MSI Z97 XPOWER AC LGA 1150 “Z97-Chipset” Motherboard Review

Hassan Mujtaba
Posted Jun 13, 2014
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Introduction

Last year, MSI introduced two distinct motherboards in their OC lineup, the Z87 MPOWER and Z87 XPOWER. With the launch of Intel’s 9-Series platform, MSI launched a new category of motherboards which are more powerful then ever and include tons of features built for a wide range of users that may include gamers, enthusiasts, overclockers and casual users.

With the launch of Intel’s Haswell Refresh platform, MSI introduced their second generation XPOWER board for the mainstream LGA 1150 socketed lineup known as the MSI Z97 XPOWER AC. The MSI Z97 XPOWER AC has been designed specifically for enthusiasts and overclockers and being the most feature packed motherboard of all the MSI Z97 product lineup. The motherboard is first an overclocking board which will let users overclock with no limits as indicated by the marketing team behind the XPOWER. The design speaks for itself with the amazing X scheme back in action and an E-ATX form factor size along with some cool new features that make it stand out from the rest of the Z97 motherboard crowd.

The other boards such as the MSI Z97 MPOWER MAX follow up which we reviewed last month has the same DNA at a lower cost of $259.99 US while the XPOWER AC retails at a hefty price of $399.99 US which is quite a lot asking price for it and enters in the more HEDT range of Intel’s X79 motherboards. So we are going to see if the MSI Z97 XPOWER AC is worth its price or not.

Intel LGA 1150 Socket

The Intel LGA 1150 was first introduced during the launch of Intel’s 8-Series platform (Haswell and Z87 Express chipset). As denoted by its name, the LGA 1150 has 5 less pins compared to the LGA 1155 socket which supports Ivy Bridge and Sandy Bridge processors.

The LGA 1150 socket will be featured on the 9-Series chipset motherboards and will extend support to new CPUs which include Haswell Refresh, Devil’s Canyon (Haswell Refresh K-Series) and Broadwell. Broadwell, which is the codename for Intel’s next generation 14nm processor is planned for launch in 2015 for desktop PCs. The socket on 9-Series chipset boards will also feature support for all existing Haswell processors which will provide current user with an easy upgrade path over the new series.

Intel did one thing right with the new socket and that’s the socket positioning which allows LGA 1155 socket coolers and mounting brackets to remain compatible with the newer socket. So if you have a old LGA 1155 socket cooler that you wish to use with the new LGA 1150 socket? It could be done so, but do note that while the socket looks the same as LGA 1155 socket, the processors are incompatible due to different pin layout so you don’t want to try putting an Ivy Bridge or Sandy Bridge processor into the LGA 1150 socket otherwise it would damage the pins permanently.

Cooler Compatibility With LGA 1150 Socket

While Haswell processors ship with their own boxed coolers and cooler makers providing retention brackets for LGA 1150 compatibility, it should be noted that LGA 1150 socket is easily compatible with both reference LGA 1150 boxed coolers and custom products.

So if you’re upgrading from LGA 1155 to LGA 1150, you can easily equip your cooler on the latest socket from Intel without any sort of trouble.

Intel 9-Series Z97 Platform Control Hub (PCH)

Intel’s upcoming processors would be compatible with the 9-Series “” chipset fused on the LGA 1150 socketed motherboards. There are different tiers of the chips on the Haswell Refresh platform which include Z97 and H97. The motherboard we would be testing today is based on the Z97 PCH. The 9-Series chipset in a whole isn’t much different from 8-Series Lynx Point. The following chart mentions key differences between both platform control hubs:MSI Z97 XPOWER AC _PCH

Item 8-Series “Panther Point” 9-Series “Lynx Point”
I/O Port flexibility Yes Yes
Total USB 3.0/2.0 Ports 14 USB Ports 14 USB Ports
USB 3.0 Capable Ports Upto 6 Upto 6
xHCI Ports All USB Ports by xCHI All USB Ports by xCHI
PCI Express Upto 8 PCIe 2.0 (5GT/s) Upto 8 PCI-e 2.0 (5GT/s)
PCIe M.2 Storage Support
Total SATA Ports 6 SATA 6 SATA
SATA 6 GB/s Capable Ports Upto 6 Upto 6
Legacy PCI No Legacy PCI for any SKU Legacy PCI on certain SKUs
Digital Display I/F Display moved to processor Display moved to processor
Analog Display I/F VGA VGA
SPI SFDP, Quad Read SFDP, Quad Read

The main feature of the Intel 9-Series chipset is support for Intel’s Haswell Refresh and Broadwell processors which means that the new Z97 and H97 will have higher longevity. Aside from that, there’s also PCIe M.2 slot storage support which is 67% faster than SATA Gen 3 (6 GB/s) and its speeds matches SATA Express which are rated at 10 GB/s. Various motherboards have also included M.2 Ultra and SATA Express ports which give user more accessibility. The Z97 chipset will remain as Intel’s high-end mainstream offering while the enthusiast platform will be updated with the X99 chipset in Q3 2014.

