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[nextpage title=”Introduction”]

MSI Big Bang XPower is an Intel X58-based socket LGA1366 motherboard that comes with six PCI Express x16 slots, SATA-600 ports, USB 3.0 ports, military-grade components on the voltage regulator circuit, gazillions of overclocking options and much more. Also it is one of the few motherboards around using an easy-to-remember name instead of a part number formed with several letters and numbers. We honestly hope that MSI and other manufacturers do this more often.

Like other high-end motherboards from MSI, Big Bang XPower uses a cooling solution based on an eight-mm heat-pipe that, according to MSI, is to date the thickest heatpipe used on a motherboard (usually motherboards use five-mm heat-pipes), which translates in a better cooling capability (56% improvement, according to the manufacturer). This heatpipe connects three heatsinks, two of them on top of the transistors of the voltage regulator circuit and one on top of the north bridge chip from the chipset.

MSI Big Bang XPower motherboardFigure 1: MSI Big Bang XPower motherboard.

This motherboard comes with two EPS12V connectors for feeding the CPU. With one connector you can give up to 20 A (240 W) to your CPU. If you think that is not enough, you can add the second connector and increase the maximum CPU current to 40 A (480 W).

[nextpage title=”Slots”]

The highlight of this product is of course the presence of six PCI Express x16 slots. Big Bang XPower supports both SLI and CrossFireX modes, and it comes with three SLI bridges (two short ones and one long one) but with only one CrossFireX bridge.

The north bridge of Intel X58 chipset provides 36 PCI Express x1 lanes, while the south bridge (ICH10R) provides six more lanes.

The numbering scheme used on the Big Bang XPower slots is a little bit confusing and you should pay close attention. The PCI Express x16 slots are numbered from PCI_E2 to PCI_E7, counting from the slot that is closest to the available PCI Express x1 slot.

The first (PCI_E2) and fourth (PCI_E5) slots work at x16 all the time. The third (PCI_E4) and fifth (PCI_E6) slots work at x8 all the time. And the second (PCI_E3) and sixth (PCI_E7) slots work at x4 all the time.

So in order to achieve the best performance when using two video cards under SLI or CrossFireX mode you must install your video cards on the first (PCI_E2) and fourth (PCI_E5) slots. This is very hard to remember and you should pay close attention. When installing three video cards, install the third card on the third (PCI_E4) slot. This slot configuration was done so you can install up to three dual-slot video cards without blocking any of the slots that have higher performance. You will only be able to install more than three video cards if at least one of the first three video cards is a single-slot card, because if you install three dual-slot cards all other slots will be blocked.

Also if you decide to install a dual-slot video card on the last PCI Express x16 slot, you will need to use a case with at least eight expansion slots (cases usually have seven) and you will block the OC Genie and other buttons located at the edge of the motherboard  near this slot and also the USB headers.

MSI Big Bang XPower motherboardFigure 2: Slots.

It would be interesting if MSI had used different colors to identify the speed of each PCI Express x16 slot. On the other hand, this would break the harmony of the product.

Besides the six PCI Express x16 slots, this motherboard comes with one PCI Express x1 slot, which is used by the sound card that comes with the product.

MSI Big Bang XPower comes with a six-pin video card power connector (PEG) on the motherboard to provide more current to the video cards installed on the system. The manufacturer doesn’t say when this additional connector must be installed, but we do recommend you to always use it.[nextpage title=”Memory Support”]

Socket LGA1366 CPUs, like socket LGA1156 and AMD processors, have an embedded memory controller. All other Intel CPUs use an external memory controller, which is located on the north bridge chip (a.k.a. MCH or Memory Controller Hub) from the chipset. This means that with other Intel CPUs the chipset (and thus the motherboard) is the component that says what memory technologies and the maximum amount of memory you can have on your PC.

Since now the memory controller is inside the CPU, it is the processor, and not the chipset, that defines the memory technologies and the maximum amount of memory you can have. The motherboard, however, may have a limitation as to how much memory can be installed.

