Last but definitely not the least, we come to the MSI Big Bang-Marshal. Now, we have seen MSI's Big Bang series of enthusiast boards. They are high-end products that feature some of the latest technologies. The Marshal however is arguably the most ambitious Big Bang board yet. For one, it's big, XL-ATX size in fact, making it one of the largest motherboards we have seen (for a single CPU socket).
All that PCB (it's a 6-layer PCB) is used fully, with hardly any free space due to the presence of eight PCIe x16 slots. Yes, there are eight such expansion slots, though only four of them are electrically x16, with the remainder being x8. That's still a lot of PCIe slots. At the heart of these PCIe lanes is a Lucid Hydra 200 chip which not only provides some of the PCIe lanes, but also enables this board to support both AMD and NVIDIA graphics cards in a mixed, multi-GPU configuration.
There are quite a few ways to assign the lanes among the four x16 slots, depending on how many graphics cards you intend to install. The maximum is of course four, with each having 8 lanes. The slots are spaced such that if you do install four graphics cards, even dual-slot ones will fit. To make up for the power draw for such a configuration, a 6-pin power connector is found near the PCIe slots.
Besides the staggering number of expansion slots, the XL-ATX form factor also allowed MSI to fit an extra couple of SATA 6Gbps ports, aligned outwards like we preferred. The edges of the board are occupied by headers for things like FireWire, USB (both 2.0 and 3.0) and of course, various enthusiast oriented features, from the OC Genie button to voltage measuring points.
In fact, there are a number of interesting features here, like Multi BIOS, which is apparently a tertiary (third level) BIOS in case the primary and secondary BIOS fail due to improper settings. By pressing the onboard Multi BIOS button, users can choose to either load the tertiary BIOS or flash the primary and secondary BIOS with the tertiary backup BIOS. Then there's PCIe CeaseFire, a new feature for power users to disable/enable the PCIe graphics slots with the flick of a finger. It's similar to what we have seen on the ASUS Maximus IV Extreme, but we haven't seen this before from MSI.
There's no doubt here that MSI has loaded this extra large motherboard with everything it's got. From the sheer number of features, dual Gigabit Ethernet, USB 3.0 ports, SATA 6Gbps ports and the expansion slots, to the many 'elite' MSI technologies present, from Military Class II to OC Genie, the Big Bang-Marshal is overflowing with all the stuff you'll find on a top class board. For the majority of users, many of these features will be unnecessary, but if you're one of those who want everything, this board checks all the right tick boxes.
It remains to be seen if its performance is equally top class, but the quality and the features are there. And thanks to the extra PCB space, there aren't any issues with layout; in fact we rather liked the low-profile heatsinks on this board. Even MSI's new UEFI BIOS, known as Click BIOS, which we felt was sluggish on the MSI P67A-GD65, felt slightly more responsive on the Marshal. We are still not fans of that BIOS, but it seems improved from our last experience.
All this doesn't come cheap however. MSI quoted a local price of S$609 for the Marshal, making it the most costly P67 board in this shootout of high-end P67 boards. We have seen more expensive boards like the Gigabyte X58A-UD9 or the EVGA X58 SLI Classified, so to some consumers, the MSI's price tag may even be a bargain. We'll reserve our opinion till after the performance benchmarks.