MSI Z97 XPower Motherboard Review
Features and Motherboard Layout
Courtesy of MSI
- Supports 4th and 5th Gen Intel® Core™ / Pentium® / Celeron® processors for LGA 1150 socket
- Supports DDR3-3300(OC) Memory
- M.2 + USB 3.0 + SATA 6Gb/s
- 4-way Multi-GPU: 4-way NVIDIA SLI & AMD CrossFire Support
- 16 Phase DigitALL Power Design
- OC Certified: Military Class Burn-in Test Passed
- Enhanced Thermal Design & Water Cooling Heatsink
- OC Engine: For More Flexible BCLK Adjustments
- V-Check Points 2: 3 multi-meters at the same time
- Delid Die Guard: Way to Break World Record
- VGA Cease Fire: Easy to Disable the VGA Card via Physical Switch
- Guard-Pro: Improved Protection and Power Efficiency
- Military Class 4: Top Quality & Stability
- OC Essentials: The Most Convenient Tools while Breaking the Record
- OC Genie 4: Overclock in 1 Second
- Click BIOS 4: Easily Fine-tune Your System
- Command Center: Control & Customize Your PC Settings
- Wi-Fi 802.11 ac, Bluetooth 4.0, Intel® Wireless Display
The MSI Z97 XPower motherboard features a flat black PCB with yellow highlights on the heat sinks, in line with black and yellow theme that has traditionally been tied to MSI's overclocking series of boards. Additionally, the XPower logo embedded in the VRM heat sink, the MSI logo in the chipset heat sink, the audio chipset cover, and the audio PCB separator line all glow white or yellow to blend in with the board's color scheme. Even with its feature packed surface, the Z97 XPower has sufficient room around all integrated components to accommodate use of all ports and headers easily.
There are several areas on the board's back side containing small circuits and chip, so be careful when installing the board into your case. Aside from the chips at the upper right of the area behind the CPU socket, that area is clear of any components.
MSI included the following ports into the Z97 XPower's rear panel: a keyboard / mouse PS/2 port, 2 USB 2.0 ports, 2 USB 3.0 ports controlled by the Intel Z97 chipset (located to the right of the DisplayPort video port), 6 USB 3.0 ports controlled by ASMedia controllers (located below the GigE NIC port and to the right of the CMOS reset button), an Intel GigE NIC port, an HDMI video port, a DisplayPort video port, a CMOS reset button, an optical audio port, and 6 analogue audio ports. If the optional 802.11ac adapter is plugged into the port sitting in between the USB 2.0 ports and the CMOS reset button, two antenna ports are added to the rear panel for using 802.11ac for Wi-Fi networking or for Bluetooth connections.
MSI integrated a total of seven device ports into the Z97 XPower - five PCI-Express x16 slots and two PCI-Express x1 slots. For the PCI-Express x16 slots, the board supports full x16 bandwidth with a single card in PCI-Express x16 slot 2, x16 bandwidth with dual cards PCI-Express x16 slots 1 and 4, x16 / x8 / x8 in tri-card configuration populating PCI-Express x16 slots 1, 4, and 5, and x8 bandwidth in quad-card mode with cards populating PCI-Express x16 slots 1, 3, 4, and 5. There is sufficient space when using all card configurations to accommodate up to dual slot coolers in all slots. Note that PCI-Express x16 slot 2 bypasses the PLX chip altogether with its x16 bandwidth supplied directly by the CPU. This ensures optimal performance and minimal latency in single card mode.
To the upper right of the primary PCI-Express x16 slot, MSI integrated a 6-pin PCIe power port to provide extra power to the PCI-Express slots when using multiple x16 cards. The power port accepts a 6-pin PCIe-style power connector (used to power video cards normally) from your PSU. To the right of the audio chipset (and above the PCI-Express slots) are two 4-pin system fan headers. The CMOS battery and CMOS clear jumper are located in between the bottom of PCI-Express slots 3 and 4, just above the chipset cooler.
With the Z97 XPower, MSI did not want to short-change the overclocking crowd with a mediocre audio solution, so they integrated the on-board audio subsystem into an isolated PCB to minimize board component-related distortion and ensure audio clarity and fidelity. The PCB separator line and the audio chipset cap glow white/yellow with the board powered, making for a nice effect in-line with the board's color scheme. The Realtek ALC1150 audio codec is surrounded on both sides by Nippon Chemi-con audio capacitors. The headphone port OP-AMPs are located to the left of the capacitors sitting on the left side of the audio codec chip with the front panel audio header located to their left along the board's left edge.
Along the upper left edge of the board are the front panel audio header, a 4-pin system fan header, one of the front panel headers (JFP2), the trusted module port header (JTPM1), and the PCIe CeaseFire Switch block. The PCIe CeaseFire switch block can be used to enable or disable PCI-Express x16 slots controlled through the PLX chip (PCI-Express x16 slots 1, 3, 4, 5). The slots are enabled with the switch set in the right position (default) and disabled with the switch in the left position.
