MSI Big Bang XPOWER Review

ccokeman - 2009-11-18 17:40:19 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: July 8, 2010
Price: $299.99

Introduction:

The Core i7 Nehalem architecture was introduced almost two years ago. Socket 1366 motherboards to support this new architecture from Intel were available en masse at launch and provided a great performance platform for the new processors. After close to two years, the platform needed a little updating as newer technologies, such as USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gb/s, and higher end graphics solutions became available. At launch we looked at the Eclipse SLI and, shortly thereafter, the X58 Platinum SLI from MSI. Each had their strengths and weaknesses, but delivered solid performance. Lately, MSI has ratcheted up its product line up both on the video card and motherboard segments with the Big Bang series and latest video cards including the HD 5870 Lightning. The use of Military Class components including Hi-c Capacitors, Super Ferrite Chokes and solid capacitors mean you get a product that lasts longer, runs more efficiently, and operates at lower temperatures. Add in value added tools like the OC Genie and you get a high performing board at a reasonable cost. On paper the Xpower looks like a winner. Let's see if the Xpower can gain some credential as an overclocking board for the gamer and enthusiast, all the while delivering rock solid performance at baseline levels. If the performance characteristics of the Eclipse SLI translate to an expectation of performance, the Xpower should do well.

Closer Look:

The MSI Big Bang Xpower motherboard comes in a flashy gold and black themed package. The front panel shows the Big Bang graphic with the slogan "Designed for the Extreme Gamer" under the Xpower logo.The graphics along the bottom of the front panel list the processors supported (Intel Socket 1366), the chipset package (X58, ICH10R), support for Windows 7, and both CrossFireX and SLI multi-GPU strategies. The rear panel of the package again points out these capabilities while also pointing out the additional features such as the DrMOS Server grade MOSFETs, cooling capabilities of the Superpipe cooling system, and the 1-second overclocking with the use of the OC Genie. MSI has not left any stone unturned with regard to providing information for the consumer on its packaging. The front panel flips open to display not only the Big Bang Xpower board but also another snapshot of yet more features on this board. Military Class component usage is a highlight showing that these components include Hi-c caps, ICY chokes and solid capacitor use. The Quantum Wave audio cards capabilities are listed with USB 3.0, SATA 6GB/s, and multi-GPU strategies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you slip the motherboard out of the outer shell, you are left with two separate boxes. One box contains the Xpower motherboard, while the other holds the accessory bundle. As a premium board, you can hazard a guess that the bundle would be on the premium side as well. MSI does not disappoint in this respect as the bundle fill the box to the brim with the parts needed to use all the functionality of this board.

 

 

The packaging is out of the way; let's see what the bundle of accessories looks like and how it sets this board apart from the crowd.

Closer Look:

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.

Closer Look:

The MSI Xpower is an ATX form factor motherboard. The first thing that reaches out and grabs you are the looks of the board, with the black chrome on top of the black and blue color scheme. The black chrome "fits" much better than the raw-copper-look so familiar just a short while ago. Another item that screams attention are the the six -- yes count them, six -- 16x PCIe slots and the large OC Genie button on the bottom of the board. The back side of the PCB is a bit less interesting, but it's nice to see the black chrome theme continued on the socket backing plate. A pleasant surprise is that the heatsinks are not held on with spring loaded nylon pins but are actually held on with screws. These details do make the difference.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Starting on the left side of the board, let's take a trip around the board and see what it offers. The IO panel has plenty of connectivity options. Still in use on this board are PS/2 ports for both a keyboard and mouse.  Next down the line, you have the Clear CMOS button, data connection for the OC Dashboard, the first stack that includes the IEEE 1394 port, two USB 2.0 ports, a combination USB/eSATA port, four more USB 2.0 ports for a total of six, two RJ-45 LAN ports and three blue-colored USB 3.0 ports. Eight USB ports should provide enough connectivity for the avid gamer. With 3D Vision Surround, a joystick, game pad, keyboard, mouse, pedals, and a wheel, you still have one left over on the back before adding in the additional expansion slot bracket. The Xpower features a total of six 16x PCIe slots and a single 1x slot for the Quantum Wave sound solution. Multi-GPU solutions from both ATI and NVIDIA are supported. With that many full size slots, the sky would seem to be the limit as far as multi-GPU solutions would go. However, even with six full length slots they are not all electrically 16x. Depending on the graphics solution you use, the slots electrically can run the gamut from 16x + 16x for slots number two and five in a dual card solution to x8+ x8 + x8 + x8 when four are populated, all of this depending on the slots populated. From left to right in front of the PCIe slots are the NEC USB 3.0 chip, the two Realtek LAN chips, the VIA FireWire controller, and the Jmicron JMB363 controller for the eSATA ports.