It should be noted that due to improvements in 4th and 5th generation core processor power efficiency, the requirements for the processor’s power supply have also been altered. Intel recommends that the users running the Haswell Refresh CPU platform check the list of tested PSUs for ones capable of supporting the latest Intel Core processors. The list can be found at: http://www,intel.com/go/powersupplies/.From the filters at the top right of the page, set 12V2 Min Load 0A to “Yes” to see which PSUs have been found to support the processor’s new power requirements. To make use of the power supplies that meet the 12V2 Min Load 0A, you have to enable the “Lowest CPU Idle power setting”. This option is located under the power tab section and you must set the “Intel Dynamic Power technology” to custom in the primary power settings section in supplied UEFI BIOS on the motherboard.

MSI Z97 Overclock Products

The Z97 XPOWER AC falls in the MSI’s overclock lineup which includes the MPower and XPower branding for the motherboards and Lightning branding for the graphic cards lineup. The entire MSI overclock lineup is “OC Certified” meaning that the motherboards and graphic cards have been evaluated under stress load while overclock using prime95 software for 24 hours before being shipped to retail.

This guarantees that MSI’s overclock products do what they are meant to do, overclock like a beast and offer the best stability possible because that’s the absolutely everything an overclocker would want out of a product that is built to overclock.In addition to this nifty certification,MSI’s overclock lineup ships with the industry’s leading OC Essential and Military Class IV features and components which we would detail in this article later on.

MSI Z97 XPOWER AC Motherboard

The MSI Z97 XPOWER AC motherboard which we received from MSI is the most high-end and top tier board in the MSI Z97 lineup. From the looks and the features it boasts, anyone could point out that it’s not built for the average consumer. Built and priced strictly for overclockers and enthusiasts who need nothing less than the best, the Z97 XPOWER AC adopts a brilliant design scheme with a neat layout and features that only some boards can match.

You can check out the features, unboxing, accessories and testing results below for the MSI Z87 MPOWER MAX Motherboard.

MSI Z97 XPOWER AC Specifications

The MSI Z97 XPOWER AC is feature-rich and delights overclockers with a variety of features and packages. All of the features have been provided in the following chart, do take a look before we head on to much more detailed overview of these features.

CPU
  • Supports 5th and 4th Generation Intel® Core™ Processors, and Intel® Pentium® and Celeron® Processors for the Socket LGA1150
  • Please refer to CPU Support for compatible CPU; the above description is for reference only.
Chipset
  • Intel Z97 Chipset
Memory
  • Support four DDR3 DIMMs 1066/1333/1600/1866*/2000*/2133*/2200*/2400*/2600*/2666*/
    2800*/3000*/3100*/3200*/3300*(OC)DRAM (32GB Max)
    – Supports Dual-Channel mode
    – Supports non-ECC, un-buffered memory
    – Supports Intel Extreme Memory Profile (XMP)
Onboard Graphics Integrated Graphics Processor:

