MSI Z97 MPower
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.