Introduction

The MSI Z97 MPower Max AC has been released at long last. Nine months have passed since the previous iteration of Micro-Star International’s (MSI) Z87 lineup came out to grace the people of the Master Overclocking Arena (MOA) with an unprecedented level of OC capacities that made it possible to achieve records in synthetic benchmarks. Something to give overclockers a sense of niche, a little bravado of design infused with righteous yellow elegance. Our very own Hassan Mujtaba gave the previous iteration a rare 9.6 in his review of the MSI Z87 MPower Max, making it that much more critical and harder for people who want to know what the MSI Z97 MPower Max AC is all about at the MSRP $259.99. The question that is on the minds of our readers and upgraders alike: is the Z97 version of the Mpower worth it for overclockers and enthusiasts alike?

MSI Z97 MPower Max AC Motherboard Video Review

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYmm5i3WbMo]

Intel Haswell Refresh - The Proverbial Milk

With the launch of Intel’s ‘Haswell Refresh’ we are seeing a slurry of new CPU’s with higher base clocks at roughly similar prices being released to take advantage of the Z87 to Z97 chipset. The Intel Z97 chipset brings with it the compatibility of being able to use older CPU’s on the same LGA 1150 socket, and support for the newer PCIe M.2 storage with SATA-Express functionality enhancements. Now – am I a personal fan of the Haswell Refresh line? Not at all, not even remotely close. The advantages of the Haswell Refresh are far and few in between based on notions of future technologies that have not been perfected. But the case of the matter remains – how are motherboard partners delivering when it comes to essentially newer motherboard types and not just another way to milk the proverbial refresh cow? z971one

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 troubles. I myself used the Cooler Master V8 GTS for this review.

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:

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 Changing Trend

z971two MSI starts to step away from its Gaming DNA (something the previous motherboards were built on) and makes a real surge towards delivering for overclockers – that means you, overclocker that is pumped for the next MOA. That is not, however, the only thing; MSI also strives to make sure to deliver something not just for the professional overclocker, but the enthusiast overclocker – the person sitting at home that has those crazy liquid cooling parts and is ready to kick it to 5.2GHz+ on liquid nitrogen. The MSI Z97 MPower Max AC is packed with a ton of features.

MSI Z87 MPOWER MAX Motherboard

The MSI Z97 MPOWER MAX motherboard which we received from MSI is an high-end motherboard. From the looks and the features it boasts, anyone could point out that it’s not built for the average consumer. The Z97 MPOWER MAX comes with a wide variety of features, tons of bundled accessories and a design that’s simply elegant. MSI Z97 MPOWER MAX Motherboard Box You can check out the features, unboxing, accessories and testing results below for the MSI Z97 MPOWER MAX Motherboard.

MSI Z97 MPOWER MAX AC Specifications

The MSI Z97 MPOWER MAX is feature-rich and delights enthusiasts with a variety of overclocking 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. z971featureimage