  • 1 x DisplayPort, supporting a maximum resolution of 4096×2160
  • 1 x HDMI Port, supporting a maximum resolution of 4096×2160
  • 1 x DVI-D Port
Audio
  •  Realtek ALC1150 Codec
    – 7.1-Channel High Definition Audio
    – Supports S/PDIF output
LAN/Wireless LAN
  • Wi-Fi/Bluetooth expansion module with Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260 chip.
    – Supports Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual band (2.4GHz, 5GHz) up to 867 Mbps speed.
    – Supports Intel Wireless Display (WiDi)
  • Bluetooth
  •  Wi-Fi/Bluetooth expansion module with Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260 chip.
    – Supports Bluetooth v4.0 (includes BLE and Bluetooth 3.0+HS)
Expansion Slots
  • 5 x PCIe 3.0 x16 slots (PCI_E1, PCI_E2, PCI_E3, PCI_E5, PCI_E7)
    – The operating mode will be x0/x16/x0/x0/x0, x16/x0/x0/x16/x0,x16/x0/x0/x8/x8 or x8/x0/x8/x8/x8.
    – Support for installing up to 4 PCIe x16 expansion cards.
    • 2 x PCIe 2.0 x1 slots
    * For a single expansion card installation with optimum performance, using the PCI_E2 slot is recommended.
Multi-Graphics Technology
  • Supports 4-Way AMD® CrossFire Technology
  • Supports 4-Way NVIDIA® SLI Technology
  • Supports Windows 7 and Windows 8/8.1.
  • Storage Interface
  • Intel Z97 Express Chipset
    – 6 x SATA 6Gb/s ports (SATA1~6)
    – 1 x M.2 port
    – M.2 port supports M.2 SATA 6Gb/s module
    – M.2 port supports M.2 PCIe module up to 10Gb/s speed
    – M.2 port supports 4.2cm/ 6cm/ 8cm length module
    – Supports RAID 0, RAID1, RAID 5 and RAID 10
    – Supports Intel Smart Response Technology, Intel® Rapid Start Technology and Intel Smart Connect Technology
    • ASMedia ASM1061 chipset
    – 4 x SATA 6Gb/s ports (SATA7~10)
    The SATA5 and SATA6 ports will be unavailable when installing a module in the M.2 port.
    M.2 PCIe interface only supports UEFI option ROM, NOT support legacy option ROM.
    M.2 PCIe interface does not support RAID 0, RAID1, RAID 5 and RAID 10.
    Supports Intel Core processors on Windows 7 and Windows 8/ 8.1
USB
  •  Intel Z97 Express Chipset
    – 4 x USB 3.0 ports available through the internal USB connectors
    – 6 x USB 2.0 ports (2 ports on the back panel, 4 ports available through the internal USB connectors)
    • ASMedia ASM1074 Chipset
    – 6 x USB 3.0 ports on the back panel
    • ASMedia ASM1042 Chipset
    – 2 x USB 3.0 ports on the back panel
    * internal JUSB1 connector supports MSI Super Charger
Internal I/O Connectors
  • – 1 x 24-pin ATX power connector
  • – 1 x 8-pin ATX 12V power connector
  • – 1 x 6-pin ATX 12V power connector
  • – 5 x 4-pin System fan connectors
  • – 2 x 4-pin CPU fan connectors
  • – 10 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
  • – 2 x USB 2.0 connectors (supports additional 4 USB 2.0 ports)
  • – 2 x USB 3.0 connectors (supports additional 4 USB 3.0 ports)
  • – 1 x Front Panel Audio connector
  • – 2 x System panel connectors
  • – 1 x TPM module connector
  • – 1 x Chassis Intrusion connector
  • – 9 x V-Check points connectors
  • – 1 x GO2BIOS button
  • – 1 x OC Genie button
  • – 1 x Discharge button
  • – 1 x Reset button
  • – 1 x Power button
  • – 2 x Base Clock control buttons
  • – 2 x CPU Ratio control buttons
  • – 1 x Clear CMOS jumper
  • – 1 x Multi-BIOS switch
  • – 1 x OC Genie mode switch
  • – 1 x PCIe CeaseFire Switch
  • – 1 x Slow mode switch
  • – 1 x Base Clock step swtich
  • – 1 x PCIe CeaseFire switch
  • – 1 x 2-Digit Debug Code LED
  • – 1 x Wi-Fi/ Bluetooth module connector
  • * Provides additional power to PCIe x16 slots
Back Panel Connectors
  • – 1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port
  • – 1 x Clear CMOS button
  • – 1 x Optical S/PDIF-out port
  • – 2 x USB 2.0 ports
  • – 8 x USB 3.0 ports
  • – 1 x RJ45 LAN jack
  • – 1 x 6 in 1 OFC audio jack
  • – 1 x DisplayPort with max. resolution up to 4096×2304@24Hz, 2560×1600@60Hz, 3840×2160@60Hz,1920×1200@60Hz
  • – 1 x HDMI ports with max. resolution up to 4096×2304@24Hz, 2560×1600@60Hz, 3840×2160@60Hz,1920×1200@60Hz
  • BIOS
  • The motherboard BIOS provides “Plug & Play” BIOS which detects the peripheral devices and expansion cards of the board automatically.
    • The motherboard provides a Desktop Management Interface(DMI) function which records your motherboard specifications.
Operating System Support for Microsoft Windows 8.1/8/7/Vista/XP
Support for Chromium OS
Support for Steam OS
Form Factor 30.5cm(L) x 26.4cm(W) E-ATX Form Factor

MSI Z97 XPOWER AC Features:

  • Supports 4th and 5th Gen Intel Core / Pentium / Celeron processors for LGA 1150 socket
  • Supports DDR3-3300(OC) Memory
  • M.2 + USB 3.0 + SATA 6Gb/s
  • 4-way Multi-GPU: 4-way NVIDIA SLI & AMD CrossFire Support
  • 16 Phase DigitALL Power Design
  • OC Certified: Military Class Burn-in Test Passed
  • Enhanced Thermal Design & Water Cooling Heatsink
  • OC Engine: For More Flexible BCLK Adjustments
  • V-Check Points 2: 3 multi-meters at the same time
  • Delid Die Guard: Way to Break World Record
  • VGA Cease Fire: Easy to Disable the VGA Card via Physical Switch
  • Guard-Pro: Improved Protection and Power Efficiency
  • Military Class 4: Top Quality & Stability
  • OC Essentials: The Most Convenient Tools while Breaking the Record
  • OC Genie 4: Overclock in 1 Second
  • Click BIOS 4: Easily Fine-tune Your System
  • Command Center: Control & Customize Your PC Settings
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 ac, Bluetooth 4.0, Intel Wireless Display

Exclusive MSI OC Features:

OC PCB

The OC PCB used for the MSI overclocking motherboards has a completely new design in which 50% more layers are used compared to standard motherboards. This allows us to optimize all traces for overclocking. Power and signal traces are isolated, resulting in higher efficiency and performance and more features can be installed relatively close to each other without causing interference. Every MSI overclocking motherboard is tuned for better stability under extreme circumstances:

  • Increased number of PCB layers
  • Increased humidity resistance
  • Tight weave Fiberglass PCB
  • Increased ESD protection

DIGITALL POWER PWM

DigitALL Power digitally steers and receives feedback through a DigitALL PWM controller. This allows for pinpoint voltage delivery and lower power consumption.

THERMAL DESIGN

Besides inspiring visual awe the XPOWER Thermal Design was developed to deliver the highest cooling potential in the worst situation. Because it is optimized to work in low-airflow situations, it is the ideal cooling to use with your liquid cooling setup.

