The Z97 train hasn"t stopped, and today we move onto the Z97 MPOWER MAX AC from the folks at MSI. Read on as Shawn gives us the full details of this board.

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Taking a look at the box, you can see that there"s not a whole lot going on. The brand and model are clearly shown along with a couple of Intel logos and a mention that it"s part of the OC Series. Flipping over the big M, though, helps reveal some of the main features that are being offered on the board.

You can see that Enhanced Components are brought to the table via the Military Class 4 and Guard Pro features. Enhanced Thermal is offered via MPOWER Heatsink Design and Smart Fan control. Enhanced Power brings DigitALL Power to help increase the overclocking ability. Enhanced BIOS brings Click BIOS4 and multiple BIOS. Finally, in the middle, you can see the OC Essentials, which brings Clear CMOS Button, OC Engine for unlimited BCLK adjustment, Debug LED, Easy Button 3, V-Check Point 2, and Slow Mode for extreme overclockers.

Moving over to the other side, you can see our first look at the board and the heat sink setup. We"ll take a closer look at that in just a moment, though, when we move onto the actual motherboard. Finishing up our look at the box, you see a little bit more information on some of the main features that we mentioned previously along with the main specifications of the board and a look at the rear I/O panel.

Moving from the outside of the box and into the inside, you can see a bunch of paperwork, including a door lanyard and a case sticker letting you show the board you"re using loudly and proudly. You can also see a couple of CDs with drivers and software along with SATA cable labels.

We"ve got the normal line up of cables, including six SATA cables alongside an SLI bridge and I/O cover. You can also see a pair of EZ Connectors and, below that, the cables needed to make use of the V-Check Point 2 feature.

Some of the more major extras that we see on the board include the eSATA backplate with cable and our Intel Dual Bad Wireless AC 7260 module offering both 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac support along with Bluetooth 4.0. Sitting with that, you can see we"ve also got a pair of antennas to make sure that the absolute best signal strength is received by your brand new PC.

Taking a look at the MSI Z97 MPOWER MAX AC for the first time, you can see the Black and Yellow color scheme that is synonymous with the MPOWER Series from MSI. You can see a pretty nice looking heat sink setup going on around the CPU area and some of the main features. We"ll move in a bit closer, though, and cover everything in a bit more detail.

Starting off with the expansion slot area, you can see we"ve got four PCIe x1 slots along with three PCIe x16 slots. These run in the standard x16 for one card, x8/x8 for two cards, and x8/x4/x4 for three cards. Sitting above the top most PCIe x1 slot, you can see a 6-Pin connector if you want to make sure power is nice and clean to your PCIe slots.

Most people won"t worry about this unless you"re running a serious video card setup. Between the two bottom PCIe x16 slots towards the back, you can also see the new M.2 connector. This is the second board we"ve seen provide this connector, and it"s one of the main features that is brought to the table with the Z97 chipset.

Moving away from the PCIe slots and to the bottom of the motherboard, you can see the normal line up of fan and USB 2.0 connectors alongside our front panel headers and a Debug LED reader. Above that, you can also see a little button that allows you to go straight into the BIOS, making sure you don"t miss it, which is something that will be handier for the more hardcore overclocker.

Turning the corner, you can see we"ve got a total of eight SATA III ports on offer. Six of these run off of the Z97 chipset, while the last two run off the ASMedia ASM1061 chipset. Next to these, you can also see a USB 3.0 header to round off this corner of the motherboard.

Heading to the north end of the board, you can see we"ve got a fair bit going on here. Of course, we"ve got the standard four DIMM slots supporting up to 32GB of DDR3 ranging from 1066MHz to 3300MHz DDR via overclocking. Behind that, you can also see our main 24-Pin ATX power connector, and to the left, we have our second USB 3.0 header.

It"s all the extras that have our eye, and they sit to the right of our main ATX power connector. Starting from the left, we have a - and + that are used to adjust the BLCK on-the-fly. Next to that, we have our standard reset and power buttons along with the OC Genie button, which offers auto overclocking.

We also have the Discharge button that helps discharge all power from the motherboard in the same way removing the battery would. We also finish up this corner with our V Check Points that allow us to check the voltage in a number of areas, including CPU System Agent, CPU Ring, GPU GFX, CPU Core, Memory, and CPU VVCIN.

