MSI Big Bang XPower II Motherboard Review

MSI pulls out all the stops to create the Big Bang XPower II. A true enthusiast class motherboard designed for over the top enthusiast rigs. The XPower II is able to satisfy the overclocker and fits the needs of the multi-GPU user looking for a bigger bang. And yes, you even get fake bullets and guns on your heatsinks.

Introduction

MSI is well known for its enthusiast products. While it produces some stellar video cards and a few other accessories, it is motherboards MSI is truly known for. While price vs. performance type solutions are what people generally look for when they actually build their machines, it is the flag ship products that set the standard by which others are usually judged. Flagship boards are generally the most feature rich, overclockable, and most expensive a given manufacturer has to offer. It is precisely this type of product that we are looking at today. MSI’s flagship offering is none other than the Big Bang XPower II. MSI clearly pulled out all the stops to make this one. It’s a beastly board designed for the highest end machines.

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The MSI Big Bang XPower II is an LGA2011 socket motherboard based on Intel’s X79 Express chipset. This board is actually an XL-ATX form factor board. As a result you’ll need a case designed to handle a board this large. One thing that is apparent from the moment you see this board is that it is designed with performance in mind. MSI built this thing like a tank with a heavy duty cooling solution, thick PCB, 22 phase power claiming 770w of output power, all solid electrolytic capacitors, Dr. MOS MOSFETs, ferrite chokes, up to 300w additional input power for VGA cards, DDR3 speeds up to 2400MHz, and of course, support for 4-Way SLI and CrossFireX. They’ve also added voltage check points as other manufacturers have been doing for some time and offer multiBIOS with a full UEFI interface.

Of course the board also features support for up to 10 SATA devices, dual Intel Gigabit Ethernet ports, 6 USB 3.0 ports, 2x IEEE1394 ports, and more. Interestingly enough this is the only board I’ve seen that I can recall claiming to support up to 128GB of RAM. The other X79 boards I’ve worked with only support 64GB of RAM. Of course the other chipset features such as RAID support, quad channel memory support, and PCI-Express 3.0 support are also found here as a result.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

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As is generally the case with flagship products, the MSI Big Bang XPower II comes with a very nice package and tons of included goodies. Included in the box are an overclocking guide, quick installation guide, software application manual, driver disc, user manual, quick start guide, certificate of stability, I/O shield, M-connectors, voltage probes, SLI and Crossfire bridges, tons of SATA cables, USB 3.0 bracket, and an eSATA bracket.

Board Layout

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The Big Bang XPower II has an outstanding layout with few to zero issues. The XL-ATX form factor is large enough that some of the concessions made to fit all the required components on the ATX form factor PCB do not have to be made. The board for the most part is aesthetically pleasing. While Gigabyte and some others have started making boards with various military type themes, or whatever, MSI has held off on that until now, though at first I didn’t notice. The Big Bang XPower II probably has the most subtle themed decoration I’ve seen yet. You have non-descript minigun and missile launcher looking coolers but they really only look like that at certain angles. With your hardware installed, I doubt most people could tell what these things were supposed to be.

So while I normally would boo and hiss at the themed heat sinks, this one is subtle enough that I’m not bothered by it. The all black PCB and slight gold and brass contrast looks really good in my opinion. I’d like to have seen some color coding of the DIMM slots, but that’s not a huge issue or a deal breaker for me. Our sample’s PCB is marked with a model number of MS-7737 and a version number of VER:1.1.

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The CPU socket area is what it is. By LGA2011 standards it’s pretty clear, but the DIMM slots flank the socket too closely making the use of some larger air coolers a challenge. So a self-contained or custom loop water cooling solution would be my recommendation for cooling a Core i7 3930K or 3960X CPU.

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I won’t beat the dead horse too much but the DIMM slots are closer to the CPU socket than I’d like. That’s always the case with any board which makes use of CPUs that feature integrated memory controllers it seems.

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Being a unified design, the X79 chipset lacks a traditional south bridge / north bridge designation. Essentially the chipset itself is located on the PCB where the south bridge would have been on an older design like an X58 based board. The chipset itself is cooled with a large and flat heat pipe cooling unit which is styled like a rack of missiles. Directly in front of that are the motherboards 10 SATA ports. 6 are part of the Intel C600 series controller which supports 2 SATA III / 6Gb/s ports and 2 SATA II 3Gb/s ports. The rest are all SATA III compatible and these are connected to the ASMedia 1061 or ASM1061 chip.

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In my opinion MSI masterfully crafted the expansion slot area of the board. All the slots are in the PCI-Express x16 form factor which I think is how they all should be. The board features 7 PCIe slots, 3 of which are generation 2.0 and the rest are generation 3.0. The board’s layout here allocated the PCIe lanes in probably the best way possible. MSI spaced the x16 and x8 slots far enough away from one another to allow plenty of room in between each graphics card in a multiGPU configuration. Essentially the map works like this: 16,1,0,1,16,1,8 or 16,1,8,1,8,1,8. Populating the third PCIe slot causes the lanes to be allocated differently. Slot 5 and 3 share lanes for a dual 8x8 configuration should you want or need to go that route. There are no legacy PCI slots or anything of that nature. I’m always happy to see that, though I do realize that I may not be part of the majority with regard to that.

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The rear I/O panel is pretty much standard fare for any board. We’ve got our legacy PS/2 keyboard and mouse port, clear CMOS button, 6 USB 2.0 ports, 4 USB 3.0 ports, dual RJ-45 ports, IEEE1394 port, S/PDIF, optical out, and of course standard mini-stereo jacks.

Control Center

MSI as usual packaged its Control Center software with the Big Bang XPower II. This is a software package that I’ve always got mixed feelings about. On one hand I think it looks cool, but on the other hand the interface isn’t as practical as I’d like. Though MSI has made it better with version updates.

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When the application is launched, it defaults to the overclocking tab. From here you can see a decent amount of system information which is broken down into three categories. At the bottom of the utility is essentially all your actual overclocking settings. In the information sections there are "More" buttons which provide even more detailed information concerning the category in question. The settings at the bottom of course range from CPU ratio, base clock, system agent voltages, to DDR Vref voltages.

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The CPU section has an "Advanced" button as well as a "More" button. The advanced button provides a menu for adjusting your overclock. You can set the CPU ratio per CPU core as well as see the temperatures of each and their current clock speeds. The DRAM timing button in the memory section shows you all your DRAM timings and allows adjustment of latencies. From the overclocking tab, you can also select "OC Genie." This function shows you a diagram for using the function via the OC Genie switch physically located on the motherboard PCB. The Green Power tab located at the top is more or less your hardware monitor. This shows voltages, temperatures and fan speeds. There are of course adjustments at the bottom for CPU power phases, and fan speeds. From the Green Power tab you can also select the LED menu which allows you to enable or disable the motherboards many surface mounted LEDs.