MSI Big Bang XPOWER Reviewccokeman - July 8, 2010
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When you purchase a high end motherboard, you have a realistic expectation of getting all the bells and whistles when it comes to the accessory bundle. In this respect, MSI does not disappoint. The bundle of accessories that comes with the Big Bang Xpower motherboard is nothing short of enormous. It comes with everything you need and then some more. The one item missing was the Green Power Genie controller that comes with the Eclipse SLI. However, it makes up for that with the inclusion of the OC Dashboard controller. First off, you can see it takes two shots to show the entire bundle of accessories when separated into two distinct piles, the documentation and the hardware. MSI has included manual for the board, a quick setup guide, users guide for HDDBackup, a quick guide around the motherboard, a manual for Winki MSI's quick boot application, and the driver disks for both the motherboard and Quantum Wave audio card. For the included hardware, continue reading!
MSI has started sending a discrete sound cards out with their higher-end packages. The Eclipse SLI had a PCIe Creative X-fi card included as part of the package, while the Xpower is using a Realtek ALC889 based solution that supports THX TrueStudio Pro and EAX (Environmental Audio eXtensions) HD 5.0. The audio card resides in the top PCIe slot of the Xpower board and is a 7.1 sound solution. You have the standard analog connection points for a high end sound solution as well as both an optical and coaxial S/PDIF output.
The OC Dashboard is an external device that is used for both monitoring and adjusting the performance characteristics of the Xpower motherboard. It is also an external indicator for debugging information during the POST cycle. This tool is not a replacement for onboard diagnostics, but it is a handy tool to have when the board is installed in a sealed chassis. No more bending over the side trying to look at the diagnostic LED mounted on board the Xpower. This tool is reminiscent of the OC Palm tool, which ASUS put out on one of the first X58 boards when the Core i7 architecture launched almost two years ago. The display is easy to read and navigate once you get a feel for the programming tree. Things that can be monitored are the voltages and temperatures of the onboard components in real time. Included are two different harnesses, a direct data connection, and an optional USB cable that adds an additional function to the OC Dashboard, making it usable as an IR receiver for a media center remote control. This added functionality brings added value.
The IO shield is not that exciting of a piece but is part of the bundle. The external side of the shield is blacked out with an icon describing each of the connection points on the board. Internally it is much like a standard shield. Simple and effective at keeping out fingers. Multi-GPU functionality on the Xpower is of high importance, knowing that the targeted audience for this board is the gaming segment of the market. Included are three SLI bridges and a single CrossFireX bridge.
The Xpower features six SATA 3GB/s ports and MSI has included a total of six drive cables with three, 4-pin Molex to SATA power adapters. One pair of the SATA cables feature 90-degree terminals. Also included are two add-on brackets, one for two additional USB 2.0 ports and the other for an eSATA-eSATA/USB 2.0 combo port (Jmicron controlled). External power and drive connection cables are included with this device.
Last but not least are two incredibly functional accessories that are well worth the cost of admission. The M-Connectors make the arduous task of installing USB, FireWire, sound, and front-panel connections a simple and much less demanding task. Chassis manufacturers have helped over the years by making front panel USB ports in one block instead of eight separate wires. However, the front panel sound switch connections have been less readily adapted to this configuration. By putting the individual wires on the M-Connector outside the chassis where you can see the connection points, the installation of these connections is much easier. It's so much nicer to install one block onto an indexed set of pins rather than fighting wire for wire and wondering if you put them on the right pins. The Xpower uses what is called a V check point. When the board is buried in the chassis access may be limited so the the V-check cables extend the reach of the access points. These are setup so one end is fitted to the board access point while the other is designed to fit a standard probe used on the majority of multimeters on the market.
That's it for the pretty substantial bundle included with the Xpower from MSI. If that's not tempting enough to lead you to the board, I'm not sure what is.