Preview: The Ultimate X58 Motherboards

MSI Big Bang-XPower

MSI Big Bang-XPower

Compared to the Gigabyte, the MSI Big Bang-XPower is closer to being a 'normal' board. At least it's a standard ATX board, though it belongs to MSI's high-end Big Bang series. Unlike the Gigabyte, the XPower has one fewer PCIe x16 expansion slot and there's also a key difference in that its 4-way CrossFireX/SLI is restricted to single-slot graphics cards due to the lack of space. MSI has also not gone with more controllers for more SATA ports; there's just a Marvell chip for the additional two SATA 6Gbps ports.

The newest member of MSI's Big Bang series, the XPower, manages to keep to the ATX form factor while still being capable of doing 4-way SLI or CrossFireX, though it's unable to fit four dual-slot graphics cards.

Instead, MSI's focus seems to be more oriented towards enthusiasts and their need to tweak. Hence, you'll find tools like voltage check points, an external dashboard for monitoring and changing of frequencies and even an onboard switch to lift the voltage limits in the BIOS. In this sense, MSI's approach is closer to that adopted by ASUS and its Republic of Gamers series rather than Gigabyte's heavy storage and stability slant.

Given its ATX dimensions, we were a bit worried about the layout, but the XPower did well enough, with only the two white SATA 6Gbps ports placed in a rather awkward situation. We can imagine that in certain situations, these SATA ports may not be too usable but these scenarios shouldn't pop up too often. As usual, MSI has trotted out its full complement of proprietary technologies, all of which should be familiar to anyone who has seen a recent MSI board. While not all are useful, there are some highlights that are worthy of consideration, like OC Genie and SuperPipe. MSI has also incorporated its 'military grade' aspects that it has used for a few of its premium motherboard and graphics products and you'll find the same type of expensive (and long lasting) components onboard.

The MSI Big Bang-XPower is a new model, so we haven't managed to get any retail price as yet. However, we believe that it would be more affordable than the Gigabyte UD9, though 'affordable' is a misleading term when describing these high-end, premium X58 motherboards. 

Besides the PS/2 ports, there's a small button to reset the BIOS and the special connector to link the board to MSI's OC Dashboard, which is an external display that shows relevant system information like temperature and voltages. You can even adjust and tweak settings via this Dashboard. Other ports here include dual Gigabit LAN, a pair of USB 3.0 ports, eSATA and FireWire.

The black SATA ports are 3Gbps versions from the Southbridge. The white ports are the newer SATA 6Gbps ones from a Marvell 9128 controller. Finally, there's a set of voltage check points here for those who wish to rely on their own tools.

MSI has been using such DIMM slots for its recent boards, single-lock slots that are easier to install or remove the memory modules, especially on a crowded PCB.

We find MSI's OC Genie button, which automatically overclocks the system after a reboot when pressed along with the power and reset buttons. You can also tweak the base clock frequency on the fly here by pressing the negative and positive keys here.

A debug LED, with the codes listed in the manual is also present while the V Switch here allows users to adjust upwards the voltage limits in the BIOS. Overclockers may choose to turn it up so that they can push the voltages and frequencies even higher.

MSI has one fewer PCIe 2.0 x16 slots than Gigabyte and more critically, there's no way to install four dual-slot graphics cards, as there's not sufficient space between them. Single slot cards are fine however and the MSI can do 4-way SLI/CrossFireX. Hence the best you can outfit this board is three dual-slot graphics cards.

An additional 6-pin PCIe power connector is found here. You may also notice the thicker (8mm) SuperPipe heat-pipe design that's unique to MSI.

The power delivery system to the CPU uses what MSI dubs as its military-grade components, from 'Super Ferrite Chokes' to Hi-c caps. Of course, solid capacitors are found throughout the board.

Like the Gigabyte board, there are two 8-pin 12V ATX power connectors for additional power.

As mentioned earlier, this is the OC Dashboard that can be connected to the rear of the XPower for monitoring and on-the-fly tweaking.

Inside this QuantumWave audio card is the more familiar Realtek ALC889 HD audio CODEC. It however supports Creative's technologies like EAX and ALchemy.