There comes a time in every overclockers life when you just want to go out and get the most expensive darn thing you can…just because… even though advice from the forums is to shy away from such a move. Today makes me count my blessings that a couple years ago Overclockers.com gave me the opportunity to write reviews. Fast forward those couple of years to today and I have in my possession the most expensive darn motherboard on the Z87 platform at this time, the MSI Z87 XPower. The features list is long and its power phases are more robust than anything I have seen. This should be a good one people. Let’s dive in and take a look!
Specifications & Features
First we will take a look at the high level specifications of the MSI Z87 Xpower. Some of the items that stand out are the five PCIe x16 physical slots as this board can handle Quad SLI and CrossfireX (CFx) with four cards. It also sports ten, that’s right, ten SATA III ports along with ten total USB ports (eight USB 3.0, two USB 2.0) on the rear. The last major thing to mention here is the form factor. It is XL-ATX. The board is huge. In fact, it is so big I had to get a new test bench as the one I had for years, could not fit this monster due to a support being in the way towards the bottom of it. So make sure whatever you put this in, be it a case or benching station, it can support this 13.6″ x 10.4″ board.
|MSI Z87 Xpower|
|CPU (Max Support)||i7|
|FSB/HT Bus||100 MHz|
|Chipset||Intel Z87 Express (Lynx Point)|
|DDR3 Memory||Up to 3000 MHz OC|
|Memory Channel||Dual Channel|
|USB3 ports (rear)||8|
|USB2 ports (rear)||2|
|Audio ports (rear)||6|
|Dimensions||34.5cm(L) x 26.4cm(W)|
Like every board maker out there, MSI has some unique features used on their boards. Below is a list of some the major ones. Please refer to the MSI website for more details on this board as well as downloading any drivers, utilities, and the manual if needed.
As most know by now, MSI ships these boards with more extensive testing, called Overclock Certified, than most other board makers. They run Prime95 at a 4 GHz overclock for 24 hours with no airflow. It is the last part that some low end boards may struggle with due to their paltry VRM cooling around the socket, versus others with better solutions like the Xpower. And let me tell you, that heatsink with its “SupePipe” is a heavy thing! It does get warm to the touch at 4.9 GHz on a test bench, but nothing to worry about in the least. It surely does the job with no airflow at some pretty hefty clocks.
Next up is MSI’s Military Class 4 components. The parts in this are, DrMOS 4, Hi-c CAP, Super Ferrite Choke and Dark CAP. All these together are tested to the Military STD-810G with which they selected a few tests within that standard to ‘qualify’. Most know I’m not a huge fan of all these military spec claims, but as stated in the MPower article, MSI publishes the specific standard and tests they use. I like to see that transparency.
MSI also uses their DigitAll Power PWM on the Z87 Xpower allowing for more accurate voltage delivery and less power consumption. MSI also is looking out for cooler clearance around the socket area even with the large VRM cooler. The area around the socket using the Military Class components also makes insulating for extreme overclocking sessions a lot easier. The space around this socket was easier than some other boards for insulating with artist eraser, no doubt. It was more of the 32 power phases that were getting in the way, but overall it was a easy experience. The motherboard has multiple tight weave fiberglass PCB layers which helps with increased humidity resistance and ESD protection.
Next is their thermal solution used for the VRM’s. Again, it’s beefy. It is a big chunk of metal and aluminum I presume, that covers part (16) of the 32 phase power delivery. This, like the MPower, uses SuperPipe Technology (a large heatpipe) to help get the heat away from the VRMs, even in a low airflow situation like water cooling or being on a test bench. On the top part of this heatsink is a yellow “X”, which fades on and off with a nice yellow glow to add some ‘bling’ to the board.
Last up is the Audio Boost. As you already suspected, this has to do with the onboard sound solution for the XPower. MSI uses the ALC1150 codec through an OPA1652 amplifier and caps to give you amplified and filtered output. It uses physical separation from the board and the audio section with an illuminated yellow line to assist in minimizing any EMI that could pollute the audio signal. To compliment the hardware is the Soundblaster X-Fi MB3 software, which will help get the most out of whatever audio device you have plugged in to the board.
Packaging & Accessories
The first thing we get to see today is the retail packaging. As the motherboard is XL-ATX spec, this is a pretty large box too! On the front of it is a large “X” with the MSI name up top, and XPOWER written vertically in the middle of the X. Flipping the box around to the backside shows some features of the board, such as the 32 power phases, quad SLI/CFx ability, the OC buttons on the motherboard, as well as the Wi-fi/Bluetooth adapter that comes with the board.
