Introduction – MSI Z87 Mpower
MSI was quick to let a flurry of boards hit the market including the new “Gaming” line but for those enthusiasts who want something to help push the limits there’s no better solution form the MSI camp than the Mpower/Xpower series. We have already shows the wild Xpower board now were gonna show you the more tame Mpower model
Xpower has always been the top end balls to the walls overclocker but for most maybe they dont need all of the features that the Xpower offers and this is where the Xpower fits in as it has some major overclocking muscle built in with a little less feature count to offer a more reasonable price point to match many enthusiasts users budgets.
The board comes in at a price of $234.99 on Newegg. This places it at 200 dollars below the Xpower so now you see why the Mpower is special as its only slightly higher priced than many midrange boards but it carries an overclocker friendly feature set so now lets take a glance at the features and what this board has up its sleeve.
Features & Specifications
Military Class Components
When MSI puts military class components to the fire they are not joking as they come to the table claiming to have passed multiple tests following Mil spec (MIL-STD-810G) Tests including:
- Temperature Shock testing: Sudden thermal changes which can normally wreak havoc on electrical components are fully tested on these components to ensure they can last through some of the worst conditions like what the extreme enthusiasts community may employ them for.
- Humidity Testing: Testing of components in different humidity conditions can make a big difference as to the capabilities of the cards as different areas can have much different environments and not every deployment will be like a sterile lab and knowing they can take that kind of abuse once again is a major plus.
- Vibration tests: This one is a little nuts but being in California we suppose in an earthquake, MSI can ensure the shaking won’t affect the components.
- Low Pressure Testing: This once again is a little extreme as deployment for different elevations especially extreme enough to require low pressure testing will be extremely rare if ever but it will handle it.
- High Temperature Testing: This one should be a standard for every component in a high end PC as thermals are the enemy of every enthusiasts rig so I like to see such attention paid here.
- Low Temperature Testing: Once again this is something more targeted at the Lightning model, but the fact that they test these cards to withstand LN2 benchmarking temperatures tells us that under standard gaming stresses this card is gonna run and keep on running.
- Shock Testing: This is once again more extreme as these are similar to drop or rough impact testing which, even if the board survives we’re sure other components may not fare so well in this kind of scenario.
Basically this means that this board/components should last the test of time and offer excellent performance pretty much through anything it would ever experience in a extreme gaming PC.
This is what we were talking about as MSI has been building Mpower and Xpower boards for some time so adopting many of these features onto the board came naturally and easily.
- Multi BIOS II: This is implementation of two physical BIOS chips which means that even if one BIOS is completely corrupted you can still boot form the other and flash the other back if needed, but also the ability to test different BIOS versions or even have a separate chip just for benching and one for gaming is possible.
- V-Check Points: These are special pin headers which take one of the included probe leads and allows fitting a DVOM probe to be inserted for constant accurate hardware level voltage monitoring during testing or even diagnosis of issues.
- Debug LED: This allows for you to watch the post process and should there be an issue during posting it gives you a direction to start diagnosis and can even help diagnose a weak DIMM vs IMC issue when clocking memory.
- Onboard Clear CMOS button: This is a simple one and allows for clearing BIOS settings should settings be way too far out of spec by just a press of a button.
- Direct OC: the Direct OC buttons are designed for easy hardware level overclocking in real time by simply using the onboard +/- buttons to adjust overclock directly.
The OC PCB consists of 50% more PCB material which allows for more trace isolation for tighter component fitment while reducing the risk of interference from an adjacent component. Also having a thicker PCB allows for larger power and signaling traces which means cleaner operation and more power available for when you’re really pushing hardware.
Digitall power design is the use of full digital designs for the VRM which means super precise voltage regulation along with better Vdroop control for extreme situations.
The thermal design for the Xpower was made for the enthusiasts as many will run liquid cooling which means very little airflow near the CPU socket area. Therefore MSI took the initiative to optimize the cooling design to allow thermal evacuation from the VRM area even with little to no airflow.
