MSI Motherboard Final Thoughts
I’m always a little jittery the first time I review a motherboard with a given chipset. The reason is that I have nothing to compare it to: I don’t know how its performance and features stack up to the competition. And that can make a difference, of course, since a highly-rated motherboard might be eclipsed by innovations in a competing product that I wasn’t aware of. Also, motherboard hardware and software features have become so elaborate, at least at the high end, that it becomes difficult or impossible to test or even cover them all, especially working under a tight embargo deadline.
On the other hand, I have over the years reviewed a lot of motherboards, so at least I have some idea of what to look for. Hardware-feature wise, the Z87 MPOWER MAX hits most of the bases an enthusiast would want: a slot layout optimized for SLI/CrossFireX; hardware buttons, a POST code readout, switch-selectable dual BIOSes, voltage check points, dual EPS power connectors, and so forth. All this hardware goodness is backed up by an improved BIOS and supporting Windows-based utilities.
MSI hasn’t skimped on the consumer utility side, either. A very nice audio system, enhanced-current USB ports for tablet charging, and an mSATA connector are features that anyone can appreciate.
However, I wouldn’t be filling my duty as a reviewer if I didn’t find a few things to carp about. I would have liked to have at least seen the option for active cooling of the chipset and VRM heatsinks. And a mere four fan headers seems stingy. And there’s nothing in the manual about how PCI-E lanes are allocated, which is annoying since there are only 24 lanes to play with, and some of them must be used to support third party SATA and USB controllers, both of which this board has. Will plugging in one more USB 3.0 device disable a SATA port? Who knows? Well, you should be able to find this information. With two video cards in the first two x16 slots, what lanes are available for the remaining x1 slots and x16 slot?
At an MSRP of $259.99, this is a high end motherboard, although there may still be a few steps above it in MSI’s hierarchy. Can a Big Bang version be far behind?
MSI Z87 MPOWER MAX Conclusion
I don’t think there’s any compelling reason to move from an Ivy Bridge or even a Sandy Bridge based system to a Haswell system– there simply isn’t enough performance and feature differential to justify it. On the other hand, if you’re building a new rig from scratch, there’s little point in investing in end-of-life platforms, so going Haswell/Z87 makes sense.
MSI enhances the performance and utility of this board with a broad array of proprietary hardware and software features. An mSATA connector, high-end sound, controller buttons, eight SATA 6G ports, and 10 USB 3.0 ports ensure that it’s unlikely you’ll ever need anything this board doesn’t supply.
We’ve seen MSI’s yellow and black color scheme on other MPOWER boards, but they’ve taken it an extra step further here. The bright yellow accents really stand out, and the massive heat sink cooling the VRMs around the CPU socket really demands a water-cooled system with a window for maximum visibility. That said, the black painted finish is a little delicate and you should exercise caution when strapping on your giant air cooler.
The construction continues MSI’s tradition of using “military class” componentry: a “Gen 4” fabric PCB improves moisture resistance, anti-ESD ICs and fuses protect against electrostatic discharges, and Hi-c caps, super ferrite chokes, and aluminum-core “dark caps” provide increased reliability, especially under high-temperature operations. And it’s worth noting that MSI does not use “military class” casually: the components so described have passed MIL-STD-810G tests for high and low temperature, humidity, vibration, and shock.
ATX mainboards are big, and MSI leverages that space by providing extra functionality such as hardware buttons, extra ports and connectors, a POST code readout, and voltage measurement points.
+ Big and bad. More SATA 6G and USB 3.0 ports than anyone could actually use.
+ Improved ClickBIOS 4 is more informative and easier to use then previous MSI efforts.
+ Button panel, POST code readout, OC Genie, mSATA connector, et cetera.
+ Very good bundle of Windows utilities
+ Killer NIC and excellent audio
+ WiFi and Bluetooth included
– What, only four fan headers?
– Active cooling would be nice on this class of board
– No documentation on PCI-E lane allocation.
- Performance: 9.50
- Appearance: 9.25
- Construction: 9.75
- Functionality: 9.75
- Value: 9.00
Final Score: 9.45 out of 10.
Excellence Achievement: Benchmark Reviews Golden Tachometer Award.
COMMENT QUESTION: Which motherboard manufacturer do you prefer most?