 

 

Along the bottom of the Xpower there is plenty to look at and connect to. Starting at the bottom left, there are two system fan headers, the 1394 connectivity and TPM module header, on-board bclock up and down buttons, OC Genie switch, on-board reset and power buttons, two USB 2.0 headers, V-switch, POST code LED, and a third system fan header. At first glance it looks like the bclock adjustment and power/reset buttons are missing. That is just an illusion. The contacts for these switches appear to be right above the silk screened location on the PCB with an LED above the contacts to show activity at that switch point as confirmation of the contact closure. The V-Switch dip switches are used to enable higher voltage levels in the BIOS for the CPU/QPI/DDR and IOH (from left to right) allowing the end user the voltages necessary to reach for higher stable overclocks.

 

 

 

Moving around to the right hand side of the PCB, there are the V-Check points and SATA connections. The V-check points allow you to test the voltages applied to the CPU, QPI, Memory, X58 and ICH10R chipsets, and compare the readings to the voltages applied in the BIOS. A meter will be more accurate than a software utility. The two white connections facing upwards are the SATA 6GB/s connections controlled by a Marvell 88SE9128 controller, which support RAID 0/1. The concern I have with the orientation of these two ports are when multiple video cards are used as they may prevent the use of slot number 5, depending on the cards configuration. The six black right angle SATA 3GB/s ports are controlled by the Intel ICH10R chipset that supports RAID 0/1/5/10. Further up is the 24-pin ATX power connection and six DIMM slots. The MSI Xpower as an X58 based motherboard, which supports three channels of DDR3 memory at speeds up to DDR3 2133(OC), with a total of 24GB supported. MSI has made an improvement in the method which with the memory modules are retained with their EZ DIMM design. This means no more close calls when it comes time to swap out the memory and you can't because the retention lever is blocked by a video card.

 

 

The top right corner of the Xpower has a series of LEDs that represent the 16-phase power design of the board. By monitoring this set of LEDs, one can see how many phases are in operation from a light load to full power overclocked loads. The Xpower makes use of Active Phase switching that dynamically balances the power phases to more efficiently deliver power to the on board components. The rest of the items on this side of the PCB include one part of the SuperPipe cooling system as well as the CPU fan header.

 

 

Power is supplied to the Xpower motherboard through three separate points. There is the 24-pin ATX power connection point on the right hand side of the board. This one is expected and is place where it is usually found. Behind the CPU socket area, there is, not one, but two 8-pin auxiliary power connections so that the CPU and power circuity can get the amount of juice needed for maximum clock speeds. With the demands of highly overclocked Gulftown processors, the additional power circuitry should keep the the Xpower from throttling the CPU due to current demand. Last but not least is a 6-pin PCIe power connection right above the first 16x PCIe slot. This connection is used when multiple graphics cards are used.

 

 

Cooling on this board is handled via some pretty beefy heatsinks, as well as with the massive 8mm SuperPipe that connects the heatsink over the X58 chipset to the VRM heatsinks. Over the ICH10R chipset is a huge flat finned aluminum heatsink to easily keep the ICH cool. There are even small heatsinks to cool components up and around the VRM heatsinks.

 

 

One clear theme is that MSI has chosen to use "Military Class" components for this motherboard. What that means is components with tighter tolerances and increased operating temperature capabilities. This design is most evident around the CPU socket where the lack of traditional capacitors is quite obvious. In place of these capacitors are Hi-c (Highly Conductive polymerized Capacitors) caps that boast an 8x increase in usable life and can handle higher operating temperatures.  MSI claims they also have the ability to self-repair. Around these are MSI's Super Ferrite chokes that run 35 degrees Celsius cooler, have a 30% increase in current capacity, and have a 20% improvement in efficiency. Outside this area you see solid capacitors with a solid aluminum core and "Icy Chokes" that boast a 20 degree Celsius reduction in operating temperature. All said and done this should equate to better power regulation and higher stable overclocks. The black chromed socket complements the look of the board and is made by LOTES in lieu of one made by Foxconn.

