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MSI Z97 XPOWER AC Review

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MSI Z97 XPOWER AC Conclusion:

After having the pleasure of testing this board, one thing you cannot say is that it is ill-equipped for the task at hand. Which truth be told is to stand up and deliver world record results when pushing your hardware to its limits. I know the limits of my hardware using conventional cooling methods and the Z97 XPOWER AC gets right into that envelope by pushing my CPU to 4.67GHz. Some boards seem to like this chip better than others for some reason and can push it to 4.7GHz, but sadly, without using liquid cooling, this chip just runs too hot to make it there on this board. Regardless, for day to day use, that extra 30MHz is not going to break the bank.

MSI equips the Z97 XPOWER AC with a bunch of proprietary technologies to ensure that overclocking is top notch. You get an 8-layer PCB and 16-Phase DigitALL all-digital VRM equipped with military spec components as part of MSI's Military Class 4 build strategy. On top of that, MSI equipped the board with its Guard Pro technology, which is a series of tech that improves moisture resistance by 10%, protects each I/O port from static discharges and reductions in EMI emissions, and allows the end user to save power using ECO Center; though with a board of this caliber, I have to believe everyone will have it set to kill, thus rendering ECO Center useless.

For the competitive overclocker these build qualities make a good board right off the bat. You also get quad-GPU support with MSI's integrated Cease Fire switches, which can turn off select PCIe slots when benching so you do not have to remove the card that may have an LN2 pot on it. The OC Fan stand keeps a steady flow of air around the memory and VRM circuit, if using the hybrid liquid cooled solution will not do the trick. As popping the integrated heat spreader off the CPU is becoming more popular (including the vice method), MSI has incorporated its Delid Die Guard to allow the end user to mount a cooling solution directly on the CPU die and minimize the chances of cracking or damaging the die. You get an improved version of V-Checkpoints with added ground connections allowing up to three multimeters to be connected at one time. MSI's OC Essentials section can be used when playing around on a tech bench so you do not have to get into the BIOS, but rather can change settings on the fly. Add in the rest of the overclocking specific bundle, and you can see where the price on the board shows up.

Tuning a board manually is great if you can do it, but if thats a bit much for you to handle, then MSI makes it easier with its one-touch overclocking tool OC Genie. Over the past couple generations, as chip overclocking variances have increased from chip to chip and even with chips in the same batch, OC Genie became really conservative with overclocks, coming in with only a hundred or so MHz over the rated Turbo Boost clock speeds. On the Z97 XPOWER AC, that holds true until you switch from Gear 1 to Gear 2 using a switch in the OC Essentials section of the board. In Gear 1, you still get that conservative overclock of 4.0GHz, but Gear 2 steps it up a bit with a dynamic clock speed of between 4.2GHz and 4.4GHz for lightly threaded applications. That is a huge improvement over the conservative numbers when running in Gear 1 mode. If even using switches is a bit too much, you can always use MSI's Command Center application to change settings in the OS environment and take advantage of using the RAMDisk feature.

Of late, motherboard manufacturers are putting much more effort into how the onboard sound solution is implemented. Most of the higher end Z87 and Z97 boards out have been using either the Realtek ALC1150 or ALC892 codec as a base, with improvements to the rest of the solution to deliver a richer sound quality. MSI incorporates a pair of 600 headphone amplifiers and Nichcon Chemicon audio capacitors to help drive this home. In my testing, I found the sound quality to be good for my purposes, while RMAA rated it as Very Good. MSI's Clock BIOS 4 continues to improve with each successive revision and is easy to navigate and no longer suffers from early growing pains seen on earlier versions of the Click BIOS. Improving ease of use and adding features is always good for the end user.

At $379, the Z97 XPOWER AC is at the top of MSI's Z97 overclocking product stack and rightly deserves its place there. The feature set of this board compares favorably with the ROG offerings from ASUS in terms of functionality and just raw potential. Sure you can get one of MSI's other Overclocking or Gaming series boards, but you lose some of the features this board has to offer to save the coin. For the balls-out overclocker, this board can do it all.

 

Pros:

  • OC Essentials
  • Military Class components
  • Cooling solution
  • Quad-GPU Support
  • Guard Pro Features
  • OC Pen Drive
  • Looks 
  • Overclocking

 

Cons:

  • Pricing
  • M.2 SATA Express adapter optional
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