MSI X99A XPOWER AC USB 3.1 Review
Rarely has a product so comprehensively defied a pithy summary. If a motherboard was designed solely for balancing the Yin with the Yang, then the X99A is the most balanced one around. Almost everything comes with a caveat, and yet equally with a reason for hope.
There is much to like with the design and it wouldn't be putting too fine a point on it to suggest that the X99A is designed with heavy overclockers in mind. The PCB is extra thick, there is a raft of high-quality power components and the onboard tweaking capabilities are up there with the very best. Dual-BIOS, a button to clear absolutely everything, voltage monitoring points and the OC Socket all lend themselves to use in extreme scenarios.
Even for those of us who have more 24/7 types of setups will find much to like. M.2 32GB/s support, Quad-GPU support - with individual lane on/off switches for fault finding, one click OC Genie overclocking and the latest super-fast USB 3.1 support all add up to a motherboard which has spared no expense in attempting to lead the X99 class. There is even a custom LGA2011-3 socket. We're not suggesting that they're following the lead of ASUS, but it was extremely successful there so it makes sense for other manufacturers to try their hand at it.
Stock results are particularly good. It's a rare day when we can stick in our DDR4 and have it run at 3000MHz without much fiddling about with voltages, but the MSI handled it with aplomb something the previous version ws not able to do at all. The scores we attained were also a highlight with the large proportion of our tests showing a good score for the X99A. 3D benchmarks in particular had an excellent showing. Overclocking is a far thornier issue though. As with any new motherboard there are a few BIOS revisions before the full performance is extracted, and clearly the ones we had to work with during our review time were a mixed bag. 4.4GHz and 3000MHz is 100MHz shy of what we regularly achieve, and although we could get 4.5GHz from our i7-5960X we couldn't have both that and the memory speed as we'd wish. Perhaps worse still were some of the results. Although the overclock was rock solid and gave reliable results in purer speed-based benchmarks, ones like Sandra were disappointing and PC Mark was positively woeful. We are certain this is just the '15' BIOS is very poorly optimised but for the sake of the review it did allow us a much higher overclock than the original '10' and shows that MSI are making advancements with their BIOS releases.
Clearly the MSI X99A XPOWER AC USB 3.1 has plenty to recommend it and the hardware is by no means lacking. It has all the tools available to produce some spectacular results. Like so many motherboards a more mature BIOS will produce better and better performance, but we feel in the case of the XPOWER the BIOS needs a lot of work before the full potential of the X99A can be unleashed. This still has a lot of good points, but you just need to be aware that you will need to keep a close eye on the latest MSI downloads to ensure that you're extracting the maximum from it at all times. This board is best put in one of two catagories, you will either buy it because its black and yellow and the board matches your theme for a build or you are an overclocker/tweeker that fancies a new challenge and doesnt want to buy in to the black & red brigage. In it's current state we can only award it our OC3D Silver Award but we honestly do feel if MSI whip their BIOS team into action they could change this board into a total animal and its just sad they didnt do this before releasing it because we are actually tired of being part of the BIOS testing.