At $260, today’s review of the MSI Z97 MPower Max AC is the odd one out of our initial Z97 reviews. The previous two review both use SATA Express khổng lồ expand their storage options; however the Z97 MPower Max AC diverts this investment towards other features, such as an integrated nguồn delivery water cooling system và more USB 3.0 ports.Given the lack of SATA Express drives on the market today, we examine the MSI motherboard to lớn see if this means much for future-proof system building.
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As the big focus of Z97 is supposed khổng lồ be on the new storage features, it might come as a bit of a surprise when a high-end motherboard does not have all the ports needed khổng lồ provide them. There could be two reasons for this – either the lack of drives on the market, or because it makes the PCIe lane routing easier. With no SATA Express drives on the market, using that new feature becomes a future play, requiring a strong market & uptake of suitable products available.
While users often invest in a PC for it to lớn remain future proof and still be alive và kicking with the best of them in three to five (or even seven) years down the line, predicting where the storage market might be requires channelling the spirit of Storage Future. Even Jacob Marley cannot help you there. SATA Express could take off, or fall flat on its face, or be a long tapered out affair similar to lớn Thunderbolt adoption. We bởi vì not know which way for certain, & neither vì the motherboard manufacturers. MSI, on this Z97 MPower Max AC, has decided to lớn put its eggs into M.2 (users can select between M.2 or two SATA ports), but not SATA Express, whereas the other motherboard manufacturers, when sending us their launch products, are hoping that SATA Express takes off.
MSI Z97 MPower Max AC Overview
Overclocking motherboards occupy an odd niche in the market. While their focus on overclocking features should be number one, very few manufacturers go all-in on the idea, especially when considering extreme overclocking using sub-zero coolants. This is because such a motherboard requires a lot of research và development for what is actually a very small crowd in terms of sales numbers. Thus a balance has to be made between extreme overclocking features & normal every day features, such as onboard audio and networking capabilities. It has to appeal khổng lồ users who want a PC under their desk as well as those who want lớn mount a 3kg copper pot & aim for 6 GHz và up. The Z97 MPower Max AC from MSI attempts to meet that middle ground.
As the name suggests, we have 802.11ac on board. MSI has developed a rear panel mounted system for its wireless card, which is actually a 2T2R hãng intel AC7260, & include two antennas in the box. This WiFi is coupled with an intel I218-V NIC for networking. MSI has gone for a total of 12 capable USB 3.0 ports on the board, four from the chipset, six from an ASMedia hub và two from an ASMedia controller. This is two khổng lồ six more than most motherboards, and gives two onboard headers for cases that can take advantage of this (with the case ports being chipset powered rather than via a controller). In a similar style, we have two additional SATA 6 Gbps ports, making eight total. Lượt thích other manufacturers, because MSI has used an M.2 connector on the motherboard that shares bandwidth with two of the chipset based SATA ports, the board has an ASMedia controller to địa chỉ cửa hàng those two extra SATA 6 Gbps so that when the M.2 is in use, there are still six ports possible.
Because the Z97 MPower Max AC is aimed at mid-range overclocking, the nguồn delivery heatsink doubles up for water cooling, being an air/water hybrid solution. We have seen this on other motherboards before, but I think I am right in saying that this is MSI’s first take on the combined solution. Lượt thích with other first attempts, the solution has fixed sized barbs at 3/8”, & MSI suggests flowing cooler water into the đứng top with warmer water out of the bottom. Other overclocking features include BCLK adjustment buttons, a ClearCMOS button on the rear panel, voltage read points, a discharge button lớn help remove current from the capacitors, a two digit LED that doubles up as a temperature readout when >0 & a Go2BIOS button that ensures the next restart will enter the BIOS.
