Although Intel’s X58 chipset may be getting a bit long in the tooth – after all, it’s been around for a couple of years – the original motherboards that used it are still potent boards, but they have been surpassed by boards equipped with newer technologies such as SATA 6 and USB 3.0.
MSI has recognised this and gone back to the drawing board, before unleashing the Big Bang XPower, a mighty sounding name for a mightily impressive motherboard. SATA 6 and USB 3.0 are just two parts of an impressive feature list, including some very serious hardware on the power supply side.
The first thing that grabs your attention when looking at the board is the sheer number of PCI-E graphics slots: six. Yes, that’s right, six, but you need to take care when using them to get the best out of them. If you are just configuring a standard dual-card CrossFire or SLI (the board supports both modes) setup then you use the first slot (labelled PCI_E2) and the fourth slot (PCI_E5) as these work at full x16 speed all the time. The others work at x8 all the time (third and fifth slots) and x4 speed (second and sixth slots). The board supports both Quad SLI and Quad CrossfireX.
Because of the number of PCI-E graphics slots there’s only enough room on the board for one more slot, which is an x1 PCI-E slot. This sits above the first X16 slot and MSI even supplies something to fill it, in the shape of a QuantumWave sound card based around Realtek’s ALC889 codec and supporting EAX 5.0 and THX TruStudio Pro; this card has solid capacitors.
At the heart of the board is an Intel 1366 Socket that supports all of Intel’s Core i7 processors including the mighty six-cored i7 980X. The six DIMM slots can support up to a maximum of 24GB of DDR3 memory, but keep in mind that the chipset uses triple channel memory architecture so to get the best out of it you have to use either three or all six slots. The Big Bang XPower supports memory speeds up to 2133MHz through overclocking.
All the cooling on the board is done passively, with the X58 cooler and the coolers of the MOSFETs connected by a larger (8mm) than normal heat-pipe which gives better cooling performance. The passive heatsink on top of the ICH10R is one of the largest Southbridge coolers we’ve seen on a board, maybe not in height but certainly in area.
To give the Big Bang XPower SATA 6Gbps support, MSI has enlisted the help of a Marvel 88SE9128 controller which looks after the two ninety-degree mounted ports that are coloured white. The ICH10R Southbridge looks after the six SATA 3Gbps ports, coloured black, which sit next to them.
MSI has taken no chances when it comes to supplying the board with enough power should you decide to take it to the max, as not only is there a second 8-pin CPU power connector (connecting both gives the CPU 40A of current), there’s also an extra 6-pin PCI-E power connector mounted on the board to give any graphics card setup some extra grunt if needed.
Sticking with the power side of things, all the components in the power circuitry are what MSI calls “Military Class” which basically means they are top-notch and help the board’s stability and cooling when serious amounts of overclocking come into play. And serious overclocking is what this board is all about, with more options in the BIOS than you can shake a stick at, plus MSI’s OC Genie button housed on the motherboard, along with the MSI external overclocking panel; OC Dashboard.
The OC Genie button sits in the middle of a panel with two areas marked by squares on either side. These, intriguingly, are touch sensitive panels: the pair of panels to the right of the OC Genie button are for power and reset while the left-hand pair lets you increase and decrease the base clock of the CPU in 1MHz steps.
An NEC controller looks after the two USB3.0 ports on the rear I/O panel. Sitting alongside them are two PS/2 ports, a clear CMOS button, five USB 2.0 ports, Firewire and eSATA ports, two Gigabit LAN ports and an eSATA/USB2.0 combi port.
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