Today's Hard|Forum Post
Today's Hard|Forum Post

MSI Z87 XPOWER LGA Motherboard Review

Higher end products are niche items which don’t make a lot of sense for the vast majority of users. Even gamers and enthusiasts sometimes shy away from these products unless the feature set aligns with their needs, desires, and budgets. The feature-packed MSI Z87 XPower is a fine example of this high end motherboard category.

Introduction

MSI is a well known staple of the do it yourself computing world. MSI was founded in 1986 with its core business focused on building motherboards and add in motherboards. Since that time MSI has expanded its business to include laptops, networking equipment, and other consumer electronics and computing oriented products. Even after pursuing many years of product diversity, MSI is still generally regarded as a motherboard manufacturer above all else.

All motherboard manufacturers have various product lines which are differentiated by features and price points. Each motherboard maker has flagship, mid-range and low end products which are often aimed at different segments. MSI is just as diverse in this regard as any other manufacturer. And while motherboard manufacturers make the bulk of revenue from mid-range and low cost options it’s the flagship products which often drive the technology and influence the perception of the company’s products as a whole.

Largely higher end products are niche market items which don’t make a lot of sense for the vast majority of users. Even gamers and enthusiasts sometimes shy away from these products unless the feature set aligns with their wants and more importantly their budgets. The MSI Z87 XPower is the motherboard were looking at today and it’s definitely not a low cost, or mid range offering. Everything about it screams "over the top" as it’s closer to a ZO6 Corvette rather than a Chevy Malibu.

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The Z87 XPOWER is based on the Intel Z87 Express chipset designed for Intel’s 4th generation Core i5/i7 series CPUs. The MSI Z87 XPOWER supports 32GB of DDR3 3000MHz RAM, 10 SATA 6Gb/s ports, WiFi, Gigabit Ethernet, USB 3.0, NVIDIA’s 4-Way SLI and AMD CrossFire multi-GPU solutions are supported, as is Intel’s Wireless Display technology. MSI has included a list of features such as their MIL-STD-810G compliant Military Class 4 components. These consist of DRMOS 4.0 (3 in 1) PWM and driver MOSFETs, Dark Caps, Hi-C Capacitors, and Super Ferrite Chokes. The motherboard is built on an XL-ATX 8-layer PCB. Multi-BIOS II, Debub LED, Go2BIOS, V-Check Points, and Direct OC are all here as well.

If some of these features sound familiar, it’s because you probably saw these on the ASUS Republic of Gamers or GIGABYTE’s offerings as well. Some things like the "GO2BIOS" are MSI’s own names for technologies found on other competing motherboards. What does stand out here are features such as the "complete discharge" feature. This is touted as a "true factory" reset in which information stored on the Z87 PCH is wiped in addition to BIOS/UEFI user data. I’m uncertain as to the precise benefit of the feature in real world use but it sure sounds compelling. MSI has a feature called "Ceasefire" which allows you the ability to deactivate PCI-Express x16 slots. This enables you to disable graphics cards or other installed devices on a hardware level. This can sometimes aid in multi-GPU troubleshooting. I can tell you that this is useful based on personal experiences with my own system. Another interesting feature is the "dedicated PCI-E X16 slot." The MSI Z87 XPOWER uses a PEX 8747 PLX chip to provide the necessary lane allocation required for 4-Way SLI and CrossfireX technologies to function properly. The PLX chip does introduce latency and therefore the motherboard has a dedicated PCI-E x16 slot which isn’t wired to the PLX to avoid this latency in single GPU systems.

MSI’s Command Center software was included with this motherboard. The Intel Extreme Tuning utility is also included for those who prefer it. The "Super RAID" feature is what MSI refers to as SSD caching, and of course there is the included Killer Ethernet. There are a ton of other features included but we’ll get to those as we continue our coverage of the MSI Z87 XPOWER.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

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Board Layout

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Once you take the Z87 XPOWER out of the box you’ll notice two things right off the bat: The motherboard has quite a bit of heft to it. There is enough weight to it that dropping it on a household pet could be disastrous. The second is that the motherboard has a visually striking appearance. The black and yellow color scheme suits the motherboard very well giving it a unique identity. It’s industrialized looking heatsinks are very prominent and give it that heavy duty look and feel.

