MSI Z97 XPower Motherboard Review
Integrated Device Testing
Audio Subsystem Testing
Audio Playback Testing
Using a selection of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal music tracks and Windows Media Player, the audio subsystem playback performance was tested for playback accuracy and fidelity.
Playback using the audio test tracks was distortion free using a 7.1 speaker setup through the on-board analogue audio ports.
Testing was also performed with a Razer Carcharias audio headset as well as a 5.1 speaker setup to test the audio subsystem's audio fidelity. With both sound setups, the audio tracks came through clear and distortion-free.
Microphone Port Testing
For testing the board's Microphone input port, the microphone from a Razer Carcharias audio headset was used to capture a 30 second spoken phrase with the assistance of the Microsoft Sound Recorder application. The resulting audio file was saved to the desktop and played back using Windows Media Player.
The recorded audio test was distortion-free and without any detected aberrant noise effects in all tests. However, input audio was muted without Microphone Boost enabled. Voice pickup was found to be at acceptable levels with recording volume set to 70 and Microphone Boost at +10dB.
ATTO Disk Benchmark
To validate that the board’s device ports were functioning correctly, we connected an OCZ Vertex 3 90GB SATA III SSD to the system and ran the ATTO Disk Benchmark against the drive. The SSD was directly connected to the native SATA 3 ports. NGFF port testing was performed using an M.2 to SATA III device adapter mPCIe card. ATTO was configured to test against transfer sizes from 0.5 to 8192 KB with Total Length set to 512 MB and Queue Depth set to 10. The SSD selected for testing has a maximum read throughput of 550 MB/s and a write throughput of 500 MB/s on a SATA III controller. The drive tests were repeated three times with the highest repeatable read and write speeds recorded.
SSD performance was found to be best when using the Intel Z97 controlled ports. There was no difference in performance seen between using the SSD connected to the SATA port or the adapter connected to the M.2 port, even though the M.2 port is rated for 10Gbps transfer speeds. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the ASMedia port's performance. The SSD drive barely hit the 400 MB/s range in both read and write performance tests.
SoftPerfect Research NetWorx Speed Test
In conjunction with Windows Performance Monitor, SoftPerfect Research NetWorx Speed Meter application was used to measure the upload and download performance of the motherboards integrated network controllers. Speed Meter was used to measure average network throughput in MB/s with Windows Performance Monitor used to measure average CPU utilization during the tests.
The LanBench network benchmarking software was used to generate send and receive traffic between the local and remote systems over a five minute period with packet size set to 4096 and connection count set to 20. A LanBench server was set up on the remote system to generate or receive traffic for the tests performed. The upload and download tests were repeated three times with the highest repeatable average throughput and the lowest repeatable average CPU utilization percentage recorded.
Note that that theoretical maximum throughput for a Gigabit Ethernet adapter is 125 MB/s (1.0 Gbps).
The Intel I218-V controller performed up to spec with its upload speed besting that of download by over 10 MB/s. However, both upload and download average rates were over 100 MB/s. The CPU utilization is the real strength of hte Intel controller with it barely taxing the CPU at an average of 2% during both runs with usage spikes of no higher than 5%.