 

 

Once the board is dissected it has to be installed and tested, so here it is all dressed up and ready to rock and roll!

Closer Look:

Installing the hardware is only part of the installation process. Installing the operating system is the second step in putting the Xpower into operation. The third step is installing the drivers or instructions used to allow the components to operate properly. To this end MSI has included a driver disk that includes not only the drivers but a few utilities that may prove useful. Once the disk is inserted and spools up, there will be an installation GUI on the monitor. This is broken down into five tabs: drivers, utilities, service base, product information, and security. Each tab has its own subsection with all of the items needed for this application. The driver section has just what it implies. All of the drivers needed for the MSI Xpower are included here, from the Intel INF install utility to the NEC USB 3.0 driver. The Utility section has some helpful utilities, like the Intel Turbo boost monitoring application. The Service base tab shows a digitized map of the world with the home locations for MSI's operations base. The product information tab is a link to MSI's product stack with a little about each SKU. The security tab has a 60-day trial of Symantec's Norton Internet security 2010 suite.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MSI includes a version of their utility called Control Center to allow the end user that ability to adjust not only the base clock speeds, but also voltages, memory timings, and more. The first section shows basic information about the motherboard and installed components.

 

 

The second section titled Overclocking has four separate sections that go from very user friendly with the Basic screen, to a more advanced screen that allows you to adjust the memory sub-timings. The OC Genie section shows an overview of how to enable the OC Genie overclocking tool and what it will impact and adjust. The final option in the Overclocking section is BIOS Profile. Here you can view the profiles that have been saved in the BIOS with the ability to save new profiles and load each of the saved profiles.

 

 

 

The last section is labeled Green Power. In this section you have basic and advanced options to maximize the power efficiency of the Xpower motherboard. The last item in this section is the ability to control the LEDs on the PCB.

 


 

Closer Look:

The BIOS is a place that many people avoid like the plague, just because of a lack of knowledge. In reality, if you take the time to learn what everything does by either reading the manual or online resources, you can tune the BIOS to gain additional performance from your system even if you choose not to overclock it. The BIOS used by MSI on the Big Bang Xpower motherboard is put together by American Megatrends (AMI) and is version 1.0B34 as delivered, with the most current version being 1.2 delivered on 6/18/2010. This BIOS is broken down into ten usable sections with several defaults that are only an option such as load setup defaults.

The first section to look at will be Standard CMOS Features.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standard CMOS Features:

This section contains basic information that includes the time, date, and very top level system information such as the installed processor and amount of memory.

 

 

Advanced BIOS Features:

In this section you load the boot sequence for the installed drives in the system, determine if you want the logo screen to show, and modify several other options.

 

 

Integrated Peripherals:

This section allows you to enable or disable on-board devices such as the USB, LAN, and FireWire controllers. Setting the drive controller modes is accomplished in this tab as well.

 

 

Power Management Setup:

This section sets the ACPI functionality, standby states, restore function after a power loss, setting how the computer recovers from a sleep state and how the power consumption is managed when in sleep mode through the EuP2013 setting.

 

 

H/W Monitor:

This section allows you to monitor a select number of voltages and temperatures giving you a clue as to what will be available in popular monitoring utilities. Under this tab, you can set the Smart fan parameters based on temperature and fan speed when this feature is enabled, or target the fans to a specific speed when disabled. Chassis Intrusion detection is enabled or disabled here.

 

 

Green Power:

The Green Power section lets you configure the power saving feature for the board. This can help reduce you carbon footprint throughout the operating spectrum of the board. While not equipped with the GreenPower Genie, the Xpower can use this device to further drive power consumption down.

 

 

BIOS Password:

In this section you have the ability to set passwords and enable a USB device as a password key device through the U-Key functions.

 

 

M-Flash:

In this section you have the ability to update and save the motherboard BIOS using a thumb drive. This should alleviate some of the concerns over BIOS flashing by following a few simple steps.

 

 

Overclocking Profile:

Here you can save your overclocking profiles to allow you to return back to a good solid batch of settings after a failed overclock, or if you just want to keep known good settings for when the benchmarking bug bites. Included is a handy setting that will reset the BIOS to defaults after a defined number of failed starts. I found this feature worked quite well after some aggressive overclocking.

