MSI Z87 MPOWER MAX Review

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In 1986, mainstream computing was nothing like it was today, generally only the rich and those who worked with computers had them.  One of the companies that brought the computer to not only the homes of millions, but also business and commercial industries alike, was MSI or Micro-Star International, one of the leading companies, paving the way for many others to follow in their footsteps.

With a huge range of products produced from their factories from Graphics cards, motherboards and even their latest gaming keyboards, they have been one of the major IT companies of the past 30+years.  With customer satisfaction and innovation 2 of their primary goals, we have seen such premier products such as the Lightning series graphics cards and the Big Bang themed motherboards.

Well today on my test bench is one that actually originated from the Big Bang series. It is the MSI Z87 MPOWER MAX, which is produced for Intel’s latest chipset, on the LGA1150 platform.  How will the Z87 MPOWER build on the reputation of the last MPOWER, the Z77 MPOWER?  Will it compliment the power of the Haswell i7 4770k?  Will it sink or swim in a hugely populated market?  Only one way to find out, so let’s get going, starting with the specifications…

  • CPU (Max Support)
    i7
  • FSB / Hyper Transport Bus
    100MHz
  • Chipset
    Intel® Z87 Express Chipset
  • DDR3 Memory
    DDR3 1066/1333/1600/1866*/2000*/2133*/ 2200*/2400*/2600*/2666*/2800*/3000*(*OC) MHz
  • Memory Channel
    Dual
  • DIMM Slots
    4
  • Max Memory (GB)
    64
  • PCI-Ex16
    3
  • PCI-E Gen
    Gen3 (16, 0, 0), (8, 8, 0), (8, 4, 4)
  • mSATA
    1
  • PCI-Ex1
    4
  • SATAIII
    8
  • RAID
    0/1/5/10
  • LAN
    10/100/1000*1
  • USB 3.0 ports (Rear)
    6
  • USB 2.0 ports (Rear)
    2
  • Audio ports (Rear)
    6+Optical SPDIF
  • Display Port
    1
  • HDMI
    2
  • VGA Max Share Memory (MB)
    1760
  • DirectX
    DX11
  • Form Factor
    ATX
  • SLI
    Y
  • CrossFire
    Y

The front of the packaging is very bright, displaying a large and bright yellow M, which signals that this motherboard is indeed an MPOWER.  Aside from the big, bright M, the rest of the motherboards packaging is a black carbon fibre style, with the Intel  Z87 chipset logo in the top right hand corner.

Around on the rear, there is information regarding the overclocking testing methods of the MPOWER MAX.  Also on the rear are the specifications of the motherboard, albeit in English only.  It also has MSI’s company details and also information regarding European safety laws etc.  The theme ties in with the front of the packaging, so throughout we have a black and yellow contrasting colour design.

If you see on the front of the box, the M does actually act like a door; a gateway to a beast you could say.  Behind the door, which is held closed by a small Velcro tab, we have more information regarding the components of the MSI MPOWER MAX and through the M shaped viewing window; you can get a first-hand glimpse of MSI’s latest board.

A very interesting thing inside the box is a certificate of its factory testing.  The testing was for the overclocking of course, and this board in particular managed to hit 4.7GHz on the CPU and 1150MHz on the on-board GPU.  This motherboard also appears to be number 68 and was tested on the 23/4/13.  Other information includes the hardware that was tested with the MPOWER MAX to achieve its tested overclock and also results to certain benchmarks which I find fantastic; very informative if I say so myself.

Bundled with the Z87 MPOWER MAX, is a massive cache of accessories and leaflets.  Included there is:

  • Drivers & Utilities Disc
  • Motherboard User Guide
  • 6 x SATA cables
  • Network Driver & Utilities Disc
  • Software & Application User Guide
  • I/O Shield
  • USB 3.0 bracket
  • M-Connector
  • 2 x Antenna (wireless)
  • M-PCIe Card with Wi-Fi Bluetooth Module
  • SLI bridge
  • V-Check cable x4

I really like the inclusion of the V-Check cables as these are a must for anyone wishing to do extreme overclocking, which is what this board is clearly designed for.

Taking a brief look at the entire MPOWER MAX motherboard, the form factor is ATX and given the amount of power phases on, I would have expected at least an E-ATX form factor; a credit to how much MSI have managed to fit on this board.

As you can see from the heat sinks, they follow the Lightning livery which is Black with Yellow Stripes.  Similar to how the Z77 MPOWER was, the Z87 MPOWER MAX has a deeper black finish, which is due to the 6 layer PCB that this board packs.  The main benefit of this is that it is more resistant to humidity, thus making it more suitable for sub-zero cooling such as dry ice or LN2.

