MSI Z97 XPOWER AC Reviewccokeman -
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MSI Z97 XPOWER AC Introduction:
Over the past few years, MSI has really made headway into both the gaming and overclocking centric motherboard market with products that improve with each successive generation. From Z77 to Z87 and now Z97, the progression is pretty clear and each board is capable of outshining the previous mark. In MSI's original product stack, the top end boards were dual-purpose designs, but over the past couple of years, the "Gaming" series has been split off; though in its own right is a dual-purpose board using a popular red and black theme. MSI's Overclocking series on the other hand takes what you get with the Gaming series and amps up the capabilities for the extreme overclocking crowd. At first look, the bright yellow and black color scheme is a major point of difference. Then you get to the feature set, which while similar to the Gaming series, is better equipped.
To start, MSI's Military Class 4 build process is in full effect with DrMOS II, Hi-C Cap, Super Ferrite Choke, and Solid Caps making returns, to ensure there is a long term reliable all-digitial power supply to the board, which runs cooler and more efficiently. On top of that, you get: MSI's Guard Pro technology, which improves protection against ESD damage and damage from high humidity environments; V-Checkpoints for quick and easy voltage readings; MSI's OC Essentials package; MSI's OC Fan stand; Delid Die Guard; an 8-layer PCB; a liquid-cooled VRM heat sink; quad CrossFireX and NVIDIA SLI support; and MSI's own Audio Boost sound enhancements. While many of those sound familiar after looking at OCC's coverage of MSI's Z97 Gaming 7 motherboard, you will notice some purely overclocking centric features not available on the Gaming Series. Priced at US$379, the MSI Z97 XPOWER AC is at the upper end of the Z97 price range, but looks equipped to allow the user all the flexibility for the maximum clock speeds the hardware can reach. Let's dig deeper and see what it has to offer.
MSI Z97 XPOWER AC Closer Look:
The packaging is similar to that seen on the Z87 MPOWER MAX I looked at last year. The color scheme uses a bright yellow against a black background to make the box stand out on store shelves. Instead of a large 'M' in yellow as seen on the MPOWER MAX, the front panel is covered with a large 'X' that illustrats that the board inside is an XPOWER board, not an MPOWER board. The 'X' on the front panel opens up to show the motherboard through a clear plastic, and highlights some of the features on the back of the 'X'. The back side of the package looks at some of the features that make the XPOWER AC what it is, including a 16-phase all-digital VRM, Hybrid VRM cooling, OC Essentials, and the Intel-based Wi-Fi AC Module. After opening the package, the size of the included accessories bundle is quite evident.
MSI includes quite an accessory bundle with the Z97 XPOWER AC. On the documentation side, there are no less than five manuals and guides for you to read if you want the full scope of what each of the features on the board are. On top of that, you have a pair of driver disks, a "Do No Disturb" door tag, a large case badge, and labels to identify your SATA data cables. If the documentation does not impress, then you have to see the hardware side of the bundle: a pair of magnetic mount antennas that connect to the Wi-Fi AC module; an Intel Dual-Band Wireless-AC 7260 based Wi-Fi module that supports 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.0, including BLE* and Bluetooth 3.0+HS, along with Intel WiDi; an OC Fan stand, used to hold and angle a fan to provide airflow over the VRM and memory modules when engaging in extreme overclocking; six SATA data cables, three of which have a 90° ends; an expansion bracket for use with external SATA connectivity and the power and data cables to support this feature; a trio of SLI bridge connections; an I/O shield that reduces EMI emissions; M-Connections; V-Checkpoint 2 extensions; an 8GB thumb drive pre-loaded with the driver pack for the Z97 XPOWER AC, which can be used to store your BIOS and overclocking profiles; and last but not least, the Delid Die Guard, which is a bracket that allows you to run your CPU without the integrated heat spreader and reduces the probability of damaging the bare CPU die.
From the looks of it, the Z97 XPOWER AC is ready to take on any board on the market and deliver the performance and flexibility provided with the feature set. The yellow theme is a far cry from the red and black themes used by many high end boards, setting the XPOWER further apart from the crowd.