MSI Big Bang XPower Intel X58 Motherboard
Author: Frank Stroupe
Editor: Shawn Knight
Date: 07-26-2010
Provided by: MSI
A Closer Look

If you didn't know, all electronics components are not created the same. As in everything else, there are varying levels of quality in components that find their way on circuit boards. For decades, the United States military has particular specifications for nearly everything it purchases, and items meeting these specifications are generally known as “Mil-Spec”.

Think for a minute about the extremes that electronic components on US military equipment must endure. A piece of equipment has to be able to survive the dry heat and dust of the world's deserts, the wet, humid heat and mud of the world's jungles, the corrosive salty humidity of the world's oceans, and the extreme cold of the Arctic and Antarctica. In addition, aircraft must endure all of those conditions and the even more extreme cold of the stratosphere. These components must be able to stand the extreme vibration coming from vehicles being driven cross-country, the shock vibration of massive guns being fired or aircraft constantly taking off and landing, not to mention the extreme shock of equipment being dropped from aircraft.

Not only must the electronic components be able to survive these conditions, they must last longer than ordinary components while under these conditions. This normally requires electronic components not only be rugged, but to run cooler than non-Mil-spec components, considering that heat shortens the life of those components.

So why am I telling you this? The Big Bang XPower is built with MSI's “Military Class Concept”, where the components meet the temperature requirements of US Department of Defense MIL-PRF-39003L standard. These top quality components have an incredible long lifetime, high stability, and low temperature. And needless to say, they all cost much more than the typical stuff that are normally stuck on a PCB.

In addition, the board uses Icy Choke new generation ferrite chokes which have 20C lower temperatures than regular ferrite chokes. It also uses Hi-c (highly conductive polymerized) server-grade capacitors that are rated at higher than necessary voltages. These capacitors will not leak and they are able to withstand higher voltages and temperatures. And the MOSFETs used for voltage regulation are not only server class components, they are 400% faster than traditional MOSFETs.

Now I am a real overkill person. For example, I usually run power supplies at least a couple hundred watts more than I really need, I like full towers when a midtower would suffice, etc. So a motherboard that is built more like it is going to be used in an F-18 fighter or an M1 tank rather than in my gaming rig is right down my alley.

The XPower comes in a nice box suitable for an upper-end motherboard. Beneath a flap is a window showing the board in all its glory.

The motherboard is in its own box, as are the accessories. It's been a while since I've had a board given this treatment.

The Big Bang XPower is a really crowded motherboard, especially after looking at a lot of P55 boards which look fairly naked without a Northbridge. MSI eliminated the IDE and floppy ports, which aren't needed anymore, and wouldn't fit here anyway. Besides the X58's six DIMM slots, the XPower has a huge SB cooler and six PCI-E x16 slots. It looks much more like a workstation board rather than a gaming board. MSI went with a black PCB highlighted with black and blue hardware. Indeed as we will later see, it could easily be used as a workstation board.

Overall layout is good, or as good as it can be with so many components onboard. Even then, care has been taken by MSI to make this board as cable management friendly as possible, all but one internal connector is located around the board's perimeter, and that one connector as often as not won't be used. Besides the CPU fan connector, MSI has given us four other onboard fan connectors which should take care of most case configurations.

A look around the CPU socket shows a very serious power supply for this motherboard, utilizing the components that I've already discussed. My first quick glance had me wondering why there were so many MOSFETs around the CPU socket, considering the voltage regulating MOSFETs are under the heatsinks. A closer look proved that these are the “Hi-c” capacitors, looking a little like MOSFETs to someone that has never seen them before. These Tantalum-core capacitors have a life expectancy eight times that of a solid-core capacitor.

But what really caught my eye was the pair of CPU power connectors. The Core i7 980X Extreme, when extremely overclocked and under full load can draw as much as 480 watts of power. That is far too much for a single 8-pin power connector to handle, so the Big Bang XPower is built with a pair of 8-pin connectors. It wasn't very long ago when motherboards had only a single 4-pin connector.

Besides using the upper end MOSFETs I mentioned earlier, they are in 16-phase PWM, and the Dr. MOS gives the capability of automatically switching the number of phases depending on CPU load. There is a row of LEDs next to the DIMM slots that depict the power phase.

Then we have the onboard cooler. It is a very sharp looking affair with its huge 8mm heatpipes, all plated in black nickel. The “SuperPipe” heatpipes greatly improve the capacity to move heat around.

As I mentioned, with six PCI-E x16 slots, the Big Bang Xpower looks like a workstation board. The board will accommodate six single-slot video cards for some massive multi monitor action and will also support 2-way, 3-way, or quad SLI and CrossfireX. Using dual cards, the first and fourth slots both provide x16 PCI-E; using all six slots they run x8/x4/x4 x8/x4/x4.

Above the PCI-E x1 slot, which is for the sound card, there is a 6-pin PCI-E power connector for additional power to the video cards if the setup includes more than a couple of video cards. MSI has thought of everything here. By the way, this is the connector I was talking about earlier that would be the only one likely to hinder good cable management.

Below the PCI-E slots is the OC Genie button - push the button for instant overclocking. I suspect that someone buying this board will prefer to do it the old-fashioned way, but you never know. The button is coupled with an onboard chip. Push the OC Genie button when the system is off, at restart the system will overclock itself to an optimum overclock.

At first I thought that they decided not to put I/O and Reset switches on the board, but no, these are touch pads. The +/- touch pads are for instant raising of the BCLK for more instant overclocking options, MSI calls them “Direct OC. I should note that these are controlled completely by hardware, unlike most other companies that depend on software for instant overclocking in the Windows environment.

These V-switches are for enabling overvolting of various components in the BIOS. #1 is CPU, #2 is QPI, #3 is DDR, and #4 is IOH. These switches prevent the accidental frying of the CPU from accidentally overvolting. These are so much easier than the jumpers I've seen on some boards.

Next to the V-switches is a POST digital readout. I've always appreciated these, though very few boards I've owned had them. On more than one occasion they have saved me a lot of time while troubleshooting boot problems.

The blue device next to the SATA ports is what MSI calls V-check. Rather than depend on motherboard sensors, using the supplied cables, you connect the V-check ports to a multimeter to measure the real voltage of the CPU, QPI, Memory, NB, and SB.

The board has six forward-facing SATA 3Gb/s slots and a pair of SATA 6Gb/s slots. Missing from the board are IDE and floppy ports. The board is crowded enough without them.

The Big Bang XPower has six DIMM slots supporting up to 24GB of up to DDR3-2133 memory in triple channel. The slots themselves are the new/old EZ DIMM slots that lock only on one side, allowing easy removal and installation of memory while a video card is in the top PCI-E slot. I say new/old, because the first motherboard I removed memory from like a million years ago had a similar slot that only locked on one side.

The I/O panel itself is not overly crowded, with PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports, a tiny Clear CMOS switch, five USB 2.0 ports, a pair of USB 3.0 ports which double as USB 2.0 ports, a pair of eSATA (3Gb/s) ports, an IEEE 1394 port, a pair of LAN ports, and a connector for the OC Dashboard LED panel.

I must make note of the CCMOS button…all other boards have a fairly large button that is easy to push by accident - I have done it several times. Once the board is installed, you must use a small object to insert into the I/O shield to activate the CCMOS button. I like that.

The rear of the board is pretty nondescript unless you look closely. Of note is the fact that the CPU socket backplate is plated in black nickel, and the fact that the power supply heatsinks use actual screws rather than pushpins. This is great attention to detail kind of stuff.

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