The layout of the Z87 XPOWER is exceptional. This is almost always the case with motherboards of this caliber and with good reason. The price point for such a motherboard as well as the high level of component integration demands this. XL-ATX motherboards also benefit from the extra PCB real estate and make the design slightly easier as there is more physical room to work with.

Ordinarily I do not take photos of the motherboards lit up in a dark room, however this one is special given it’s unique color scheme and striking visual appearance. The lights around the expansion slot area are very much like the PCB moat used on the ASUS ROG motherboards segregating the audio solution from the rest of the motherboard while technically being on the same PCB. This is naturally done to isolate the audio solution from the noise generated by other components. (More on this later.)

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The CPU socket area is a tighter fit than I’m used to working with. This is because the heat pipe based MOSFET cooling hardware is nothing short of huge. MSI claims that these heatsinks are designed for maximum performance in low airflow situations and suggests that the Z87 XPOWER was designed primarily with liquid cooling in mind. While I lack a thermal engineering degree I have to say that this makes little sense to me as the cooling hardware lacks any fins. One of the primary reasons behind "finned" designs is the increased surface area for cooling. The fins allow air to pass over them and extract heat from the fins as efficiently as possible. This design is the opposite of that thinking. These are solid plates with blocks of aluminum sitting on top of them. The design lacks any fins at all.

While running the cooling hardware did feel cool to the touch. There is a heat pipe within and the temperatures appeared to be fairly low while in operation so while the design seems "off" in regard to conventional thinking / design these do seem to be effective at least. The cooling hardware is mated to the motherboard via screws and retention bars on the underside of the motherboard. There isn’t any wobble to the MOSFET cooling itself though the PLX cooling is another matter which I’ll touch on shortly.

The CPU socket is also filled with tons of power circuitry. This is due to the 32-phase, DrMOS 4.0 design. There are several 330uF tantalum capacitors flanking the CPU socket on two sides. The motherboard’s PEX 8747 PLX chips is just to the left of the CPU socket. Despite the overall high quality feel of the motherboard and its hardware, the heat sink, or rather the top portion of the heat sink attached to the PLX chip literally flops around loosely. Granted the PLX chip doesn’t require a lot of cooling but the loose fitting part really detracts from the feel of quality you get when handling the motherboard.

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There are four 240-pin DDR3 DIMM slots on the Z87 XPOWER which are not color coded. The lack of color coding is no doubt a design choice with aesthetic qualities being a priority over ease of use. The dual channel capable motherboard supports DDR3 memory speeds up to 3000MHz (1,500MHz actual) through overclocking. Right next door to the DIMM slots are the DirectOC controls including the OC Genie button and OC Genie mode switch.

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The Z87 Express chipset is covered with a flat, passive heat sink. In front of it are the motherboard’s 10 SATA 6Gb/s ports. The ones covered in the red sticker are the Z87 native ports while the other four are attached to ASMedia ASM1061 controllers. Just to the left of the heat sink you’ll find the motherboard’s mSATA port and to the right the multiBIOS switch.

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The expansion slot area is designed for 4-way multi-GPU support from either NVIDIA or AMD. One native PCI-Express x16 slot is provided which is not connected to the PLX chip while the others are. Shown above is the PCI-E lane allocation for easy reference. More specifically the lane allocation table is as follows: x0/ x16/ x0/ x0/ x0, x16/ x0/ x0/ x16/ x0, x8/ x0/ x8/ x16/ x0 or x8/ x0/ x8/ x8/ x8. You’ll find three fan headers and a six-pin PCI-Express auxiliary power connector here. You’ll also see the audio boost label which lights up.

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For connectivity the Z87 XPOWER offers 1x DisplayPort, 2x HDMI ports, 8 USB 3.0 ports, 2x USB 2.0 ports, 1 PS/2 mouse/keyboard combo port, 1 RJ-45 port, 1 clear CMOS button, 1x optical output and 6x mini-stereo jacks. Virtually no space is wasted here allowing for optimum use of the I/O area.