 

 

The last options are pretty self explanatory. Load Setup Defaults, Load Optimized Defaults, Save and Exit, and Exit Without Saving. They are just what they infer. I have omitted the Cell Menu section as I feel it is large enough in its own right to talk more in depth about on the following page.


 

Closer Look:

Cell Menu:

The Cell Menu is where all of the CPU and memory specific voltages and timings can be manipulated to provide real performance enhancements. If you plan on overclocking, this section is where you will spend the majority of time when in the BIOS. However, if you plan on running at default speeds on the memory and processor you most likely will not need to venture into this arena. The top of this section gives a brief snapshot of the currently applied clock speeds on the CPU, Memory, and QPI bus. The top two options are to provide information about the processors specifications and features. Active processor cores lets you disable cores to try and reach higher clock speeds when overclocking for single threaded benchmarks like Super Pi. Intel's Performance enhancing and energy saving technologies EIST, C1E, and Turbo Boost technology can be enabled or disabled depending on your needs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adjusting the base clock frequency and CPU ratio are two tools used to overclock the processor. The maximum setting for the base clock frequency is 600Mhz, well above what is currently reachable. The CPU ratio is locked to the maximum Turbo boost multiplier for unlocked CPUs. The Core i7 920 used for this review has a maximum multiplier of 20 although 21 can be set and is usable.

 

 

The operation of the OC Genie Switch and Base clock buttons can be enabled or disabled. This is short, sweet, and to the point.

 

The memory options on the Xpower are pretty substantial. The Memory-Z function shows the SPD programming of the modules. The DRAM timing mode is something different from what other manufacturers include and looks more suited to an option on an AMD based motherboard. The options are Auto, Unlinked, and Linked. When set to unlinked you can adjust the memory sub-timings by channel under the Advanced DRAM settings tab. This option could prove invaluable for tuning that last MHz out of your system. The Advanced DRAM Configuration section allows you to set the timings manually for increased performance all at once or by channel. Xtreme Memory Profile lets you configure the memory and system based on settings programmed onto the memory modules SPD chip.

 

 

 

 

The memory and Uncore ratios are both adjustable and interconnected. The Uncore ratio will always need to be at least double the memory ratio.

 

 

QPI Link speed can be set to Slow mode or Full Speed while the QPI frequency will be limited by your processor. The frequency on the Core i7 920 is 4.800GT but increases as the baseclock frequency is adjusted.

 

 

Clockgen Tuner lets you increase the current through the CPU and PCIe bus to help stabilize and overclock. PCIe Frequency can be adjusted again to help raise bclock frequency and ultimately a higher overclock. The voltage options on the Xpower are similar to what was available on the Eclipse SLI and are granular enough to allow for fine voltage tuning. Voltage to the CPU, IOH, QPI, and memory can be increased to levels higher than those shown by activating the over-voltage dip switches on the bottom edge of the PCB of the Xpower. MSI has given the enthusiast the tools, now it's up to you how you use them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Specifications:

 