There are four DIMM slots for RAM, with a whopping maximum capacity of 64GB, which is a huge amount of RAM to have.  This would be brilliant if you were planning on using a RAM Disk, which this motherboard comes bundled with, thanks to MSI.  The MPOWER MAX supports up to 3000MHz memory and can go even higher via overclocking.

Also in view is the 24pin ATX power connection, the USB3.0 front panel header and the V-Check points, which are another fantastic feature if you’re planning to overclock with extreme cooling.

As you can see from sheer amount of power phases around the CPU socket (20 in total), this board on paper should be an overclocking machine.  The MOSFETS are cooled with a rather large heat sink, which I will touch on next.  The CPU socket is of course socket LGA1150, which houses the new Haswell CPUs.

The MOSFET heat sink is pretty impressive, especially in terms of size.  It is yellow and black, which is also the theme of MSI’s flagship GPU series, the Lightning series.  Even due to its size, the CPU socket area is rather spacey and I feel there would be no issues in mounting a cooler.  One thing though, in some cases, mounting a top radiator with fans in push-pull, it could catch the top of the heat sink, so it would be a good idea to check clearance before-hand.

Still focusing on the CPU socket, here we have the two 8pin 12v power sockets located at the top of the motherboard.  It is a little overkill, but I imagine it should allow CPU voltages to remain more stable, especially when the CPU is being subjected to extremely heavy loads under things such as LN2 cooling.

Taking a look at the storage options, there are 8 x SATA3 (6GBps) ports, which allow you to run HDDs/SSDs in RAID-0, 1, 5 and 10, which is normal with the Z87 chipset.  The controller is made by ASMedia and this board sports the ASM1061 chipset.  Although not in view, there’s an mSATA port, which is useful for cache drives.  Please note that when using SATA port 5, it will be unavailable when an mSATA drive is installed.

The Southbridge heat sink is also quite large compared to other motherboards; it seems MSI have really gone overboard on their flagship boards and in my opinion, it’s very welcomed.  It has the same Lighting style colour theme that the MPOWER boards are famed for.  Also in view is the BIOS battery, which isn’t in the most accessible place but there isn’t really a better position for it available.

Here we have the PCI slots, which include three PCIe x 16 3.0 slots, which run at x16/x8/x8 and x8/x4/x4 and four PCIe x1 2.0 slots.  This is plenty, especially if you wish to run tri-fire or 3 way SLI for all those GPU intensive games out there.  In the PCI slots, you could have a sound card and a separate RAID card etc.

At the bottom of the board, we can see the OC genie button that is used for auto overclocking, a power on button, a rest button, and 2 buttons for direct overclocking.  I would still prefer to do this in the BIOS but some people would find this very handy; another sub-zero overclocking tool.

On the rear of the motherboard, we have the I/O, wouldn’t be a very useful motherboard without one!  Connectivity wise, there are 6 x USB3.0 ports, which are backwards compatible with all USB devices, 2 x USB2.0 ports, 7 audio connections (6 x 3.5mm jack and 1 x SPDIF), a Killer E2200 NIC LAN RJ45 port, 2 x HDMI which support up to 4K resolutions (which means the motherboard is future proofed for the next gen of monitors/TVs and 1 x display port).  I am quite saddened to see the lack of a DVI port, but a HDMI > DVI adapter is easy sought via a retailer or your trusty auction site for a relatively cheap price.

Finally, we have the Audio Boost chip, which is the Realtek ALC1150 and it supports up to 7.1 surround sound.  This is a slightly higher grade chip than the ALC898, which is also made by Realtek.

To showcase the MSI BIOS and to show you basically you get in terms of BIOS features before you buy, I have taken screenshots to show you the different menu’s available.  Here they are, in order of each menu starting with the main screen.

The main screen is MSI’s version of the UEFI BIOS, with 6 main categories, which I will illustrate more on this page.

The settings section is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin.  You can change various settings such as SATA settings, on-board GPU functions, enable and disable certain features such as hyper-thread (providing you have a supported CPU of course) amongst other things.

In the overclocking part of the BIOS, we have all the tools needed to increase the performance of your CPU by the powers of overclocking.  Here we have options to overclock the CPU core itself, the on-board GPU core (GT in the case of the MSI BIOS) and also plenty of memory overclocking options.  Also present is the ever popular XMP setting for quick and painless use to enable you to use your RAMS profiled ratings.  Please note that overclocking can kill your hardware and will void any warranty with your hardware vendor.

