Articles: Mainboards

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MSI used to have a shorter mainboard model range than other major manufacturers but now, if you visit the company’s website, you will find as many as 20 products based on the Intel Z97 chipset alone. Besides the familiar endings of G43 and GD65, there are a lot of new ones: SLI PLUS, U3 PLUS, GUARD-PRO and a whole series from GAMING 3 up to GAMING 9.

The advantages of particular models are not immediately clear as none of mainboard makers offers an easy-to-use and comprehensible product comparison system at their websites. Fortunately, people from MSI helped us to make everything out for ourselves. The Z87 and Z97 chipsets having similar functionality, a number of new MSI mainboards use the same PCB design as their Z87-based predecessors. They look the same, have the same specs and accessories but come with the newer chipset. We have problem with this solution. Why not re-use a good and time-tested product design so that you could free up your R&D resources to develop a completely new bunch of mainboards which can be distinguished by new names?

To be specific, let’s consider MSI's gaming LGA1150 product series. The Z97-GD65 GAMING, Z97-G45 GAMING and Z97-G43 GAMING are alike to their Z87-based cousins with similar names whereas the rest of the models, which form the majority, are absolutely new.

It is now clear that we need to choose a mainboard to test from among the new names but there are so many of them! And once again people from MSI were kind to help and offer us several models.

MSI mainboards used to fall into three groups: 1) classic series which feature a blue-dominated color scheme, 2) red-colored gaming products, and 3) overclocker-friendly mainboards which are mostly yellow. This classification wasn’t very strict, though, because the overclocker-friendly models had much in common with the gaming series. The latter in fact continued in the MPOWER and XPOWER models which had the same capabilities with an addition of certain overclocking features. Now the two product lines are separated more sharply. The Z97 GAMING 9 AC is the flagship model of the gaming series whereas the overclocker-friendly mainboards have acquired a laconic, yet quite emphatic logo of their own.

So today we’re going to test the Z97 MPOWER model. It will help us check out the new capabilities offered by MSI’s overclocker-targeted product series.

Packaging and Accessories

The product box has an M-shaped flap that covers logos of various features and technologies. The description of the mainboard’s capabilities continues on the back of the packaging where you can also see a picture of its back panel and a brief list of its specifications.

Inside, the mainboard resides in an open cardboard pack, on top of a dual-section compartment with the following accessories:

  • Six SATA 6 Gbit/s cables with metallic locks (three cables with straight connectors and three cables with L-shaped connectors)
  • One flexible bridge to connect graphics cards in SLI mode
  • I/O Shield
  • Two M-Connector adapters that help you connect the mainboard to the computer case’s buttons and indicators
  • Six V-Check cables that enable you to monitor voltages manually with a voltmeter
  • User manual
  • Brochure about MSI's exclusive software tools
  • Illustrated overclocking manual
  • Installation guide
  • Small poster depicting the mainboard and its connectors
  • Dual-sided door hanger that reads "Out Buying LN2" and "Busy Breaking World Records"
  • Large sticker for your computer case with a logo of MSI's overclocker-friendly mainboard series
  • Stickers to mark SATA cables
  • DVD with software and drivers

The I/O shield is conveniently soft-padded. The V-Check cables come with a plate that has openings for fixing them in place. The 12 paper stickers can be used to mark SATA cables and easily distinguish them. MSI should be given credit for paying attention to such trifles as they often help to create a more positive impression about a product.

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