CPU
  • Supports 4th and 5th Gen Intel Core i7 / Core i5 / Core i3 / Pentium / Celeron processors for LGA 1150 socket
Chipset
  • Intel Z97 Chipset
Memory
  • Support four DDR3 DIMMs 1066/1333/1600/1866*/2133*/2400*/2666*/2800*/2933*/3000*/3100*/3200*/ (*OC) 1600/1333/1066 DRAM (32GB Max)
Onboard Graphics Integrated Graphics Processor:
  • 1 x DisplayPort, supporting a maximum resolution of 4096×2160
  • 2 x HDMI port, supporting a maximum resolution of 4096×2160
Audio
  • 8-Channel 'HD' audio - Chipset integrated by Realtek ALC1150 with AudioBoost Technology
LAN/Wireless LAN
  • Killer E2205 Gigabit LAN (10/100/1000 Mbit)
  • Intel Centrino Wireless N 2230 with Bluetooth
Expansion Slots
  • 3 x PCIe 3.0 x16 slots
  • 4 x PCIe x1 slots
Multi-Graphics Technology
  • Support for AMD CrossFire technology
  • Support for NVIDIA SLI technology
Storage Interface Chipset:
  • 8 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
  • 1 x M.2 SSD (NGFF SSD) Storage port
USB Chipset:
  • Up to 10 USB 3.0/2.0 ports
  • Up to 4 USB 2.0/1.1 ports (2 ports on the back panel, 2 ports available through the internal USB headers)
Internal I/O Connectors
  • ATX 24-Pin power connector
  • 8-pin ATX 12V power connector
  • 4-pin ATX 12V power connector
  • CPU x 1 / System x 4 FAN connectors
  • 1 x Clear CMOS jumper
  • 4 x Serial ATAII connectors
  • 2 x Serial ATAIII connectors
  • 6 x USB 2.0 connectors (2 rear / 4 front)
  • 12 x USB 3.0 connector (8 rear / 4 front)
  • 1 x Serial port connector
  • 1 x TPM Module connector
  • 1 x Front Panel Audio connector
  • 1 x Front Panel connector
  • 1 x Chassis Intrusion connector
  • 1 x 6-pin PEG PCI-E connector
Back Panel Connectors
  • 1 x PS/2 keyboard/ mouse port
  • 1 x Clear CMOS button
  • 1 x Coaxial S/PDIF-out port
  • 2 x Optical S/PDIF-out port
  • 4 x USB 2.0 ports
  • 8 x USB 3.0 ports
  • 1 x 6 in 1 audio jack
  • 1 x HDMI port with max. resolution up to 1920×1200 @60Hz
  • 1 x DisplayPort port with max. resolution up to 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/Steam OS/ Chromium OS
Form Factor 304.80mm(L) x 243.84mm(W) ATX Form Factor

 

MSI Z97 MPOWER MAX AC Motherboard

MSI Z97 MPOWER MAX 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
  • 3-way Multi-GPU: 3-way NVIDIA SLI & AMD CrossFire Support
  • 12 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
  • VGA Cease Fire: Easy to Disable the VGA Card
  • 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

MSI Z97 MPower Max AC - Take A Look At The New View

z971six Visual inspection reveals a nice yellow/black theme similar to the Z87 MPower Max, with plenty of room for air cooling. The top of the motherboard itself looks busy in terms of its components. PCIe ports are located in a nice headroom to allow for oversized coolers such as the Cooler Master V8 GTS.  The ports themselves are part of the new CeaseFire addition to the MSI Z97 MPower Max AC - it allows you to instantly disable one of the cards or two of them in a 3-way system. This is handy for people who need to do some GPU troubleshooting and something more manufacturers should start doing. The MSI Z97 MPower Max AC only supports 3-way SLI, which is somewhat of a disappointment for a true overclocker - but one that is no doubt marked for the overclocker and enthusiast hybrid user. z97mpowermaxocgenie OC Genie 4 (with buttons below the RAM modules) provides that 1-second overclock that very few overclockers may find themselves using. It is not a bad feature for a quick overclock, but we feel the best overclock comes directly from the BIOS. People in tournaments competing to overclock really quickly with set voltages in the UEFI BIOS will find themselves using Gear 2 and OC Genie 4 the most. Motherboard makers such as MSI have provided a motherboard that aims to please on the refresh front by offering design innovations. DigitALL power, an added CPU connector for a stable overclock source and more CPU volt power.

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 MPOWER 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.