The Extreme OC socket design utilizes many surface mount and low profile components so that when insulating for sub ambient cooling it is easy and doesn’t require hand yoga to figure out how to insulate around tall barrel caps.
Ultimate DDR3 Capabilities & Multi GPU Optimization
MSI is proud to tout the Xpower’s ability to hit over 3GHz on the memory frequency. Keep in mind that with Haswell these frequencies are possible but you will still need DIMMs which can pull that off. We quickly found that CFR based sticks did not like to move a lot but MFR based sticks clock much more willingly on Haswell based systems.
Also other lower speed memory will work and may even clock to much higher due to the strength and awesome capabilities of the Haswell IMC but just remember every DIMM has its limits and some simply won’t go very high.
MSI really put some time into selecting software and optimizing it for optimum overclocking performance.
Intel Extreme Utility - MSI likes the Intel designed utility which is designed to work well with the board so its not a bad place to be and MSI adopted it into its arsenal. This tool can be used for full board control and monitoring for adjusting the clockspeeds and voltages from directly within the OS.
MSI Command Center Lite – MSI has its always popular command center but with the command center lite you get a tool that is very low resource usage and fast loading to allow adjustments from within the OS without the resource usage or even installation you normally have with the normal control utilities. This is excellently useful for those who are benching at the edge of stability and need to make a quick adjustment without crashing.
MSI RAMDisk - MSI integrated a RAMDisk software within its software suite which allows for using excess RAM as a super high speed storage volume. This is great in itself as some RAMDisk software can cost upwards of $30+ and may not have the same feature set. One thing we do like is that there are specific check boxes for enabling the RAMDisk to handle the Pagefile or browser cache files which means everything will actually load a lot more quickly. Also there is no size limit on this software so if you have a 32GB kit of memory in your system you can easily use a large chunk of that to make a storage system which can transfer at speeds up to 10GB/s. The RAMDisk will dump and image file to disk when shutting down and load it when starting up so you want to expect some delays during startup and shutdown to save or load the image especially if using a much larger RAMDisk.
One of the key features for a gaming board has to be audio as it is what gives you the experience the most besides graphics. Well for this MSI put a lit cover over the audio codec which is a Realtek ALC1150 model. This is a very nice quality unit–even the audio ports are gold plated to allow for maximum clean signal contact and optimum audio quality. After the codec you get a high performance amplifier which ensures a nice powerful audio signal which makes its way to the high quality audio Caps and to the terminating end on the audio panel at the rear. Overall this makes for a excellent audible experience especially for those with tuned gaming audio headsets since the amplifier will really make them come to life.
We have seen this before from MSI with the “Gaming” ports which are special ports which are tuned for using high sensitivity or quick response mouse technologies as many mice now can adjust the polling rate but the effect could be lessened depending on your port configuration. With the MSI gaming ports they are tuned for this along with having higher gold content in the contacts for these ports which allows for more reliable and consistent signal transfer.
Intel WiFi/WiDi Support
Intel integrated WiFi ports are included via an add on module along with two supplied antennae. This supports full Wireless N along with Intel WiDi support which allows connectivity to a WiDi enabled display or a display with a WiDi Reciever connected to it. WiDi allows wireless connectivity through the WiFi Module to a remote display which means for a media center or even just very clean desktop setup this can be an awesome feature for you depending upon the usage.
We would have liked to have seen Wireless AC as it is the new high end standard and it does not show up here. Other than that this implementation is exactly what it should be and will definitely get the job done for you.
MSI Click 4 BIOS
MSI has revised their UEFI to add even more options along with increasing the smoothness of it as well for a better end user experience. We have included a few screenshots of it especially the new features below in the BIOS section.
Here you can see the new BIOS looks very nice, and the yellow theme actually plays quite well. The settings are all easy to locate within main and sub menus. the Fan control allows for full fan ramping control based from temperature references or even manual fan controls. Also the board explorer feature is really nice as it allows you to see not just what is populated on the board but even device ID’s for what is installed as you see the DIMM information including exact model number here.
Even More Features
The MSI Gaming board is exploding with features such as.
