MSI has been a player in the Z77 motherboard landscape since its inception. You have seen reviews here on the earlier releases such as the MSI Z77 GD65, but now we see an offering specifically designed for overclocking with their latest release, the Big Bang Z77 Mpower. This board is ‘burned in’ for 24 hours using Prime95 with an Ivy Bridge CPU at a stable 4.6 GHz, which provides a more reliable and stable overclocking experience according to MSI. Let’s make sure we can get there, check out some features, and in the spirit of Overclockers.com, get well past that point.
Specifications & Features
Below are some high-level specifications listed. As you can see, this board supports up to 32 GB of memory with speeds up to 3000 MHz (multiplier) assuming your RAM and CPU IMC can handle it. There are 3 PCI-E 3.0 slots available which cut back to an 8x/8x configuration when using CrossFireX or SLI. Gigabit LAN, WiFi, and Bluetooth capable board. There are plenty of SATA ports with 2 SATA 6 Gb/s and 4x SATA 3 Gb/s ports as well as a slew of USB ports (8x USB3 and 10x USB2). Plenty of SATA/USB ports for the vast majority of users.
Below are a few of the features I cherry picked from the MSI and other materials. A complete list of all the features this board has to offer can be found at the MSI website.
Packaging & Accessories
Looking at the retail packaging, if you compare this to their ‘regular’ lineup (MSI Z77A GD65 review), you will notice it’s a lot more flashy with the MPower board. On the front, you see major features it’s touting such as the “Industry First Military Class burn in test” consisting of Prime 95 for 24 hours at 4.6 GHz+ speeds. I don’t know of any company that tests boards at such speeds. MSI states that this type of testing will can provide a ‘…reliable and stable overclock experience and reduces the chances of DOA boards’.
Flipping the box over you see more features listed including more marketing info on the “OC Certified” parts and its benefits as well as showing items like the 1 Touch Overclock Genie, Click BIOS II (arguably the best UEFI BIOS out there if you ask me as far as looks and usability), Hybrid Digital Power, Control Center (windows-based overclocking), as well as WiFi and Bluetooth (included). Flipping up the lid on the box exposes details about the Military class components and Hybrid Digital Power. On the bottom of the inside cover is a picture of the board showing specific items of importance.
All in all its a flashy box that, as usual, shows a lot of teasers for what good things are inside.
Opening up the box you see a very typical accessory stack on top and board on the bottom setup. I do have a small concern in that the board isn’t sitting on some padding which is common is configurations like this, but it arrived fine so there shouldn’t be any worries really.
Moving on to the accessory stack, you have a very standard setup for the most part. I/O plate, driver disk, manuals, a soft SLI/CrossFireX bridge, and four SATA cables. What is unique to this package is the WiFi adapter (Bluetooth is already on the board in the I/O area), voltage read point plugs to make reading the voltage easier by just sliding the probe in the plug, and a certificate showing its Military Class III component certified.
The MSI Z77 MPower
Finally you get to see the board in all its glory… As I’m sure you noticed, the board is a black (not brown) PCB with the PCIe slots black as well. The MCH cooler is a darker grey with a metal cover with yellow ‘racing stripes’ running vertical throughout its length. The heatsinks around the power delivery area are also of the same design. If anyone remembers MSI’s Lightning series of cards, specifically the GTX680 Lightning, you will see the same pedigree. Not much to see on the back of the board, though you can see how the PCIe configurations are hardwired…nothing out of the ordinary really.
Not listed in the specifications above are the amount of fan headers on the board. There are five 4/3 pin headers. This should be plenty for those who would prefer to have the motherboard control your fans.
MSI has designed this board to have an ‘Optimized layout’ which places all key buttons or connectors on the edge of the board including the LED post readout. The socket area is fairly barren outside of a few caps and chokes (13 phase for the CPU, and three for the RAM). This makes things easier for the extreme overclocking crowd to insulate around the socket as well as having ample room for heatsink brackets for air coolers or new ‘sealed’ water cooling systems such as the Corsair H100 or similar products.