Along the lower left of the fifth PCI-Express x16 slot are the trusted module port header, the PCIe CeaseFire Switch block, two debug headers (JISP1 and JB1), a 4-pin system fan header, and a front panel header (JFP1). The on-board M.2 port and port bandwidth jumper (JM2_1) are located in between PCI-Express x16 slots 4 and 5. The slot supports both 6 Gb/s and 10 Gb/s style M.2 devices depending on the port settings in the BIOS or on the JM2_1 header state. With the header un-jumpered, the M.2 port is set for automatic configuration mode with device configuration set based on the BIOS setting or on the type of device plugged into the port. The M.2 port shares PCIe lanes and bandwidth with the Intel Z97 SATA ports 5 and 6. If a device is placed in the M.2 slot, SATA ports 5 and 6 are automatically disabled.
A front panel header (JFP1), two on-board USB 2.0 headers, a debug header (JSPI1), the chassis intrusion header (JC1), the Multi-BIOS switch, and the GO2BIOS button are located in the lower left corner of the motherboard. The Multi-BIOS switch determines which BIOS chip is active at boot time. This feature is useful if your primary BIOS chip becomes corrupted. You simply power down the system, switch to the secondary BIOS chip, and reboot into system setup. The GO2BIOS button forces the system to boot directly into the UEFI one the next system restart once depressed.
The Intel Z97 Express chipset is covered by a large, low profile heat sink just below the PCI-Express x16 slots. The heat sink is black colored with a large yellow X and the MSI logo. The MSI logo glows white when the board is powered.
There are a total of 10 SATA 6 Gb/s ports integrated into the board's SATA block. The six right most ports are controlled by the Intel Z97 chipset controller with the four ports on the left controlled by the on-board ASMedia controller. To the right of the SATA port block is the Intel Z97 chipset controlled USB 3.0 port header. Note that Intel SATA ports 5 and 6 (the two ports in the exact center of the port block) are disabled with a device populating the M.2 port.
MSI integrated a total of four DDR3 memory slots capable of supporting memory speeds of up to 3300MHz, located just below the CPU socket. Dual Channel memory mode is enabled by seating memory modules in alternating memory slots (slots 1 and 3 or slots 2 and 4). The board supports up to a maximum of 32GB of memory. Note that memory speeds above 1600MHz are considered overclocked speeds and are outside of the official Intel stock memory speed specifications. To the lower left of the DIMM slots is a system fan header and the 24-pin ATX power connector.
To the lower right of the DIMM slots are the 2-digit diagnostic LED display, V-Check voltage measurement points, power, reset, power discharge, CPU ratio increment and decrement, base clock increment and decrement, and OC Genie buttons, the Slow Mode, OC Genie, and Base Clock Step switches, and the secondary 4-pin CPU fan header. The diagnostic LED display can be used in conjunction with the table provided in the user manual to identify and troubleshoot board boot-related issues. The V-Check voltage measurement points allow for direct board voltage measurement using a volt meter using the included connector cables. The Slow Mode Booting switch is used in conjunction with LN2-based cooling to force the board to boot at a slower and more stable CPU speed for testing. The OC Genie button invokes the automated overclocking engine, enacting the preset profile selected based on the OC Genie switch position. In the gear 1 position (left), the default overclocking presets are enabled, indicated by a blue LED. When the switch is moved to the gear 2 position (right), the aggressive overclocking presets are enabled, indicated by a red LED. The Base Clock Step switch dictates how much the base clock frequency is incremented/decremented using the buttons. With the switch in the left (default) position, the stepping is set to 0.1MHz. The stepping is set to 1.0MHz with the switch set to the right position. The power discharge button instantly discharges the board's capacitors and remnant power when pressed. It is recommended to only use this button with the PSU powered off via the PSU power switch or after the PSU power cables have been removed from the board.
To the upper right of the DIMM slots are the primary CPU fan header.
The CPU socket is clear of obstructions even with the power circuitry and VRM heat sink surrounding three sides of the socket. The board contains a total of 16 digital power phases to ensure board stability under all operating conditions.
Two allow for all possible cooling configurations for the board, MSI integrated a water cooling channel into the CPU VRM heat sinks, allowing for either default air-base operation or integration into an existing water loop. MSI designed the heat sinks with 3/8" inlet and outlet barbs on the bottom right and bottom left of the VRM cooling system. It was a nice touch to integrate the heat sink cooling the PLX chip into the primary VRM cooling system, allowing for it to be water-cooled if desired.
For powering the CPU, MSI included 2 ATX12V power connectors - a 4-pin and an 8-pin connector. The connectors are located to the upper right of the CPU VRM cooler. Just below the ATX12V power connectors is a debug header. To the upper left of the power connectors is the device port for the 802.11ac adapter that integrates into the board's rear panel.