CPU
Supports Intel® i7 based processors in LGA1366 package.
Please refer to CPU Support for compatible CPU; the above description is for reference only.
Chipset
Intel® X58 Chipset
- Supports QPI up to 25.6 GB/s
Intel® ICH10R Chipset
- Hi-Speed USB (USB2.0) controller, 480Mb/sec, up to 12 ports.
- 6 SATAII ports with transfer rate up to 3Gb/s.
- PCI Master v2.3, I/O APIC.
- ACPI 2.0 compliant.
- Serial ATA RAID 0/1/5/10.
- Integrated AHCI controller.
Main Memory
Supports six unbuffered DIMM of 1.5 Volt DDR3 1066/1333*/1600*/1800*/2000*/2133* (OC) DRAM, 24GB Max
- Supports 1GB/ 2GB/ 4GB DRAM size
- Supports x8 / x16 data lines per DIMM
- Supports up to 3 channel mode
Slots
6 PCI Express 2.0 slots
- PCI_E2 & PCI_E5 support up to PCIE x16 speed  
- PCI_E4 & PCI_E6 support up to PCIE x8 speed
- PCI_E3 & PCI_E7 support up to PCIE x4 speed
• 1 PCI Express 1.1 x1 slot
On-Board IDE/SATA
• SATA controller integrated in Intel ICH10R/Marvell® 88SE9128/JMicron® JMB362 chipset
- Supports six SATAII ports (SATA1~SATA6) by ICH10R
- Supports two SATAIII ports (SATA7~SATA8) by Marvell® 88SE9128.
- Supports one eSATA & one eSATA / USB 2.0 combo port by JMicron JMB362.
- Supports AHCI controller with AHCI / SATA RAID 0/1/5/10 by ICH10R.
- SATA7 & SATA8 support RAID 0/1 mode by Marvell® 88SE9128
MSI Reminds You...
• The RAID setup floppy disk is optional depending on the districts. You can download the files from the website to make the setup disk.
Audio
• QuantumWave Audio card
- Creative EAX Advanced HD 5.0
- THX TruStudio PC
- Creative Alchemy
- 7.1 Channel High Definition Audio Codec with jack sensing
• Chipset integrated by Realtek® ALC889
- Compliant with Azalia 1.0 Spec
- Meet Microsoft Vista Premium spec
* For better audio performance, we recommend installing THX
LAN
Supports two PCI Express LAN 10/100/1000 Fast Ethernet by Realtek 8111DL.
IEEE1394/FireWire
VIA® VT6315N chipset
- Supports up to two 1394 ports. (Rear panel x1, pinheader x1)
- Transfer rate is up to 400Mbps.
Internal I/O Connectors
- ATX 24-Pin power connector
- 2 x 8-pin ATX 12V power connector
- 6-pin ATX 12V power connector
- CPU x 1 / System x 4 FAN connectors
- CD-in connector
- Front panel audio connector
- Front panel connector
- 1 x chasis intrusion connector
- 2 x USB 2.0 connectors
- 6 x Serial ATAII connectors
- 2 x Serial ATAIII connectors
- 1 x IEEE1394 connector support additional 1 port
- 1 x GreenPower Genie connector
- 1 x Reset Button
- 1 x Power Button
- 1 x TPM module connector
- 1 x OC Genie Button
- 1 x Over-Voltage switch & 1 set voltage check point
- 1 x set Debug LED Panel
- 2 x Base clock control buttons
MSI Reminds You...
• The floppy disk cable will be optional.
Back Panel I/O Ports
- 1 x PS/2 Keyboard
- 1 x PS/2 Mouse
- 1 x Clear CMOS button
- 1 x D-LED2 panel connector
- 1 x IEEE1394 port
- 5 x USB 2.0 ports
- 1 x eSATA port
- 1 x eSATA / USB Combo ports
- 2 x RJ45 LAN Jacks
- 2 x USB 3.0 ports
BIOS
The mainboard BIOS provides "Plug & Play" BIOS which detects the peripheral devices and expansion cards of the board automatically.
• The mainboard provides a Desktop Management Interface(DMI) function which records your mainboard specifications.
Dimension
30.5cm(L) x 24.4cm(W) ATX Form Factor
Mounting
9 mounting holes.

 

Features:

Hi C Cap on PWM:

Loss-less Content:

SATA 6GB/s:

USB 3.0:

V-Check Points:

APS (Active Phase Switching):

M-Connectors:


CrossFireX Support:

Live Update 4:

OC-Genie:

Superpipe:

USB Safeguard:

DrMOS:

M-Flash:

 

All information courtesy of MSI @ http://us.msi.com/index.php?func=proddesc&maincat_no=1&cat2_no=170&cat3_no=&prod_no=1988

Testing:

Testing the MSI Big Bang Xpower motherboard will consist of running it at the baseline clock speeds to get an idea how it performs in stock trim and then it will be overclocked to see if putting the screws to my well worn DO stepping 920 will result in a higher clock speed than some of its contemporaries. To keep the results consistent and have a measure of repeatability, Intel's power savings and performance enchanting technologies will be disabled in the BIOS. The video card control panel settings will be left at the factory default settings with the exception of disabling PhysX for the 3DMark Vantage testing. Will the Xpower deliver a Big Bang or will it fizzle out and drop a dud? There's only one way to find out!