A Closer Look
I like to start this section off looking at the CPU and power delivery sections. We are overclockers and that is where our bread is buttered. In this picture, you can see the typical four DIMM slot setup as well as the 13 phase power this board is sporting. Some things of note here are the robust coolers for the power delivery/VRM area. What stands out to me is the use of an 8 mm heatpipe helping move the the heat through the coolers. MSI says this setup is more conducive for non high airflow setups (like water cooling with a block on the CPU). I have to imagine regardless what is mounted on the CPU or if its on an open test bench, this heatsink setup will keep temperatures at an acceptable level. In my testing, at stock, these units barely got warm (open test bench, no fans). When overclocked to upper 4 GHz to 5 GHz range, they were warm to the touch…but that is all. So it seems to do its job with little airflow as described.
Moving on down to the PCI-e area of the board you find exactly what the specifications told you, three full length PCI-e slots and a total of four PCI-e 1x slots. The last slot really requires an Ivy Bridge based CPU in order to have enough lanes to be used. Outside that, electrically the 16x physical slots are 16x/8x/8x Max. When going SLI/CrossFireX, this will go down to 8x/8x. Seeing as how we are on PCI-e 3.0 now doubling the bandwidth of 2.0, there is plenty of throughput available in the slots. One thing to note for those hanging on to legacy slots… there is not a PCI slot on this board.
Moving on over to the upper right hand portion of the board, there is a fair amount going on here. Again, we see the four DIMM slots (up to 32 GB), a glimpse of the LED’s showing how many active phases are active, the 24pin ATX power, the 6pin PCI-e power plug to assist and improve power delivery for multi GPU configurations, especially with overclocking, the voltage read points which cover all the needed bases, and your Power/Reset and OC Genie button.
My only concern here is the proximity of the voltage read points and the 24pin/6pin power connections. On my test bench the cord goes right over top of the voltage read points. Its not a huge issue, especially when using the included probe plugs, but still could have been out of the way as from a layman’s perspective, there is seemingly room in the immediate area. Darn, there goes perfect!
The first picture in the section below will be of the SATA ports. As we know from above, there are a total of six ports. Two SATA 6Gb/s and four 3Gb/s ports. This should be sufficient for the majority of users. Directly to the right of that would be your front panel USB3 connector and to the right of that is your LED debug display. Finally, behind the SATA ports rests the passive MCH cooler.
Swinging around the board to the rear I/O area you see the mostly typical setup analog and optical audio ports, a single Gb NIC, a total of six USB3 ports and two USB2 ports as well as a legacy PS/2 port. For video output if you choose to use the onboard Intel GPU, there is a DisplayPort and HDMI available, but surprisingly to me, no DVI connectivity. The last thing to mention here is the included Bluetooth accessory as well as where you plug in the included WiFi antennae.
On the bottom of the motherboard, from left to right, you have front panel audio, two fan plugs, and your front panel connections like HDD LED, reset/power switches, etc. This is an unusual location as they are normal at the bottom right hand side of the board, but in this case they are almost dead center. This shouldn’t be a problem as there is usually plenty of slack in the wires, but just something to note. Moving on are three more USB2 ports. One more thing I want to show you in this last picture is the location of the dual BIOS chips and switch as well as the GO2BIOS button, which allows an instant boot to the bios no matter what system state (including boot loops/frozen states).
I wanted to make sure the cooling solution made good contact so I took it apart. There are a total of ten screws (not pushpins!) to do this job. As expected, there was solid contact with all components. The last two pictures are simply showing the area that was covered by the heatsink, the MCH and VRM. The TIM application on the MCH achieved full coverage without having a lot of excess.
UEFI BIOS and Overclocking Software
Since MSI came out with their Click BIOS II, I have always liked it. The interface has a nice setup and look to it, but most importantly it is quite easy to navigate through via the keyboard or mouse. One of the cool features I like is the ability to see some high level system statuses such as CPU/System temperature, the date/time and bios version, current core speed and memory speed, but most of all I like having the ability to switch boot order right up top.
