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MSI Z97 MPower

Five Z97 Express Motherboards, $160 To $220, Reviewed
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MSI cleans up the I/O panel of its Z97 MPower by removing both DVI and VGA, instead focusing on outputs like HDMI and DisplayPort without sacrificing its six USB 3.0 ports and four USB 2.0 ports. Even the analog audio section features six stereo jacks, and the clear-settings button is clearly visible. Yet, there’s still a hole in the port arrangement. What’s missing?

The Z97 MPower is the only board in today’s comparison featuring a single networking controller. Even Asus covers secondary networking via a wireless controller, and I have to imagine that most enthusiasts will find the combination of GbE and 802.11ac superior to the implementations of MSI's other competitors. Even though a second gigabit Ethernet port wouldn’t have been a high-priced add-in, we were still a little surprised that the Z97 MPower costs slightly more than most competing products. So, we began looking for other value-boosting features.

There is, for example a SATA Express adapter card in the M.2 slot, a value add that MSI also sells separately. MSI even said a month ago that it would begin shipping the Z97 MPower with that adapter bundled. However, Newegg still shows the original adapter-free package.

The Z97 MPower also offers a row of voltage detection points, eight SATA ports, and several buttons and switches to ease overclocking from an open bench. While most of those features are also offered by Gigabyte, MSI’s O/C Genie and base clock control buttons stand apart. Some tuners might even like that MSI’s voltage detection points have pins rather than solder dots, and that the installation kit includes a set of cables for connecting those pins to an external voltmeter.

Comparisons to Gigabyte’s sample don’t end there. MSI is the second company in this round-up to offer x8/x4/x4 pathway configurations to host three PCIe 3.0 graphics cards in CrossFire. Nvidia’s resistance to enabling SLI on four-lane links isn’t brand-specific, so it affects both competitors equally. The same caveat also applies: enthusiasts who want the second PCIe 3.0 slot to retain eight lanes (and SLI capability) must leave the bottom slot empty.

MSI adds a fourth x16-length slot at the center of the Z97 MPower, which shares three of its four PCIe 2.0 lanes with the three x1 slots. Using any x1 slot means treating this one equally, as a x1 slot. And if you actually need to install an extra graphics card along with some x1 cards, at any bandwidth cost, MSI uses an open-ended connector in the bottom x1 slot.

Like most competitors, M.2 and SATA Express early adopters are forced to give up two of the chipset’s SATA 6Gb/s ports in order to keep their preferred interface active. Likewise, MSI relies on a PCIe 2.0 single-lane controller to serve up the board’s seventh and eights SATA 6Gb/s ports at a combined 5 Gb/s.

MSI tackles the problem of stiff USB 3.0 front-panel cable ends getting in the way by using a right-angle header, conveniently placed above the top-most SATA ports, where the cable can snake behind the lower drive cage of most enthusiast-class ATX cases. It also moves the front-panel audio header around ½” forward from the bottom-rear corner, as it happens that many cases have a cable that’s ½” too-short to reach there. Many builders will still need to perform stretching exercises to get that cable over its header, however.

The Z97 MPower costs only $5 more than its closest competitor, yet has a similar feature set. Fortunately, it also includes two extra SATA cables for a total of six. An extra $2.50 per cable isn’t bad.

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  • 0 Hide
    Memnarchon , August 14, 2014 12:39 AM
    At this price Asus could send a ROG product (Maximus VII Hero). I wonder why they choose to send the Z97-Pro instead...
  • 1 Hide
    bigshootr8 , August 14, 2014 12:48 AM
    Quote:
    At this price Asus could send a ROG product (Maximus VII Hero). I wonder why they choose to send the Z97-Pro instead...


    My thoughts you can find the hero board within that price range quite easy. http://pcpartpicker.com/part/asus-motherboard-maximusviihero
  • -1 Hide
    bigshootr8 , August 14, 2014 12:51 AM
    -snip- duplicate post silly tomshardware.
  • 1 Hide
    Drejeck , August 14, 2014 4:40 AM
    I'd like some ITX Z97 and H97 with M.2 reviewed.
    I'm buying the Asus Z97i-plus because it just mount a 2x M.2 2280 and 2260, and all other connectivity goodness, uninterested in overclocking unless the broadwell i5 K consume less than 90W :D 
  • 1 Hide
    mapesdhs , August 14, 2014 6:22 AM

    I recently bought a Z97I-Plus. Being so used to EATX boards as of late, I was a tad
    stunned at how tiny even the packing box is. :D  Just pairing it up with a G3258
    initially to see how it behaves. Pondering a GTX 750 Ti, but kinda hoping NVIDIA
    will release a newer version in Sept.