Not too much to see on the sides, outside of the many different languages.
Next we will open it up…well, we will open up the “X” flap. Doing so reveals the motherboard hiding underneath as well as more marketing about the board. When we really open up the box, we see the board comes in its own compartment and the all the accessories are separate in another box below it.
Next up is the accessory stack. And like we would all imagine for a high-end board, it comes with a lot of stuff…
- 6 – SATA 6Gb/s cables
- 3 – 2-way SLI bridges (1 extended)
- 1 – USB 3.0 PCI breakout
- 1 – dual eSATA and 4-pin molex PCI breakout
- 1 – eSATA to SATA cable
- 1 – 4-pin molex to dual SATA power cable
- 2 – MSI M-connectors (front panel cables and speaker)
- 4 – V-check cables
- 1 – WiFi/WiDi/BT module (with screw)
- 2 – WiFi antennae
- 1 – IO shield
- MSI Gaming themed mousepad
The MSI Z87 XPower
So we finally get to see this monster! We can see like the MPower, MSI has chosen to go with an all black with yellow highlights type of theme. The yellow highlights sit on the PCH heatsink and the VRM heatsink. The top of that same heatsink sports a yellow “X” that glows yellow on and off when the board is powered on. We see the four DIMM slots, the buttons which are part of the OC Essentials for raising BCLK, CPU multiplier, power and reset, the OC Genie button, and a handy full power off/reset feature that gives a complete power off reset without unplugging anything from the wall, removing batteries, or moving any jumpers over. A neat feature in my opinion! Towards the bottom we can see the Audio (ALC 1150) section, four PCIe x16 slots, and two PCIe x1 slots located between the 3rd and 4th and 4th and 5th PCIe slots. And finally the ten SATA3 (6 Gbps) ports.
There really isn’t much to note on the backside of the board per usual. About the only things I want to mention here is the bracket for cooling 16 of the 32 MOSFETs that reside on the rear. Towards the bottom right hand side of the board (difficult to see really) are several white LEDs to illuminate the underside of the board. I’m not a huge fan of ‘bling’ , but it really has a pretty neat glow underneath on my black metal Banchetto 101 benching station I must admit.
Last up are some different shots of the motherboard from different angles.
A Closer Look
Getting out the magnifying glass, we will first show the socket area. You may not be able to see all of them, but what you are looking at is 32 phases. That was not a typo so let me spell it out for you. THIRTY TWO phases of power on this board for the CPU. I mean, I thought the 20 was plenty on the MPower (it is), but 32 phases of DigitALL Power is a lot. I do not think we need to worry about a getting enough clean power to the CPU with this setup. Do you?
Also you can see a bit more clearly the yellow on the heatsink as well as the aforementioned yellow glowing “X” on the top part of the heatsink.
As MSI mentioned in their specifications and marketing, you can see the socket area is pretty darn clean and pretty easy to insulate around for the most part. Getting the artist eraser between the 32 chokes is easier than with the larger cylinder caps, that’s for sure. Getting UNDER the heatsinks with artist eraser is a different story. Perhaps I am just brazen, but I just took it as far as I could go and had a solid 5+ hour session around -110 °C, so all was well there. The cold really didn’t travel to much through the board to cause many problems. This board screams conformal coating to me though…
Next up we focus on the PCIe and Audio section of this board. As mentioned earlier, MSI uses the Realtek ALC1150 codec, which goes to a T.I. (Texas Instruments) OPA1652 amplifier. It then sends that amplified signal to the gold plated audio outputs, after some filtering in the ‘high quality’ caps of course. Again like the MPower, the audio section is separated from the remainder of the board via a glowing yellow line to help improve audio quality by minimizing local interference. On top of that, the ALC1150 chip is covered as well.
For the PCIe slots, you can use quad SLI/CFx on this setup. Those extra lanes are provided by the PLX PEX8747 chip. If you are going to run multiple GPU’s. there is a 6-pin PCIe plug you need to use to assist with power delivery. If you are only going to rock one card, MSI recommends you use the second PCIe slot as it bypasses the PLX chip and uses the lanes that come directly from the CPU. This eliminates any latency introduced when using the PLX configuration.
In the PCH area, up top we can see the dual BIOS switch used to swap between BIOS in case one gets corrupted, a front panel USB 3.0 header (two actually, one is 90 degrees to the board just below it), the ten SATA ports, debug LED, and last worth mentioning is the space for an mSATA device.
