MSI Z87 MPOWER MAX Review
The first thing that strikes you is MSI have continued the yellow and black colour scheme from the first MPOWER. It's a refreshing change from the tedium of black and red, being both eye-catching and different. One of the ironies of customisable PCs is that they've ended up all looking the same anyway. Yes we haven't got beige boxes, but black and red boxes are just as ubiquitous.
The CPU socket area is extremely well designed with plenty of room for whatever cooling solution takes your fancy and beneath that is the 20 phase power to give you stability regardless of whether you're running at 5GHz or just stock.
PCI Express lanes are well spaced. Given that a single card is the most popular choice, and SLI/Crossfire the next best with an enormous drop-off before you reach people with more than two graphics cards, it's important to have plenty of room for the air-cooler on your main GPU to do its thing. We'd rather have two well-spaced options than four cramped ones merely to allow "QUAD SLI!" claims in the advertising.
As always with the mid to high-end MSI boards the MAX comes with the OC Genie and tweaking buttons, allowing you to either get a mild overclock with zero effort, or tweak an already high-end overclock into world record territory. We like the CMOS battery being placed below the second PCI slot too. It's those little things that allow you to have a headache-free overclocking session.
In keeping with the lots of "little things done well" design the Go2BIOS button, invaluable in recovering from failed overclocks, is right next to the 7seg display. No sooner do you see the POST fail code than you can use the light of it to hit the button and be back in the BIOS again.
At the other end of the MAX is a separate audio PCB to help reduce interference and ensure the smoothest audio possible with an onboard solution. We also find the KillerNIC, something that is always hotly debated but there is no denying it's better to have it than not. Little things.
At the rear we have, from left to right. PS2 port, USB 2.0 ports, CMOS clear, WiFi expansion slot, USB 3.0 ports, KillerNIC Gigabit LAN, DisplayPort and two HDMI outs, as well as the S/PDIF and audio jacks.
The PCB is worthy of particular attention. The MPOWER MAX comes with a six layer PCB. This allows for thicker traces to assist in stability, thermals and greatly reduce interference. As well as this thicker is sturdier, so if you're one of the people who prefer to have your cooling provided by LN2 or similarly exotic options you have a greatly reduced risk of the 'board warping. When you compare the MAX, in the middle, to two other MSI motherboards it's obvious that the traces are hidden better between the layers.
Of course all this is fine on paper, let's see if it actually has a real-world benefit to the average user.