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MSI Z97 MPower Review

MSI Z97 MPower Review

Manufacturer: MSI
UK: £139.99 (inc VAT)
US: $199.99 (ex Tax)
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We've been quite surprised by how well the latest motherboards sporting Intel's new Z97 chipset have performed overclocking-wise. All bar one - admittedly it cost less than £110 too - have managed to push our CPU to a stable 4.8GHz. Most have managed this with ease too, which does set a rather worrying precedent for more expensive motherboards. Why spend more when £110-120 examples can overclock the latest Haswell CPUs available just as well?

There are a few arguments that manufacturers can offer here, of course and many reading this would likely agree too - each to his own. Sportier looks and better feature sets are two obvious ones.

In the sub £160 price bracket at least, we suspect the vast majority of potential buyers would very often shun these extra features in favour of a board that can overclock just as well, sports some if not all of these features but leaves you with £30 or more in your back pocket to spend on something else.

After all, we've needed a Corsair H80i in order to achieve this overclock so being able to opt for something a little more potent than a £20 air cooler is likely going to net you more performance than a few extra software or hardware features, everything else being equal. So where does MSI's Z97 MPower fit in? Well at £140, it sits right in the middle of the pack - it's more than every board we've looked at except for Asus's Maximus VII Hero. Only just, though - the fantastic Maximus VII Ranger is only a few pounds less for example.

MSI Z97 MPower Review MSI Z97 MPower Review
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In terms of features, though, MSI is focusing primarily on the overclocking enthusiast, and not just air or water-lovers either. The Z97 MPower offers voltage check points and an LN2 slow mode too - features we're not used to seeing on a sub £150 motherboard. It also has some of the most elaborate heatsinks we've seen yet on a Z97 board, plus a 12-phase power design, which tops both the Maximus VII Ranger and the more expensive Hero. In addition, there are some useful features for your more tame overclocker too, including on-board power and resent buttons, a POST code readout LED plus MSI's automatic overclocking utility - OC Genie 4. There are also baseclock adjustment buttons but again, for most of us, we'll just be dealing with multipliers.

MSI Z97 MPower Review MSI Z97 MPower Review
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After our black and red party that was our Z97 launch day group test, it's certainly refreshing to see a different colour scheme and MSI's choice here is for a black PCB with yellow detailing, including a yellow backlit electronically isolated audio PCB, much like that on ROG boards. The aesthetics are subjective of course but the board certainly doesn't look cheap.

MSI Z97 MPower Review
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The layout is pretty much spot-on too, with right-angled connectors used for both the SATA ports and the USB 3 header and with all the power sockets slotted in right at the edge of the PCB. There's three-way CrossFire support with an x8/x8/x4 configuration with dual-card AMD and Nvidia setups offering up x8/x8. Even if you did drop three graphics cards into the Z97 MPower, though, you'd still have access to the top 1x PCI-E slot located above the main graphics slot. There's also a further 16x PCI-E slot which is limited to x4 speed. However this shares bandwidth with the 1x slots, rendering all three redundant if you use it - something to remember.

MSI Z97 MPower Review MSI Z97 MPower Review
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The onboard M.2 slot is versatile in that it supports both the SATA and PCI-E interfaces, as well as three form factors: 2242, 2260 and 2280. As with other boards we've seen, you'll have to sacrifice two of the Intel Z97 SATA ports in order to use the M.2 slot, though PCI-E 2.0 functionalityt will remain unaffected. There's no SATA Express support by default but as we saw with MSI's Gaming 7, there's scope to convert the M.2 slot using an optional adaptor to offer SATA Express. All the SATA ports are 6Gbps capable although two of the eight are provided by an ASMedia ASM1061 chip, which are to be avoided if you've got a 400MB/sec+ SSD.

Specifications

  • Chipset Intel Z97
  • Form factor ATX
  • CPU support LGA1150 compatible (Haswell, Haswell Refresh, Broadwell)
  • Memory support Dual-channel, 4 slots, max 32GB
  • Sound 8-channel Realtek ALC1150 Codec
  • Networking Intel I218-V Gigabit LAN
  • Ports 6 x SATA 6Gbps via Intel Z97, 2 x SATA 6Gbps via ASMedia, 1 x M.2, 8 x USB 3.0 (2 x via header), 8 x USB 2.0 ( 4 x via header), 1 x LAN, audio out, line in, mic, Optical S/PDIF out, HDMI, DisplayPort
  • Dimensions (mm) 305 x 244
  • Extras LED POST code read-out, power and reset buttons, clear CMOS button, baseclock adjustment buttons, OC Genie function, isolated audio circuitry, voltage check points, multi BIOS switch, slow mode switch