Unlike some other manufacturers, MSI have a clear division between each model in their range, from the lowly G45 up to the enthusiast GD80. It's a simple system with a bigger number meaning a higher end motherboard, and few branches off the path.
The Big Bang nomenclature is reserved for the highest models in the range. Where Gigabyte has a UD7, ASUS the 'Extreme', so MSI have a Big Bang. Each model comes with a different suffix, and today we're taking a look at the latest in their range, the Z77 Big Bang MPower.
Military Class III is the big buzzword with the MSI MPower. Polymer capacitors, Super Ferrite Chokes and MSI's own DrMos II ensure that the MPower really does live up to its name. The Military Class isn't just a bit of meaningless advertising blurb either. These components have passed the MIL-STD-810G test, which is the United States Military Standard for ensuring that items are tested to the very extremes, and thus worthy of use with the Department of Defence. Given how much of a pounding they'll get in the field, it's pretty safe to bet that they'll be indestructible on your desk.
With only three PCI Express slots, the MPower is designed more for realistic home use, rather than any attempts at Quad-GPU world records. PCI slots isn't the only area in which the MPower takes the 'less is more' route, as it's also without a 1394 port, only one LAN connector and no eSATA. For nearly everybody these aren't deal breakers, as they are features that most people ignore or even disable, but it's worth noting if you're heavily reliant upon a Firewire connection or similar.
|CPU||Supports 3rd Gen Intel® Core™ i7 / Core™ i5 / Core™ i3 / Pentium® / Celeron® processors for LGA 1155 socket|
2200*/2400*/2600*/2667*/2800*/3000*(OC, 22nm CPU required)
|Max Memory (GB)||32|
|PCI-Ex16||3 x PCIe 3.0 x16 slots|
|PCI-Ex1||4 x PCIe 2.0 x1 slots|
|LAN||Supports one PCI Express LAN 10/100/1000 Fast Ethernet by Realtek® 8111E|
Supports Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
|USB 3.0 ports (Rear)||6 USB 3.0 rear I/O ports (2 ports by Intel® Z77, 4 ports by Renesas® uDP72020)|
|USB 2.0 ports (Rear)||1 USB 3.0 onboard connector by Intel® Z77|
|Audio ports (Rear)||Chipset integrated by Realtek® ALC898|
Flexible 8-channel audio with jack sensing
Compliant with Azalia 1.0 Spec
|Serial ports (Rear)||N/A|
|Parallel ports (Rear)||N/A|
|1394 ports (Rear)||N/A|
|VGA Max Share Memory (MB)||1760|
|Form Factor||30.5cm(L) x 24.5cm(W) ATX|
|Internal Connections||3 x USB 2.0 connectors|
1 x USB 3.0 connector
1 x Multi BIOS Switch
1 x TPM Module connector
1 x Front Panel connector
1 x Front Panel Audio connector
1 x Chassis Intrusion connector
1 x Voice Genie connector (optional)
1 x MultiConnect Panel connector (optional)
1x Debug LED panel
1 x V-Check Points Set
1 x Power button
1 x OC Genie button
1 x Reset button
1 x Clear CMOS jumper
1 x GO2BIOS button
CPU x 1 / System x 4 FAN connectors
ATX 24-pin Power Connector
ATX 8-pin Power Connector
ATX 6-pin Power Connector
|Multi-GPU||• Supports ATI® CrossFire™ Technology|
• Supports NVIDIA® SLI™ Technology
• Supports Lucid® Virtu Universal MVP
The box packaging for the MPower is certainly eye-catching, with a chromatic effect dominating the front and the main highlights beneath a Velcro front flap. We like it a lot. Inside you have a surprisingly small selection of accessories, with just some probes standing apart from the usual array of SATA cables, manuals and driver CD.
At first glance you'd be forgiven for thinking this is a Zotac motherboard, all black with yellow highlights. We so often see red or blue slots that it's nice to see a motherboard that wouldn't be out of place on a Spinal Tap album.
The CPU area is well served by an enormous amount of power, and some rather attractive heatsinks. There is always a balance to be sought between form and function, and we think that MSI have done a fine job. The heatpipes between each heatsink are 8mm thick, which is the type of thickness we're more used to seeing on GPUs.
PCI slots are well spaced indeed, especially considering most people will only run a dual-card arrangement anyway. The battery placement is a bit of a faff, especially if you prefer to clear your CMOS with a battery removal.
One very useful feature is the inclusion of a switch to change between the two available BIOS's. With high-end overclocking boards it's always nice to have the ability to have a stable one and then tweak the other.
The RAM section is very busy indeed. As well as the ATX power there is an additional 6pin PCIe power input for multi-GPU setups, voltage monitoring points, and the now standard power/reset buttons.
Storage is handled by two SATA 6Gb/s ports and four SATA 3 Gb/s ones. At the rear we have a wealth of USB ports, DisplayPort and HDMI for iGP, WiFi/Bluetooth and the CMOS clear button.
Testing the MPower was quite an adventure thanks to a flaw in the BIOS that utterly failed to recognise our ES i7-3770K and caused the board to replicate an "LN2 slow mode". Eventually MSI fixed this, and thankfully it wont affect retail CPUs. Worth noting though if you've acquired an ES CPU.