  • XPOWER thermal design
  • SuperPipe
  • Low airflow
  • Optimized design
  • Clear CPU space
  • Metal screws

EXTREME OC SOCKET DESIGN

What is more frustrating than not being able to properly fit your cooling solution on your motherboard? Through feedback from professional overclockers, extensive research, unique design and the use of Military Class 4 components, we were able to create a lot of space around the socket making sure you can fit any cooling solution you want. Having this much space also makes it easier to insulate the motherboard for use with LN2 or other extreme cooling solutions.MSI Delid Die Guard

WATER COOLING HEATSINK

Featuring a new unique heatsink design, MSI Z97 overclocking motherboards ensure the best cooling performance. Saving water cooling enthusiasts having to buy a waterblock for our motherboards, new generation overclocking models feature a no compromise built-in solution within the heatsink. So whether you choose a traditional air cooling or enthusiast water cooling solution, be sure to expect the lowest temperatures and maximum performance under the most extreme conditions.MSI Water Cooling

OC ENGINE

Run into unstable situations when pushing your CPU to the limit? This occurs because the internal clocks are linked through the 100 MHz BCLK strap. Thanks to a integrated Clock Generator, MSI Z97 Overclocking motherboards support more flexible BCLK adjustments, from 100 / 125 / 167 MHz straps. Using these straps prevents system crashing while overclocking on the edge and opens doors to achieve the absolute maximum.MSI OC genie

DELID DIE GUARD

Whether it’s for 24/7 overclocking use or breaking world records, the MSI Delid Die Guard helps with your air, water or subzero overclocking activities.
This solid mounting system makes it easier to mount a delidded CPU and helps to achieve lower CPU temperatures, making sure you can squeeze every MHz out of it. Whether you are a beginner in overclocking or a veteran, we hand you the tools to succeed.

  • Helps to lower CPU temperature
  • Easier and more stable fitting of cooling solution
  • Protecting the die of your CPU
  • Generate optimal mounting pressure

OC FAN STAND

Having trouble with your fans while overclocking? Are they falling over all the time when accidently touched? The MSI OC Fan Stand lets you easily set up your fans while overclocking without worrying about them falling over when your in pursuit of that world record. A sturdy, cool looking, and easy to use design makes setting up fans a whole lot easier.MSI OC Fan Stand

OC ESSENTIALS

A small set of tools that are essential to get the best performance out of your motherboard. These features increase stability, assist in trouble shooting, allow you to keep your complete system in check and allow for simple management. This way you can keep your mind on overclocking.MSI OC Essentials

SLOW MODE

Slow Mode helps to defeat booting issues when overclocking at extremely high CPU frequencies. Flicking the switch will temporary decrease CPU ratio to 8x, creating stability to successfully boot to Windows.

OC GENIE

One-second overclocking by simply pressing the OC Genie button. OC Genie 4 now has the ability to switch between 2 gears.

OC GENIE

One-second overclocking by simply pressing the OC Genie button. OC Genie 4 now has the ability to switch between 2 gears.

MODE CPU SPEED
NO OC GENIE 100%
GEAR 1 4.0 GHz
GEAR 2 4.2-4.4 GHz

Direct OC

A set of + and – buttons allows you to adjust your Base Clock in real time, even during benchmarking. The Direct OC software allows you to select 1 MHz or 0.1 MHz increments. The Z97 XPOWER AC allows for even better control because it is equipped with a switch on the motherboard which allowed you to make the 1MHZ or 0.1Mhz increments. On top of that it also comes with 2 extra Direct OC buttons to increase the multiplier ratio.

  • 1 MHz / 0.1 MHz adj
  • BLCK Ratio up
  • BLCK Ratio down
  • Multiplier up
  • Multiplier down

COMPLETE DISCHARGE

A true factory reset! Holding this button for 2 seconds completely wipes your motherboard from all settings. The CLR CMOS button only limits itself to the BIOS/VRAM but this Complete Discharge button even removes information from the Z97 PCH, a much needed button on the Z97 platform.

V-CHECK POINTS 2

After MOA feedback we enhanced the V-Check Points with 2 extra ground connectors. This way overclockers can use 3 multi-meters at the same time.

  • CPU Input Voltage
  • IMC Voltage
  • Core0 Voltage
  • iGPU Voltage
  • Ring Bus Voltage
  • System Agent Voltage
  • Ground
  • Ground
  • Ground

MSI Military Class IV Components

On the overclocking side, the MSI Z97 XPOWER AC features a DNA that’s similar to what’s available on MSI’s Lightning range of GPUs. This means that it comes equipped with the Military Class IV components and MSI’s OC Certification. According to MSI, the Z87 XPOWER AC is assembled based on four key principles:

  • Professional overclockers feedback must be integrated
  • Continue MSI’s leading position in power efficiency and stability
  • Only use essential OC tools
  • Infuse the DNA of MSI’s Lightning graphics cards

So what are these Military Class IV components? They are the selection of some of the finest and highest quality components built specifically for OC certified hardware. These include the likes of Hi-C CAPs, DARK Cap, Super Ferrite Chokes, Digital Power PWM and an OC PCB. The Hi-C Cap is an ultra compact capacitors that saves space off the motherboard and allows upto 93% energy efficiency. The DARK Cap on the other hand features an core design made of aluminum with a lower ESR and a life space of 10 years. MSI’s boards also use the Super Ferrite Chokes which run 35 degrees cooler, have 30% higher current capacity with 20% improvement in power efficiency and offering stability.