Here we have the M-FLASH, which allows you to save your BIOS to storages devices such as flash drives and external HDDs.  Here you can also update the BIOS to the latest version, but I only recommend you do this if you’re having instability issues, my motto is, if it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it.

On the OC Profile page, here we have 6 profiles where you can save your overclocking profiles, basically what it says on the tin.  If you have more than 6 profiles, you have the option to save and even load them from USB.

In the hardware monitor section, you can adjust the fan profiles.  This is a handy tool especially if you prefer performance over noise or vice versa; air cooling wise of course.

Finally, we have the board explorer screen, which allows you to identify the components installed onto the MPOWER MAX itself.  Not sure why I like it, but it’s a very nice feature.

So that’s the BIOS, all in all it’s a very nice looking BIOS, it works well and I had no instability issues while using it.

CPU – Intel i7 4770K

Motherboard – MSI Z87 MPOWER MAX

Memory – G.Skill RipjawZ 8GB (2400MHz CAS10) 2x4GB

Graphics – HD4600 (Onboard)

Cooler – Thermalright Silver Arrow SB-E Extreme

Storage – Intel 520 240GB SATA3 SSD

PSU – Enermax 1200w Platimax

This is my favourite part of testing hardware and with a board of this value; it’s probably the first thing on peoples mind when they see it.  With the board packing 20 power phases, 2 x 8 pin 12v connectors and a very aggressive design style, it is very likely to be a good clocker. However, is it good in reality?

Well starting with the BIOS, everything is where I would have expected it to be, I was however slightly disappointed with the vDroop only having a + and – for values, instead of actual figures. Although, everything else seemed okay and it was easy to find.  Starting with the test bench overclock, I entered the 45x multiplier, with a standard 100BLCK and then I upped the voltage to 1.3v which is what the CPU requires for this clock speed. After saving and exiting, we were off and straight into windows, the first time.

Next step was seeing how far I could push the multiplier without going too overboard on the voltages.  Baring in mind that I was using a Thermalright Silver Arrow SB-E Extreme air cooler, I had to keep within certain thermal limits.  Here is the maximum clock speed I achieved:

It was a pretty impressive overclock. It was prime95 stable, although it did kick out a lot of heat and with it being a generally hot day, I didn’t manage to run it for long without worrying too much about the temperatures.

Now, with Haswell actually taking BCLK (Base Clock) into consideration, I thought it would be a good thing to see how far I could push it.  BCLK is a lot more temperamental than just changing the multiplier and I prefer to increase in small increments.  The maximum BCLK overclock I got was 120, which is pretty good considering.  Here is a validation for you to see:

All in all, the experience I had with overclocking on the MSI MPOWER MAX was a pleasant one, but again I have to mention about limited vDroop information, especially in terms of having no actual values to increase.  This could be amended at a later date with a BIOS revision, but until then we can only hope.  There is the MSI Extreme Tuning Utility which is software based overclocking, I usually frown on it but the software is very easy to use, given you know what you’re doing of course.

Now it’s time to see how the MSI MPOWER MAX performs in benchmarks…

Power consumption is measured using everything on the test bench except the GPU.  This gives a more accurate reading of the motherboard and CPU’s power usage.  To load the CPU up to 100%, Prime95 is used.  This is done by using the torture test feature.  The maximum reading is recorded.

This simple integer benchmark focuses on the branch prediction capabilities and the misprediction penalties of the CPU. It finds the solutions for the classic “Queens problem” on a 10 by 10 sized chessboard. At the same clock speed theoretically the processor with the shorter pipeline and smaller misprediction penalties will attain higher benchmark scores. For example — with HyperThreading disabled — the Intel Northwood core processors get higher scores than the Intel Prescott core based ones due to the 20-step vs 31-step long pipeline. CPU Queen Test uses integer MMX, SSE2 and SSSE3 optimizations.

SANDRA 2013 in my opinion, it’s a pretty stringent benchmark, capable of testing your systems limit.  It is a pretty extensive suite of benchmarks but I have narrowed down the more relevant ones to compare performance.

Designed to measure your PC’s gaming performance 3DMark 11 makes extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading.  Trusted by gamers worldwide to give accurate and unbiased results, 3DMark 11 is the best way to consistently and reliably test DirectX 11 under game-like loads.

Fire Strike is our new showcase DirectX 11 benchmark designed for high-performance gaming PCs. It is our most ambitious and technical benchmark ever, featuring real-time graphics rendered with detail and complexity far beyond what is found in other benchmarks and games today. Fire Strike will only be available in the Windows editions of 3DMark initially.