  • MPOWER 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. z971five Along the part where ‘Xpower Max’ is located in the northbridge – there is the amazing quality built in pulse width modulation water-based cooling solution. How effective this cooling solution is will be tested in part of our benchmarks – with average heat dissipation (TDP) measured using our methodology of placing temperature probes around the heatsinks output/input areas. The board has Military Class 4 components which include the Hi-c CAP, the Dark CAP, Super Ferrite Chokes, and an OC PCB heatsink outlay. This entire northbridge area is lined with Supper Ferrite Chokes at 60 Amps to give more current to the self-healing low profile Tantalum capacitors which are stated to give 10x a longer lifetime. At the bottom, there are two more GRND connections on the V Checkpoints - for overclockers interested in monitoring motherboard stability with more than 1 multimeter.  The board further includes DigitAll Power to control for the CPU VEM, allowing voltage offset control to improve stability along with lowering the power consumption. Furthering stability, the motherboard includes  Guard-Pro design, which is MSI's take on the next-gen MB design standard at least until Haswell-E - something whcih provides Circuit Protection, ESD protection, and humidity protection. ioz97msimpower The I/O rear panel features a combination PS/2 port, 8 USB 3.0 ports, 1 HDMI port, 1 Standard Display Port Out, a clear CMOS button, 1 optical S/PDIF out, 1 Intel Gigabit LAN Ethernet port, AC Wireless & Bluetooth 4.0 receiver with WiDi support, and analog sound connectors for surround sound and line in. The USB 3.0 ports of the motherboard provide a 'Super Charger' design - something which users of the iPad will know all too well. The "Not Charging" syndrome is fixed with the increased speed and lowered latency of the USB 3.0 hub specification, which is a welcome thing for a full amperage charge.

MSI Z97 MPower Max AC - BIOS

The MSI Z97 MPower Max AC BIOS has the same click BIOS like the Z87 iteration – one where the user is no longer slave to the keyboard WITH THE Click BIOS 4. The BIOS is sleek, and makes some improvements with overclockers and normal users with its Simple/Advanced mode. There are memory presets in addition to the “Memory Try It” function – an out of the box OC helper of sorts for anyone who wants to OC their memory. z97msibios This allows for a simple setting on the CAS latency and adding the memory frequency, and you get a precise safe-range overclock. The OC menu itself allows enthusiasts to configure Base Clock (BCLK), CPU Ratio, Voltages, OC Genie, EIST, DRAM Frequency, and more. The overclocking theme is also helped with a Quick XMP button which can make sure the right timings are set for stability and performance. If you are also editing a lot of stuff – one can easily keep track with the Change Settings Info dialogue option, something which prevents any confusion for those who easily tend to forget stuff.

MSI Z97 MPower Max AC  - Software & Accessories Overview

z971four Software additions are also the staple in addition to the BIOS Features. The MSI Z97 MPower Max AC includes the following:

  • Command Center
  • Super Charger
  • Super RAID
  • Live Update 6
  • MSI Intel Extreme Tuning Utility
  • Hardware Monitor II

z97hwmonitorII In general, most of these features remain the same to the Z87 Mpower Max AC. Live Update 6 is the noticeable change. The Hardware Monitor II is always nice to keep an overview of control on the systems from the CPU, to fan speeds including temperature in a nice blue/black overlay. The software is certainly still there, though little has improved in this front. Regardless, hopefully this motherboard has what it takes as we take it for a spin in our benchmarks. The packaging of the MSI Z97 MPower Max AC includes quite an array of included accessories. It comes with the MSI Wi-Fi Adapter, the Wi-Fi antenna, 4 SATA connectors, the external eSATA I/O array,  MSI faceplate and door tag - so you can own your brand as an overclocker at competitions.  The board packaging is nicely done and something which fulfills more than enough.

Test Setup

Processor
  •  Intel Core i7-4770K
  •  Intel Core i7-3770K
Motherboard:
  • MSI Z97 MPOWER MAX w/ Core i7-4770K
  • MSI Z87 MPOWER MAX w/ Core i7-4770K
  • ECS Drone Z87H3-A3X w/ Core i7-4770K
  • ASRock Z77 Extreme 6 w/ Core i7-3770K
Power Supply: Antec 1000W CAP
Hard Disk: Kingston HyperX 3K 90 GB (OS)
Seagate Barracuda 500GB 7200.12
Memory: Crucial 16GB DDR3-1866 10-10-10-27
Case: Cooler Master HAF 932
Video Cards: MSI GeForce GTX 780 SLI Twin Frozr Gaming *Rest of the benchmarks were conducted with a GTX 770 ACX
Cooling Solutions: Phantek PH-TC14PE Triple Fan / CoolerMaster V8 GTS
OS: Windows 7 Ultimate 64-Bit SP1