The MSI Z97 XPOWER AC uses a 8 layer OC PCB which offers 50% more layers than previous designs. It features a digital power controller that automatically adjusts and supplies power to the PWM and features of the OC PCB are detailed below:

  • Increased number of PCB layers
  • Increased humidity resistance
  • Tight weave fiberglass PCB
  • Increased ESD protection

MSI Z97 XPOWER AC – Unboxing

On with my favorite part of the review, the MSI Z97 XPOWER AC ships in a rather large rectangular box with a huge X cover on the front. There’s a large Z97 XPOWER AC label in the middle followed by the OC Series stickier on the bottom and Intel 9-Series and Intel Core Series logos on the top right corner.Box Front

The back of the package comes with several marketing features such as the Military Class Burn-in test passed assurance. This shows that the motherboard has passed a 24 hour Prime95 burn-in test with a liquid-cooled and overclocked CPU. All MSI OC Series products undergo this test to guarantee the best stability and performance from their brand new overclocking oriented lineup. There’s also a mention of Hybrid PWM cooling, better power stability and higher-performance. The back side also shows that the board comes with a 16 Phase CPU Digitall power, 4-Way Multi-GPU, OC Essentials and Intel’s Wi-Fi AC Module that’s bundled in the package. Specifications and an overview of the I/O panel is also provided at the bottom side.MSI Z97 XPOWER AC _Box Back

The front X cover can be flipped to reveal even more details of the Z97 XPOWER AC motherboard such as the XTREME Power design which includes the Digitall power with 16 Phase PWM supply and unprecedented OC support on Intel’s K-Series processors. We will detail more on this in the close-up look later.
MSI Z97 XPOWER AC _Box Open

We will detail the accessories later, for now we take a look at the Z97 XPOWER AC which looks amazing and powerful. We have the motherboard out of the box, now its time to take a closer look at it so head on to the following paragraph.MSI Z97 XPOWER AC _Box Opened

MSI Z97 XPOWER AC – A Closer Look

The MSI Z97 XPOWER AC comes with a black and yellow color scheme followed by a jet black PCB which looks splendid. Being an E-ATX form factor motherboard, it falls in the same line as some of the high-end X79 HEDT products but keeps things high-end in the mainstream LGA 1150 socket family. The board measures 30.5cm(L) x 26.4cm(W).MSI Z97 XPOWER AC _Top

The LGA 1150 CPU socket comes with the Delid DIe Guard protection which is a guarding material which can be used when running a Delid Haswell, Devil’s Canyon or Broadwell processors. When Intel launched Haswell, it was plagued with a temperature issue which occurred due to the use of low quality thermal interface material between the IHS and CPU die. Some enthusiasts sorted this issue out by delidding (removing the IHS from the CPU) and directly contacting the CPU die with the base of the heatsink. The Delid Die Guard which is built for those users offers more protection so that the CPU die isn’t damaged while installing the cooler on it.MSI Z97 XPOWER AC _Socket

A closer look at the Z97 XPOWER AC reveals that it uses three sets of heatsinks on the power supply area which are interconnected via a large heatpipe that is termed as the Superpipe. The surprising thing is that due to the XPOWER featuring a hybrid cooling design, this heatpipe can also be used to channel water from the cooling modulation unit that is assembled within the heatsink offering more cooling to enthusiasts who are running liquid cooled setups. The other amazing feature about the heatsink is that while retaining its gorgeous yellow and black color scheme, the XPOWER logo embedded on the top will lit up when the motherboard is powered giving out an amazing feel to the board.MSI Z97 XPOWER AC _VRMs

The LGA 1150 socket is powered by an 8-Pin and 4-Pin power configuration. The rest of the motherboard is powered by a 24-Pin ATX connector. This is enough power for the most brute liquid nitrogen overclocking which this motherboard can easily support given its outrageous design scheme.MSI Z97 XPOWER AC _Power

Power Supply on the motherboard is handled by the DIGITALL POWER and XTREME POWER design which feature a 16 Phase DigitALL power for the CPU socket delivering stable power and digital control. The board comes with the Military Class IV components which include DRMOS, Dark CAP with low ESR, Hi-C solid state capacitors and Super Ferrite Chokes which run cooler and deliver 30% higher current capacity compared to traditional chokes.MSI Z97 XPOWER AC _XPOWER Heatsink

Four DDR3 DIMMs offer support of 32 GB capacity with frequency of up to 3300 MHz (OC+) operating in Dual Channel mode. All four DIMM slots are colored black and right next to them are the OC essentials switches. It comes with Intel XMP specification support which can enabled through the BIOS.MSI Z97 XPOWER AC _Memory

The OC Essential switches include a variety of features such as OC Genie which supports unlimited BCLK adjusting, Direct OC, Discharge button, V-Check Points 2 to measure voltages from various points as mentioned before, Easy button 3, Debug LED and a Clear CMOS button on the I/O panel. There are also knobs which can adjust different BCLK steps.MSI Z97 XPOWER AC _OC Essentials

