MSI X99A XPOWER AC Review

Manufacturer: MSI
UK price (as reviewed):
£320.00 (inc VAT)
US price (as reviewed): $409.99 (ex Tax)

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Intel's X99 platform is undoubtedly for those that can afford to spend that little bit extra on their PCs, but that's not to say it's a waste of money. The cost of motherboards is still relatively high compared to Z97, for example, but there's more to the current pinnacle of desktop CPU sockets than six and eight-core CPUs.

You get plenty of bandwidth for multi-GPU setups, quad-channel memory support plus the ability to take full advantage of PCI-Express storage too - something that you can't always do with Z97 motherboards due to the lower bandwidth or simple lack of M.2 ports and the like. You can spend under £200 and net a perfectly capable X99 motherboard but there are obviously reasons to spend more and MSI is making this case with the X99A XPOWER AC.

At £320 it's in the top three X99 motherboards in terms of price that we've looked at since the chipset's launch last year and aesthetically at least, it certainly looks like it's worth the cash.

The PCB is absolutely bristling with ports, buttons, overclocking tools and heatsinks and the eagle-eyed will have noticed a few specific features that hint that this motherboard will be wasted in air-cooled systems. Voltage check points and extreme overclocking features are here in force so if you're keen on getting to the top of those benchmark tables, this a motherboard you should take note of.

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As well as the impressive looks and busy PCB, the accessory pack in the X99A XPOWER AC's box is extensive to say the least. All the drivers are bunged on a USB stick for easy access, you get two large magnetic WiFi antennas plus an Intel 7260 802.11AC WiFi and Bluetooth adaptor that slots into a proprietary port on the rear I/O panel to save taking up ports or space on the PCB.

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The list doesn't stop there - also thrown in is an alternative CPU socket backplate for LN2 cooling, voltage readout cables that can be attached to the relevant ports on the motherboard plus there's a rear I/O panel cover and a 120/140mm fan adaptor that mounts to the PCB to provide extra cooling for those benchmark sessions. Looking back at the X99A XPOWER AC itself, and you get the full complement of overclocking tools such as dual switchable BIOS, power and reset buttons, POST code display and MSI has thrown in baseclock and CPU ratio adjustment buttons too, saving you time by not having to visit the EFI quite as regularly.

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Storage is very well catered-for, with 10 SATA 6Gbps ports and two of these tied in to a single SATA Express connector. The single M.2 port supports up to 80mm SSDs in either 6Gbps SATA or 32Gbps PCI-E modes, while two USB 3.1 ports are thrown in too. There are no major issues with layout, but as this is an E-ATX motherboard, there's not really any excuses for planting something in the wrong place to save space.

MSI X99A XPOWER AC Review MSI X99A XPOWER AC Review
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If you're planning on using more than one graphics card, then the X99A XPOWER AC has you covered pretty well. For two-way setups, the relevant 16x PCI-E slots are double-spaced so you actually use slots one and four, which provides ample room, even if you opt for two triple-slot air-cooled graphics cards.

MSI X99A XPOWER AC Review MSI X99A XPOWER AC Review
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40-lane CPUs will benefit from both slots offering the maximum of 16 PCI-E lanes,while dropping a third in sees the third slot limited to 8 lanes, and a fourth seeing only one slot offer full bandwidth. If you have an LN2 pot and other paraphernalia strapped to the PCB then removing a graphics card can be a pain. Thankfully you don't have to as MSI has included a 4-pin switch that allows you to disable any of the 16x PCI-E slots.

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Specifications

  • Chipset Intel X99
  • Form factor E-ATX
  • CPU support Intel Socket 2011-v3 (Haswell-E, Xeon)
  • Memory support Quad-channel, 8 slots, max 128GB
  • Sound 8-channel Realtek ALC1150
  • Networking Intel's I218V, Intel I210-AT, Intel Wireless-AC 7260 + Bluetooth v4.0
  • Ports 1 x M.2 32Gbps, 10 x SATA 6Gbps, 1 x SATA Express, 12 x USB 3.0 (4 via X99 using onboard headers, 8 via ASM1074), 2 x USB 3.1, 7 x USB 2.0 ( 5 x via header), 2 x LAN, audio out, line in, mic, Optical S/PDIF out
  • Dimensions (mm) 305 x 272
  • Extras WiFi module and dual aerials, fan mount, voltage readout cables, driver USB stick, I/O panel protector

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