THE SUPER HIGH-END motherboard market doesn’t seem to have an upper limit when it comes to slots, features and gimmicks, and MSI’s latest model, the Big Bang XPower is no exception to that rule. Some of you might be disappointed to know that it doesn’t feature Lucid’s Hydra chip, but on the other hand, it doesn’t have an nForce 200 chip either, yet it has no less than six PCI Express x16 slots.
MSI has come up with its own way of configuring the 32 PCI Express lanes from the X58 chipset, as the board will normally only have two working x16 slots. You can also run with one slot in x16 mode and two slots in x8 mode, or four slots in x8 mode. However, if you want to use all six slots you end up with two slots in x8 mode and four slots in x4 mode which limits the usefulness of having so many slots, at least for anyone that intends to slot in graphics cards in all six slots. Oh, yes, there’s also an x1 PCI Express slot at the top of the board as well, but this is taken up by the supplied Quantum Wave sound card, which offers EAX 5.0 support and THX TruStudio PRO certification.
However, this is just the tip of the feature iceberg, as MSI has really gone overboard here to cater for the enthusiast users. MSI has improved on its PWM design by adding Hi-C caps – or highly-conductive polymerized capacitors, if you want the full name – although we’ve seen these on a few other boards from MSI already and they are in fact tantalum capacitors. Add to this MSI’s new “Icy Choke”, which offers a claimed 20 degrees C reduction in operating temperature and of course MSI’s DrMOS MOSFETs. In addition, MSI also has its own version of dynamic phase usage called APS that will throttle the number of power phases used when the system is idling.
There are no less than two 8-pin 12V power connectors, as well as an additional 6-pin 12V connector, on the board, all of which are supposed to help with overclocking it. Please do note that half of this extra gear is only likely to be of any use for extreme overclockers that use liquid nitrogen and not your average overclocker at home, who might have a watercooling setup at the most. There is of course a block of metering points for a multi-meter on the board as well, just as with MSI’s past high-end models.
Sticking with the overclocking theme here, the board also features MSI’s OC Genie, OC Dashboard and V-Kit design. The first is an automatic overclocking feature that is accessed via a large button on the motherboard itself, while the OC Dashboard is a small external device that plugs into a pin-header on the rear of the board. It allows you to see error codes during POST and boot, but once you’ve gotten into Windows, it gives you real-time statistic of things like the voltages and even allows you to overlock the system on the fly. Finally, the V-Kit design is what allows the OC Dashboard to do all the little tricks it does without having to reboot the system.
In terms of ports around the back, there are two PS/2 ports, five USB 2.0 ports, one combo USB 2.0 or eSATA port, one eSATA port, two USB 3.0 ports, a FireWire port and two Gigabit Ethernet ports. All the audio jacks are on the Quantum Wave sound cards, which include 7.1-channel audio as well as optical and coaxial S/PDIF out. You’re also looking at six internal SATA2 3Gbps ports, two SATA3 6Gbps ports, two headers for additional USB 2.0 ports and a header for an additional FireWire port. The bottom of the board also features a POST 80 debug LED and a set of soft-touch buttons including power and reset. Finally, at the top of the board there’s a row of 16 LED’s that symbolize the power phases and will light up like a Christmas tree when you’re stressing the CPU.
We haven’t been able to locate a price for the this board yet, but considering that MSI’s P55 based Big Bang boards are selling for well over $300, and with the Hydra equipped model being closer to $400, we’d estimate that the Big Bang XPower should end up costing in excess of $350. It’s far from the first motherboard to end up costing an insane amount of money, but as it’s a low volume model for the very particular enthusiast class or users, the price isn’t completely unjustified. Then again, most of those who would really be able to push this board to its limits will most likely get one sponsored by MSI, as overclocking has become serious business.S|A
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