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MSI Z77 MPower Big Bang Motherboard Review

Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: MSI

Features, Layout, and Bundled Accessories

Features

Courtesy of MSI

  • Winki 3
  • OC Certified
  • Military Class III
  • World’s 1st PCI Express Gen 3 mainboard brand
  • OC Genie II
  • World’s 1st UEFI and software graphical user interface
  • Command Center
  • Gaming Optimized
  • VIRTU MVP
  • THX TruStudio PRO
  • Super Charger
  • USB 3.0
  • SATA 6Gb/s
  • HDMI v1.4
  • APS (Active Phase Switching)
  • Superpipe
  • M-Flash
  • AMD CrossFireX
  • Live Update 5
  • NVIDIA SLI
  • Instant OC
  • V-Check Points
  • 3TB+ Infinity

Motherboard Layout

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Sporting a flat-black with black-chromed heat sinks and yellow highlights, the MSI Z77 MPOWER board screams power and would add a unique look to any user's case. With the addition of the on-board SATA ports, a multitude of PCI-Express ports, the on-board power, reset, and overclocking buttons, the diagnostic display, the V-Check voltage measurement points, 3 types of integrated networking support, and the plethora of USB port, the board packs the promise of performance to pair with its killer looks.

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The back of the board PCB is mostly clear of components with the exception of the normal soldering points, wire traces, and the LGA1155 backplate. The only questionable decision here was the placement of power circuitry chips just below and to the lower right of the CPU socket backplate. If you use a cooler with its own backplate support, it will overlay those chips.

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MSI included the following in the Z77 MPOWER's rear panel assembly: a PS/2 keyboard/mouse port, 2 USB 2.0 ports controlled by the Intel Z77 chipset, 4 USB 3.0 ports controlled by the Renesas chipset (located underneath Bluetooth and WiFI adapters), 2 USB 3.0 ports controlled by the Intel Z77 chipset (located underneath the GigE NIC port), a Realtek GigE NIC port, an Atheros 802.11n wireless networking adapter, an Atheros Bluetooth adapter, an HDMI video port, a DisplayPort video port, a CMOS reset button, an optical digital audio output port, and 6 analogue audio ports. Note that the Atheros WiFi adapter contains a port for the included WiFi antennae.

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MSI chose to include a total of 3 PCI-Express 3.0 x16 slots and 4 PCI-Express x1 slots in the board's design. The primary PCI-Express x1 slot, located to the right of the primary PCI-Express x16 slot, remains accessible even with all PCI-Express x16 slots filled. The board offers supports for up to 3-way NVIDIA SLI or AMD CrossFire configuration. The board supports full x16 bandwidth only with a single PCI-Express x16 video card seated. With two PCI-Express x16 video cards seated, the board support x8 bandwidth to both slots. With three PCI-Express x16 video cards seated, the board supports x8 bandwidth on the primary slot and x4 bandwidth on the secondary and tertiary slots. The one oddity in the layout here is the placement of the CMOS battery. In order to access the battery, you would first need to remove any video card seated in the primary PCI-Express x16 slot. The CMOS reset jumper is located to the lower left of the third PCI-Express x1 slot. The placement does prevent accidental BIOS reset, but makes access hard with multiple video cards installed in the board. The BIOS reset is triggered by placing a jumper on the header.

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Along the outside edge of the tertiary PCI-Express x16 slot are the front panel audio header, 2 4-pin system fan connectors, the trusted module port header (JTPM1), the voice genie module header (JDLED3), and the front panel headers.

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Along the lower left side of the board are the three on-board USB 2.0 headers, the GO2BIOS button, and the Multi-BIOS Switch. The GO2BIOS button forces the system to open to the UEFI BIOS on next system reboot, while the Multi-BIOS Switch controls which system BIOS chip is currently active. The board comes with a total of two BIOS chips.

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The Z77 MPOWER comes standard with a total of 6 on-board SATA ports controlled by the Intel Z77 chipset. The ports labeled as SATA1_2 are its SATA 3 ports with the ports labeled SATA3_4 and SATA5_6 being its SATA 2 ports. The Intel Z77 controlled ports support RAID 0, 1, and 5. To the lower left of the chipset is a header labeled JSP11. This header is used internally by MSI for board diagnostics and troubleshooting. To the left of the SATA ports are the Intel Z77 controlled on-board USB 3.0 header and the 2 digit diagnostic display. This display can be helpful for troubleshooting board initialization issues in tandem with the debug code table MSI provided in the user manual.

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Intel Z77 chipset uncovered

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Southbridge chipset cooler exposed

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The four DDR3 memory slots are located in the lower right quadrant of the board. The primary memory slots are the second and forth slots with dual channel memory mode enabled when modules are seated those slots. The board offers support for up 32GB of memory with speeds of 3000MHz, 2800MHz, 2667MHz, 2400MHz,2200MHz, 2133MHz, 1866MHz, 1600MHz, 1333MHz, and 1066MHz. Note that memory speeds above 1600MHz are considered overclocked speeds and are outside of the official Intel stock memory speed specifications. The 24-pin ATX -power connector, a 6-pin video power connector, and 4-pin system fan header are located below the memory slots. The 6-pin power connector can be used to supply extra power to the PCI-Express x16 slots when multiple video cards are in use. The board uses a 4-phase power system for memory power regulations via the on-board SFC (super ferrite choke) chokes.

