Board Features (Cont): Digging Deeper
When MSI designed the Big Bang product series it also engineered the boards to different (ostensibly higher) standards. The company's PR copy refers to this in numerous ways, from the use of Hi-c CAPS and 'Super Ferrite Chokes' (SFCs) to the additional auxiliary power connectors. The company has also gone to the trouble of using a separate audio card and included additional monitoring hardware and overclocking-friendly capabilities. We've opted to discuss overclocking features independently from overclocking performance; power consumption and audio capabilities have their own dedicated sections.
Hardware Overclocking Features
Several of the XPower's headline options, like its dual EPS12V plugs for CPU power, are only going to matter if you're an extremely rare breed of enthusiast.
Dual EPS12V Plugs: Modern motherboards include an eight-pin plug that supplies additional power for the CPU. Of the eight wires, the four yellow ones provide 6.5A each. We can therefore calculate the total amount of wattage available to the CPU by multiplying the number of wires (4) times the amperage of each wire (6.5) times the voltage (12V). The result—26 amps, 312W—is the maximum amount of power provided by a single plug (before VRM efficiency is calculated).
We spoke to Intel, MSI, and several world-class overclockers about the need for a second plug. There was general agreement on the topic from all quarters—unless you're planning to overclock using liquid nitrogen, the additional eight-pin plug won't really help your efforts. The reason MSI provided the additional plug is because it's actively courting the record-breakers that presently rely on companies like Asus or Gigabyte in various competitions.*
Base Clock Control Buttons: MSI has included multiple methods of adjusting the XPower's speeds on the fly; this term refers to the touchpads at the bottom of the board. Each press of the button (+ or -) adjusts the base clock frequency by 0.5mHz. Additional touchpads are provided for system reset and power on/off. If you're working with an open case, as we often do, these types of options are fabulous; ditto if you're trying to fine-tune an OC result. Be advised, however, that adjusting the base clock can also shift other system speeds in ways that aren't immediately apparent. Our experience with the XPower leads us to recommend OCing directly within the BIOS, where clockspeed relationships between the Uncore and Core are updated as new values are selected.
OC Genie: MSI describes the OC Genie as follows: "This button is used to auto-overclock for the system. Press this button to enable the OC Genie function when the system is in power off state, meanwhile, the button will light and lock. And then the system will automatically detect the optimum values to overclock after booting the system."
In our case, OC Genie simply didn't work. Turning the system on with the button depressed resulted in a brief power-up sequence (no video) after which the motherboard shut back down. We tested multiple sticks of RAM, double-checked to ensure OC Genie was enabled in BIOS, and kept all BIOS voltages and clockspeeds at Auto, all with no effect. As soon as we turned OC Genie off, the system booted normally.
Strangely enough, the system does POST if OC Genie is activated while the OC Dashboard is connected. It then shuts down just after the Marvell controller detects attached devices. We don't consider this a major problem, mostly because we take a dim view of automated motherboard overclocking. If you don't understand overclocking enough to do it yourself, you probably shouldn't be doing it at all.
OC Dashboard: MSI also includes the OC Dashboard with the Big Bang XPower. The diminutive breakout box connects to the motherboard via proprietary data cable or USB (your choice—the Big Bang contains both). The Dashboard decodes the various POST codes, offers information on what system BIOS is installed, and can be used to adjust a variety of system voltages. The OC Dashboard isn't very useful for early overclocking, when you're still focused on determining a CPU's general operating range, but it's handy for ultra-fine-tuning for adjusting voltage or operating clock by a few hundredths without completely rebooting.
The Dashboard's plastic shell, unfortunately, feels bargain basement. The various buttons are stiff and must be pressed in specific places in order to reliably pick up input and the enclosure is brittle. If you intend to use the device, we recommend anchoring it to a point up and largely out of the way.
V-Check: The rectangular blue box in the lower-right-hand corner of the motherboard has multiple sensor pads that allow any user with a multimeter to read the actual voltage being supplied to various components on a hardware level. This isn't something most of you will ever need, but it could be useful when attempting to troubleshoot board stability issues or for extreme overclocking. It's rare for a motherboard to consistently self-report a given voltage in BIOS while supplying an entirely different amount, but we've had it happen.
*Note: We've seen it erroneously report that the second 8-pin plug is necessary because the Core i7-980X is capable of drawing up to 480W. This is flatly incorrect, for two reasons. First, the second plug is important because it provides smoother amperage, not voltage. Second, the LGA1366 interface isn't physically capable of tolerating that kind of power draw, regardless of temperature.