For storage, the motherboard offers 10 SATA 6 GB/s ports, 6 of which are offered by the Z97 Express chipset while the rest of four are powered by the ASMedia ASM1061 chipset. There’s also a right angled USB 3.0 slot right next to the SATA ports.MSI-Z97-XPOWER-Motherboard-Featured-_3

Expansion slots include five PCI-e 3.0 x16 slots ( x0/x16/x0/x0/x0, x16/x0/x0/x16/x0,x16/x0/x0/x8/x8 or x8/x0/x8/x8/x8) and two PCI-e 2.0 x1 slots. It should be noted that the MSI Z97 XPOWER AC makes use of the PLX8747 gen3 switch chip that offers two full bandwidth PCI-Express slots for maximum performance. XPOWER even features a separate 6-Pin PEG connector to provide stability and additional power to the PCI-e slots when running Quad SLI or Quad CrossFireX graphics which the motherboard can support.MSI Z97 XPOWER AC _Expansion Slots

Right in the middle of the expansion slots is a M.2 SSD slot which is able to support Intel’s next generation form factor (NGFF) solid state drives. Featuring up to 10 GB/s data transfer speeds, the slot allows for high-end storage usability. There’s also a square label right next to it which gives off the “Best VGA Bandwidth” info when using multiple graphics cards.MSI Z97 XPOWER AC _M.2 Slot

The Intel Z97 Express chipset or PCH hides beneath a large heatsink with a an X logo embedded on it. The MSI logo on the bottom of the heatsink will lit up like the XPOWER logo on the main heatsink when the motherboard is powered up.MSI Z97 XPOWER AC _X

The ALC 1150 codec is protected by a shielded plate that reduces EMI interference to deliver higher quality audio. Audio is provided through an 7.1 Channel gold plated audio jack on the I/O panel. The entire audio area is isolated from the main PCB by a yellow line which lits up when the motherboard is powered.Z87 MPOWER MAX Audio Boost Chip (Custom)

MSI Z97 MPOWER MAX Gallery:

MSI Tech and OC Panel Slides:

MSI Z97 XPOWER AC I/O Panel:

The I/O panel on the Z97 XPOWER AC comes with 8 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, PS/2, CMOS Rest, 7.1 Channel Audio Jack (Powered by Realtek ALC 1150 codec), HDMI, Full-length Display port, SPDIF ports. More details are given below:

  • 1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port
  • 1 x Clear CMOS button
  • 1 x Optical S/PDIF-out port
  • 2 x USB 2.0 ports
  • 8 x USB 3.0 ports
  • 1 x RJ45 LAN jack
  • 1 x 6 in 1 OFC audio jack
  • 1 x DisplayPort with max. resolution up to 4096×2304@24Hz, 2560×1600@60Hz, 3840×2160@60Hz,1920×1200@60Hz
  • 1 x HDMI ports with max. resolution up to 4096×2304@24Hz, 2560×1600@60Hz, 3840×2160@60Hz,1920×1200@60Hz

The main attraction of the I/O panel on the Z97 XPOWER AC is the Intel WiDi AC module which ships with the package. Featuring Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/h/n/ac and bluetooth 4.0 wireless connectivity, this small yet very useful module can easily be attached to the I/O panel and can be connected with two wired antennas which are shipped within the box for wireless connectivity.MSI Z97 XPOWER AC _IO MSI Z97 XPOWER AC _Module

MSI Z97 XPOWER AC – Accessories

The MSI Z97 XPOWER AC is shipped with a variety of accessories which include a Driver DVD, Driver’s Manual, Setup Guide book, four SATA connectors, 2 x 2 Way SLI bridge, 1 x Three-Way SLI bridge, WiDi (Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.0 module, wireless antennas, Black I/O panel, MSI OC series sticker, MSI OC Series door hangar, OC Fan mounting bracket and the best of all, an 8 GB XPOWER flash drive built by Team Group.

  •  1 x Drivers Manual
  • 1 x Setup Guide
  • 1 x OC Fan Mounting Panel
  • 4 x SATA III Black Cables
  • 1 x SLI Bridge (3-Way)
  • 2 x SLI Bridge (2-Way)
  • 1 x Driver DVD
  • 1 x Black I/O Shield
  • 1 x WiDi Module
  • 1 x MSI OC Series Sticker
  • 1 x MSI OC Series Hangar
  • 1 x 8 GB XPOWER Flash Drive
  • 1 x Delid Die Guard
  • V-Check Point Cables
  • WiFi Antennas

MSI Z97 XPOWER AC – Utilities

Each motherboard manufacturer develops a wide range of exclusive utilities and software for their latest hardware and products these days. MSI bundles their Z97 XPOWER AC with some new software utilities allowing easier management and ease of control over the various features on the motherboard. Following Utilities can be found on the installation disk:

  • Command Center
  • Super Charger
  • RamDisk
  • Super RAID
  • Live Update 5
  • Fast Boot
  • Lucid VIRTU MVP
  • 7-ZIP
  • Intel Turbo Boost Monitor
  • Intel Extreme Tuning Utility
  • Norton Internet Security Solution
  • Trend Micro SafeSync
  • Sound Blaster Cinema
  • Killer Network Manager
  • Chrome Browser

MSI Z97 XPOWER AC – BIOS

MSI delivers their latest UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) BIOS with the Z97 XPOWER AC board termed as Click Bios 4. In its fourth iteration, the Click Bios is an ACPI 5.0, PnP1.0a, SM BIOS 2.7, and DMI 2.0 multi language ready BIOS. It offers a seamless experience using Keyboard and Mouse. The GUI when accessed can be seen that it remains largely similar to MSI’s Z77 MPOWER BIOS but with a better opening page and few new features.