    Ian.

  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , August 14, 2014 8:33 AM
    Quote:
    At this price Asus could send a ROG product (Maximus VII Hero). I wonder why they choose to send the Z97-Pro instead...
    They probably wanted to win based on features for the money? We know that the Wi-Fi ac has A $50 WI-FI CONTROLLER, what does the Hero add that's worth $50?

  • 0 Hide
    lp231 , August 14, 2014 9:11 AM
    The Asus ROG boards have a red line that lights up showing the audio path through it's build in LEDs, but the mainstream Z97 don't. I had a chance to take a look at one of the Asus Z97 board and took my phone's flash to shine in on it. The color was somewhat yellowish green and it looks really nice.
  • 0 Hide
    g-unit1111 , August 14, 2014 9:16 AM
    I have a Z97 Extreme 6, it's a very nice board and it's definitely worthy of the approval award.
  • 0 Hide
    TechyInAZ , August 14, 2014 12:18 PM
    Nice boards!! I love the gigabyte model but I like asus more because yellow heatsinks just don't fit in my opinion.
  • 0 Hide
    Memnarchon , August 14, 2014 1:57 PM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    At this price Asus could send a ROG product (Maximus VII Hero). I wonder why they choose to send the Z97-Pro instead...
    They probably wanted to win based on features for the money? We know that the Wi-Fi ac has A $50 WI-FI CONTROLLER, what does the Hero add that's worth $50?

    Hello. I think there are more reasons to buy a ROG product, instead of a Wi-Fi controller...
    Better audio quality.
    Better MOF-SETs.
    Better inductors.
    ROG BIOS.
    Generally ROG boards have better quality parts.
    But in the end we need the reviewers (like you) to review as many products as they can, so we can see the performance difference between them.
  • 0 Hide
    ssdpro , August 14, 2014 4:28 PM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    At this price Asus could send a ROG product (Maximus VII Hero). I wonder why they choose to send the Z97-Pro instead...
    They probably wanted to win based on features for the money? We know that the Wi-Fi ac has A $50 WI-FI CONTROLLER, what does the Hero add that's worth $50?





    Nothing. No one would use wifi on a ROG board that is geared for gaming. I can't see many buyers of the Z97 Pro using wifi either for that matter. Unless of course you like to pack up your tower and walk around with it in one hand and your monitor in the other.
  • 0 Hide
    ssdpro , August 14, 2014 4:31 PM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    At this price Asus could send a ROG product (Maximus VII Hero). I wonder why they choose to send the Z97-Pro instead...
    They probably wanted to win based on features for the money? We know that the Wi-Fi ac has A $50 WI-FI CONTROLLER, what does the Hero add that's worth $50?





    Nothing would be added, just better board quality. No one would use wifi on a ROG board that is geared for gaming. I can't see many buyers of the Z97 Pro using wifi either for that matter. Unless of course you like to pick up your tower and walk around with it in one hand and your monitor in the other tonguing the mouse for movement. But yes that would use that wifi controller.
  • 0 Hide
    bigshootr8 , August 14, 2014 4:35 PM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    Quote:
    At this price Asus could send a ROG product (Maximus VII Hero). I wonder why they choose to send the Z97-Pro instead...
    They probably wanted to win based on features for the money? We know that the Wi-Fi ac has A $50 WI-FI CONTROLLER, what does the Hero add that's worth $50?





    Nothing would be added, just better board quality. No one would use wifi on a ROG board that is geared for gaming. I can't see many buyers of the Z97 Pro using wifi either for that matter. Unless of course you like to pick up your tower and walk around with it in one hand and your monitor in the other tonguing the mouse for movement. But yes that would use that wifi controller.