The BIOS gets minor upgrades, but I am glad lớn say that MSI has read a few of my đánh giá and taken some ideas on board! The BIOS now has an XMP button at the đứng top for a one click XMP, & the overclocking thực đơn is now split into the sections for a better user experience. The overclocking menu also has an easy/advanced mode, wherein extreme overclockers can get access khổng lồ more options for sub-zero overclocking. The fan hâm mộ controls in the BIOS are also upgraded, giving users a proper graphical control of the nguồn vs. Temperature graphs at each of the gradient points. There is still a small jump for MSI to move from nguồn vs. Temperature to lớn RPM vs. Temperature with proper tín đồ testing tools, but hopefully MSI will add this in time. Software is also upgraded, with a new version of Live Update 6 also taking some of my ideas onboard – we can now see the kích cỡ of a download before the system wants us to download it. The Command Center software still tries khổng lồ simplify overclocking & enabling a RAMDisk, but it still offers users an easy way to apply 2.1 volts khổng lồ the CPU.
There were a couple of highlights on the performance charts, with the Z97 MPower Max AC going under 18.5 minutes for our Agisoft test and scoring 53 microseconds in the DPC Latency test. There was no discernable difference between the chipset & ASMedia based USB 3.0 ports, and manual overclocking saw 4.6 GHz on our sample, similar lớn the other Z97 motherboards tested, however it was a few degrees warmer than the others. The manual overclocking was very conservative, with OC Genie boosting the CPU to 4.0 GHz only. I would have preferred a 4.2 GHz minimum overclock here at least.
The MSI Z97 MPower Max AC gave a couple of minor non-critical issues during our testing, such as Live Update 6 unable to update itself, but overall it was very nice & easy lớn use. The changes in the BIOS make me happy, as it shows that MSI is willing to lớn take on board both constructive criticism & ideas. The MPower Max AC still gives a wide array of connectivity, and as it does not follow the SATA Express train lượt thích our previous reviews, the number of devices sharing bandwidth is low making it easier to lớn figure out. The direct comparison khổng lồ the Z97 MPower Max AC at $260 should be with the Z97 MPower at $200, và the Max version includes the WiFi card, the combined air/water VRM cooler, two more USB ports và a bit more in the box. It is hard pressed if that is worth an extra $60, but for those going the water cooling route the MPower Max is a nice motherboard khổng lồ consider.
MSI’s overclocking motherboards for Z97, lượt thích those for the 8-series, will use a black & yellow màu sắc scheme with a heavy emphasis on the contrast between the two making the yellow more the trim color. The màu sắc extends out lớn the audio segment of the motherboard which uses trắng LED lighting underneath khổng lồ generate a soft yellow glow through the semi-transparent PCB elements. Amusingly however the other LEDs facing out of the motherboard are either green (two-digit debug, BIOS selection), red (BCLK adjustment buttons) or blue (OC Genie), which could spoil the look unless the motherboard was used in a build that was similarly styled in a black/yellow theme.
The socket area of the motherboard has no visible hãng sản xuất intel guideline lượt thích most; however the capacitors used in the socket area are flat lớn aid extreme overclockers in motherboard preparation. Users with tall DRAM & large heatsinks might have issues left to lớn right with fitting large CPU heatsinks in, but this is common without additional space between the socket and the RAM slots. The socket area has access khổng lồ three of the five fan headers, with the three all khổng lồ the right of the đứng top power delivery heatsink. The final two fan hâm mộ headers are at the bottom of the motherboard, & all the tín đồ headers are four-pin.
The power delivery heatsink is looped around three sides of the socket, with the pipe joining them being the tubing for the water system. The biggest heatsink does not seem lớn have much in the way of surface area lớn remove heat; however with our closed loop liquid cooler the power delivery was fine to our maximum overclock. It is still recommended that a tín đồ is present near the IO panel in a case to encourage airflow over the air/water combined heatsink for the power delivery.
MSI is using dual-sided latches for the DRAM slots rather than the single-sided latches we see on other high over models. MSI has used single-sided latches in the past, such as on the Z87I, however MSI’s Lightning graphics cards tend to have back plates which might be in the way of the latches, so MSI tends lớn save this for situations where the first major PCIe slot is up against the DRAM.
