Articles: Mainboards

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Exclusive Software

MSI provides a substantial software bundle for its mainboards. It includes a lot of exclusive utilities such as MSI Live Update 5 for updating firmware, drivers and other software or Super Charger for quick recharging of mobile gadgets connected to the mainboard. Sound Blaster Cinema will help you set up audio effects. Network Genie lowers network latencies. Intel Extreme Tuning Utility helps control system parameters and change them as necessary. Most of these tools are already familiar to us, so we will only discuss the new ones.

The name of the Super RAID utility isn’t quite appropriate. If you google it, you will get information about the namesake technology used in MSI notebooks. However, the Super RAID tool, like Gigabyte’s EZ Setup, is only meant to help you quickly and easily enable such technologies as Intel Rapid Start, Intel Smart Response and Intel Smart Connect.

We like the Fast Boot tool. Like ASUS Boot Setting for ASUS mainboards and Restart to UEFI for ASRock mainboards, it reboots your computer right to the BIOS interface upon your choosing the GO2BIOS option. You don't have to press any keys for that. Besides that, it lets you enable the fast boot mode.

Building, fine-tuning and overclocking their computers with their own hands, many enthusiasts take it for granted that other people do the same. However, the majority of PC users don’t really do anything like that. An experienced one would only go into the BIOS to Load Optimal Defaults and leave the rest of the settings as they are. The memory frequency is often left at its minimum, so there’s no talking about memory timings or other parameters that affect performance or usability or anything else.

We can remind you as an example that ASUS mainboards introduced the Fast Boot feature for starting up faster. It was enabled by default. So the mainboard would for the first time start at its normal speed but then the startup process would get so fast that it was just impossible to hit the BIOS loading key at the right moment. To avoid this problem, you had to disable the Fast Boot option or run the ASUS Boot Setting utility. Many users didn’t think about that, however, and there were a lot of tech support requests from people who couldn’t enter their mainboard’s BIOS. As a result, every ASUS mainboard is now accompanied with an Exclusive Boot Features brochure which explains such technologies as Fast Boost, ASUS Boot Setting, Direct BIOS Access and Windows 8 BIOS Boot Settings. The brochure is small but, if you multiple its production cost by the number of manufactured mainboards, there’s some substantial financial loss from the Fast Boot feature being enabled by default. Moreover, many users don’t read manuals, so we guess that ASUS’s tech support still spends a lot of time explaining how to enter the mainboard's BIOS instead of solving really serious problems. Besides the financial losses, ASUS's image may suffer. ASUS mainboards have always been regarded highly, but now they seem to start up in the “wrong” way!

Mainboards from ASRock, Gigabyte and MSI have fast boot options, too. Fortunately, they are turned off by default. This guarantees that there are no problems with entering the BIOS but many users will just never learn about that capability. If we take the MSI Z87-G43, you have to open the BIOS, choose Settings -> Advanced, find the Windows 8 Configuration page and enable the accelerated boot option. These actions can be done in just a few seconds, actually, yet most people won’t do them anyway. That’s why it is appropriate that the tiny utility Fast Boot not only helps enter the BIOS of MSI mainboards but also lets you enable the fast boot option. ASRock’s Restart to UEFI tool cannot do that whereas the ASUS Boot Setting utility hides this option among its settings.

The most notable change in MSI’s exclusive software bundle is the replacement of the earlier multifunctional tool MSI Control Center with another utility. The latter offers similar functionality, though, and even has a similar name, MSI Command Center. The info panel above shows the temperature and some basic facts about the OS, BIOS version, CPU and mainboard model names. Using the toolbar below you can switch to other program windows, return to default settings, apply your changes, and save or load a settings profile. The program opens on the CPU tab where you can control and adjust CPU-related parameters.

The diagram on the left shows the CPU’s current clock rate and frequency multipliers. The graph on the right reflects the correlation between the speed of the first CPU fan and the temperature. You can adjust it manually, use the automatic regulation (Fan Tune option) or fix the speed at a constant level. The second CPU fan and the system fans are regulated in the same way, but a popup window appears in the latter case.

There are three more buttons at the very bottom of the MSI Command Center window. When you click Advanced, labeled icons will slowly crawl onto the panel.

Clicking on the Voltage icon will open a voltage tuning window.

The Fan icon opens the fan setup window we’ve already seen. The DRAM icon helps adjust memory timings.

The Setting button in the bottom panel will show two more icons.

The Record button will give you another popup window where you can mark any voltages, fan speeds, temperature and specify an update rate for these parameters, so that they were recorded and visualized as a diagram.

The Warning button will show you a window where you can specify adjustment ranges for such parameters as voltage, temperature and fan speed.

The Information button gives you as many as four icons.

Clicking on the Motherboard, CPU, Memory and HW Monitor icons will open popup windows with corresponding information.



Now we move on from the CPU to the DRAM tab of MSI Command Center. The large CPU voltage regulator catches the eye but you can also notice two small windows on the right with memory frequency and voltage options.

By the way, you can switch between the tabs by means of the blue arrows on the sides of the program window. The dots at the bottom indicate your current location. The active tab is marked with a green dot. It is somewhat confusing that the program has five tabs whereas the dots are six in number.

Now we move to the GPU tab and see one half of the screen occupied by the memory settings we’ve already seen. They are followed by options to change the frequency and voltage of the CPU-integrated graphics core.

The RAMDisk tab will first show you the integrated graphics setup window but its main purpose is to create a virtual drive in the system memory. Like the XFast RAM feature of ASRock mainboards, it will make the computer more responsive by moving system cache from the conventional storage into the faster system memory. The virtual drive can be used as a regular storage device. Its contents can be saved as an image file and restored when the computer is restarted.

The OC Genie tab is about the namesake technology for automatic overclocking. We’ll tell you shortly how it works and what you can get by using it.

The icons in the top right corner of the MSI Command Center application let you learn its version and close or minimize its window. You can also reduce it to a small info widget.

The intuitive wrench icon will open an additional panel with interface settings.

After using MSI Command Center for a while, we don’t think it’s a user-friendly application. Its interface is poorly designed. There are a lot of duplicate options and annoying popup windows.

Since a large part of the application window repeats the previous information in most of the screens, save for the first and last ones, it might have been reduced in size by half. The first screen should be split up into two separate tabs: CPU and Fan. The last screen, OC Genie, is not necessary at all since it contains just a single button which might be placed in the top panel, just like in the BIOS interface. As a result, we’d have a much smaller application window whose content would be much easier to take in. The application would only have five tabs, and the content of each tab would correspond exactly to its name. That would help avoid the duplicates. These are just a few improvements that come to mind right away. A professional interface designer would certainly come up with more solutions and would also think of a way to limit the number of popup windows or even get rid of them altogether.

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