MSI Z97 MPower Overview
When I first pulled the Z97 MPower out of the box I was really surprised at how sexy it was. It has to be one of the best looking motherboards that I have reviewed in a while. The MPower features a black and yellow color scheme we have come to know signifies MSI’s overclocking series motherboards. The board features a matte black PCB with black and yellow accents throughout. MSI has also added “M” emblems on the PCH heatsink and at the two ends of the VRM heatsink. One thing that you might not know about MSI’s overclocking motherboards is that they are OC Certified. This is a military class burn-in test where they run Prime95 on a highly overclocked CPU for 24 hours and at the same time removing all airflow from the motherboard. This ensures that only the best motherboards survive. If a motherboard can survive this, it can survive any overclocking situation.
Starting at the CPU socket we have the Intel LGA1150 socket that supports Intel’s 4th and 5th generation Haswell processors. The Z97 MPower features a very beefy 12-phase all digital power design. You can see that MSI is making use of their Military Class 4 components here on the power delivery components by using Hi-C CAPs and Super Ferrite Chokes. A Hi-c CAP is a very small, but super-efficient capacitor. Besides ensuring enough spacing around a CPU socket to install large coolers, it also allows for 93% energy efficiency. Thanks to Hi-c CAP`s MSI mainboards are the most energy efficient in the market. Super Ferrite Choke uses a Ferrite core that is Super-Permeable. This allows the Super Ferrite Choke to run at a 35 degree Celsius lower temperature, have a 30% higher current capacity, a 20% improvement in power efficiency and better overclocking power stability. Towards the top of the motherboard we can see the traditional 8pin EPS connector, but there is also an additional 4pin as well.
Moving over to the side of the board we can see four DIMM slots. They are all black and are not color-coded, but that shouldn’t be a big deal to many people. These slots support dual-channel DDR3 memory up to 3200 MHz. Along the edge of the board you will find MSI’s Voltage Check points 2. This have been improved over the previous version by adding 2 extra ground connectors so overclockers can use 3 multi-meters at the same time. Next time the voltage check points is your 24pin ATX power connector and a 4pin fan connector. You will also notice the capacitors on this board are black. These are Dark CAPs and are part of MSI’s Military Class 4 components. The Dark CAPs have an aluminum core design and provide a lower Equivalent Series Resistance (ESR) as well as its over-10-year lifespan.
One thing that I really like about this board is that the USB 3.0 header is set at a 90 degree angle like the SATA connectors. USB 3.0 connectors on cases are large and sometimes can get in the way of your video card, having it at a 90 degree angle eliminates that and makes it easier to connect. There are a total of 8 SATA 6GB/s ports on this board.
At the bottom of the board is where you are going to find all of the rest of the buttons, connectors, headers, etc. From right to left you have your debug LED, front panel connections, two USB 2.0 headers, FASTB1 button, slow mode switch, OC switch, OC genie button, base clock buttons (up and down), reset button, power button and HD audio headers. It is great to see both the slow mode and OC buttons on an entry level board like this. As I always says I love to see power and reset buttons on motherboard as well. A debug LED is something we normally see on motherboard but MSI has made this one a little cooler by making it yellow and it will show your CPU temperature in real time! More on that later in the review!
On the far left side of the board you will see the Audio Boost chip. The chip itself and the rest of the audio components are actually separated from the rest of the motherboard. The PCB seperation actually will light up bright yellow when your system in powered on. The audio components feature a studio level integrated 600Ω headphone amplifier, EMI shielded audio codec, dual AMPs and Nippon Chemi-con Filtering Capacitors.
When it comes to expansion slots you have three PCI-Express 3.0 x16 slots, a single PCI-Express 2.0 x16 slot and three PCI-Express 2.0 x1 slots. For multiple video card setups you will be able to run at x8/x8 and x8/x4/x4 modes supporting both CrossFireX and SLI. Above your expansion slots is a 6pin PCI-Express power connector to give more power to your cards and a 4pin fan connector.
In between the bottom two PCI-Express x16 slots is your M.2 connector. This can be used for the newer M.2 solid state drives. MSI also offers an M.2 to SATA Express adapter that can be installed here.
Finally moving to the rear I/O on the board from left to right you have a PS/2 combo port, four USB 2.0 ports, clear CMOS button, four USB 3.0 ports, optical audio, HDMI, DisplayPort, Gigabit Ethernet, two more USB 3.0 ports, and gold-plated audio connections.