In the bottom left hand picture below, we are looking at the DIMM area. Along with the four DIMM slots (64 GB Maximum), this area is full of goodies. We have eight buttons on board (BCLK +-/multiplier+-/power/reset/OC Genie, and a button that performs a complete power down of the system (think pull CMOS battery, wait a bit, and power back on). This is quite a helpful feature if you are running multiple GPUs so one doesn’t have to remove the cards to access the battery. There is also a switch visible for modifying the BCLK adjustment from .1 to 1. We also see a couple of fan headers, too (totaling seven on the board).
Last up I took a picture of the power delivery area top down to show the two 8-pin ATX power connectors. Only one is required for ambient overclocking, however if you are pushing the limits with Dry Ice or LN2, plug the other one in to help get more power to the CPU socket area.
Next up on our board tour is the SATA3 ports. As mentioned previously, we can see ten of them. Six are native to the Intel chipset and the other four are handled by an Asmedia 1061 controller chip.
The bottom I/O area mostly has your typical connections such as front panel audio, USB connectivity, and of course a debug LED. What is pretty unique is the easy PCIe on/off switches to help with troubleshooting, or just being lazy and wanting to disable some for lesser runs. A bit hidden is the Fastboot button, which allows you to get in to the BIOS without having to bang on the delete key and potentially missing the short window to access it.
Last up is the rear I/O. From left to right we see a PS/2 port on top of two USB 2.0 ports. To the right of that is the clear CMOS button which glows a nice deeper blue, and the space/connector for the WiFi/BT/Intel WIDI adapter (not pictured). We next see two USB 3.0 ports resting on an HDMI port, four more USB 3.0 ports, an optical out on top of the HDMI port, and full size Displayport. The yellow NIC is of course hosted by the Killer NIC on top of two more USB 3.0 ports (all handled by Asmedia ASM1074 controller). Last but not least are the gold plated audio connectors.
‘We don’t have to take our heatsinks off…to have a good time, no. no. We can dance and party… all night…’. Wow, sorry readers, slipped in to 1980’s song there from Jermaine Stewart. I will try not to let that happen again! Being serious, we do have to take the heatsinks off, to make sure we can have a good time and keep the VRM area nice and cool. Looking at the base of this incredibly heavy heatsink, it sure does make good contact with the 16 phases up top (the bracket on the bottom for the other 16 does as well). But man those are some sexy power bits, ehh?
Under the PCH heatsink is, well, the PCH and a nuvoTon Super I/O chip for reporting. It also made good contact as you can see. This thermal paste though was hard as rock. It did fine in testing, but was still hard as heck. I replaced it after testing.
Last up in the details of this motherboard is a simple list of some of the chips that support this board…
- Killer NIC E2205-B – Network Controller
- PTN3360D – HDMI/DVI
- PLX PEX 8747 – 48 Lane PCIe 3.0 switch
- ASMedia 1051 – USB 3.0
- ASMedia 1074 – USB 3.0 Hub Controller
- nuvoTon NCT6779D – Super I/O chip
- Realtek ALC1150 – Audio (not pictured)
UEFI BIOS, Overclocking Software, Killer Network Manager
The basic layout of this BIOS is the same as the MPower MAX I reviewed a couple weeks ago. So, we will not dive into those screenshots. But if you need a complete list, go check out that review for BIOS screenshots. I will post the Overclocking section up again though. Like the MPower MAX, there are plenty of options to keep even the most extreme user busy.
MSI Command Center (Windows)
Nothing has changed in Command Center, though one thing I did have trouble with is the application working at extreme clocks/temperatures. It would not even load and would error out. At ambient temperatures/clocks however, it worked just fine which is odd to me. Hopefully they get that fixed soon. That said, I simply used the onboard buttons to change BCLK and the multiplier and all was well there. Still this software should be functional regardless of the conditions.
Killer Network Manager
The Xpower also boasts the Killer Network Manager for the E-2205 NIC on this board. As we are likely familiar with by now, this software is able to monitor and prioritize traffic of your applications, hopefully helping keep your ping low and gaming experience positive. Again, I cannot reliably test such a thing, but other testing puts this right up there with the Intel NIC along with a bit more pizazz and control over the traffic.
