Board Layout and Pictures
I have no idea how many times I will mention this in this review, but this is a great looking board. Not only did MSI really go easy on the froofy stuff around on the board, but they also went out of their way to keep the PCB clean and it shows, it’s rare that we can see the PCB so clearly. Let’s dive into the specifics to see what is hiding on the board from us.
Starting up in the top left corner when you look around the giant yellow and black heatsink and behind the read I/O panel you can find a four pin fan header down on the bottom left as well as a second header up in the top right. One if just for a case fan and the other is for your CPU heatsink fan. You also have, up on the top left, two eight pin CPU power connections. Last but not least we can see our wireless card connection header in the gap of the rear I/O panel.
I mentioned the one CPU heatsink fan header previously, but in the picture of the top right corner of the MPower we have two more, one up top and the second next to the 24 pin power connection. The top four pin PWM fan header is a secondary CPU heatsink connection while the other is just another case fan header. Above the 24 pin power connection is the voltage check area, MSI provided small adapters that plug into each hole and work well with checking the voltage on a multimeter. Next we have the boards LED diagnostic display and if you look really close you can see the multi BIOS switch that will let us flip back and forth between BIOS’s.
Sliding down a little farther on the right side of the board we found eight SATA 3 connections as well as an internal USB 3.0 header. I love that MSI placed the header at a right angle, this makes wire management MUCH easier when you don’t have that sticking way up, they also tend to come unplugged as well so I am hoping this configuration might help.
In the bottom right corner we have a lot going on. The two headers on the bottom right corner are for our front panel connections. Next you have yet another (fifth so far) PWM fan header. The longer header below it called JDLED4 looks to be for an external device that will show you what is going on during the boot process. You get three internal USB 2.0 headers with one giving extra power for charging devices and it is labeled in red of course. On the far left we have the fast boot button that will take you directly to the BIOS. The header below it is labeled JTPM1 but you might know it better as the TPM or trusted platform module header.
In the bottom left corner of the MPower we can start with the Audio boost and the Realtek ALC1150 on board audio chipset. The setup includes a 600 ohm headphone amplifier for the front panel audio connection (that is at the bottom of the audio card). The Audio Boost box is actually an AMI shield but it also is back lit and glows when the board is up and running. Speaking of glowing, if you look closely you can see the PCB separation that splits the audio card from the motherboard to try to keep any electrical noise down. There are a couple spots in my photo where I can see this isn’t complete separation (beyond power of course). But more importantly as much as I do love this feature, I bet a lot of people at Asus are upset to see this considering this is something they introduced last year on a few of their premium boards. Just like the Asus boards MSI has put LED lighting under the motherboard to let the yellow line glow through.
Under the PCIe slot we have all of our controls. You get a power and reset button, then you have the OC Genie button as well as a plus and minus button that lets you bump your overclock up and down as needed without even jumping into the BIOS.
First off I love that all of the PCIe slots are all blacked out, this goes with the rest of the board where MSI blacked everything but the yellow trimming out. For PCIe slots we have four PCIe x1 slots with two of them between the top PCIe x16 slot and the next PCIe x16 slot, this is like what we have seen on most of the premium X87 boards. The three PCIe x16 length slots break down like this. The top slot when the other slots aren’t being used is a x16 but when you are using two devices or video cards it drops down to x8 and the second slot also runs x8. The last slot runs in x4 all of the time even though it looks like a x16 slot. Tucked in just to the right of the two PCIe x1 slots is also an mSTAT location where you can slip in a tiny (in size not capacity) SSD without taking any room in your PC>
Back on the rear I/O panel we have a total of six USB 3.0 ports spread over all over. There are also two more USB 2.0 ports as well as a PS2 port for peripheral connections. Next to the USB 2.0 ports there is a strange looking button that when the board is powered up glows blue, this is actually the clear CMOS button. I love that the button is easy to spot, even in the dark back behind your PC. For onboard video connections we have one DisplayPort and an interesting two HDMI ports. Last but not least is the Ethernet port that is powered by the MPowers Killer NIC. What you can’t see is the wireless NIC, if you look there is actually a spot for it next to the clear CMOS button, when it is installed you will find both antenna hookups there.
When you flip over the MPower you of course have the dark black PCB as well as a dark tinted CPU socket backplate. But what caught my eye was all of the different logos on the bottom. Even though you will most likely only see the bottom of your motherboard once before installing it into your PC they did make a point to list some of the boards features here. It wasn’t until I saw these that I actually noticed that the top PCB is free from all of the logo clutter other than the single MPower logo, nice job MSI for cleaning up the board and still slipping the “required” logos in there where they aren’t taking away from the boards look.