- OC Genie: has been around for awhile and is basically a quick easy to set overclock that is a one touch solution. Its an easy way for a gamer to get a free performance boost from their system. Now with the new “OC MODE” Switch you can change from the standard Turbo OC Genie to the Gaming mode which is a bit more aggressive for even a little bit better performance increase.
- Super Raid: is a software from MSI which allows you to combine drives via Intel Smart response or rapid Start or whichever technology you choose via a single button click. This allows for a huge boost to your loading speeds when pairing a HDD with a SSD for a significant read speed boost which is exactly what your game loading needs.
- Go2BIOS Button: This button is a direct link to entering BIOS which means you don’t have to spam Delete as this button will get you there with a single press.
- Killer E2200 Network: Select MSI boards carry specialized gaming features well one of these is the Killer Gaming grade Network controller which when utilized with the included software can help shape traffic and even allow gaming applications to get packet priority over other network traffic. This can allow for the extra edge when milliseconds count during an online game.
Overview of the MSI Z87 Mpower
The packaging for the XMpower is actually really close to what we saw on the Xpower just instead of the front being a flip up X it is a M which stands for the Mpower lineup. Flipping the M up shows you some key feature info and also on the rear of the box you can find more detailing of the features included on the board.
- User Manuals
- Installation Discs
- SATA Cables
- Quick Connect Front Panel Connectors
- V-Check Point Leads
- WiFi/WiDi module
- 2x WiFi Antennae
- SLI Ribbon
- IO Shield
- MSI Gaming shield Case Badge Decal
This accessory bundle is enough to easily get you running even in dual card mode with the included SLI ribbon.
Here you can see the whole board layout and you will notice the slot layout is much like we saw on the Gaming series boards as this one does not offer 4 Way GPU compatibility. The audio portion and PCH sink are backlit to give some cool ambiance to the motherboard when installed in a chassis to make it an awesome looking build.
Much like we have come to expect of an OC class board all connectors are conveniently located at the board edge which makes cable routing much easier and also ability to hide cables much better. One thing I really like is the right angle USB 3.0 header at the right edge as normally a chassis with USB 3.0 connection has two pretty thick cables coming from it so the ability to head straight off the edge and through a cable routing hole really helps clean that up.
Click Image For a Larger One
- PS2 combo keyboard/mouse port
- 2x USB 2.0 Ports
- WiFi/WiDi module pin header
- Clear CMOS Button
- Optical SPDIF connector
- 6x USB 3.0 ports
- Gigabit LAN port (Killer E2205)
- Displayport Connector
- 2x HDMI Ports
- up to 7.1 Channel HD audio via Realtek ALC1150
The connectivity array is very strong and with Dual HDMI you don’t have to worry about adapters if using dual HDMI displays which is nice as they are becoming far more common. also HDMI takes up far less space and therefore allows more USB 3.0 connectivity along with the WiFi/WiDi module which is another awesome addition to make this board top notch in terms of feature set.
Click Image For a Larger One
Moving to the far right near the 24 Pin ATX connector you can see the V-Check Point cables connector which is where you can take direct readings from the board for voltages which will give you some idea of how things are running and also help with diagnosis in the case problems arise.
The control buttons are much more involved here as unlike the gaming series board we recently took a look at, this one has many direct Overclocking buttons. You have the OC Genie button which works as we previously talked about by providing a proven stable overclock to the system including the iGPU to give overall better gaming performance. There is a set of +/- buttons which control BCLK at 1MHz intervals at a hardware level to allow real time overclock tweaking even during a benchmark.
Above the toggle switch is something most will probably miss which is the “Discharge Jumper”
By placing a jumper on these two pins or shorting the pins for a few seconds you get the same affect of clearing the complete board training and memory which allows a similar affect to removing the CMOS battery from the board but without the waste of time it takes and the ability to do it quickly so that you avoid the issues like freezing up should you be on LN2. This can quickly become an overclockers best friend should it be used as it is an amazing feature.