    Whole heartily agree! With any worth while gaming setup you wouldn't be playing games over wifi anyway. The slap in the face bandwidth wise is enough to keep people away. Lets check Intel Lan/Killer Nic yea I'll stick with one of those two thank you.
  • 0 Hide
    Chris Droste , August 14, 2014 5:59 PM
    the nice things about the Asus board imo is i already have a PCIe 1x Soundblaster X-Fi and I really don't want it butting up to a lava-hot Volcanic Islands card. the port placement lets me keep that card way down, and keeps me from having to worry about how good on-board audio is for at least another generation. Yeah, it's a $220, but Microcenter has a deal (on top of best CPU prices) to nab the 4790k + this board for $160 as a combo deal. makes for a smokin' offer imo
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , August 14, 2014 6:20 PM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    Quote:
    At this price Asus could send a ROG product (Maximus VII Hero). I wonder why they choose to send the Z97-Pro instead...
    They probably wanted to win based on features for the money? We know that the Wi-Fi ac has A $50 WI-FI CONTROLLER, what does the Hero add that's worth $50?

    Hello. I think there are more reasons to buy a ROG product, instead of a Wi-Fi controller...
    Better audio quality.
    Better MOF-SETs.
    Better inductors.
    ROG BIOS.
    Generally ROG boards have better quality parts.
    But in the end we need the reviewers (like you) to review as many products as they can, so we can see the performance difference between them.


    Quote:
    Quote:
    Quote:
    At this price Asus could send a ROG product (Maximus VII Hero). I wonder why they choose to send the Z97-Pro instead...
    They probably wanted to win based on features for the money? We know that the Wi-Fi ac has A $50 WI-FI CONTROLLER, what does the Hero add that's worth $50?





    Nothing would be added, just better board quality. No one would use wifi on a ROG board that is geared for gaming. I can't see many buyers of the Z97 Pro using wifi either for that matter. Unless of course you like to pick up your tower and walk around with it in one hand and your monitor in the other tonguing the mouse for movement. But yes that would use that wifi controller.

    The problem for Asus is that they like to win awards. Costlier components don't boost a review rating when they don't boost performance or overclocking. In case you missed it, MOST of Asus' deluxe boards have out-overclocked MOST of its ROG boards in Tom's Hardware's tests.

    As for Wi-Fi, I've occasionally set up mine as an access point.
  • 0 Hide
    SoupRice , August 14, 2014 8:14 PM
    i just built this Z97-A with i7 4790k running smoothly
  • 0 Hide
    Memnarchon , August 15, 2014 4:47 AM
    Quote:
    The problem for Asus is that they like to win awards. Costlier components don't boost a review rating when they don't boost performance or overclocking. In case you missed it, MOST of Asus' deluxe boards have out-overclocked MOST of its ROG boards in Tom's Hardware's tests.

    As for Wi-Fi, I've occasionally set up mine as an access point.

    My apologies for the delay of responding. Due to a surgery after medial meniscus injury, I can't [removed] sit too much on my PC desk for some weeks.
    Indeed, every company wants awards in their product page to show how good their product is.
    Well, "Deluxe" products could be able to compete in o/c since they have similar PWM phases used. They also have same quality inductors. On the other hand "Pro" products aren't the same as "Deluxe" (they have a good difference in their price as well) and they are missing the things I just wrote (apart from other fearures...).
    Also from the time Asus first release a cheap (~$200) ROG motherboard (Hero and Ranger joined a year later...), Tom's Hardware didn't made a review on them yet. And the only Z97/Z87/Z77 Asus ROG product in the reviews is the Z87 Maximus VI Formula, which won an elite award. Asus seems to send Deluxe and Pro products all the time, but they rarely send an ROG motherboard. So I think there is a large margin of error in comparing just one product to a lot of others, the results will be heavily affected by the result of one product (Maximus Formula).
    For Wi-Fi, I just use my router's controller which was provided by my ISP, free of charge...
    ps: I couldn't miss it since I read Tom's Hardware daily (mostly waiting for each day's article, apart from weekends which you almost never do) with a cup of coffee, like most people read a newspaper, the last five years :) .
    ps2: I would love to hear also raja@asus opinion on this.

    Watch the language. - G
    edit: Sorry G, I didn't noticed it. I mistyped...
  • 0 Hide
    vertexx , August 15, 2014 6:40 PM
    Crash, really nice article. Obviously a ton of work went into this one. Well done.
  • 0 Hide
    g-unit1111 , August 15, 2014 11:17 PM
    No EVGA boards? I'd like to see how the Z97 Classified, Stinger, and FTW models compare to the competition.
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , August 16, 2014 2:40 AM
    Quote:
    No EVGA boards? I'd like to see how the Z97 Classified, Stinger, and FTW models compare to the competition.
    EVGA only wanted to show a more-expensive model and asked that they be informed when that roundup is planned.
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