The Z97 XPOWER AC comes with Dual BIOS II support which means that there are two 64MB Winbond ICs which house the BIOS allowing you to store OC profiles or keep it as a backpack if failure occurs while overclock. Browsing through the BIOS is lag free using both Keyboard and Mouse and also allows to save pictures in .BMP format to an portable storage device by pressing the F12 keys. This makes it easy for us to show what kind of features the new BIOS on the Z97 XPOWER AC holds in terms of features for enthusiasts. To get a more detailed look at the BIOS, you can read our previous review on the Z97 / Z87 MPOWER MAX motherboards here.

Test Setup

Processor
  •  Intel Core i7-4770K
Motherboard:
  • MSI Z97 XPOWER AC w/Core i7-4770K
  • MSI Z97 MPOWER MAX w/Core i7-4770K
  • Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC w/ Core i7-4770K
  • MSI Z87 MPOWER MAX w/ Core i7-4770K
  • ECS DRONE Z87H3-A3X w/ Core i7-4770K
  • Intel DZ87KLT-75K w/ Core i7-4770K
Power Supply: Xigmatek NRP-MC1002 1000 Watt
Hard Disk: Kingston HyperX 3K 90 GB (OS)
Seagate Barracuda 500GB 7200.12
Memory: 4 x 4 GB Kingston HyperX 2400 MHz
10th Anniversary Edition Memory Kit
Case: Cooler Master HAF 932
Video Cards: EVGA GeForce GTX 770 ACX
Cooling Solutions: Phantek PH-TC14PE Triple Fan
OS: Windows 8 Ultimate 64-bit

Overclocking With MSI Z97 XPOWER AC

The Core i7-4770K chip we used is a golden sample which overclocks to 4.8 GHz without any issue. The MSI Z97 XPOWER AC built for overclocking pushed it to 4.8 GHz with a BCLK of 100 MHz (x48 Multiplier) at 1.40V max voltage and achieved an overclocked of 4.8 GHz which is pretty good for a Haswell chip considering how they overclock. We also enabled XMP 1.3 profile for our memory clocking it to 2400 MHz at 1.65V on all four DDR3 modules. You can find the CPU-z screenshot below

*(The overclock was stressed for 1 hour which is enough to tell whether it was stable or not for testing).

MSI Z97 XPOWER AC – BENCHMARKS

X264 HD Encode Benchmark

This benchmark measures the encoding performance of the processor. It offers a standardized benchmark as the clip as well as the encoder used is uniform.Z97 XPOWER AC _x264 HD

Cinebench R11.5

Cinebench is based on Maxon’s Cinema 4D. It is used to compare graphics as well as processor performance. We are using the CPU performance numbers for our comparison.Z97 XPOWER AC _CineBench R11.5

PCMark 7

PCMark 7 is a complete PC benchmarking solution for Windows 7 and Windows 8. It includes 7 tests combining more than 25 individual workloads covering storage, computation, image and video manipulation, web browsing and gaming. Specifically designed for the full range of PC hardware from netbooks and tablets to notebooks and desktops, PCMark 7 offers complete Windows PC performance testing for home and business use.Z97 XPOWER AC _PCMark 7

POV-Ray

The POV-Ray package includes detailed instructions on using the ray-tracer and creating scenes. Many stunning scenes are included with POV-Ray so you can start creating images immediately when you get the package.Z97 XPOWER AC _POV Ray

3DMark Vantage CPU Performance

3DMark Vantage is a DirectX 10 video card benchmark test for Windows that is designed to measure your PC’s gaming performance. While the overall benchmark is great, the utility also provides a good indication of the CPU performance.Z97 XPOWER AC _3DMark

WinRar

WinRAR is a powerful archive manager. It can backup your data and reduce the size of email attachments, decompress RAR, ZIP and other files downloaded from Internet and create new archives in RAR and ZIP file format.Z97 XPOWER AC _Winrar

SuperPI

Super PI is used by many overclockers to test the performance and stability of their computers. In the overclocking community, the standard program provides a benchmark for enthusiasts to compare “world record” pi calculation times and demonstrate their overclocking abilities. The program can also be used to test the stability of a certain overclock speed.Z97 XPOWER AC _SuperpI

