Articles: Mainboards

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PCB Design and Functionality

Almost completely black MSI Big Bang-XPower II mainboard looks just as dark as contemporary mainboards from Gigabyte. Only an orange sticker indicating chipset SATA connectors and a heatsink on the chipset designed in the shape of a machine-gun cartridge-belt brighten up the picture a little bit.

Of course, powerful processor voltage regulator circuitry on MSI Big Bang-XPower II is its indisputable advantage. It has 22-phase structure and is built with high-quality Military Class III electronic components that have been tested in extreme conditions. The CPU may be powered via two eight-pin ATX12V connectors. The board is equipped with eight memory DIMM slots with quad-channel access, which should theoretically be able to accommodate up to 128 GB of memory. They also mention 8 mm Superpipe heatpipes as another great feature of MSI Big Bang-XPower II, which in my opinion is an arguable advantage. The thing is that the only wide heatpipe is between the chipset heatsink and an additional central heatsink. However, Intel X79 Express consumes only 7.8 W of power, has insignificant heat dissipation, so there is really not that much practical value in an 8 mm heatpipe and an additional heatsink in this case. However, all voltage regulator components that do heat up noticeably during work use a regular 6 mm heatpipe. They are hidden under a relatively large heatsink, but only half of it actually works effectively: the part designed as a cartridge-belt doesn’t really warm up, since the heatpipe doesn’t go to it. To be fair I have to say that all heatsinks use very reliable screw-on retention.

Besides two SATA 6 Gbps and four DATA 3 Gbps ports provided by the chipset, two onboard ASMedia ASM1061 controllers add another four SATA 6 Gbps ports. It is remarkable that the board has as many as seven PCI Express x16 slots, although only four of them are working at their full potential speed, and the remaining three can only work as PCI Express 2.0 x1, so it is not exactly clear why they have been made so long in this case. As for the PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots, they work according to the same formula as we have just seen with ASRock Fatal1ty X79 Professional and Asus Rampage IV Formula. No matter how many graphics cards are installed in the system, the first slot will always work at its full speed. Here is a list of all possible configurations for your reference:

  • x16
  • x16/x16
  • x16/x8/x16
  • x16/x8/x8/x8

The mainboard back panel has the following ports and connectors on it:

  • PS/2 connector for keyboard or mouse;
  • Six USB 2.0 ports, four more USB ports are available as two onboard pin-connectors;
  • Clear CMOS button;
  • Coaxial and optical S/PDIF, and six analogue audio-jacks provided by eight-channel Realtek ALC898 codec;
  • IEEE1394 (FireWire) port implemented via VIA VT6315N controller, the second port is available as an onboard pin-connector;
  • Four USB 3.0 ports (blue connectors) implemented via two NEC D720200 controllers, the third controller like that provides support for two more USB 3.0 ports;
  • Two local network ports (network adapters are built on Gigabit Intel 8257V and 82574L controllers).

A unique peculiarity of this mainboard is the three BIOS chips. You can use a special switch to move between the first two and the third one is activated with a button. The peculiar thing about the third BIOS chip is that it can be removed. The mainboard has a “Low Temperature Booting” switch, which will help to start the system even at low temperatures in systems with liquid nitrogen cooling, and a “PCI-E Switch”, which will allow disconnecting the PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots. Besides the Clear CMOS button on the back panel and a special button for activating the third BIOS chip, there are also Power On and Reset buttons, “OC Genie” button for automatic overclocking and “Direct OC” button for adjusting the base clock frequency “on the fly”. There is a row of “V-Check Points” that can be used to manually measure the system voltages and a “V-Check Cable” set. A POST-code indicator will help monitor the startup process. The mainboard is equipped with six four-pin fan connectors.

There are a lot of bright-blue LEDs scattered over the mainboard PCB. Luckily, they can be turned off in the BIOS.

We summed up all technical characteristics of this mainboard in the following table:

MSI Big Bang-XPower II mainboard has one very serious drawback, which you don’t really notice right away. The mainboard features eight memory DIMM slots. Powerful processor voltage regulator circuitry also takes up quite a bit of space, so the CPU Socket had to be moved down a bit, but there is enough room between the DIMM slots and the first graphics card slot even though there are as many as seven expansion slots on this mainboard. The thing is that this mainboard is not only 2 cm wider than the ATX standard, it is also 4 cm longer! Because of these significantly increased dimensions, there are in fact very few system cases that this board will fit in.

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