The only tiny nitpick I have is that in order to navigate through the major panels, you can only use the up or down arrows. You do not have the ability to hit the right arrow to jump to the other side. Again, not remotely a big deal, but something worth mentioning for those still on the keyboard.
Due to the sheer amount of BIOS screens and options, I’m only going to dig in to a couple of them in detail. However, you can view the rest in the small thumbnails below.
The next BIOS screenshots I would like to show are the main Overclocking screens. For the most part, this is where you will do all your adjustments. Everything you need to change voltages, clocks, RAM speed and timings, CPU functions, and even saving profiles (which you can name thankfully) are options here. Everything with an orange arrow next to it allows you ‘drill down’ to more options. There really isn’t anything missing for most overclockers.
MSI Control Center Software / Click Bios II (Windows)
MSI has its own windows based overclocking and monitoring software called MSI Control Center. The MSI Control Center and Click BIOS II in windows have a symbiotic relationship. Both are seemingly attached at the hip. If that confused you a bit, check out the screenshot below. Notice how in the upper right hand corner there is a button to bring up the Click BIOS II? When click on that area, there is a nice visual of the application flipping around to expose the other application.
The Control Center (referred to as “CC” moving forward) application allows you to manipulate a plethora of items such as bclk, multiplier, and several relevant voltages such as the Vcore, IO (Vtt) , System Agent (SA), PLL, pCH, the iGPU, and even some vREF for the memory. Enough options there to push to the brink when in windows, or just to overclock in windows if that tickles your fancy. On the first tab (Overclocking), it also shows relevant system status information like core speed, memory speed, and BIOS version.
The CC application also has tabs for the OC Genie (enable disable from here), Green Power (controls fans and CPU phases), LED (to disable the phase LED’s on the board – they are a bright blue), Record (to monitor and record things like voltages, temperatures, and fan speeds)
I’ll be doing the same thing as above with the BIOS and just giving a full screenshot then put the rest in thumbnails. The Click BIOS II in windows is similar to the UEFI BIOS anyway so going over that in detail is more or less redundant.
Moving on to the click BIOS II from within windows, there isn’t too much to talk about seeing how it is fairly similar to the UEFI Click BIOS II. You can use a mouse or keyboard with this interface as well. The fact that you can see the majority of items in your BIOS from within windows is still pretty cool though. A lot of the functions do require a reboot, like they do in the UEFI anyway, but that is to be expected really. I will start by showing the first tab, Settings, and the top part of the Overclocking section. The rest will be in thumbnails.
In the settings page advanced tab, all the options that are under the ‘normal’ UEFI BIOS are also here and available to change.
The overclocking page is also the same as the BIOS. Again most settings here will require a reboot. The thumbnails consist of the rest of the overclocking screen with all options expanded as well as the Eco section.
Overall this software package works as well as one would expect. I did have a couple of issues with Windows 7 interrupting stating that the program was unresponsive – which it was – and needed to be closed. Once reopened however all was fine. Not sure what is going on there, but I let MSI know just in case the issue is not isolated to my test setup (MSI reported they could not reproduce this issue, so its seemingly tied to my machine).
Test Setup, Benchmarks, and Overclocking
Listed below is the test system used for benchmarking.
|CPU||Intel i7 3770K @ 3.5 GHz|
|Motherboard||MSI Z77 MPower|
|RAM||2×2 GB G.Skill RipjawsX DDR3-2133 7-10-7-27|
|Graphics Card||AMD 7870|
|Solid State Drive||60 GB Vertex 2|
|Power Supply||SeaSonic SS-1000XP (80+ Platinum)|
|Operating System||Windows 7 x64 SP1 (Fresh Install)|
|Graphics Drivers||Catalyst 12.6|
Per usual on the past two generations of Intel chips, overclocking was quite simple. In this case, I set the voltage to a known good level set to 4.9 GHz and crossed my fingers. I did expect it to boot and run through our testing and I was not disappointed. Its possible I can lower the voltage used but… I’m not looking for a 24/7 overclock and temperatures, while hot (90 °C in WPrime/both Cinebench applications) ran through everything fine with no throttling so there wasn’t really a point.
