Articles: Mainboards

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Operational and Overclocking Specifics

Upon boot-up MSI Z77 MPOWER mainboard displays a startup image where they remind us of the supported hot keys.

Moreover, even if you disable the start-up image in the settings or by pressing the Tab key, there will still be a hot key hint at the bottom of the screen. However, for some reason the mainboard no longer displays the current processor frequency. We only see the nominal frequency, which has nothing to do with the real one. We also see the system memory size and operational frequency there.

In our MSI Z77A-GD65 mainboard review, we were very pleased to see a new parameter in the BIOS called “Enhanced Turbo”. This parameter allows the processor clock frequency multiplier to rise to the maximum for this specific processor model as allowed by Intel Turbo Boost under any type of load. This is a very easy and safe way of slightly overclocking your system. However, today our opinion about this feature has changed, and we are inclined to consider its implementation on MSI Z77 MPOWER mainboard a drawback rather than an advantage. The first reason for that is the fact that “Enhanced Turbo” option is enabled by default, and therefore the processor is not working in its nominal mode. This function can be easily disabled, but even after that the nominal operational mode cannot be restored. Now the clock frequency multiplier of our test Core i5-3570X processor will rise only to 36x, although under low loads it should be able to rise to 38x. The thing is that the “Intel C-State” parameter is set at “Auto” in the BIOS, but in this case it doesn’t work, and you must manually change its setting to “Enabled”. Because of all that the MSI’s proprietary power-saving technology called APS (Active Phase Switching) also doesn’t work by default. Micro-Star has every right to consider this technology one of their mainboards’ advantages, and what happens when the advantage disappears? It would be wrong to assume that in this case nothing happens and that the board simply has one advantage less. When the plus is gone, the minus remains, and we are going to prove it during our power consumption tests later in this review.

Another peculiarity of Micro-Star’s mainboards is their automatic overclocking system called “OC Genie II”, which allows overclocking the system by selecting the corresponding option in the BIOS or by pressing the namesake button. We do not intend to overestimate its potential, because like any other automatic overclocking system it does have its imperfections, but it has a few undeniable positives. The thing is that many similar technologies from other manufacturers overclock only the processor, and totally leave out the memory. In our tests, we increased the processor frequency to 4.2 GHz, but the “OC Genie II” technology also increased the memory frequency to 1867 MHz and set all appropriate timings for it, with the help of the X.M.P. profile recorded in the modules SPD. This is the right approach, because system should be overclocked in its entirety.

Everyone knows that no automatic overclocking system will produce the same exceptional and adequate results as manual overclocking, when each and every parameter is carefully selected. However, overclocking with Micro-Star mainboards may not be as versatile. The thing is that their voltage regulator circuitry doesn’t allow increasing the processor core voltage in Offset mode by adding the designed value to the nominal setting, and if the Vcore is set at a fixed value, then all power-saving technologies stop working. We have explained multiple times in our reviews why power-saving modes are important even for overclocked systems, and the most recent occasion when we dwelled on this topic in detail was in our Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UP7 mainboard review, therefore, we won’t repeat all of that here today. However, those processors, which are overclocked by raising their clock frequency multiplier, could be pushed to the limits with all Intel’s power-saving technologies and MSI’s proprietary APS technology intact even on MSI mainboards. All you have to do to accomplish that is to overclock without raising the core voltage. Therefore, it is impossible to overclock our specific test processor to its absolute maximum of 4.6 GHz. In our case, even 4.5 GHz became quite a challenge and only gave in when we set the Vdroop to the maximum. At the same time we set the memory frequency to 1867 MHz and adjusted its timings accordingly.

The system was overclocked in such a way that it could be used in this mode for a prolonged period of time. We did not disable any of the mainboard features or onboard controllers, kept all Intel processor power-saving technologies up and running normally, so that in idle mode the CPU voltage and frequency multiplier would get lowered, and all idling processor units would get disabled to bring the CPU into the energy-efficient mode. MSI’s proprietary APS power-saving technology was also up and running and adjusted the number of active phases in the processor voltage regulator circuitry dynamically depending on the workload level.


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