Date: Wednesday, November 28, 2012
MSI is well known in enthusiast circles. MSI offers a wide range of products including, tablets, notebook computers cases, servers, graphics cards, and wireless networking hardware. Despite its diverse offerings, MSI is best known for its motherboards. MSI aggressively prices its offerings in each price bracket often selling motherboards with comparable features for less than the competition. A fact often appreciated by many enthusiasts on a budget.
Not all of MSI's offerings are budget oriented even though the price of a given model may be a fair amount less than competing options from other vendors. It is one of these offerings that we will be taking a look at today.
The MSI Z77 MPower is a Z77 Express chipset based motherboard designed for socket LGA1155 processors. I would say that the Z77 MPower is similar to the design of one of ASUS' "Formula" offerings. It features everything a performance oriented motherboard needs, but without all the unnecessary fluff which often comes with high end boards. You won't find two or three additional RAID controllers or multiple wired NICs, but you will find voltage monitoring points, a multi-GPU oriented expansion slot configuration, and the tools necessary to achieve higher overclocks than other boards with similar feature sets.
With regard to features, MSI offers many on the MPower: DrMOS II MOSFETs, Hi-C Caps, solid ferrite core chokes, solid electrolytic capacitors, and active phase switching. Additional features provided by the chipset are 4 SATA II 3Gb/s ports, 2 SATA III 6Gb/s ports, PCI-Express 3.0 and 2.0 support, SLI / CrossFireX support, and support for USB 3.0 devices.
Main Specifications Overview:
Detailed Specifications Overview:
The MSI Z77 MPower ships in a fancier box than most MSI boards do. It has a flap on the box which provides additional information about the board's feature set. The board arrived with all the contents accounted for and intact. Included in the box are a user guide, software manual, certificate of quality and stability, overclocking guide, quick installation guide, driver disc, SATA cables, WiFi antenna, M-Connectors, voltage probes, SLI bridge, and an I/O shield.
Overall the layout of the MSI Z77 MPower is excellent. The only complaint I have is with the location of the CMOS battery. It's located directly below the primary PCI-Express x16 slot. Given that this board is geared toward overclockers, most people who will choose to own this board will probably use a graphics card with a dual slot cooling solution. So the CMOS battery will certainly be in accessible without removing the graphics card from the system. One thing I noticed while looking the board over is that all the board’s fan headers are of the 4-pin variety. It's certainly nice to see that.
The CPU socket is clear of any major obstructions. The MOSFET cooling is on the large side but shouldn't pose a problem for most air cooling. The DIMM slots are closer to the CPU socket than I'd like but there is nothing that can be done about that from a design perspective.
There are four DDR3 DIMM slots supporting a total of 32GB of RAM. Unfortunately the DIMM slots are not color coded. Most likely a choice MSI made with aesthetics a high priority, but the choice will likely impact the market that this motherboard is aimed at. In this same area you'll find the "Easy Button 3" feature. This includes three buttons. Power, reset, and OC Genie. There are V-Check points for voltage monitoring which also make use of the included probes. Finally there is an additional PCI-Express power connector located near the ATX-24 pin port. This is to provide extra power to the PCI-Express slots in multi-GPU configurations.
The Z77 Express chipset is located where the south bridge traditionally was. The Z77 MPower does not have any add-in SATA controllers. All six provided are tied to the Z77 Express chipset. These are located on the board's lower left hand corner. The chipset is cooled with a low profile heat sink. You'll find the USB 3.0 front panel header and debug LEDs here. Lastly the multi-BIOS switch is located to the left of the chipset. A simple toggle allows you to switch between the two ROMs. There is also the GO2BIOS button right next to the chipset. This forces the system to enter the BIOS in any state; in case the OS the system will not shut down gracefully and enter the BIOS after restarting.
The expansion slot area is legacy free and shows some very clear forethought despite the poor CMOS battery location. The Z77 MPower supports 2-Way CrossFireX and SLI. The slots operate in a 16x0, 8x8, or 8x4x4 configuration. This configuration requires no PLX chips and therefore isn't ideal for 3-Way SLI or 3-Way CrossfireX.
The rear I/O panel area has six USB 3.0 ports, four of which are served by the Renesas USB 3.0 controller and two by the Intel chipset. There are two USB 2.0 ports, one PS/2 port, one RJ-45 port, optical output, HDMI, DisplayPort, and six mini-stereo jacks.