Click Image For a Larger One
The audio boost audio solution has the PCB separation line in place which is backlit yellow to match the theme of the MSI Xpower overclocking series of boards, but more importantly what this highlights is the fact that the PCB area for audio is separated on its own island of PCB. This allows for less signal interference and better audio quality overall due to having the audio components on their own private paradise island on the side of the board. The yellow backlighting just adds some character and extra bling to the application.
The LCD poster allows for easy diagnosis should a failed post occur but also here you will see the multi BIOS switch which allows quick changes between physical BIOS chips as needed for testing or should the BIOS become corrupt.
The top of the board holds a jumper which is not really referenced and yet is marked LN2 on the board silkscreening so i can only assume that jumping this header would enable a LN2 benching mode which disables certain protections and allows better board performance under extreme cooling scenarios but this is only an assumption on my part and I definitely would not recommend jumping this header on standard cooling as normally LN2 modes at the least disable thermal protections.
Click BIOS 4
Testing & Methodology
We’ve expanded our testing suite considerably since the X79 chipset release, and will continue to use the same methods for most of the motherboards and CPU’s we test. In the interests of thoroughness and accurate results, we run each test at least three times, and some tests more than that. We average the total of all the tests from each benchmark then report the average here.
The OS we use is Windows 7 Pro 64bit with all patches and updates applied. We also use the latest drivers available for the motherboard and any devices attached to the computer. We do not disable background tasks or tweak the OS or system in any way. We turn off drive indexing and daily defragging. We also turn off Prefetch and Superfetch. This is not an attempt to produce bigger benchmark numbers. Drive indexing and defragging can interfere with testing and produce confusing numbers. If a test were to be run while a drive was being indexed or defragged, and then the same test was later run when these processes were off, the two results would be contradictory and erroneous. As we cannot control when defragging and indexing occur precisely enough to guarantee that they won’t interfere with testing, we opt to disable the features entirely.
Prefetch tries to predict what users will load the next time they boot the machine by caching the relevant files and storing them for later use. We want to learn how the program runs without any of the files being cached, and we disable it so that each test run we do not have to clear pre-fetch to get accurate numbers. Lastly we disable Superfetch. Superfetch loads often-used programs into the memory. It is one of the reasons that Windows occupies so much memory. Vista fills the memory in an attempt to predict what users will load. Having one test run with files cached, and another test run with the files un-cached would result in inaccurate numbers. Again, since we can’t control its timings so precisely, it we turn it off. Because these four features can potentially interfere with benchmarking, and and are out of our control, we disable them. We do not disable anything else.
One thing to note is that we are revamping our testing method in order to better represent motherboard performance and offering to you guys the consumer. Also we want to make it an easier read for you without miles of endless charts. Please feel free to provide feedback on what you think as many benchmarks will be shuffled or removed completely.
|Case||Open Test Bench|
|Ram||GSkill TridentX 2666MHz|
|CPU Cooler||Swiftech 240mm rad custom loop|
|Hard Drives||Western Digital Velociraptor 1TB 10000RPM 6Gb/s Hard Drive|
|SSD||1x Kingston HyperX 240GB SATA III 6Gb/s SSD|
|GPU||Intel iGPU or Nvidia GTX 680|
|PSU||Thermaltake Toughpower XT 1475W Gold|
|Mouse||Tt eSPORTS Black Gaming Mouse|
|Keyboard||Tt eSPORTS Meka G1 Mechanical Gaming Keyboard|
We will use the following applications to test the performance of the Z87 Chipset (Motherboard, Processor).
|SuperPi Mod 1.5|
|Unigine Heaven 4.0|
|Batman Arkham City|
|Sniper Elite V2|
First up is PCMark and, just like the gaming series board this one seems to come alive when overclocked as it blows away the Intel board at computation with the same configuration.
Switching over to a discrete card, you can see that performance can improve on the Physics end which is rendered on the CPU. However, when it comes to overall discrete graphics performance, the gain is marginal as cards simply cannot reach the limit of the PCIe 3.0 controller on Ivy Bridge, let alone Haswell.
