Features & Packaging
MSI’s first foray into the world of extremely high-end motherboards built from the ground up for overclocking came with the Big Bang XPower for the Intel Sandy Bridge platform, and most recently the Sandy Bridge-E platform with the XPower II. Both were very impressive boards, offering incredible value for money and impressive feature set. Today I’ll be looking at MSI’s latest in the series of Big Bang motherboards, this time for the Ivy Bridge platform with the Z77 MPower.
As mentioned earlier, the XPower motherboards were designed with heavy overclocking in mind, and the MPower follows the same design philosophy. Each and every MPower motherboard is ‘OC Certified’ which basically means that every motherboard is tested for 24 hours running Prime95 in MSI’s labs on an Ivy Bridge processor running at 4.6GHz.
Obviously what makes the Z77 MPower such a capable base for overclocking is thanks to the hardware components used. These are the Military Class III components where the DrMOS II chip, Solid Capacitors, Super Ferrite Chokes and Highly-conductive polymerized capacitors go through a number of high-low temperature, pressure, shock and humidity tests up to Military Standard 810F to ensure the components will survive the harshest of conditions. For us regular folks that means that the motherboard can take high levels of overclocking and voltage increases without breaking a sweat, ultimately providing better stability and power efficiency.
While overclocking the Z77 MPower, you’d also want to have accurate readings of voltage, conveniently available through the V-Check points located on the right of the DIMM slots. The Power and Reset buttons are also nearby, as is the built-in OC Genie II button which automatically overclocks your processor at the touch of a button. The Debug LED shows the startup steps, and then goes to show the temperature reading of the CPU when booted into Windows. The Clear CMOS button is, thankfully, located on the rear I/O panel.
Included in the packaging are four SATA III cables, an SLI bridge, the V-Check point cables, the WiFi extender antennae and a rear I/O panel shield. Apart from that you have the driver CD and manuals.
A Closer Look
The Z77 MPower is a standard sized ATX board, capable of fitting any mid-tower case. The completely black layout with white text and silver capacitors looks alright, but the Twin Frozr IV based design of the heatsinks (as seen on the N680GTX Lightning) with the dark silver metal and bright yellow outlines is what makes the overall design of the MPower stand out from the crowd.
In the CPU area you can the 16-phase power design, complemented by the large heatsinks, all of which are connected by a fat heatpipe for easy heat dissipation. There’s more than enough space for large CPU coolers, but you may not be able to put in memory kits with large heatsinks as the DIMM slots start immediately where the CPU cooler area finishes. Speaking of which, the 4x DIMM slots support up to DDR3-3000MHz (O/C) memory with an Ivy Bridge processor.
Coming down we see three PCIe x16 Gen 3.0 slots (16/8/8) and four PCIe x1 Gen 2.0 slots for adequate expansion. Sadly there are only two SATA III ports, while the other four are SATA II ports.
Coming back to the rear I/O panel, we see 6x USB 3.0 ports, 2x USB 2.0 ports, a P/S2 port, HDMI, DisplayPort, LAN, SPDIF and 8-channel audio. You’ll notice a Bluetooth (3.0) and WiFi (802.11 b/g/n) module, but no Thunderbolt port.
For testing the MSI Z77 MPower, the following setup was used:
The MSI Z77 MPower is expected be in between the Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UP4TH and the ASUS P8Z77-V Deluxe in pricing, hence these two are used for comparison.
While clicking the OC Genie II button on the motherboard gave an automatic overclock of 4.2GHz, changing the ratio multiplier for the CPU to 46 and increasing voltage to 1.45v was easy in the UEFI BIOS. This lead to an easy overclock of 4.6GHz and from there on it was smooth sailing as you can see from the benchmarks.
Starting the benchmarks are the two most popular data compression software: WinRAR and 7-zip. For both of these programs I have used the built-in benchmarking software. A higher score is better.
The next test is Cinebench R11.5 wherein a 3D image is rendered using the CPU. This test stresses all the CPU cores, maximizing the threads. Results are given in points, the higher the better. The second test x264 HD 4.0 is a video encoding test in which a small HD video file is encoded in x264 format. The results are measured in frames per second, in that the faster a processor, the higher the fps.
PCMark, Performance Test and Geekbench stress tests all the resources of a system. Since almost all the components in our testbed are one of the best in the market right now, the entirety of the performance will depend on how good our test motherboard is. As usual, the higher the score, the better.
3DMark 11 is an industry standard graphical benchmark, and while it mostly stresses the graphics card, the CPU is also highly stressed for specific tests. The higher the score, the better.
You’ll notice that the base performance of the Z77 MPower is quite a bit higher than its peers, and that’s because our Core I7-3770K was overclocked to 3.9GHz when running Windows, despite the BIOS showing regular speed of 3.5GHz. Out of the box the Z77 MPower provides a mild overclock, living up to its name.
For the price, the ease of overclock and the peace of mind that your base is rock solid with the high-end Military Class III components used, the Z77 MPower provides a great platform to build your Ivy Bridge system and then overclock it away to your heart’s content…or to the limits of your CPU and cooling system used.