PCB Design and Functionality
MSI XPower is a mainboards with extensive functionality and the whole bunch of interesting features. It is very well designed, is very easy to work with and barely sports any drawbacks.
There is a 16-phase processor voltage regulator circuitry built with high-quality “military style” components. For even greater efficiency they use APS (Active Phase Switching) system to dynamically adjust the number of active voltage regulator phases depending on the CPU utilization. Here is a row of LEDs in the upper right corner to visually display the number of active phases. The CPU may be powered via two 8-pin ATX 12V power connectors. The chipset North Bridge as well as the voltage regulator components heat up substantially under heavy load and during overclocking, so they are topped with three pretty large heatsinks. All heatsinks use reliable screw-on retention and are connected into a single cooling contour with an 8 mm SuperPipe heatpipe.
The most remarkable peculiarity of MSI XPower mainboard is the presence of six graphics card slots, but the North bridge only has 36 PCI Express 2.0 x16 lanes. Other manufacturers usually install additional controllers, which ensure that all slots work at high speed, but they also boost the system power consumption and heat dissipation. When we use a lot of expansion cards in this case, the free lanes will be distributed between the slots as follows:
There is a single PCI Express 1.1 x1 slot above the graphics card slots and it will be occupied by the discrete QuantumWave sound card. Above that there is a six-pin connector for additional power supply. All manufacturers recommend using additional power when there are multiple graphics cards installed in the system, but the use of a six-pin connector for VGA powering doesn’t seem to be the best choice in this case. There are several graphics cards, the existing cable from the PSU will most likely be utilized. Moreover, you will most probably need to use additional adapters, and on top of that you will have to give up such a valuable connector.
You can see the famous sensor buttons along the lower edge of the PCB: power on, reset, base clock up and down and OC Genie button for automatic overclocking. Then we notice “Over-Voltage Switch set for additional voltages increase and POST-code indicator. Next we see six black SATA 3Gbps connector implemented via Intel ICH10R South Bridge. To the right of them there are two white SATA 6Gbps connectors supported by Marvell 88SE9128 controller. The blue unit is none other but the “V-Check Points” module for voltage control, which we have already discussed in the previous part of our article.
There are the following connectors and ports on the MSI XPower back panel:
- PS/2 keyboard and mouse connectors;
- Clear CMOS button;
- Special connector for the external OC Dashboard panel;
- eSATA 3 Gbps ports (blue connectors) and eSATA/USB Combo port implemented via JMicron JMB362 controller;
- IEEE1394 (FireWire) port implemented via VIA VT6315N controller, the second port is available as an onboard pin-connector;
- Eight USB ports, including eSATA/USB Combo and a pair of USB 3.0 ports (blue connectors) implemented via Renesas (NEC) D720200F1 controller; four more USBs are available as two onboard pin-connectors;
- Two local network ports (network adapters are built on Gigabit Realtek RTL8111DL controllers).
There are no traditional audio connectors on the back panel, because there is a discrete QuantumWave sound card based on Realtek ALC889 controller included with the mainboard. The card has six analogue and two digital – optical and coaxial – outs.
The table below summarizes the technical specifications of the MSI XPower mainboard:
When we reviewed MSI XPower mainboard we discovered only one issue, which is not really a drawback, but more of an arguable solution – the six-pin power connector for additional power to PCI Express x16 slots. For the sake of contemporary and convenient design they had to give up legacy interfaces, such as COM, LPT and IDE, but is it really a drawback these days? I don’t think so. Instead, the mainboard has all the latest connectors, such as SATA 6 Gbps, eSATA and eSATA/USB Combo, IEEE1394, USB 3.0 and two network controllers. Discrete sound card delivers high-quality sound, six graphics card slots allow reaching performance, which would be unattainable for a single graphics accelerator, enhanced power circuitry and cooling system promise good processor overclocking results. Summing it all up, the board made a very good overall first impression.