Test Setup, Benchmarks, and Overclocking
Listed below is the test system used for benchmarking:
|CPU||Intel i7 4770K @ 3.5 GHz|
|Motherboard||MSI Z87 XPower|
|RAM||2×4 GB Kingston HyperX Predator DDR3-2666 11-13-13-32|
|Graphics Card||MSI GTX 770 OC|
|Solid State Drive||256 GB Vertex 3|
|Power Supply||SeaSonic SS-1000XP (80+ Platinum)|
|Operating System||Windows 7 x64 SP1 (Fresh Install)|
Below are the stock and overclocked results for this setup. Like usual in my motherboard reviews, I have used AIDA64 (latest version), Maxmemm, SuperPi 1M/32M, Wprime 32M/1024M, Cinebench R10/R11.5, and Pifast. In most cases there are very few differences between motherboards so we are going with simple screenshots of the results. Once I get a couple more Z87 boards, perhaps I will throw them on a graph so we can make some comparisons.
AIDA64/Maxmemm – Memory Bandwidth and Throughput
Cinebench R10 and R11.5 – CPU Rendering benchmark
Super Pi 1M and 32M / Pifast – Single threaded CPU benchmark
WPrime 32M and 1024M – Multi threaded CPU benchmark
Pushing the limits – LN2 Results
So I had the chance again to put this board through the paces in what I feel it’s really meant for, some sub-ambient benchmarking. To start off here, I was able to break the 6 GHz barrier with this board while I was not with the MPower Max. I cannot, with a good conscious, blame it on the board. I will go back to the Max to confirm though, just in case. I will also have to apologize in advance as I was quite scatterbrained when I was under the influence of LN2 so I do not have 32M or Wprime runs, sorry! I was able to reach 6.3 Ghz CPUz, and thought it validated, but.. it didn’t, so I only have a 6.2 GHz validation (you cannot up the clock while on the ‘about’ tab as the CPU tab does not update until you select it apparently…grrrrrr!). Other screenshots include 5.8/5.9 GHz doing some 3D runs on the MSI GTX 770 OC, a 6 Ghz Super Pi 1M run, Cinebench R11.5, and Intel’s XTU.
Overall the board is quite a looker with its black and yellow theme. It is also quite a large board at XL-ATX dimensions, so make sure you have the room in your case/benching station to support its size. The board supports up to quad SLI and CFx, and has a solid audio section utilizing the ALC1150 codec as well as the physical separation from other parts of the board to assist with making the sound better. There is also a slot on this board for a mSATA device such as a SSD, which a neat addition to this class of board (MVIE nor OCForce have this). The board comes with a small device for WiFi, Bluetooth and Widi functionality as well.
So after all is said and done, I have managed to beat my MPower record and validate at 6.2 GHz (hit 6.3 Ghz but personally messed up the validation by being on the wrong screen). I was able to run 3D up to 5.9 GHz as well, so overall this has been a better experience I must admit. Part of that comes from being more familiar with the platform, CPU, and BIOS and part may come from the board itself. The tell tale sign would be to move this CPU back to the MPower for additional cold testing and see what happens. Continuing on the overclocking front, the 32 phases are more than enough to take your CPU where it needs to go under extreme cooling without a doubt. The BCLK and multiplier buttons on the motherboard make for some easy breezy pushing the of clocks while in Windows for sure. The BIOS, you know I love the look, is easy enough to maneuver around and has PLENTY of options to keep even the pickiest enthusiast happy.
Even with all those great things about the board, it is not without its faults. The Command Center software, for some odd reason, failed to run with extreme clockspeeds while under cold. I’m not sure why that is, but I would imagine that after an update that issue will be resolved. Mostly, if you are up that high anyway, Command Center Lite would probably be your weapon of choice anyway. The last thing I want to pick on this board about is the lack of room to get a video card out of the system if its in the top slot. The bottom part of the VRM cooler and the back of the card barely allow fingers to get in there to push on the lever to help pop the card out. Clearly it is not impossible, but a bit more room would be nice to make it easy.
I mentioned in the introduction this is the most expensive Z87 based motherboard on the market, coming in at at wallet slimming $439.99 at Newegg.com. This is $40 more expensive than the venerable ASUS Z87 Maximus VI Extreme, and $30 more than the Gigabyte Z87Z-OC Force. I have not had a chance to play with either board, so I cannot really compare them with personal experience.
The board is an absolute monster. Its overkill (in good way). Size, power bits, audio, the network card used, ALL premium parts. If you are looking to push overclocking to the limits, especially while using a sub-ambient medium to hit those clocks, you have quite the contender in the extreme high end of the market. If you just like to have something cool for gaming purposes or to beat on ambient overclocking, this is surely an expensive way to go about it, but it does has everything you would need and then some. This board is Overclockers.com approved!