This tests single threaded performance and clock efficiency by processing digits of the number pi. Going from the previous gen Z77 to Z87 yields a nice efficiency jump clock for clock, and as BIOS versions have had time to mature we have seen performance become more refined and start to deliver competitive results even besting the Intel solution even at stock settings.
WPrime is similar to Superpi, but is multi core aware and you can set the core count. We used 8 threads to take advantage of the 4770K’s HyperThreading ability. Here you can see that the efficiency in multi core processing improves as you can see a pretty nice gain going from Z77 to Z87, and even more so when overclocked. We are quite excited to see what this platform can do as we get our hands on more boards to test real world performance.
On the Mpower I found that the stock performance bested Intel by a nice few steps but at overclock the Intel pulled ahead so maybe a little more tuning in the works for MSI.
“CINEBENCH is a real-world test suite that assesses your computer’s performance capabilities. MAXON CINEBENCH is based on MAXON’s award-winning animation software, CINEMA 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation. MAXON software has been used in blockbuster movies such as Spider-Man, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia and many more. MAXON CINEBENCH runs several tests on your computer to measure the performance of the main processor and the graphics card under real world circumstances. The benchmark application makes use of up to 16 CPUs or CPU cores and is available for Windows (32-bit and 64-Bit) and Macintosh (PPC and Intel-based). The resulting values among different operating systems are 100% comparable and therefore very useful with regard to purchasing decision-making. It can also be used as a marketing tool for hardware vendors or simply to compare hardware among colleagues or friends.”
Transcoding has become more popular now and the latest Sandy Bridge processor added support for AVX instruction for faster video transcoding. With that you can see that going from Ivy Bridge to Haswell can net you some very good gains, especially a 2FPS gain on 2 Pass. This tells us that overall optimizations to the new platform are present and working very well. The Mpower pulls a nice lead here ahead of the competing Intel reference platform and possibly even topping the Xpower on this test which speaks very well to its efficiency.
TrueCrypt is a real world application that gives a good indication of the true performance of our latest processor. Here the new Core i7 4770K puts some definite room between itself and the outgoing 3770K with over a 22% performance increase, which means in the same time you can get a lot more work done. Here with the Mpower you can see a nice jump at both stock and overclocked settings.
Unigine Heaven 2.5
Unigine Heaven is a benchmark program based on Unigine Corp’s latest engine, Unigine. The engine features DirectX 11, Hardware tessellation, DirectCompute, and Shader Model 5.0. All of these new technologies combined with the ability to run each card through the same exact test means this benchmark should be in our arsenal for a long time.
Unigine Heaven on a discrete GTX 680 gains about a single FPS, probably just due to the expanded performance with the overclock. For the most part, however, recent platforms are so efficient that there simply is no bottleneck for current gen card models. The Mpower sees a small increase here but not huge as graphics performance simply has not reached a level to where it will max out the bandwidth available on PCIe Gen 3 platforms.
Metro 2033 this time around shows max FPS falling but overall averages higher as the Mpower shows very good stable high Average FPS numbers due to its tuning and capability to maintain higher overall stable FPS numbers which should ensure better smoother gameplay.
Batman Arkham City
Discrete GPU results for the Mpower are very nice as the averages once again show a gain and yield what would be a much stronger result with better overall performance.
Sniper Elite V2
Once again we see a drop in max FPS but a gain in average which means that consistently the Mpower will deliver a more stable FPS level while not having as many peaks or jumpiness.
Our Final Thoughts
MSI once again offering multiple levels of offerings even within the same product category and with the Mpower it happens to be a more value oriented overclocking board.
The Z87 Mpower is a very impressive board in its own right as its value/features quotient makes it a tough to beat offer for most users. Yes there are lower priced boards that can overclock but to have an overclocking focused board with select components and loads of features including WiFi/BT 4.0 all in one package that really is not represented by any other offering I have seen to date.
This board will be just at home on a test bench as it would blasting away at your favorite games so if your looking for an awesome dual purpose board for your next build be sure to check out the Z87 Mpower.