 

 

After getting hands on with the MPOWER MAX, is it really worth the £210 price tag?  Does it deliver in the key area’s it’s designed to?  Well let’s knuckle down and get through the good and bad points.

Starting with the most striking part of the MPOWER MAX, the aesthetics – they are simply gorgeous.  It is personal preference here, but I love the colour yellow and was a big fan of the previous MPOWER on the Z77 platform, as well as an owner of multiple MSI Lightning GPUs; I can’t get enough of the design.  The heat sinks perfectly match the design and contrasts really well with the black; MSI have been known to use a horrid brown PCB on motherboards in the past.  The overall finish is a very matte black, which is a really nice compliment to a really nice looking motherboard.  When the board is switched on, the heat sinks actually illuminate yellow, with the underside of the board having a nice bright white glow.

Moving on to how the board overclocked, it managed to do it well, without any issues.  The maximum overclock which I achieved stable, was 5.1GHz which is very impressive, given that the actual limits of the overclocking is down to the heat generated by Haswell.  This board on sub-zero would be great in theory due to sheer amount of power phases and its massively overkill two 8 pin 12v CPU power connectors; this would be great for sub-zero cooling but it is literally just a gimmick for air cooling and you can use only one connector if you wish, as not everyone has a power supply that carries two 12v CPU cables.  When it came to overclocking the BLCK, the MPOWER MAX did a great job as I managed to hit 120MHz, which is roughly 4.9GHz with a multiplier of 41; that is pretty impressive by any means and I am glad Z87/Haswell has made it useful again.  The overclocking capability is complimented by the Intel Extreme Tuning Utility, but as always, I tend to overclock in the BIOS as that’s how I prefer it.

Discussing some of the MPOWER MAXs features, I would say that it has the majority of the bases covered.  The inclusion of a Killer E2200 NIC LAN port is a very welcomed addition, as it’s designed to help reduce latency while gaming and also have a nifty piece of software in which you can add programmes.  This is good if you play a lot of multiplayer games and want to gain the best possible connection; bare in mind that this doesn’t turn bad internet into good internet, it just optimises good internet so it’s better.  Another interesting feature is the increased humidity resistance, this is useful for those partial to a little LN2 or dry ice for some serious benchmarking; in my opinion the MPOWER MAX is geared for it, although it still has its mainstream uses so it would be foolish to discount it from your shortlist.  The MPOWER MAX also comes packed with a wireless antenna, making this a suitable solution if you need a powerful Wi-Fi receiver, without the need to buy a wireless dongle.  The MPOWER MAX really has the majority of the bases covered so one could say, MSI domesticated a monster but I will leave that for you to judge.

Now it’s time to talk about the performance, so how did it do?  Well overall, it did very well and for a board of this calibre, it is well up to the task.  Obviously I can’t really comment on the MPOWER MAX for its sub-zero performance as unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to do this (maybe next time MSI?) but I can tell you what I thought about its air cooled performance.  The benchmarks were pretty much in line with how I thought it would do.  What I mean here is, it’s a top end motherboard, with a top spec, with 20 power phases, the only way this board would do bad really is if it was faulty.  One interesting benchmark in particular was AIDA64, specifically the memory write and read tests.  It scored a lot higher than the ASRock Extreme3 I reviewed previously; whether this is down to the design or was a slight fault, who knows, but the MPOWER MAX certainly comes out on top in terms of performance.

The last thing I wanted to touch on was the price, coming in at £210, I really do think this motherboard is in the right price bracket and if I was looking to purchase one and had a budget of sub £250, the MPOWER MAX would be pretty high on the list.  For the money, you get a lot of board, crammed with overclocking features, bar the ever elusive vDroop control which MSI could really do with fixing in my honest opinion.

The MSI MPOWER MAX blends gorgeous aesthetics, with a great package including Wi-Fi, tons of overclocking features specially aimed at sub-zero overclockers and it comes in at a  pretty awesome price to boot.  If you’re looking for a Z87 motherboard and have a budget of up to £250, you wouldn’t be disappointed with this board, a true compliment to the MSI Lightning graphics cards range that came before it.

  • Performance
  • Design
  • Value

Summary

The MSI MPOWER MAX is a top motherboard from a flagship company which combines great looks, great performance and a price that is pretty much spot on. It ticks the 3 major boxes and should be considered if you need a Z87 motherboard capable of pushing the limits.

4.5

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