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Z87 Hits The High End: Four Sub-$300 Motherboards

MSI Z87 MPower Max

The second-least-expensive platform in this round-up, MSI’s Z87 MPower Max is far from cheap when it comes to on-board features. An Intel Centrino Wireless-N 2230 plus Bluetooth adapter comes factory-installed on an I/O panel riser card that fits between a CLR_CMOS button and two of the board’s six rear-facing USB 3.0 ports.

MSI makes room for the module by ridding the board of DVI connectivity, though the dual HDMI outputs can be used with single-link adapters. Users who want more resolution from Intel’s integrated HD Graphics 4600 engine instead need to use the Z87 MPower Max’s DisplayPort output.

Like all of the board’s in today’s comparison, MSI's Z87 MPower Max shares the CPU’s sixteen PCIe 3.0 lanes in x16, x8-x8, or x8-x4-x4 modes, depending on the slots you fill. Remaining slots are closed-ended second-gen PCIe x1 links connected to the Z87 PCH.

Lane sharing isn’t an issue for the chipset, since its remaining four lanes feed exactly four devices. Controllers include the high-end E2205 from Killer Networks, the D720202 USB 3.0 hub from Renesas, the previously-mentioned Intel wireless controller on a custom riser card, and ASMedia’s ASM1061 dual-port SATA 6Gb/s.

Because MSI chooses a two-port add-in controller, the Z87 MPower Max comes up two SATA ports shy of its competition. The PCH still provides six of its own SATA 6Gb/s ports, and even most high-end users have fewer than the eight storage devices. One of those ports becomes inactive when an mSATA drive is installed in the board’s center connector, but building with mSATA can also help mitigate cabling nightmares.

The Z87 MPower Max voltage regulator cooler also lacks the liquid-cooling attachments found on ASRock's and Asus' samples, though the components it covers consist of a far more elaborate 20-phase design. The regulator also features flat Tantalum capacitors for additional CPU cooler clearance and heat resistance.

Similar to what we saw from Asus and Gigabyte, the Z87 MPower Max employs a good layout designed for extra graphics cooling in SLI or CrossFire. On the other hand, some case manufacturers still haven’t learned to make their front-panel audio cables long enough to reach this board’s bottom-rear corner connector.

The Z87 MPower Max includes six SATA cables, a slot-panel breakout plate for two of its four internal USB 3.0 connections, a dual-port eSATA breakout panel, a single-channel Wi-Fi module with two extended range antennas, and four connector cables for its seven voltage detection points.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.