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Along the lower edge of the board, MSI included the V-Check Points assembly. Using the provided V-Check Point cables and a multi-meter, you can easily measure several board voltages directly instead of having to rely on the BIOS or windows based monitoring tools. The on-board diagnostic display is located to the left of the V-Check Points assembly.

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In the lower right corner of the board are the on-board buttons: Power, Reset, and OC Genie II. The power button glows green when an active power supply is attached to the board, while the reset button glows green when the board is powered on. The OC Genie II button glows blue when the button is pressed and the OC Genie II BIOS is active. OC Genie II is an automated overclocking BIOS that overclocks the board to pre-set levels regardless of the current BIOS settings.  The MultiConnect Panel Connector header (JTURBO1) can be used to connect an optional front panel device for controlling OC Genie and other board functions.

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The LGA1155 CPU socket is a black-chromed enclosure with adequate room around the socket for use of most heat sinks or waterblocks. Surrounding three sides of the CPU socket is the on-board heat pipe cooler, featuring 8mm diameter heat pipes (dubbed Superpipe by MSI) interconnecting the large aluminum-based coolers. The heat pipe assembly cools the included LucidLogix MVP chipset and the CPU power circuitry. The CPU power is regulated via a 16-phase structure using digital MOSFETS and SFC chokes. MSI also used Hi-c (Highly conductive polymerized) capacitors and Solid capacitors in the boards design for stability and increased board lifespan.

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LucidLogix chipset and CPU power circuitry uncovered

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CPU quadrant heat pipe cooler exposed

Included Accessories

MSI kept the Z77 MPOWER's accessory package slim, so as to not take away any focus from the board.

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The included user manual and install DVD give the essential information and drivers needed to get the board up and running, even including a foldout visual diagram for board setup. The user manual contained more than enough information to get the board up and running.

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In addition to the user manuals, MSI included a large overclocking guide stepping the user through the overclocking process. Additionally, quality certificate is included documenting the boards power circuitry makeup and testing.

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For use with the on-board front panel headers, MSI included their M-Connector plugs. You simply plug the front panel plugs into the M-Connector and plug the M-Connector into the appropriate board header. It makes installation the front panel plugs much easier.

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The board’s rear panel shield is well labeled in a flat black color-scheme, keeping consistent with the board looks. All ports in the shield are clearly marked for the port function as well.

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MSI included a total of two SATA cables. The cables are black and rubberized with white colored plug assemblies, again keeping with the board's look and style.

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For multi-GPU use, MSI included a 2-way NVIDIA SLI connector.

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The included V-Check cables plug into the ports in the V-Check Point assembly to give easy access for measuring board voltages directly. Instead of having to stick multi-meter leads into the assembly, you attach them to these extension cables.

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The included WiFi antennae can be plugged into the port on the rear panel's WiFi adapter to get better reception to your WiFi hot spot. The antennae itself is removable and can be swiveled almost 180 degrees for better directional reception. Additionally, the antennae base has embedded magnets so the base can be affixed to a vertical surface if desired.

January 2, 2013 | 09:28 PM - Posted by Angry

Very very nice!

:EDIT:
Nevermind, Im a dufus. Shouldnt read hard reviews on the john with the Kindle.

Anyway, is 8x4x4x Sli really worth it? Say 3 GTX 670s?

January 12, 2013 | 03:40 AM - Posted by rrr (not verified)

8x vs 16x shows differences of around ~5%. x4 shows about ~30% of difference, so certainly NOT worth it.

January 17, 2013 | 07:35 AM - Posted by WillRock (not verified)

That's BS:

http://tpucdn.com/reviews/Intel/Ivy_Bridge_PCI-Express_Scaling/images/pe...,

PCI-E 3.0 x4 equals to PCI-E 2.0 x8, which is easily sufficient for a triple GPU setup.

Why do you consistantly keep on going around making up bullcrap Rafal? Stuart? Is your name even Rafal or Stuart? Oh nvm, you're a total moron...

January 3, 2013 | 01:25 AM - Posted by Sean Sinha (not verified)

The CMOS battery location isn't as big of an issue thanks to the rear-panel CMOS-clear button. I am a big fan of the current MSI Z77 stuff and this board is probably the best mix of high end features and overclockability you're going to find in the sub-$200 range.

January 3, 2013 | 09:32 AM - Posted by cyberwire

Overclocking Results page is using the same CPU-Z screenshot for both frequencies. The 4.2Ghz one is missing.

Otherwise great review!

January 3, 2013 | 04:09 PM - Posted by Morry Teitelman

Thank you for poiting that out cyberwire.  The images on that page have been corrected...

January 5, 2013 | 10:54 PM - Posted by Peter Wong (not verified)

Has anyone get the phase LEDs to change in Windows 8? during system boot up they blink but in windows 8 they all stay on.

Thanks,

January 8, 2013 | 01:59 PM - Posted by Morry Teitelman

Have not played with the board in Windows 8, but teh BIOS does have Windows 8 specific settings.  You may want to try messing with those setting to see if you have any better luck...

January 22, 2013 | 07:26 AM - Posted by markdek (not verified)

AMD does not have FXAA, so how can this be in the Batman test settings w/ an AMD 5870?

I really want to know, because I cannot duplicate your Batman test w/ this setup.

January 23, 2013 | 08:25 PM - Posted by Morry Teitelman

With the 5870, I have the option in the graphics options screen (not in game, only accessible from startup) to force FXAA type rendering, as shown below

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