The Core i7 integrated memory controller accepts only DDR3 memory (up to 1.65 V; memories that require more than that won’t work and may even damage the CPU) and supports the new triple-channel memory architecture. Even though Core i7 CPUs officially only support up to DDR3-1066, MSI Big Bang XPower supports memories up to DDR3-2133 through overclocking.

The triple-channel architecture allows the CPU to access three memory modules at the same time to store or retrieve data, increasing the number of bits that are transferred per clock cycle from 128 (on dual-channel architecture) to 192. Thus this makes a 50% improvement on the maximum theoretical memory bandwidth compared to dual-channel architecture, if both are running at the same clock rate. For example, DDR3-1333 memories running on dual-channel have a maximum theoretical transfer rate of 21 GB/s while on triple-channel they have a maximum theoretical transfer rate of 32 GB/s.

Another highlight of Big Bang XPower is the presence of six memory sockets and not only four, like Intel DX58SO “Smackover”, for example. This allows you to make future memory upgrades without having to remove your current memory modules and, at the same time, to keep the maximum performance possible.

Just to clarify, in order to achieve the maximum performance you have to install three or six memory modules. If you install three memory modules you have to use sockets with the same color (on Big Bang XPower three sockets are black and three are blue). If you install a different number of memory modules the system won’t achieve its maximum possible performance.

On motherboards with only four memory sockets you have a problem: if you add a fourth memory module this module will be accessed at single-channel performance (1/3 of the maximum transfer rate) so for you to add more memory keeping the maximum performance you have to remove your old three modules and install new ones. This upgrade is more expensive than using a motherboard with six sockets, where you can simply add three more modules and keep your old modules installed.

According to MSI you can have up to 24 GB with this motherboard.

MSI Big Bang XPower motherboardFigure 3: Memory modules. Install three or six modules for the best performance.

[nextpage title=”On-Board Peripherals”]

Intel X58 chipset is two-chip solution and the motherboard manufacturer can chose between ICH10 and ICH10R south bridge chip, and the only difference between them is the support for RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10 on t
he latter (which is the model used on this motherboard). The basic features provided by this chipset include six SATA-300 ports, no support for parallel ATA (PATA) ports, 12 USB 2.0 ports supporting port disable and embedded Gigabit Ethernet MAC (Medium Access Control).

Big Bang XPower provides all the six SATA-300 ports with support for Intel Matrix Storage (i.e., RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10). These ports are black. Two SATA-600 ports (the white ones) are available, controlled by a Marvell 88SE9128 chip. These two ports support RAID 0 and 1. And two eSATA-300 ports are available on the rear panel controlled by a JMicron JMB362 chip (one of them is shared with a USB 2.0 port).

The internal SATA ports are installed on the motherboard edge and rotated 90°, so video cards won’t block them.

This motherboard comes with an I/O bracket with two eSATA ports, allowing you to convert up to two internal SATA ports into eSATA.

MSI Big Bang XPower motherboardFigure 4: Internal SATA ports.

No ATA-133 nor floppy disk drive controller is present.

From the 12 USB 2.0 ports supported by the chipset, MSI Big Bang XPower offer 10 of them, six soldered on the rear panel and four available through two motherboard headers. The motherboard comes with an I/O bracket containing two USB ports.

One of the highlights of this motherboard is the presence of two USB 3.0 ports, controlled by a NEC μPD720200 chip. These ports are available on the rear panel of the product and painted blue (USB 2.0 ports are black).

Additionally MSI Big Bang XPower comes with a FireWire (IEEE 1394) controller (VIA VT6315N), providing two FireWire ports, one standard-sized soldered on the rear panel and one available through a header. The motherboard doesn’t come with an I/O bracket for you to use the second FireWire port.

Audio is generated by an add-on PCI Express x1 card, based on a Realtek ALC889 codec, which provides professional-grade audio to this motherboard, with eight channels, 24-bit resolution, sampling rate of up to 192 kHz for both inputs and outputs, 104 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog inputs and 108 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the outputs. With a high signal-to-noise ratio like this you can work professionally converting, mixing and editing audio from an analog source (e.g., converting VHS tapes and vinyl records to the digital format) with no background noise (white noise).

This card uses gold-plated jacks and has both optical and coaxial SPDIF outputs. It also has a small two-pin SPDIF output in case you want to route digital audio to one of your video cards in order to have digital audio available on the HDMI output. It provides independent analog outputs, meaning that you don’t need to “kill” the mic in or the line in jack if you install an analog 7.1 speaker set.

MSI Big Bang XPower motherboardFigure 5: Sound card.

The sound card uses only solid capacitors. Way to go.

MSI Big Bang XPower motherboardFigure 6: Sound card.

[nextpage title=”On-Board Peripherals (Cont’d)”]

MSI Big Bang XPower has two Gigabit Ethernet ports, controlled by two Realtek RTL8111DL chips, which are connected to the system using PCI Express x1 lanes, and thus not presenting any potential performance issues.

In Figure 7, you can see the motherboard rear panel with PS/2 mouse and keyboard connectors, clear CMOS button, header for the overclocking panel (OC Dashboad), FireWire port, six USB 2.0 ports, two eSATA-300 ports (the black one is shared with a USB 2.0 port), two Gigabit Ethernet ports and two USB 3.0 ports (blue ones).

MSI Big Bang XPower motherboardFigure 7: Motherboard rear panel.

Another feature present on Big Bang XPower is POST diagnostics display, where you can see through a two-digit code what component is malfunctioning if your computer doesn’t turn on. This feature only works if the overclocking panel (OC Dashboard) is installed.

MSI Big Bang XPower motherboardFigure 8: POST diagnostics display.

Like other motherboards from MSI, this product comes with an operating system stored inside the motherboard read-only memory that allows you to access the Internet without needing to load the operating system or even without having a hard disk drive installed. This feature, called Winki, is identical in concept to the Express Gate feature available on motherboards from ASUS and the eJiffy feature present on motherboards from ECS.

This board comes with interesting overclocking-related hardware features that we will explore later.

In Figure 9, you can see all the accessories that come with MSI Big Bang XPower. On the installation CD there is 60-day trial version from Norton Internet Security 2010.

MSI Big Bang XPower motherboardFigure 9: Accessories.

[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]

MSI Big Bang XPower comes with the most high-end voltage regulator circuit we’ve seen to date. This circuit has a total of 16 phases for the CPU main voltage (Vcc a.k.a. Vcore), two phases for the CPU VTT voltage (memory controller, QPI bus controller and L3 memory cache), two phases for the north bridge chip (IOH) and two phases for the memory. Therefore it uses a “16+2” configuration.

Comparing only the number of phases is unfair, though. Each phase from this motherboard switches at a higher frequency (1 GHz instead of 250 MHz) and has a lower switching loss, resulting in a higher efficiency (above 93%) and lower operating temperature. This is achieved by using an integrated circuit (FDMF6704V) called DrMOS instead of discrete transistors. According to MSI each DrMOS phase is equivalent of four regular phases, so the “16+2” configuration used by this motherboard is comparable to a “64+8” configuration using the standard voltage regulator architecture used by competing products!

If this was not enough, MSI decided to use military-grade components on the voltage regulator circuit. Electronic components rated as military-grade have a higher operating temperature range, tighter specs and higher life-span. All electrolytic capacitors used on the voltage regulator circuit are SMD (surface mount device), also known as highly-conductive polymerized or simply Hi-c, and solid ferrite chokes, which MSI is promoting as “icy chokes” or “super ferrite chokes.” According to MSI these chokes work  20&deg
; C cooler than traditional chokes. Please read our Everything You Need to Know About the Motherboard Voltage Regulator tutorial for more information.

Capacitors used outside the voltage regulator circuit are solid.

MSI Big Bang XPower motherboardFigure 10: Voltage regulator circuit with the heatsink.

MSI Big Bang XPower motherboardFigure 11: Detail of the SMD capacitor, solid choke and phase integrated circuit.

Besides having a high-end voltage regulator circuit, Big Bang XPower can disable phases from the voltage regulator circuit as needed in order to save energy, feature called APS (Active Phase Switching). A group of LEDs near the memory sockets indicate how many Vcc phases are active at any given moment. The motherboard also has LEDs to monitor the number of phases being used on the chipset voltage regulator, on the VTT voltage regulator (called QPI by the manufacturer but this phase also feeds the memory controller and the L3 memory cache) and on the memory voltage regulator.

MSI Big Bang XPower motherboardFigure 12: LEDs to monitor the number of Vcc phases being used.

[nextpage title=”Overclocking Options”]

MSI Big Bang XPower is clearly targeted to overclockers, providing gazillions of overclocking-related features.

Like other motherboards from MSI, it has a function called “OC Genie.” When this button is pressed, the motherboard automatically overclocks the system (it must be pressed when the computer is turned off). Previous automatic overclocking functions available by MSI and other manufacturers increased the base clock to preset values; OC Genie relies on a chip that overclocks the system on-the-fly, based on your hardware configuration. You can also manually increase or decrease the CPU base clock in 1 MHz steps by simply pressing “+” and “-” buttons located on the board.

In Figure 13, you can see all buttons available on this motherboard: OC Genie, the “+” and “-” buttons, reset and power.

MSI Big Bang XPower motherboardFigure 13: Buttons.

MSI Big Bang XPower features voltage monitoring points, where the extreme overclocker can install a multimeter to manually monitor the CPU (Vcc – labeled “CPU” – and VTT – labeled “QPI”), memory (labeled “DDR”) and chipset (north bridge – labeled “IOH” – and south bridge – labeled “ICH”) voltages. The motherboard also comes with wires to facilitate the installation of your multimeter probes to these points.

The reviewed motherboard also has overvoltage switches to prevent you from increasing voltages above a dangerous level where you could burn components.

The voltage monitoring points and the overvoltages switches can be seen in Figure 8.

XPower comes with an overclocking panel called OC Dashboard. This dashboard is connected to the motherboard using two cables: a proprietary connection and a USB connection. Besides being able to control voltages and clocks, this panel can also monitor the CPU temperature and fan speed.

MSI Big Bang XPower motherboardFigure 14: Overclocking panel.

Let’s see the overclocking options available on MSI Big Bang XPower setup.

[nextpage title=”Overclocking Options (Cont’d)”]

The main overclocking options we could see on Big Bang XPower (2.2 BIOS) were:

  • CPU base clock: can be adjusted from 100 MHz to 600 MHz in 1 MHz increments.
  • PCI Express clock: can be adjusted from 100 MHz to 990 MHz in 1 MHz increments.
  • CPU Amplitude control: 700 mV to 1 V in 100 mV increments.
  • PCI Express Amplitude Control: 700 mV to 1 V in 100 mV increments.
  • CPU voltage: From 0.900 V to 1.69375 V (with CPU overvoltage switch off) or to 2.30375 V (with CPU overvoltage switch on) in 0.006 V increments.
  • CPU VTT voltage (“CPU QPI Voltage”): From 0.880 V to 1.600 V (with QPI overvoltage switch off) or to 1.830 V (with QPI overvoltage switch on) in 0.01 V increments.
  • CPU PLL voltage: From 1.050 V to 2.600 V in 0.010 V increments.
  • Memory voltage: From 1.20 V to 2.20 V (with DRAM overvoltage switch off) or to 2.50 V (with DRAM overvoltage switch on) in 0.01 V increments.
  • North bridge (IOH) voltage: From 0.800 V to 1.500 V (with IOH overvoltage switch off) or to 1.700 V (with IOH overvoltage switch on) in 0.01 V increments.
  • South bridge (ICH) voltage: From 1.100 V to 2.000 V in 0.01 V increments.
  • North bridge (IOH) PCI Express lanes: From 1.108 V to 1.998 V in 0.01 V increments.
  • Memory data reference voltage: From 0.511 V to 1.053 V in 0.19 V increments (for each memory module).

Memory timings can also be tweaked.