 MSI Z97 MPower Max AC CPU 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. z97msimpowerh264

Cinebench R11.5

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. z97msimpowercinebench

POV-Ray

This benchmark measures the rendering performance through the power of raytracing. This program utilizes intensive CPU applications for its rendering process and makes a great benchamark. z97mpowermaxpovray

3D Mark 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. MSI Z97 MPOWER MAX 3DMark CPU Performance

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. z97mpowersuperpi

MSI Z97 MPower Max AC Gaming Benchmarks

MSI Z97 MPower Max AC – Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Performance

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was the most anticipated game to come out 11/11/11. An entire world, NPCs, and a flourishing modding community all made this game a never-ending escapade into the journey of mythological lore and wonderment. z97msimpowerskyrim

MSI Z97 MPower Max AC – Crysis 3 Perfomance

Crysis 3 is the technical and graphical benchmark that most gamers look to for its over-the-top graphical demands. Despite the fact that the game is horribly optimized for most platforms, it is the measure for a lot of people. We went ahead and benchmarked it for the performanceophiles. z97msimpowercrysis3

MSI Z97 MPower Max AC – Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Performance

Sailing the seas with Edward Kenway is simply incredible. Ubisoft Singapore has created some of the most realistic oceans to date, not to mention a game that is the best looking Assassin’s Creed game ever created – with an equivalent graphical demand as well (which is somewhat optimized given critical reception). z97msimpowerblackflag

MSI Z97 MPower Max AC – BioShock Infinite

Destroying a giant floating bird as Booker DeWitt and saving a girl is all part of the job description in this sky utopia thriller by makers of the popular BioShock - Irrational Games. The video game is absolutely gorgeous with full settings, greatly optimized, and one that a benchmark is just calling out for. z97msimpowerbioshockinfinite

Audio Benchmark

RightMark Audio Analyzer is intended for testing the quality of analog and digital sound sections of any audio equipment, be it a sound card, portable MP3 player, consumer CD/DVD player, or a speaker system. The measurements are conducted by playing and recording test signals passed through the examined sound section, using frequency analysis algorithms. For those unfamiliar with measured technical parameters a verbal mark is provided. Rightmark Audio Analyzer tests the input and output of the audio system to interpret audio range, harmonic distortion, crosstalk, electrical impedance interference and more. This will tell us exactly how the on-board audio solution on a specific product motherboard fares well if isolated from all electrical interference in terms of sound quality. To test this, the Line-Out is connected to the Line-In, or one can simply run the test on Stereo Mix with direct WDM7 sound from the audio adapter built-in to Windows 7 or 8. We ran Rightmark at 192 kHz/24-bit and adjusted the level to be close to -1 dB. This contributes to the most important results: Dynamic Range in the audio codec the audio chip uses, and finally the Total Harmonic Distortion and Noise ripples. RightMark Dynamic Range result:

  • 110 dBA

The dynamic range with audio boost easily tops 100 dBa - which is definitely perfect. Very few boards can boast this from the competition. RightMark Noise + Harmonic Distortion:

  • -106 dBA

There is a harmonic distortion of -4  dBA which is very marginal. This board still is doing great wonders on the audio front.

Overclocking And Temperature Probing

z971seven In terms of overclocking capacity and temperature readings, the Haswell Core i7-4770K has temperatures similar to the Core i7-4930X and when overclocked, the temperature is less than 76C at a 4.2 GHz overclock that I managed to maintain with this board on 3 x 120mm fans using a PWM splitter. 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 Z87 Mpower Max 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

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