 

Testing Setup:

 

Comparison Motherboards:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked Settings:

Overclocking the Big Bang was much like all the rest of the X58 boards I have put my hands on. This was through adjusting the same parameters, just with different names attached to each BIOS and board. My 920 is a little stubborn when it comes to bclock overclocking and usually falls flat at 208Mhz. On the Big Bang Xpower, I was able to push to 212Mhz. That's only 4Mhz on the bclock but it pushed the overall clock speed up past 4.2Ghz for a nice 1.25Ghz above the baseline testing, and a solid 1.6Ghz over the stock cpu speed of the Core i7 920. That is well over a 50% improvement in clock speed that does not always pan out to a performance improvement of that magnitude. Working in the BIOS is just one of the ways you can overclock the Big Bang Xpower motherboard. You can use the Overclocking center to do some general overclocking to test the waters, you can use the bclock up and down buttons on the motherboard to raise the base clock speeds or you can use the OC Genie switch on the motherboard. Push the OC Genie switch when the power is off and then boot into your new overclock. On the last board I tested this feature out on (MSI P55-GD65), it worked like a champ and gave me a solid, Prime95 stable overclock of 3.7Ghz on the Core i7 870. While the overclock that the OC Genie set was indeed stable it seems that the programming for the OC genie was a bit less aggressive on this board. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? That depends which side of the fence you are walking on. While you get a less aggressive overclock you also get an overclock that just about any CO or DO stepping chip can reach with stability. So for those who want the most from the board, stick to the BIOS. For those that want to dabble in overclocking, the OC Genie is a great way to get your feet wet. Safe and simple!

 

 

Maximum Clock Speeds:

Each CPU has been tested for its maximum stable clock speeds using Prime95. To gauge the maximum stability level, each processor had to be able to perform at least a one hour torture test without any errors.

 

 

Benchmarks:

  1. Apophysis
  2. WinRAR
  3. Geekbench
  4. Office 2007
  5. POV Ray 3.7
  6. PCMark Vantage Professional
  7. Sandra XII
  8. ScienceMark 2.02
  9. Cinebench 10
  10. Cinebench 11.5
  11. HD Tune 3.50
  1. Far Cry 2
  2. Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2
  3. Batman Arkham Asylum
  4. 3DMark 06 Professional
  5. 3DMark Vantage

Testing:

The first part of our testing will be the system specific benchmarks.

 

Let's get started with Apophysis. This program is used primarily to render and generate fractal flame images. We will run this benchmark with the following settings:

 

 

The measurement used is time to render, in minutes, to complete.

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

Lower is Better

 

WinRAR is a tool to archive and compress large files to a manageable size. We will use 100MB and 500MB files to test the time needed to compress these files. Time will be measured in seconds. Additionally, I will use the built in benchmark as a comparison.

 

ZIP:

 

 

Lower is Better

 

 

RAR:

 

 

 

Lower is Better

 

Geekbench:

 

 

The Apophysis and WinRar numbers are pretty even across the board showing that similar component selection delivers similar results. The Geekbench scoring had the Xpower clearly ahead of the comparison boards both at baseline and overclocked scores.

Testing:

Office 2007 Excel Big Number Crunch: This test takes a 6.2MB Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and performs about 28,000 sets of calculations that represent many of the most commonly used calculations in Excel. The measure of this test is how long it takes to refresh the sheet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lower Is Better

 

 

 

POV Ray 3.7: This program features a built in benchmark that renders an image using Ray Tracing. The latest versions offer support for SMP (Symmetric MultiProcessing) enabling the workload to be spread across the cores for a quicker completion.

 

 

Higher Is Better

 

PCMark Vantage x64 is used to measure complete system performance. We will be running a series of tests to gauge performance of each individual CPU to see which CPU, if any, rises above the others.

 

 

 

In these tests, the stock performance of all three boards are close in all the tests except PCMark Vantage, where the Xpower was well ahead of the field at the baseline clocks. The gap closed up in PCMark Vantage when the boards were overclocked.

Testing:

SiSoft Sandra is a diagnostic utility and synthetic benchmarking program. Sandra allows you to view your hardware at a higher level to be more helpful. For this benchmark, I will be running a broad spectrum of tests to gauge the performance of key functions of the CPUs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Processor Arithmetic

 

 

Multi-Core Efficiency

 

 

 

Memory Bandwidth

 

 

 

Memory Latency

 

 

Cache and Memory

 

 

 

Physical Disks

 

 

 

Power Management Efficiency

 

 

Results at baseline clock speeds are similar across the board. When overclocked, the Xpower usually pulls out the higher numbers due to its overall higher overclock.