A huge point made by MSI with this board is having each Mpower board stress tested with an Ivy Bridge CPU at 4.6 GHz using Prime95. Clearly you can see this passed the test considering I was benching at 4.9 GHz after a single boot. I cant imagine boards in this midrange class ($219.99 MSRP) not being able to hit 4.6 GHz and beyond, but it is a good thing to have it factory tested before it leaves the door. Most companies will only test at stock settings so MSI is going above and beyond when compared to other motherboard manufacturers. Of course, proper cooling and a CPU that will do (most/all?) those speeds are required. 4.6 GHz with Ivy Bridge isn’t normally accomplished on the stock cooler.
To touch on the tests the benchmarking team would be concerned about, Super Pi 1M/32M and Wprime 32M/1024M, the times are right in line with the other boards tested. Due to the bclk being a bit higher than than previous boards, coming in at 100.5 (other boards were below 100), there is a slightly higher clockspeed which translates to slightly faster times all around.
One minor inconvenience I want to mention in the overclocking area is with using Realtemp while overclocking. On the test rig, I could bench all day and not have the CPU speed drop for any reason. However, when I opened up Realtemp to monitor temperatures, the multiplier (at least 48x and 50x) dropped to default of 35x and after that I was not able to change clockspeeds without a reboot. I tried with another common temperature monitoring application, Coretemp, and the multiplier stayed put. Not sure what magic setting I have it on to induce this behavior, but MSI was also unable to reproduce this issue so far. I have reached out to the Realtemp creator to see if he can shed some light on why this may be happening on my system.
Below are the results for other rendering tests in Cinebench (R10 and R11.5), AIDA64 v 2.60 and MaxMemm for memory bandwidth testing. Nothing was out of line here either.
I had a chance to really lean on the system a bit in SuperPi 1M and 32M and overclocked both the CPU and Memory. You can see the results below. For the 1M run, I was able to push up to 5.123 GHz and the memory to 2458 MHz at CL8. For the 32M run, I couldn’t get these sticks stable with the increase in memory speed for some reason, so I dropped down to 5 GHz and the memory set at 2412 MHz CL9 (would have done CL8 but left it there for ease of testing).
My overall impressions of this board are quite positive. The black on black with yellow accents are reminiscent of their Lightning series of cards, which I also happened to like. Not too much bling, but more than a plain black canvas. The optimized Click BIOS II and 4-pin PWM controlled fan headers give the user more control over their system than some other boards while the ”Certified Performance” from MSI testing the board at 4.6 GHz before shipping, the “Optimized Performance” with 50% thicker PCB, additional 6pin PCIe power connector, and the heatsink optimized for low air flow, all beg for this board to be pushed. And it takes it like a champ, and then some (5.12 GHz).
Like everything in life, nothing is perfect and of course that includes this board. Though every other part is seemingly in a good spot with ample room and a good location, the 24pin power and voltage read point area are pretty close together. With the 24 pin plugged in it arches right over the top of it and will do so in a case as well with less room to work with. That tends to block the voltage read points. If you use use the included read point attachments though, it shouldn’t be an issue. And though its may be tied to my setup/settings, the Realtemp multiplier issue is a head scratcher.
EDITORS NOTE: The Realtemp issue was not a problem with this board. What I did to resolve the issue was to simply disable the “Disable Turbo” check box in Realtemp. It seems that the application did not recognize that I had turbo enabled so it selects ‘disable turbo’ inaccurately. A special thanks to UncleWeb (RealTemp programmer) for working with me in resolving this minor concern. Also see the post below in the comments section.
As was mentioned earlier in the article, the MSRP for this board is $219.99. You should be able to find these on sale beginning today, 8/28, at your e-tailers. The pricing on this board does put it in the midrange among Z77 based boards so that seems on par and even a good price with the feature set and more than adequate overclocking capabilities this board offers, scratch that guarantees its owners (again assuming the CPU and cooling you have allows you to get there). The MSI z77 MPower should be a top tier choice in this price range.
~Joe Shields (Earthdog)