Articles: Mainboards

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Design and Functionality

I have to say that the photo of MSI Z77 MPOWER doesn’t look too eye-catching: only the decorative stripes on the heatsinks brighten up the dark black and gray PCB. However, the board is very pleasant to handle: you can tell it’s a high-quality and thoroughly made product right from the start, although I have to say that the color-coding of the memory DIMMs, graphics card slots and SATA connectors could make its exterior a little more fun and make the assembly process a little easier.

One of the typical peculiarities of Micro-Star’s mainboards is the use of high-quality “Military Class III” components, which reliability and stability are guaranteed by the accompanying certificate. The heating components of the digital processor voltage regulator circuitry and topped with two heatsinks of sophisticated shape. A thick 8 mm heat-pipe, instead of 6 mm heat-pipes used by other mainboard makers, connects these heatsinks to the central one, which doesn’t cover any special components, but simply provides additional heat-dissipating surface and indicates the board’s high-end status. All heatsinks including the fourth one on the chipset are securely fastened with screws.

The mainboard can take one discrete graphics accelerator working at full PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 speed, or two working at x8 speed. If you are using an Ivy Bridge processor, you will have a third slot at your disposal, but the slot operational speeds will change to x8/x4/x4, according to the functionality of the Intel Z77 Express chipset used in this board. You can build ATI CrossFire or Nvidia SLI graphics configurations. Besides that, there are four more PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots for expansion cards. The chipset also provides the board with two SATA 6 Gbps ports and four SATA 3 Gbps ports. There are no additional SATA controllers onboard.

The mainboard’s back panel offers the following ports and connectors:

  • PS/2 connector for keyboard or mouse;
  • Two USB 2.0 ports, six more USB ports are available as three onboard pin-connectors;
  • Clear CMOS button;
  • Two USB 3.0 ports (blue connectors) implemented via Intel Z77 Express chipset, Another four ports are implemented via Renesas µPD720201 controller, and there is also an onboard pin-connector for two more USB 3.0 ports;
  • Bluetooth 3.0+HS and Wi-Fi IEEE 802.11 b/g/n wireless modules;
  • A local network port (network adapter is built on Gigabit Realtek RTL8111E controller);
  • HDMI and DisplayPort Video outs;
  • Optical S/PDIF, and six analogue audio-jacks provided by eight-channel Realtek ALC898 codec.

Here I would like to draw your attention to several things. Firstly, it is for the first time in our experience that a Micro-Star mainboard comes with integrated wireless technologies onboard. There could have been other mainboards, but we didn’t have a chance to test them, except for some really old MSI mainboards that came bundled with a separate Bluetooth module. Secondly, the USB 3.0 ports implemented in the chipset are accompanied by a Renesas controller. Only the very first mainboards with USB 3.0 support came with Renesas (NEC) controllers, but they have been almost completely replaced with the other manufacturers’ controllers by now. So, why are these chips still used on MSI mainboards? The thing is that Renesas µPD720201 is a new four-port controllers, which belongs to the third generation of USB 3.0 controllers from Renesas. These new chips are more compact, more energy-efficient and even faster than their predecessors. These were all the indisputable advantages of the back panel layout. The only drawback is the absence of the eSATA ports.

I would like to point out a number of other mainboard peculiarities. The graphics card slots have very convenient wide latches. The CPU Phase LEDs indicate the number of active phases in the processor voltage regulator circuitry, which changes dynamically depending on the operational load. Besides the Power On, Reset and Clear CMOS buttons, there is also an OC Genie button, which allows automatically overclocking the system. Another useful new feature is the GO2BIOS button, which will let you enter the BIOS upon the next boot-up without any additional effort on your part. There is a special switch that will allow you to set one of the two independent BIOS chips as primary. The POST code indicator will help identify boot-up problems. You can use V-Check Points and enclosed V-Check Cables to manually measure all important voltages. A six-pin additional power supply connector for multi-card graphics configurations is a questionable advantage, because the existing power supply connectors won’t be free and you will have to use some kind of adapters for that. There are five four-pin fan connectors. Four system fan connectors allow lowering the fan rotation speed even if you are using three-pin fans, but it will not work with a CPU fan.

The table below sums up all the major technical specifications of the MSI Z77 MPOWER mainboard:


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