to market as the rumour is, AMD didn’t give manufacturers industry standard lead time and they had to get them done fast in order to make the launch of Ryzen 3000. I think the sheer number of BIOS updates most X570 boards have had bears that theory out. However, having one board catch fire, it being in RMA limbo for nearly a month, the replacement having all these other issues and then topped off with this support experience (one that’s apparently been common with MSI for years?) I feel bad for ever having trusted and recommended them.
Needless to say, MSI is on my Do Not Buy list for at least the next few years and even if their product quality improves, I won’t touch them again until they’ve been demonstrated to have fixed their nightmarish support. Other companies have figured this out already, one as big as them has no excuse whatsoever.
I just wanted to put this out there for people’s consideration when considering what components to buy in the future. If you get a good product from MSI, you’re golden. If you don’t, strap in for a wild ride.