Testing:

ScienceMark tests real world performance instead of using synthetic benchmarks. For this test, we ran the benchmark suite and will use the overall score for comparison.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

Higher is Better!

 

 

 

CineBench is useful for testing your system, CPU, and OpenGL capabilities using the software program CINEMA 4D. We will be using the default tests for this benchmark.

 

 

Higher is Better

Cinebench 11.5

 

Higher is Better

 

HD Tune measures disk performance to make comparisons between drives or disk controllers.

 

 

Higher is Better

 

 

 

 

Lower is Better

 

With identical hardware installed, the three boards provide repeatable performance at the baseline clock speeds. Where the boards show their worth is when overclocked. The Xpower consistently delivered the highest overclocked performance. This performance lead is not in every test, but in the majority of them.

Testing:

Far Cry 2:

Featuring a new game engine named Dunia, this game looks to be another one to stress your video card. Built especially for Far Cry 2, this engine allows for real time effects and damage. This next generation First Person Shooter comes to us from Ubisoft surprisingly - not from Crytek. The game is set in a war-torn region of Africa where there is a non-existent central government and the chaos that surrounds this type of social environment. If you have seen the movie Blood Diamond, you know the setting. Ubisoft puts the main storyline of the game into focus with these statements: "Caught between two rival factions in war-torn Africa, you are sent to take out "The Jackal," a mysterious character who has rekindled the conflict between the warlords, jeopardizing thousands of lives. In order to fulfill your mission you will have to play the factions against each other, identify and exploit their weaknesses, and neutralize their superior numbers and firepower with surprise, subversion, cunning and, of course, brute force." In this version of the game, you don't have the beautiful water, but instead the beauty and harshness of the African continent to contend with. Most games give you a set area that can be played through, while Ubisoft has given the gamer the equivalent of 50km squared of the vast African continent to explore while in pursuit of your goals. The settings used are just a few steps below the maximum in-game settings and offer a good blend of performance vs. visual quality.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The maximum differential between the scoring across all three boards is 2 FPS. Again, similar components deliver consistently similar results.

Testing:

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is the latest iteration of the venerable first-person shooter series, Call of Duty. Despite its long, successful pedigree, the game is not without substantial criticism and controversy, especially on the PC. Aside from the extremely short campaign and lack of innovation, the PC version's reception was also marred by its lack of support for user-run dedicated servers, which means no user-created maps, no mods, and no customized game modes. You're also limited to 18-player matches instead of the 64-player matches that were possible in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Despite all this, the game has been well received and the in-house IW 4.0 engine renders the maps in gorgeous detail, making it a perfect candidate for OCC benchmarking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is not much separating these motherboards performance-wise. The scores scale with an overclock but each board still delivers almost identical results.

Testing:

Batman: Arkham Asylum is a new game that brings together two bitter foes, the Joker and Batman. The Joker has taken over Arkham Asylum, Gotham's home for the criminally insane. Your task is to rein the Joker back in and restore order. This game makes use of PhysX technology to create a rich environment for you to play your trade.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The video card plays a significant role in delivering similar results, even with large increases in clock speed.

Testing:

3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest is started. 3DMark06 presents a severe test for many of today's hardware components. Let's see how this setup fares. The settings we will use are listed below.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the baseline clocks, the Xpower shows slightly lower numbers in this benchmark. Once the system is overclocked, the Xpower is the higher performer.

Testing:

Featuring all-new game tests, this benchmark is for use with Vista based systems. "There are two all-new CPU tests that have been designed around a new 'Physics and Artificial Intelligence-related computation.' CPU test two offers support for physics related hardware." There are four preset levels that correspond to specific resolutions. 'Entry' is 1024x768 progressing to 'Extreme' at 1920x1200. Of course, each preset can be modified to arrange any number of user designed testing. For our testing, I will use the four presets at all default settings.

 Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 3DMark Vantage, the Xpower puts down numbers that are very close to what the Eclipse SLI and DX58SO deliver. The higher overclock on the Xpower gave better scores when the clock speeds were pushed.