Moving around to the CPU area, you can see we"ve got the standard 8-Pin CPU Power connector; next to that, though, you can see we"ve also got a 4-Pin connector. Using both helps provide a better line of power to the system. While most users won"t need to make use of it, if you"re interested in doing some serious overclocking, it"s a nice feature to have. Stepping back and looking at the CPU area, you can see a really good looking heat sink setup.

You can see that both ends offer a barb for water cooling. This is again a feature that isn"t going to be for everyone, but if you"re into the more serious side of overclocking, the addition of this heat sink setup is really nice.

Finally, we finish off our look with the I/O panel. Starting from the left, you can see we"ve got two USB 2.0 ports below a combo PS/2 port. Moving along, you can see we"ve got a Clear CMOS button and four of the total eight USB 3.0 ports that are present here. Two of the USB 3.0 ports run off of the Intel Z97 chipset and six run off of the ASMedia ASM1074 chipset.

Gigabit networking is offered via the Intel I218-V chip, while video out options come in the form of HDMI and DisplayPort. Finally, we finish up with our audio options, which include six auxiliary ports and an optical out port, all running off of the Realtek ALC1150 HD Codec.

Heading into the BIOS, you can see we"re greeted with Click BIOS 4. Click BIOS has really gotten better over time, and after the initial version, 2 and onwards has been pretty good. It"s simple to use, and everything is really right in front of us in a nice looking manner.

As always, if you"re heading into the BIOS, the chances are that you"ll want to head into the overclocking section. All the standard options are here in a very self-explanatory manner. One of the features I love, which is also seen on ASUS boards, is as you go up in the voltages, the color changes if they"re too high.

For people who are new to overclocking, this is a simple but nice feature that makes it a little easier to overclock some of those more weird voltages.

Moving through the rest of the BIOS, you can see all of the standard options. This really is a great looking BIOS; you"ve got a bunch of important information always in front of you while you move through the rest of the BIOS adjusting the options you need to. I really find myself impressed with what MSI is doing these days with Click BIOS.

Test System Setup and Overclocking

We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: Intel, ASUS, MSI, Western Digital, MemoRight, and Corsair.

Sitting alongside our MSI Z97 MPOWER MAX AC, which we will be running at both stock and overclocked speeds, we"ve got the recently looked at Z97 offerings from both ASRock and ASUS in the form of the ASRock Z97 Extreme4 and the ASUS SABERTOOTH Z97 MARK 1. We finish off our motherboard line up with the ASRock Z87 Killer.

We have also just received our new Corsair Voyager GS pen drive that has replaced our aging Western Digital Passport. Because we"ve moved to the new Corsair drives, we"ve removed the previous USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 results. You"ll see these graphs fill up in the coming weeks as we test more and more motherboards.

As always, when it comes to testing, we bench our motherboards at both the stock speed and the maximum stable overclock we"re able to find. We found ourselves really surprised with the results that MSI managed to give us here today.

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Looking above, you can see we ended up with an overclock of 4.97GHz via a 49x Multiplier and 101.5 BCLK. It actually looked like we might"ve been able to get the system stable at 4.99GHz via a 102 BCLK as HyperPI finished with no problem.

When we ran an encode under MediaEspresso, though, the system crashed out pretty quickly. This is a really nice overclock and should bring with it some strong performance. Let"s move forward and see just how the numbers look.

CPU & System Benchmarks

CPU Test - HyperPi 0.99

Version and / or Patch Used: 0.99

Out of the box, you can see our MSI Z97 MPOWER MAX AC performs quite similarly to all of our other boards here. Overclocking, though, brings with it a really strong increase in performance. You can see under HyperPi that we manage to shave almost 2 minutes off of our time as we hit the mid 9 minutes mark.

System Test - PCMark 8

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.04

Looking at PCMark 8 and MediaEspresso, you can see again that the performance between all the setups at stock are very similar to each other with little separating them. Again, though, we see the overclock give us a massive boost in performance, and we see the encode drop to under 10 minutes.

USB 2.0, USB 3.0 & SSD Benchmarks

USB Test - AIDA64

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.70.1400

USB 2.0 and 3.0 performance looks strong, but how it compares to others at the moment we can"t really tell. USB 3.0 performance, though, is well past the 300 MB/s mark when it comes to read performance.

SSD Test - AIDA64

Version and / or Patch Used: v4.30.2900

SSD Test - PCMark 8

Version and / or Patch Used: 2.0.191

SSD Test - HD Tune Pro

Version and / or Patch Used: 5.50

SSD performance across the board is pretty strong, and you can see for the most part we manage to line up with the best of the results.

HD Tune Pro minimum sits a little lower, but still ahead of the ASUS offering. Apart from that, the numbers are pretty solid across the board.

Memory & Gaming Benchmarks

Memory Test - AIDA64

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.00.1035BETA

Memory performance is strong, and you can see the MSI Z97 MPOWER MAX AC lines up with the ASRock Z97 Extreme4, which managed to perform better than the ASUS offering.

Overclocking, as usual, does little to performance. We see a slight bit of movement as the memory speed is slightly increased thanks to the 101.5 BCLK, but nothing major at all is seen.

Gaming Test - 3DMark 8

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0

Looking above, you can see that 3DMark 8 sees a bit of a performance bump compared to the standard run when overclocked, but apart from that, the numbers are pretty solid between all of the setups.

Sleeping Dogs performance, on the other hand, seems to be slightly stronger across the board at all resolutions. Overclocking then helps push the 1680 x 1050 and 1920 x 1200 numbers even further.

Looking above, you can see the power draw numbers at both idle and load sit between the ASRock and ASUS offering. Throwing overclocking into the mix, you can see both numbers are slightly elevated, but overall they are still very good.

You can see that the MSI Z97 MPOWER MAX AC when overclocked to 4.97GHz manages to actually sit behind the ASUS offering when it"s running at stock, which is very impressive.

Core Temperature Test

CPU Temperature numbers are really good and sit below everyone else at both idle and load. When overclocked, you can see the idle still manages to sit below our other offerings when at stock.

As for the load number, it jumps up, but 85C at this speed is extremely impressive. MSI has clearly put together a really nice motherboard.

Pricing, Availability and Final Thoughts

Lining up at around the $400 mark, the MSI Z97 MPOWER MAX AC lines up with some of the most expensive Z97 motherboards on the market, and it is more expensive than any other ones we"ve tested yet. A high price tag is never an issue, though, if it can be justified.

Looking through what we have here today, we really feel that MSI is more than capable of justifying the high price that is associated with it. When it comes to performance, it comes as no surprise that, out of the box, it really lines up with all our other boards. This is fairly standard these days, and outside of a major issue, you should see motherboards using the same CPU and Chipset perform quite similarly to each other.

In regards to overclocking, we saw the board really shine with the highest overclock out of our Z97 boards so far and quite possibly one of the highest stable overclocks we"ve seen on this particular CPU. Not only was overclocking extremely easy and extremely effective, the cooling numbers on the board at both stock and overclocked came out looking sensational. Against the competition, the board really stood out for all the right reasons.

Moving away from the performance and into the features, we"ve again got just about everything you"d hope for and more. We"ve got a strong bundle that helps offer us Wireless AC technology along with Bluetooth. We"ve got a ton of features on board, including new ones like the M.2 connector and MSI exclusive options that revolve around overclocking.

Like so many of these products that are aimed at overclockers, though, you don"t have to be this master overclocker with insane cooling setups. You can find yourself with just a good quality all-in-one water cooling solution along with a desire to learn. With this in hand, you"ll be messing around in the BIOS and getting free performance in no time.

While the MSI Z97 MPOWER MAX AC comes in on the expensive side of things, the performance, bundle, and overall build quality really do speak for themselves. If you"re looking at going down the path of the Z97 platform, we would have no issue recommending this motherboard, especially if your budget was stretching further than the previous boards we"ve looked at from ASUS and ASRock.

PRICING: You can find the MSI Z97 MPOWER MAX AC for sale below. The prices listed are valid at the time of writing but can change at any time. Click the link to see the very latest pricing for the best deal.

United States: The MSI Z97 MPOWER MAX AC retails for $259.99 at Amazon.

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Shawn Baker

Shawn takes care of all of our video card reviews. From 2009, Shawn is also taking care of our memory reviews, and from May 2011, Shawn also takes care of our CPU, chipset and motherboard reviews. As of December 2011, Shawn is based out of Taipei, Taiwan.

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