Big Bang XPower II
First impressions are this looks to be a stunning ATX-XL format motherboard. The black PCB and black components scream class. Aesthetically, the only problem I have apart from the magazine of bullets heatsink (more on that later) are the blue/silver solid caps scattered around mainboard which dilutes the awesome looks somewhat. ASRock use gold caps and while I'm not for minute saying MSI should take ASRock's lead but it is a shame the caps are not less pronounced.
I have little to complain about the overall layout. Everything is where it should be with all of the connectivity positioned towards the edges and the 6 fan headers spaced quite well.
The rear of the mainboard is relatively uninteresting save for the backplate to the VRM module. I was pleased to see MSI have used spring loaded screws throughout to hold the heatsink assembly in place rather than the fragile plastic push-pins so often found on cheaper mainboards.
Worthy of note is the lengths of the PCIe solder signifying that only the 1st and fifth ports are 16 speed with the remaining ports being limited to 8x. At present, only the dual GPU cards have any significant restrictions by using 8x so unless you intend on running masses of dual GPU cards this will have very little affect.
CPU Socket Area
While appearing rather cramped, MSI have done a very good job in keeping it relatively free of solid caps. The main VRM unit has Hi-c CAPs which replace the ugly solid caps we are used to seeing. The Tantalum core Hi-c CAPs reportedly last up to 8 years longer than solid caps and have a higher thermal stability. An added bonus to this is that you will not capacitor squeal. Sadly there are still solid caps around the socket area so while it is relatively clean, Xtreme users who will be insulating the motherboard will still have to take care.
Framing the LOTES CPU socket are 8 DIMM slots capable of holding up to 128GB of GDDR3 in at up to 2400MHz speeds in quad channel format. I have been asked if 2 sets of dual channel would work and my answer is yes but as these have not been tested together a quad channel kit would be a better choice as some dual channel kits, especially if they are not from the same batch, may present difficulties. For the most part you should be fine but for ultimate compatibility, a quad channel kit is your best bet, especially as memory is so cheap at present.
Count them. Yes, seven PCIe ports. From top to bottom, slots 1, 3, 5 and 7 are PCIe 3.0 compatible with the remaining 2, 4 and 6 slots PCIe 2.0. As noted earlier, the 1st and 5th ports are full fat 16x lanes with the remaining being 8x. Most apparent is the Big Bang II's capability of running 4-way SLI! Previously only motherboards with the cost prohibitive NF200 chip allowed this so this is sure to be appealing to those who plan on breaking some 3DMark world records!
I don't understand the thinking behind having such a stunning, domineering mainboard and then spoiling it by having a magazine of kiddies Crayola crayons...I mean bullets! Honestly, what were you thinking MSI? Sure the gold/copper contrasts well with the overall black theme but 'features' such as this may well be enough to prevent a few sales as, for me at least, it does little for the aesthetics of the mainboard. My only hope is that it cools much better than it looks. This is not the first time we have seen novelty heatsinks. GIGABYTE have also taken a step in this direction so if anyone from manufacturers are listening - stop this shenanigans now, it's not big and it's not clever!
Please make it stop! Seriously though, the VRM heatsink is much less noticeable thanks to the all black affair and truth be told, it's growing on me (oh the shame!). Maybe MSI were having a dig at GIGABYTE's pistol heatsink when designing the Gatling gun heatsink? Either way it had better keep the components cool otherwise the egg will be on MSI's face!
The I/O area is pretty much par for the course as far as top-end motherboards go. Here you will find connectivity for 6x USB 2.0, 4x USB 3.0, Firewire, PS2 Keyboard and mouse port combo, CMOS clear button, 3.5mm audio ports along with Coaxial and optical S/PDIF out ports. A first from what we have seen from X79 motherboards thus far is the inclusion of an extra RJ-45 LAN port.
There are a total of 10 SATA ports on the main board comprising of 6x 6GB/s (2x Intel, 4x ASMEDIA) and a further 4x SATA 3GB/s ports connected to the X79 chipset.
Let's delve a little deeper...