The vị trí cao nhất right of the motherboard has the Easy Button overclocking features from previous Z87 MSI motherboards. At the đứng đầu is an OC switch which has two modes for the OC Genie button, giving a light or a heavy overclock when OC Genie is active. Next is the OC Genie button, which applies an automatic overclock (from a look-up table) from a system booting, followed by the power & reset buttons. The next two buttons are BCLK adjustment buttons, which when the relevant driver is installed in the OS allows the user to adjust the system BCLK in 1 MHz or 0.1 MHz increments. The big button with the thunderbolt icon is the discharge button that completely grounds the system và resets the BIOS. In between all these buttons are the voltage kiểm tra points with three GND points.
MSI has gone a little odd with the USB 3.0 header placement under the 24-pin power connector by giving one at a normal position on the board for a header, và another at right angles. I would suspect that MSI received some feedback from a group of users asking for a USB 3.0 port at right angles, hence its inclusion, however normal upright headers would have been fine with me.
Next follows eight SATA 6 Gbps ports. These are confusingly labeled 1-8, except the final two (SATA7_8) are from an ASMedia controller. Because these are from a controller, they have different SATA modes than the chipset based ports, & as such without looking in the manual it might be frustrating to lớn set up a hardware-based array. The fact that the controller ports are the same color as well compounds the issue. It should be mentioned that the SATA5_6 ports also tóm tắt bandwidth with the M.2 slot which can be found on the other side of the chipset heatsink. The chipset heatsink is lavishly adorned with a big yellow M on it, with the same surface area patterning as the bigger nguồn delivery heatsink.
At the bottom of the motherboard, starting from the right, we have the two-digit debug LED that doubles up as a temperature đầu ra when the OS has been initiated. Following this is the front panel header (users will need lớn look in the manual to find out which sạc pin does what, which I find is rather annoying rather than just printing on the PCB), a BIOS switch to select between the two BIOS chips, and a Slow Boot switch. Using the Slow Boot switch, overclockers can enter the operating system at a low frequency before they initiate a high frequency for the benchmark. This usually helps to lớn keep the system stable when it is phối up right. The rest of the bottom of the motherboard contains a pair of USB 2.0 headers, two 4-pin tín đồ headers, & the front audio header.
The audio portion of the motherboard is similar to lớn that on other high end Z97 models - an enhanced Realtek ALC1150 solution based on PCB separation, filter caps, tai nghe amplifiers và EMI shielding. Like some of the other manufacturers, MSI likes to promote the gold plated connectors in the rear panel audio.
The rear panel is ordered slightly differently khổng lồ other similar motherboards, by virtue of the WiFi module being at the top of the motherboard and the đoạn clip outputs further down. This is because the WiFi module, a 2T2R hãng sản xuất intel AC7260 based chipset, is actually an add-in module that the user has khổng lồ screw lớn the motherboard before placing it in the case. We have had this sort of arrangement with the first generation of asus rear IO modules, which now come affixed lớn the motherboard on delivery, so I assume that the MSI ones will follow suit in due course.
Elsewhere on the rear panel we have a combination PS/2 port, two USB 2.0 ports, a Clear CMOS button, six USB 3.0 ports from an ASMedia ASM1074 hub, an hãng sản xuất intel I218-V Ethernet port, HDMI & DisplayPort outputs, two USB 3.0 ports from an ASMedia ASM1042 controller, and the audio jacks. Using a USB 3.0 hub and a controller to get twelve total USB 3.0 ports seems a little odd, however our testing puts their performance (using one USB device at a time) on a similar level. Normally I dislike motherboards with 2 or fewer USB 2.0 ports for when I install a non-UEFI OS via USB, because I ideally need three USB 2.0 ports (mouse, keyboard, USB stick). However the MSI’s USB 2.0 ports failed khổng lồ initiate during my install & only the two USB 3.0 ports under the Ethernet port worked. This seemed fairly odd.