Conclusion:

When you get right down to it an X58 based motherboard is going to compare well with just about any other X58 based board on the market, with the scores delivered by each board falling in a very narrow window. That's what we have in the testing of the Big Bang Xpower from MSI. Don't take that as a derogatory comment on this fine board, as it does what it is designed to do at stock speeds. Where this board is designed to shine is when you push your hardware faster. To motivate that potential, MSI has used Military class components to enable the enthusiast the ability to really tweak their hardware. There are the Super Ferrite chokes and tantalum cored Hi-c capacitors around the socket that run cooler, last longer, and run more efficiently than traditional designs; with ICY chokes and solid capacitors used across the board to allow higher more stable overclocks and a longer lasting motherboard. If it's not clear from looking over the board, MSI has added a second 8-pin auxiliary 12V connection for the 16-phase power circuit to the CPU and a 6-pin PCIe plug for added power and stability to the video cards. This should eliminate the throttling problem that the last Gen boards had when running a highly overclocked Gulftown processor. When I was testing the Xpower out, the problem I had always run into with the test CPU was trying to run the processor at bclocks higher than 205Mhz. It was just a bit stubborn. 200x21 and 205x20 were no problem, above that limit was a no go. The Xpower did allow me to reach up to a 213Mhz bclock for an improvement over prior boards. The design seems to work allowing me the highest stable overclock on air for this chip to date.

The last time I worked with MSI's one touch overclocking tool OC Genie, I was impressed with the overclock it delivered with a simple touch of a button. To some degree I was again pleased with the results, but was surprised at how low the overclock using this utility was. MSI quotes a 36% improvement in clock speed. In my testing, I was only able to realize a 30% improvement or about 800MHz over the base 2.66Ghz of the Core i7 920. This is a 30% fully stable increase doing nothing other than pushing a button. Combine this result with the ability to manipulate clock speeds using the OC Dashboard, Control Center utility, and on board bclock +/- buttons and you have more than a few ways to get to the promised land. Overclocking and performance are things the Xpower excels at.

The six PCIe slots allow for multiple GPU configurations from both ATI and NVIDIA, but Quad SLI is not supported while Quad CrossFireX is. Even so, building a TRI SLI setup with a trio of GTX 480 cards should easily provide all the gaming horsepower you will need. Regardless of which manufacturer you choose for your video solution, you can be rest assured you can use all of the latest technologies from each manufacturer. The on-board sound solution comes in the form of a Realtek powered 1X PCIe card, which features support for THX TrueStudio Pro and EAX 5.0 Advanced HD, to give the gamer a more realistic 3D surround sound experience. The SuperPipe cooling solution used to cool the DrMOS Mosfets and X58 chipset is effective at cooling down the components. The X58 chipset does get hot but this cooling solution is up to the task. By far one of the coolest features of the Xpower, besides the OC Genie, are the V-check points. These are more than just a solder point on the board - MSI makes it easy to measure the applied voltages to the common components we normally use to overclock the system. Either slide the multi-meter probe into the V-check point socket when on a tech bench or install the extensions to ease the measurement of applied voltage while in a chassis. The voltages that were measured were almost spot on with what was applied in the BIOS, meaning you can overclock with confidence knowing what voltage you really are using instead of relying on a software algorithm to get you a number that is close.

The Big Bang Xpower is a board that is targeted at the gamer and enthusiast. At $299.99, the price tag is not at the extreme end of the spectrum and is quite competitive when you consider the feature set and its construction. It comes in at a cool 80 bucks less expensive than the RIIIE from ASUS. The blue, black, and gray color scheme works and is a nice upgrade from the MSI Eclipse in the looks department. Even though it won't be seen, the black chromed CPU retention assembly just sets off the look. The layout is functional with only the one concern in the placement of the SATA 6GB/s connectors straight out of the board instead of at a 90 degree angle. Their is plenty of room around the CPU socket for really just about any cooling solution you could throw at it.  Water, big air, or even an LN2 pot should not provide problems. With the Xpower, you get the latest technologies in USB 3.0 and SATA 6GB/s, DrMOS, Hi-c Caps, Super Ferrite Chokes, support for up to three or four video cards in a multi-GPU setup along with some serious overclocking credentials. The Xpower has delivered performance that won't cost you both an arm and leg. MSI has delivered a stout piece of hardware that is worthy of addition to anyone's wish list.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: