MSI Z77 MPower LGA1155 Motherboard Review

Too often you have to buy an insanely expensive board, packed with features you probably won't use in order to get high end performance and overclocking oriented features. MSI is changing that with the Z77 MPower. This board has all the performance without the unnecessary fluff.

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BIOS

MSI uses dual 64Mbit Flash ROMs containing an American Megatrends Inc. UEFI BIOS. Version 17.4 was used for all testing and screenshots. Like every other board maker, MSI has its own spin on UEFI. All BIOS menus were virtually the same in the past, differentiated only by the vendor who provided the ROM chips and by the tweaks made for each individual board by the manufacturer. These still all had the same basic, dated look, and worked about the same. The UEFI landscape is totally different.

While everyone is using the same American Megatrends Inc. ROMs these days the UEFI allows for a great deal of customization. Every board maker does it its own way. Some deviate from the BIOS format more than others. Some are look good but lack functionality and ease of use. I think virtually all of these have room for improvement. Improvement is one thing we've seen great strides in from MSI. Its original Click BIOS UEFI was a mess. It was hard to work with, had too much going on, used horrid clown colors, and wasn't very responsive. The Click BIOS II looked cool but the mouse support was bad. For some reason MSI chose to force users to double-click everything and as a result we've joked about it being the "Double-click BIOS II." Fortunately MSI has taken some of its criticisms to heart and did something about these. The Z77 MPower features vastly improved mouse support. The pointer is now smooth and responsive. It's easily as good as ASUS' implementation on that front and that's saying something as ASUS set the bar for this.

You still have to double-click everything, but Rome wasn't built in a day. I have my doubts that MSI will ever truly resolve that issue as I don't think it understands why that is a problem, nor why you'd want that to be changed. Still I'm pleased with the changes to the Click BIOS and found myself using the mouse a lot with it. Previously mouse responsiveness was one of my biggest complaints and the poor mouse responsiveness only made the double-clicking worse. Now it doesn't seem quite as bad.

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The UEFI itself has system information at the top. CPU temperature, time and date, BIOS version, processor information such as frequency and base clock are provided at the top. Three profile buttons are below the information section which allows you to set ECO, Standard, and OC Genie II modes. The OC Genie II mode doesn't actually do anything until you've configured the OC Genie options manually which I'll come back to in a moment. There are six tiles flanking a bottom-center window which displays the Click BIOS II logo. These tiles contain settings and submenus relating to the corresponding titles. Settings, OC, ECO, Browser, Utilities and Security.

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The bulk of these are of little interest to anyone. Getting right down to business we'll cover the tweaking pages. The OC section is where 99% of all the interesting settings are found. At the top of the OC section page you'll find the current CPU frequency, and current DRAM frequencies. Below that you'll find the CPU base frequency control. For some reason MSI lists this in KHz rather than MHz. I'm not sure what the thinking his behind that as the MSI Control Center, Intel, and most documentation refer to this value in MHz. The CPU ratio, adjust ratio in OS, EIST, Turbo Boost, and OC Genie Function control are found here. The OC Genie Function control defaults to "By Onboard Button." It can be configured via BIOS options. When it's set that way you can actually set the parameters the OC Genie II feature will use. In essence you have a hot key on the motherboard to enable the overclock you've pre-defined.

This is configured via a submenu which we'll get to in a bit. Going down the list you have your DRAM reference clock, DRAM frequency, XMP setting, DRAM timing mode, memory fast boot, and spread spectrum values. The last screenshot shows the OC Genie option setup to allow for configuration and thus provides an option to enter the submenu for that. Again scrolling down we have the advanced DRAM timing configuration, Hybrid Digital Power, DRAM voltage, CPU voltage, and reference voltages. There is an OC retry count feature shown at the bottom here which I find very useful. Scrolling down another final time will give us headings for four additional submenus. Overclocking profiles, CPU specifications, Memory-Z, and CPU features.

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The OC Genie function, when set to "Configure by BIOS," the customize option will appear. This brings you to the OC Genie submenu. From here you can set your CPU base clock frequency, CPU ratio, DRAM frequency, XMP, core voltage, I/O voltage, GPU and DRAM voltages, and more. An earlier submenu, the Advanced DRAM Configuration brings you to a selection menu to configure your RAM timings by channel first. Once selected the menu advances. The command rates and latency values can be adjusted here. There are a couple pages of these settings and as a result you've got quite a bit of control here.

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The Hybrid Digital power menu is found in the main OC section. It's one of the many settings. It's not actually a setting but rather leads you to the submenu for that category. CPU core Vdroop offset control, GPU, Vdroop offset control, digital compensation levels, CPU Core OCP expander, GPU OCP expander, CPU core switching frequency, and GPU switching frequency settings are all found here. The overclocking profiles menu allows you to save your current settings as a profile or load them from a previously defined preset. These settings can also be saved to a USB device is desired. The CPU specifications menu shows you information about your installed CPU. There is also a CPU technology support submenu which will show you which instructions your CPU supports.

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The Memory-Z feature allows you to select from your installed DIMMs, and view their SPD timing tables. X.M.P. timings are also available for viewing.

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The CPU features menu. This shows us what features our CPU supports as the name implies. HyperThreading, active processor cores, execute disable bit, virtualization technology, C1E support, package C-state limits, and short duration power limits are just a few of the settings found here. The ECO menu isn't something most enthusiasts would think of messing with. However this does have your hardware monitor and the CPU phase control setting. One thing I don't like about this board is the lack of manual phase control options. You can't actually control this other than to set control to disabled or automatic. You can't say I want to run on 4 phases or 6. Either you run these all or your leave it on automatic. Automatic actually serves you better but I'll talk about that later.