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Intel P67 Shootout - The Top Guns
By Vincent Chang - 28 Mar 2011,4:03pm

MSI Big Bang-Marshal

MSI Big Bang-Marshal

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.

It's one of the largest boards we have seen and probably the most expensive P67 board at the moment.

MSI has embraced USB 3.0 fully, with eight ports at the rear panel. There are also dual Gigabit Ethernet ports, FireWire and even two eSATA ports. Along with the usual audio jacks and S/PDIF (coaxial and optical) outputs, there's also a Clear CMOS button.

The white SATA ports here are SATA 6Gbps while the black ones are SATA 3Gbps. However, unless you have the manual, it's not clearly marked which SATA 6Gbps ports are from the Intel P67 chipset and which ones are from the additional Marvell controller. Ans: the rightmost pair of white ones are from Intel.

The four DIMM slots are standard for its class - 32GB max, DDR3 2133MHz. You can also see the voltage measuring points here along with the USB 3.0 headers. There's also a physical array of over-voltage switches on its right for those who wish to tweak their CPU and memory voltages without going into the BIOS.

Again, we can't imagine ever requiring eight PCIe slots on any PC system.

These are what MSI calls PCIe CeaseFire, physical switches that allow users to turn off the four PCIe x16 slots for the graphics cards. It's similar to what we saw on the ASUS Maximus IV Extreme earlier. Of course, don't try turning them on or off when there's current, as this will damage the board.

PLX's PEX 8608 PCIe chip adds more lanes for use by USB 3.0 and SATA controllers so that they won't need to tap into the PCIe lanes reserved for graphics and other expansion cards.

Besides the power and reset buttons, MSI has its one-button auto-overclocking utility, OC Genie. The new addition is the Multi BIOS feature, which is basically a feature for the backup tertiary BIOS.

Some of the many third-party controllers on this MSI board.

In case you're confused, the Creative X-Fi MB2 here is a software package that enables Creative's unique audio features like EAX on this board. The hardware underneath however is a Realtek ALC892.

The heatsinks on this board are all angular. They are relatively low-profile, which should be good for those with larger CPU coolers. MSI's SuperPipe feature, which just means a thicker heat pipe for better heat transfer is also used.

MSI's Military Class II features include these 'Super Ferrite Chokes' and hi-c capacitors with tantalum cores. Among the benefits that MSI touts are lower temperatures, longer lifespans and greater stability.

If more power is required for overclocking, there's an extra 8-pin ATX power connector.

We have seen this OC Dashboard before, a monitoring and tweaking panel for the power user. A good thing is that it uses the rear USB port to connect.

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.

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