MSI Z97 XPOWER AC – Gaming Performance

MSI Z97 XPOWER AC – Battlefield 4 Performance

Battlefield 4 is the latest installment in the Battlefield franchise. Developed by DICE and published by EA, Battlefield 4 takes multiplayer FPS to the next level unleashing new levels of destruction and the game changing LEVOLUTION. Battlefield 4 is a true next generation experience on the PC rendered with the power of Frostbite 3 which features stunning DirectX 11.1 effects and Tessellation which only a few games dare to match. In addition to the engine, Battlefield 4 would also be the first to support AMD’s latest Mantle API which will leverage the game performance on AMD hardware.Z97 XPOWER AC _Battlefield 4

MSI Z97 XPOWER AC – Elder Scrolls Skyrim Performance

Bethesda released their Elder Scrolls Skyrim in 2011 and the hype level shattered the roofs. The game was met with wide success and is built with the latest Creation engine which meant a farewell to the much older game bryo engine from Bethesda. The game has one of the most biggest and well crafted world ever created. The game requires a good CPU for stable performance, most GPUs can handle the game well. It wasn’t until users started pouring in their custom content and mods for the PC version such as high-resolution textures and more which required GPUs with higher VRAM for adequate performance. Skyrim is known as one of the reasons by PC gamers for GPUs with higher VRAM.Z97 XPOWER AC _Skyrim

MSI Z97 XPOWER AC – CRYSIS 3 Performance

Crysis franchise is the crown jewel for the PC gamers. Even after going multi-plat, the game is considered to be the most brilliant and gorgeous game ever brilliant, a visual marvel in short. The third and most probably the last title in the Crysis trilogy blends in the most deepest story line of the franchise with graphics that would make any other game cry in shame. Powering the game is the beastly and much user friendly CryEngine 3 that adopts all the features of DirectX 11 API. Simply speaking, the game demands a high performance graphics card than a high performance CPU to play well on higher settings.Z97 XPOWER AC _Crysis 3

Power Consumption And Thermals

The MSI Z97 XPOWER AC is built for overclocking though higher overclocks mean higher power consumption for which high quality PSU’s are recommended. In the case of LN2 or higher voltage overclocking, the XPOWER AC comes with another 8-Pin+4-Pin power connector configuration which means that it would require a beefy power supply to meet the overclockers demands.

On the temperature side, we see that the Haswell Core i7-4770K has temperatures similar to the Core i7-3770K at default settings but as soon as its overclocked, the CPU pushed around the 70-80C even with the top-end air cooler available in the market (Phantek’s PH-TC14 PE). This is due to the low quality TIM used beneath the heat spreader rather than flux less solder. This is a similar issue as faced on Ivy Bridge so expect higher temperatures when overclocking. A water cooling setup is recommended for 24/7 overclocked usage. This issue has been fixed with the release of the latest Devil’s Canyon processors and we will soon have a review on the CPU ready.

The PWM water cooling at the northbridge provides a significant cool-down improvement to the CPU surprisingly, by taking away the heat at the northbridge and allowing outward dissipation. To measure this accurately, temperature probes were placed using 7 CPU Nurse Units that measure the temperature at the ambient space of the heatsinks every 5 cm. The overall dissipation was measured by totaling all of this. The layout was also removed completely to test for heat around the area at maximum load (980 W). In measuring the dissipation to the MSI Z97 XPOWER AC – we can see that there is a nearly 14 degrees Celsius difference – accounting for an increase of cooling by nearly 16% compared to the heat of 86 degrees Celsius produced without this layout. MSI has done a really nice job in their cooling innovation.

Conclusion

The Z97 XPOWER AC from MSI costs $399.99 US (Newegg) which is a hefty price for a board that does offer high-end overclocking in a single package. Built from the DNA of the LIGHTNING products before it, the XPOWER MSI brand has spanned the X58 and X79 HEDT boards and recently entered the mainstream line with the Z87 Xpower last year and this year’s Z97 XPOWER AC.

Featuring an extra ordinary design scheme, the Z97 XPOWER AC stands above the crowd with an E-ATX form factor, a truly awesome design scheme and high-quality military class IV components which set new quality and standards in stability and performance. While the 9-Series chipset failed to introduce new features and just adds support for new processors and storage options such as M.2 and SATA Express, MSI innovated the feature set of the board offering more value to consumers. The pricing on the motherboard is high but being a premium product, it was expected from the XPOWER brand. Users who want something cheaper may always have the choice to go for the lower priced Z97 MPOWER boards which offer the same features as the high-end part with some cut downs on the PWM and OC features but they still remain a good buy at the sub $250 price range.

Tools such as the OC Fan mount and Delid Die Guard which are built for the really niche market are an added bonus while added accessories such as the wireless module and 8 GB flash drive are actually more useful. When it comes to overclocking, it should be noted that these 9-Series motherboards will last a whole year until Intel launches Skylake generation with the Z170 series chipset in second half of 2015. The 9-Series chipset will support the Haswell, Haswell Refresh, Devil’s Canyon and Broadwell generation of processors. With Devil’s Canyon out in the market, 5 GHz and above clock speeds with the beastly chip would be easily achievable on air / liquid cooling on this beastly motherboard.

So the answer to the question whether this board is a buy at the $399.99 US price? It definitely is for the users who demand hunger for ultimate performance and unparalleled overclocking support. The Z97 XPOWER AC is the best 9-Series motherboard that money can buy you right now.MSI-XPOWER-No-Limits

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