One advice: MSI calls the CPU VTT voltage, which is used to feed the QPI bus controller, the memory controller and the L3 memory cache inside the CPU as “QPI voltage.” We always wonder why motherboard manufacturers can’t simply use the official names to avoid misunderstandings. For a better explanation of the voltage options presented above, please read our tutorial on the subject.

MSI Big Bang XPower motherboardFigure 15: Overclocking menu.

MSI Big Bang XPower motherboardFigure 16: Overclocking menu (Cont’d).

MSI Big Bang XPower motherboardFigure 17: Overclocking menu (Cont’d).

[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]

MSI Big Bang XPower motherboard main features are:

  • Socket: 1366.
  • Chipset: Intel X58 Express + ICH10R
  • Super I/O: Fintek F71889
  • Parallel ATA: None.
  • Serial ATA: Six SATA-300 ports (black) supporting RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10 and two SATA-600 ports (white) supporting RAID 0 and 1 controlled by a Marvell 88SE9128 chip.
  • External SATA: Two eSATA-300 ports controlled by a JMicron JMB362 chip, one of them (the black one) shared with a USB 2.0 port. The motherboard comes with one I/O bracket containing two eSATA ports, so you can convert internal SATA ports into eSATA.
  • USB: 10 USB 2.0 ports, six soldered on the motherboard rear panel and four available through two headers on the motherboard. The motherboard comes with one I/O bracket containing two USB ports. Two USB 3.0 ports (the blue ones) controlled by a NEC μPD720200 chip.
  • FireWire (IEEE 1394): Two ports controlled by a VIA VT6315N chip, one standard-sized soldered on the rear panel and one available through a header. The board doesn’t come with an I/O bracket to use this second port.
  • On-board audio: Produced by the chipset together with a Realtek ALC889 codec (eight channels, 24-bit resolution, up to 192 kHz sampling rate for both the inputs and outputs, 104 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the inputs and 108 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the outputs). Coaxial and optical SPDIF outputs. The audio section is available on a PCI Express x1 card that comes with the product.
  • On-board LAN: Two Gigabit Ethernet ports controlled by two Realtek RTL8111DL chips, each one connected to the system through a PCI Express x1 lane.
  • Buzzer: No.
  • Power supply required: 2x EPS12V
  • Slots: Six PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots (two slots working at x16, two slots working at x8 and two slots working at x4) and one PCI Express x1 slot.
  • Memory: Six DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to 24 GB up to DDR3-2133 through overclocking).
  • Fan connectors: One with four pins (PWM control) for the CPU and three with three pins for auxiliary fans.
  • Number of CDs/DVDs provided: One.
  • Programs included: Norton Internet Security 2010 (60-day trial), motherboard drivers and utilities.
  • Extra features: External clear CMOS button, Winki, DrMOS voltage regulator circuit with military-grade components, APS (Active Phase Switching), LEDs for monitoring the active phases of the voltage regulator circuit, OC Genie with “+” and “-“ buttons, overclocking panel (OC Dashboard), overvoltage protection switches, POST diagnostics display and probes for monitoring CPU, memory and chipset voltages with a multimeter.
  • More Information: https://us.msi.com
  • MSRP  in the US: USD 300.00

[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]

If you are looking for the most complete socket LGA1366 motherboard on the market for your Core i7 processor MSI Big Bang XPower is definitely your pick. Besides coming with tons of features, the military-grade components will give you the peace of mind knowing that your computer will provide a higher efficiency (i.e., lower power consumption), will heat less and will provide a higher life-span.

The six PCI Express x16 slots will allow you not only to build an extreme SLI or CrossFireX configuration, but will also allow you to install several video monitors. For example, if you install six video cards you will be able to install up to 12 video monitors to your computers – even more if you use one or more of the new ATI-based video cards that support three or even six video monitors.

This motherboard will reach the US market within two weeks with a suggested price of USD 300 (on-line stores will sell for less though). The only negative point we could dare to bring up is its price tag, but after accounting for all features it has this motherboard carries an extremely attractive price for its target audience (extreme enthusiasts).