MSI Z77 MPower
Intel Core i7-3770K
8GB G.Skill Trident 2400 @ 10-12-12-31
MSI HD7950 with Catalyst 12.8
Cougar CM1000 PSU
Corsair F80 SSD
Thermalright Silver Arrow
Windows 7 x64
The OC Genie is less impressive than it was when we first saw it, as CPU speeds are increasing the conservative overclock is barely above stock and perhaps even worse than the mere 4.2GHz speed was its insistence upon running our 2400MHz memory at 2133MHz, despite the XMP being good for 2400MHz.
However, you're unlikely to buy a MPower and auto-overclock it. With some tweaking we managed to obtain 5GHz from our i7 which is up there with the best we've seen, even if it wasn't stable enough to run any benchmarks with.
For our OC results we'll be using the following overclock of 4.83 GHz, and the Memory at its XMP timings.
Although it's not at the very top of our charts, the MPower is excellent in both stock and with our overclock on board. If anything the stock results are the most impressive of the two. The memory bandwidth test backs up these findings. The MPower isn't quite at the level of the Maximus V Extreme, but it certainly has high performance, especially at this price level.
At both stock and overclocked the MPower is certainly in the top echelons of motherboards that we've tested, alongside the Maximus V Formula and Sniper.3. It isn't quite at the level of the Maximus V Extreme or the Gigabyte UP7, but then again it's nowhere near as pricey as they are.
PC Mark Vantage
Our first big surprise comes courtesy of PC Mark Vantage. The Memory and Gaming benchmarks are around the level we'd expect to see, but the Productivity score is the highest we've ever obtained from this set of components. Excellent.
PC Mark 7
PC Mark 7 is an improvement upon Vantage, with a better ability to make the most of threading and similar technologies that have crept into the PC market. The stock result of the MPower is still hugely impressive and stands up against any other motherboard you care to choose. It is only when we overclock that the difference between the MPower and the pricier motherboards becomes clear, but even then it's not disgraced by any means.
The excellent memory performance we saw in AIDA makes itself known with the intensive rendering of CineBench. Both at stock and when overclocked the MPower is a powerhouse and up with the finest results we've seen.
That high performance continues in POV-Ray with the MPower once again running with the market leaders.
wPrime doesn't give quite the same exceptional performance that we've seen from our other tests so far. However, if you remember the price and compare the MPower to other mid-priced Z77 motherboards you see how good it still is.
Moving into our 3D benchmarks, Unigine Heaven shows how close the MPower gets to the big boys. Although the average FPS is a frame or two shy of the highest, the minimum frame-rate demonstrates the underlying abilities of the MSI motherboard.
In both 3D Mark Vantage and the newer 3D Mark 11 the MPower is shaded by most of the other boards we've tested. It's not poor by any stretch of the imagination, but it's just not quite at the peak of the scores we've seen.
3D Mark Vantage
3D Mark 11
It would be easy to treat the MSI Z77 MPower as a board worthy of comparison against the very cream of the Z77 crop. After all it's part of the much vaunted Big Bang series from MSI, and that alone would make us see how it performs in correlation to some very high-end models.
Then you look at the price and realise that, name and packaging aside, this is actually priced high for an MSI motherboard but mid-range when compared to other manufacturers. Considering how cheap this is we don't mind losing a few pointless features to help keep the cost down. For nearly everybody this has everything you could desire. Sure it's missing Firewire, and eSATA, but most of us don't utilise those features such is the overwhelming domination of the USB format.
Overclocking is as easy as we've experienced, thanks to the exceptional quality of the power phases. It takes a very special motherboard indeed to achieve 4.9GHz on our i7-3770K, and so although the 5GHz overclock wasn't stable enough to benchmark with, it shows the potential available should you have a particularly good CPU to hand. As it was we obtained our regular 4.8GHz overclock and the MPower was, throughout our testing, equal to all but the very highest scores we've seen.
We think that at stock the MPower is, if anything, more impressive than it is when overclocked as stock is a better test of the motherboard than the overclock, which depends as much upon the speed obtained as it does on the abilities of the motherboard to not hold back your results. Although we believe that overclocking the current suite of Intel hardware is so simple that anybody should be able to perform it, we understand that a lot of users prefer to just plug and play. For them it's reassuring that the MSI demonstrates itself to be such an accomplished motherboard. Should you prefer not to tinker in the excellent BIOS then the OC Genie is able to, with a single button press and power cycle, give a modest overclock and the performance benefits therein.
Because of the issue with obtaining a BIOS that recognised our i7-3770K ES the testing of the MSI Z77 MPower was initially frustrating but most definitely worth the effort involved. Stock performance is excellent, and the overclocked results are up there with some of the best. The MPower has no weaknesses and, at a mere £150, is a stunning looking, highly featured motherboard that is a worthy winner of our OC3D Gold Award and wont disappoint anyone who takes the plunge on the all-black MSI offering.
Thanks to MSI for providing the Z77 MPower for review. Discuss the results in our OC3D Forums.